Fellow Sci-Fi/Fantasy book friends, we need to talk. The slowly stewing mess that is WorldCon 76 caught itself on full fire on Sunday when the preliminary programming emails went out. This is a drama, like so many, playing out all across social media — Twitter subtweets, Facebook apologies, and Instagram head shots. For the basic facts, as I saw them unfold on my feed myself, I’ll direct you to this quick round-up from The Daily Dot: Worldcon faces backlash for sidelining marginalized authors.
Too Long; Didn’t Read:
- One of the nominees who has non-binary gender pronouns clearly displayed on social media, had their bio altered to mis-gender them.
- Concerns around accessibility to panels, especially the Awards ceremony, have gone unheeded.
- Panel programming has been a long, delayed process, leaving creators and attendees un-informed about their status — which is particularly trying for those with tight budgets who can least afford last minute travel changes.
- Nominees for the Hugo Awards who *happened to be* immigrants/queer/of color were not placed on panels because “they weren’t well known”.
And that’s the short list.
Y’all mistakes were made.
The WorldCon 76 San Jose chair has issued a full apology on all the relevant sites, promising to re-design the programming plan from the ground up. In the meantime, high-profile white attendees like John Scalzi are giving up their seats on panels so they can be re-staffed to be more diverse. With only a month left to the convention, can the trust be regained? Can WorldCon 76 get itself together and present the event they promised us?
I’m not feeling hopeful.
Full disclosure, I’m attending WorldCon 76. I’ve paid my money, booked my room, and planned my cosplay. WorldCon is the best chance for me to meet some of my favorite authors without me having to book an international flight. And to attend the Hugos? That will be fantastic. I submitted panel ideas and have been placed on a few. Every step of that process has been delayed and challenging far beyond what I expected, even from a volunteer-run event. All along I had a voice in the back of my mind telling me something was wrong, and now, with all the evidence in front of me, I have to confront a real possibility: That my presence at the con is one of tokenism and not inclusion.
I say that while keeping in my mind all of the white people, whom I know personally, who invited me, and the people of color who stood up for me to get the placements I did. I don’t want to insult their work or say they did this purposefully. I do want to say that when they added me to a panel, for some the “Black critic with a sassy mouth” box was checked and they went on to schedule a bunch more white guys with conscious clear.
The old gatekeepers of book sci-fi/fantasy continue to be in full control of the keys to mainstream readers. I say that knowing that many of these people consider themselves “allies”, but they remain small-c conservative. They are fundamentally change resistant. While we readers may nominate an inclusive slate of writers and artists for the Hugo awards, the folks planning the conventions don’t really want to have us around, to socialize with queer fans, fans of color, immigrant fans. How can people who haven’t put out new fiction in 10 years have panels, but you can’t find room for new talent? They want our art, but they don’t want to make room at the con table for our concerns, our fan fiction, and our #ownvoices panels.
So what’s next?
Well that depends on what the new programming schedule looks like. I understand that all of this is enough to make some leave the event entirely. One must look out for one’s own health first and foremost and I salute the bravery of those who do so at the cost of their livelihoods. This isn’t an event I can walk away from — I’m too deep now in money and time — but it is one that I can critique from top to bottom from the inside. Whether American WorldCon events are something I recommend to future creators of color (I understand that many of these issues are unheard of at the European events), remains to be seen.