Oct 222015
 

interview-with-the-vampireA literary agent I’m acquainted with recently posted “we’re getting wind that publishers are extremely wary of buying diverse books by “non-diverse” authors because they don’t want to deal with readers’ accusations of cultural appropriation.”

If I can only ever write white male middle-class characters in my stories, I will kill myself.

It’s just plain bad art too. I remember reading a book where every character read like a middle-aged Canadian male, (yes, including the teenage girl and the alien intelligence) and I was bored to tears. I want multiple perspectives from various people in my novels, and most of them will not match that of the author.

And do the people pushing this not bother thinking about the consequences of their own agendas? If gay authors can only write gay characters, women authors can only write women characters, black authors can only write black characters, etc, this hurts everyone. There will be less interesting fiction to read, and far fewer stories that any author can tell. How does it help women authors to tell Anne Rice that only men are allowed to write male POV sections?

Ugh.

  22 Responses to ““Cultural Appropriation” censorship”

  1. Problem: Publishers will only publish X books per year. Only Y of those books will be a diversity book, say about the experiences of black farmers in rural America. For every book on this subject that a white author gets published, one fewer book can be published by a black author. There is concern that a white non-farmer author won’t be able to speak as authentically as a black farmer author about the subject, all else being equal.

    It sounds like your paraphrased publisher is attempting to acknowledge this reality, though without an original quote it’s hard to say if they’re handling it well. (As far as I can see, “diverse books” isn’t talking about books that just have non-white characters, as you suggest.)

    What’s your solution?

    • That does sound like a problem, I’m curious to know how often that actually happens But from the quote given it sounds like they aren’t concerned about ensuring that the authors who get published come from a wide variety of backgrounds, they are just interested in covering their butts so no one can accuse them of racism through cultural appropriation. If they were really interested in making sure that more books by minority authors got published, they could just publish more books by minority authors. They specifically say they are cutting down on books by white writers about non-white characters, not cutting down on books by white writers.

      Unless the publisher’s selection criteria specifically gives preference to books featuring minority leading characters then having white males writing about non white males doesn’t change the chances of a minority getting their book published. But if the publisher is trying to increase a diversity of viewpoints that get published, instead of selecting books to be published based on the ethnicity of the leading character, they could pick based on the ethnicity of the writer.

      If the publisher is not making publishing decisions based on the ethnicity of the writer or the characters, then having a white male write about some other ethnic viewpoint doesn’t change anyone’s chance of getting published. You just end up with everyone having less options about what kind of characters to write about, and less diversity in the types of leading characters that people write about.

      This strikes home for me because I’m working on a self published video game, I’m a white male, and the main character is a white female, I thought about making her another race, but I was worried of people either complaining that she was too white, or being accused that the character was a horribly racist representation. I figure I’m pushing my luck making the main character female.

      • > That does sound like a problem, I’m curious to know how often that actually happens

        Hopefully not that much. The Water Knife was just published earlier this year, and features two female characters and a male hispanic character, none of which match the author’s profile, and it’s awesome. I’m worried it’s spreading though.

        > You just end up with everyone having less options about what kind of characters to write about, and less diversity in the types of leading characters that people write about.

        And that is horrible!

        > I figure I’m pushing my luck making the main character female.

        I’m really sad to hear that. :( But I’m glad you’re still going with a female character! I consider white males to be boring most of the time.

    • You’ll need to clarify what you mean by “diverse book” then. In this case it is a literally a synonym for “minority group”. One author was told a publisher wouldn’t publish his post-apoc YA book with a hispanic protagonist because he was not himself hispanic. If he were to want to be published by that publisher he would have to white-wash the novel to get rid of the characters of color. I thought that’s the opposite of what we wanted.

      My solution is to judge a book by its content, rather than by the physical characteristics of its author. Heck, I think there’s a rather famous quote about judging people by the contents of their character that we’re all fond of.

      • >You’ll need to clarify what you mean by “diverse book” then.

        Um… you posted a partial quote of someone paraphrasing someone else. *They* need to clarify what they mean by ‘diverse books’.

        >My solution is to judge a book by its content, rather than by the physical characteristics of its author.

        It sounds like you think your judgement is objective.

        I’ve heard there’s a lot of evidence that even when someone tries not to have conscious biases, they usually have unconscious biases. If you were to read two books of similar quality and subject matter, how sure are you that you would judge them fairly? That you wouldn’t pick up subtle differences in writing style, word and grammar choice, etc.? Society has worked very hard to give you unconscious biases that would cause you to find the one written by a white author more appealing than a black author (even when you don’t know the races of the writers!).

        The colorblind approach of “I don’t see race, I just judge based on quality of work” will tend to produce skewed results because of the subconscious processes that we don’t control and often aren’t aware of.

        Real life example: https://www.princeton.edu/pr/pwb/01/0212/7b.shtml

        “Nelson recalled how sensitive she was to the gender issue while auditioning. She remembers being told in the 1980s to remove her shoes while walking to center stage behind a screen, so the judges would not hear the “clickety-clack” of a woman’s high heels.” Different-sounding shoes were enough to bias the judges, even when they probably didn’t realize that’s what they were doing.

        • > Um… you posted a partial quote of someone paraphrasing someone else. *They* need to clarify what they mean by ‘diverse books’.

          I thought it was clear by the context, but to reiterate – a work of fiction with a protagonist that belongs to a minority group (regardless of author). You brought in the claim that “a publisher will only publish X diversity books per year”, which I think requires some clarification, because I have never heard of any publisher with a metric of “X% of our books have to have white male protagonists, Y% have to have black protagonists, Z% have to have female protagonists, etc etc” To my knowledge their metric was always “What our editors think will sell well.”

          > It sounds like you think your judgement is objective.

          I’m familiar with the same studies, and we’re talking about different things. Novels are unique, and you can’t judge them in the same way you’d judge two people performing the same piece of music. A more apt comparison would be a judge deciding which of two different songs he prefers, after those songs are played back-to-back by the same musician (who is unfamiliar with either composer). At that point, would you prefer the judge to tell you which piece he prefers, or would you want him to ask for the race/gender/sexuality of the composer and decide based on that information instead?

          And to reiterate – yes, everyone has unconscious bias. That is why I support things like Women Destroy Science Fiction, and Queers Destroy Science Fiction. It’s important to give additional support to counteract systemic and unconscious bias. But I’m not going to tell any white women that they can’t write characters of color, or that their protagonists can be male. I’m not going to tell the Queers writers that they can’t have any straight characters. If any stories were rejected from those collections because the characters didn’t match the author, I would cease to support them immediately.

  2. And do the people pushing this not bother thinking about the consequences of their own agendas? If gay authors can only write gay characters, women authors can only write women characters, black authors can only write black characters, etc, this hurts everyone. There will be less interesting fiction to read, and far fewer stories that any author can tell. How does it help women authors to tell Anne Rice that only men are allowed to write male POV sections?

    Not how it works, at least in practice. A gay, Nigerian author may write straight or European/white American character povs, just not Mestizo. And honestly, he could probably get away with Mestizo. It is the use of minority perspectives by whites specifically that is at issue here. And the concerns about ethnic appropriation don’t seem to extend to gender or sexual orientation (although writing a trans character pov is right out if you ain’t).

    I mean, mostly this just seems like a transparent attempt to increase the ratio of authors of color in certain publishing houses. Science fiction has seen a big trend recently towards fiction that is specifically about identity and ethnicity (Litany of Earth is a lovely example of the type)- and in identity-fiction, the author is very much NOT dead. These publishers care very much about what their authors are, both because their fans do and because they themselves share that ethic.

    (It’s also funny that we’re using ‘diverse’ as a polite synonym for ‘not white’, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    • “It is the use of minority perspectives by whites specifically that is at issue here.”

      Not really. What is at issue is that some people have the gall to set themselves up as judges of what “white” people shall be allowed to do. Otherwise known as racism.

      Speaking only for my White self, I shall do what I have always done: whatever the hell I like, when I like, the way I like. I shall pick and chose from the world the things I find pleasing, I shall wind them together in a saleable form and I shall pay my rent with the results.

      You are quite free to ignore me and my efforts. You are not free to forbid me, nor is anyone. I’m quite prepared to insist.

      • /facepalm

      • Unless you’ve personally been hate-mobbed out of a job or home, then being ignored is your complaint. (If you have been, my sympathies- but I kind of get the feeling that you haven’t? Most of the social justice mob victims I know don’t do things like capitalize ‘white’.)

        As our host mentioned in his other reply, this is not about what can be published on the Internet. It’s about who has the backing of powerful, voice-amplifying institutions. And consequently, who has the strongest hand in choosing tomorrow’s orthodoxy.

        The primary(?) social justice complaint is that injustice against minorities is both directed towards, and a consequence of, their exclusion from such institutions. Those who recognize the growing cultural power of science fiction rightly see publishing contracts as a domain where racial minorities are underrepresented, and so they’re trying to address that imbalance without explicitly hanging up a sign that says “whites need not apply.”

        None of this has anything to do with what you’re allowed to do or say. It’s about the range of permissible ideas (and permissible people) in the domains that have influence over others.

        • “If you have been, my sympathies- but I kind of get the feeling that you haven’t?”

          You’d be surprised. No, I’m not going to share.

          “Most of the social justice mob victims I know don’t do things like capitalize ‘white’.”

          Like you know any. And kid, what possible difference does capitalization make? Try not to be a tool, eh?

          “…they’re trying to address that imbalance without explicitly hanging up a sign that says “whites need not apply.””

          You said that. I disagree. I think they are quite explicitly blaming all the problems in the world from Global Warming to ingrown toenails on Straight, White, Male Conservatives. Because… Patriarchy!!!1!

          “None of this has anything to do with what you’re allowed to do or say. It’s about the range of permissible ideas (and permissible people) in the domains that have influence over others.”

          If by this lengthy circumlocution you mean that nobody will come and shoot me for writing a story and putting it on the web, the answer is “not so far”.

          However, you may have heard of a guy named Salman Rushdie.

          • > And kid, what possible difference does capitalization make? Try not to be a tool, eh?

            Point of order – YOU are the one who capitalized it. Who’s the tool now? :)

  3. “If I can only ever write white male middle-class characters in my stories, I will kill myself.”

    You’re picking the wrong target. Don’t kill yourself. Make the fuckers work for it, at least.

    These are people trying very hard to eliminate you from the writing pool. Your work is doubleplus ungood because you are a white dude. It is not the content of your character which is important, it is the colour of your skin.

    Nothing you say or do will be acceptable, because you are the wrong colour. Indeed, the very fact of you being that colour is sufficient cause for them to heap every indignity they can think of upon you.

    Myself, I have characters who are non-white. I have one that’s Korean with blue fox ears and a blue fox tail, female, and bi. I have one that’s a ten thousand year old Sumerian chick with a really good tan. Is it cultural appropriation if the culture is dead these last ten thousand years?

    Yes! Because as a White Dude, nothing I say or do is acceptable. Therefore I appropriate boldly, and with no remorse.

    The correct answer to somebody calling you a “cultural appropriator” is to punch them in the face. Because it’s fucking SCIENCE FICTION, we get to do what we want.

    I wanted to write about a Korean girl with fox ears. Anybody who doesn’t like what I write is free to not read it, or they can have a go at trying to make me stop. Good luck with that.

    Does any of this sound familiar to you mr. embrodski? Because I’m flashing back to some comments I made about the Hugos right now. Something about kicking anthills filled with shit-head ants who pick authors based on skin colour, and then stepping on them.

    • > Anybody who doesn’t like what I write is free to not read it, or they can have a go at trying to make me stop. Good luck with that.

      You’re missing the point. No one cares if you write it, no one will make you stop. You can self-publish it all day long on your website, or AO3, or dozens of other places. What they can do is put pressure on pro publishers to vet you, and not accept things for publication if your race/gender/whatever doesn’t match your protagonist. That’s important to some authors, because publishers tend to pay money. You aren’t going to fight that by saying “Just try to stop me from writing it!” You are going to have to put forth some sort of argument and/or social pressure of your own as to why this “Cultural Appropriation” myth (and social police) is harmful and should be discarded. You can attempt to do that by pointing out that it hurts minority writers as well, or that it impoverishes all our cultures, or that it results in segregation and divisiveness, or pointing out all the great works that would be lost or whitewashed if this sort of thing was enforced.

      I suppose antagonism and belligerence is another strategy, but I think it’s a losing one. IMO it’ll mainly lead to further division, which is why I’m not pursuing it.

      >Does any of this sound familiar to you mr. embrodski? Because I’m flashing back to some comments I made about the Hugos right now.

      If you’ll recall, I posted quite a few times about how I admire Correia and sympathize with his cause, in principle. It’s very much like how I feel deeply sympathetic towards the communist revolutionaries who were trying to fix the world, but feel horror at their tactics and lack of foresight.

      > Something about kicking anthills filled with shit-head ants who pick authors based on skin colour, and then stepping on them.

      Aaaaaaand once again you managed to completely lose me. Let’s string up all the Bourgeois collaborators while we’re at it, comrade!

      Seriously, you sound like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Do you really expect to change the minds of people who are putting pressure on publishers by shitting in the WorldCon punchbowl? Or are you simply trying to color-code all publishers into Red and Blue camps, and just enjoy flinging poo at the side that’s the other color?

      • “If you’ll recall, I posted quite a few times about how I admire Correia and sympathize with his cause, in principle.”

        If I recall, you’re the proud owner of a genuine WorldCon Ass-terisk. And weren’t you all stoked that Noah Ward won everything? I’m thinking you were.

        The thing is, Eneasz, much to your horror and revulsion, you and I are on the same side of the barricade. It’s just that I -like- this side. You’re trying to be on both sides, because this one seems trez-uncool or something. I just appropriated some French lingo there to make my point. This side says do what you want, the other side is all about the Rulez.

        “You aren’t going to fight that by saying “Just try to stop me from writing it!” You are going to have to put forth some sort of argument and/or social pressure of your own as to why this “Cultural Appropriation” myth (and social police) is harmful and should be discarded.”

        Here is your other problem. You think the SJW horde can be reasoned with. They can’t. Forget it. Not happening. For one thing, reason itself is a tool of the patriarchy. Logic is HateThinkz, bro. I wish I was making that up, but no.

        I’ve had experience since the late 1980’s with a similar argument to this SJW crap. That would be gun control. I looked into it. By which I mean I read every single paper in the medical, criminological and other journals. John R. Lott may have read more than I did. Maybe.

        My conclusions are twofold.

        First, it’s a lie. Gun control is a fabrication created by fabulists to get money. I can prove it.

        Second, it doesn’t matter. The people who love gun control either know its a lie and don’t care, or they are so stupid they can’t tell truth from fiction in the first place.

        Given this, and I know because I’ve tried since the late 1980’s, you cannot talk to a gun control believer. It is impossible. Mere facts and logic will make no impact upon them whatsoever.

        You can however -defeat- them. They’re not really that smart.

        That is where we are now in Science Fiction. SJWs clearly control most publishers. TOR is merely the stupidest and most glaring example. They really do run the show. I am very much not going to bother shopping anything I do to TOR or most other NYC-based publishers. It won’t matter it the work is A++ or C–, I’ll get nowhere.

        That’s what just happened at the Hugos. SJWs got defeated. Noah got five awards, not SJW friendly work. That’s kicking the ant hill. Best part, despite the screaming about block voting, Noah was voted in by the biggest block out there. 2016, same same. Look out ants.

        Defeating the SJW horde in SF publishing probably looks like everybody going to eBooks and print-on-demand. When all the NYC publishing houses are rotting in bankruptcy, suddenly their gatekeeper role will be history.

        No doubt they will be bought up for pennies on the dollar by eeeevile Conservative businessmen. Rupert Murdock just grabbed National Geographic, right? For a song, because SJWs drove the once magnificent magazine into the ground with their bullshit.

        Mass bankruptcy. Next ten years at most, probably next five realistically. Because they’re really not that smart.

        • >If I recall, you’re the proud owner of a genuine WorldCon Ass-terisk. And weren’t you all stoked that Noah Ward won everything? I’m thinking you were.

          Indeed! :) Perhaps if you had read on to the very next sentence of my comment you wouldn’t be so confused as to how I could both hold that position and admire Correia at the same time. But I know you’re a very busy man.

          >much to your horror and revulsion, you and I are on the same side of the barricade. It’s just that I -like- this side. You’re trying to be on both sides,

          Oh ye of little exposure, always assuming everything fits your black-and-white narrative. I would recomend reading a few posts of the “XII. Politicization” section at the Library of Scott Alexandria. Or really any posts there. You may learn a lot.

          >You think the SJW horde can be reasoned with. They can’t.

          May I ask what alternatives you propose?

          > Gun control is a fabrication created by fabulists to get money. I can prove it.

          Please do.

          > The people who love gun control either know its a lie and don’t care, or they are so stupid they can’t tell truth from fiction in the first place.

          So you’ve gone down the “my opponents are evil mutants” rabbit hole. They aren’t humans with fears and opinions, some of which may be wrong, whose goal is to be good people and live safely, who might be misguided. They are, instead, moral abominations whose goal is to spread lies and increase crime to line their own pockets.

          I see now why you keep flailing about ineffectually, and why you live in such terror. Until you understand that any organized group views themselves the same way you view yourself, you will never be able to have a dialog, or effect any change that isn’t purely violence-based.

          > That’s what just happened at the Hugos. SJWs got defeated.

          You keep misplacing your victory. You guys won at the nominating level. You technically lost at the award show itself, but with the win a the nominating level being as large as it was, you didn’t need a win at the award level. (props on that!) I’m not sure why you keep trying to spin the awards as a win, but IMHO it makes you look incompetent. Focus on your *successes* and build on those, don’t draw all this attention to your losses.

          > Mass bankruptcy. Next ten years at most, probably next five realistically.

          Ah ha! A testable prediction! How sure are you of this? 60%? More? I’d love to take you up on a bet, but I doubt we’ll still be in contact in 10 years. Still, if you’re willing to publically record your prediction at http://predictionbook.com/ I will be willing to publically record an appropriate counter-prediction, and in ten years we can see who is right and who is embarrased. :)

  4. I am curious — what was the book where everyone sounded like a middle-aged Canadian male, including the teenage girl and alien intelligence?

    • Oh, you mean like in that story “The World Turned Upside Down”, when all the characters sounded like whining Eurohipster dicks, and the main character lets a woman fall to her death because he’s busy rescuing a goldfish?

      Gee, didn’t that get a Hugo?

      • > when all the characters sounded like whining Eurohipster dicks

        I also disliked Upside Down. But… there was only one protagonist… and he was a white Eurohipster twentyish guy. He was *supposed* to sound like that.

        > Gee, didn’t that get a Hugo?

        Indeed, the Puppies managed to ensure it would get one, as it was the only non-Puppy work on the ballot. Congrats?

        • “…the Puppies managed to ensure it would get one…”

          Yeah, because we all voted for it, right?

          Oh, you mean because we dared to show up. Yes, sorry about that. Shall we all go kill ourselves now?

      • Ha! That’s the one I thought you meant, given the relative scarcity of middle-aged Canadian guys writing stories about teenage girls and alien intelligences. Although then I wasn’t sure because, while Webmind was certainly an alien intelligence, he wasn’t actually an alien. Heh.

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