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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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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.
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.
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.
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 08:41 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.
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?
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