Those Who Forget The Lessons Of History…

Okay, I know I wrote this over a year ago, but have certain people forgotten about it already?  Refresher course:

“I didn’t know (or care) if [the people who submitted to my markets] were black, white, purple, or polka-dot” (Resnick) or “I don’t choose stories based on race or culture or gender, I just choose the best stories” (an editor friend).

I really, really hate this excuse – for several reasons. The first of which is that it gives the appearance of being reasonable, thereby shutting down further discussion or debate. In writing, only the story should matter, not the writer! It also assumes that the submission pile represents an adequate and accurate cross-section of writers and stories. Therefore, by picking the best, the editor is automatically being fair.

The appearance of fairness, though, is false.

“I just choose the best stories” isn’t valid anymore, people.  It is not.  Stop saying it.  No, really.

9 thoughts on “Those Who Forget The Lessons Of History…

  1. What if that editor is telling you the truth? What if it is the best the editor is looking for, and color/gender/gender orientation/ethnicity/comestible preference/location/operating system etc. has nothing to do with it? What if the story just sucks?

    Racism stinks, the false attribution of racism stinks even worse. Don Imus (remember him?) noted recently that an athlete keeps getting arrested because he (the athlete) is black. DWB (driving while black) is a variant of this phenomenon. Now there are people accusing Imus of saying racist things about said athlete, deliberately ignoring the fact that Imus is right here. Blacks are being arrested all the time for being black, but his critics insist Imus is saying blacks deserve it when he never said it, and said very much the opposite.

    Knowing when you have cause to fight is a big part of knowing when to fight.

    1. If a story sucks, a story sucks, regardless of anything else. I’m not talking about that. There are plenty of stories that *don’t* suck but are rejected for other reasons — not right for the magazine, not to an editor’s personal taste, too many of that kind of story already, etc. And sometimes those factors are influenced by biases. Not even necessarily gender or racial ones. It’s always good to check yourself, to be aware of your biases, and to examine whether or not you’re turning away good stories because of those biases, because you lack the ability to understand a story from another cultural viewpoint, or because you don’t think the issues the story brings up are worth caring about, even though your readers might.

      1. That can make a difference. But sometimes a person finds it hard to own up to the fact it’s simply not his type of story, so he makes things worse by trying to explain himself.

        And then you have writers who won’t accept any explanation other than, “You are right, I am a racist pig. I will not only accept your story for my magazine, I will beggar myself to pay you tons of moolah for it. Please abuse me even more and drive me out of business so your story is the last I’ll ever accept.”

        1. I’m sure there are authors like that. However, an author’s asshole actions have no bearing on what an editor should be doing.

  2. Wow…I just asked over at at ABW where I could read your fiction. Turns out…I am all ready doing that.

    The old post was pretty interesting…thanks…

  3. For what it’s worth, I kept statistics on my pass-up rates for sf/f, men/women. I passed up almost exactly the same percentage of msses (as a percentage of those received) by men as by women; what I noticed was that far more men submitted science fiction than women did.

  4. Wait, let me fix that phrase for you: “I just choose the best stories that are already on my desk.”

    It’s the cheerful accepting of a limited scope that bugs me most. Even a frustrated disquisition on the shortage of [demographic type] writers is better than “well, if it didn’t fall into my lap, then it doesn’t matter!”

  5. Right–because our ideas of what constitutes a “good” story is informed by whose voices have historically been considered worth listening to. And those who have been silenced historically often have very different stories to tell than those who have been allowed to speak all along.

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