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Speculations… Samuel R. Delany on racism essay

Racism for me has always appeared to be first and foremost a system, largely supported by material and economic conditions at work in a field of social traditions. – Samuel R. Delany

One of the objectives of the Invisible Universe Documentary is to explore the particular ways in which the conventional world of SF literature (but also film and comics) – its writers, editors, publishers, researchers, fans, fan clubs, magazines with editorials, associations, societies, awards organizations, etc. have influenced the perception and participation of Black people in the genre. In light of the recent controversies (meaning January 2013 to today) and this, in the world of SF literature, surrounding the SFWA, of which I have only been an observer from afar and which apparently touches upon sexism, racism, homoantagonism and proclamations of freedom of speech, I have been reminded several times recently of an essential essay penned by Samuel R. Delany himself on a relevant topic in 1998, titled “Racism and Science Fiction” for the New York Review of Science Fiction. I first encountered the essay in 2003, in the equally essential anthology, Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, edited by Sheree Renee Thomas when I was doing research for the documentary.

In the essay, Mr. Delany, the first African American to comprehensively participate in the world of SF, in terms of, his publishing in SF magazines as well as with hard and soft cover books, to winning SF awards for his writing – four Nebulas and two Hugos, to being inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2002, to receiving the 2013 Damon Knight Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction And Fantasy Writers of America expounds on several issues. They include, racism as a systemic force, several Black writers who participated in the SF tradition in their works at least on one occasion prior to his inaugural publishing in 1962, several other Black writers who at the time of him writing the essay – the late 1990’s were garnering attention and praise for their work and several instances of racism that he had personally encountered in his career, from blatant prejudicial acts to the more subtle kind. He also suggests an admittedly arbitrary but arguably accurate summation that when there is a critical mass of Black participation in the SF world, they will not only encounter a pushback from the status quo but may also prove to be the numbers needed for a sturdy foundation in the field.

As long as there are only one, two, or a handful of us, however, I presume in a field such as science fiction, where many of its writers come out of the liberal-Jewish tradition, prejudice will most likely remain a slight force—until, say, black writers start to number thirteen, fifteen, twenty percent of the total. At that point, where the competition might be perceived as having some economic heft, chances are we will have as much racism and prejudice here as in any other field. – Samuel R. Delany

It’s a diligent and crucial read and again, can be accessed in its entirety online here: “Racism and Science Fiction”.

And additionally, in reference to the aforementioned controversy, I will only add one link, from the blog of a writer that came up in a recent search, SL Huang (of whom I do not know personally), which is essentially an “An Incomplete, Admittedly Biased Timeline” of the controversy with links to its numerous events and online activities according to his knowledge. I think this post may be useful for getting a general outline of the situation. I encourage those with interest, to explore it more in depth, as I will be doing.

Samuel R. Delany, Grand Master of Science Fiction by Open Road Media