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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Relative proportion of minority writers

   
Author Topic: Relative proportion of minority writers
rcmann
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Just saw another notice for a place that forcefully emphasized they were looking for submissions from:

quote:

Queer characters
Characters of Color
Women MCs
Disabled characters
Science saves the day!
Far future
Stories set outside North America

SFWA had several blog posts recently. One was bemoaning the lack of non-white writers in YA. Another was critical (as I recall) of the awkward way white people handle characters outside the mainstream. A very recent SFWA blog post came across, to me, as rather savagely hostile regarding the ongoing patterns of cultural imperialism in the modern age.

Yet, I look on various magazine sites and I see a *lot* of female writers, and some of the names do not look Anglo-Saxon to me. Nor Celtic either. Not even Teutonic. A lot of the characters of female and/or non-white.

Full disclosure here. I am mostly white. Not all white, but a quick glance, especially in winter when I am inside a lot would make it hard to spot. I'm also (sorry) male. So I am not entitled to an opinion on this by definition, nor do I intend to post one.

But I am honestly curious about this. I keep running into it more and more wherever I go in the writing community. I want to ask those who know. How bad is the minority gap in Sci-Fi/Fantasy? Any kind of minority?

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MartinV
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I don't see anything forceful here. It just means they get a lot of the same old stuff and they are trying to give explicit instructions, hoping writers would write something non-conventional.

Maybe I just don't get it.

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rcmann
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I didn't mean it to be forceful. I am trying to make an honest attempt at understanding.

For additional examples:

Lightspeed magazine makes a point of mentioning, in their guidelines:

quote:

we welcome submissions from writers of every race, religion, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation.

The reason that this particular statement caught my attention is, that I always figured it was a given. I mean, why wouldn't they? The fact that they seem to feel an urge to make a point of stating it implies (maybe?) that there is a lack of variety in the submissions that they are getting.

Strange Horizons recently underwent a total replacement of their editorial staff. In a blog post where their former boss editor, Jed Hartman, talked about the change, he mentioned:

quote:

...Karen and Susan and I are all white. Having a racially diverse set of editors doesn't necessarily result in a more racially diverse set of authors or characters (just as having a female editor doesn't necessarily result in a magazine publishing more female authors), but I think it's a step in the right direction. (Just to be clear: Race was not a factor in any of our decisions about the new editors. But we did start the editor-search process by reaching out to some people of color in the sf community and asking them to apply for the position and/or recommend others we should invite; if you'd ideally like to end up with a diverse group of editors, then asking for a diverse pool of applicants can help...

Far be it from me to say anything untoward. But it sure sounds like a backhanded way of saying they deliberately intended to end up with a minority only staff.

I wonder why? Is it really that bad? I put female characters in my stories routinely. I always have. Sometimes the story calls for a girl, sometimes a guy. Usually both. There are two kinds of us, after all. And it gets boring writing about nobody but your own kinfolk.

If it's this bad, why didn't I notice it? What am I missing? I am not trying to provoke anything or anyone. Honestly. I am puzzled and curious.

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MartinV
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rcmann, you worry too much.

If people want to be offended, they will find an excuse, apologies or not. So just ask the questions and let people do as they will.

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extrinsic
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Fantastical U.S. fiction targets niche U.S. audiences that read fantastical fiction, traditionally monochrome audiences because monochrome audiences are the reader niche.

Every once in a while a critic will note the monochromatic majority tendency of U.S. literature and decry the underlying culture and marketplace biases driving the tendency and point to it as an example of a culture gap and why ethnic minoritiy niches don't read as robustly as majority niches. They point to how reading builds good citizenship, validly so, and how polychrome literature attracts polychrome readers.

Polychrome literature is actually a literary school of thought that's been around for at least a half a century but still emerging as a movement, called multiculturalism. The basic conventions of the emerging and contentious literary movement are self-realized celebrations and respect for cultural diversity and coping with the complications of cultural diversity.

Opponents of multiculturalism as a cultural movement point to its tendency to destroy unique cultures: its tendency to absorb perceived cultural treasures and marginalize if not abandon perceived cultural wastes, its tendency to impose standardized moncochrome behavioral "norms" upon minority cultures, its tendency to break down cultural boundaries, its tendency to turn rich cultural diversity into monochrome culture.

On the one hand, multicultural literature broadens cultural identity; on the other hand, multicultural literature narrows cultural identity. On the one hand, multicultural literature narrows culture gaps; on the other, multiculturalism broadens culture gaps.

A stand-out example of a multicultural literary crossover is magic realism: literature which blurs distinctions between mundane and metaphysical realms, mostly supernatural metaphysics. The movement owes its roots to South American Hispanic cultural and spiritual belief systems. However, magic realism is seeing crossovers into mainstream U.S. culture and, naturally, reinvention and new expressions.

The core of Hispanic magic realism portrays the strong spiritual and family identity of Hispanic culture: God, family, country, and leadership before the self. As in the British colonial-era patriotic ideal of God, country, king before self. Another layer added on is the blur of the boundary between the metaphysical and mundane. Mundane circumstances have metaphysical attributes and vice versa. A flight of gnats becomes a magical, mystical, spiritual experience; a worship service is taken as an everyday routine, taken for granted. The eldest man despite his idiosyncracies is the family head who must be obeyed at all costs, except for the family matriarch in matters pertaining to the domestic life. The youngest family member bears the brunt of everyone older's caretaking command and control. And so on.

Can you write Hispanic culture norms sufficiently to be taken as a Hispanic magic realism writer? Probably not. But that's not to say you can't write magic realism as a reflection of your own cultural identity.

However, writing the other is rich with potential and controversy. Insiders tend to have biases and wear cognitive blinders. They can'ts eee their own shortcomings and frailties. But insiders know themselves better than outsiders do. But outsider biases influence portraying insiders. Yes, but; ad nauseam.

[ July 20, 2012, 06:02 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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Well, I encounter enough of people who've been put somewhere because of whatever ethnic group they claim to belong to...it's just as irritating when someone's kept down because of it, as it is when someone's promoted beyond their ability to handle because of it. (Almost as irritating as Celebrity Writers.)

The notion that somebody might get something inferior published because of what they are...or somebody getting something published by pandering to this sort of thing...well, it's not my cup of tea, to try it either way. I'll write what I want, and it may not sell, but I'll be happier that way.

Besides, in SF, "writing the other" is often writing about something so alien that it can't be related to anything of humanity---at least in theory.

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rcmann
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with respect though, what I am asking about the reality of the current publishing market. Is there actually a shortage of female and/or minority writers? Are there a dearth of stories being submitted/published that contain female/minority characters? In my neighborhood library the new fiction shelf is packed full of fantasy stories by female authors with female protagonists.

One of the most popular I have seen recently is a series where the MC is an Amerindian (I'm part Amerindian,and so are others in my family. I dislike the term 'native american' intensely. Leave me alone.) that also includes at least two openly homosexual repeating characters who have important roles.

Ditto the supermarket paperback racks. There are a lot of new fantasy stories there, and most of them are written by women or about women. Maybe I just live in a remarkably enlightened community. It's a decaying rust belt city in the midwest with a long history of christian fundamentalism. But maybe it's literary taste is unusually liberal. I don't know. That's why I started the thread. I want to know. Is there a real problem, or is this a problem of perception? If it's a problem of perception, why?

I think there's several ladies on this board who write spec fiction. What do...oops. Beg pardon, no offense intended. I think that there a few *female individuals* on this board. What do you think of the issue or lack thereof?

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MAP
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I haven't done any officail studies, but I tend to find a lot of stories with female protagonists although that may just reflect the stories I choose to read.

When I was young and first starting to read fantasy, I had a hard time finding high fantasy stories (the stories I preferred then) with a female protagonist. I'm sure I missed some. I know I missed the Alanna series which I would have loved as a teen. I know there are more high fantasy with female protagonists now, but more often, they seem to have male protagonists (which is fine by me, I like to read both genders). I could be wrong. I haven't read everything in high fantasy.

As for other minorities, I'm not sure how represented they are. Lately I've seen more minor characters who are minorities, but how often is the main character a minority. I'm not sure. I don't actively look for minority MC's, but I'm happy to read one if the story appeals to me.

Also, I don't know if these requests for minorities that you are quoting are for novels or short stories. If it is short stories, I have no idea what is going on there. I don't read or write them.

Just my .02 cents. Not sure if it is helpful or not. [Smile]

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mayflower988
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I've never heard the term "Amerindian" before. I like it. :)

A lot of the books I read have female MCs, but that may be just because I am female and I choose to read those books because I personally better relate to the MCs. (Hmm, this reminds me of a question I want to ask, but I will make a new topic to ask it.)

I like what MAP said: "I don't actively look for minority MC's, but I'm happy to read one if the story appeals to me." Exactly. I totally agree. I have not found many books like that. However, I don't know if that's because there's not many or because I should look harder.

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extrinsic
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The question then is one of statistical quantities. A recent scholarly survey by Roxane Gay of 742 New York Times reviewed books published in 2011 noted:
  • 655 by Caucasians
  • 437 by men
  • 217 by women
  • 1 by transgender
  • 31 by Blacks
  • 21 by Black men
  • 10 by Black women
  • 33 by Asians
  • 19 by Asian men
  • 14 by Asian women
  • 8 by Middle Easterners
  • 5 by Middle Eastern men
  • 3 by Middle Eastern women
  • 6 unable to identify by gender or race

The New York Times doesn't review every book. Considering the U.S. market publishes about 300,000 to 400,000 new titles per recent year, the breakdown of percentages likely follows the New York Times' numbers. Novels, about 40,000 per year, according to R.R. Bowker, the U.S. ISBN concessionaire.

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rcmann
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If those numbers add up, then there is plenty of room for more variety. That, of course, assumes that *they* whoever they are, will write differently than *we* do, whoever we are.

Can you tell by reading whether an author is female or male? White or green? Monogamous or polygamous or fond of rubber dolls?

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MAP
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rcmann, does it matter if they write differently? Unless you assume that 88 % of writers are white males or that white males are just naturally better writers, these numbers clearly indicate a bias. Of course that could just be the New York Times and not representative of the publishing industry as a whole.

ETA: Thanks for finding the hard data Extrinsic. Very interesting.

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extrinsic
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Whose bias is for me the question. Do fewer Hispanic people read than Caucasians because they are underrepresented or because they prefer other entertainments? Assuming, of course, they budget time for entertainments in the same ways as Caucasians do.

The United States and the United Kingdom trade marketplace supremacy every few years, both in units sold and revenue, though the United Kingdom wins by per capita. More sales and revenues per person. China runs a distant third. Russia a more distant fourth. Simply put, English language texts are far more popular entertainments. Maybe that's because more English speakers, particularly English readers, Caucasians, consider reading a worthwhile pastime.

The gender divide, though, women read more than men by a statistically significant fraction equivalent to population numbers. Women writers are more numerous than men writers. But why then aren't women writers more popular? I feel the divide there is one of audience appeal. Women's problems wanting satisfaction haven't kept pace with men's gender spanning problems. I think that's due to fundamental differences in how women and men interact socially.

Women tend to satisfy nuture or nature community building instincts, close to the home hearths. Men tend to satisfy status competition instincts, abroad in the world. The former are not as ripe as the latter for dramatic problems wanting satisfaction that appeal broadly. When they do, they're inherently more challenging to write due to complex development requirements of low-concept premises; in other words, more abstract human wants and problems.

quote:
Originally posted by MAP:
ETA: Thanks for finding the hard data Extrinsic. Very interesting.

Thank you, MAP. I follow the industry, so it only took a few moments of research.

[ July 20, 2012, 09:05 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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rcmann
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So if I am following you... men write more exciting stories, and people of both genders like to read exciting stories?

On the other hand, the above it New York Times reviewed books. Do they even review self-published work? Having read the NY Times for more than thirty years, I will catagorically state that they are as biased a publication as ever saw print.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
So if I am following you... men write more exciting stories, and people of both genders like to read exciting stories?

On the other hand, the above it New York Times reviewed books. Do they even review self-published work? Having read the NY Times for more than thirty years, I will catagorically state that they are as biased a publication as ever saw print.

Sure, the New York Times presumes to speak for its readership. Many's the criticisms of their biases. Seek a forum speaking to the choir there or another choir elsewhere. There are many to choose from. Even self-publishing reviewers are out there, though still in an emerging infancy.

Men don't, per se, write more exciting stories; masculine centric stories are more exciting, though perhaps no more emotionally stimulating than feminine centric stories. Just masculine centric stories are easier to write and easier for readers to access without expending as much effort.

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rcmann
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ah!

*LIGHT BULB IGNITES*

I think I get it.

Simple minded souls that we are, we males tend to write brisk, straightforward tales of derring-do about treasure maps and cyclops and cornering werewolves with enchanted swords that turn out to be tinfoil fakes made in somebody's basement where the hero must turn and run screaming like a politician faced with video evidence.

Whereas females write meaningful, significant stories about interpersonal relationships that illustrate and explore the deeper and more meaningful aspects of existence? And tend to explore the various ways in which tea can be prepared?

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extrinsic
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You've caught the gist, except for how many ways to prepare tea, but no absolutes, no absolute male or absolute female stories.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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If I may also point out that publishers can only publish work that is submitted to them.

The numbers may also reflect to some extent the percentages of work written and submitted by the different groups.

Unless authors tell publishers up front what group(s) they belong to, all the publishers have to go by is the work itself.

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LDWriter2
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Hmmm I'm late to this thread. By the title I thought it dealt with something else and some of my computer time has been hijacked so I have less time to write and to waste time on the WotF forums discussing how long it takes for David to read through the Q2 stories--not to mention BBQing, gators and such.

Anyway, My second thought about rc's first post was what Kathleen just said. How would an editor know what color of skin, what religion etc a writer is? Most of the time a person's gender is obvious. A last name might give some clue to racial identity but even that isn't positive these days.

A character's physical, sexual racial characteristics would be easier to spot but unless someone says something you wouldn't know certain things like sexual orientation.

But to some in this PC world that is all important.
More later

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MattLeo
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If you can only write about a perspective if you have that perspective yourself, the only writers who could write both male and female characters would be transgendered. And nobody could write about elves or aliens, or even people living in the past or future.

I've spent many years in the save-the-planet non-profits, and I understand the importance of diversity; but you can't get it in easy-to-identify packages like "black", "gay", or "latino". I once had a boss who was proud of the diversity of his organization, but everyone except me had come from the same graduate program he'd established at a prestigious research university. He was fooling himself into thinking he had diversity when he in fact surrounding himself with people selected and trained to think just like him, no matter what the color of their skin was.

If you want real diversity, you have to have an open mind. You have to bring in fresh and foreign thinking.

The diversity problem I see with writers is that so many are drawing their inspiration from the same pop-culture sources. Too many writers are just rehashing each others' works.

The most original writers draw their inspiration from unusual places. Sometimes it can be as simple reading interesting things most people haven't. Neil Gaiman has obviously has read E.T.A. Hoffman's stories. L. Sprague De Camp made use of *The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion*, George Frazer's 1890 treatise on religion and mythology.

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LDWriter2
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From what I hear that is not at all unusual for people who are into Diversity for the sake of diversity.

Which is probably all I should say here about that.

But I agree with rc that one would think most of
quote:
we welcome submissions from writers of every race, religion, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation.
Is a given. As I implied before how would an editor know any of that to block it even if they wanted to. And most editors wouldn't care. Some people need the assurance though and at the same time the editors may say it to cover themselves.


A bunch more could be said on the subject but these days most of it might be considered at least borderline political so I won't take the time...which I don't have anyway.

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rcmann
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I am a green and magenta plaid nihlilist hermaphrodite from Atlantis with a thing for iguanas. Anybody got a problem with that?
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LDWriter2
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Okay you big and green--and magenta plaid-- nihilist hermaphrodite from Atlantis with a thing for iguanas. I got only one thing to say.


Do you write???

That is the one thing editors discriminate over. Rather unfair of them to do that but hey someone's got to do it.

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LDWriter2
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quote:
about treasure maps and cyclops and cornering werewolves with enchanted swords that turn out to be tinfoil fakes made in somebody's basement where the hero must turn and run screaming like a politician faced with video evidence.

I forgot to ask. Did you read this story someplace or just made it up?

If you made it up, that could make an interesting scene in a lighthearted UF-paranormal story. Go for it.

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Denevius
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Without hard evidence as examples, these types of conversations boil down to the perception of readers and what they believe they've read. One can say that they've read a healthy percentage of novels with main female characters, or main minority characters, but when checking notable books, is this actually the case?

For instance, look at the last ten Hugo award winning books.

1) Blackout - Connie Willis
2) The City & The City - China Mieville
3) The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi
4) The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
5) The Yiddish Policeman's Union - Michael Chabon
6) Rainbow's End - Vernor Vige
7) Spin - Robert Charles Wilson
8) Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke
9) Paladin of Souls - Lois McMaster Bujold
10) Hominids - Robert J. Sawyer

Of the authors, three are women, seven are men. Ok, so maybe as many women don't write scifi/speculative fiction type novels. But when you look at the list of names of main characters populating the novels:

1) Michael Davies, Merope Ward, Polly Churchhill
2) Tyadour Borlu
3) Anderson Lake, Emiko
4) Nobody Owens
5) Meyer Landsman
6) Robert Gu, Miri Gu
7) Tyler Dupree, Jason and Dianne Lawton
8) Mr. Norrell, Jonathan Strange
9) Dowager Royina Ista
10) Ponter Bobbitt, Mary Vaughn, Adikor Huld

These are the names mentioned in the blurb for each novel. Each story will of course have a variety of other characters, but generally the blurbs mention the characters the novel revolves around. And counting it up, it's 12 main male characters, six main female characters. I actually read four of these books, and from what I remember:

3) Anderson gets significantly more page time than Emiko, though they're both great, complicated characters.
5) Meyer has an ex-wife, I believe, but he's definitely the central character in the book.
6) Robert gets more time than Miri, but either way, they're both weak characters.
7) Dianne Lawton definitely takes a back seat to her brother Jason, and her somewhat lover, Tyler, who basically narrates the book.

And of these books, just looking at the names, what seems pretty clear is that these are almost all Caucasian characters. I *think* Robert and Miri were of Asian descent, but either way, their ethnicity played no memorable role in the story. Emiko was Japanese, and Japanese culture played a strong role in her character.

Writers often say they write what they know; what I've always found a bit depressing is that they seem to know so little beyond their own culture. I guess one cay say that when you try and write beyond your own background, readers are more critical, and I think this is true. When I see a woman writing a male character, I'm more prone to pick it apart, and vice versa when I see a man writing a female character. Here's the thing, though. I may be more critical, but not to a point of disliking the story if it's well written, or disliking the characters if they're interesting. And I actually think most people read that way.

Many times, though, I don't think it's unreasonable to point out when people have created a character mainly based on stereotypes, not because the writer is being malicious, but really because they're ignorant of a particular race/culture/ethnicity/gender/sexuality, and so to fill the gaps they paint broad generalized strokes.

For me, it's not really so much a question of whether female and minority characters are under represented; it's more an observation that there's a whole wide world that many people who write can't explore in their fiction because, on a personal level, they simply aren't engaging it in their everyday lives.

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rcmann
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I started this thread to learn. I think I am learning. But I'm also starting to wonder if maybe we, modern people, aren't being too picky. How long, expressed as a percentage of human history, has it even been an issue? To anyone, anywhere, on any continent, in any society, anywhere, at any point in the lifespan of our species? Modern humans may well be the first people to ever consider the concept that it is a desirable thing to make sure we include the thoughts and viewpoints of outlanders in our public discussions/entertainments.
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extrinsic
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Answers to your questions raises many contentious political debates. This is not a forum for them.
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LDWriter2
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I partially agree with extrinsic which is why I said "that is all I will say here" but at the same time I think there are some basics that could be discussed like the discussion we have had so far. We might be getting close to that point now, but if it goes too far I think Kathleen will say something.
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rcmann
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I have and had no intention of provoking controversy. Although one never has to make an effort it seems.
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extrinsic
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Thinking about the reasons why "it is a desirable thing to make sure we include the thoughts and viewpoints of outlanders in our public discussions/entertainments" let alone our fellow underrepresented citizens led me to conclude responding to your question would stir up contentions. I choose not to engage in contentious political debates, which are little more than opinion arguments, which are impossible to settle satisfactorily without compromise and sacrifice. My choice. Me. No indictments against anyone else.

I've done considerable research into the topic of disproportionate representation within publishing and literature cultures. It is a contentious topic. The gists have been touched upon: who's writing what, who's submitting what, what's published, and who reads what defines the cultures and the marketplace.

Disproportionate representation and mitigating it are complex topics otherwise. Who's position is appropriate, fair, acceptable, and valid for whom? Will one identity group position impose its will upon another by force majeure? Force assimilation into literary and publishing cultures? Make unwilling people read for entertainment? Impossible. Make unwilling people write for entertainment? Impossible. Publish what's not written? Impossible. Make reading and writing more popular among underrepresented identity groups? Possible but onerous and complex tasks.

[ July 22, 2012, 11:12 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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rcmann
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Shutting up now. For a while anyway.
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