A fair go
Now, while it is said – with some truth – that I took the important aspects of my children’s education upon myself – as a result they have the requisite skills to hang by one arm from a tree, scratch with the other, and fling coconuts with their feet, they did attend school. Someone had to teach them reeling, writhing and fainting in coils, after all. Just down the road from their school was jolly posh establishment – probably the toff… toffee-n… er… top private boarding school in the country. Undoubtedly in the top four, and the most expensive at the time.
They had a rock-climbing wall which was much higher than my kids school’s one, and as all this hanging by one arm doesn’t come without practice, I was keen to accept any invitations for the boys to enjoy. We went there a good few times, as their few climbers lacked a skilled instructor, I spent a fair amount of time talking to and teaching safety to a fellow working there. He told me this fascinating, illustrative story.
Now this school was multiracial (as was my kids’ school). If you could afford it, they’d have you. By American standards it would have been very liberal (except in arenas like needing to wear a uniform). One of the kids there was the son of a leading ANC politician, spoken of as possible state president – black, who had married the daughter of a super-wealthy mining magnate (white) top of the social tree. To this daddy had added loads of Directorships and, as a result a business empire that made him one of the wealthiest men in South Africa. The kid was apparently popular and a nice lad, and has nothing much to do with this story. He is mentioned purely to exemplify a comfortable Western upbringing, with every advantage money could buy, in an environment where his skin color and father’s political power would have been, if anything, an advantage. He was a young man as far removed as possible from the upbringing of Joe Average, black or white, let alone some black kid living in the squalid slum townships of South Africa, or a mud hut in one of the rural tribal areas. In terms of having a great start and every opportunity he could ever use, a million miles above most American children, let alone those in his own country.
C’est la vie. That’s why I was teaching my kids my limited monkey skills – not an advantage everyone has – because, naturally, I wanted to give them the best I could. Anyway, to continue: my acquaintance (a liberal individual themselves) told me a story about a dinner he’d been to, where the school had been, no doubt, trying to turn wealthy and powerful up sweet. The subject of Affirmative Action had come up, and was being discussed, as were the criteria for the school doing some. At which point the wealthy and powerful papa says that really the only criteria needed is race. Awkward silence as everyone had been talking about academic or sporting skill from some child who could flower with a bursary and bring credit to the school. And some bright spark asked if for instance his own son should be the beneficiary of Affirmative Action.
His answer was “Yes.”
My young liberal acquaintance was still struggling to get head around this, ergo, telling a stranger about it, to ask how I saw it.
Which, needless to say, was not quite the same way as Papa.
Look, I come from a long line of hopeless idealists who picked the wrong side (that is the one they believed right) with predictable regularity. My parents were both very involved in volunteering their time black adult education (very frowned on by the government of the day). Barbs and I had put time, our money, and effort into a succession of people we believed just needed a fair go to get somewhere, from my Uni days onwards when I tried my hand at ‘each-one-teach-one’ and on, back in Africa, and oddly, with a fair number of writers. You might say MGC is an extension of that. I’m not a believer in equality of outcome, but when it comes to equality of opportunity, and to the result being judged on merit, nothing more and nothing less – don’t preach to me, because I’m already converted.
Australia appeals to me, because, at least historically (it’s changing a bit, sadly) “A fair go” is a central tenet of what people feel folk should get, and vast respect – the highest society really had to offer – goes to “A battler” – the little guy struggling to make a go of it, who has no advantages, who gets knocked down and gets up and tries again. Who’ll die trying…
When it comes down to whether I admire the achievement and respect the views of a ‘warm beige’ ‘self made man who grew up dirt poor working knee deep in blood and shit, with an illiterate father and an alcoholic mother’ , or an Indian billionaire’s pampered heir more (or at all), it’s not about their relative skin color.
Perhaps I see the world differently from my American friends, and certainly I see it very differently to the modern Europeans. According to that expert on Europe, Cora Buhlert, a frequent habitué of Vile 770, and, by what she let fall the offspring of a senior DDR Apparatchik, raised with every advantage you could dream of, this would make me a member of the German AfD.
As an immigrant (albeit a legal one) myself, I had no idea that this German party was so keen on giving the ordinary bloke a fair go. Plainly this is unlike what I see as her own natural home in DKP (German Communist party – a far left party which has 0.2% national support – but, had they been in power would have feted her as the great German author because of the right connections, instead of fating her to the total irrelevance even a small measure of merit assessment seems to have).
If these ‘geniuses’ want to understand me, and my politics, they ought to read RATS BATS AND VATS and its sequel, THE RATS, THE BATS, AND THE UGLY. Very Un-PC, very political, and very me. But I doubt if she could understand it.
We know from some very elegant and repeatable psychological research (psych doesn’t HAVE to be a crock, or worthless- if it is repeatable science), that humans are proximal social animals. If you live in North Korea and have one third of a cup of rice and your neighbors have one quarter – you feel rich, well-off, and relatively happy, even if 50 miles away across the border, the average family throws away more than you get to eat, and anyone with so little would feel like the poorest and most downtrodden. If you’re a rich white kid you’ve got more power and influence than the poor black kids – until you find yourself alone in the playground with a bunch of poor black kids. It’s not just as simple as group A is powerful in the wider society, so is always more powerful everywhere, or that what is terrible poverty in South Korea is terrible poverty in North Korea.
You cannot take proximal circumstances or the individual’s own circumstance out a judgement call. Not if you’re talking about a rich man’s son at an elite school, or an author being a ‘minority’ or if you’re whining about feeling miserable about being a minority at con. Here we have to consider where each individual comes from and what the proximal circumstances are. You can no more do otherwise than you can judge the value of a human merely on their skin color or genitalia, or sexual preferences.
Let’s be very clear: In the traditional writing world you’re seeing almost NO actual ‘diversity’. What you’re seeing is the wealthy or well-connected (or both) using that as excuse to retain power and control. Part of this has been a policy of exclusion, silencing, demonizing, denying access to public space. And it’s –as often as not – done under the guise of playing on the admirable trait of wanting to give people a fair go. Honestly that is nonsense, and it is past the point that the rest of society pays them in their own coin. Here is an interesting essay on that.
I’m all for giving anyone a fair go. But the first thing is to look hard and properly at the proximal space they claim is against them, and the second thing is to look at the individuals claiming they deserve special treatment, and speak for the oppressed who haven’t had a fair go.
Take Traditional Publishing (please, as far as possible). “Women are oppressed, discriminated against. They should get a better deal out of publishing.” Why? “Because the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling etc. etc.” – but when you take a look at the industry itself… Publishing staff are overwhelmingly female. This picture of the HuffPo staff is an extreme example from the related media world, but not that extreme.
More half of publishing’s senior management is female. More than 75% of staff are female. And… here’s the kicker… when you look at who they are – that IS a very narrow, extremely privileged, remarkably un-diverse group. In background, in social milieu, in education, in politics and even in where they live. Here’s a clue – this is from an advert for a senior editor – in one of the most expensive places to live in the US.
Senior Editor, Macmillan – New York, NY
Glassdoor Estimated Salary: $46k-$69k
Tor/Forge Books is looking to hire a Senior Editor who will acquire across the adult imprints, in science fiction and fantasy, mystery and suspense/thriller, and general fiction.
That’s not starting at the bottom – they want 10 years of experience, or living in a place where rentals are cheap. As a friend-of-friend said – ‘NY editors live in tiny apartments, paid for by mummy and daddy not their jobs.’ I suspect that’s a bit harsh, but seriously, it’s not a job in a place that you CAN easily take without having someone else pick up quite a lot of the tab. It has social cachet in certain circles, and in those same circles (which are incredibly sexist – both men and women) it is considered ‘a respectable profession for a woman’. As a result: In terms of the demographics of America, publishing comes from one very small group.
They buy books for their publisher, totally disproportionately to the demographics of the US, too. They buy overwhelmingly from the same group as themselves – in no small part because this is not about money. What authors get from this: Awards, big spends, massive publicity… If you took women who are not upper-middle class, with private and expensive Arts education, staunch, loud Democrats, and either New York City or some other major center, urban or wealthy sub-urban, out of your calculation – you would indeed see how badly women ARE discriminated against. Discriminated against by women, but just not of their set or tribe. Women who claim they’re doing this for women. They kind of leave out ‘but just the narrow little clique of women like us.’
Look: They’re not doing for women. They’re not doing this for ‘diversity’. They’re doing for their own little clique. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself. Look at any sf/fantasy publisher’s list. Look at the Hugos. Oh yes: They’ll triumphantly crow about ‘muh diversity’. But research them and you’ll find… oh.
‘She is held up as a triumph for ‘diversity’ as a black woman -the victims of racial and sexual discrimination.’ Except her father was an Ivy league Professor, she grew up in that environment (where being black would have given her advantage) and attended schools and colleges (where she would have had positive discrimination) that are way beyond the average person’s dreams.’ The next one: she’s a feminist icon, fighting for oppressed women. Except… she came from money, attended the right school and college, married even more money, and could pay to attend Clarion West and made contacts with all the right people to push her career. Her book is barely PC fanfic, and there are literally thousands more women who write better (even some better and more PC) – but they don’t have wealth and background to make those contacts. You can go on, but your chances of finding the lass from rural Alaska with no money and no contacts, and politics different from theirs is close to non-existent. The ‘self made man who grew up dirt poor working knee deep in blood and shit, with an illiterate father and an alcoholic mother’ won’t be there. But Tor (dot) will happily publish the Indian Billionaire’s son, and claim to be champions of ‘diversity’.
There’s not even an original or different point of view among them. I have a very good friend, one of the kindest and most generous men I know, that I have a world of time for, who is as gay as Dick’s hatband. He writes well. He also thinks Donald Trump is not doing too badly. His chance of ever being one of those ‘diverse’ picks… is zero. Yet there are a not unreasonable number of people of his sexual orientation who feel that way.
The people getting contracts, getting prizes, getting published for the first time SHOULD have almost no chance of being linked in any way. After all, we’re talking a pool 300 million in extent at the most conservative. Natural chances are you’d find a few links between people, despite the odds. But… when you start looking for links – like Tor (dot) com, and connections between these individuals – and find a lot of the same people, same background, same politics, same class…
They ARE successful.
But they are NOT ‘diverse’, let alone ‘representative’.
And they are certainly NOT the victims of the system. Like the rich man’s son I started the story with, what they’re actually doing is wearing the skins of the real ‘victims’, the talented but unable to break through a wall –largely created and maintained by the same group — and claiming all the benefits. Like the ultra-rich kid who would get affirmative action he neither needed nor any way deserved: This actually makes it harder for people to succeed on merit. In a merit based system the stats (examined on wealth, or background or politics or connections) would show up as almost infinitely more diverse.
You can back them if you like.
But don’t claim you’re doing it for ‘diversity’.
For me: I’m putting my money, my support with anyone else.
Not because I’m PC (I’m not), but because I believe in ‘a fair go’.