Withdrawing from the Dragon Awards

So, amid the furor of preparing for a book launch, I’ve had to divert time to another matter.

I found out belatedly that The Obelisk Gate had been nominated for the Dragon Awards, basically when I started to hear murmurs that the awards were especially problematic this year. I went to go see what the problem was… and lo and behold, there was my book. No one had notified me I was on the ballot. Apparently not many people affiliated with DragonCon even know the awards exist, or that voting is currently open. So basically I found out by complete chance.

Now, I’ve worked for cons and even started one from scratch (the late, lamented Shoujocon); I know how easy it is for miscommunications, poorly-thought-out processes, or simple mistakes to happen. I was on last year’s Dragon Awards ballot too, and similar problems occurred then. Since I took at face value the DA administrators’ insistence that they were trying to create a fair, open, “people’s choice” award process, I just chalked the problems up to growing pains, took it as an honor, and moved on. To put it bluntly, I was busy and didn’t think about it much.

This year is different. It turns out that no voting stats for last year’s awards were ever published. I reached out to the awards administrators about this and was told there’s actually no intention of ever publishing a 2016 awards breakdown. There’s been a lot of criticism of the DragonCon awards process so I won’t rehash most of it; check out File 770 or Reddit if you want more on that. Suffice it to say that the Dragon Awards voting process no longer seems fair or transparent to me, in actual practice.

And then I heard about author Alison Littlewood’s request to withdraw from the awards, and the awards admins’ refusal to honor this request. Important: as of this morning, they’ve changed their minds about this policy and are now removing Ms. Littlewood’s book from the ballot. That’s great. It sounds like this change is enough to assuage John Scalzi’s concerns about the award; that’s also great. I have nothing but respect for other people’s decisions re this whole matter.

It ain’t working for me, though. Let me break this all the way down.

There’s a nasty tendency on the part of some organizations to try and use tokens — most often women and people of color — as ornamentation and flak shielding. It’s a way of saying, “Hey! Look! We’re diverse. We’re fair. [Person X’s presence] proves it!” when in fact the fairness may be an unearned veneer and the diversity a reluctant afterthought. There’s a name for this process when it occurs in corporate settings under certain circumstances. And I’ve become more sensitive to being used this way myself because it’s been happening a lot more, lately. This is the kind of thing that happens when people who don’t understand social justice concepts — or who have contempt for them — attempt to deploy them anyway for appearances’ sake. It’s not always malicious, but it’s noticeable, and it’s never a good look. And those of us who get put into the ornament/flak shield position don’t actually like being used this way, see? I don’t, anyway.

So when it became clear that the opacity of the voting process was intentional — in effect, when I realized there was no way to know if my book’s presence on the list was legitimately earned through individual, freely-chosen votes by a representative sampling of DragonCon members (or SFFdom as a whole) — a gentle ping of flak warning went off in my mind. But when DragonCon initially refused to accept Ms. Littlewood’s request for withdrawal for the reasons stated here, those gentle pings escalated to full-on DANGER WILL ROBINSON alarm bells. It’s good that they’ve changed their minds about letting authors off the list, and I think they meant well… but at this point those alarm bells cannot be un-rung.

So. I had a pleasant phone call this morning from a spokesperson for the Dragon Awards who discussed the process with me, and let me know that they’re planning to fix some of its problems and do a better job in the future. He assured me that the votes which put The Obelisk Gate on the ballot were legitimate — and I was glad to hear that, seriously. Thank you, to all of you who voted for me. However… I still choose to withdraw. I will be happy to participate in the Dragon Awards at a future date, if I am so honored — after the process has been substantially improved. I very sincerely wish them luck in working on this, and will look forward to positive results.

In the meantime, I’ve got a book launch to finish planning and ninety-eight other problems to deal with, so I’m closing comments on this post because I don’t have time to monitor them. Hope this makes everything clear, tho’.

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