I originally sent this out to my newsletter subscribers. You can read the full newsletter here. Also, big shout out to the readers who emailed me back — you’re all rad. I appreciate the conversation.
Every once in a while someone tells me that the society I created in the Bulari Saga is unrealistic in its inclusiveness. Yeah, I know. But I wanted to explore a world that didn’t have systemic barriers in place to exclude people on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation, ability, or race.
As I’ve cheekily put it in the past, I wanted to create a world where anyone who wanted to could excel as a space criminal.
The world of the Durga System isn’t an even, merit-based playing field though — it’s very stratified when it comes to resources. In the Durga System, poverty will hold you back, but nobody cares about the color of your skin. Your gender. Who you love.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ll probably see where I’m going with this.
I tried to erase those systemic barriers in the Durga System world because I believe in writing the world you want to see — but that’s not the world we live in today.
I always hesitate to talk politics. I figure my books can speak for themselves, and there are more informed people out there sharing their opinions. But I’m also very aware that I’m a white woman who’s succeeded in part because of the very systems that people in Minneapolis are protesting against — which makes my silence complicity, whether I feel comfortable speaking up or not.
In the space of a month we’ve seen white folks with AR-15s storm into state capitol buildings, while Black folks gather peacefully in the streets. One of these groups was allowed to peacefully protest, while the other was treated as a threat and met with tear gas, riot gear, and armored vehicles.
Police chose to react with restraint when white people protested, and chose to react with violence when Black people did.
Like, you can’t miss that.
Our country’s racist infrastructure is showing.
If I put that in a sci-fi book, you’d be like, “Damn, Jessie. That’s a pretty unrealistic and heavy-handed way to demonstrate your story’s society is racist, maybe be more subtle about it?”
The short version of this post is this:
Black lives matter, and I stand with the protestors.
The long version of this post, below, is meant for any of my white readers who want more information on how they can help dismantle the systemic barriers that are keeping us all from being the successful, plucky space criminals we deserve to be.
To my white readers
If you’re still reading, yes. I hate the destruction and the looting. I wish the police would choose to deescalate rather than incite violence. I wish police allowed peaceful protestors to remain peaceful — and I wish peaceful protests were better at accomplishing societal change.
Is this level of anger an appropriate response to a militarized police force that killed 1,099 people last year without repercussion — most of them with black and brown skin?
Yeah. It is.
The property destruction sucks. The impact that racially-motivated police violence has on black communities sucks way worse, though.
I’m immensely privileged in that I will never truly understand how angry Black communities are at the killing of George Floyd. I’ll never understand the fear a Black man has of being pulled over, the fear a Black mom has for her kids.
The other day I was talking with a white friend and her Mexican husband about all the gorgeous flowers that are in bloom in our neighborhood. He finally said, “You two can just stop and take photos of someone’s yard. I can’t even slow down and look or they’ll think I’m casing the house and call the police.”
I’ll never understand what it’s like to live with that reality constantly in your mind.
But I can empathize with it.
If you’re white, here are some things you can do to help.
1. Educate yourself
You’re reading an author’s blog, so I assume you’re a reader. Rejoice! The first homework assignment is reading. Read more books by authors of color. Watch their films. Seek out their art. (And support them financially!) I’m not just talking about racial studies books like So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates. Reading fiction and watching entertaining films (say, reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower or watching Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing) is a great way to educate yourself and increase your empathy.
(Here’s a great list of 5 fantastic Black sci-fi writers to get you started.)
(And here’s a fantastic post by author Catherynne M. Valente about how reading builds empathy.)
1a. Follow people of color on social media and listen to them. LISTEN to them. They’re going to say things that make you uncomfortable, and that’s fine. That discomfort is a gift — sit with it and try to understand why you’re reacting the way you are, rather than responding defensively.
1b. If you have questions, try to do your own research before asking people of color to help. They’ve got enough on their plates without explaining racism, even if you mean well. Can’t find something? Email me and I’ll help you look. This document also has a bunch of great resources (by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein).
2. Examine your own biases
Remember my Mexican friend from a few paragraphs ago? I was recently riding my bike down the street when a Latino kid passed me on his. He was looking at people’s yards as he rode, and my first thought was “Hmm, what’s that kid up to?” My second thought was, “Oh my God I am that white lady my friend is afraid will call the cops on him.”
Our knee-jerk reactions aren’t always great, but we can do better. We’ve been conditioned by growing up in a society that actively teaches us racist stereotypes, and it’s work to recognize and deprogram those thoughts. Do that work.
2a. Oh, and hey. Don’t call the cops on your neighbors. If they are in trouble, find another way to help — calling the cops in this country is all too often a death sentence, especially if they’re not white.
It’s not all reading and self-reflection, ha! People are out there right now trying to make a difference. Here are some ways to support them financially if you have the means.
My friend and fellow Portland author T. Thorn Coyle is curating a list of organizations that need your help.
3a. Feeling uncomfortable donating to protest support without doing more research? Totally get that. Donate to a local Black-run community organization. Donate to an organization like We Need Diverse Books. Support educational opportunities for the next generation — I just started an annual scholarship for graduating seniors at my old high school (majority Latinx) to help give other kids from Wapato, WA the same chance I got at going to college.
4. Be actively inclusive
Look for ways to make space in the majority-white places you take for granted. Your book club, a conference you’re attending, a professional association, your workplace, your friend group. There’s a difference between not excluding people and making a space actually inclusive. Work towards the latter.
The Making a New Reality research project by Kamal Sinclair has a lot of nuanced discussion about this. This article is a good place to start.
5. Keep the conversation going
I started this post by saying I hate talking about this stuff. I still do — but I also know that if I want to see the sort of equal-access world I write into my books, I need to start shouldering some of the work. And that means talking about it even when I’m uncomfortable. Black lives matter. Pass it on.