Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fringe's Ethnos Issue: A Comment on Racism

I'm pleased to announce that submissions for Fringe's second anniversary theme issue, Ethnos, writing about race and ethnicity, are open from now until December 15, 2007. You can read more about the theme on our submission guidelines page.

We had some hot debate about this theme. At first we couched it as "Racism," but that seemed too combative and in opposition to last year's Feminism issue -- racism is a problem while feminism is a movement trying to help people. We wanted to read empowering work. The less-slanted theme of "Race" was suggested, but discarded because it seemed American centric. Finally we arrived at "Ethnos," a Greek word that seemed geographically neutral, but likely to garner us the kind of submissions we want.

I think we discussed the word to be used so extensively, because at the editorial level, we're predominantly white (with one Chilean), and sensed we were treading on delicate and unfamiliar ground. Early on in our development, we all agreed that the struggles of feminism are linked with the struggle for racial equality. We felt and still feel empathetic to brown writers, many of whom face the same challenges as women writers -- the difficulty of early publication when so many niche journals have folded, and institutionalized racism at publishing houses. One acquaintance, a fresh Southeast-Asian-American writer with considerable publication credits is having trouble landing a book deal because of tokenism -- there's another new hot Asian writer of short stories out there, and publishers don't want two.

But it is problematic that we are, by and large, a white-run publication. We know we will face questions that have no easy answers:
  • Is asking the brown community to send us work replaying our racist history? In a certain way, yes -- we, the largely white, will be selecting work for publication. We are going to do our best to be open to possible prejudices, to hear and appreciate work that expresses sentiments that may make us uncomfortable. Would it be better for us to do nothing, or to risk being insensitive but try to publish on political issues that are important to us?
  • Do we have the right to judge such work? We think we are good aesthetic judges of literature and art. Since no ethnicity has a monopoly on good writing, and we can recognize good writing, we hope this issue will be full of awesome lit.
  • Are we ghettoizing writers of color by printing them in a single issue? Good god, we hope not. Our record for publishing writers with a variety of backgrounds is pretty good -- take a look through our archives to see (within each archived issue, click on author's names to read bios and see pictures of them). In the same way that we love feminist submissions at any time of year, so too do we love to read writing by authors of color during any season. We are doing this to celebrate diversity and welcome it into our publication.
  • Isn't it racist to exclude white people from publication? We are not excluding white people. The bottom line is that your writing must be on topic and excellent to be considered for this issue. We have a blind submissions policy for all our issues. This means the writer's name and contact information is wiped when our readers see it.
Through this issue, we hope we will do what Fringe does best -- take risks. We look forward to reading submissions.


Julia said...

Lizzie, though I understand why you might feel self-conscious about the relative whiteness of the editors of Fringe, I'd ask you to remember that first and foremost, Fringe is an alternative publication, focused on giving a voice to underrepresented and unappreciated artists and writers of all types.

Throughout history, it has been alternative publications that have driven discussions about race, politics, gender, and so on. I doubt there are many people who feel immediately that the ethnicity of an editor is more important than the ideology of the magazine itself .

Sarah said...

I agree with you, Julia, but also think that Lizzie's comments come from a very honest place. Sometimes it is unsettling to find that a character you have really identified with was created by someone who is nothing like that character, and I imagine the same might be said of a magazine and its editors. I do, however, believe any author or editor who succeeds in truly portraying any character or theme not directly related to themselves has made a leap forward in understanding the human condition, and thus provides a good example for all of us. I certainly hope that this is what we achieve in our Ethnos issue.