Rethinking Diversity Panels

In the last week and a bit, it seems everyone is writing about rethinking the value of diversity panels. That isn’t to say it’s a new topic. It’s not even close.

It is, however, in the public eye at the moment. The painful absurdity at Gen Con’s “Writing Women-Friendly Comics” panel. Wes Chu being out of place at a diversity panel at Sasquan just a few months after talking about having been removed from a panel he was suited for to be placed on a diversity panel. General talk about supporting diverse writers in the wake of Sad and Rabid Puppies having “accidents” all over Hugo Awards ballots. All these have put the topic firmly in the public eye, and folks have plenty of good things to say on it.

As someone who just organized a conference at which all the speakers and presenters were women or genderqueer people, I generally agree with these assessments. We worked hard to match people with topics that reflected their expertise, not their marginalization, keeping “minority provides free education” duties to a minimum. Our priority was to highlight their other skills and interests.

Want to understand why? Here’s a round-up of people happy to tell you and to suggest alternatives.

Why Talking about Diversity Doesn’t Mean Much: Notes from the Armchair #10” by Laura Zats

Here’s how most of the diversity panels I’ve seen go:

Presenters: Arrrgh! —isms are bad! People suck! Except for me! And you! *pats everyone on the back*

Attendees: Yes! I agree! I love diversity! *pats everyone on back*

And I say this calling myself out. I have been guilty of adding my voice to these discussions, but not saying much more than the above.

As I’ve grown my list of diverse authors, spoken to readers who want representation in the books they read, and paid attention and learned from amazing authors that are vocal about diversity like Justina Ireland, I know now that talking doesn’t do much. Patting ourselves on the back doesn’t do much.

Diversity Panels: Where Next?” by Kate Elliott

I understand the desire of a convention committee to present bestselling authors on their panels (or much beloved older authors at Worldcon given the importance of fannish history). People naturally want to see them! I do too! Yet at the same time if they are the only ones consistently tagged for such panels, the practice ends up highlighting the visibility of a limited number of (often already very visible) people.

I wonder if the “diversity panel” is in some circumstances becoming a way to “fulfill” the pressure to have the diversity conversation while meanwhile funneling it off to one side in a way that prevents actual diversity from fully integrating into the “regular” “mainstream” discussion.

Some thoughts on the herding of POC writers into diversity panels” by Tobias Buckell

When I went to Det Con recently I took myself off of diversity panels and their like and asked for hard sciences and futurism. I was on almost no panels with any people of color. At *Detroit Con.* When appropriate, I represented PoC books and media about the future and science to the audience, which I doubt would have been done had I not been explicit about making sure I was on those non specialty panels.

And then, when I was out walking around, several times, people asked ‘oh, hey, I was surprised I didn’t see you an [diversity-related panel X].’

Which is why I did it that way.

Diversity Panels I’d Like To See” by Annalee

Instead of Gender In Genre Fiction:

  • Marginalized Perspectives On Mass Surveillance
  • Science Fiction and the Future of Childbirth (careful not to be cis-normative!)
  • Beyond The Boob Window: Practical and Stylish Fighting Clothes For Your Intrepid Heroine
  • Toxic Masculinity As Villain (This panel was proposed and led by @Sinboy at Readercon. Check out the full panel description here. Or watch the panel on Youtube, courtesy Scott Edelman. (h/t @rosefox))
  • Saving The World After Fifty: Celebrating Genre Fiction’s Silver-Haired Heroines
  • Standards of Beauty in Secondary Worlds. Beauty/fashion is always related to a display of wealth. Think past slender and fair.
  • The Female Gaze Is Coming For You: Romance’s Assault on Patriarchy
  • Men In The Post-Patriarchy: Inter- and Intra-gender Friendships, Collaborations, and Rivalries in Societies that Don’t Dehumanize The Feminine

Diversity Panels Are the Beginning, Not the End” by Michi Trota

One of the most frustrating things about speaking as a marginalized person is that you’re often perceived as speaking for an entire group of people, rather than speaking as an individual with her own unique set of experiences and opinions. Women are not a Hive Mind. What it means to be Asian or Asian American is different for each of us—some of us are sourcelanders while others are of the diaspora, and what it means to be Chinese is not the same as being Laotian or Filipina or Sri Lankan. One of the most freeing things about being on panels where I’m not the only marginalized person (it’s a banner day when I’m not the only Asian American woman on a panel and it’s not an Asian American–focused topic) is that I feel more like my perspectives are actually being perceived as my own, rather than being seen as representative of all Asians everywhere. Especially when that panel isn’t about a diversity/representation–focused topic.

No More Diversity Panels, It’s Time to Move On” by L.E.H. Light

Let’s be honest, these Diversity 101 panels aren’t FOR Black people, they are for White people ABOUT Black people. We remain the object discussed, not the subjective person leading the discussion. And it isn’t about Black people in a holistic, fan-centered way. It is about us in isolation, or in consideration with other PoC, but never in dialog with what we’re there to talk about: fan interests. It puts race before personhood and, in a subtle way, leads to the extension of the racist assumptions the panels are supposed to dispel — that there aren’t enough of us to warrant that our concerns be addressed in the rest of the panels; that discussing objects of Black nerd culture within the context of other panels would be unwelcome; that we don’t have anything else to say anyway. Whether or not we are past all of this on the nerd-by-nerd basis, I suggest it is time to act like we are. It is time to have programming that integrates *gasp* Black nerdom into the greater body of panels, not shuts us off in a room in the corner. It is time to stop treating diverse viewpoints as something that can be assuaged by a one-hour panel. And it is time to stop treating Black fans like we have to split ourselves in two: one side Black, the other side nerd.

All of these are excellent and well worth reading. Are there any I missed?

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Rethinking Diversity Panels
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