In the context of the recent protests over racial disparities in policing and societal racism, in the US and throughout the world, which have led to consideration and action by many companies, including Stack Exchange, I have been thinking again about our site.

I believe that the site has the opportunity to draw attention to more works by or about black people, and people of color more generally. Right now, there are many good works that fall into these categories that could use more exposure. For instance, there are only two questions about the works of Nnedi Okorafor, who is possibly one of the most famous modern black writers of SF. There are only three questions about the works of N.K. Jemisin (all about), who is one of the major secondary-work fantasy writers. Kai Ashante Wilson () is pretty well-known in "literary" fantasy circles, but we have only one question about his work, which is not even one of his better-known ones. And I think Octavia Butler is one of the first black SF authors, or first SF authors of color, period that many people would name, yet we have about five questions about her work (basically the ). Not much compared to Le Guin, to say nothing of Asimov or Heinlein.

By contrast, we have, what, approximately 6000 questions about Harry Potter? There is a lot more to the world than Harry Potter. And I would hazard a guess that if we tallied all the questions about works by black authors or about black characters, it would still fall significantly short of just Harry Potter. If we looked at other examples, we might find a similar pattern. 2

The purpose of this post is start a meta discussion that will hopefully bring more awareness to the opportunities that we have to bring attention to works that could use more recognition, and to encourage users to ask and answer more questions about works by black authors, works featuring black characters, and works by and about non-white people in general, as well as to encourage community input about potential strategies for making both the site's content and its community more diverse. Please feel free to share ideas, experiences, or disagreements as answers or comments.

One initial suggestion would be holding an event (or events) to promote more questions about black characters and authors. I do not know whether it will work or not, but I think it could be effective. We have had events to ask certain types of questions before, such as the ill-fated Futurama extravaganza. In fact, we used to have a Topic of the Week contest. Clearly, I am not advocating for a return to prizes or Futurama chaos, but it illustrates the feasibility of the concept of a Meta post that promotes asking questions themed around a particular topic. It also illustrates that such an event can certainly produce more posts around a given topic.

1: Clearly, this depends on how loose one's definition is. If one counts the companions and not the Doctor as a principle protagonist, for instance, then some of the companions have been people of color. With there are certainly a handful of rather obscure books or cartoon series, especially in Legends, that would qualify, but given their much lower prominence compared to the movies, I did not include them.

2: Another possible illustration is versus , both CW shows. The latter has only 11 questions, whereas the other has around 45, despite having only two more seasons. Both and have more than 30 questions, compared to only 9 for , even though Luke Cage is arguably more super than both. Even has more, despite being much less acclaimed (although, his glowing fist is pretty cool).

Although the picture for people of color in general is less clear, I expect the trend is similar. Aside from the perennial favorite and media and subject tags, of our top franchises, only the comics franchises and Star Trek have had a work with a primary protagonist who was not white.1 I had to go all the way down to either or to find another example. Of (at the very least) the top 10 tags for works by individuals, I believe all of them are by white creators.

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    The sentiment is good... but people will ask what people will ask. And questions don’t reflect what the community values; maybe there are less questions about Luke Cage because the story makes more sense, which would give credit to it over Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Or something, I don’t know, but I don’t think there’s any racism here, systematic or otherwise. I don’t look up an author to see what colour their skin is before I read their books, much less answer or ask questions about them. – Fivesideddice Jun 14 at 1:19
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    ...That said, I have nothing against your proposal; it seems like a good idea. – Fivesideddice Jun 14 at 1:20
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    Nnedi Okorafor's top selling books don't seem to be in the top 4000 books on Amazon's bestseller lists. Some don't even breach that the 250,000. By comparison, everything Rowling's ever written are in the top 50. Based on that metric, it would seem that Okorafor is dramatically overrepresented in terms of site questions. – Valorum Jun 14 at 11:30
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    @Fivesideddice - I don't dislike the idea of a themed event, but I'm not overkeen on it being couched in the garb of the site being institutionally unrepresentative. The site's questions simply reflect what the site's users are watching and reading. – Valorum Jun 14 at 11:42
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    @Valorum Ah, I see. That’s fair enough; maybe if we do do a themed event we can shift it from ‘rectifying a problem’ to ‘supporting people’. – Fivesideddice Jun 14 at 11:46
  • 1/2 - Kai Ashante Wilson has mostly written short fiction (about which there are vanishingly few questions on the site anyway) and two novels; The Sorcerer of the Wildeep (which is currently ranked as 73,000 in the 'bestselling books' list) and A Taste of Honey currently ranked 513,929 in the bestseller lists. Both rank higher (top 10,000s) in the 'Gay Romance' category, but that has a relatively small readership. – Valorum Jun 14 at 11:52
  • 2/2 - On a site with just under 59,776 questions, statistically it's about right that they have somewhere between 0 and 1 questions about their works if they're the 73,000th most popular author, assuming that the top read books get the most questions and the least read books get the least questions. – Valorum Jun 14 at 11:59
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    @Fivesideddice - apparently, not looing up an author's color is now racist (NOT kidding, the BS "let's fight racism" thing they sent out at work - generated by our "black professionals network" - now lists "being colorblind" as "racist") – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 14 at 14:37
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    @Adamant - "But no one person can fix the problem." - In the context of this specific site, that statement is 100% wrong. Many of the "popular" tags have at most 50 questions. It's ENTIRELY within your personal own power to post 50 questions about ANY of the authors/works you mentioned. Whining about how other people didn't do that doesn't help, posting questions does. I have single-handedly sustained or helped with at most 1 or 2 people sustain the tags for Russian scifi as well as some more niche/less-popular US scifi I was personally interested in. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 14 at 17:57
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    @Adamant - my experience, SHOCKER, didn't include whining on Meta about how other people don't care enough about works I am interested in; and how the site sucks because nobody talks about those works. So, my reaction is wholly in line with my own activity. I just pull up my sleeves and apply effort. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 14 at 18:02
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    @Adamant - based on my experience with such events in both SFF and Lit that others organized, it provides a VERY small bump. non-zero, but nowhere sizable enough to be meaningful in big scheme of things. Unless the event is for something ALREADY super popular, like the lets-not-mention-it-before-bedtume Futurecrapma one of infamy. You can MAYBE get 3-5 people interested in a work they didn't see before; may be a rep whore like Valorum or myself will pitch in; but main participation will still be from people (whatever limited amount) who already know the works. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 14 at 18:27
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    There's also the issue of whether the site is here to promote anything or is an especially good place to do so. We're not a book club. – Valorum Jun 15 at 11:45
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    @ThelethalCarrot - As I said above, I don't object (and in fact would support) an event to promote question-asking about minority authors. That being said, my research (see above) would suggest that they aren't underrepresented per se based on book sales and that 'question asking' broadly represents what you'd expect to see in a primary American and British audience. – Valorum Jun 15 at 13:50
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    @Valorum I think you, and others, are getting too hung up on some of the things in the question (comparing a low ranking author to HP etc.) rather than its actual motivation for posting. To promote question-asking about minority authors which you support. – TheLethalCarrot Jun 15 at 14:11
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    Just to be clear, when I said "you need to improve your question to be more positive"; that did not mean "leave shots about 'societal racism' from any edits you think improve the question". If you are wondering why people are mistaking your post for raging SJW rant about how it's this site's fault racism exists regardless of your stated intent, go no further than your first sentence which has absolutely nothing to do with SFF or SFF.SE site. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 15 at 18:23

We do have an issue with some over-popular works being, well, over-popular, but I don't see any need to explicitly bring race into it.

It's definitely true that a few mega popular franchises like Harry Potter and Star Wars largely dominate the bulk of questions on the site. Back in 2016, I was actively working to promote some less popular and more obscure (at least in terms of SFF.SE question count, if not real-life sales) tags and works. Although I admit to having slacked off on that "pledge" in the years since then, promoting underappreciated stuff is still a goal I'm ready to get behind.

You may have seen the recent meta Ways to improve and promote Science Fiction and Fantasy in which the highest-voted suggestion was for starting regular Topic Challenges, the suggestion being that this could help to promote some low-traffic tags on the site. Maybe soon we can open a call for suggestions to be voted on, at which point of course you'll be able to propose Jemisin, Okorafor, or any of the other authors you mention here.

Explicitly making this about race issues, though, seems (IMHO) like a recipe for disaster. Historically, politicising discussion hasn't tended to go over well on this site. I'd vote for topic challenge suggestions on the basis of:

  • whether or not they're good SF/F stories;
  • how likely they'd be to give rise to interesting questions and supported answers;
  • how underrepresented (or unrepresented) those stories or authors are on our site;
  • maybe how underrepresented the general cultures of origin are on our site (e.g. if we don't have many questions about Indian comics, or Latin American fantasy, or whatever);

But certainly not on the skin colour of the authors or characters, which I barely notice or care about when reading fiction (and I'm naturally more of a reader than a watcher). That's my personal voting rationale, but I suspect others will feel similarly.

If your motivation for proposing a topic challenge is to get particular ethnic groups more represented on the site, all well and good. Perhaps by this meta post you'll also encourage others to that cause. But - as you've already seen here in this meta - a lot of people won't be particularly inspired by the suggestion of reading something because the characters or authors are black, rather than because it's a good story and the characters or authors happen to be black.

Again I agree that stuff like Harry Potter is massively overrepresented here, in terms of quality of the stories compared to others. But that's a consequence of the general culture more than this site. In fact, as others have pointed out, authors like Okorafor and Jemisin are probably overrepresented on this site compared with the general culture. (I'd wager I don't know anyone IRL who's even heard of Okorafor or Jemisin, despite a very diverse set of friends, but I know some big HP fans and almost everyone I know has at least heard of Rowling.) I'd vaguely heard of Okorafor and Jemisin, only through SE, but I had no idea that they're black. Harry Potter and Star Wars, on the other hand, are part of well-known popular knowledge in places like the US and UK. That's why they're so big here, because stuff that everyone's familiar with is more likely to get people (a) asking about it and (b) clicking on questions about it.

TL;DR: yes, having an event to promote underappreciated tags/authors is a good idea, indeed one already on the cards, but let's not make it about race.

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  • If you acknowledge the underrepresentation of SF stories about a variety of cultures as a problem, I suppose I do not see why you do not see the underrepresentation of stories about a variety of ethnicities as a problem. – Adamant Jun 15 at 21:42
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    @Adamant I see one of those things as an integral part of the story, about which one can learn interesting new things, and the other as essentially irrelevant. For example, I learned a lot about Indian culture from reading Narayan's stories, which I wouldn't have learned from reading (for example) stories about ethnically Indian people in the US. For another example, what difference does it make to the Harry Potter stories if Hermione is black British or white British? Pretty much none, again IMHO. Culture actually affects storytelling; skin colour doesn't. – Rand al'Thor Jun 15 at 21:55
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    (There are exceptions, of course. Stories about racism, for example, or in which skin colour plays a pivotal role. But they don't seem to be the kind of stories you're thinking of here.) – Rand al'Thor Jun 15 at 21:56

of our top franchises, only the comics franchises and Star Trek have had a work with a primary protagonist who was not white

Heinlein had a primary protagonist who was not white before it was cool with the "I need to feel socially useful" white progressives who now want to seem all cool.

In other words, there are definitely top franchises/authors on our site with primary protagonist who is not white, they just don't tick off some people's preferred ideological boxes in just the right way.

Returning back to the originally quoted statement, here's the part you're missing when positing that SFF site has a problem:

of the generally top popular franchieses, only the comics franchises and Star Trek have had a work with a primary protagonist who was not white. Or rather, "not very many".

Most people in the world like Harry Potter and Star Wars. It's not necessarily a good thing, but it is the way humans are (of any race). If you want people to be into things that aren't "it", "popular", etc..., by an overwhelming clustering; good luck changing the "Kardashian" human culture from the way it has been ever since writing was first invented - and probably even pre-witing orals stage, except without as much statistical difference.

In other words, the popularity of works on the site is broadly in line with popularity of the works in actual real world. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the works you mentioned are statistically over-represented on the site when normalizing by popularity - pretty sure Harry Potter is more than 6000 times more popular than any of the works/authors you mention (if for no other reason, because the site simply is too small for decent statistical analysis of the sort). Again, whethere that's a good or desirable thing, is wholly irrelevant, it's simply true in the world. Most people like what everyone else likes, and very few people like less popular stuff. It's a problem faced by most areas in human life that are based on personal taste; entertainment being one of the clearest.

Somewhat tangentially but related, your post is influenced by a user self-selection problem: you mentioned an author who is 'pretty well-known in "literary" fantasy circles'. What are the chances that someone from those circles would be interested in participating in "here's 6000 Harry Potter questions" site in the first place? (this problem has nothing to do with race; snobism against SFF works among "real literature" public and "intellectuals" has been prevalent for decades, especially in Western societies). Most of the site users are likely to be geeks and nerds, or just average pop SFF culture consumers - not literature professors.

More importantly, you - yes you personally - all the people who think like OP does - are the problem. You collectively posted hundreds of questions each and close to a thousand answers. Did each of you personally post 100s - or, at least, dozens - of questions that deal with non-white creators or characters? Did each of you post in-depth answers around those questions? Oh, right, it's always about how other people are at fault for not doing enough of what you think should be done, not about what you have/haven't done. Have you invited any of your non-white SFF expert friends to post here? Unless you did both the above, please stop throwing shade on the site and claiming there are some "structural" problems, where there are none; and do what you should have been doing for years, and what this site is uniquely tailored to:

post Qs and As.

This site isn't that big, no matter how important we all think it is. "Harry Potter" tag may have 6000 posts on the site, but MOST works have under 30-50 posts. The fact is, 4-5 of concerned users can easily take the two authors the post mentioned, and via a bit of personal effort, bring them up to at least the representation levels of any other less popular work, and higher than most less popular works; by posting 30 questions about them. While at it, it would have a chance to popularize the author/work to a far larger audience than whining on Meta or organizing some discussion, since far more people read main site Q&As and nothing else. In other words, (leaving aside the validity of the problem posited in the question); if the posited problem is as important as you claim it to be, that should be reflected in the actual, demonstrable efforts by the people positing that the problem exists and is worth fixing, not by raising complaints on Meta first.

Lastly, in theory, your idea of meta events/contests could help, it tends to work at least a little bit from my experiences in SFF and Lit sites. The problem is, form my experience, it would only help A LITTLE (see my comments under the question for details). And, if it doesn't help enough to your liking, is your conclusion going to be "See this site is a bunch of racists because we 'encouraged' them but they didn't get encouraged enough" or "OK, let's put in more work/thought/effort since it's a valuable goal to work towards"? Based on this meta question, the suspiction is it will be the former.

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  • With respect, I can only post questions about the things I have read or watched. I am also not going to post low-quality questions just to have questions. I have to have an actual, um, question. The fact that you try to deflect responsibility on me, as if I should be wholly responsible for all the sites questions and answers about non-white characters, is a little off-base. But indeed, there is certainly more I can do. – Adamant Jun 14 at 18:05
  • That said, although this is not about me, you might find some two-dozen odd questions about black authors or characters that have my name on them, and twice again that number with respect to people of color...but again, this is about everyone doing a little, not me writing 50 low-quality questions with an obvious answer just to have a certain number. – Adamant Jun 14 at 18:06
  • @Adamant - (1) having a proper number of posts is all that matters, based on your Meta post. (2) If you think that of 6000 HP questions, more than 10% are of much value, you're deeply, deeply wrong. The other 90% may be popular (Google "bikeshedding") but they aren't super high quality. So, is your complaint now that non-white works lack have tons of crap posts that super popular HP type works do? That doesn't seem like much of a thing to complain about – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 14 at 18:10
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    And that doesn't even begin to delve into the fact that the site readership is super-self-selected in the first place and is not necessarily even representative of overall reading public - we are not SO, we are a smallish site with VERY limited reach and fame. Again, you have the power to invite people who have different reading interests onto the site, and again more power to you. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 14 at 18:17
  • And the site offers me a tool - meta - to try to get more people to do that. Power to me? – Adamant Jun 14 at 18:18
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    @Adamant - If THAT was what you were trying to do, I'd have considered upvoting the post. I mean, i don't think it's a problem requiring fixing, but doesn't mean I don't applaud the effort to fix it. But you didn't post "Hey, I think it'd be a good thing if we had more posts on these topics. Here's what I did. Join me!". You posted "this site is racist and sux amirite? How can we make it less racist?". – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 14 at 18:20
  • The fact that that is what you are hearing is disappointing. I tried to make my post pretty mild in order to appeal to more people, but it appears that I did not go far enough. This site is not a bad site (otherwise I would not have devoted years of my life to it or become the 14th user). Nor does its underrepresentation of black characters mean that it "is racist". But when a good 20 percent of the world's population makes up like 1% of the questions on our site (less?), yes, I think that is kind of silly. So, it would be a good thing if we had more posts. Why not join me? – Adamant Jun 14 at 18:28
  • @Adamant - you start losing people at negatives. Like "kind of silly". You should really stick to being inspirational, not hectoring, if you want people to broadly onboard what you say. The more negative you sound, the less reseptive people will be. politics.stackexchange.com/a/16005/115 – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 14 at 18:32
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    @Adamant do those 20% of the world’s population also make up 20% of SFF-nal works? I have a feeling they probably don’t. Maybe that’s the problem. I upvoted your post but you might be approaching things from the wrong statistical viewpoint. – TheLethalCarrot Jun 14 at 18:33
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    FWIW it’s hard to write a post like this without it coming across as “the site is racist” but I think it does a good job of not saying that. Sure users could do more for the issue and this post is meant to be a starting point for that! If you agree it’s a good thing, which you seem to, then I don’t really see the problem. – TheLethalCarrot Jun 14 at 19:08
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    Normally for such an extended conversation in comments on meta, I'd move it to chat and let the involved users continue there. This one ... wasn't really something to preserve, at all. Let's everyone try to treat the discussion objectively and without getting personal. Deal with ideas, not people. – Rand al'Thor Jun 15 at 13:50
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    @TheLethalCarrot - actually, upon a careful re-read, it does a piss poor job of not saying that. Deleting the ENTIRE first paragraph would go a long way towards "not saying that", for example; as it has absolutely zero relationship to the actual post except posturing and virtue signalling at best, and promoting "allya;ll are racists" context at worst - and the post didn't even do anything to nudge towards at least the former. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 19 at 15:36
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    You are self-evidently kind of biased against this kind of post. Need I mention that you called me a "Marxist," an "SJW" and that you continue casting aspersions upon my motives (anyone who disagree with me is just showing off, amirite?) – Adamant Jun 20 at 0:55
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    @Adamant - I really don't like the implication either. I'm quite happy about the suggestion "Let's have an event that celebrates the contribution of minority authors!" but I'm strongly averse to the idea that we should be doing it because you think the site is racist because there aren't enough black/non-white authors being represented here. – Valorum Jun 20 at 1:37
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    @Adamant - With respect, the top answer suggests that such an event would be very welcome, but that this particular slant on (largely American) politics is highly unwelcome. The second-most popular answer admonishes you to "be the change". If you think there aren't enough questions about black authors' works, just post a load and it's problem-solved. – Valorum Jun 20 at 6:28

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