Diversity Interviews

This is a sampling of the questions I asked participants. Not all questions have been presented here, in part because there was just so daggone much information to sort through. I will update this page as more answers to the below questions come in.

I am hoping to stir up enough interest to expand this to a regular series–because so many voices deserve to be heard–so if you want to see this continue, please do leave a comment or send me an email. Also, PLEASE let me know if you’d like to participate, as I want more, more, MORE voices amplified here. 🙂


How often do you attend SFF related public social events in an average year?

Hawk: I attend an event every year or so, if something local catches my eye. I rarely plan or travel too far in advance.

Black Cat: I attend roughly five to eight science fiction conventions and public social events a year.

Gizmo Girl:  I usually attend 1-2 Con activities per year.

Harold Zwick: These days, around 6 conventions. If you count game nights, movies, parties, staff meetings, and promotional events the number is probably more like 60.

Edgar Mortis: As often as I can. Typically twice a year, HPLFF and Bizarrocon. More when the opportunities become available. I went to Worldcon one year as a volunteer. Things like that.

Midge: I go to conventions probably on average 2-3 times a year, but that seems to mean 4-5 one year and then 0-1 the next.

How often do you attend non-geek-related public social events in an average year?

Hawk: 3-5 times a year for larger events, maybe monthly for more intimate items where I know the crowd.

Black Cat: I attend non-geek related public events about 1-3 a year, on average.

Gizmo Girl: Not often.

Harold Zwick: All my friends are geeks, so I’m not sure I have any non-geek social events. And I don’t follow any sports, so that cuts out the number one non-geek social event in most people’s lives.

Edgar Mortis: Too often to count. I live in an artistic city and work in the music industry, so it all crosses over.

Midge: I mean, if you’re thinking like parties or something, pretty often. Or shows. Also protests, radical political conferences, etc… honestly it would be hard to gauge a number.

Do you attend these events by yourself or with a friend/spouse/professional group/other?

Hawk: I tend to go to events alone. I like to meet people and have random conversations, so why not?

Black Cat: I attend the non-geek events and geek events with my spouse, occasionally professional group, and sometimes by myself.

Gizmo Girl: I usually attend with my spouse or a friend.

Harold Zwick: With girlfriend and/or convention staff.

Edgar Mortis: Mostly by myself, sometimes with friends, once in a great while with the most wonderful woman in the whole world.

Midge: I think I go in a sort of mixed way. Like, I often go to conventions with the rest of the crew I publish with, or just with friends or whatever. But sometimes I go alone, and even when I go with a group (or a partner) I tend to maintain my autonomy.

Has your interest in attending geek-related events gone significantly up or down in the last five years? Has that change been for personal reasons (don’t need details here), or because of something related to the event(s) in question (please DO give details)?

Hawk: My interest in attention geek events and cons has dropped significantly. I’m happy about the recent surge in calls for non-harassment policies and open, diverse environments, but the blowback has gotten so toxic. I’d rather avoid meeting a dozen fun people than deal with one MRA troll or defensive “skeptic”. I struggle with anxiety, both personal and social, as is. I’m not going to bother stepping into a culture war.

Black Cat: My interest in attending geek-related events has increased over the last five years due to professional reasons. I am an SF/F/H author and I operate an SF/F/H press. In order to continue to grow professional as an author and as a publisher, attending events where I can come in contact with readers is necessary. I began volunteering at a local convention in order to participate in fandoms that I enjoy while also providing a different perspective to conventional SF cons. I’ve been attending SF conventions for over 15 years now. I am almost always the only person of color of one of a very few. I have never seen anyone on staff outside of DragonCON. I wanted to change that.

Gizmo Girl: I can’t say that geek-related events are on the top of my list.  I’m not exactly sure what those are. Is it a group of geeks all going to the movies or a picnic?  IDK.  I’ve seen some events come across my FB feed or I’ve been invited to events like these but I generally don’t attend. I generally attend cons to meet up with readers or other authors.  Great for gathering people with like interests.

Harold Zwick: Interest has stayed constant for the last 30 years.

Edgar Mortis: Not particularly. If anything, it has increased. I know what you’re asking, and I have a stake in running my mouth about it, rather than not wanting to be around it. Take Back The Cons.

Midge: It’s gone down a bit in the past five years but mostly because I’m transitioning from an interest in primarily steampunk (which I’m pretty burned out on) into the broader SF/F fandom and moving from being primarily a publisher/editor to being primarily an author. I haven’t really hit my stride yet in terms of going to more conventions as just an author, but I think that’s likely to swing back up.

Ditto previous question for non-geek-related events.

Hawk:  With non-geek events, I feel a bit more comfortable due to the lesser likelihood of passionate people. Geeks are 100% into whatever they’re into, while at a concert venue, local event, etc., things are far more constrained by manners. I’ll be more interested in the subject matter than the crowd, but that’s the tradeoff. An outburst at an event like that is an anomaly or a weird story. With geeks, it can escalate fast.

Black Cat:  My interest in non-geek-related events is very small. Those events tend to be much smaller and more personal. Events with families and my full time job often comprise the bulk of these events. My interest in doing them remains about the same as most are obligations albeit some are self-selected.

Gizmo Girl:  I always attend book related events. I love those like the Decatur Book Festival, library events, or activities. My hubby and I had an interesting discussion. We both graduated from PWI (Predominantly White Colleges) and HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges) and we never attend events or give $$ to the PWIs.  But at the HBCU’s we attend homecoming, alumni events, give to scholarship funds, and go to sports events. HBCU events feel comfortable and fun. We always enjoy ourselves even if we don’t know the people hosting the event or sitting next to us.

Harold Zwick: [repeat previous answer] All my friends are geeks, so I’m not sure I have any non-geek social events. And I don’t follow any sports, so that cuts out the number one non-geek social event in most people’s lives.

Edgar Mortis: Again, barely applicable question. In the past five years, that interest has only increased.

Midge: Well, I go to fewer protests than I used to primarily because of PTSD. Now I only go when the stakes are higher, because it takes a lot to get me to willingly put myself into a position of conflict with police. I go to fewer parties just because I’m getting older. I still find myself at non-conflictual radical political events about as often.

When you are considering whether to attend a given event, how important is A) a clearly stated harassment policy, B) how much cultural/ethnic diversity is displayed amongst the organizers/staff, and C) whether you personally know someone who is already involved in the event?

Hawk: All three of these are key to me. Without a clear stance on harassment, people I know or find engaging are going to be more on guard than they already are about grief, trolls, or perverts. A lack of diversity puts me on a spotlight as a black man and only multiplies the likelihood some sort of ignorant mistake or intentional annoyance will follow. And if I’m meeting friends, the first two items become necessities, not preference. It’s just not worth the trouble otherwise. Why not just go get drinks and play games at home?

Black Cat: A) A well stated harassment policy- As a person of color, these policies are only as effective as the people in charge. It’s not important to me that these exist, because many times when these are created, they are for sexual harassment or for females, but not necessarily for people of color as the committees and staff creating them are almost always comprised of white people. When conflicts arise, having the policy does not always support people of color in much the same way that having laws do not prohibit innocent blacks from being murdered while in police custody. I say that not to be inflammatory, but rather to support my assertion that the harassment policy is only as effective as those who implement it. So, in short, this is not of high importance.

B) I always feel more comfortable and have greater sales when I go to science fiction conventions in cities where there are many others who look like me, so when deciding which conventions to attend, I most likely will go where there are more diversity on staff or in cities where there is greater diversity in its populations (such as Atlanta, D.C., Detroit). It’s important in terms of where I will spend my limited budget and funds. If I see there are diverse authors, staffing, I feel more inclined to go as well.

C) This is the biggest factor in me attending a convention. When I know people, regardless of ethnicity, I feel more comfortable because these are people I know and know me. It’s the reason I continue to try to go back to conventions in the Southwest, because I know friends and authors there and I miss them greatly. Conventions are about shared fandoms and about networking. While I continue to branch out  to different SF/F/H conventions, I do enjoy knowing a friendly face, but when I know someone I trust/know/respect is there also, that’s a huge part of why I attend.

Gizmo Girl: This might sound awful but as an African American, I get worried about attending an event with a harassment statement—my mind starts wondering who has been harassed and why. It doesn’t make me feel safe or comfortable. It makes me wonder if I’m going to have a negative experience. In fact, my natural walls go up. I wonder if people are going to act oddly towards me, treat me in a prejudicial way, or make off color statements. It’s not my idea of fun.

Cultural/ethnic diversity is very important to me. I generally like to see people who look like me on any banners/flyers or I like to know someone who is already involved in the event. I generally don’t like always being “the other” at events–you have to erect mental walls and that just takes away the excitement of the event. My two cents, anyway. I do like looking at all the Cosplayers and taking pics. That’s always neat.

Harold Zwick: None of these factors usually figure in to my planning.

Edgar Mortis: A.) Somewhat important, depending on the attendees. I am not afraid to say what I think, and there are segments of fandom and among the pros who find that objectionable. I don’t go to Cons to see them. I’m a writer. B.) More black folks. More women. More old people. More young people. More non-English speakers. More everybody. The field is as vast as the human race. Everyone write something NOW and send it somewhere. Especially if someone told you not to. That’s my general attitude, applicable everywhere in the field. C.) It helps, but it’s not mandatory. At my first Con, I knew one person but ended up spending most of my time with a legend in the special effects community whom I only knew from his work. So I had a blast. It’s all circumstantial.

Midge: A) this means more to some of my friends than it does to me, to be honest. I have a tendency to encourage people to respond directly to problems, or for a more group intervention, rather than relying on organizers/authorities. Like, a harassment policy indicates that the organizers take such things seriously, which is great. But the times I’ve experienced or responded to harassment at conventions, I’ve done so by organizing with a small group of friends, usually spontaneously, to confront the problematic behavior directly. The time that sticks out in my mind the clearest, it went well: I saw a clear instance of harassment, I intervened, people had my back, and it de-escalated the situation. Lessons were learned all around. Other times, our responding directly and collectively put us into an antagonistic situation with the organizers, who felt (correctly) that they were not 100% in control. So I’m more interested in organizers knowing that they’re on the side of anti-oppression rather than specifically knowing that they have a set of rules in place.

B) I’m not always aware of who the organizers or staff are when I make the decision to attend a convention, at least the first time. I’m quite pleased when I see gender and racial diversity amongst the organizers, but to be honest I rarely organizers who aren’t white and cis-gendered. I do see an active interest in inviting guests who are diverse along other liens, and I take that into consideration. My instinct is that the first line of attack against homogeny was the inclusion of women (primarily white and cisgendered) in organizing, and I think the breaking of geek culture as a boy’s playground has been absolutely vital. I’m glad to see that we are continuing to attack along other lines.
 
C) doesn’t have too big of an impact.

At this point, I asked each participant a number of individual followup questions, based on their overall answers to the first set. Here’s the result:

How do you typically find out about the events you do attend? Do you see announcements through FB, at the local library, radio, etc? What is there about the event announcement that draws your attention–do you look for a clear indications that it’s POC-focused/friendly, or do you catch on the topic/theme first and then look for whether it’s POC friendly? 

Hawk: I usually see announcements over Facebook through friends’ feeds. I also have stumbled into cons and events just from living two blocks from the convention center. “What’s that? OH!” As far as announcements? I don’t have a particular key or hot point – mostly just a reason to trust them. I can’t really put it into words. A vocal statement of diversity and anti-harassment isn’t so much a draw as a need.

Black Cat: I find out about events via friends, sometimes FB, and conventions. The event announcement’s location is important but I do check to see how many people of color are on the flyer, in the staff, or other guests. If it looks like it could be POC friendly, I will go, and even if there isn’t a clear indication of people of color being there, but friends and fellow authors who I trust are going, I will go. Overall, I need to feel safe in that environment.

Sometimes I’m successful in convincing potential readers to take a chance on my writing and my company’s stories. Sometimes I’m not. Some people can’t get past the barrier of me being a black person, but can readily accept stories by Asian Americans or white Hispanics.

Edgar Mortis: I am usually invited to the events I attend, or I hear about them in the paper or online or just on the street on a flyer or marquee. And I walk in with the assumption that the event better damn well be “POC friendly” or I’m leaving. I live in Portland. I assume there’s a certain level of diversity that’s going to happen, and built into the process. If it’s a honky fest full of a bunch of late-stage entitled yuppies and hipsters and no real mix in the crowd, it’s probably not something I want to see.

Do you think there’s an issue with how harassment policies are *presented*, or with the basic concept itself? Is there, maybe, wording to avoid while explaining the decision to put a HP in place, or wording *to* use that would make the concept less worrisome? Not sure if I’m asking the right questions here, but I’d like to talk about this further if you’re willing.

Gizmo Girl:

Ok. So in my mind, I feel as if you’re asking me three different questions but I’m not sure if you realize what you’re asking me. I’ll try to break this down from my perspective.

As An African American woman, I live in three different worlds 1) An All Black World 2) A Multicultural World 3) An All White World.  As I traverse these worlds, mentally I will put on different levels of armor to survive.  In an all Black world, I need chainmail. In a Multicultural world, I need chainmail and a shield. In an all White world, I need chainmail, a shield, a dagger and an arsenal of weapons. My preference and comfort level is to spend the majority of my life in all Black and Multicultural worlds and minimal time in an all White world. Though, I will say that there are Black people who prefer the complete opposite of me.

So, when you ask me about “harassment statements”, no matter what they say or how they are worded, I automatically think that this is necessary in an all White world—a place where I need all my armor and an arsenal of weapons.  DragonCon and ComicCon are great examples. These are large events with an inclusive multicultural following but ultimately they exist in the all White world and in that context, I understand the need for a harassment statement. It’s suitable and fitting.

Generally, there is no need for these types of “harassment statements” in Multicultural or all-Black worlds because these are generally inclusive of all types of people (most of the time).  So if white people can leave behind “white privilege” notions, though, of course prejudices exist, by and large whites will be welcomed and accepted in both of these worlds with minimal discomfort, if they experience any at all. (Think about the Nine African Americans in Charleston who lost their lives at the AME church. They were very open to others and it cost them their lives, sadly.)

So, there IS the idea of cultural appropriation and any event that has POC themes but the majority of people are White, well, in my eyes, it’s still an all White world and I would need all my armor and weapons.

I do believe that many Whites who attend all White cons believe that they ARE functioning in an inclusive multicultural environment when they see two people of color. This is disillusionment on their part, in my eyes.  In all honesty, I’m not convinced that it is their goal to make a complete multicultural event. What I think they want is an all white event with a multicultural following like DragonCon or ComicCon. They are not remotely interested in a true multicultural environment, that would be too much. In fact, may even shatter some of their world views and might be what accounts for the shutting of ears and kick back that we’ve been discussing but that’s just my two cents.

So these are my perceptions and could be wrong for some POC. They may feel completely different from me.  As I am thinking about your questions, it occurred to me that I have my own bias, prejudices and comfort levels.  I’m certainly not offended, these are some really good questions. It’s got me thinking.

Edgar Mortis: No. People in groups are “dumb, panicky, dangerous animals” as Lowell Cunningham pointed out well. If you don’t tell someone that they cannot act like a dick in your venue, they will. If someone is worried by the wording of a harassment policy, perhaps they can dial their phones or point air from their throats directly at the ears of the people running the convention.

How often do you attend events that are primarily aimed at people not of your ethnic/orientation group–including protests, church groups, concerts, etc? What draws you to attend those events?

Harold Zwick:  I don’t go to sporting events or church events or anything like that. And honestly, I don’t like crowds. The events I go to are generally geek centric and I don’t see those as being marketed at any specific ethnicity. I’m currently looking at a flyer for an upcoming event and it has the name of an editor, the name of a writer, and a picture of a rocket ship. I’ve never met either of these gentlemen so they could be of any ethnicity.

(For those identifying as belonging to a minority group) Do you feel accepted at SFF conventions, given that you’re normally so far in the minority? Do you have any personal tales of a convention when you felt that your race was being remarked upon negatively, *which you are willing to share*–your comfort level entirely on this. (Obscure all names, please, as I don’t want that level of detail.)

Black Cat:  For the most part, I feel accepted at SFF conventions, but that is because there are friends there. There are times when my race has been negatively remarked upon. I could share them, but I do not feel as though it would be productive for this discourse. Many people couch their comments in micro-aggressive language.

They say things such as, “I can’t identify with the character of your book.”

“I don’t read books based on the race or ethnicity of the protagonist.”

“I don’t read urban books.”

These comments on their face seem fair enough, but they’re coded to imply an attitude that my story or my characters are unappealing because of their ethnicity. Only once has there been a very direct statement that a sf author did not want to be seen purchasing my book because I was black and a woman.

Ditto previous question for non-geek-related events.

Black Cat: I feel comfortable at non-geek related events because they’re usually with family and friends.

Have you ever organized/been a part of a group “going out to a new movie” or other non-geek social group event type of gathering that was set up through FB/Twitter? What kind of non-geek events draw your interest, in general?

Black Cat: I don’t normally do FB/Twitter events without knowing the people involved in the organization of the event. 

Do you think that Black-focused events should have a harassment policy? I’m curious because another respondent pointed out that harassment policies are a product of a White-focused event, which had really never occurred to me before. 

Hawk: The idea that black events (I can’t STAND the pointless capitalization) don’t need harassment policies is laughable. Same for LGBT events or anything else. Intersectionalism only exists on paper and the black community especially has a lot of issues with misogyny, homophobia, colorism, and classism. Not to mention all minority communities eat their young for stupid eagerness or accidental error. So… Yeah.

Being correct does not make you right. It doesn’t even make you correct in every situation that it should.

How diverse do you think the majority of conventions/events you attend are?

Harold Zwick: Depends on what type of diversity we’re talking about. If you want to establish the baseline at “old white guys” then I’ve seen a lot more diversity in the past few years. Much younger attendees and finally an equal number of women amongst the fans. If you want to define diversity as racial diversity then yes I’ve seen an upswing but it could still be bigger.

Edgar Mortis: I see very few shrieking old white men, which I cherish. I also don’t know what these ‘Social Justice Warriors’ are. I see blacks and whites at Cons. Jews and Gentiles. Breeders and queers. Old farts and snotnosed kids. The Cons I go to have a good bead on that sort of thing, and I will opine more about other Cons when I get to attend more of them.

Off the top of your head, without doing any research or looking at your shelves, what POC authors/artists/musicians would you recommend to a non-POC friend/acquaintance?

Hawk: Janelle Monae, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Elon James (This Week in Blackness is hilarious and his Twitter game’s on POINT), and The Flobots (though their lead MC, the second MC and the rest of the band are not). The list is slim, but it’s hard for artists of color to reach past the “representational valley” into bigger stories. See also: queer angst, the Great Colonial Novel, Keepin’ It Real, etc.. I want to see transcendent works. But most of those come from… well, white people trying their best, since they don’t have that weight.

Edgar Mortis: My knowledge of Ska and Reggae music is encyclopedic, and I am recommending such musicians daily. Anything that came from Trojan or Coxsone records in the Sixties or Seventies.

This is not a complete list. This is just the beginning of what I’m hoping will be a lively and revealing conversation. If you want to participate, whatever your ethnicity, gender, and orientation, please drop me a line at (lioness at thescribblinglion dot com). I’m taking answers from everyone. I am obviously most interested in presenting the experiences of marginalized groups, but I also want to show a comprehensive view of what’s going on in fandom right now.

REMEMBER: As mentioned already, I will not tolerate attacks or garbage from anyone, so please, comment freely, but be smart about it. I suggest looking here for an example of the type of argument that will get you roasted in short order. Or here.