Learning From Fireside Fiction’s #BlackSpecFic Reports

SFWA President Cat Rambo, in “Talking About Fireside Fiction’s #BlackSpecFic Reports, Part 1 of 2”, is joined by Steven Barnes, Maurice Broaddus, Tananarive Due, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Tonya Liburd, and Nisi Shawl for a roundtable discussion of Fireside Fiction’s reports on blacks in speculative fiction and what the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America might take away from it as action items. Listen to the recording at Soundcloud.

The reports driving their discussion are Antiblack Racism in Speculative Fiction: #BlackSpecFic: A Fireside Fiction Company special report (2015), the follow-up 2016 #BlackSpecFic Report, and the accompanying essays by black writers.

Cat Rambo notes in her introduction:

Here is the central fact they present. Black writers are underrepresented in fantasy and science fiction short fiction magazines. The 2015 figures: 2039 stories in 63 magazines, of which 38 stories were by black authors, in 2015….

For the sake of very broad comparison, American demographics as of July 2016 (according to Wikipedia) were 13.3% African American, 17.8% Latino/Hispanic, and 61.3% white. Like the magazines when it comes to publishing black writers, SFWA’s population skews much whiter than figures might lead one to assume.

Rambo plans to follow the up the two-part discussion with a post about her own takeaway, and how SFWA can respond.

This was a terrific conversation. I was scribbling notes down throughout most of it. In a day or two I’ll post those notes and action items, along with an account of what’s happened so far, but today the focus should be that discussion.

40 thoughts on “Learning From Fireside Fiction’s #BlackSpecFic Reports

  1. It still would be interesting to know the input side of this. How many pieces being submitted are by black authors?

  2. No one seems to know that number. It would require magazines to track down the race of a representative sample of slush-pile submissions, and that’s probably asking too much. Also, are they really going to resort to calling people on the phone and asking, “Hi! Are you black?” 🙂

    We do know a couple of things, though. First, the US Census reports that between 3% and 5% of all authors are black. (All genres). Realistically speaking, one cannot expect that 13.3% of submissions will come from black authors.

    However, even then, Fireside’s numbers suggest that between 1/3 and 2/3 of the expected number of black authors actually get published in SFF magazines. (I limited my analysis to the 11 SFF magazines that Rocket Stack Rank reviews.)

    There could be several reasons for this:
    1) Short fiction pays poorly, and black authors are less likely to be able to afford that.
    2) Black authors are turned off by SFF for some reason. (E.g. they’ve been told the future is all-white.)
    3) Jemisin suggested that many (or even most) black SFF authors only submit to publications that specifically target a black audience.
    4) There’s a secret conspiracy by editors of short fiction to identify the race of authors and then not publish stories by black writers.
    5) New authors experience extremely high rejection rates, and if you’re a minority, it’s easy to imagine that this is discrimination, at which point you give up or switch to option 3.
    6) Something else.

    I only mention #4 because that seemed to be Fireside‘s original argument, and they rudely rejected any suggestion that this wasn’t the fault of the editors. They appear to have gotten a bit more humble when in the following year they themselves failed to publish a single story written by a black author. (But I give them big points for admitting it.)

    My best guess is that the most effective thing would be a PR campaign targeted at black writers, but, at this point, I don’t think there’s anything white people can do to fix this because we don’t understand what’s happening. Any effort has to be led by black authors (and maybe editors), and we need to ask them how we can help them.

    ETA: The difference between the 2014 and 2015 census numbers is stunning. The Black Authors number jumps from 4% to 11.8%. That’s astonishing, and would point to a really huge problem if the number is accurate.

  3. Never mind. The 4% number was right. I got confused about the two bars. They’re not 2014 and 2015; they’re writers vs. the total number of people in the workplace (all professions). Either way, using 13.3% is definitely a mistake, of course.

  4. It still would be interesting to know the input side of this. How many pieces being submitted are by black authors?

    One of the points made several times in this discussion is that black writers are self-selecting out, which means they’re not appearing in the slush pile to begin with, which matches my experience when editing Fantasy Magazine. To me one question that grows out of that is how do we encourage them not to do so?

  5. @Cat
    An outreach effort is something someone like Jemisin could lead (or at least headline). However, it has to counteract things like this:

    Most respondents reported that reading reports like Fireside’s #BlackSpecFic report or the Lee and Low Diversity Baseline Survey either discouraged them from submitting work to short fiction markets or had no effect on their decision to submit work to short fiction markets. Reasons for discouragement are obvious, we think. However, many respondents indicated that the reports had no effect on their outlook because they are used to unfair treatment by these markets and the industry.

    2016 Black SFF Writer Survey Report,” (Fiyah, ~February 2017)

    This very much supports the idea that black authors believe that the magazines discriminate against them, and so they go independent instead. I don’t see why they’d believe a bunch of white writers telling them they ought to submit anyway. This has to be lead by a successful black author.

    I suspect there are a lot of would-be black authors out there who aren’t aware of how easy it is to submit to SFF publications these days. Type it up in Word, upload it to their web site, and get a yes/no decision in just a few days–maybe a week. (Except for Analog.) These magazines reject 99% of what they get, so keep sending. For each story, keep a chart of whom you’ve sent it to, and keep sending until each story has either been accepted or has been rejected everywhere. And keep writing. The more you write, the better you’ll get, and soon enough you’ll get things published, if you’re meant to be a writer anyway. But getting dozens, hundreds, even a thousand rejections first is normal.

    I dunno. Maybe they already know all this. Or maybe they wouldn’t believe it even from a Jemisin. Or maybe there’s some entirely different thing that would work. But it really needs a successful black author to lead it. I don’t think anyone else can.

  6. Here’s a different idea: create a prize for an African-American author’s first publication in one of the major magazines. E.g. (not that I’m promising to do this–think of it as a thought experiment) Rocket Stack Rank could offer $1,000 to an African-American author for his/her first publication in one of the 11 magazines we review, provided it got at least three stars. It would be interesting to see how long it was before that prize was claimed, but if we got the right people to promote it in the right places, maybe it could create some enthusiasm. If it only took a few days, maybe give it a time range (e.g. 3 months) and give it to the best that qualified. If there were no takers in three months, maybe double it to $2,000.

    Or SFWA could do something like that, but limited to SFWA-qualifying publications. If there are multiple candidates, make use of your eager affiliate members who are editors/reviewers to pick the best one. 🙂 Maybe use Patreon to fund the thing.

    I’m sure it would take more thought to do something robust, but this might actually work.

  7. Pingback: Cat Rambo’s Follow-Up to “Learning From Fireside Fiction’s #BlackSpecFic Reports” | File 770

  8. “This very much supports the idea that black authors believe that the magazines discriminate against them, and so they go independent instead. I don’t see why they’d believe a bunch of white writers telling them they ought to submit anyway. “

    AFAIK, studies point to reach out as a working solution. Because it means that people are actually working to make others feel welcome, showing them that they are interested. It has worked for academia. I can’t see why it shouldn’t have an effect in SF.

    Status Quo does not change by saying someone else should do the work.

  9. @Hampus I would say that the work at this point is to recruit someone to lead it. That’s something I think Cat is well-placed to do. 🙂 it’s important to recognize when you’re not the right person to do something.

  10. Hi there. This is Brian White, former editor, publisher, and owner of Fireside. We have been doing surveys of submitters (they get a link after subbing a story) and while we still need more data it seems about 7-8% of submissions to Fireside are from black writers. As another commenter said, many black writers don’t bother subbing because they see how white the published authors are in the mags. It’s one of the most pernicious effects of the combination of a preceived but false meritocracy (“the best stories will ge published regardless of race) and of institutional racism in an industry that has always been dominated by white men, especially at the gatekeeping level of editors and publishers. One way Fireside has and is working to make itself more inclusive is through direct solicitation of black and other marginalized writers. By making Fireside more inclusive, we hope that will snowball into being seen as a welcoming market for people of color and other marginalized communities, leading to submission rates more representative of the world we live in.

    tl;dr — black writers are out there, and if they don’t feel comfortable submitting to magazines, that is on us, not on them.

  11. Pingback: AMAZING NEWS FROM FANDOM: 10-22-2017 - Amazing Stories

  12. Unfortunately, I did not read this comments section when the post was originally published to point out Greg Hullender’s falsehoods above. Correcting for the sake of posterity:

    1.

    They [Fireside Fiction] appear to have gotten a bit more humble when in the following year they themselves failed to publish a single story written by a black author.

    This is patently untrue, which I know because I — a critic not affiliated with Fireside Fiction — collected the data for the 2016 BlackSpecFic report. Fireside published two stories by two unique black authors in 2016.

    2.

    There’s a secret conspiracy by editors of short fiction to identify the race of authors and then not publish stories by black writers… I only mention [this] because that seemed to be Fireside‘s original argument

    This is an absurdly disingenuous reading of words by me and every single other person involved in either 2015 or 2016’s report. I cannot speak for them, but as for me: I believe this is primarily an issue of literary bias, not interpersonal bigotries (except to what extent racist behavior at SF conventions and such discourage the attendance of people of color, which I could see playing a small role indirectly).

    If editors in the SF field are failing to publish black work because they are unfamiliar with black literary traditions and/or undervalue them, that is just as much their “fault”* as if they’d come up with some sort of conspiracy — which I have never seen anyone espouse except Greg here — because, you know, this is their job; they chose to work in the field of literature.

    If having the opinion that people should not perform badly at their jobs is rude, I’m pretty damn rude. I’m a critic in this field and coddling editors’ white fragility is not my job.

    3.

    they [Fireside] rudely rejected any suggestion that this wasn’t the fault of the editors.

    This appears to be a misrepresentation because, again, I’m not Fireside but an unaffiliated critic and damn straight I’ll reject any such suggestion. If you’re publishing ToC’s with demographics that aren’t terribly dissimilar to a Klan rally’s, you should 1) notice and 2) question your work’s existential purpose.

    4)

    First, the US Census reports that between 3% and 5% of all authors are black. (All genres). Realistically speaking, one cannot expect that 13.3% of submissions will come from black authors.

    This is untrue. This reports the percentage of full time authors who are black. (How many full-time authors y’all know of in SF? I can think of maybe three?) This has so little relationship to the niche short fiction field as to be meaningless.

    Furthermore, I will point out that here and elsewhere, throughout other posts’ comments sections on this blog, Hullender has been making the argument that SF should be no less racist than other literary fields.

    TL;DR: I’m growing extremely weary of Hullender using comments sections throughout this blog to distort, misrepresent, and occasionally — to my reading anyway — outright lie about my work, as well as others’.

    *Something I wrote in the 2016 report’s quant section that I’ll repeat here: “fault” and “responsibility” are not the same paradigms. Which was a lesson my father taught me roughly in elementary school; it astonishes me that grown adults do not understand this.

  13. “Furthermore, I will point out that here and elsewhere, throughout other posts’ comments sections on this blog, Hullender has been making the argument that SF should be no less racist than other literary fields.”

    I thought I read most of the comments here, but I must have missed this. Can you give an example of where Greg says that there should be a minimum amount of racism in SF?

    With quotes, please.

  14. Hampus Eckerman: Can you give an example of where Greg says that there should be a minimum amount of racism in SF?

    Hampus, the statistics that Greg is using for comparison are in themselves from areas where racism (both intentional and inadvertent) is also a problem. So claiming that those statistics are a benchmark for what should be expected in SFF publishing is a fallacy.

    And if Greg is as big of an expert on statistics as he claims to be, he is well aware of that. 🙄

  15. Sure thing, Hampus.

    I’ll just point out that if you really do think that’s the cause, it would actually argue in favor of a limited form of affirmative action. That is, magazines should deliberately try to identify black manuscripts and give them deluxe attention–including feedback–with an eye towards developing more black writers. Up until they hit that 4% number, anyway.

    Link

    Ergo, his argument (as I read it anyway) is that SF should work insofar as to make sure they aren’t any more racist than other literary fields on average*, and then stop. Dramatic underrepresentation is okay as long as it’s not worse than other fields’, at which point no worries!

    *Again, the argument leaves out the fact that these are numbers of full time writers and thus IMO not particularly germane to the niche field of SF short fiction, but.

  16. Ok, what you take away from that text is the opposite of what I read. What I read is that there should be some kind of affirmative action to help black writers.

    What you implied is that he proposed there should be action to make sure that there should never be too many black writers in SF. That quote says nothing of the kind.

  17. JJ:

    I agree with you. Greg is using statistics where black writers are underrepresented as a benchmark and that is wrong of him.

    But that is not the same as saying he wants to have a minimum level of racism.

  18. Hampus Eckerman: But that is not the same as saying he wants to have a minimum level of racism.

    I disagree. He is saying, “Affirmative Action should be used to bring the numbers up to match a benchmark [which in itself reflects a certain amount of racism] — and then no further”.

  19. “He is saying, “Affirmative Action should be used to bring the numbers up to match a benchmark [which in itself reflects a certain amount of racism] — and then no further”.”

    Where is that quote from? I can’t find it.

  20. I don’t want to speak for JJ, but I read it as a paraphrase of sorts of the last quote I referenced.

    There’s some linguistic drift of verbs going on that I’m going to point out before this gets derailed entirely. Me:

    has been making the argument that SF should be no less racist

    Hampus:

    says that there should be a minimum amount of racism in SF

    Me:

    should work insofar as to make sure they aren’t any more racist than other literary fields on average*, and then stop

    Hampus:

    But that is not the same as saying he wants to have a minimum level of racism

    I’m not sure how “making the argument” becomes “wants.” I can’t read other people’s minds, just their words. I’m not concerned with people’s immortal souls but rather the ideas they fart into the Internet ether.

    That one — the same one that “Lev Bronstein” argued in that “counter-report” that Hullender seems to have been stanning for since — is bad, and I thought the logical conclusions of it worth pointing out as such.

  21. Hampus Eckerman: Where is that quote from? I can’t find it.

    Greg Hullender: magazines should deliberately try to identify black manuscripts and give them deluxe attention–including feedback–with an eye towards developing more black writers. Up until they hit that 4% number, anyway.

    is equivalent to:
    Affirmative Action should be used to bring the numbers up to match a benchmark [which in itself reflects a certain amount of racism] — and then no further.

  22. JJ:

    Yes and no. The offhand “anyway” makes this as likely an interpretation:

    “Affirmative action should be used to bring the numbers up to at least match a benchmark – and then we’ll see.”

    It doesn’t even say clearly that the affirmative action should end there. It only says that it “should hit 4%, anyway”. And much less that the benchmark (which I agree reflects a certain amount of racism) should be used as a limit on how many black writers should be allowed.

    So if you by “no further” means that the affirmative action should end there – well, that is a possible interpretation. But not the only one.

  23. The effect of vilifying someone who wanted to create a practical goal for fighting the effects of racism by treating that idea as if it proved he is himself some kind of racist will be to make people more comfortable about doing nothing whatever to fight it.

  24. I don’t get
    “Up until they hit that 4% number, anyway.” = “and then we’ll see.”

    I get
    “Up until they hit that 4% number, anyway.” = “and then no need to worry about going further.”

    This is possibly a linguistic difference between English as I learned it, and English as you learned it.

  25. Cecily Kane:

    Sorry, I tried to simplify your statements to make my point easier to understand, but it seems like i changed the meaning instead. 🙁

  26. Mike Glyer: The effect of vilifying someone who wanted to create a practical goal for fighting the effects of racism

    While I cannot speak to what Greg “wanted”, I disagree that this is an accurate description of what he was trying to do.

    As a self-professed expert on statistics and short speculative fiction, Greg is well aware that the percentage of full-time writers who are POC is at best, only very orthogonally related to
    1) the percentage of full-time writers who would be POC if no racism affected that number
    2) the percentage of part-time short-fiction writers who would be POC if no racism affected that number.

    Combine this with his argument that the Fireside and FIYAH studies “proved” that editors aren’t discriminating against POC writers — something which anyone with even the most basic understanding of statistics will know is not the case.

    I thought that these were arguments made in bad faith when they were first made, and I still think that they are arguments made in bad faith to further a specific agenda, with only a fig-leaf of “factual percentage” attached to them in an attempt to make them defensible.

  27. JJ: This is possibly a linguistic difference between English as I learned it, and English as you learned it.

    The difference is not idiom, it’s a difference between assuming ill on Greg’s part, or not doing so.

  28. JJ:

    “I don’t get
    “Up until they hit that 4% number, anyway.” = “and then we’ll see.””

    I learned that “anyway”, used in that way, could have the same meaning as “regardless”.

  29. JJ: While I cannot speak to what Greg “wanted”, I disagree that this is an accurate description of what he was trying to do.

    If you can’t speak to what he wanted, then why did you proceed to do so?

  30. Mike Glyer: If you can’t speak to what he wanted, then why did you proceed to do so?

    What he “wants” to do and what he is effectively doing may or may not be the same thing. I’m not interested in trying to determine his motivations.

    The point is the effect that his arguments have, regardless of intent — which is to make false claims using an appeal to authority based on his claimed areas of expertise.

  31. JJ: Combine this with his argument that the Fireside and FIYAH studies “proved” that editors aren’t discriminating against POC writers — something which anyone with even the most basic understanding of statistics will know is not the case.

    I had already concluded from my own life experience in the sf field that there is discrimination and there are barriers to POC writers — I think that’s obviously the truth.

    And there is a lot of content in those reports, including a number of personal testimonies by writers, conveying what they know about that truth.

    As to the statistical part, whether the statistics in the report are in every case used properly and calculated correctly is something beyond my expertise to test, but after a career in litigation (not as a lawyer) I am used to people putting forward their best case. That means selectivity. So I’m not surprised that someone trained to use statistics could find weaknesses is the case they offered, or might feel he could take their evidence and interpret it some other way. Or that in doing so he would make his own best case.

    I might or might not end up questioning whether statistics are the best evidence of discrimination. Other kinds of evidence make it very plain that discrimination exists, so I’m not going to treat that as disproved.

  32. Greg Hullender: magazines should deliberately try to identify black manuscripts and give them deluxe attention–including feedback–with an eye towards developing more black writers. Up until they hit that 4% number, anyway.

    is equivalent to:
    Affirmative Action should be used to bring the numbers up to match a benchmark [which in itself reflects a certain amount of racism] — and then no further.

    And here I read that as meaning “at the very minimum.”

    But then I’m not looking for problems.

    After the last couple of days, Greg’s got more fortitude than I do.

  33. Harold Osler: But then I’m not looking for problems. After the last couple of days, Greg’s got more fortitude than I do.

    One does not have to “look” for problems in many of the things Greg posts. Quite frequently the problematic aspects of what he says are blindingly apparent, based on the number of different Filers who have repeatedly called him out on them over the last couple of years.

     
    And I saw you over on Twitter whining about how the fact that you have non-binary friends entitles you to accuse people who are asking to be treated with simple human decency as having “precious melt-downs” and “tantrums”.

    Did you actually bother to ask your non-binary friends why they historically never corrected people who mis-gendered them? Did it ever occur to you that maybe the reason they didn’t say anything was not because they didn’t care, but because they knew that speaking up would get them ridiculed and ostracized (just as you are ridiculing the people who are speaking up now), or assaulted, or even killed?

    In what year did you finally get to the point where you feel comfortable telling random people you encounter who you really are, without worrying about being ridiculed or ostracized or assaulted or killed?

    So you’re saying that if I call you a woman and a female, and refer to you with “she” or “her”, you’re perfectly okay with that, and wouldn’t say anything?

    Of course you are. Because if you did say anything, it would be because (according to you) your caring about it would be “stupid” and you would be “a pretentious snowflake”. 🙄

  34. Hampus, you can’t Tone on the Internet and s’ok, I wasn’t excoriating you or angry or anything, just pointing it out.

    I think it’s a perspective difference that’s also in your comment, Mike:

    …someone who wanted… as if it proved he is himself some kind of racist

    I not only never made claims as to what Hullender “wanted,” I also never made claims as to who he “is.” What do those verbs have in common? They’re passive states of being.

    (I’m just going to point out verbs y’all two used regarding me, respectively — “imply,” “vilify,” “assume” — to note the contrast. I wrote a long comment about several ways in which Hullender obviously misrepresented myself and others. (And note that he did this in the context of using arguments from “Lev Bronstein’s” counter-report, which was an almost entirely fabricated straw man of my words.) But I’m “assuming” “ill will”? Why am I an active entity, and he a passive one I wonder?)

    And here’s the thing: I don’t care, either way, about the is and the want. I care about doing racism. It’s kinda like the differential I pointed out upthread: the difference between “fault” and “responsibility.” Hullender’s and Bronstein’s arguments (and the distortions thereof of mine, which conveniently hide that difference) treat the two interchangeably, like I did when I elbowed over my chocolate milk and my parents told me to clean it up. Editors are “not at fault,” and to suggest that (regardless) it is in fact their responsibility is the same as to claim they are engaged in a “secret racist conspiracy.”

    The point is the effect that his arguments have, regardless of intent — which is to make false claims using an appeal to authority based on his claimed areas of expertise.

    This. Thanks, JJ.

    Anyway, this has all been rather a derail. I just commented to correct the record as regarding my words, as Hullender made several untrue claims, and this blog is widely read enough that I didn’t want wholly fabricated nonsense attributed to me on the record books, so to speak.

  35. No, what I was talking about is that back then, the people I knew didn’t get hung up on gender “rules”–saying ‘men act this way’ or ‘women act that’ just got you laughed at.
    I was trying to send that Twitter thing to a friend but screwed it up.
    For the record–here’s the full thing:

    I’m resigning from the LGBT community
    “Bogi’s pronouns are e/em/eir, just for future reference”

    That’s it.
    I fucking refuse to be a part of this and since you can’t say “That’s stupid” and “you’re a pretentious snowflake” I have no choice but to resign.
    I’ve put up with “Some men have pussies” and “Some women have penises”.
    I’ve put up with “Gay man gives birth”
    I’ve put up with “Stonewall was a transsexual bar”
    I’ve put up with ‘cis gay men’ being used as an insult.
    I’ve put up with children so obsessed with the idea that THEY”RE non-binary and the world is trying to force them into a role that they don’t even see that they’re the only ones obsessed by it. ( I told one cry-baby that they needed to just live their life and ignore people and was told that ‘It’s not that easy! You have to constantly answer questions!” And then they quit answering when I asked “Why?”)

    I’ve had it.

    So you’re saying that if I call you a woman and a female, and refer to you with “she” or “her”, you’re perfectly okay with that, and wouldn’t say anything?

    Of course you are. Because if you did say anything, it would be because (according to you) your caring about it would be “stupid” and you would be “a pretentious snowflake”.
    Nope–never gave a rat’s ass about being ‘misgendered’ (queens rule!) but I hated people assuming I was straight.

  36. Harold Osler: For the record–here’s the full thing:

    And here’s the other thing:
    Harold Osler @sfhally 14 AM – 27 Nov 2017
    And I’m avoiding File770’s gender postings. i knew too many of what are now called ‘non-binary’ who lived as they wanted without having precious melt-downs to tolerate tantrums.

    You’ve “put up” with other people asking to be treated with basic human decency. How incredibly gracious of you. Here’s your Martyr Medal. 🎖

    It’s horrifying when people who are straight, white, and cis behave without compassion and understanding for members of marginalized and oppressed groups. But when people who are themselves members of marginalized and oppressed groups do it, it’s doubly tragic.

    That you honestly have no recognition of just how awful the post you just made is, is incredibly sad. 🙁

  37. I’ve put up with children so obsessed with the idea that THEY’RE non-binary and the world is trying to force them into a role that they don’t even see that they’re the only ones obsessed by it.

    I’m so, so sorry that you think kids can’t tell when their gender doesn’t match their bodies. I’m also sorry that you don’t seem to know that transitioning requires at least a year of trying it out first, with medical help to make sure it isn’t “just a phase” or something that they want because it sounds cool – and that applies to adults as well as to teens and children.

  38. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, Harold.

    You can’t say your non-binary friends didn’t care because you never saw them talk about it. Especially with your current attitude of labelling everyone who cares about things you don’t care about as “Snowflakes” and “Crybabies”. I can see how this attitude would make such people simply not discuss it in front of you.

    I also don’t see how “Some men have pussies” and “Some women have penises” is something for you to “put up with”. It’s a statement of fact. Moreover, it’s a statement that practically screams “We do not get hung up on gender rules”, which means rather than putting up with it, you should cheer it, if you think not getting hung up on what is a man or a woman is a positive.

    And the pronouns Bogi uses are a variant from 1991, based on a form first proposed in 1890 – and tweaked and toyed with through the 1970s and 1980s. Not exactly the newfangled millennial weirdness you imply it is.

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