SFF Fandom is once more embroiled in controversy because old, venerated white guys who are known for being racist and/or sexist and/or ableist and/or harassers and still getting a platform. I’m not going to go through who did what and where and why. If you’re interested in that, Jason Sanford already did a brilliant summary on the subject, go read his thing. What I want to talk on, is the idea of who gets to go.
There’s a tendency, any time someone established gets called out on bad behavior, for people to make excuses. “Think of the career/legacy/potential we’re destroying.” Rarely, if ever, does the general conversation turn to look at the careers/legacies/potential that the people behaving badly have destroyed or hindered. We don’t talk about the people who stay away as a direct result of that person’s actions. And the people who behave badly enough to get called out, rarely do that to just one person. But somehow treating the targets of that bad behavior as fellow humans deserving of respect never seems to be as important.
SFF is still widely considered one of the whitest genres of literature, and when you go to most conventions, certainly the largest conventions, that seems to hold true. That’s a direct result of the actions of people like Campbell, who actively raised up the voices of white men and dissed everyone else. This is not a quality issue. It’s a matter of someone deciding whole groups of other people don’t count as fully human. Not like he and his friends do. And that, inherently, drives people away. Away from the genre of literature, away from the publications filled with his friends, away from the conventions that venerate the guy who is vocal about the fact that he thinks most of humanity isn’t fully human.
It’s easy for anyone to get stuck in their ways. Easy to stop seeking out new things to read, to watch, to listen. I know from personal experience. I still read multiple Discworld novels at least once a year. And when people you want to trust, because they are your cohort or whatever, tell you that there’s nothing worth your time over there, it’s easier to not seek out the voices you don’t know yet. And so even if you don’t mean to, you end up amplifying the problems created by some asshole. Jess Nevins, in the tweet thread linked above, talks about how both women, people of color, and queer people wrote science fiction back in the golden age. Probably in some good numbers. But we don’t know about them because of people like Campbell are the ones who are still venerated. Unless we make the effort to seek out those historical documents, most of which have not survived.
The trouble with prioritizing the abusers over the abused is that someday, the abuser will die. That’s just a fact of life. None of us lives forever. And now suddenly, you have a generation, or more, of the abused and their friends and descendants. People, in other words, who want nothing to do with you. And sure, you may be able to continue in this manner for a time, a couple of generations, even. But eventually, the abusers die. Their fame will no longer bring the people to your fold. And whatever that thing was that you wanted to keep by protecting that abuser, that dies with them. Sure, maybe there will be those people who idolized them while they were alive and want to keep idolizing them after their death. But eventually, those people die as well. And before they die, that thing that was so important, that thing dies. Because people get older and often a lot of the things worth doing take a lot of energy. And no matter how much you love a thing, at some point, you run out of energy to do the thing.
If you cannot be bothered to treat everyone like humans, do the selfish thing and de-prioritize the abusers to make sure the things you love will endure. De-prioritize the misogynists. De-prioritize the racists. De-prioritize the ableists. And if you don’t think of yourself as one, work to excise those prejudices from yourself, as well. Because we are all prejudiced. It’s just a matter of choosing whether you want to remain so.