Saying this because in the past couple of days I’ve had some Incidents, both professional and personal, and I’m beginning to be Pissed Off. Warning for profanity.
Let me make something clear: I talk about race, gender, and other issues of social justice because I have to. Because if I want to survive in this business, I don’t just have to adapt myself, I have to adapt the field itself — or I will die young of a heart attack or a stroke or something. But this does not in any way mean I talk about race and gender because I enjoy doing so. I don’t. It sucks up energy I desperately need to stay afloat while I’ve got two demanding fulltime jobs. And nobody really listens, anyway — for every one person I reach, five more declare me a PC Nazi and run off to lament the passing of the Good Old Days when they could be assholes with impunity. But as long as the literary field still reeks of bigotry, I feel I have no choice but to continue calling it like I see it. If I want change I have to act. See something, say something, etc.
However. I’m getting a little tired of so many people in the SFF genre treating me as N. K. Jemisin, Professional Black Woman.
At most conventions I go to, I get asked to be on the “race panels” (I stopped saying yes last year, except at cons like Wiscon where there’s a reasonable chance that the moderator and audience will not be clueless). In almost every interview, I get asked how I feel about Octavia Butler — even when I don’t mention her as a literary influence. (She’s not, ya’ll. She’s a career influence; knowing she made it in this business made me realize I could do the same. But in terms of her subject matter and writing style? No.) I’ve been invited to write for probably a dozen anthologies that have diddlysquat-all to do with the kind of stuff I usually write; it’s painfully clear in some cases that they’re just trying to increase their table of contents’ diversity. (I say no.) Walking down the hall at random events, random strangers ask me to teach them how to do a better job of writing people of color — WTF, people, at least offer to buy me a drink first, if you’re going to impose on my time like that. This is apart from the fact that I get mistaken for every other black woman in existence everywhere I go. At Worldcon I was Nalo Hopkinson, twice. So in some people’s eyes I’m clearly not even N. K. Jemisin, unique Black Woman. I’m just… Black Woman. Able to represent everyone like me and educate the clueless in a single bound.
Oughtta get a damn superhero emblem.
Look, I am a black woman. That’s not a problem. People notice my race and gender, I get that; that’s not a problem either. I certainly notice everyone else’s various identities. That’s the way the human species works. This is not what I’m complaining about. What pisses me off is being tokenized, essentialized, stereotyped, and being noticed for nothing but my racial and gender identity. How many motherfucking awards do I have to win to stop people from doing that? (Or will that just make it worse?)
Because I am also N. K. Jemisin, Author. I am N. K. Jemisin, New Yorker and former Southerner. How ’bout N. K. Jemisin, Counselor? N. K. Jemisin, Gamer? N. K. Jemisin, Pretty Good Cook and Lover of Good Restaurants? Or at least just N. K. Jemisin, Extremely Busy Person? Yeah, all that’s me, too.
So I’m establishing a rule. The next time somebody starts treating me like N. K. Jemisin, Black Woman, I’m going to ask that person what else they know about me. Just a simple question. Nothing rude about that, is it? I’m just going to make sure they see a little bit more of me than my skin, or my tits. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.