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In July of 2016 Fireside Magazine published a report by Cecliy Kane on what she calls “anti-black racism” in speculative fiction. The basis of the article is an analysis by Kane and Weston Allen of survey data collected by Ethan Robinson. Of 2,039 original stories published in 63 magazines in 2015, the authors found only 38 that were written by black authors. This is about 2% and certainly less than what you would expect if black authors contributed/were accepted based on population levels. African Americans make up about 13% of the American population, for example, and about 20% of the world population is black. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says 4.8% of African Americans are writers/authors. Kane takes this disparity as evidence of racism.

The obvious question is whether this difference might actually have to do with submission rates of black writers to SFF magazines and anthologies. Kane covers this by suggesting that if the submission rate is only about 2%, then all markets should publish black authors at about this rate. When you look at the numbers, this just doesn’t happen. Kane also notes that there are wide variations in publication rates between different magazines. For example, she points out Terraform, which published 8-9% black authors during the period in question, and suggests this is more likely the submission rate.

This is, of course, only a very basic survey and analysis, and it leaves questions about whether the publication rate actually has to do with racism against black authors. For example, how do magazines identify black writers in order to discriminate against them? African sounding names might give it away, but what else?

When I submit stories, for example, I don’t include race in my biography. Sometimes I only use my initials, making the submission non-binary, as well. Some magazines also ask for anonymous submissions, which takes race and gender out of the equation entirely. So, if I include race in my bio, does that mean I’m expecting a particular advantage because of it? If I represent myself as a POC, should I expect to get published more, or less?

This doesn’t prevent a certain bias in the acceptances, of course, as individuals tend to write in different styles and about differing concerns. Also, you have to consider the sub-genre of the magazines and what they’re expecting from submissions. Acceptances are never random. Certainly if you send something on African mythology to a space opera magazine, it’s not likely to fly. This quality of the market really complicates the issue of whether the survey has actually identified a structural racism. How many black authors write space opera, for example? How many write mil-fic? On the other hand, how many write literary type fiction? What are the interests of black writers and how does this match against popular taste? Certainly, as a writer, I can’t expect the market to remake itself to accommodate my concerns.

Of course, POC are struggling with the issue of minority status and the dominance of majority interests. I covered some comments by POC about the way the market works a while back. In these examples, one poster complained about having to write stereotypical characters in order for them to be recognized in a story as POC, while another complained that the market dictates that “even foreigners can act like ordinary Americans!” — with ‘white’ standing in for ‘ordinary’, of course.”

So, given that the market currently rejects transgressive fiction and dictates a certain worldview, can we actually call this racism? Whether or not it really is, should markets be more sensitive to the worldview of minorities, and especially of black writers worldwide?

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