Diversity and the White Elephant in the room

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The Diversity Crowd 1 at PPWC2014

The Diversity Crowd 1 at PPWC2014

I recently had the opportunity to play moderator/host to a panel on diversity in genre fiction.  You can listen to it (or download it) over on SF Signal.  It was an interesting experience and conversation.

When the Pikes Peak Writers Conference first approached me about doing stuff with them – like podcasts/interviews – I was all for it.  I want to say that I suggested the live podcast panel, but I honestly don’t recall at this point.  Anyway, they said yes and things moved forward.  The Diversity aspect came from them, which is good.  I’m glad they want to talk about that and shine a light on the issue, but I have to admit – I was nervous about being the moderator.  Why?

Well, I’m a white dude.  And straight.  And kinda getting old.

Everything out there on this topic says I’m the problem.

So putting me in charge?  Yeah – nervous.

It’s hard to read an email because we add tone where there (usually) isn’t any.  As an example, I asked the PPWC folks if they get a diverse crowd.  The answer was a (nervous tone injected by me) “Not really”.  Yay.  “But we want that to change.”  Okay.  I can get behind that.

I wasn’t sure, exactly, who was gonna be on the panel.  I’d asked for a keynote speaker or two, and they (PPWC) said they’d do what they could.  I believe (I’ve no confirmation on this part) that they reached out to a lot of the faculty to see who would be interested.  I was very happy to see two of the keynotes, Chuck Wendig and Jim C. Hines, on the final list.  I was also very happy to see Carol Berg and Amy Boggs on that list.

Going in to these kinds of things, I don’t prepare questions ahead of time.  Some people think I’m mad.  Most of the others think I’m bat-shit crazy.  Either way, I like to have an organic conversation.  I do this in all my podcasting.  Scripting questions makes it sound like an interview.  I want it to be cozier than that.  I want the listener to feel as if they’ve come across a conversation and have been invited to sit down and listen, or join in.  I think it’s more personal that way.  Those involved open up more, they relax.  Most of the time.

I had to prepare a couple of questions/topics ahead of time simply because panelists asked for it.  No problem.  But I still feel as if we had that good, organic conversation I wanted.  I’m being vague on purpose because I want you to go listen to the episode.  🙂

Second half of the Diversity crowd

Second half of the Diversity crowd

As for the crowd, it was overwhelmingly women.  I took hope from that.  I think there are a lot of women who are out there writing, learning the craft, going to these kinds of workshops, submitting their stories to various markets – and that’s all good, and needed, and overdue.  Did I let Carol and Amy talk a bit longer than Chuck and Jim?  Yes.  On purpose.  The women in that audience needed to hear from Amy and Carol.  Hear what they had to say, their stories both good and bad, and know that it can happen to them – both good and bad.  But they also needed to hear that it’s getting better.  And it is getting better.

I made a joke – I do that.  You know this.  Someone mentioned the panel itself as lacking in diversity.  Three men and two women – I think that gives us some diversity, but as far as skin color?  Without knowing for certain and asking each person their ethnic backgrounds, I’ll go out on a limb and say, yes – everyone was white.  Hence the joke: We were the White Elephant in the room.

But that’s okay.  It’s getting better.  It gets better every time we have a panel like this one.  Every time we share it with others, and it sparks something and grows.

Jim C. Hines gave a speech – his keynote – and part of it was about diversity.  After, a gay writer sat there and told me he felt better.  He could write what he wanted to write.  Tell the stories he wanted to tell.  I had a similar reaction from another gay writer friend after he listened to the podcast.  So I think we did okay.

I encourage you to go over to SF Signal and listen to the discussion.  And tell your friends, too.  Spread the word.

Diversity.  It’s getting better.

3 comments for “Diversity and the White Elephant in the room

  1. May 13, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    I had a fellow writer come up to me the day after the panel and thank me for asking the question that I did and in the manner that I asked it. (Following Patrick’s lead on being vague, so you other folks will listen to the podcast.)

    It struck me odd that I’d be the one getting thanks for asking a question when the panelists’ answers were the true golden moment, so I had a brief conversation with him about it.

    He told me that my question was more of a call to action for the rest of the audience than a true question for the panelists. I hadn’t looked at it that way. I was trying to glean more information for my OWN call to action, but I can see his perspective on it.

    PS: I heard quite a bit of great feedback during the rest of the conference (and after) about this panel. In other words, if you weren’t there in person (or even if you were)…. go check out the recording!

  2. May 13, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    I was going to write a blog post about sitting in a Star Wars novel/comic panel at Starfest and being the only woman in the room, but I am not sophisticated enough of a feminist to really explain how that felt. On one hand I was like of like, sweet, I’m a special friggin’ snowflake! And on the other hand, I was, well… sad. Where my girls at? Where’s my lady smugglers and Jedi?

    But I’m also a white female, like you said, elephants and rooms and things. So I always try to just walk the walk, and keep my mouth shut (unless something absolute egregious is happening and then I will cut a bitch). I am woman, read my stuff, as opposed to hearing me roar.

    On the other hand, it’s hard to know how to approach someone about diversity. Is it okay to say, “gosh, I’d really like to read some Muslim-written fantasy?” Or being terrified about crossing that line from appreciation into appropriation. Being the type of personality that is absolutely terrified of offending or pissing people off, I’m frozen solid more often than not, and I think it’s a loss in the long run.

  3. Dan
    June 26, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    There certainly is nothing wrong with diversity, but seeking diversity for diversity’s sake has always rubbed me the wrong way. I’m the type that enjoys most people and appreciates their work without keeping note of their physical or behavioral characteristics. Also, sometimes I feel like it never ends. Blacks are introduced and I think everything is good, but then the dozen shades in between blacks and whites want in. Finally, all possible races are represented, but now religious minorities start to complain. Because race and religion are not independent variables, proportionally representing writers by religion sets the races into disproportionality. Then homosexuals want in and disagreements ensue over whether bisexuals are gay, straight, or are in an independent category. Individual writers change their declared orientation over time and the numbers are then askew. Then those with autism spectrum disorder want notice. Single mothers want notice. The visually impaired want notice. It just never ends.

    I’m unique. I am my own group. How many Dans are there? Not enough.

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