February 10th, 2008

International Blog Against Racism Week

Boskone: "Hidden Biases in SF": a pre-panel reaction

A.K.A., let's revise the panel description right here.

When I first read it, this panel description:

Hidden Biases in SF

Why aren't there more blacks or Asians, Jews or Catholics or Muslims or Buddhists in even our most richly imagined futures?

Tobias Buckell, Gregory Feeley, Gregory Frost (m), Daniel Kimmel, Pamela Sargent

made me immediately say "Oh look, I could play Bingo!" Being cranky and wanting to get through the rest of the panel descriptions, I didn't think about it any further. But a comment of desdenova made me think more about why I had that reaction. While there are problems with that one sentence as it is [*] , my reaction boils down to that useful phrase from Pratchett's most recent book: this is the wrong sort of question.

[*] "Our most richly imagined futures," says who?; why is this being restricted to race and religion; what about multi-racial people; I prefer "black people" (etc.) to "blacks" (etc.); and probably more, because I have my own biases and defaults that I can't always spot on first glance.

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In other words, I think that the answers this question invites are very 101-level. And maybe that's what Boskone/the proposer of the topic/the panelists intended, which would be fine. But the prospect of sitting through a 101-level debunking does not thrill.

What's the right sort of question, one that would move this past a rehash of FAQs or bingo-playing? My first thought is:

What are useful ways of identifying and addressing hidden biases in SF? What are the resulting benefits to writers, readers, and stories?

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[Edit #2, 2/11: desdenova formulates a much better proposed description in comments, to wit:

Much SF produced in the U.S. displays a lack of cultural diversity at odds with the reality of American society. Frequently, this lack can be ascribed to unconscious default assumptions made by creators. What are some effective strategies for identifying hidden biases in SF? How can doing so benefit us as readers, writers, and fans?

Which has been duly forwarded in case it's not too late to let the panelists see it and consider it.]