Three great African science fiction and fantasy writers at EasterCon 2016
MancuniCon – EasterCon 2016
EasterCon 2016 took place at the Hilton hotel Deansgate, Manchester. It was my second time attending this event. I was able to get a free membership through Con or Bust, but I didn’t receive any other financial assistance. I was lucky though – Virgin had a train ticket sale, so I got really cheap travel to the event. I was asked to be on a few panels – Poetry, Diversity in UK Science fiction and fantasy, and an interestingly named panel: Are we heading for a superhero crash?
I knew that I would be in the minority, as a black bisexual, nonbinary person at EasterCon, but I was determined to have a good time regardless. This intent didn’t last long however, as I was subject to a lot of micro and macro aggressions throughout the four-day event. There were some good parts: free books, interesting writing sessions, and meeting up with friends. I was really pleased when I raised concerns over the timing of the Diversity session which had been placed last thing on a Sunday – the organisers moved it to Friday afternoon instead. The session on maths explained by juggling was a blast, and the session on putting twists into your stories was enlightening. Meeting three African Science Fiction writers was like a dream come true. But unfortunately the bad parts of EasterCon made me wish I’d never gone, and that’s really sad.
The first negative thing happened in the Poetry session. I read a poem I’d written about Game of Thrones, and the racism, misogyny and bigotry that made it difficult for me to watch. Another poet, who said she only had a single poem to read, was very upset by my work. She stated that she knew someone involved in Game of Thrones, who would be very angry if he had heard my poem. I started to get worried: what if that guy was at EasterCon? Would I be in physical danger because of what I’d written? Sadly, the moderator seemed to take it as a joke – she even said the session was turning into a rap battle.
The angry poet went to the toilet later in the session. When she returned, she announced that she’d written a poem whilst away. She proceeded to read her rebuttal to my poem, which likened my rejection of Game of Thrones, to being sexually assaulted. I was absolutely gobsmacked by this. The moderator looked ill at ease too but she didn’t intervene or do anything. I wondered if a white person had written my work, would they have been subject to this? Would they be afraid as I was? I felt very upset by the whole thing, and even though I had two friends in the audience, I felt alone with the feelings.
The second negative thing at EasterCon happened after the Superhero Crash session. I mentioned to the moderator that I had received a free membership from Con or Bust. The moderator looked me up and down, and stated, “Yes, of course you’d have to.” I was pretty taken aback by this. She continued in a condescending tone, “I think we need to put conditions on the free memberships to Con or Bust, to ensure that new coloured people can attend.” I was disgusted by her use of the term ‘coloured’ and appalled that she would wield her power in saying which people of colour could use Con or Bust’s service. This was the moment when I promised myself to never come back to EasterCon. It didn’t seem to matter how inclusive they tried to be, if there was no back-up to their intentions. When I looked at the Code of Conduct, there was no acknowledgment of the bigotry and bad behaviour that could be inflicted: instead they used an example of someone being upset about meals at the hotel. I didn’t want to talk to anyone in charge about what I’d experienced, because I thought they wouldn’t really listen – this wasn’t a random attendee saying horrible things to me, it was moderators and other panellists.
Speaking of Moderators, many of the ones I saw at EasterCon seemed unprepared, ineffective, and on two occasions quite drunk. Moderators hold a lot of power; but if they’re not briefed adequately, then it means nothing.
It has taken me a long time to write up this report; partly because I didn’t want to portray the event as negative. But it was very negative for me. I don’t want any other people of colour to be treated this poorly when they take part in SFF events, but time and again I see things like this happening, with very little change. Science fiction and fantasy is an escape for me, but EasterCon wasn’t an escape from the bigotry I experience almost daily. Even though this event is run by volunteers, that doesn’t excuse this behaviour. We all deserve better than this.