DetCon, the 2014 North American Science Fiction Convention, is running the FANtastic Detroit Fund, an effort to bring local fans to the con who otherwise couldn’t afford it. This helps in the important job of building a local fan base that can run future conventions and other activities. We all know Detroit is in bad shape these days, and bringing in some money to help build Detroit fandom is a good thing.
The description of the fund says, “Detcon1’s FDF selection committee will work with local non-profit organizations, fan groups, schools and other entities to identify candidates to receive the donated memberships. … Anyone is eligible to apply, but if demand exceeds supply, priority will be given to Detroit and Wayne County residents.” The page mentions in passing that the city is “over 80% African-American,” but this isn’t a selection criterion. People of any ancestry and color can help build local fandom. I don’t personally know the people running the con, but the description sounds like a good sign that there’s no sense of light-skinned people above, darker ones invited by their generosity.
Contrast this with “Con or Bust,” a fan fund that explicitly requires people to be “of color” to qualify for financial help. This promotes the ugly old idea that people should be treated according to their physical type, not as individuals. This idea sometimes appears as “racial identity.” Done even with the best of intentions, this modern form of racism puts people with different skin shades into different camps. Race as a biological concept is a discredited myth, whether it’s used to promote hatred or condescension. (Hmm, “Con-Descension,” the con where … no, let’s not go there.) Whenever possible, I talk about appearance or ancestry and avoid the word “race.”
Once you make appearance an institutional criterion, you start tying yourself in logical knots. In the Popehat thread which I quoted in an earlier post, Elizabeth R. McClellan replied to a comment of mine:
You think “of color” and “non-white,” as stated, and “the qualification that their skin must be sufficiently dark” as claimed here, are the same thing?
I promise you no one involved with CoB has ever held up a swatch and said “nope, skin not dark enough for assistance.” Stating that we qualify people by darkness or shade, even to exaggerate how wrong you believe it is for CoB to assist POC only, is a lie, and a particularly gross one given the history of paper bag tests. We don’t do that; we never have; we never will.
Try wrapping your head around that. It’s a lie to say that their criterion is color; the criterion is color! Did McClellan think people would fall for such transparent nonsense, or has she bisected her brain so that color and color really are two different things? I can’t fathom it either way, except that when people cling to an idée fixe, they sometimes do strange things to their own heads. It’s hard for me even to feel insulted by her words; it’s like being accused of having five legs. [Update: Her reference to “paper bag tests,” a term I didn’t recognize, led me to look up history on color discrimination which I hadn’t previously known about, so she can’t be dismissed as a total idiot in spite of her twisted logic. I might have replied that even the KKK didn’t literally use color swatches, but now I’ve learned some people did.]
Nonetheless, another Con or Bust supporter said on Twitter that my comments on that thread were “trolling.” This person apparently can’t conceive that someone would really disagree with her ideas; anyone who claims to must be just a troll. It’s amazing what people can do to their own heads.
With so many pressures to think of people as “racial” specimens, it can take an effort to think of people simply as people. Humans actually have quite a small range of biodiversity considering our global distribution; it’s scary to think what life might be like if there really were populations with significantly different genetic endowments. That’s an idea which even science fiction doesn’t like to touch.
Update, July 19, 2014: I’ve just learned that DetCon has donated two skin-color-restricted memberships to Con or Bust, betraying the spirit of its own fan fund. I have no idea why they did this. On the same page as the announcement they say, “It is our aim that the Detcon1 program, policies and promotions will attract and include all kinds of science fiction fans, without offending or excluding any.”