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31 October 2010 @ 02:15 pm
I think I've been poking at this one for a while behind the scenes, with vague discomfort manifesting every so often.

There's this ostensibly pro-diversity phrasing that several zines use; some variant on "We're looking for settings we don't see all the time". I think some newer zines may be taking that phrasing from the Strange Horizons guidelines (maybe because "if SH is using it then it must be fine"?)

But Strange Horizons also says, "We'd like to help make the field of speculative fiction more inclusive, more welcoming to both authors and readers from traditionally underrepresented groups, so we're interested in seeing stories from diverse perspectives and backgrounds." And somehow, I'm not seeing that pop up in other places.

Here's the problem, as I see it: used in isolation, "settings we don't see all the time" frames the problem as the boredom of the privileged, not the silencing of the marginalized. Who, after all, is we? (Yes, narrowly speaking, 'the editors'; but broadly speaking?)

This framing does not distinguish between (a) well-researched, culturally sensitive depictions of places that are Other to the anglophone mostly-UK/US audience, and (b) happy shiny Cultural Appropriation. And the fact is that many published (and even award-winning) "settings we don't see all the time" are in fact appropriative in nature and Othering in presentation. They're speculative tourism. Let's go visit the Mayans! And now the China-Japan-Korea blend! And now Mystic Arabia!

Meanwhile, "exotic" is still a good word in reviews (yeah, I don't get tired of that point).

So while part of me is grateful that more editors are considering any sort of diversity at all, a bigger part is uncomfortable. Because that easy road gets us to "diversity" for the privileged, not diversity in fact.

I do think though that for the most part, the phrasing's being used in good faith (which is part of why I am not going to call anyone out). This doesn't make it less of a problem, just... maybe one that can be worked on, by thinking and talking about it.


ETA: Of course, there's a lot more here than just ethnic/cultural diversity, but it's the one I've been thinking about most; I need to do even more more-thinking on other axes-of-diversity.
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