Part Two in a Three Part Series.
This is the second of three posts looking at diversifying Science Fiction and Fantasy (SCi Fi&F) conferences (cons). Part One of this blog outlined the issue. Part Three will contain concrete suggestions for panel titles. Here in Part Two we explore ways of diversifying events that have worked for groups in the past. First let’s see why diversifying your con might be important.
Why would you want more ethno cultural diversity in your con? In Canada and on Turtle Island (North America) people of colour (PoC) and Indigenous folks represent a huge market share of the genre. If you search words like “Indigenous futurisms”, “Afrofuturism”, “people of colour in science fiction” and “diversity in science fiction” you’ll find MILLIONS of pages, sites and blogs devoted to the topic. We are writing, reading and BUYING books, films, comics and video games. We even buy con registrations now and again.
It stands to reason then that any con that can get past tokenism has much to gain by being more inclusive of diverse audiences and creatives. Not only is there money to be made, there are horizons to explore, learning curves to climb and enriching connections to be enjoyed.
● With a variety of people involved your con you can tap into a rich pool of talent and skills, bring in new voices, experiences and approaches, and add to your creative depth.
● People are more likely to join and contribute if they can see that they will be treated with respect and dignity.
● Greater inclusion will also expand your networks, help you reach a wider “audience”, increase the profile of your group and grow your con.
● Inclusive organizations improve their chances of attracting donors and funding.
While we can’t rely on google for everything, I still refer you to the variety of online resources devoted to inclusion and cultural diversity. Many of these are written by Indigenous and PoC who are genuinely interested in fostering healthy relationships across our differences.
Beyond all the tips, advice and cautions I’d like to remind folks of a few key issues.
- Relationship building is key. What makes you want to attend a stranger’s party? What makes you want to attend a friend’s party? It’s just that simple. Do you know us? Do you come to our events? Do you read our stuff? Are you learning? Are you listening? Are you open hearted? Do you respect us and our work? Maybe there are “How to Make Friends” blog posts out there but the truth is most of us know how already. Social skills count, for sure, but genuine, authentic caring can’t be faked.
- Building an inclusive event takes time. If your con has a history it already has a reputation, image or “brand”. It may not appeal to Indigenous and POC. If you want to change your image to one that welcomes inclusivity it will take time for people to trust that shift. The next suggestion might be one way of hastening that process.
- Offer freebies – or strategic offers, as they’re sometimes called. Most authors in today’s competitive market offer a taste of their work in blogs, free chapters and free or low priced ebooks. They do it because it works. Cons can do the same by offering an event (or two) free of charge to the public. It can be during the con or in between. Show rather than tell us how you’re inclusive. Offer a sample of your inclusivity and you just might encourage some of us to pay that registration fee.
- Unless asked, please don’t tell me your story of how you came to understand that inclusion is important. I’m maxed out on white journeys of discovery that mirror Dances With Wolves or Avatar. While there might an audience for your story, Indigenous and PoC don’t need to hear how you finally came to understand that we and our work are worthy of your respect and appreciation.
- Please don’t ask us to join your organization and show you how to be diverse or otherwise make you look good. I can’t tell you how many times, after I’ve offered some critical feedback to con organizers that I’ve been asked, “Why don’t you join the programming team and show us how to do it?” Sometimes it’s sarcasm; often it’s genuine. Either way, not helpful. Why would I want to join (sometimes pay to join) an organization that has just made me feel marginalized and unwelcome? Why do I want to be the token representative in an otherwise all white group to show you anything? Where is your responsibility to learn and take action for yourselves? Trust me, we’ll consider joining when we feel welcomed and appreciated.
- Consult, ask and check in with us. We won’t agree on all issues, even the big ones but if you’ve done your homework you’ll have a sense of the most workable options and, if you test them out in the spirit of supporting the development of Sci Fi&F communities, you’ll learn something useful.
- You will make mistakes. People often mispronounce my last name, sometimes even after I’ve told them how to do it correctly. Normally I don’t fuss about this. It’s an uncommon name and most people have never heard it before. I understand. As long as you’re trying I’m okay with that. Sometimes the spirit behind what you do is more important than what you actually do. Mistakes are much more easily forgiven when we trust the intent behind them.
- Inclusion is ongoing. It doesn’t start and stop. Just as the demographics of our communities change so will our need to be inclusive. We will benefit from always being in a process of looking around to see whose stories, experiences and faces are not present and reach out to ensure they are.
I sincerely hope these suggestions are useful to all you Sci Fi&F con organizers out there. In closing I’d like to leave you with a quote from Lilla Watson, a Murri (Indigenous Australian) visual artist, activist and academic, “If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time… But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together”.