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Racefail??? Are you kidding??? - Riffs and Licks
steelbrassnwood
steelbrassnwood
Racefail??? Are you kidding???
I am peripherally associated with the science fiction community and have been most of my life. As a teenage I was a typical "fan," going to conventions and subscribing to the magazines and idolizing people like Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein and Harlan Ellison. But people like that began to look a lot less admirable as I got older, and while I certainly retain some of the values I learned from them, I outgrew more of them. I still respect learning and science and wit, but I have long since outgrown Libertarianism, infantile put-downs, and the need to have an apocalyptic rant about everything.

As an adult, I have friends who are writers or editors or otherwise involved in the field. So I still spend time in that community, although it's been years since I've gone to a convention (the last one was the Night of the U Turns heading to Lunacon with bobhowe and I think that was nearly 20 years ago) or subscribed to any of the magazines. Bob and shunn are the main reasons I came back to the field; by reading magazine issues or anthologies they were published in, and reading the work of writers they recommended or knew, I discovered a new generation of great writers in the field.

But I've felt no desire to get more involved. Partially, things have changed since I was going to cons; in those days conventions were about writers and books and there were annoying "media conventions" for comic and movie fans. Now it seems that most conventions are what I would have called "media cons" and they actually have cons devoted to books and reading. I don't have time for gaming anymore, I can't keep a straight face in groups of people who took the Lord Of the Rings films seriously, and aside from Art Spiegelman, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Marjane Satrapi, I've never had the patience for comics or "graphic novels."

It's also disturbing that some things haven't changed. SF was founded by white men. There were very few women in field and more than one of them, in the twentieth century, wrote under male names or ambiguous names, in order to be published. Alice Sheldon, for instance, was one of the best writers in the field in the 1970s and 1980s, but it was years before anyone knew she was the real person behind "James Tiptree Jr."

The field is also, for all intents and purposes, racially segregated. I didn't recognize it as a teenager; I lived in an apartheid society and accepted it as normal that my neighborhood and my schools were all white, that the music I heard on the radio was all white, that the characters on TV were either white or comical. (This was, by the way, in New York City, not South Africa or Alabama.) When I was young I believe there was only one nonwhite SF author in the field: Samuel R. Delany. When I was in high school a few others came along and somewhere after I stopped paying attention folks like Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson started writing. The field is clearly more diverse now than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but its progress has been incremental and hard-fought, as progress in this area has been generally.

I'm writing all this because there's ben a huge ruckus in the community over something called "Racefail." I don't really understand what happened because I haven't had the stomach to read through all the links in that post; after one or two I gave up in disgust. I'm even disturbed by the term "racefail." Mostly it seems like the kind of white-on-white racial conversation that makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Angry self-righteous white liberals lob accusations at angry white conservatives, everyone calls each other racist, everyone presumes to speak for other people, and mostly people just harden their positions and congratulate themselves on them.

As a straight white guy I have spent lots of time in self-justifying straight white male communities that get angrily defensive when anyone questions their straight white maleness. I've also spent lots of time in self-righteous white liberal communities where we all congratulated ourselves on how nonracist we were. Mostly I try nowadays to avoid these communities altogether and instead associate with and support communities that behave in accordance with my values. I find that more effective than trying to be an angry change agent in communities that behave unpleasantly. It's more effective, and I'm happier.

As a straight white man I have the privilege of deciding when to engage with problems like this, and when to ignore them. If I were, say, a speculative fiction writer of color, I would have to choose between having to be an angry change agent in order to follow the vocation I'd chosen, or giving up something I loved because of the resistance I was meeting. That's an unfair choice for anyone to have to make.

Everyone in the community is responsible for how the community behaves and the way it is excluding people. And make no bones about it. People are being excluded, or the community would not look the way it does. I'm responsible too. I'm choosing to not engage in what to me is aggravating nonsense. But that POC SF writer has no choice but to engage in it, because to him or her, it is a challenge to his or her very existence.

We all have to choose our battles and I've obviously chosen otherwise. I am fully aware of the privilege that allows me to make that choice. Everyone in the community should be aware of the privileges they have, and how they are exercising them, because you are always exercising your privileges. Even just by choosing to live your life and do what you do the way you want to, without worrying about these kinds of issues, you are exercising privilege. Be aware of how you are exercising it, and don't deny that you are, every minute of your life.

I'm a straight white guy. It's not that I have no dog in this fight, because I do; there are writers I'd love to be reading, and people I'd love to hear from, who are being suppressed by racism and other forms of bigotry. I am more likely to buy books, attend readings, or otherwise support writers who come from outside the mainstream. I do that because I like that kind of work and because I want to support their efforts to be heard. I will not buy books by people whose views I find offensive (sorry, Orson, but all those books of yours on my shelf were bought used). As much as I love Tolkien or CS Lewis, I won't let anyone discuss their books without questioning the disgusting passages in them.

But I'm not going to try to speak for people who are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. If there are communities of writers working to change the composition of the field or to broaden what's discussable within it or challenging the sick stereotypes still so prevalent in SF, I'd like to know who they are, so I can buy their work and pay more attention. Again, I'd rather do that than yell at a bunch of people who clearly don't want to listen anyway. I would be grateful for any pointers to SF communities that I would enjoy supporting.

(Edit: I am grateful for the thoughtful posts and links to non-bicker reading, but at this point, the boorish commenters have sufficiently confirmed my lack of interest in getting too involved with this community or this debate. So comments are now screened. I will unscreen anything that's not rude.)

(Another Edit: Thanks to those who have suggested some good reading. I've unscreened the comments that were not rude, and corrected one serious error in my original post.)

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34 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
mary_wroth From: mary_wroth Date: March 5th, 2009 02:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yea. That whole nonsense has really been annoying me.

And just one question...are you a straight white guy? That wasn't clear from your post. ;)
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I am. I am not a Cylon.
sistercoyote From: sistercoyote Date: March 5th, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
(I've been browsing around and I think I got here from ryda_rong but I'm not 100% sure.)

That said:

I am not a Cylon.

Are you sure? I understand others have been surprised to discover they weren't what they thought they were...
mary_wroth From: mary_wroth Date: March 5th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
It actually is a shame you aren't a cylon...because they are HOT! ;)

Oh wait, was there some kind of serious discussion going on here...
From: egretplume Date: March 5th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
The latest part of the discussion (as of last night) was in part pointing out that focusing on how white people arguing about racism is still putting attention on the white people, and as a corrective some were compiling lists of sf writers of color. There are links to reading lists in rydra_wong's LJ entries, and also check coffeeandink.
deadbrowalking is a community focused on SF from the perspective of people of color. You might also like 50books_poc.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks -- I was hoping someone more patient than I would tease out some of the links worth following. I appreciate it.
chickenfried_jo From: chickenfried_jo Date: March 5th, 2009 08:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was hoping someone more patient than I would tease out some of the links worth following

Um, more privilege? Some of us did our own homework because we listened when told those involved were not in the world to be our teachers.

Just sayin...

Here via rydra_wong where I did my own homework.

steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 08:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very nice. There are a whole hell of a lot of conflicts that take time to read about and understand, and I'm sorry to bust your bubble, but this is pretty far down on the priority list. Above the latest Brangelina gossip, and below the squabbling on my co-op board. Other folks who commented pointed me to some worthwhile reading, which is to say, sources for good writing and community, as opposed to details on bickering that, as I've said, I find too depressing and tiring to read through.
chickenfried_jo From: chickenfried_jo Date: March 5th, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
How do you mean this? I'm simply pointing out that a lot of folks are going out of their way to bring you information that others, who are not white or male or straight, were told to go get for themselves.

Everyone in the community is responsible for how the community behaves and the way it is excluding people.

I'm sorry you find it too depressing and that you have a ton of other more worthwhile things to read about. But you're not exactly behaving the way your post by the quote above wants me to believe you are.

steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I mean this the way I wrote it, and if you have any further questions, go back and read the post and my replies above. You are being far too rude for me to continue this conversation.
rosefox From: rosefox Date: March 5th, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for posting this. egretplume has already given you the links I would have offered.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for linking to it originally; already have some worthwhile followups.
rydra_wong From: rydra_wong Date: March 5th, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Just a note

Mostly it seems like the kind of white-on-white racial conversation that makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

Speaking as someone who's done an awful lot of link-compiling during this, I can say that it hasn't remotely been "white-on-white" -- there have been a lot of people of colour participating.

Like, oh, Avalon's Willow and deepad and oyceter and bossymarmalade and delux_vivens and yhlee and nojojojo and ktempest and bravecows and kate_nepveu and yeloson and maerhys and sparkymonster and vito_excalibur and ciderpress and unusualmusic and wistfuljane and karnythia and zvi_likes_tv and color_blue and spiralsheep and darkrosetiger and shewhohashope and parallactic and asim and kaiz and tielan and naamenblog and littlebutfierce.

Just off the top of my head.

Certain people have been pushing the idea that oh, it's only those wannabe-anti-racist white people making a fuss, not Real Live Actual People Of Colour.

It's not true.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Just a note

I'm sorry, maybe I should have been clearer that I am sure there's worthwhile reading in there somewhere. I just couldn't wade through the other stuff to get to it and the whole thing makes me tired and depressed. I appreciate the links to things worth reading and in particular some of the reading lists.
rydra_wong From: rydra_wong Date: March 5th, 2009 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Just a note

I appreciate that it's overwhelming if someone hands you a list of three billion posts and says, "Here, read this!"

But I'm a little hyper-sensitive about seeing the discussions framed as just a bunch of white people getting mad at other white people, because it's simply not so.

(And I appreciate the irony of my being the one saying this, since I'm white, but anyhow.)

If you're interested, I can point you at some "greatest hits" -- there are a bunch of posts which are really worth reading, and which relate to issues above and beyond the specifics of this particular imbroglio.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 08:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Just a note

Thanks, I was more interested in sources for new voices in the field than in digging into the battle.
cofax7 From: cofax7 Date: March 5th, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you're looking for a community to support, verb_noire is a new small press that is run by and will focus on writers and characters of color. I'm looking forward to seeing what they produce.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you!
trishalynn From: trishalynn Date: March 5th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mostly it seems like the kind of white-on-white racial conversation that makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

That's part of what I was thinking, too, when I first heard about it. Considering that most of the "drama" I read about these days involves millions of dollars being swindled by real estate scammers and people being forced to live in squalor (and the usual stuff I wade through in newyorkers) I have to admit I was a little flippant when I first approached the topic.

As a female POC--scratch that... as an American-born Filipina, I know that I should and do have things to say about this and I'm probably going to be saying them in my own blog. I just don't know if I'll have the time to, or if I won't channel my energies into something different, but related to it.

In short, yes, people are being hurt, wrong, and wronged over the Internet (and in real life). But it's up to you to decide how hurt, wrong, and wronged you want to be over it.
sparkymonster From: sparkymonster Date: March 5th, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's not a white-on-white racial conversation. It really isn't, though I understand how this particular iteration of this may look that way.

You might want to check out the re-myth project which is a result of this. I dind't dream of dragons by deepad. Avalon's Willow talking about conversations she wants to have. And ciderpress is starting a blog carnival about Asian women. Oh, well, let me link dump a bunch more things POC are saying.

http://asim.livejournal.com/388028.html
http://oyceter.livejournal.com/819945.html
http://wistfuljane.livejournal.com/218362.html
http://bossymarmalade.livejournal.com/483524.html
http://kate-nepveu.livejournal.com/386504.html
http://kate-nepveu.livejournal.com/376479.html
http://ciderpress.livejournal.com/214072.html
http://deepad.livejournal.com/33512.html
http://yeloson.livejournal.com/540444.html
http://nojojojo.livejournal.com/163876.html
http://naamenblog.wordpress.com/2009/01/26/cut-999/
http://yeloson.livejournal.com/537266.html
http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/search/label/who%20can%20write
http://ultranos-fic.livejournal.com/49609.html

and so on and such forth.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 08:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for those links.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Considering that most of the "drama" I read about these days involves millions of dollars being swindled by real estate scammers and people being forced to live in squalor (and the usual stuff I wade through in [info]newyorkers) I have to admit I was a little flippant when I first approached the topic.

Exactly! I do find it hard to take seriously. On the one hand I don't want to trivialize these concerns since, as I said, if I were affected by it, I'd take it damned seriously. But, I'm not.

I am indeed privileged in being able to choose my battles like this. But let's be clear. People who can afford to spend time worrying about whether their writing is being sufficiently recognized in their chosen fiction genre, or whether all of the entertainment they spend their excess cash on sufficiently represents them, are also in a position of privilege.

So, if I'm going to wade through a lot of nonsense in order to understand the details of an injustice, I can think of many better ones to spend my time on.
allburningup From: allburningup Date: March 7th, 2009 08:44 am (UTC) (Link)
You don't need to be a consumer of the entertainment that is bolstering racial prejudices in order to be affected by that bolstering.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 7th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, definitely. I am affected by it, since I do still read SF. That's why I asked for the links and people have already suggested some good stuff. I would rather read good work than dive into that argument.
fridgepunk From: fridgepunk Date: March 5th, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Is it mass hysteria or aliens mind control rays?

Can someone just please explain to me why the hell so many people are unable to grasp the concept that it is always better to read up on the subject they wish to have an opinion on before they write lengthy treatises on the subject? It's not even a netiquette thing so much as a "writing about stuff" general physical law... and I presume that some of the people doing this have been through higher education as well so how did they manage that? How many essays that beging somewhat like:

"well I went to research the brixton race riots but there was such a large body of work that related to it that I couldn't really be bothered to read any of it, but at a glance it seems like the kind of white-on-white racial conversation that makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Angry self-righteous white liberals lob accusations at angry white conservatives, everyone calls each other racist, everyone presumes to speak for other people, and mostly people just harden their positions and congratulate themselves on them..."

...can you really get away with at the degree level before you fail the course?

And they've all decided to wander into the conversation and say this empty, utterly devoid of content fluff just as the conversation has turned really nasty... is there some genetic defect which white people have kept secret that means they have the worst possible timing in the world? I know there's jokes about white people having no sense of rhythm but this would require Bill Bailey to be incredibly non-white.

Which he isn't.

So could somebody please just explain what the hell the deal with all this is? I'm not even angry any more, just plain baffled by the creepy, if-it-happened-in-a-SF-book-it'd-be-the-fault-of-mind-control-tech, synchronised failures that keep popping up.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 08:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Is it mass hysteria or aliens mind control rays?

Sorry, can't really help you with this, but perhaps you can explain why random strangers feel OK coming into a personal journal and acting like boors?
chickenfried_jo From: chickenfried_jo Date: March 5th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Is it mass hysteria or aliens mind control rays?

I'm sorry I came across as boorish. You're post was linked through a widely read roundup about the topic.

Also, what I find interesting is that the person you're responding to made a very good point about reading about a topic in depth before writing about it and I found that ironic considering it seems your saying in your post that you're too busy to do that very thing yourself and wouldn't someone please just do it for you?

I point this out because this tactic is one used a lot in the early parts of the conversation and I had hoped folks choosing to join in would have picked up that learning about it was kind of important before making comments about it.

I'm a random stranger to you, but not to those in the conversation and by posting about it, you also become part of the conversation.

Also, demanding that others just explain to you is a pretty blatant example of privilege. It pinged me because of how I and others who wanted to learn were handled throughout this whole conversation.

And I would say, as boorish as I sound, why don't you just engage me in the conversation instead of posting an icon that says 'bored now' and belittling what I'm saying by posting to someone else that I'm a boor?

This a difficult, terribly fraught, damned exaggerating event and I don't expect the best from people. If anything, this will bring out the worst in people. I just wanted you to know how it sounded from the to me from the outside.

steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 09:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Is it mass hysteria or aliens mind control rays?

Well, if you'd come at the conversation this way to start with, I would have. This comment is very different from the other two and I appreciate the change in tone.

Assuming you're talking about fridgepunk's comment, it was first of all sarcastic, and there was no call for that. Secondly, s/he is acting as if I had joined the conversation without having read the background. I didn't join it. The whole point of what I wrote, in fact, was to talk about why I wasn't joining it, and why I had no intention of joining it. And in my personal journal I asked for some perspective from people who were part of it and had probably seen the bits that were worth looking at.

Note, I asked. I didn't "demand" anything, and your use of that word is somewhat hostile and challenging, whether or not you mean in that way.

You are, indeed, a random stranger. Whether you are something else to those in the conversation isn't relevant here, because you're commenting in my personal journal, not in that conversation. If I encounter random strangers in a raucous debate in a public place, I don't have any expectations for how they'll behave nor am I going to get offended if the language gets a little heated. But if one of them chooses to follow me home and argue with me in front of my house, that's an entirely different matter.

You may see this differently, and you are welcome to disagree, but by coming here and commenting you are essentially engaging me in a one-on-one conversation. When you do that with a stranger, you have an obligation to do it politely. If you don't feel that obligation, that's fine, but that means our standards of conduct are different enough that I really don't want to engage with you in this manner.
chickenfried_jo From: chickenfried_jo Date: March 5th, 2009 09:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Is it mass hysteria or aliens mind control rays?

Okay, thanks for considering my response. I'm not sure based on your last sentence whether it's okay to respond to you or not, but here goes.

As I said in my last part, this whole conversation is very very difficult. 'tone' is a big part of the reason why people of color and allies were not listened to. There was a lot of, if you were less rude or confrontational, I would have listened to you but since you are being so uppity, I've decided I'm just taking my ball and going home. It was a not so subtle way of not only dismissing but a way of avoiding the content of what was being said. It is a derailment. Not only that, but, you have the option of not engaging. The people you're posting about don't have that option.

All that being said, you may want to ask rydra_wong to remove the link to your post or lock it so that random strangers aren't led to believe you're part of the conversation. Her link to an openly posted entry was what lead me to comment. I would never have seen or read it otherwise and would not have come into your private space to comment.

I wish there were a less loaded way to talk about this but I'm honestly tired of people using these tactics without any sort of response from those it hurts. It hurts me to see the privilege just continue and continue and continue. I am also part of that community you talk about above.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Is it mass hysteria or aliens mind control rays?

Of course it's ok to respond; I was saying that I won't engage with people who are being rude. These last two posts are not rude and I appreciate your slowing down and talking like this. I know the overall conversation is difficult. That's part of why I chose not to involve myself directly.

And you're right, I do have the option. I addressed that in my comment on the original post, in this post, and in replies here. I think it's hypocritical to falsely surrender privilege as some sort of sign of solidarity, and I feel no obligation to do so. I'm not dismissing or silencing anyone other than myself, and I have every right to do that.

To that point, I have no problem with rydra_wong linking to this post, and even if I did I would friends-lock it rather than telling someone else what they can or can't post in a personal journal. Random strangers are welcome to come by, read what I have to say, and respond. But I am going to exercise some control over what kind of conversations happen in my personal journal.

Thanks for the thoughtful responses.
chickenfried_jo From: chickenfried_jo Date: March 5th, 2009 10:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Is it mass hysteria or aliens mind control rays?

Thank you for listening and also for responding.

There is sometimes an aire of snark involved with some of the folks I've conversed with and I think that's what I was going for when I made the first comment. I assumed my comment would be met with 'inorite?' and I was wrong to think so. Not that you wouldn't get it but that you would get it and go 'hahahah, yeah, wow.'

I don't know what you mean by falsely surrenduring privilege? Or that being a sign of solidarity. I do find it odd that you contend that screening my comments was not silencing me because they would have to meet with your approval in order to be posted and that's somewhat controlling but of me, not you. So, a little confusion there on my part.

I understand you asked for links and that you were fortunate enough to have some folks come in and give you some. There were a lot of people who asked and did not get that sort of help. They asked nicely and they asked as part of their cultural view, because that's what we do. And, and I really stress this and, there is a LOT of the conversation that is about asking for the information that makes others have to do the work for you. Can you see how that might have pinged my privilege radar? I mean, I think you sort of do, but I also think you're sort of in your own space and maybe still a little defensive and wanting to regain your sense of place.

And can you see how frustrating it is to ask nicely, politely a million times for people to get it and be ignored and then to ask rudely and be told no because you're rude. I mean, what does it take to get past the defensive position and actually engage the privilege in a way that creates different actions?

Because I totally get why some folks of color just don't ever give white people the benefit of the doubt anymore because it's too damned much work getting them to wake the heck up and just listen and be different?

And that we're still talking about how we're talking about it and not talking about it at all.

steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 5th, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Is it mass hysteria or aliens mind control rays?

Of course it's frustrating, and I sympathize. But I wasn't there for that, didn't do any of it, and explicitly saying I wanted nothing to do with it. I more than understand why people of color won't give white people the benefit of the doubt. I don't want to myself half the time.

"Falsely surrendering privilege" = acting as if I had no choice but to engage in this critical debate.

I would have been silencing you in my journal, ie, refusing to engage in an unpleasant one-on-one conversation, not silencing your participation in the larger conversation.

Finally, you are talking about how it's being discussed. I'm talking about why I don't even want to be part of either the discussion or the meta-discussion. Good luck with it.
chickenfried_jo From: chickenfried_jo Date: March 5th, 2009 10:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Is it mass hysteria or aliens mind control rays?

Then why ask for links? Why post at all? Why open the discussion in your journal?

Good luck to you too.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 7th, 2009 02:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Is it mass hysteria or aliens mind control rays?

Because I'd like to read better SF, and thanks to some of the links others have posted, I think I'll be ale to.
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