Tag Archives: racism

In the Roots: being privileged and writing problematic

Note: I waffled a good bit about writing this. Then I waffled a bit about posting it. The general rule of thumb is to not engage with reviews beyond a polite “thank you”. That said, I think there’s some stuff here that deserves consideration and discussion, and that I want to address.

Yesterday Dear Author reviewed Line and Orbit. I think it’s a great review – thoughtful, fair, and full of that which ideally all authors want: useful, constructive feedback. Sunita liked some stuff, didn’t like other stuff, and it’s all good. But there’s something she said that bothered me deeply at the time, and is still bothering me a lot: That the Bideshi, my nomadic space-faring magic-users, align at least somewhat with the problematic-and-tired “noble savage” trope.

It didn’t bother me because I thought she was wrong. It bothers me because I think she’s right.

Let’s rewind a bit. I’ve said more than once that when you’re a white, privileged Westerner – which I am – and you’re writing about things like race and colonialism, you’re going to get stuff wrong. It’s just a matter of time. It’s very easy to say that, easy to recognize that it’s true. It’s much harder, when the time comes, to admit to your own fuck-up. It’s harder still to take it and try to learn from it, to grow.

Line and Orbit was a debut novel written by two white people, five years ago. I say this to provide context, because it was written at a time when I was just starting out in my sociology PhD program, when I was getting my first serious exposure to critical race theory and intersectionality and postcolonialism, when I was first reading people like Franz Fanon and Achille Mbembe and Arturo Escobar. I was just self-aware enough to realize that this stuff was changing me, that was stuff that, if I was going to take my own writing seriously, I had to write about. But self-awareness is not an event. It’s a process. And when you’re coming from a position of privilege, even when you’re undergoing that process, there are things you won’t be able to see. There will be things you miss. There will be things you get wrong. This is in no way an excuse; it’s a warning that I wish I could go back five years and deliver to myself and my co-author.

As we were writing Line and Orbit, I was becoming aware of the noble savage trope, of how not-good it is, and also of how pervasive it is, of how it touches a more profoundly culturally ingrained story that white Westerners like to tell ourselves and have been telling ourselves since we started ruining other continents. It’s one of those deep stories, those folktales that show up everywhere. It’s the Hero’s Journey of white colonialism.

So I was at least sort of aware of it. To some degree, I was conscious of the alignment to it in the book. I hoped to subvert it in some ways – Adam is not much in the way of a super-Bideshi, he doesn’t do everything they do but much better, but that’s not all there is to the trope, and now, looking back on it, I have to concede that if we were trying to subvert it, we weren’t entirely successful. It’s there, and it’s not being questioned particularly hard, if at all.

Are you ready for the irony? I hate that trope. I fucking hate it. True fact: Avatar came out halfway through writing the book, and I think my exact words were “oh, fuck no.”

And yet it’s there. I love the Bideshi so much, I love those characters and that world, they’re so dear to my heart, but I’m looking at it, and… Yep.

This is the great irony of subtle racism and the colonialism that is its ugly sibling. Even if you hate it, even if you want to end it, it works its way in there. It’s insidious. It’s a cultural disease, a miasma in the air that we – that I – have been breathing since I was born. And if you’re privileged, especially if you’re white, it’s deep in you, so deep – so in the roots, as Ixchel would say – that it can take a lifetime to dig it out, and before you can do that you have to see all of it, which is nearly impossible.

But you have to try. If you don’t, you don’t grow. We only grow with friction. We only evolve when someone or something comes along and makes us do so.

So now I’m faced with a choice. I can ignore that it’s there and carry on as before, or I can look harder, try harder, grow.

I can also just not write about this stuff anymore, run no risks, not tell the stories that I feel like I need to tell. But that doesn’t seem like a solution to me. I think my initial impulse five years ago was a good one. Running away from this kind of thing seems like cowardice. I want to keep writing about race, about class and gender and disability, and the marginalized, the oppressed, the voiceless. Doing so when you’re someone like me is fraught with problems and peril, but I think turning away is the wrong move, because then I never have to confront anything. I never have to grow. There will be deeply uncomfortable moments like this… and I think I have to be okay with that. I think I have to learn how to be.

So I appreciate this. I appreciate the opportunity. I hope I’ll do better. I hope you’ll all come with me, and help me understand when I’m less than successful.

Otherwise I don’t think there’s much point to this wacky journey at all.

Sunday Linkdump: All the cars upturned talk like the trains

Heisenberg

Be aware: There is a lot. Without further ado:

  • This week in awesome: An artist is making a map of Manhattan using only handwritten directions from strangers. It’s about as great as you’d expect.
  • “Man Creates Very First Website for Women Ever”. No, this is not an Onion headline.

    Where is the Gawker for women? The ESPN for women? The Awl for women? The Slate for women? The Onion for women? Perhaps when Google finally launches a search engine for women, we will be capable of locating the websites targeted at us, so that advertisers may sell us things. For now, we will read Bustle.

  • Breaking Bad as Hamlet. I don’t totally buy it, but it’s an amazing comparison.
  • “Mark Millar and Todd McFarlane: Ladies, Comics Aren’t For You”. And here’s where I would register my outraged shock if I had any. Shock, I mean.

    Comics aren’t for women. And if women do like comics, they shouldn’t, because testosterone, and that’s not the right platform for them. But for those women who do read comics, it doesn’t matter how they’re portrayed. Because women don’t read them, you see, so it’s not necessary to write characters that will appeal to them. So if you’re a woman, and you’re reading comics, first of all, why are you reading them? Second of all, don’t expect anything that appeals to you.

  • Related: Do villains really need to commit “taboo” acts for us to get that they’re villains?

    A cowardly bully, who snivels and whines when any hurt at all comes their way, isn’t just a villain that people hate. He or she is a villain that people despise. It goes back to what people mean when they say a “bad guy.” Someone being “bad” isn’t just about actions, it’s also about character in the old-fashioned sense of the word. And when the focus is on “bad character” rather than atrocity, it’s possible demonstrate that a villain is despicable without showing any crime at all.

  • Also related: Warren Ellis on why we do need violent stories.

    We learn about things by looking at them and then talking about them, together. You may have heard of this process. It’s sometimes involved in things like science. It’s also the system of fiction: writing things in order to get a better look at them. Fiction is how we both study and de-fang our monsters. To lock violent fiction away, or to close our eyes to it, is to give our monsters and our fears undeserved power and richer hunting grounds.

  • Also also related: Why it may be a good thing that video games “devalue life”, and why it might open up some opportunities to rethink the meaning of death.

    This fixation on interactivity obscures the fact that games are also a computational medium, based on models and protocols, codes and commands, simulations and rules. By assigning literal, numerical values to life and death, games are necessarily going to “cheapen” them to some extent – but, as we’ll see, this cheapening can render the form peculiarly suited to exploring what life is worth in the era of biopower and computerized risk assessment, drones and cloning, artificial intelligence and data mining.

  • N.K. Jemisin: “There is no neutrality when bigotry is the status quo.”

    Put simply, SFWA must now take action against bigots in order to prove itself worthy of being called a professional organization. SFWA’s leadership is going to have to choose which members it wants to lose: the minority of scared, angry people whose sense of self-worth is rooted in their ability to harm others without consequence… or everyone else.

  • Orson Scott Card: Now officially disconnected from reality in every meaningful way. Also howlingly racist, in case anyone wasn’t sure about that.

    “Where will he get his ‘national police’? The NaPo will be recruited from ‘young out-of-work urban men’ and it will be hailed as a cure for the economic malaise of the inner cities.

    In other words, Obama will put a thin veneer of training and military structure on urban gangs, and send them out to channel their violence against Obama’s enemies.”

  • (TW: wow racism) Amazing series of photos: “A Day in the Life of the Ku Klux Klan, Uncensored”. The only real issue is that it’s sort of implicitly presented as if any of the images are a surprise or are skewering common perceptions of the KKK, when in fact they are all exactly what I would expect.
  • “Of course all men don’t hate women. But all men must know they benefit from sexism”.

    These days, before we talk about misogyny, women are increasingly being asked to modify our language so we don’t hurt men’s feelings. Don’t say, “Men oppress women” – that’s sexism, as bad as any sexism women ever have to handle, possibly worse. Instead, say, “Some men oppress women.” Whatever you do, don’t generalise. That’s something men do. Not all men – just somemen.

  • “Thoughts on the Trending Hashtag: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen”.

    Recently I had lunch with a good friend, and he asked how I felt about getting my major in Women and Gender Studies since he heard that it’s basically learning about white women, which I’m inclined to agree with. The primary feminist group on my campus simply ignored my critiques that women of color were not being truly represented by them. Instead, I was simply told, “Oh well, we believe in equality for all.” I can even think of a few times when I was on Facebook and saw white women post articles about women of color, ignore my comments regarding my own experiences as a Latina, and carry on talking to other white feminists discussing something that they have no real clue about.

  • Bayou Corne, Louisiana is disappearing into a sinkhole 24 acres wide and about 750 feet deep. There are reasons why this is happening.

    Bayou Corne is the biggest ongoing industrial disaster in the United States you haven’t heard of. In addition to creating a massive sinkhole, it has unearthed an uncomfortable truth: Modern mining and drilling techniques are disturbing the geological order in ways that scientists still don’t fully understand. Humans have been extracting natural resources from the earth since the dawn of mankind, but never before at the rate and magnitude of today’s petrochemical industry. And the side effects are becoming clear.

  • Finally, from me: a post on the systems of cultural capital built up around print books and the spaces they occupy, placed in the context of a world that features increasing numbers of ebooks.

    Of course the spaces themselves in which one goes to experience books are laden with differing degrees of cultural capital. Independent bookstores tend to be more prestigious than chains. Independent bookstores with lots of antique shelving that’s high enough to need those cool rolling ladders tend to be more prestigious than a little hole-in-the-wall used bookstore. You stand in these spaces, a hardcover first edition in your hands, surrounded by whispers and wood and that fantastic old book smell, and you can think Aha, I am a Cultured person in a Cultured space and I am Experiencing Books.

Hope the bridges all burn your life away.

Theodore Beale and oh my effing God this again

Once again SFWA is going through a Thing, and once again I haven’t said much about it, at least not here. Some of it is that I’ve been busy with book-writing and dissertation but a lot of it is that I’ve just been too tired and dismayed by it all to do much more than type a few disgusted sentences on Facebook and Twitter.

Short version, for the few people who read this blog and don’t know what’s going on: Theodore Beale (AKA “Vox Day” which is really just like are you kidding me what I know my name is goofy but WHAT), SFWA member and previous candidate for president of same (got 10% of the vote WHAT), said some mind-blowingly racist/misogynist/utterly hateful and borderline threatening stuff about author N.K. Jemisin and, as if that wasn’t awful enough, used the SFWA twitter account to publicize it. Amal El-Mohtar wrote an impassioned, well-reasoned call for his expulsion. Further discussion and debate and offensive asshattery ensued.

And it just makes me so goddamn tired.

This is the awful thing about when this happens. This is the awful thing about fighting this fight – and I’m well aware that I’m fighting it on a lower difficulty setting than many; I’m queer and female-assigned (genderqueer but sort of okay with my body as-is) but I’m also white and married to a cis-dude – it just makes you so, so fucking tired. Tired enough to want to give up. Tired enough to do what these assholes want and just say and do nothing. Rage is an excellent motivator, but there’s also deep weariness and despair.

Just like the other recent SFWA debacle with Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, what was truly horrible about it – aside from the fact that it’s 2013 and WE ARE STILL FIGHTING THIS FIGHT ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME – was that all the work that women and QUILTBAG folk and People of Color have done in the genre and the organization and all the positive change they’ve brought about can feel like it was for nothing. That Straight White Men Being Horrible gets all the attention. It’s discouraging. People left SFWA over it and others are rethinking whether they want to join, and while that’s not me, oh my GOD do I get it. I’m eligible for active status now and my membership is up in November, and how this all gets handled will be a huge determining factor in whether I re-up/upgrade.

This is why tone arguments are so horrible, why they are so derailing. We’re exhausted. We’re angry. We are completely and utterly out of patience. If you’re part of the system that’s making us feel that way, we are under no obligation whatsoever to be nice to you about it.

“Vox Day” is a profoundly stupid pen name. By the way. While I’m Not Being Nice.

Some links from people who are, as usual, better at this than I am:

Foz Meadows – Reconciliation: A Response to Theodore Beale.

As members of the SFF community, there is only one acceptable response to Beale, and that is to shun him utterly; to excise him from our genre like the cancer that he is, from convention to blog to column, and to enforce that ban as thoroughly and determinedly as we are able.

Because if we don’t, our Reconciliation will mean nothing.

We will mean nothing.

Carrie Cuinn – Wishing Never Changed a Damn Thing

But we ignore trolls like him, right? That’s what I’ve been seeing all day. Ignore him. Ignore his post. Don’t read the comments. Stay off the Internet for an hour until the unpleasantness passes.

You know what? Fuck that. Go read his post (it’s linked above). Read the comments. See the vile things that get said out in the open in 2013. See what happens when we speak up about it. Don’t hide your head in the sand and pretend it’s happening to someone else and you don’t need to worry about it. Hey, I’m white, what do I care, right? No, it doesn’t work that way. Nothing gets better when we pretend everything is at acceptable levels of okay.

Reconciliation within the SFF genre, one writer at a time (or finally getting around to the SWFA kerfuffle)

Do you know what that post says to me?

“This is what happens if you try to make a difference. We like our organization just the way it is. And we define how women are portrayed in SFF. We like our bikinis. We like our women stupid and dependent on us. And we like them all white, because their prettier and sexier than you—well, okay, we’ll allow Asian girls, because they’re nice and quiet and subservient.. And if you try to say anything about it, we will tear you down, rip your head off, drag your name through shit, because that’s what you deserve, you monkey you. So go ahead and write your stories, little little girl. You can even join. But keep your head down, don’t make waves, and most of all, keep your fat lips shut.”

And a good overall roundup post: Radish Reviews – This Week in Racist Bullshit

I do wish more people had felt inclined to speak up when he attacked E. Catherine Tobler a couple of weeks ago instead of collectively deciding to ignore him in the hopes that he’d go away (with a few exceptions). I do understand that at that point he hadn’t done anything to warrant expulsion from SFWA–and as I was one of those keeping silent, I’m upset with myself here as well. Private support is one thing, speaking up publicly is another.

This doesn’t work with schoolyard bullies and it doesn’t work with racist misogynist fuckmuppets like Theodore Beale.

For what it’s worth, I’ve emailed the SFWA board in support of Amal’s call for his expulsion and have also called for the formation of an official Code of Conduct for SFWA members. Because apparently we can’t all be trusted to act like decent fucking human beings. Amal’s post contains contact info for the board. If you’re a member, or even thinking of becoming a member, and you find this whole business unacceptable, I urge you to get in touch with them and let them know your thoughts.

One final thing: It should not escape our attention that this whole string of incidents wasn’t racist or sexist in isolation but featured healthy doses of both.  These things always intersect. This is the nature of oppression and domination. We may have different arrangements of identity but we, the marginalized and minoritized, stand united. Or we should.

No matter how exhausting this gets.

Sunday linkdump: Up all night

The Orbital Antares rocket at the Wallops Flight Facility in VA. We were there for the launch yesterday, which was unfortunately scrubbed.

The Orbital Antares rocket at the Wallops Flight Facility in VA. We were there for the launch yesterday, which was unfortunately scrubbed.

So things sure happened this week, didn’t they?

  • Whitney Erin Boesel seriously questions whether images of tragedy belong on something like Vine.

    One might argue that this self-repeating aspect makes Vine a powerful tool for reporting, but just because Vine can be used this way doesn’t mean it should be used this way. And Vine definitely shouldn’t be used this way without careful reflection about what it means to put six violent seconds on infinite (and infinitely circulative) self-repeat.

  • And I expand on her points with a bit of a meditation on the nature of trauma.

    Vine is only the latest, purest iteration of something familiar. Our experience of eventfulness is now the clip, perhaps more even than the still image. A few moments of something, repeated over and over, widely shared and everywhere you go. It’s a feeling of tiny saturation. You may not even notice it as it’s happening. But here’s the thing about the momentary clip, about event-as-seconds: It isn’t memory. Memory involves the incorporation and understanding of a past but also the mediation of a present and the imagination of the future. Memory is what we move through in order to get somewhere else.

    A vine has no past, no future. A vine is a moment without a memory.

  • Gawker asks “Is the New York Post Edited by a Bigoted Drunk Who Fucks Pigs?”

    The back-to-back focus on innocent people of non-European ancestry could imply that the Post is systematically hostile to nonwhite people, and that the paper’s editors are so wedded to the notion that all Muslims are terrorists that they literally do not care which Muslim or “Muslim-looking” person they happen to be targeting on any particular day. We are not saying that Col Allan, motivated by bigotry, is intentionally trying to use the Post to stir up hostility against Muslims. We do not know that Col Allan is a racist. The evidence may suggest that he is a racist, but we are not saying that Col Allan is a racist.

  • “Let’s be honest about Kermit Gosnell’s abortion ‘house of horrors’.” Why the whole “cover-up” thing is sort of maybe bullshit.

    Troy Newman, a pro-life leader and the president of Operation Rescue, is among the loudest voices sounding the Gosnell alarm. He’s also talking about how Gosnell is a gift from God to the pro-life movement. What Gosnell is accused of doing in his clinic is horrifying and illegal, which is why he’s on trial. His illegal acts are no more an indictment of safe, legal abortion than one child-molesting doctor is an indictment of all pediatricians. But pro-lifers like Newman are glad Gosnell exists, because they can use him to tar all abortion providers. These are the folks who want abortion to be dangerous, gruesome and unregulated. Of course they’re thrilled that they finally found a real villain.

  • “Gitmo Is Killing Me.” Read this. If you read nothing else linked here read this.

    I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone…There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.

  • “One Narrative Fits All.” Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is kind of problematic you guys.

    Just as ads of yore leveraged the attitudes that made women feel bad about their looks in order to sell products, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty leverages the response to those attitudes in order to sell products. It allows for exactly one way that women can feel about our looks—bad—and creates a template for women’s relationship with their looks that’s just as rigid as the beauty standard it’s challenging.

  • “Meet the 28-Year-Old Grad Student Who Just Shook the Global Austerity Movement.” Okay, but what’s really remarkable about this is that an economics PhD student is going out with a sociology PhD student.

    Herndon was stunned. As a graduate student, he’d just found serious problems in a famous economic study — the academic equivalent of a D-league basketball player dunking on LeBron James. “They say seeing is believing, but I almost didn’t believe my eyes,” he says. “I had to ask my girlfriend — who’s a Ph.D. student in sociology — to double-check it. And she said, ‘I don’t think you’re seeing things, Thomas.'”

  • “Living the Dream.” Writing for a living is hard. It’s hard even after you get to the point where you can do it at all.

    There’s an inspirational quote that gets passed around, usually misattributed to Confucius:

    “Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”

    I’ve got a job I love, and I’m gonna come out and say this quote isn’t just wrong, it’s so fundamentally opposed to the state of “rightness” that if you put it together with a true quote, you’d create an explosion powerful enough to rip open spacetime and devour Kalamazoo.

    I love being a writer, but if you try to tell me it’s not work, I’ll send goblins to eat your feet.

New Daft Punk makes everything okay.