Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chicanonautica: Who’s Afraid of Diversity?

I’m developing some funny reactions when I hear or see the word “diversity” -- especially when concerning science fiction, speculative literature, or what ever we’re calling that twisted wad of imaginative genres today.  It happened when I read Rudy Ch. Garcia’s recent La Bloga post. Before I knew it, I had tweeted:

I was diverse back when it scared the shit out of people.

Right away my friend Selina Phanara reminded me that I still scare people “plenty,” and Bill Campbell of  Rosarium Publishing remarked that “I think it still kinda does.”

Yup. Diversity still does kinda scare the shit out of people. It's just that nowdays, it’s supposed to be a good thing, what we’re all working for in this here civilization. You can still be scared of it, but you have to grit your teeth and look brave.

Reminds me of some old job interviews where the interviewer would turn a shade paler and give me a forced smile. It was as if I was H.R.Giger’s Alien, drooling slime and deploying the inner jaws. It would have been hilarious if I didn’t really need a way of making a living at the time . . .

Long before everybody was talking about the need for diversity in sci-fi, people in the genre would go around congratulating themselves about how they were always promoting “tolerance” -- and you’d always be running into stories where caucasians would learn that people with green skin, that looked like giant insects, could be okay folks.

Tolerance ain’t so great. Ever been around people who were “tolerating” you? And trying hard not to notice the color of your skin? Talk about quiet horror.

After all the stories where the hero shoots first and asks questions later, the subject of tolerance usually came up when trying to sell sci-fi to a highfalutin audience.

So now there’s all kinds of talk about diversity and sci-fi, and since I’ve been tilting with this windmill for about forty years it brings back memories, and the desire to speak out.

Even back in the Seventies, diversity was considered desirable. It would bring prestige, if done right, so it doesn’t scare away the perceived predominately white audience. You couldn’t go too far. Make it like “mild” salsa . . .

Ocatvia Bulter, Samuel R. Delany and Steven Barnes would be interviewed and discussed, but somehow, their race wouldn’t be mentioned. Better not bring it up. The audience may be disturbed.

Diversity was desirable, but wasn’t considered profitable. The audience was seen to be white folks from the Midwest. And not everybody liked sci-fi. What would happen to the profits if they lost the racists?

Of course, it’s the 21st century now, a new millennium. The publishing world is in turmoil. Ebooks are rocking their universe, which is no longer centered around New York City and a white elite. 

And when they go out to meet the audience, more and more of them aren’t white.

It scares them.

Kinda like I scare them. And for me, it ain’t fun until it gets scary.

In the next few years, where books come from and how people get them will change radically. Diversity will be necessary for survival in this brave, new global village.

Or will it be a global barrio? Or an intergalactic barrio?

Hollywood and the surviving publishers will follow, not lead.

Ernest Hogan is a Chicano science fiction writer, an unlikely thing to be, but he really had no choice.


Anonymous said...

I have written plenty of fiction where the characters are white, or their race is not defined because it doesn't matter. No race has a monopoly on stupidity so when I write about stupid people doing stupid stuff, race is not a factor. This throws readers for a loop. With a name like mine they expect me to be writing about taco trucks and low riders, and because I don't, they don't know what to make out of my writing. I even thought about using an Anglo pen name like Joseph Roderick or something like it, just to preempt people from making assumptions before even starting to read my stuff, but I decide to stay with my real name, que se jodan todos.

LaSirena said...

My son is 12 (soon 13). He loves sci-if but I have noticed it does pander to specific demographics. Thanks to all of you for bravely going where your sci-fi spirits take you. I will definitely be inspired to have my son read your works. Gracias por inspirar a una nueva generacion de aficionados del sci-fi latino! :)


With my name, editors tended to think I was Anglo, even though the famous Ernest Hogan, Father of Ragtime, from over a century ago was black. I decided to go with my given name, give the pendjos some picante reality to chew on. And one of the reasons I do Latino sci-fi, is the hope that I'll inspire a new generation to realize that they ARE the future.

Amelia ML Montes said...

Thanks for this post! We cannot survive without diversity--without appreciating marked differences. The "melting pot" idea does not work. That theory (melting pot--as if we are melting into one thing) is only for those who are afraid of difference. This year's Pulitzer Prize winning novel has diverse characters but they are all flat or in servitude positions. Here's an excellent review by Joy Castro which contributes to your posting:


You're welcome, Amelia. I try to do what I can here.

Desiree said...

You may enjoy this link, if you haven't seen it already

We need diverse media--