Ah diversity…

a friend linked to a blog post they’d run across, called Diversity Panels I’d Like to See.  Okay lets play. mine in italics the original in regular font…..

Generic “diversity panels” are boring.

*shrug*  I wouldn’t know. never been to one. I get enough of the bloviating about diversity from the intarwebz. I yawn through it all. 

I get it: you schedule “Women in Gaming” and “Disability in Genre Fiction” with the best of intentions. You know these are hot topics of discussion in the fandom community right now, and you want your con to add to the conversation.

Hmmmm..I’ll say you don’t really see anything wrong with that and I agree with sentiment that there’s nothing wrong with that…and move on

But these generic panels don’t so much add to the conversation as recap it. It’s impossible to go into a subject as broad as “Race In Science Fiction” in any depth in a one-hour slot, and without knowing how well the audience has educated themselves on the topic, the panelists generally just end up summarizing the background reading.

Race?  Honestly? Who truly cares about race, when there are new species to be imagined up and played with? Anyone overly concerned with this is more than a tad shortsighted for my money.  Besides races is a misnomer, anyway. What most refer to as race/ism…is tribe.  Not to put too fine a point on it..I’d like to find the idiot who coined that word “race” feed him to a handy pride of lions or pack of hyenas. Something in that vane.  It’s caused more confusion, hate and discontent than you can conveniently shake a tree trunk at.

What makes this worse for panelists is that, as members of underrepresented groups, we’re in high demand for this kind of “diversity homework.” We get scheduled for these panels instead of panels on subjects related to our actual expertise or current projects. While folks with more privilege get scheduled for memorable topics that will help them raise their profile and promote their work, we’re stuck explaining Empathy 101 to folks who could just as easily look it up on Tumblr.

All panels are boring or not really germane to someone. It just depends on your own interests and peccadillos. I’d no sooner sit in on a diversity panel than you would[depending on your interests] attend or want to be a member of a panel about…Best caliber/type of firearm  to use for a zombie apocalypse. 

So if ignoring diversity topics completely isn’t the answer, but including diversity programming isn’t good enough either, what’s a programming head to do?

Throw their hands up in frustrations, say ‘to hell with it’ and ignore it?  YEah I know, no ignoring.

The very best thing you can do is make sure you have a diverse concom, especially on your programming and safety teams. A diverse team can help you develop engaging panel topics and recruit underrepresented panelists.

But getting underrepresented people to volunteer when you don’t have many to start with can be tough. Developing panel topics that will actually contribute meaningfully to ongoing conversations about diversity in the SFF community is a good first step.

That’s as it may be but,(there’s always a “but”) when the subjects of the diversity issue at hand make up such an infinitesimal percentage of the make up of your audience, what’s the point in having say [just tossing out a random number here] 1/4-1/3 of your panel programming to a subject, most of your audience could care less about?  It’s been my experience, panels aside that most people could give a damn about anything that doesn’t have something directly related to the subject of the con. Most are there simply to in the case of say a scifi con, to find new authors, get autographs, find cool toys/art and make new friends. 

A good diversity panel doesn’t try to tackle the entire ‘diversity issue’ in a single hour. Instead, choose a more focused topic that will give panelists a chance to share their perspective and experience while grounding the discussion in something concrete, so it’s accessible to an audience that hasn’t necessarily done all their homework.

A good panel is in most cases as entertaining as it is informative. I’ve noticed by and large unless it’s a “how to” writing panel for example…then people are there for the filking, or the amusing anecdotes and theories about particular worlds and characters in them. Or talking about specific meme types within a given book/tv/tv movie series

I asked folks on Twitter for some examples of diversity panels they’d like to see, and we came up with some examples.

Instead Of Disability In Genre Fiction:

  • Accessibility in Futuristic SocietiesWell since speculative fiction tends to speculate hi tech societies where certain diseases and abberations we see in terms of health issues today…will be non existent because they’ll be weeded out of the human genome.
  • Re-Inventing The Wheelchair: Assistive Devices in Science Fiction And FantasyI think that’s probably been covered by and large by movies and books both. float chairs and anti grav belts are the ones that come to mind.
  • Positive Portrayals of Neuroatypicality in Genre Fiction: who’s doing it right and what we’d like to seeAlready noted in the first panel suggestion. One assumes high order society in which we can weed disabilities out of the human genome.
  • Protagonists With Post-Traumatic Stress DisorderMmmm… yeah again…while it won’t be weeded out…if you can assume a higher order society that weeds out the genetic propensities and makers for various diseases…one guesses the genome will be played with to the point that PTSD won’t really be a thing
  • Medicine After The End Of The World: Managing Chronic Conditions and Serious Illness After The ApocalypseIn a post apocalypse world it will be survival of the fittest…most of the chronically ill or disabled, call it 99%  will be among the first to have died in whatever disaster causes the apocalypse. AFTER?  those that manage to survive til after…still wont have that long to live. A..because medics and first responders due to their nature of running TO the fire will also be among the first to die in droves. And if it’s a bio crisis, ie a new plague…you’re going to lose a metric crapton of them in the ensuing waves of death. Unless you imagine some uber rich, super smart parapalegic on a deserted island somewhere complete with a full staff of doctors and small level 4 trauma center/ cardio ward/ etc etc etc as part of their island paradise home.

Instead of Gender In Genre Fiction:

  • Marginalized Perspectives On Mass SurveillanceA little clarification here. I think most would agree mass surveillance is a baaaad thing.
  • Science Fiction and the Future of Childbirth (careful not to be cis-normative!) Okay first off theres subsets to even THIS microcosm.  Are we talking post apocalypse? Post colonization to other planets?  Post apocalypes? Sorry but it’s gonna be cis normative. Men and women will be humping like rabbits trying to restore the human race and the women will be, depending on the enormity of the apocalypse, constantly pregnant.If this reality upsets you…not my problem.  Post colonization to other planets? Outside of having cryoslush children options available *shrug*…it’s gonna be “normative” 
  • Beyond The Boob Window: Practical and Stylish Fighting Clothes For Your Intrepid HeroineBut but…I looove the boob window.  Did you stop to think that one of the reasons FOR the cleavage trap is that it will distract your predominantly male opponents long enough for you to stick a knife in him somewhere fatal? Or put a pulse rifle shot into him and turn his head into blood and brain painting on the wall behind him?   Sadly those who find the boob window evilly sexist never think about that.  Women themselves and popular media have weaponized sexuality in favor of the female of the species for crying out loud.
  • Toxic Masculinity As Villain (h/t @rosefox who suggested I check out the panels they create for Readercon; check out the full panel description here)Went and read that one. Interesting thought but…men tend to be wired the way we are for a reason. The reason being the continuation of  not just our own specific genetic markers and family but the survival of the species. Hence why we don’t like women doing some jobs because those jobs are bloody dangerous. 
  • Saving The World After Fifty: Celebrating Genre Fiction’s Silver-Haired HeroinesHmmm someone else…some…successor will step in to fill their shoes in some cases. But a lot  of the more well loved heroines and heroes will always be well read and popular.
  • Standards of Beauty in Secondary Worlds. Beauty/fashion is always related to a display of wealth. Think past slender and fair.No…not always…or why are thrift/second hand shops so popular?  Heck why are retro fashions so popular. Granted there are some trends I’d rather not see make a comeback [bell bottoms for one but ymmv] but old is becoming popular again. there’s currently a seeming trend back toward the 80s fashions.
  • The Female Gaze Is Coming For You: Romance’s Assault on PatriarchyI’ll say this on this and the panel suggestion after this.
    We;re wired the way we are for a reason. Survival of the species. The only reason you can ignore those genetic imperatives now is because of the huge leap in medical tech we’ve taken in the last 10, 20, 30, 50yrs.  We wouldn’t even be HAVING this conversation is if wasn’t for that. Ignore the genetic imperative at the cost of the species. Lads and Lasses.
  • Men In The Post-Patriarchy: Inter- and Intra-gender Friendships, Collaborations, and Rivalries in Societies that Don’t Dehumanize The FeminineHmmm any of my female readers and friends wanna play with that one?
  • Female Characters In Video Games: What makes a female character fun for women to play?The answer to that one will be as varies as the stars and planets in the night sky.
  • Hell Hath No Fury: Ways To Motivate, Impede, and Change Female Characters (That Don’t Involve Rape)I’ll leave this one for one of my lady friends to respond to.
  • Queer Identities After The Apocalypse: Trans Health Care and Queer Reproductive Choices In Post-Apocalyptic Worlds (h/t Kelly Szpara)covered this. After an apocalypse…survival and re establishment of the species will be the imperative.  Anything that detracts from that imperative will likely be denounced, derided, scorned and rode out of town on a rail.

Instead of Race In Genre Fiction:

  • Marginalized Perspectives On Mass SurveillanceWait didn’t we just talk about that one?  Yep. You booboo’d or got deliberately repetitive on that one.
  • The Future of Racism: The past’s virulent racism against the Irish has now faded to linguistic artifacts like “paddy wagon” and “red-headed stepchild.” What traces will present-day racism leave behind, and what new forms of racism will emerge?Covered already. TRIBE, remember?
  • The Colonialism of FairytalesActually most fairy tales in their original forms..not their romantacized disney versions are dark and dismal as hell. Oh and colonialism vis a vis fairy tales?  That must be some primo pot your smoking. Mind if I have some?
  • Colonialism in Secondary World FantasiesRemember…everything breaks down to tribe.  But again..I’ll let one of my friends run with this one.
  • Describing Race In Secondary WorldsYou are now starting to bore me. Just thought I’d point it out.
  • Religions of the African Diaspora in Genre Fiction: Beyond Zombies and Horror (h/t India Valentin)Hmmm a nice little chunk of them are pretty dark, dismal and animistic…hence the zombies and horrors. 
  • But Where Did This Chocolate Come From? Even Fantasy Cultures Don’t Exist In Isolationmatter creation machines, replicators… ala Star Trek?   Of course if this is a post diaspora because the earth got blown to shit…one wonders whether anyone would actually think to save some cocoa seeds and plants. God I hope so. You hear me future descendants! Save the cocoa plants!  The world would suck zombified donkey dong without it.
  • Creating Imaginary Races Doesn’t Erase Racism: How Real-World Racism Bleeds Into Secondary WorldsOkay now I’m really bored. It’s not race, it’s tribe and in the case of other types of off world “races” It ain’t races…it’s SPECIES.
  • “But Her Race Isn’t Important To The Plot!” and Other Terrible Reasons not To Include Non-White Characters In FictionIt’s not by and large a huge issue…unless you make a mountain out of a molehill. 

More Suggestions:

  • Language, Dialect, and Code-Switching
    Beyond The Hero’s Journey: Non-Western Narrative Structure in Genre Fiction
    Alien Cultures That Don’t Dehumanize: creating original alien societies without portraying real minority races, religions, and cultures as literally not humanthis section of suggestions seems to me to break down into…”Lets change the language and therefore control the conversation. Never mind the original definitions of the words we use that don’t mean what we think they mean. Along with RACISM! You don’t agree with me so it’s RACISM.  I’ll note that if you’re creating entire new species  it is NOT in point of fact..RACISM. It’s simply different SPECIES.
  • Defense Against The Dark Arts: Dealing With Internet Trolls (I give a forty-five-minute talk on how marginalized people can keep themselves safe, and how others can help protect them. Invite me to give it at your con!)Hmmm let me ask you this. I disagree with you so…am I trolling?  That’s what I get from people on the other side of the tribal, ideological gap from me.
  • How to Fail Gracefully: You’re going to make a mistake. Here’s some things that will keep an error from turning into a Fail.
    If you fall and break a leg I don’t think there IS a graceful fluid way to do that. Now doing it with someone good humor and moving on, on the other hand.  Failure allows you to grow. You learn from those errors.  It is simply…life.

Special thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal, K. Tempest Bradford, and Natalie Luhrs for helping me generate panel topics. Feel free to use any of these topics for panels at your cons. I ask only that you be conscientious about who you put on these panels, or any other diversity programming you schedule. Finding people who’ll volunteer for these panels to talk about what great allies they are is easy. If you really want your con to move the conversation forward, make it a priority to seek out and center marginalized voices, and folks who can speak to these topics from their personal lived experience.

Mary and  Tempest in a Teacup herself are two of your advisors?  Well that could and would account for some of the repetitiveness in that panel list.

To my readers? Have fun ya’ll.

lthe URL for the aforementioned article


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