Wednesday, March 4, 2009

RaceFail '09: This hurts us all

Micole (a poster here) was outed by W*ll Sh*tt*rly and (eta: name removed per request3). Although they have now removed her legal name, neither of them have prevented others from outing her in their comments, and WS has deleted his LJ1 and (eta: name removed per request) has taken down the entries (be warned, the one outing Mely leads to a malware site). WS has noted he will not out anyone, but quite frankly, given that he had apologized to Mely, Willow, Deepa D, and Vom Marlowe only a month before, I do not trust anything he says (the apology was on his LJ, which has been deleted). In interest of full disclosure, I note that Mely is a good friend of mine, as well as an ally I value a great deal.

I am disturbed and frightened by WS and (eta: name removed per request)'s actions, not in the least because they tie directly back in to issues of gender, race, class, and other social injustices.

Here's a timeline of RaceFail '09, so people can decide what they think themselves.

SF media and book fandoms and power

RaceFail has, from the very beginning, had authors and editors on one side and readers and consumers on another. Although authors and editors and readers and consumers are not and never will be mutually exclusive categories, it is fair to say that those who have more power in the SF/F publishing world (Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, the Nielsen Haydens, Emma Bull, W*ll Sh*tt*rly, (eta: name removed per request)) were arguing against people who did not have power in that world (Willow, Deepa, Mely2), with the exception of some SF/F authors and editors such as Nora Jemisin, K. Tempest Bradford, and Liz Henry (eta: Nora and Tempest and Liz are also arguing against that power, as they are not as firmly established and are therefore risking more).

Veejane has posted about SF book fandom versus SF media fandom. I generally do not agree with posts that hold up media fandom (eta: this circle of media fandom, not all media fandoms) as something to be learned from, as it is not a haven to fans of color or a hotbed of diversity. However, the divide between SF book fandom, particularly the segment that is directly involved in the publishing industry, and SF media fandom exists, and as a whole, SF book fandom has had more professional power in terms of the publishing industry, more men, and probably more white people. It's not some accident or random twist of fate that created this divide. The unofficial nature of media fandom is indirectly responsible for its relatively larger diversity—and I never thought I would say this, because being more diverse than media fandom is not that high of a bar—institutional power makes it that much easier for white people, abled people, male people, middle-aged people, middle-class people to get in and to stay in. There are, of course, disadvantaged people in SF book fandom and in SF publishing, and I personally benefit a great deal from people like Nalo Hopkinson and Tobias Buckell and organizations like the Carl Brandon Society and Wiscon. But the face of SF book fandom is very limited.

This is why WS and (eta: name removed per request)'s attempts to reframe the argument in their own terms is so harmful. They are attempting to force a conversation which started in LJ and make it follow their own rules. WS is doing so after having had an LJ for many years, and both WS and (eta: name removed per request) are doing so after many people have told them repeatedly about pseudonyms and about the dangers of outing. It is widely agreed upon by nearly everyone in media fandom that outing someone is unacceptable; furthermore, this is not LJ specific. Political and personal bloggers around the internet have lost jobs by being outed, and that's only one consequence. The important thing is not that they are reframing the conversation around pseudonymity and outing, it is that they are reframing the conversation so that it once again leaves that of race and racism in SF fandom. This reframing of the argument is not dangerous simply because of this one incidence of race fail; it is dangerous because it is representative of what happens when a group with more power and a group with less power argue.

This reframing is a cousin to the tone argument (search for "tone"). Both are ways of asserting power, of staking metaphorical ground; they are rhetorical forms of control that deliberately uphold current power structures. Mely writes, "This conviction, in the face of public conversation and well-documented timelines, that a discussion about race in science fiction is about the personal grudges of white people -- this inability to recognize, hear, or speak to the people of color involved in the discussion -- this in itself contributes to the institution of racism and the continuing whiteness of science fiction." Note how frequently WS and (eta: name removed per request) refer to race and racism in their posts. There has been an amazing moving bar of who has the "right" to speak; first, Deepa and Willow didn't critique Bear's book properly because they were too "emotional;" now we are too educated, not oppressed enough. Furthermore, WS in particular has had a long history of changing the subject. The arguments happening don't start with WS talking about classism; they start with someone else talking about racism. This is power at work, trying to keep itself in power.

SF book fandom, where are you?

Although a few authors and editors have come out against what WS and (eta: name removed per request) have done, where is the rest of the fandom? Like Jane says earlier, "Where are the con-comms, going apeshit to distance themselves from these serial fails of race and culture? Where are the guests-of-honor, specifically inviting underserved communities to visit at an upcoming con? (Where are the "discount if this is your first con evar" programs?) Why aren't the SF organizations like SFWA (okay, bad example) having a cow and putting out official position statements on outreach? Where are press-releases from the publishing houses, explaining their diversity efforts (in their lists and in their workplaces)?"

Why the resounding silence? Editors, authors, fans—all the people who were not talking about RaceFail and what people in their field were doing: where are they?

If the prior months of RaceFail were "both sides behaving badly" (which I disagree with), what is this, and why has no one said anything?

Mely previously wrote, "Is group protest always right or good? No, it's not. It's a way to establish and enforce community norms, and it's only as right and good as the community norms are. It can be profoundly oppressive and profoundly abusive. But silence in the face of injury is also a way to establish and enforce community norms. You don't opt out of a community by remaining in it and never commenting on its big controversies; you just opt to abide by whatever party wins."

What SF book fandom is telling me—a woman, a person of color, and a long-time fan of SF books and a con-goer—what you are telling me is that you don't care. That these are, in fact, your community norms, that you are all right with people who have more power in your community (by virtue of profession, race, and gender) using that power to harm other, less powerful, members of your community. That you are fine with the erasure of women, of people of color, of those without the same professional privileges you enjoy, and that you are willing to stand by silently and let people be hurt. This is how it affects us. This. And this.

Your silence speaks volumes.

The intersectionality of threats

Even though this started as RaceFail, it does not affect "just" race. For one, that assumes that people of color only suffer from a single oppression. Secondly, as many, many people have noted, outing can be threatening on many levels, and I would like to highlight that it can seriously harm women who are being sexually harrassed, GLBT people who are not out, POC who have been threatened, and etc. Media fandom is a safe space for some people. Again, this is something I never thought I would say, as it has proved time and again that it is not a safe space for all people. But in this particular case, it is more of a safe space than SF book fandom because of media fandom's lack of business deals and money-related matters, because of the general lack of ways to retaliate in the offline world. The act of outing comes out of the attempt to control conversation and thereby acts as an attempt to control the people having the conversation, and it comes from not just from two individuals trying to silence an anti-racist ally, but also from a community with more power in terms of gender and race.

WS and (eta: name removed per request) did not do this in a vacuum; they did it in an environment in which they could reasonably not fear many consequences (and as far as I can tell, they will not suffer consequences at all, save being banned from some blogs they probably never visited). They may not have knowingly taken advantage of this power, but they did regardless. And right now, that same environment's reaction is saying that it's ok.

This is why I think a threat to one of us is a threat to all of us. It is upholding a social norm that makes it ok to make threats against people talking about issues of social justice, and even more, it is upholding a norm that says these issues of social justice do not exist at all. I do not think feminists or GLBT activists or anti-classists or anti-ablists will be attacked right this second. But I do think the reduction of social justice is something that affects us all. If nothing else, these few years in my communities have taught me that yesterday's classism is today's anti-Semitism and becomes tomorrow's misogyny. And quite frequently, these attacks hurt the same people, because oppressions do not come singly.

What I want

I want to know if this is the norm for SF fandom. I want to know what SF fandom is doing to welcome oppressed groups—actively welcome, because simply saying "Come in" to someone who has just been assaulted in your house is not the same as showing them the precautions you have taken against further assault. I want to know if I and my allies will be safe.

But mostly, I want to know what you who have been silent are going to do.

I say this because it is all too easy for me to stay on the periphery. So don't tell me. Show me. Not via links or comments, but by making changes—in yourself, in one aspect of your life, online or offline, public or private, large or small. Help us all change.

What I'm going to do

I'd like to spend this week focusing on POC; in particular, I will try to catch up on all my backlog of book write ups by and about POC. I am going to read the 12th POC in SF Carnival. I will continue working on making my blog a safe space for oppressed people and issues of social justice. I will work on my pieces for the Asian Women Blog Carnival and the Remyth Project. I am going to continue to deal with these same issues of safety and trust and social justice offline.

eta: Also, any pointers about bringing up these things and dealing with them offline are incredibly appreciated.

Rules of discourse

I will be on- and offline periodically tomorrow, but I will still be moderating comments. I will also attempt to coordinate any ETAs on this post and the one in my LJ, although there may be a time lag depending on my internet access.

1 It was deleted when I wrote this, and he restored it while I was editing this prior to posting. (eta: deleted again as of 3/5)
2 No, I don't think having worked nine months for an SF/F publishing house thirteen years ago is the same as being an editor or an author right now.
3 I removed the poster's name to prevent Aqueduct from having to suffer any consequences for my own statements, which are not associated with those of Aqueduct Press.

x-posted here


Anonymous said...

Hi Timmi. Lots O Comments!!

I became aware of this because I am Kathryn Cramer's friend. I see that it is a large, encompassing conversation and that there are many serious issues being discussed.

Here's what I just commented to Kathryn: "This one's full of hot buttons, Kathryn. People are running away from the real, sick, pathological - and pathetic - abuse situations. It's not just "resounding silence on racism". I am pretty stunned to see all the stuff that I've seen today. But a lot of egopanties are definitely showing. And that's not to the bad."

I do not know why it is so difficult for people to acknowledge differing perspectives. I have no answer for that. But I can comment a bit as an "outsider" - maybe I might seem like an "insider" to those who do not know me, but I am not - I have never fit with the SF/F status quo - and everything I've sold and published in the so-called "industry" has been against the grain.

In terms of commenting or failing to comment out of fear - Well - fear of WHAT? Fear of not-selling a $500 story or not selling a $5,000 book? Fear of losing a thousand readers? A truly successful author - would not have such a fear.

To me, it's all about perspective. To denigrate people's honest statements and sincere experiences out of a desire to maintain one's image of one's self as - "a good person" or whatever? If I went about my teaching, daily life, business and writing like that, I'd really suck and be a real failure. How is it so hard to see that people are each unique individuals - and to stop blaming the victim and own one's own behavior?

Pretty difficult, I guess -

Ego's a bad bad thing. And no, I don't think I'm better than anybody else just because it's a little easier for me to put things in perspective and listen without putting people down than others.

Oyceter said...

Hi, this is Oyce, the poster (Timmi runs the blog, but many people post here and do not speak for her).

I am not exactly clear on what you are saying. I think it is that people should not stay silent out of fear? Although I am not sure who you are referencing when you mention victims?

Although I am a proponent of not being silent, I think it is not as easy to break down as fear of not selling a story or fear of losing readers. Many of the POC posting, for instance, fear speaking out because they have been the target of racist harassment in the past or seen other POC subjected to that harassment.

NM said...

In terms of commenting or failing to comment out of fear - Well - fear of WHAT? Fear of not-selling a $500 story or not selling a $5,000 book? Fear of losing a thousand readers? A truly successful author - would not have such a fear.

Indeed not, $500 or $5000 seem like decent sums to me and I'm sure would be for most people. $500 is a month's rent in many parts of the country, and most people would suffer significantly from a $5000 paycut.

Many writers struggle as they are operating in a low-margin and culturally marginally business. That it is made worse by the sort of bizarre behavior of most established personal is notable and worrying, not trivial simply because more successful writers would have less to fear.

Or do only the opinions and economic positions of successful writers count?