Monday, February 8, 2016

Diversity is realism, but diversity that ignores class is fantasy

Yesterday, Kate Elliott tweeted,
Diversity is realism.
I agree entirely; there's a reason the feministsf wiki said my “work features strong women characters and people of color”. It has nothing to do with ideology—I just write about the kinds of people I know.

But as anyone who has been paying attention to class in the US knows, many of the people who talk about diversity are only interested in diversity of race and gender. In the science fiction community, part of the diversity crowd hates discussing class so much that during the race reductionist uproar called Racefail 09, "class issue" was a square on a Racist Bingo card.

So I went to Ms. Elliott's twitter feed and saw the tweets she made leading up to her statement that diversity is realism:
I am more than happy if you, as an individual writer, don't want to include women characters. That's your choice. But it isn't realism.

Same for PoC, disabled, LGTBQ characters: Don't include them in your fiction if you don't want, but don't argue realism forced your hand.
And again, I agree entirely. If your reality is all white, male, and straight, there's no reason your fiction shouldn't reflect that. That wouldn't mean your fiction would be racist, sexist, and homophobic/transphobic—sometimes people write very powerfully about things by leaving them out, so we see what's important by seeing what's missing.

But the diversity crowd often overlooks their nannies and gardeners. They overlook the people who service their cars and sell their groceries. They overlook the people who ask for spare change in this world where there are not enough jobs for everyone who is capable of working and not enough help for everyone who is not.

So I tweeted back,
True. But "diversity" that insists class issues are "derailing" is pure neoliberal fantasy.
She responded,
Did I say that somewhere in that three word tweet?
Now, I probably should've simply said that "diversity" unclarified is meaningless. For decades, every business in the US has been trumpeting its diversity, and what they mean is "we want everyone to buy our products". Walter Benn Michaels examined this well in one of the best leftist critiques of identitarianism, The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality.

Instead, I tweeted,
In our field, privileged graduates of expensive private schools have said that.
She replied,
Well, I can't speak for others. In general I try to only speak for myself.
And that's a fair enough response, so I ended the discussion with
Emma says your work is good in that regard, so no worries.
When Emma saw the tweets, she pointed out that my comment, which I'd meant as clarifying, could easily be interpreted as criticizing. I should've responded to Elliott's tweet with something like "If your definition of diversity includes class, I couldn't agree more." Conveying tone is hard when all we have are written words, and friends invariably read more charitably than strangers and enemies do. I need to learn to avoid these discussions on Twitter.

But still, it's always good to have an excuse to examine different views of diversity. This post is effectively part two of Sanders feminists versus Clinton feminists: illustrating the main schools of contemporary feminism—Clinton feminists have a much narrower definition of diversity than Sanders feminists.

P.S. In The Limits of Antiracism, Adolph Reed addressed the difficulty race reductionists have regarding class and nuance:
Yes, racism exists, as a conceptual condensation of practices and ideas that reproduce, or seek to reproduce, hierarchy along lines defined by race. Apostles of antiracism frequently can’t hear this sort of statement, because in their exceedingly simplistic version of the nexus of race and injustice there can be only the Manichean dichotomy of those who admit racism’s existence and those who deny it.

...I remain curious why the “debate” over antiracism as a politics takes such indirect and evasive forms—like the analogizing and guilt by association, moralistic bombast in lieu of concrete argument—and why it persists in establishing, even often while denying the move, the terms of debate as race vs. class. I’m increasingly convinced that a likely reason is that the race line is itself a class line, one that is entirely consistent with the neoliberal redefinition of equality and democracy. It reflects the social position of those positioned to benefit from the view that the market is a just, effective, or even acceptable system for rewarding talent and virtue and punishing their opposites and that, therefore, removal of “artificial” impediments to its functioning like race and gender will make it even more efficient and just.

From this perspective even the “left” antiracist line that we must fight both economic inequality and racial inequality, which seems always in practice to give priority to “fighting racism” (often theorized as a necessary precondition for doing anything else), looks suspiciously like only another version of the evasive “we’ll come back for you” (after we do all the business-friendly stuff) politics that the Democrats have so successfully employed to avoid addressing economic injustice.