LonCon3 #3: Attendee Demographics – Are there no black sci-fi fans?

Octavia Butler8,000 people attended LonCon3 hailing from 64 countries, some as far away as Australia. Roughly 2,000 from the U.K. and 2,000 from the U.S. What the LonCon3 site doesn’t show is something I noticed as soon as I walked through the doors of the ExCeL building: the age, gender, disability and racial demographics.

70% or more of the attendees were over 40 – though over 60 is probably more accurate – and during the four days I was there I only saw two black faces. There were a few Middle Eastern and south and east Asians, but no black people.

Why?

There must be some black sci-fi and fantasy fans out there. I’ve only recently discovered something called Afrofuturism, a sort of black sci-fi sub-genre. Its main literary figure is Octavia Butler whose works were referenced more than once during the convention. If my mother weren’t so ill she would’ve definitely have gone with me, but she would’ve been, to borrow from Little Britain, ‘the only black in the village’.

I suppose young people would be priced out as day tickets were £50. Students don’t really have that kind of cash to spare and under 18s may require some level of adult supervision in order to attend, requiring at least two tickets instead of one. This is a shame because there were many, many panels on young adult literature, graphic novels, anime and manga.

It did appear there were slightly more men than women in attendance but the panels seemed fairly well balanced in terms of gender. Strict rules against sexism and harassment were in place and there were a high number of panels on feminism. Nationality-wise, the majority of panelists were American or British though I did attend one panel where none of the speakers were from anglophone countries.

A fair few of the over 40s were veterans of WorldCon, attending every year no matter where it’s held. That kind of dedication requires piles of cash. London ain’t a cheap place to holiday, that’s why I crashed at my sister’s house instead of paying for an expensive hotel room. There were plenty of disabled attendees and they were very well catered for with front row seats and special spaces for wheelchairs and scooters.

The upside of the high number of older people was the eccentricity they displayed. Singing in the toilets. Knitting while listening to panel discussions. Socks and sandals. Bright wigs. Dyed hair (pink and blue were very popular). Drawn on beards. Real and quirky beards. A man in a pink Marie Antoinette era dress. An elderly gent with a small keyboard resting on his knees and the badge name ‘Filthy Pierre’. Some sleeping in chairs, on sofas, and even on the floor. One panel on the first day took a poll and 75% of audience members had arrived on a flight that same day, so jet lag.

I found the demographics surprising. I’m glad that older people, disabled people and women (and feminism) were represented and welcomed, and that tackling sexism was a priority, but I can’t pretend not to be disappointed at the lack of young and/or black faces.

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9 thoughts on “LonCon3 #3: Attendee Demographics – Are there no black sci-fi fans?

  1. There are quite a few new SF authors of African descent — Nalo Hopkinson, N. K. Jemisin, etc.

    And of course the recent SF Grand Master—Samuel Delany.

    Maybe it has more to do with WHO goes to conventions i.e. it’s only a small slice of SF readership.

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    1. Thanks for the names. I’ve added their books to my to-read list.

      Yes, a very small slice. I think it also has something to do with discoverability. I only found out about WorldCon being hosted in London this year because I saw it mentioned in The Guardian newspaper which has a fairly small readership.

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    2. The Guardian has a small readership?!?

      Well, I’m a serious SF (not of African descent) fan but would never want to go to a convention (so I suspect there are tons of people like me) — so, I think there are other factors involved. I’m not interested in the fandom element.

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    3. Wait, you haven’t read Samuel Delany yet? Highly recommended (Babel-17, Dhalgren, Triton, etc) — very radical/experimental/brilliant. He got started in the 60s and teaches English at Temple University in the US.

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    4. The Guardian is the 11th (out of 13) most read newspaper in the UK.

      It’s funny that you say you’re not into fandom, because I thought the exact same thing when I read your comment. But then I realised I write a blog primarily about books and my favourite TV shows – and I see that you do the same – so does that mean we’re both into fandom? Are there different levels of fandom? The term might be a bit subjective.

      I’ve added Babel-17 to my wishlist on Goodreads. Thanks.

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    5. Hmm, as an American The Guardian is one of the few UK newspapers I read.

      I read 40s-70s SF novels. I have little interest in acquiring signed copies, talking to authors, acquiring art, listening to panels, etc etc etc. I refuse, for example, to join podcasts and other more public elements of fandom—I rather restrict my version of “fandom” to my site.

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    6. Ah, in that case The Guardian is the third most read newspaper website in the world, but not many Brits seem to read it.

      I’m not into signed copies either. I didn’t go to any signings, and I’ve never talked to a favourite author either online or face-to-face. Honestly, going to LonCon3 was actually a knee-jerk reaction to the stress I’ve been under lately, a need to get away for a bit. It’s probably the first and last time I will ever go to something like this. It was an interesting experience though, and I’m glad I went.

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