AGM 2020 Agenda Item: Diversity and Anti-Racism at the BSFA

The following text was written for the 2020 BSFA AGM, held online on 23 August on our Discord server.

Preamble

Jo Lindsay Walton

This is an agenda item about two closely connected matters, the recent and ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, and issues of diversity in the BSFA and UK SFF publishing and fandom more widely. We would like to invite the membership to consider some of the practical steps the BSFA might take. The BSFA is, of course, committed to anti-racism, and in recent months we’ve tried to play our part, for example recently publishing statements of solidarity with BLM in Vector and in the BSFA newsletter. With such statements, we join innumerable other cultural, arts, and community organisations and institutions. Gestures like these do often get a mixed reception from people doing anti-racist work. On the one hand, such gestures are usually both well-intentioned and broadly welcomed. On the other, many anti-racism activists point out that it’s easy to make statements of support, but that these may often be at best hollow, and at worst hypocritical! — contradicted by the actual policies and practices of the institutions in question.

Science fiction has a special connection to the future and, we’d like to think, a special connection to hopeful transformation. We believe it behooves us to ensure that our words are not hollow, but backed up by action. But what actions should those be? One area of focus can be our own SFF communities, fan, academic, and professional. Clarke Award judge Stewart Hotston recently published an article online which pointed out that, of 121 publisher submissions to the award, the total number by British authors of non-white descent was only three. Even more recently, several of this year’s Hugo Award nominees published a letter raising, among other issues, a lack of diversity in the panelling at this year’s virtual WorldCon. More broadly, I’m sure it escapes nobody’s notice that SFF cons in the UK are often very white spaces.

BSFA officers have been thinking about these issues for at least as long as we’ve been editing Vector, and no doubt much much longer, and we’ll continue to do so. Editorially we’ll continue to monitor which authors and books get coverage, and also continue to think about the diversity of our contributors. We’ll continue to be vigilant against racist discourse in our more open public spaces such as the BSFA Facebook page, and try always to ensure that these are spaces where BAME fans can feel respected and safe. And we’ll also try to make sure that there’s regular information shared in such spaces about the work of diversifying and decolonising SFF. In the medium to long term, the BSFA Committee (soon to be Council and Directors, following adoption of the new Constitution) is seriously lacking in diversity, and that needs to be addressed too.

What we would like to do now is suggest a few other possible actions the BSFA might take, and then open things up for a brief initial discussion. Please also consider this an opportunity to canvas who’s interested in actually getting involved in making some of these things happen. We’ll then formally propose some motions one by one.

Diversity and antiracism motions

Jo Lindsay Walton,  Polina Levontin, Dev Agarwal, Sue Oke

The editors of Vector, Focus and The BSFA Review with the support of the Chair and the Treasurer are proposing five motions. These motions are flexibly worded, since many of the details would need to be sorted out post the AGM. However, here’s a little more detail, albeit provisional: 

(1) Offer support-in-kind to BAME fans of science fiction. This would likely include a waiver on BSFA membership fees within the UK for as long as this is sustainable and necessary. We would also seek to reach out to other organisations, e.g. the British Fantasy Society, to potentially put together a package. 

(2) Offer financial support to BAME convention goers. This could for example follow the precedent of Con or Bust, and be offered from a special pot, generated from dedicated fundraising activities. 

(3) Pursue consultation with BAME members of the wider SFF community. The consultation would likely be an online anonymised initiative, with questions around the experience and priorities of BAME fans of science fiction, writers, academics and publishers. 

(4) Create a role of a Diversity Officer to support these efforts. The role would involve championing diversity of all kinds within the BSFA, as well as helping to administer specific initiatives or events (including, if passed, the motions presented here). It would not involve any additional powers requiring constitutional amendments. 

(5) Finally, we suggest that the BSFA make a donation to Black Lives Matter UK. 

Motions (1)-(4) were passed by the membership. Motion (5) was amended to “We resolve to make a donation to one or more appropriate anti-racist organisation(s). Preference will be given to a UK-based anti-racist charity associated with SF, if one can be identified,” and was then passed by the membership. Dave Lally also made a personal starting pledge to raise funds for these activities.

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