There has been talk on the internet about the issue of fandom conventions being overwhelmingly White (and, frankly, depending on the convention and fandom - overwhelmingly straight and male as well) and how to change that to be more inclusive. That’s an excellent discussion to have and we’re really glad it’s happening.
And there are a lot of good ideas being presented - on harassment policies, codes of conduct, on creating safe spaces and islands, on ensuring panels are diverse (beyond the odd single name) and the marketing is directed more broadly. There have been some awful ideas as well - like encouraging people to bring their POC friend to a convention which reeks of tokenism - increasing the diversity of the convention by dragging POC in rather than making the convention something POC would want to attend.
While these are great ideas, we can’t help but feel that these are addressing only part of the problem.
I envisage going to a convention as a kind of hurdles, with 3 jumps that need to be got over along the way. The last jump is making sure that the convention is welcoming and safe and not succumbing to tokenism. And that jump definitely needs to be made lower and easier - but it’s not going to solve the problem if people are already backed up behind the other 2 jumps.
Jump #1: Inclusion in the Source Material
Speculative Fiction in general - urban fantasy, sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, supernatural horror, steampunk et al - as genres have a problem with inclusion. From white-washed covers to erased story after erased stories sprinkled with the odd token or stereotype.
Naturally this is a problem with most media out there, but it seems often that speculative fiction is especially stubborn when it comes to adopting decent inclusion and is less likely to face comment or criticism for being heavily erased.
Alternatively, aliens, vampires et al are expected to be the stand in for marginalised people as the eternal Other, allowing privileged viewers to engage some marginalised issues without the discomfort of having to deal with real marginalised people and the real life issues and applications that come with it.
Needless to say, that is off putting. While plenty of marginalised people consume - and enjoy, media that erases them or contains tokens there are equally a number who are put off by it and angered by it. Especially when confronted with offensive or stereotypical tokens. Often it’s easier to find supernatural creatures that have been lifted from POC cultures (like the endless Wendigo popping up everywhere) than it is to find actual POC. This erasure is a barrier not just for POC - or any minority - participating in conventions but in the genre itself as the message told, in so many cases, is “these are not stories about you.”
The lack of inclusion also sends a message about who these books are aimed at, who these books are supposed to appeal to and who is going to be part of the fan community. If we have a genre that is overwhelmingly dominated by White characters (backed by a few token POC side kicks and the very odd author who actually aims for decent inclusion) then readers have every expectation of the subsequent fandom of being an overwhelmingly White place. The erased nature of the genre creates an idea that POC are the Other, even invaders, and that the fandom is not their space.
The first hurdle to jump will always be the erasure of the source material. As long as the anchor of fandom - and conventions - is massively, overwhelmingly White, there will be a continued signal that this is not a POC space.
Jump #2: Fandom Attitudes.
Having vaulted the first jump on the way to the convention, the second jump has to be investment in fandom. Conventions are, after all, an extension of fandom and fan community. They develop out of a wish to see the creators, to spend time with fellow fans, to connect with people who love this genre as much as you do. All the shinies, the panels, the signings et al that come with conventions are based on a solid base of fandom, of mutual love of a work or body of work, of wanting to spend time with people who appreciate it like you do