At C2E2 this past weekend, tens of thousands of people came out to McCormick Place in Chicago to buys toys, comics, and video games; get signatures from artists, writers and actors; and generally have a good time. And like any decent sized convention these days, there were also any number of panel discussions that took place, ranging from individual spotlights to company presentations, including several over the three days that focused on discussions of inclusion.
The panels had titles like “Diverse Means for Diverse Worlds Moderated by Racebending.com” and “Opening the Clubhouse Doors: Creating More Inclusive Geek Communities.” And while each one tended to have a specific focus on women, racial minorities, LGBTQ, or what have you, they largely came from the same basic starting point: that groups that are not white, cisgendered, heterosexual males are not well represented to fandom. Notice that I say that they’re not well represented to fandom, not in fandom. Because being in one of those groups is not a new phenomenon, by any means, and being in one of those groups and enjoying gaming or comics or sci-fi is also not a new phenomenon. There have been gay fans of science fiction from Day One, just as there have been women fans or Asian fans or Black fans. These groups exist in fandom, but they’re frequently not addressed, and that was the basis for a lot of these discussions.
A lot of the issue stems from the privileged people in power (predominantly white, cisgendered, heterosexual men) putting forth a message an ongoing and pervasive message that they are what is normal and everything else is not. This has permeated our society to such an extent that many people don’t even question it. Several of the panelists throughout the con noted that, even being not only conscious of but progressively active in their inclusionary efforts, they still sometimes catch themselves reverting to this culturally forced agenda of exclusion.
So, from a practical standpoint, what can be done? If those in power are propagating their own imagery, how can fans help to improve that?
The first thing is to raise awareness. With the pervasiveness of what is considered “normal”, it takes a fair amount of discussion to get people to recognize that problems even exist. And then, when people are denying the problem—or worse, harassing or even attacking those who are already being marginalized—they need to be told why that’s wrong. Hopefully, that can be done in a calm and unaggressive manner. Agitating them does nothing to help, and can even help to entrench them in their exclusionary beliefs.
What was encouraging at the convention was that, not only were there multiple panels about diversity, but several of them filled the rooms to capacity. And while that did mean not everyone who wanted to sit in was able, it also meant that a lot of people are interested and willing to help. It sometimes only takes one of those people of privilege to acknowledge the issue for a broad population to take notice, so the more of us that are talking about it, the more positive action is likely to take place.
Fandoms, at their best, are supposed to be about inclusion. About sharing your favorite characters and stories with like-minded people. But coercing people out, whether that’s through active harassment or passive negligence, because they look different is the opposite of inclusion. If you’re not in a position where you can actually hire diverse creators, you can still support them by telling everyone why they should be in every part of the conversation as everyone else. Whether those are Tweets and Facebook posts, or simply buying more material by those few creators who have been let into the fold, those are messages that people listen to and if a company refuses to follow its fans’ wishes, there’s a good bet someone else will swoop in to feel that need!