On Bullying, Racism, Sexism and Intolerance in the Science Fiction/Fantasy community

Today a racist bully kicked up a storm on Twitter and other forums. This is not new for this particular individual1 but today’s attack against SF/F writer N. K. Jemisin and a recent Guest of Honor speech that she gave was particularly brutal. Read Jemisin’s speech. It is moving.

I try to stay out the politics of the genre. Indeed, I recently wrote a post on how I prefer it that way. What it comes down to is that I just want to write stories. But today’s rant pushed me over the line. I decided that to stay silent was, at least for me, tantamount to accepting this behavior. And so I spoke out against it in various social media. I also sent a letter to the board members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America calling for this bully’s expulsion from the organization under the appropriate article and section of the SFWA’s bylaws.

Even doing that didn’t cool my jets completely. When I was a kid, science fiction opened my eyes to other worlds. It opened my eyes to science and astronomy. But it also opened my eyes to different cultures. Sometimes those cultures were cast as alien, but the message came through loud and clear. And what I found was a high degree of tolerance and acceptance in science fiction stories.

There is no denying that science fiction has had a rocky past when it comes to racism and sexism. John W. Campbell, one of the biggest editors in the genre, and the man who led science fiction through its “Golden Age” of the 1940s was a pretty racist guy when it came down to it. Some of Robert Heinlein’s stories (I’m thinking in particular of the Sixth Column) read today as pretty racist. One might argue that the story is a product of its time, but that doesn’t make it less racist. Women have had a hard time being treated as equals within the genre. They were (and sometimes still are) belittled. Too often they are defined by physical qualities instead of their talents as writers. It is a shame. There is no reason for this type of behavior.

I love science fiction too much to see it pulled apart by the kind of bullying I saw this morning, or by the kind of racist and sexist undercurrents that plague the genre. I remember reading Joe Haldeman’s Forever War, and seeing how casually same-sex relationships were treated in that story–and I remember thinking, yes, that is the way it should be. I remember reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and realizing that gender was not necessarily a fixed thing tied to anatomy–and thinking, yes, that makes sense. I remember reading stories like “The Women Men Don’t See” by James Tiptree, Jr. (a.k.a Alice Sheldon) or novels like The Female Man by Joanna Russ and marveling not only at the writing but the possibilities.

It seemed to me that science fiction–through its stories–was the place where humanity struggled for some kind of enlightenment of acceptance. Only when that acceptance was achieved, once it didn’t matter what your gender was, or the color of your skin, or your sexual preference, once you were accepted for who you were and the skills and dreams you brought to the table, only then would we really be able to get to those stars we wrote of so often. It made sense to me as a twelve-year-old kid, and it still makes sense now.

Which is why, when I see that there is at least one member of the Science Fiction Writers of America that appears, to me, to be nothing more than a racist, sexist, bully, I shudder. I worked hard for 14 years, writing stories, getting rejections, writing more stories and getting more rejections before finally starting to sell stories. I wanted to be a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America because all of my heroes had been members. I wanted to be part of that club. And now I find that within that club is a racist bully. It is disheartening.

Racism, sexism and bullying still exists within the SF/F community. People within SFWA are working hard to help ensure that the organization won’t tolerate this type of behavior. Not all people in the SF/F community are members of SFWA, but I find it hard to imagine why anyone would tolerate this type of behavior. The board of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America can take action here by expelling this bully from the organization. I think that vote needs to be taken.

Maybe I kept quiet for too long. I regret that. Part of me, a strong part of me, just wants to write stories. But you can’t be part of community and ignore when that community is in pain and struggling. Eventually, you have to speak up. I would urge others who have kept quiet for the same reasons I have, to speak up as well. We need more voices in the fight for tolerance and acceptance if we are going to win it.

  1. I won’t mention his name or link to his posts. But if you are familiar with the community, he is not that hard to find.


  1. “To stay silent was, at least for me, tantamount to accepting” – the head of the Australian Army has just said much the same in a similar context: “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”, as quoted on boingboing.

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