The recent hue and cry over the main panel at the conference formerly known as BEA’s Power Reader Day has been pretty awesome. The main panel, which was focused on children’s authors, was overwhelmingly white and male. Not a good look when we’re talking about a section of publishing that is consistently referred to as “dominated” by females (whether that is true or not is still a bit up for debate).
In response, Reed Pop issued a non-apology “My bad, we’ll do better” and everyone has pretty much gone back to their respective corners, as is the usual.
My corner is an angry one, so far be it for me to let such a plum opportunity pass without saying something. So, to Reed Pop and all of the other conference organizers out there I say this:
For the love of all that’s holy, please, please, PLEASE no more goddamn diversity panels.
“Well,” you think, “that bitch has finally lost her mind.”
But the point stands: diversity panels are the inner city of conferences. They are the projects in an otherwise blissfully suburban landscape. Please stop organizing them. Or at least, please stop using them to stock the rest of your conference with the literary equivalent of Happy Days.
Here’s the problem with diversity panels: they’re an easy win and an even easier out. A conference plans one diversity panel, fills it with three or four PoC or LGBT folks or women (bonus points if the PoC are the women) and then everyone goes off on their merry way, organizing the rest of the panels at the conference with wild whitewashed abandon.
The same can be said for “Women in Whatever Genre” panels and the odd “LGBT in Certain Genre” panels that crop up. The panels are an alibi so that the rest of the conference can feature a pretty homogenized line up of straight, white male authors. If anyone complains, the conference can point to that diversity panel and throw their hands up. “Look, we gave you a diversity panel,” they’ll say. It’s the conference equivalent of telling me you have black friends.
Instead, I want conferences to do better. I want to see an even mix of presenters on every panel, not just the one that happens to also be scheduled directly opposite the biggest event of the entire con. I want people to go to panels because they’re interested in the author or the subject matter, and not just because they feel strongly about equality or can’t get into the panel they really wanted to see.
I want panels to be like those gummi vitamins: they taste like candy, but you’re getting some good stuff in there, too. Give us an interesting topic, like the next big thing in sci-fi, and make sure a delicious variety of sci-fi authors are represented. Make diversity a non-issue, instead of it’s own issue.
And if you are going to have a diversity panel, make it awesome. Have it be an open discussion, instead of school time and Racial Studies 101. Put a white dude in there! Some PoC! LGBT folks! And maybe a disabled person! But that doesn’t give you a pass from including those authors elsewhere in the conference. It’s just a forum to discuss the issue in a more significant way.
Making diversity just that thing we do naturally, instead of a forced action after a bit of outrage, is really how we do better.