Wednesday, July 29, 2009

RaceShame 07-09

I. Gatesgate. Look, I've had personal conversations with a couple of racist cops in my hometown. I've tried hard to challenge students who come to school believing in Police Infallibility. I've believed for many years in Mumia's innocence and written an editorial about it. And still, in a comment I made on Timmi's first Gatesgate blog post, I showed way too much faith in the police report's account of Skip Gates's recent arrest. Turns out, according to the recordings of her 911 call, that Lucia Whelan (Whalen?) did not racially profile Gates and his driver: Officer Crowley, consciously or not, made that part up. Shame on me for my credulity and my hasty construction of a narrative that I found attractive.

Some interesting responses to the Gates incident: a couple of black progressives, Reed and Loury, take the opportunity to harsh on Gates's conservatism; a couple of Jewish contrarians, Hitch and Fish, write basically sympathetic pieces.

II. LiarFail. The US publisher of Justine Larbalestier's Liar, a novel with a black protagonist, released the book with a white girl on the cover and seems to have, um, lied about their motives. Shame on 'em. Justine's brave critique is here. One of the Angry Black Women, Alaya Dawn Johnson, discusses the issue here.

A discouraging response that ADJ calls attention to is this, from a commenter on BoingBoing:
I would probably be inclined to subconciously not checking out the back of a book with a black character on the cover. It isn't that I take offense to black characters. It is because I generally don't like to read harrowing tails about battles against racism. I read enough of them in high school to last me one life time. Sadly, due to the abysmally low number of black American authors righting about things other than race relations, people (rationally) just assume that they are looking at another book on race relations and skip it if they are looking for something else. A solid 90% of the time they are probably right that a black person on the cover means harrowing tail of battle against racism.
Now, in 1963, Thomas Pynchon’s editor at Viking urged Pynchon not to make V. a “protest novel” by including “Negroes” among its characters. And in 1977, Delany wrote a positive review of the first Star Wars movie that expressed a wish to have seen some black faces among the characters: the piece received more mail than anything else he has written, the vast majority of it from white kids under seventeen who deeply resented the suggestion, on the grounds that non-whites in movies were signs of "social problems" which they wanted no part of in "their" film. But in 2009? Jeepers.

TNH offers a generous reply with a couple of false notes, some of which ADJ remarks on in the post linked above. Their Eyes Were Watching God and Go Tell It on the Mountain really aren't "struggle against racism" novels. As for "This pattern affects books about orientals, hispanics, and all the other Persons of Brown," I don't think Theresa earns Cute Points for that sentence.

III. Tempestwater. The fearless K. Tempest Bradford spoke out, as people have been doing for decades, about gender bias and cheesecakey art in fantasy illos here. Her critique elicited opposition from People Who Rarely Get It (I mean "rarely understand" --"get it" in the sense of "dig it," or "grok" as the old hippies like to say). Harlan somehow thought he was being attacked and pointed out that he'd discovered Octavia Butler ("Having Discovered Octavia Butler" is an all-purpose defensive weapon, like Wolverine's Healing Factor). HJE realized his error and admitted to it; KTB forgave him; the CBS responded awesomely. Principle 3 is especially necessary to articulate in these contentious times, when you encounter disingenuous people saying "I’m honored to have exposed how humorless and sanctimonious BOTH sides are in Racefail":
3) Expressing contempt for ongoing racial and gender discourse is unacceptable. Although particular discussions may become heated or unpleasant, discourse on racism and sexism is an essential part of antiracism and feminist activism and must be respected as such. There is no hard line between discourse and action in activism; contempt of the one too often leads to contempt of the whole.

So what's the opposite of "Shame on 'em?" "Pride on the Carl Brandon Society," I guess.

1 comment:

Edward Champion said...

You completely contradict your own principle when you declare, on one hand, that discourse is essential while simultaneously prohibiting the "contempt" within the discourse as unacceptable. So long as YOU control the terms, all will see the apparent enlightenment that you advocate. Well, that's the kind of political correctness that those who Truly Do Get It call colloquial fascism. (And, indeed, I must observe that even Ms. Bradford understood this basic human nature in her response to Harlan Ellison.)

I encountered many self-righteous hypocrites like you in my activism days. It's a pity that you so fundamentally misunderstand human nature. But, hey, keep on trying. It's good to get all that naivete out of your system while the rest of us concentrate on constructive solutions.