It’s raining word police.
This rain follows an interesting confluence of events shaping the atmosphere of our hyper-mediatized mass media world. In order to explain I’ll have to move in reverse chronology of the happenings this week.
You see, K. Tempest Bradford has offended a lot of people by issuing a challenge to read authors other than white, cis, straight males for a full year. This came after her being called out for only noting books by non-white, non-cis, non-straight male authors in her online opinion column for a full year. Based on the mass media developments preceding these articles the backblash against Bradford is not altogether unexpected. People feel that Bradford is out to restrict their ability to read what they want, and to remove white, cis, straight males from the bookshelves, that she is out to oppress them.
I’m interested in the notion of agency here, since groups who are perceived as oppressed are said to suffer from a lack of agency. Let’s look at the definition put forth by the omniscient and infallible Wikipedia:
“In sociology and philosophy, agency is the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general, or soul-consciousness in religion) to act in a world. The capacity to act does not at first imply a specific moral dimension to the ability to make the choice to act, and moral agency is therefore a distinct concept. In sociology, an agent is an individual engaging with the social structure.”
Right. So, whose agency is being impinged upon when it comes to book selection?
There is commentary other than mine available, for instance author and editor Nick Mamatas also weighed in on Bradford’s challenge. Nick’s self portrait alone is pure money, so to speak, so I urge you to go read what he has to say.
Or, if you have not been resoundingly cuffed on the ears today I recommend you go read this blog by Kriscinda Lee Everitt. It is her response to Tempest’s challenge or, more to the point, the response it has elicited. Let’s examine one of Kriscinda’s observations:
“In terms of our personal comfort, it’s a trial by fire. Not the reading itself. I imagine the reading itself is rather fantastic. It’s the getting past the recognition that, no, you’re not perfect–you do carry a lot of societal baggage and it affects you in ways you don’t even know, until someone points it out and you go into idiot mental block mode. That is the trial. The point of deliberately going out of your way to find authors that aren’t immediately on your radar (and yes, white, straight male writers are more likely to be on yours and everyone else’s radar because that’s what society puts in front of us…)”
How true is that last claim? What follows is a look at this week’s developments in film and print, both of which are accepted pillars of our mass media.
The Academy Awards were held over the weekend. The LA Times claimed that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscar, is 94% white, 86% over 50 years old, and 77% male. More on that in a minute.
By comparison, the Stoker Award nominees announced Monday break down down as follows: 16 books by women out of 56 total, or 28.6% female, and while I’m unsure of the exact racial makeup it seems only 5 books might be from those whose ethnic background diverges from the norm. As noted in my earlier blog post the publishing company I am involved with released 3 of those 16 titles by women, meaning our company alone is responsible for a fifth of works by women receiving award recognition in this branch of the publishing industry. Often I wonder what would happen if we stopped publishing, but looking at those numbers I’m guessing nothing good would come of us closing shop.
Another comparison: even the most casual glance at the Nebula ballot, also just announced, reveals quite a different percentage breakdown along lines of gender and race. Take a second to skim through that list, and then lets get back to the movies.
Patricia Arquette, as you might have heard, won an Academy Award the other night. I didn’t spend much time online the following day, but when I did check in early on I saw some hubbub about her acceptance speech. That lead me to search engines in order to discern what was going on; the top article opened with briefly stating that she won, concluding the sentence with noting that she began with a carefully scripted acceptance speech but ended with an emotional outburst. So, I watched the video. She starts off a bit tremulous with emotion while reading from her script, but ends with strength and conviction when calling for people to be treated as though they are fully people. Strength and conviction from a woman = emotional outburst, apparently, although to be fair the coverage later in the day had shifted substantially toward positive language.
This is all during a time when the Academy Awards are embroiled in diversity-related controversy which has resulted in a large viewership drop. There’s a saying about being tone deaf. I have always found it far too “kid gloves” to say that, though. Because there’s a difference between being tone deaf and aggressively trying not to hear.
It will be interesting to see how people react to the acceptance speeches of any women who win the Stoker Award, should they happen to do so, given the recent gender brouhaha in the horror scene. Likewise, it will be interesting to see how the words of people of color are received should they win; at the 2014 World Fantasy Convention I overheard multiple men of the pale-skinned persuasion deriding the controversy surrounding the World Fantasy Award being a bust of a fervent racist, three years after the fact. Still griping. Very bitterly, I might add, since after all that controversy was begun by a woman (notice a trend here, anybody?).
I think that’s because in a consumer society your identity is largely invested in your belongings. What we’ve been sold is what older heterosexual men hailing from the westernmost reaches of Eurasia have wanted to sell us. But guess what? Buying books from outside that range won’t mess up your identity. What it might do is help you to see the identity of others, and open your life to opportunities for experience you wouldn’t have had otherwise–as Kriscinda points out in far better detail at her blog.
Is this the point where I, as an ethnic-other author, hit you up to read my work? No. Go through the various award nomination lists such as the Nebula or Stoker, among others, and pick from those books as they have obviously swayed a great many minds already. Below I’ll also include a list of books I’ve been involved with as editor which meet the criteria of this challenge. Or swing by my author page on Facebook where every day this week I have been highlighting an African American author I know.
Just as important–perhaps more so–I’d suggest you read translations and get a grip on what’s actually happening in the world. We here in the USA are just a small part of a very big thing, after all. And if you switch up your reading does that mean you have to forever abandon white men who are straight? As Kriscinda said, “Of course not. That’s stupid. But my reading list is definitely getting an overhaul and, poor me, I’ll just have to deal with the extra work of that.”
Sure, but does any of this represent the realities of our reading public? Are we being unfair? As Bill Campbell, the driving force behind Rosarium Publishing, pointed out in his Publishers Weekly interview earlier this week: “If you take all the people of color in the U.S. alone, that’s a market of 100 million people, yet a lot of artists and writers are told there’s no market for what you do.” If that’s true, and of the remaining 200 million roughly 50% are women, that puts white males at a third of the population, and when you account for the number of those white males who are not cis heterosexuals the percentages drop even lower.
Back to the impinged upon agency of our contemporary reading public. Um, you saw those statistics I laid out up there, right? You’d think the howling rage on the internet was the result of a judge, library system, or school district restricting the reading rights of our citizens. Or, perhaps, a corporate entity refusing to deal with people of a certain socioeconomic background. Instead we just have an individual suggesting that other individuals take a break–and not a permanent one–from reading material by the one limited voice which produces most of the books and magazines put before the rest of us (the very fact of which reduces our agency as readers). But when you mention the fact that the populace is not being represented, or a significant portion is being withheld from view, the word police come out in force.
For people who are so interested in being word police, I’ll say this: they don’t have a very keen grasp on words, as demonstrated in the howling rage I linked to above. Nor do they have a grip on the fact that straight white guys will still be, overall, pushed harder than all others in the schools and libraries and stores and Hollywood adaptations despite some of us taking a break from them for a year.
In closing: much is made about our social order being derived from the biological necessities of the hunter/gatherer system we evolved from, wherein men are perceived as having been the big shots due to hunting ability. Judging from the reaction online cis white men dislike hunting for information, though, but there is hope. Here’s a chance to get information about the bulk of the USA population without having to hunt far and wide, as people have already compiled it all into book form. The only effort required is that you read it. Maybe then you’ll “get the deal” with women, Tahitians, pansexuals, the West Indies, and so forth, finding yourself duped less often by politicians, corporations, or anybody else who profits from your being kept in the dark. And rest of us will maybe see ourselves more frequently in the stories we read.
And now for those books I helped publish, followed by Rabbit Junk rapping about having agency…or a lack thereof (and the lyrics, included below the video, are worth reading in their own right).
Better Haunted Homes and Gardens by Jennifer Barnes and Kristen Margiotta
The Blood Poetry by Leland Pitts-Gonzalez
Cog by K. Ceres Wright
D.D. Murphry, Secret Policeman by Elizabeth Massie and Alan Clark
Daughters of Lilith by Donna Lynch and Steven Archer
Driving Through the Desert by Donna Lynch
Greenshift by Heidi Ruby Miller
Hysteria by Stephanie M. Wytovich
The Irreal Reader edited by Alice Whittenburg and G.S. Evans
Isabel Burning by Donna Lynch
Kicking Against the Pricks by Stephen M. Wilson
Ladies and Other Vicious Creatures by Donna Lynch
Luna Maris by Steven Archer
Marked by Light: Ambasadora Book 1 by Heidi Ruby Miller
Mourning Jewelry by Stephanie M. Wytovich
Mr. Wicker by Maria Alexander
Red Horses by Donna Lynch
Red King, Black Rook by Steven Archer
Soft Apocalypses by Lucy A. Snyder
Spider Pie by Alyssa Sturgill
Steel Victory by J.L. Gribble
(Works we’ve published where I was unsure of the author’s sexual preference have been omitted, as it is not my business to go barging around demanding to know everyone’s sexual identity. If you work with me and feel you’ve been unfairly excluded holla at me and I’ll remedy that right quick.)
“Pop That Pretty Thirty”
Patrols on the boundaries
in prison cells and factories
on your phone and old TV
in between the lines we read
no suits no conspiracy, just a lack of agency
who’s the perp, run the APB
just look in the mirror and look for me
The haves and the have-nots
the bottom and the top
black market and mall shops
YOU ARE ALL THE COPS
99 and 1 percenters
dissenters and defenders
slum lords and renters
a comedy of pretenders
WE ARE ALL THE COPS
Greed, glory and fear
the eyes, the ears
no panopticon, just dads and moms
keep calm and carry on
vignettes of silhouettes
popping up as the sun sets
settlers heading ever west
looking for souls to digest