Why Do We Need Black Speculative Fiction?

Mayday by James Mason

I received an e-mail today from a friend at Black Science Fiction Society. He submitted a graphic novel to a certain party to see if there was an interest in his concept. It took him a while to hear from that party but when he did the response was particularly upsetting. That certain party asked him if it was possible to change the characters from black to white. He said if my friend did so, he would be able to get some interest in his project. He told my friend ‘Black people don’t read comic books.’

I was having a conversation with a writer friend of mine and I suggested she read a particular book by a black writer. She knew of the writer, but she wasn’t thrilled. She had compiled a list of black science fiction and fantasy writers on a popular site, and that particular writer wasn’t happy being included on the list. She felt such lists limited her and labeled her as a ‘black’ writer, not just a writer.

Another writer friend had a book reviewed by a well known magazine. When the magazine displayed a picture of the cover the image of the person was white, despite the fact that the main character of the book was black. Come to find out that the publisher of the book had originally designed the cover this way but changed it after strong protests from the writer and the agent.

As a black writer of speculative fiction life is complex. The acceptance or rejection of what we write has more to do with perception than it does with talent. This perception has little to with the reader and more to do with those supplying books to the reader. All kinds of stereotypes abound, such as the concept stated above that ‘black people don’t read comic books, or science fiction or fantasy for that matter. Even some black science fiction writers buy into the hype. But everyday black people join the Black Science Fiction Society and at least 1/3 of the people of every con I attend are people of color. My books have been read by all kinds of people around the world and received  good reviews. At a recent meeting I attended the white people in the group stated clearly that it didn’t matter to them the race of the main characters or author. They just wanted a good story.

In my conversations at my signings I’ve discovered two things; black people DO read science fiction and fantasy, and more would read it if they knew not only that we were writing it, but that we were the main characters.  The biggest disconnect seems to be with major publishers. They don’t acknowledge the potential demand because corporations don’t deal with potential, especially when it comes to the African American community. So what’s a writer/reader to do?

You create black speculative fiction. You give readers what they want, you write what you want to write, and you create an environment that nurtures talent and provide support for those who want their dreams expressed the way they see it, not as others wrongly perceive it.  Black writers have to realize it’s okay to be black. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one who buys into the notion of race. But on the other hand I am a realist. I understand the barriers, conscious and unconscious, but I also understand that I have to respect myself before others will respect me. I can be a black writer and appeal to a multicultural audience. I shouldn’t have to submerge my culture to be acceptable to someone else.

This is a complex issue. I could write volumes of books on it and still not feel like I’ve done it justice, so I’ll say this: Black Speculative fiction, in my view, is not something designed to separate and limit. It is a way to provide opportunity for a deprived audience and an outlet for under appreciated artists. And no matter what anyone says, that’s a good thing for everyone.

2 Comments to “Why Do We Need Black Speculative Fiction?”

  1. By s0v3r1gn, June 3, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

    I signed up just to say that I don’t see how the ‘color’ of the main character should have anything to do with who reads it! I am actually disappointed by a SF publisher that can’t see this.

    • By Milton, June 3, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

      It shouldn’t, and to most readers it doesn’t, but to many publishers it does.