A Black perspective on the 77th World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland

This historic gathering at the 2019 WorldCon, the People of African Descent Meetup, posed for a photo, recording an event that inspired and built solidarity among Black people from around the world. – Photo: Wanda Kurtcu

by Wanda Kurtcu

The 2019 WordCon – World Science Fiction Convention – held in Dublin, Ireland, was extremely diverse, with representation of people from unexpected areas of the globe. I passed out over 200 of my MEGA (Melanin Enhanced Geek Alliance) ribbons during the four days I attended the Con. I gave them to people of African descent, Asians and other persons of color and they were very excited to get the ribbons and even more excited – especially when I translated for non-English speakers – when the significance of the ribbon was explained. 

The panels that focused on diversity were well received by audiences. I was on 10 of them and the discussions were very similar to the ones I’ve moderated or been part of at my local conventions.

The WorldCon programming staff created a meetup for people of African descent and they were very specific in the description that it was only for People of Color. I had the opportunity to co-facilitate the meeting. 

There were two white men already in the room when I arrived, and they had excuses as to why they were attending even though the description of the meetup said it was for POC only. One said he was the editor of a spec sci-fi magazine and the other said he was there because his adopted son was Ethiopian and he wanted to see what the meetup was about. His son was not at WorldCon. It felt, to me, that these two men felt it was OK to insert themselves into a space designated for people of color. 

Neither of them asked for permission to be part of our space. It is this sense of entitlement that bothers me, and it permeates all of the SF/F (science fiction and fantasy) media.

At the various literary conventions, ribbons like these are collector’s items. Not surprisingly, considering the intriguing name of her organization, Wanda Kurtcu’s ribbons were especially in demand.

I did not request that they leave but I didn’t do anything to minimize their discomfort. We, as members of our worldwide fannish communities, need to do better at policing ourselves. Most importantly, ask permission before entering a “safe space.”

The discussion by the group, as we introduced ourselves, seemed to center on feelings of isolation, not feeling welcome or accepted by the fannish community, no matter what country the participants came from. 

One major issue was that two Black Nigerian writers were not able to attend because their visas were not processed in time. But the white Nigerian attendees had no problems. 

We committed, at the end of the meetup, to staying in contact and to support each other within the SF/F community. I’m not sure what this support will look like and it will be part of a continuing conversation. 

Dr. Wanda Kurtcu

I posted my experience about the POC of African Descent meetup on the Dublin WorldCon Facebook page and immediately got pushback from non-POC who couldn’t understand why they were excluded. I had to post a refence to an article called “Why People of Color Need Spaces without White People.” This seemed to shut some people up. But, once again, we had to JUSTIFY why it was OK. 

Dr. Bradford Lyau (local guy done good) was presented with the Sam Moskowitz Archive award, for his academic excellence in the world of science fiction. He published an academic analysis on French science fiction, “The Anticipation Novelists of 1950s French Science Fiction: Stepchildren of Voltaire.” 

Another writer, Jeanette Ng, won the Joseph Campbell award for Best New Writer. There was controversy when, during her acceptance speech, she called Joseph Campbell a fascist and expressed her solidarity with the Hong Kong protestors. 

Dr. Wanda Kurtcu is the head of MEGA (Melanin Enhanced Geek Alliance) and was the 2019 BayCon Fan Guest of Honor in May. BayCon, a convention run by fans, published an interview with her, mentioning she is also the writer of “A Matter of Honor,” an episode in Season 3 of ”Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Speaking of the intersection of her fandom and her advocacy, Dr. Kurtcu told the interviewer: “I will continue to vigorously and loudly address the challenges of diversity of fandom, from the whitewashing of people of color in movies in media, to the lack of diversity on SF/F convention panels. And no, I will not back down. I am happy to have the continued support of my BayCon friends as allies and supporters. I am thoroughly confident they will not only ‘talk the talk’ but have the courage to ‘walk the walk’ with me on my journey of inclusion.”