The Internets Hate Scalzi!

Yes, I Know: Lots of people on the Internets hate me today. You don’t have keep sending me concerned e-mails about it; my ego-surfing matrix keeps me informed, thanks.

For those of you going “huh?” to this, this current round of The Internets Hate Scalzi is very much like previous rounds of The Internets Hate Scalzi, in which some people who feel they are having A Very Important Discussion of a Very Important Topic are upset that I believe this particular discussion has been really awful overall (and worse, have said so publicly), and thus therefore I stand in moral opposition to all they believe in, which makes me A Bad Man, etc. The Very Important Topic changes from Hate to Hate; the dynamic of the response is pretty much the same. Mind you, this is not the only reason why The Internets Hate Scalzi; there are so many. But it’s a frequent one.

The irony in this particular case is that the folks currently flinging spittle in my direction and I are largely in accord: A Very Important Discussion of this particular Very Important Topic in fact needs to be had, and once that discussion is had, I would not be at all surprised to find myself and these spittle flingers almost entirely on the same side of the discussion (this does not always happen). However, to my mind this late discussion has not been that discussion — indeed emphatically not — which is a) why I stayed out of it until I was dragged into it by people pulling discussion-related shenanigans on my site and b) why at the moment I am in need of a virtual umbrella.

What am I going to do about this latest edition of The Internets Hate Scalzi? At the moment, not a damn thing. The sort of person who believes that if one doesn’t like their particular discussion of [x], one must therefore be an [x]ist, is the sort of person who is has just eaten a heaping plate of Dolley Madison Fail Cakes with Bad Logic Creme Filling™ and is looking to chomp down on a second platter. I’m not in the least obliged to participate in a discussion on those terms, and I’m even less obliged to care what a person holding such an opinion thinks. This may additionally annoy some folks and precipitate yet another round of why I am A Bad Man. Please circle back to the top of this paragraph as necessary.

In the long run, I think it’s useful for everyone to remember certain things about discussions of Very Important Topics, whatever that topic might be:

1. Not every discussion of a topic is going to be definitive or even useful, even if you are participating in it;

2. People can hold a wildly differing opinion on the value of the discussion at hand than you do, which does not a priori make them the enemy;

3. Someone’s opinion of the value of the discussion often has little bearing on their opinion of the value of the topic being discussed (and whether their views on the topic are congruent to yours);

4. Someone not participating in the discussion when you think they should does not make them guilty by their silence;

5. Making lists of enemies based on who you feel has not adequately jumped through the hoop of your discussion goals is no way to go through life.

I figure by this time blood is fountaining out of the necks of some of the more enraged folks, so I’ll go ahead and stop here.

None of this, incidentally, should be construed as an attempt to change the mind of anyone participating in the current round of The Internets Hate Scalzi, or any other that might/will arise in the future. They’re free to keep at it; it’s all the same to me. What matters isn’t what people think of me on the Internets, but whether I follow through on the things I believe in. Internet Scalzi Hates come and go, but I’m stuck with me for the rest of my life. I’m working on it.

Edited to Add: Follow-up here.

751 thoughts on “The Internets Hate Scalzi!

  1. As this will quite possibly bring new people into the site, some in various levels of enragement, I’ll note here that new folks should check out the site disclaimer and comment policy. Have fun and play nice with other commenters (you can be less gentle with me, but be aware you get what you give).

    Also, in case there’s any ambiguity, making specific and concrete reference to the Very Important Discussion of a Very Important Topic I alluded to in the entry is allowed.

  2. Experiment: #1423-JH:

    As a casual observer with no prior knowledge of what this particular controversy might be about, I nevertheless have an inkling I can guess the content and some of the characters involved. I shall now investigate and report back if I am right and how long it took me to find out.

    ::pulls on gloves and lowers blast visor::

    I’m going in…

  3. I was puzzled by the same thing yesterday, Christopher. It turns out the answer is (apparently, someone correct me if I’m wrong): “Racefail ’09.” Google and be enlightened!

    …or really annoyed, as I was.

  4. I have no idea what any of this is about (I started reading your blog not too long ago for the solid writing advise and the humor) but 1. sorry to hear people are being asshats and 2. your rant yesterday seriously cracked me up. I’m sure that wasn’t the point, but entirely out of context, it was a completely win rant.

    PS. As a side thought, I wonder what percentage of people read authors’ blogs because they enjoy the author’s published works, and what percentage buy an author’s published works because they enjoy the author’s blog.

  5. Hmm, apparently I am Fail at doing comments correctly.

    At the risk of being redundant, then:

    1. Christopher @ 2: I think the answer is “Racefail ’09.” (Someone correct me if I am wrong plz.) Google and be enlightened! Or really annoyed, you choose.

    2. I’m inclined to agree with Scalzi 100% on this. I’m a female minority SF/F writer; I took my share of Race and Gender Studies classes in college; I agree it is a Very Important Discussion that probably needs to be had (said agreement being tempered by my expectation that any such discussion will rapidly devolve into the dismal morass this one did). This iteration sux.

  6. … so, wait, you think this is All About You? Is hyperbole like “the internet hates me me” your way of minimizing participant’s feelings, or now making the discussion all about you, or you just trying to make a joke?

    You’ve been incredibly unfair and dismissive in your earlier entry, and now, I’m sorry to say, you are showing your ass.

    Are you really willing to hear why the whole racefail discussion matters, why you were wrong to dismiss is as you did, why the “tone” argument doesn’t hold water and willing to acknowledge that you are showing your privileged ass a lot?

    To quote deadbrowalking, “When I say, “So-and-so needs to stop showing her ass,” I don’t mean, “So-and-so should stay inside her house and never allow people to lay eyes on her because she’s an incorrigible human being.” I mean, “So-and-so needs to put on some goddamn pants.”

    Seriously, John, are you willing to read and listen, or you you just going to point and laugh? I want to know, because my spoons are limited these days, and if you’re not going to listen, or be willing to, then any comments would be wasting your time and mine.

  7. I was confused and curious enough to want to find out what the deal was, yesterday. Wow, John, I’m sorry you got any of that on you. I would have been mad too.

    Reading some of the fallout, it’s amazing how some people can be so vapid, yet believe themselves to be so deep.

  8. Wow! Only just started reading your site, and my coming here was entirely down to loving your books to bits. So I’m completely blind to this current wave of Internet-based Scalzi hate; in fact your eloquent break down of how flame wars work and your beautifully objective treatment of them has safely assured me wanting to come back for more.

    Bravo!

    (With luck we can start building towards a Internets-Adores-Scalzi day?)

  9. I find it very interesting that discussions about race and inclusion are the very first to be downgraded into vicious personal attacks. I find this to be true in Real Life(TM), but especially on LiveJournal, whose format sort of lends itself to elitist BS and in which culture (some) authors seem to thrive. Which is why I spend way more time here than at LJ.

  10. I am so glad I do not have a LiveJournal account. This whole DebateFail 09 thing reminds me of my days as a forum moderator on a political discussion board, and I’m misanthropic enough /without/ the reminder.

    You’ve certainly got courage to open this can of worms, Mr. Scalzi sir. I salute you. But I think the worms are contaminated. The worm factory has failed at health and safety.

  11. I’ve been watching the aforementioned “discussion” on LJ and feeling like everyone was being a buttmunch of the highest order. They needed a clue wedgie and I’m glad you gave it to them, although I’m sure you wish it hadn’t been necessary.

    People are so busy being pompous that they’re covering the real, vital issues in bullshit.

    Anyway, I’m on the Innernetz <3s Scalzi & Commonsense Team. I’m sure I’m not alone.

  12. Shawn Struck:

    “… so, wait, you think this is All About You?”

    This part of it is. There’s more of it elsewhere that’s not.

    “You’ve been incredibly unfair and dismissive in your earlier entry”

    No. I said what I thought about the conversation in general, which is that it’s been so full of fail that wading through it to find useful stuff is pretty much a complete waste of my time. So I’ll be happy to wait until the next conversation on the subject and see if it’s less full of fail. I understand lots of people don’t like the assessment.

    “Seriously, John, are you willing to read and listen, or you you just going to point and laugh?”

    What gave you the impression I was pointing and laughing? I didn’t say what I said about the discussion because I thought it was funny. I said it because I was angry. Another chance to talk seriously about the issue, derailed by fail and showing up here with a sophomoric outing. I don’t think that’s funny. I think it’s sad.

  13. @11, you fail to realize so many things it’s hard to even know where to start.

    First, I find the whole “showing your ass” concept to be conceited and stupid. This is the internet. Nobody needs to conform to your silly idea of proper discourse, or as you put it “put on some pants.” Decorum is optional. I might have even decorated this paragraph with some spicy profanity, but I’d rather not get on the moderator’s bad side.

    Second, just because authors need to be aware of things like race and privilege, doesn’t mean that your little mud-slinging hate fest automatically deserves to be taken seriously. This reeks of the something fallacy. Something must be done, racefail is something, therefore racefail is necessary and good.

    Third, you sound like you think you have the right not to be offended. Welcome to real life.

  14. I started to look into the issue but decided I really couldn’t care less about the drama. Although at first glance, it looks like scalzi ate some troll bait.

  15. You mean somebody’s being an asshat on the Intertubes? That’s shockingly uncommon.

    Seriously: following what little I could stomach of that affair, it seems the reason you drew ire is your inability to follow proper protocol:

    1.) Acknowledge that you’re wrong, and guilty on all counts of whatever the other party accuses you, and

    2.) agree with the accuser on just how very, very wrong you are/were, while knowing that any level of self-debasement isn’t going to be enough to placate them.

    Clearly, the only thing that would begin to set things right would be your ritual suicide, hurling yourself into a bonfire fueled by everything you’ve ever written on- or offline. Don’t forget to put it on YouTube, accompanied by a ten-page manifesto on the magnitude of your wrongness, and the corresponding rightness of the accuser.

  16. Possibly the only good thing to come out of this is my new favorite phrase:

    “Dolley Madison Fail Cakes with Bad Logic Creme Filling™”

  17. Many of the people* in the racefail debate are playing to lose. They want to feel wronged. They want the moral justification of fighting the good fight and losing, thereby earning the right to break the rules, because it’s the right thing to do, baby.

    It’s instant righteousness in a pop-top can.

    Dealing with people* who are looking for the merest mistep to exploit, to be outraged at, to puff themselves up with indignation at, to complain, to out people….I’d take the bagful of feral cats too. It might hurt more, but it would be over much more quickly.

    *On both sides. The real tragedy is that a neccessary discussion has now had Radioactive Ebola Flakes sprinkled all over it.

  18. Ah, reading through the comments, this is about what I thought it was.

    Personally, I don’t give a shit.

    Story by $ethnicity full of $ethnicity! Film at eleven!

    Next up, dog bites man.

  19. I applaud you. Jim Hines had a post on this with a 200 comment thread where essentially NOTHING was said. NOTHING. But at least it was generally civil Nothing. I’m not going to read any more on this topic by anyone.

    What’s sad is that perfectly nice people are having their words twisted in the nastiest way possible. And apologies are being rated. If people don’t grovel enough (every word is parsed), well, “I won’t buy their books”.

  20. Boy.

    Battling 50/50 over giving enough of a shit to try and determine what this is about.

    Do I want to waste my precious life trying to find out what this is about and read it.

    You know when I put it that way. Hell no.

    Teh Internets have 2 modes. Lets cut off their heads and shit down their throats or lets have a circle jerk.

    Pass. You all have fun with this one. I will go the restroom and have some self gratification.

  21. I haven’t been able to follow what is going on and, frankly, I don’t care, but after what you said about Logan’s Run I am going to have to side with the anti-Scalzi faction.

    /mostly just kidding….mostly

  22. Hmmm… I’m with the crowd that has no idea what the, “Very Important Topic” is. I’ll just add this. With the mass media dumbing down of our society, I was happy to see a recent thread on this site where posters were citing various part of the US constitution, constitutional amendments, and court precedents. The posters for the most part made intelligent, sometimes humorous, points. They cared about the topic. They tried to attack points and not each other. I like that part of this site.

  23. @Ashman: There are pictures of a cat here too?! That’s amazing! I’ll never go anywhere else in the Internet ever again. All my Christmases may have just arrived in one cat-shaped happy package.

  24. Even with the comment that links to a LJ post above, I still have no idea what anyone is arguing about. Can it really be that important?

    Sometimes it’s better to shut the computer off and read a nice book. Feeding the trolls only makes them hungrier.

  25. For the edification of the bemused;

    There (was? is?) a debate (to use the term loosely; “flailing blender full of feces with the lid off” may be more accurate) on LiveJournal between various contingents of people who Should Know Better. The debate was ostensibly about race, privilege, and cultural appropriation as regards fiction writing, but soon became about two groups of people each trying to Win The Argument. Since that /never/ happens on the Internet, what happened instead is that both sides engaged in a mutual death spiral downwards … at which point some poor idiot thought to drag our host and proprietor into this mess.

  26. I don’t mean to sound like a loyal minion, but I find it odd that our host would be accused of “feeding the trolls.” When the trolls are actively trying to come to your house and crap on the floor, you have to do something to remove them.

  27. I don’t give a crap about the controversy. I just like Mr. Scalzi’s responses to them.

    And John, if you’re working from your house then I really don’t think you need to put some pants on. (No pictures, though, please.)

  28. I’ve been here before and like your blog but don’t comment much. I was disappointed in your comment yesterday because you dismissed the whole thing, IMO, as a “Livejournal kerfluffle” because:

    * People have had their real names outed (which is, let’s face it, one of the Big Internet Sins) which takes it out of the realms of the Net and into the Big Wide World

    * It’s been going on more than LJ (one author in particular used a WordPress blog for the outing) and I’m nuts about accuracy

    * The bigger debate is whether people of color feel welcome in s/f and fantasy and that is pretty relevant, I think, to your interests

    * Hey, dammit, I have a LiveJournal! (This is the really, really rational one, heh.)

    I can understand why you want to stay out of this, but I felt your dismissive tone was, well, dismissive and insulting to the real people involved.

    (For those of you playing at home, I will summarize as briefly as I can– JS, you can edit if you like:

    — Author makes a post saying, “look, writing people of color is easy!”

    — Blogger makes a post on her own blog saying “Actually, Author’s work has some racial problems of its own and here they are.”

    — Author posts back, “hey, you have some valid points!”

    — Author’s friends, some of whom are pro authors, spring to Author’s defense and attack Blogger

    — Wank ensues

    — Author eventually asks for everyone to just stop talking about it and claims that Blogger never had valid points, she just pretended Blogger did to model dialogue. Which makes no damn sense whatsoever.

  29. I have severe problems with the tone argument. Applying the tone argument to every single thing cheapens the instances when injustice (ALL TOO OFTEN) is really being done.

    I have seen sexists and racists apply this argument time and time again for the sole purpose of derailing an argument or condescending to the complainer. I’ve seen them completely ignoring a well-stated, calm and articulate argument (this next is the important part) in which NO personal accusations were made and the speaker was simply and rationally speaking of their own feelings, dismissed as “now you’re mad,” or “so it’s MY fault??” I’ve seen them try to tell people that their own definitions of themselves and their problems are wrong, and should be discussed in a different way. (“Being black means you feel alone and isolated, right?” “Well no, it actually feels completely different—” “LA LA LA So how do you deal with this isolation?” “Please stop telling me how I feel, I didn’t say that I–” “OH SO ARE YOU CALLING ME A RACIST??”)

    On the other hand, calling someone “you’re just another asshat/hysterical white person/hypocritical yadda/source of White Tears Wine” is in fact “tone,” and will not net any gain. It doesn’t matter if the asshat is wrong (an asshat is, obviously, wrong), what matters is efficacy.

    Being as nice on the Internet as you would in real life is an all-around arrangement. My aim is to be morally better than the people who are hurting me. Ceasar’s wife, above suspicion and all that.

    And yes, there is frustration, and the understandable frustration that “Being nice never works!” except I have SEEN it work. I have worked it. (At least, on people who were in any way worthwhile to start with. If they’re not — meh. I move on to the next. Everyone I despise doesn’t need to know about it.) It does NOT work like the ring of Sauron, knocking down swathes of enemies with one swoop of the wrists. And it is fucking difficult. But it does work.

    African-Americans are getting it from the gay community now (“No more Mr. Nice Gay!”/”Why SHOULDN’T I hate blacks and religious people???”), and I’m looking forward to (but still somewhat dreading) seeing how that is handled.

    Does my extreme and pure coal-black cigendered femaleness allow me to say that?

  30. Does the Internet hate Scalzi? More than other people, I mean? Well, let’s see:

    search: Hate Scalzi – 61,000 hits

    Comparison: Hate Eisele[1] – 8,220 hits

    Whoa. Almost a factor of eight difference[2]. I guess the internet *does* hate Scalzi!

    [1] I figured my name was about comparable frequency, since a search on just “Scalzi” gives 918,000 hits, and a search on just “Eisele” was pretty close at 1,010,000 hits.

    [2] After all, what’s an Internet flame-war without some hastily-collected and probably meaningless statistics?

  31. Mac, I think the other problem with coming into this late is that people are really fucking angry at this point (well, not all of them) so everything just goes out the window. If you read the initial criticism, I at least found it no different than any other piece of criticism, er, ever.

  32. “Full of fail”: a very succinct summary. I remember reading in one comment thread, “If we stay angry enough maybe we can change some things.” Um, no. See, the anger is the problem: even though I agree in principle with the people saying <redacted>, the tone, the anger, the pure contempt they showed for their opponents made me want to run away and hide under a rock and never be associated with that cause again.

    Next time: less fail, more listening, plz!

  33. I’ve been on teh intarwebs since before www existed. I’ve seen a LOT of these kinds of flamewars. Sometimes over Really Important(tm) topics, others less so (vi -vs- emacs, for instance (ducks)). I can definitely say that if the primary conversation is happening on LiveJournal, it’s probably not that valuable a conversation regardless of the worth of the topic.

    That said, John, your posts addressing the personal backlash directed at you are clever and biting and worth rereading. I came across your blog in some manner I don’t recall, I don’t read scifi at all (haven’t since high school some 20 years ago) and I still come back every day because of the way that you express your thoughts.

    “Dolley Madison Fail Cakes with Bad Logic Creme Filling™ ” is truly the most common snack on the internet, I believe.

  34. I pretty much agree with you regarding just how ugly and “full of fail” this whole thing has gotten, despite how important the subject is. I wonder what will happen: will this make things even harder for people who are trying to do the right thing? Will cons become even less welcoming to people who already don’t feel like they are welcomed? I’m glad not everyone has fallen prey to the “someone on the internet is wrong” meme.

  35. @48 Persia

    I’ve followed it since January. This is something in me that has been stewing. (And had been stewing before, if I’m honest.) I’ve plenty of vitriol for people who have proven themselves racist arrogant and gross to boot, but that part I’ve said already.

    (The post by Nojojojo has made me cry in public twice now.)

  36. ruthling, there have been some good things– someone’s trying to set up a ‘scholarship’ to get more people to WisCon who can’t afford it, and there’s a new press that might be forming, and so it’s not a total loss. I’m hoping the people who do feel more welcomed in the end outweigh the people who feel like it’s just a bunch of yelling.

  37. Hey, Jeff Hentosz @4 — where do you get your blast visors? I’ve been very disappointed with the kind I’ve been using and need a new supplier.

    Thanks!

    ;)

  38. I’m not interested in trolls conducting flamewars so I don’t go to or have an LJ account.

    I come here, Wil’s place and a few others that have interesting things to say, not to be involved in “But you must admit that…” piles of self righteous indignation by the morals/ethnicity police or (insert favorite soap box here). That crap get boring really quickly and has little to do with the real world.

    I prefer the LMOC ready to drop to keep things more or less pleasent.

    Do any of the players in this foul dance realize that alot of what they’re saying constitutes “hate speech”?

    Didn’t think so.

  39. There’s a real entitlement problem on the internet: people think they deserve to be taken seriously because they can drop some sociology textbook words like tokenism.

    There’s also apparently an acceptable double standard for anyone who has any claim to have been oppressed (except the Irish. You’re white now. Deal with it.) It’s par for the course to suggest that a white author shouldn’t write a black character because whitey doesn’t understand. But it’s never claimed that an author shouldn’t write a musician character because he has never been one. It’s apparently OK to write a farmer, a robot, an alien, a soldier, etc. even if you’ve never been that, but not a black person, or a gay person, or a woman, or a religious person.

    What I’d like to know is, which is it? Is it only OK to write about things you’ve been? Or is it OK to write about whatever you want to write about?

  40. John,

    Having lived through this and watched with dismay as people I respect take up sides and snipe at each other I aplaud your recent comments! Yes, the topic is both timely and importance but I’ve mostly wtinessed misguided or unwise comments and outright demonization. I’ve stopped reading the entries of several folks on “both sides” because the whole thing seems to trivialize the issue into scoring points and taking names.

    The internet may hate on you but I do not!

  41. Mac:

    “I have severe problems with the tone argument.”

    I wasn’t reacting to tone and I think it’s a stalking horse argument; I can unsurprisingly handle vast amounts of snark and ‘tude. I think the signal to noise ratio of the entire discussion has been detrimentally high. Others are free to disagree with me on that, of course.

    Persia:

    “I felt your dismissive tone was, well, dismissive and insulting to the real people involved.”

    That’s because as noted I’ve found the discussion full of unacceptably high amounts of fail. I gave it the respect I thought it deserved. Again, other people are free to disagree about the value of the overall discussion.

    ruthling:

    “will this make things even harder for people who are trying to do the right thing?”

    I’m not sure why it would, but it’s a question worth asking.

  42. @51 – True enough, I suppose, if you want to compare him to the Big Leagues:

    Hate Oprah – 512,000
    Hate Limbaugh – 2,660,000
    Hate Bush – 18,700,000
    Hate Obama – 48,000,000
    Hate America – 31,500,000
    Hate People – 34,000,000

    But still, for somebody who isn’t (a) in the news all the time, (b) a major nation, or (c) well, *everybody*, 61,000 seems to me to be a pretty decent showing.

  43. I have a question…it’s even semi relevant.

    My maternal great grandfather was American Indian, his wife was straight up New England WASP with the family tree going straight back to the Mayflower.

    Does this mean I have to hate myself?

  44. Re Persia@45, a point of order:

    Step one of the race fail was not “Writer makes post saying writing POC is easy.” It was more “Hey, guys? When you write people who aren’t like you, do your research first, kay?”

    The rest of your summary looks good, though.

  45. @57 — PJ, You’re miscasting the argument. You can write whatever you like as long as you do it with a little respect and research. But a lot of people don’t seem to want to do the research, just write everybody “Just like me.” Which is just inaccurate.

    Not everyone is perfect. Hell, I’ve edited a lot of books by black authors that were full of FAIL times eight. But thinking you don’t have to try, or that you know it all already hurts people.

    Because of bad and stupid and false media representation, a majority of people in this country think people like me commit all the crime (as if there were NOT a gross disproportion in arrest and punishment for drug offenses) and do nothing but birth babies. It’s gotten so bad that you have pundits on record saying fun stuff like blacks crashed the economy and don’t appreciate what tax dollars have given them (as if no black people every paid tax). Our media is so pervasive that people from other countries who never met a black American person in their lives now parrot this.

    People of morality WANT to avoid feeding into this dangerous propaganda. It’s not a damn burden.

  46. Do you all realize what you have DONE here?!

    we can start building towards a Internets-Adores-Scalzi day

    NOW he’s going to want to be king of Londonim, and demand we give him a shiny hat!

    He’ll be unbearable I tell you! Unbearable!

  47. @57: People think they deserve to be taken seriously, period. Whether they can or can’t drop sociology textbook words has very little to do with it. After all, those who didn’t drop sociology textbook words during RaceFail ’09 wanted to be taken seriously too.

    What I find troubling is how easily the conversation regenerates itself. Early in each iteration, someone inevitably asks whether it is ok to write outside of their direct experience. (However, it’s usually phrased more passive-aggressively than you done it. Thank you for not going there.)

    The answer, of course, is that it’s always OK to write well. And part of writing well is taking the chance that you will write poorly instead and that people will call you on it. If you are uncomfortable with people critiquing your work, then writing may not be the best profession for you.

    BTW, with respect to the meta-discussion, John Scalzi, IMHO, has it absolutely right.

  48. @ John — Okay, I had typed up something, but I believe I was misunderstanding you, so I’ve deleted it. (I am very, very bad with snark and ‘tude. Seriously, I have physical reactions to it, regardless of source, regardless even of my support of source. It’s cultural. I’m working on thickening my skin.)

    (I want to reiterate some good stuff that did come of it, though — see Persia’s post about a way cool independent press and a fund to help people of color go to cons.)

  49. Random Michelle: Clearly we’ll have to melt down his Hugo and forge it into a tiara. Possibly bacon-shaped.

    On a semi-related note, is it only me who finds inventing new ethnicities to be not only easier but /more interesting/ than writing real ones?

  50. As best I can tell (and I was, until this, unaware of this whole “racefail 09″ brouhaha), the Internets have their shorts in a bunch because Scalzi won’t come out and play. Boo-hoo. He won’t play because the game of the day is Let’s Choose Sides and Fling Shit at Each Other, when Scalzi would rather play Let’s Discuss Important Issues Like Adults. So Scalzi took his marbles and went home to Whateverland.

    Mean, mean Scalzi! You’re No Fun At All!

    This, I think, is another example of fan entitlement taken too far. Apparently, authors these days must not only complete their books/series in a timely fashion (see the recent George RR Martin kerfuffle), they must also weigh in at length about the Very Important Issues of the Day that their fans care about. And they must be on the correct side of these issues, lest hordes of Internet Zombie Fanboys(girls) turn on them.

    Though Scalzi may have been slightly off base if he was suggesting that this problem is specific to LiveJournal, it’s easy to be “dismissive” of people who are acting like idiots.

  51. Fair enough, Mac. I won’t claim to have followed the argument closely enough to have appreciated that distinction.

    I guess I think that (for lack of a better way to put it) authors don’t have a responsibility to be responsible. They can write whatever a publisher will publish, and it’s up to us as consumers to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    I can see why someone might take exception to that position, and say that it’s easy for me to be thick-skinned because I’m a white guy and I’ve had it easy. I can’t argue with that because it’s true.

  52. Oh, holy crap, that mess is still going ON?

    I missed the wank that made it here before Mr. Scalzi put the kibosh on it. Since he spoke of it in such veiled terms, I hadn’t twigged it was that particular argument that had spilled over. (There are LOTS of arguments going on LiveJournal at any given moment, ya know.)

    I do agree that This Is A Discussion That Needs To Be Had, but if it’s spilling over into places that aren’t even involved, then it’s clearly not THIS discussion that’s going to help.

  53. Random Michelle@#64: Heh. You’re right!

    Though if we keep it up, his head will inflate and form its own orbit. In no time we’ll have our own planet. As the one who started the whole thing I may just have to claim ownership and restrict inhabitants to animal and chocolate lovers only.

  54. Okay, John. I can’t take it anymore. You are too funny. I’m coming to Ohio to bring you home with me. Is two hours enough for you to find some pants?

  55. Mac:

    “Okay, I had typed up something, but I believe I was misunderstanding you, so I’ve deleted it.”

    Uhhh, which John? Me? It’s probably best to go with “Scalzi” to avoid comfusion. Damn common first names!

    “I am very, very bad with snark and ‘tude.”

    A lot of people are. One of the great disadvantages of the Internet is that it doesn’t allow someone all the cues they get in real life to know when to back off from using it, because it’s compounding a problem (more than it usually might). It’s a real issue, and (unsuprisingly) one I come up against a fair amount.

  56. I spent way too much time yesterday trying to figure out what pissed Scazli off so much. I learned a lot. I don’t know that any of what I learned was anything I wanted to learn however.

    After a couple hours of research and reading lots of stuff about this on the web, I have to agree with your initial assessment. Stay the hell away from the current version of that “discussion”.

    This is like the useless arguments that used to happen on Usenet back in the day. Except this one is spread out all over different people’s web pages and comment sections of their blogs. It makes it harder to figure what the hell is going on.

  57. In substantive agreement with our host. It’s a discussion I stayed the hell out of because I could see that nothing useful would come of it, with the possible exception of hysterical angst release.

    I’d nominate another “certain thing(s) about discussions of Very Important Topics”

    Just because someone disagrees with you about something, in whole, part, or particular, does not make them teh great evil. Most often they are simply reasonably decent people who have a different opinion. Ganging up on them to beat the crap out of them in any fashion will NOT persuade them to YOUR opinion. Treating them like reasonably decent people with differing opinions and discussing those differences rationally just might.

    Hate Tully – 229,000

    And I don’t even try. :-)

  58. Kelly Norton:

    “This is like the useless arguments that used to happen on Usenet back in the day. Except this one is spread out all over different people’s web pages and comment sections of their blogs. It makes it harder to figure what the hell is going on.”

    Yup, which is certainly a factor in my frustration with it. There are indices now, but at a certain point you throw up your hands and get back to paying bills.

  59. Sheila:

    I disagree with you calling this “wank”. As tablesaw says in his summary (second link in my last comment):

    If This Is Wank, Then Everything Is Wank

    Emotions are high in RaceFail, and it may remind you of other internet discussions where emotions run high that we generally refer to as “wank.” Don’t let the similarity lead you to dismiss RaceFail as wank.

    Wank happens when fans discuss things that are trivial, or opinions which are purely subjective, relating to a fantasy world with the passion and emotion of something that has dire, wide-ranging consequences in the real world.

    An example of something with dire, wide-ranging consequences in the real world? Racism.

    So yes, in many ways, the passion and emotion shown during RaceFail looks similar to the passion and emotion shown during wank. But it is not wank because it is about racism. This is how we are supposed to act when we deal with something as serious as racism.

    Our perception of wank must be calculated with regard to these serious situations that wank inappropriately mimics. If we do the opposite, if we measure serious situations using the standard of how much they look like wank, then nothing can be taken seriously, and all efforts at change can be trivialized by calling it “wank.”

  60. I saw your post yesterday and went looking for the source of the kerfluffle as you put it (put two and two together between it and some posts on friends list over at LJ).

    Yeah, have to agree with your assessment today. It’s a very important discussion to have but I don’t think that this round of it went well and anything useful things that were said got lost in the rounds of “No, YOU SUCK!”

    Thankfully, I managed to quell all urges to get involved with the drama. It’s one thing to engage in a discussion and have a dialogue with someone about an important topic, it’s another to go skinny dipping in a pool full of crazy drama.

  61. I’d like to add another “thing about discussions of VIT’s”

    If you insist that I must agree with every single thing you’ve said in order to agree with you at all, then I am so sorry, but I can’t agree with you at all.

    I, too, will take up my marbles and go to Whateverland.

  62. After a visit to LiveJournal for a few minutes of *WTF?* pain, and after several further minutes spent reading comments on this thread, I have reached a position.

    I think I would like to nominate “RaceFail’09” as being completely unfilmable.

    But I encourage David Lynch to try.

  63. I guess this is one of those times where I get exercise my motto:

    You’re only entitled to an opinion when you have an absolute idea of what is going on.

    Cause right now, I’m pretty f’in clueless when it comes to this matter, even after trying to read up on the subject.

    Me = agree with #82. :)

  64. John, to be perfectly clear:

    a) I agree with you on the lack of utility of what the RaceFail argument has turned into, as we’ve discussed privately.

    b) I do hate you, but for completely unrelated reasons.

  65. The deal is:
    It started as a discussion of how E Bear handled writing the Other in one of her books (after someone posted an open letter of complaint to her after only reading three chapters)

    Various Tor authors and editors weighed in on character creation and writing style but then it quickly evolved into the term racist being slung around at random, with demands that “white writers” learn how to write Other so that PoC could have better heroes. (And telling them to go write their own stuff means you have failed and are a racist.)

    Now, me? I would have loved LOVED to have the original discussion of character creation and writing with the authors who were making themselves available, when two editors from Tor were making themselves available…..

    but the conversation got hijacked into one of race (not yet sure whether it is just the lack of CoC heroes anymore or the lack of PoC writers (the actual topic has changed and there are too many diversions to count.)
    and how only white privileged authors are published….

    I wish I could have been able to have that original discussion and then been able to compare it to Tolkien’s essay on Fairy Stories, where he argues what a fantasy story is NOT. Then we could talk about what it should be and what it shouldn’t be. In truth, i think the learning opportunity they wanted so much for all writers was shoved along the wayside in favor of petty arguments, mudslinging and name-calling.

    As a writer, I mourn the loss of THAT original conversation because that simple and educational conversation could have been a better stepping stone to other conversations, including a more solid and appropriate conversation about racism. The approach would likely have been different and perhaps people wouldn’t be on the defensive. But that is just my opinion.

    Now, it is just a “witch hunt” to see how many “white” authors they can get to say something bad and then pounce on it so that they can make their derailed argument appear justified.

  66. PJ? Your thinly-veiled attempt to start up the fail here is, well, I’ve seen hookers wear things with more coverage. John’s post was about why the discussion of an important issue degenerated into chaos, not an invitation to start whining about how mean and double-standardy and sociology-wielding people who disagree with you are.

  67. @79,Shawn Struck

    I think a lot of people are thinking of this as wank, not inecessarily n the fandom definition, but because so many people seem to be getting themselves worked up just to get themselves worked up (at least that is the perception from someone not involved).

    Yes, racism is a very important topic and one that should be discussed openely, but the discourse of this round of racism discussion has devolved to the point of finger-pointing, name-calling, and, yes, wank (in every sense).

    Racism should be discussed but, because it is a serious topic, it should be talked about maturely, with candor, and with all the seriousness that such a topic deserves; RaceFail, from what I’ve decided to catch of it, is none of that.

  68. I’d rather see the Spike Lee version, myself.

    Is it even possible to have a decent conversation about a sensitive topic on hte* Intertubes? It’s the nature of the beast, sadly, that any kind of unmoderated discussion about anything important (and most things unimportant) devolves into this sort of wank** once the Crazy, the Stupid, the Trolls, and the Socially Inept get involved. Which is pretty much instantaneously, in most cases. All it really takes is about half a dozen jackasses, and then you’ve got a snowball of fail careering down the mountainside toward the peaceful Scalzi-vale below.

    And if you try to moderate a discussion about this sort of thing, then it inevitably spawns meta-wanks (which may or may not be valid) about how the moderation is playing to One Side or the Other Side. So that doesn’t help, either.

    * “teh” is so 2005.

    ** It looks like wank, sounds like wank, and smells like wank (ew). Importance is not a get-out-of-wank-free card.

  69. I read you because you are an entertaining writer who doesn’t mind taking a few chances. When you cross the line, internet corrective feedback is not remiss.
    For example, getting real mad at someone over something most of us never noticed and then suggesting you want to kick them in the crotch is either empty hyperbole and thus rather foolish or it is sincere, identifying you as a crotch-kicking maniac and worthy of censure.

  70. …at a certain point you throw up your hands and get back to paying bills.

    Ah! After way too much time spent, that is the off-switch I was looking for. Thank you. Experiment deemed … shit, I don’t know …

    Tim@55: Actually I made my own blast visor out of a Finding Nemo shark hat from DisneyWorld, some mis-burned CD-ROMs and parts of an old deep fryer. Kind of uncomfortable for long stretches, but works like a dream.

  71. Well, Walt, as for whether I’m a crotch-kicking maniac or not, we’ll have to wait until I find out who the person was, won’t we? It should be exciting, and I for one can’t wait to find out. But I don’t think that in particular was what people were objecting to, out there on the Internets.

  72. Schaefer @84 – And yet you and Scalzi work so beautifully together! You’re like the sci-fi equivalent of the early 1970s Oakland A’s, who hated each other all the way to three World Series titles.

    Whether you’re willing to be compared to manager Dick Williams — and John to Reggie Jackson — is another question entirely . . .

  73. @85. NO. It started with EBear writing a post on “Writing the Other.” Therefore the subsequent discussion of race in literature was HARDLY hijacking.

    Someone took issue with her list of instructions. Someone else took issue with Bear being the one to give advice, since they were rather upset by a trope Bear seemed to be using. THEN the discussion got hijacked into a sideplot about whether or not this interpretation of Bear’s work was correct and whether or not academics were more important as readers than the average peon. THEN it escalated.

    Please to not be blaming the people of color (or anybody else) who were actually right on topic.

  74. @ 86, Mythago

    Yeah… maybe you should read the next dozen or so comments after me at 57, then decide if I was trying to infect the thread. or, to quote some angry white boys, you could just “open up your hate and let it flow into me.” Whichever. Your contempt is delicious.

  75. Well, Walt, as for whether I’m a crotch-kicking maniac or not, we’ll have to wait until I find out who the person was, won’t we?

    I’d like to request that you’re really certain about the identity before any crotch-kicking. I mean, it’s all fun and games until someone gets an unwarranted crotch kick.

    Signed,
    Protective Crotch Owner

  76. I’m tempted — even though I don’t know what the uproar is about, and won’t look — to point to that relevant xkcd panel, and fail.

  77. Jeff @90 – Thanks for that info. I hope we may look forward to a how-to video? Meanwhile, I will assemble the materials you have listed, plus duct tape.

  78. Shawn Powers:

    I solemnly promise not to crotch kick unless absolutely positive. Although your guilty-sounding apprehension has been noted.

    PJ, Mythago:

    Mind the escalation.

  79. @79 Shawn Struck: Thanks for that quote, it sums up what I would have wanted to say.

    Yes, there is a lot of fail going on in the LJ discussion of racism right now, but that doesn’t disqualify the entire discussion from being important or worthwhile. There are people who have tried really hard to derail the conversation, have gone into personal attacks, outings, etc, but the discussion is still going on, and I think that’s actually a very good thing.

    I think it should be an ongoing conversation all the time, because it’s affecting people all the time, every day. And it seems to me (disclaimer: I’m white) that for people of color, this isn’t something that they can close LJ and take a break from, because racism’s going to be right there in the rest of their life too.

    Yeah, it can be tempting to “throw up your hands and get back to paying bills” (Scalzi @78) but that’s a privilege. I do it too sometimes, but I try to be aware that opting out of the discussion because it’s requiring a lot of effort or thought or time that I want to spend elsewhere is a privilege I have that people of color don’t.

    The very least I can do with that privilege is refrain from being dismissive or flippant about the conversation.

  80. Okay. After a brief sojourn into trying to find out what the frak this is about, I feel like I’ve had both eyes stuffed into one socket and the vacant socket packed with dogshit.

    I think I’ll stick with easy topics like multidimensional math.

  81. Okay, having spent my lunch hour reading every comment here and the discussion in question (That’s how much I love you John, and I mean that in the least creepy and stalk-y way possible) I have to agree: There were some good points in the discussion but most of it was fail and not worth wading into.

  82. Tim Walker:

    I find the mustache subthread disturbingly interesting, actually. God help us all.

    Emmy:

    “I try to be aware that opting out of the discussion because it’s requiring a lot of effort or thought or time that I want to spend elsewhere is a privilege I have that people of color don’t.”

    This is predicated on the notion that a) the discussion under consideration is worth one’s attention in the general sense and b) that the decision that one particular discussion is not worth the effort means that one is not making the effort elsewhere.

    I’m not entirely sure why this particular discussion has been awarded the Definitive Discussion award, and that we are all required to follow it. As noted, I’ve found it too diffuse and static-y to be useful. It doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the topic, or that I would read and participate in another discussion that in my opinion has a better signal-to-noise ratio.

  83. BigHank53:

    When I started reading your comment, half of it was below the bottom of my screen. So I saw “Many of the people*” and was delightedly looking forward to what sort of snarky qualifier you might put in your footnote.

    I was greatly saddened to click down and learn that you were just clarifying ‘people’ meant ‘everyone involved’. You let me down, man.

  84. Posting about this without linking the the multiple, painstakingly researched link-roundups sort of guarantees that the tons of Scalzi Fans here will get some idea that you’ve read through enough of it the topic So They Don’t Have To.

    So, in case anyone wants to think for themselves, here is an attempt at a roundup on what’s going on, with links to other roundups, primary sources, and explanations as to why it’s important to talk about this issue.. It’s to my own LJ. Comments are disabled.

    Simply put, I think Scalzi is wrong. Lots of good has come out of the debate. A small press is launching because of this debate. People have gotten a sense of what critical reading based on a sense of racial issues looks like. Helpful, informative posts were made about how to write diversity with respect. And yes, some people were angry for good reason in public on LJ and on other blogs.

  85. I tried, I read the summaries and the entries. But I got lost, I’m not sure what the argument is anymore. I’ll stick to reading books.

  86. This sort of reminds me of a game where you watch someone on a cell phone and try to figure out who they’re talking to and what about by only hearing their side of the conversation.

    If I can correctly guess what the topic of discussion was, can I win something cool, like a signed copy of OMW?

  87. OK, so having taken a quick crash course on the whole Racefail business:

    I read scifi to escape the confines of Earthly politics, not to be dragged back down into them. I think people who obsess over politics and start dragging their political baggage into everything are sad and pathetic. I don’t blame them for becoming obsessed with politics; on a macro level it’s very easy to do, especially if you feel the world is unjust. On the micro level, I can see why people want diversity in scifi: A) the world is already diverse, B) the world of the future is going to be diverse in even weirder ways, and C) if it wasn’t diverse, it would be extremely boring.

    I DO blame the people who tell those people that “the personal is political.” No, it is not, and if you say it is, you are a motherhonking twit. If you rely on politics to make your personal life better, you will end up either satisfied and hungry for more, or cruelly disappointed and angry. Either way, you become a very unpleasant person. Scifi is ultimately about imagining, and maybe even realizing, a way to transcend the limits of politics and culture that the past imposes on us, not make us wallow in them (that’s lit fic’s department)

    Making the personal political will channel more and more of your life into politics to make sure you repeat that satisfaction or avoid that disappointment until politics, and unpleasantness takes over your life, your livelihood, and your livejournal. And then you drag the drama onto Whatever and drive Scalzi into detached-yet-furious Dr. Manhattanesque Internet Anger.

    If that’s the end result, then clearly, you’re doing it wrong. Chill. Keep your politics and personality separate. You will be happier. The internets will be happier. And Scalzi will be happier.

    Rant over. I submit myself to Scalzi’s not quite infinite mercy if I have transgressed or offended.

  88. Josh Jasper:

    “Lots of good has come out of the debate.”

    Out of it, or despite it? I’m not being facetious; I think it’s evident some folks of good will were working to make something useful out of the whole damn thing. But a question worth asking is if and why all the rest of the crap surrounding these good things was required for them.

  89. Mostly, this has just reinforced my conviction that wank is not defined by topicality– it’s a procedural thing. The importance of the topic under discussion isn’t a wank metric; the way the particular discussion is being conducted allows one to make the call as to whether or not it’s wank.

  90. @111 Masterthief — those of us who are misrepresented or offensively portrayed in our entertainment have our escape taken away. We are not allowed the same transcendence as you are if we are not represented. We may start to transcend, but then we encounter something that HURTS, and we are slapped back down to earth.

    I don’t consider my skin and culture either political or separable from myself. I can’t. This is a privilege that a society that regards my face as the gateway to the Uncanny Valley does not afford me. EVER. If that’s political, well, so be it. I can’t wash this color off.

  91. @105 Scalzi: I don’t think this is the Definitive Discussion, or that anyone’s required to follow it. If you find it too diffuse to be useful, fair enough.

    However, when you refer to it as a crapfling and the commenters as spittleflingers, it doesn’t come across as “this discussion is too full of static for me”, it comes across (at least to me) as “this discussion has no value because everyone in it is just flinging shit around.” I find that dismissive of the heartfelt and thought-provoking posts and discussions I’ve found in the admittedly massive number of conversations happening on LJ.

    If you’re not finding value in this discussion, well, that happens. But that doesn’t mean other people aren’t, or that it’s not worthwhile for anyone, or it deserves to get referred to as a complete crapfest.

  92. Scalzi, just in case you wanted to know, here are some of the reasons people seemed to have taken your post in a way that I don’t think you intended (FWIW, I unpacked it in a discussion with a pissed-off person according to how I read it, and it came very close to what you said).

    I think some people felt the comment about the venue was extra-dismissive, in part because LJ is apparently dominated by women, so you were being dismissive and sexist.

    I think there is also an assumption that because you are male, and white and a friend/working associate of some of the authors and editors involved, that your comments were directed not at those people, but at PoC and their Allies (which doesn’t makes sense, since it is people in that faction who have been engaged in the outing incidents)

    Further to the above, I think that a lot of people read it as “I am all that is emblematic of white privilege, and therefore, I have the luxury of not involving myself”

    At least that’s the message I got.

  93. John, I agree there’s a lot of noise in the discussion (which I entirely missed until two days ago, and have been in major catch-up mode ever since), but I actually do think it’s well worth paying attention to.

    For one, several well-known editors/writers did in fact behave quite badly (Shetterly, Cramer, and to lesser extent the Nielsen Haydens and arguably Bear), and I think it’s worthwhile for pros in the field to say so, otherwise aspiring writers will understandably assume that the famous folks are generally supported by their professional peers. It’s unfortunate that the dynamic plays out that way, but that’s the way the world works, anytime you have a small professional class (which in this case is overwhelmingly white) and a much larger aspiring group. I don’t want aspiring writers of color to believe that the sf/f professional world is closed to them, and I don’t think you want that either.

    For another, I’ve learned a few interesting things about handling racism (personally and fictionally) through this discussion, and I’m guessing lots of others have too. There’s some light along with all the heat in the room.

    Three longer pieces on the subject:

    On Speaking Truth From Power: http://www.mamohanraj.com/journal/show-entry.php?Entry_ID=4954

    On White Folks and Hearing What They Have to Say:

    http://www.mamohanraj.com/journal/show-entry.php?Entry_ID=4955

    On Writing Identity, and the Need Thereof:

    http://www.mamohanraj.com/journal/show-entry.php?Entry_ID=4956

  94. Ok, I’ve gathered that there was an argument about race and people got angry. Can someone explain how Scalzi was dragged into it? Was a comment posted on this site that said “Scalzi is racist”, or what?

  95. Out of it, Scalzi. Not in spite. For one thing, the people who’ve been talking about the problem for years are having the conversation actually get noticed this time.

    The debate you’re talking about has been going on in some fairly small circles for years, and the issues people have about diversity, portrayal of “otherness”, tropes, and so on have been largely ignored by people who’ve been wallowing in white privilege.

    It’s nice to see it move out of places like WisCon and get a public airing. Without that, it stays there. And while you say it’s an important thing to have the debate, as someone who’s in the majority, don’t you think there’s something suspicious about *you* deciding when is or is not a good time to have the debate?

  96. Please remain opted out. I’d like to have some pools of sanity on Teh Intertubes where this is not discussed.

    Having said that I feel that maybe we could go ’round HaikuJaguar’s and learn all about Race Fail 09a – http://haikujaguar.livejournal.com/616052.html . If nothing else this redirection might at least have the benefit of letting the original RaceFail 09 folk dig themselves out from under the fecal typhoon without having more dumped upon them…

  97. cpiersonon: “Is it even possible to have a decent conversation about a sensitive topic on hte* Intertubes?”

    Yeah, it’s possible, it’s just very hard, and one needs to expect that the useful portion of the exchange will be a lot more ephemeral than the stuff around it. Learning how and when to give up is crucial.

    (Side note: Years ago, a friend of mine made an argument that surprised me, but made sense. He advocated not using “suck” for bad things, on the grounds that when you’re having sex with someone you like having sex with, sucking and being sucked are both very enjoyable and good things. “Huh. Yeah,” said I. I put it in the file of “things that should be obvious but aparently aren’t”, alongside usages that suggest there’s something innately demeaning and bad about female genitalia, or being homosexual, or whatever. I use “stink” instead. I feel similarly about “wank” applied to what I regard as destructively pointless arguments – masturbation, assuming no “ur doin it rong” complications, is basically harmless and gratifying, while the kind of argument that we often call wanky isn’t either of those, just an endless loop of rage and frustration.)

    Roger Ebert has a great line to the effect that a movie isn’t just what it’s about, but how it’s about it. That was one of those lightbulb-triggering observations, for me. The difference between a productive {anything} and an unproductive one is very often not the subject at all, but the manner in which it’s being handled. Tennyson’s marvelous poem “Ulysses” and Rambo: First Blood II are both about aging men wanting to revisit scenes that are vivid in their memory and sense of self, and saying that one is revenge-porn escapist fantasy isn’t saying that there’s no point to “Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though / We are not now that strength which in old days /Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; / One equal temper of heroic hearts, / Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will / To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

    One practical problem is trying to assess a particular instance of everything is that all the common objections usually have some validity. There are people who use any cause we can name for self-aggrandizement, as a weapon against people they envy, and so on. And there are people trying to raise legitimate concerns about anything important who are genuinely getting shut up and put down by others who would prefer to dodge responsibility. These are both true. So are lots of other things. The tremendous importance of the Vietnam war doesn’t excuse Rambo’s failings; the basic triviality of two guys talking over dinner doesn’t doom My Dinner With Andre to necessary failure.

    Hard stuff to generalize about.

  98. Jessica, I think it’s because Scalzi is a popular author with a busy blog who has generally been supportive of inclusiveness, and there were a lot of fans who feared that mainstream sci-fi/fantasy was supporting the assholes by their silence. (Naomi Novik and some other authors have made public statements to counteract that fear.)

    Apparently someone got a bug up their ass to troll Scalzi about it. Scalzi yelled about it, the Internet yelled back, and there we go.

  99. Emmy:

    “If you’re not finding value in this discussion, well, that happens. But that doesn’t mean other people aren’t, or that it’s not worthwhile for anyone”

    I’m not aware of having suggested otherwise; likewise the notation “to my mind” in my description of the discussion as absolutely goddamn pointless should have made the point I was speaking from my own point of view, not some omniscient third person. It’s why I put stuff like that in there. Indeed, I hope other people who waded through it got something worthwhile from it, because I found it total mess.

  100. Am I threadjacking? I don’t want to refight anything right now. This is about Scalzi, right? If the thread is about Scalzi, my opinion based on observing him over the years is that I’ve no reason to believe he’s not already aware of whatever I’ve said. I got no beef. Not much beef. :-D (I still think Verb Noire is an excellent result, not an “in spite of” thing. The need for such a press was part of the discussion at the very beginning, if a vague part — even before EBear’s post was taken issue with.)

  101. #21 Justinon 10 – I come bearing universal love and ignorance for all! Who’s up for a game of four-square?

    ME!ME!ME!ME!!!

    As long as we get to serve generous helpings of Schadenfreude Pie to all the people flinging internet spittle, that is. *

    Hey – I propose the second Friday of the month to be ‘Show Scalzi some Love Day’ – and looke here – the first one is this week! HOWZAT?

    *(Dude – don’t know what’s going on, don’t want to know. actually, when it comes to stupid race debates, need NOT to know)

  102. Admittedly, I came into this late, but here is Ground Zero, so to speak:

    Here is the link to Bear’s original post which was HER OWN thoughts on HER own writing process (and NOT instructions, not a definitive statement of the end all, be all of SciFi writing – she was merely sharing) on creating a variety of Other characters (and it involved not just race)

    http://matociquala.livejournal.com/1544111.html

    The entire race discussion had a start there but really escalated in the followup post and then the open letter attached to her response

    http://matociquala.livejournal.com/1544999.html

    The letter only focused on the part about race

    THAT is when it dissolved into a major race issue and not just about character creation. It became an issue of how white writers need to do this and learn this and that is where it started to unravel.

    And no, it is no longer a conversation about race in literature. Were it just that, it would be far different. It quickly became about the writers and not the characters.

    So, Mac, believe what you want, but from someone just coming into the conversation who got pulled in as well, and went looking for Ground Zero? True Ground Zero of the race issue is what followed after the second post and the letter. Had people actually taken her original post for what it was, a “hey here is how I do my thing” sort of deal, it might be different.

    But apparently there are a group of people who think that she is the final, utmost authority on writing other. She isn’t and she admits she isn’t. All due respect to Bear, but every writer is different and what works for one doesn’t work for another.

    So, if she failed in her endeavor in her book with that character then THAT should have been the discussion. That she failed as an author and not as a human being. (I disagree that any determination can be made by just reading a handful of chapters rather than reading the series and watching the story and issue unfold.)

    But the latter is what the conversations have been about lately. About how our authors and editors have failed us as human beings.

    And that is not a conversation about race in literature.

  103. Persia:

    Specifically, someone tried to use this site to out a pseudonymous blogger involved in the discussion by fake posting as that person. Which annoyed me because I was intently staying out of the discussion because I questioned its value regarding the subject, and also because that’s some penny-ante shit right there. I was pissed off on behalf of person being spoofed, and I was pissed off that this was how RaceFail09 showed up here. Thus: vent on my general perceived futility of the discussion and its overall low standards of discourse.

    Jessica:

    “Was a comment posted on this site that said ‘Scalzi is racist’, or what?”

    Nah, I would have just deleted that for being boring. At the moment, mind you, people are out and about on Teh Internets calling me racist, and also sexist, and also an asshole. I’ll cop to the last one, but as to the other two, my response to that is covered in the actual entry.

    Josh Jasper

    “And while you say it’s an important thing to have the debate, as someone who’s in the majority, don’t you think there’s something suspicious about *you* deciding when is or is not a good time to have the debate?”

    I not aware of saying any such thing. What I’ve said is that it’s a discussion worth having, this discussion wasn’t a good version of it. That said, I haven’t even said people should stop having the bad discussion they’ve been having; they can of course do whatever they want.

  104. @128 Thank you, Sierra. As someone who participated in the discussion from the get-go (and defended Bear) I shall most assuredly continue to believe exactly what I want.

  105. From what I’ve seen of RaceFail, while some of the responses are better written than others, overall it seems like this is just a reason to get everyone angry.

    It reminds me of the once-yearly ritual where people would march on my college paper and threaten to burn it down for being racist or anti-feminist or stupid or some crap.

    It seems rational that Scalzi wants to stay away from that, and would be angry at people who demanded he join in or they’ll call him names (which is essentially what they seem to be doing in comments – calling him dismissive or rude or whatnot).

    Here’s the real question: If they wanted to have a discussion on race in sf, why didn’t they start with that instead of attacking a particular writer? Why shouldn’t the conversation begin by admitting that we all have failings in writing characters that are not like us, and then everyone could have simply said “well, this is my strategy for writing people who are not like me, what’s yours?” and everyone could have learned alot, gone home happy and written a book that was the better for it…

  106. Scalzi, if you’re finding it “absolutely goddamn pointless ” and people who are forced by reality to think about this ever goddamn day find it important, don’t you think there’s a little bit worth noticing?

    I think you’re looking at this picture from close up. Looked at from a distance, there’s a distinct pattern in who’s finding it useful, who’s calling it pointless, and who’s dismissing it with as pointless with shit metaphors.

  107. @128: If the initial criticisms of Bear were ‘attacks,’ I’d hate to see what you’d think of a typical Michiko Kakutani review.

    @130: Wow, that’s even worse than I had originally speculated. No wonder you were pissed.

  108. You go, Mr. Scalzi–poke that internet Badger with the BIGGEST SPOON you’ve got! I’ve got a titanium spork you can borrow if such pleases.

  109. Mac@114

    I agree. I would add that I think Science Fiction has been partly about social commentary for its entire existence. It isn’t new to have the political woven into it. It’s just that as more and more join the field, there are more and more opinions about what kind of personal politics are okay in a story. I’d like to see all of them available so I can pick whichever I like best.

    Emmy@101 and 115,

    I am sorry that I don’t agree. I don’t think it is accurate to conflate “a discussion on racism” on LJ with “Racism.” I also think that everyone gets to make up their own mind about the value of the discussion and no one should take their opinion as a litmus test of all their opinions on the topic under discussion.

    One unfortunate aspect of the whole discussion has been the pressure to “take sides.” As I said above, if people insist that I agree with them about everything, then I can’t agree with them at all.

  110. Actually, I think the post Yelling Class was a pretty good interpretation. (I’ve experienced classes like these — painful, but cathartic.)

    I guess my bottom line is I hated it very much, but I also think it had to happen and was not a waste.

  111. @#79, Shawn Struck,

    I’m not entirely familiar with the apparent history of the term “wank” in this context, but in my mind it fits pretty well. Now let me be clear that this does not mean that I think the topic is not important. In fact, just the opposite.

    The more important a topic is, the more important it is that we be able to discuss it in a reasonable manner. I understand (quite well, actually) that the importance of a topic makes people react more emotionally to disagreement over that topic. But in many cases when you allow that emotion to color your contribution to discussions on the topic, you are actively doing harm to your cause and to the discussion. More specifically, when anybody starts with the personal attacks and shrill tone (no matter how good their intentions), they have begun to devalue the discussion. Automatically reading others’ contributions in the worst possible light is just as bad. Once the signal-to-noise ratio of the discussion becomes sufficiently low, the discussion becomes worse than useless because it causes people to (quite justifiably) avoid the topic (see sex, religion and politics in general).

    I know it’s not always easy to be objective or reasonable about issues you’re passionate about. But it IS possible. And if you really care about those issues and about making a positive difference, it’s WELL WORTH the effort of doing so.

    I started this post with a thought in my head that it’s a shame there probably isn’t really a fair way to apply something like Godwin’s Law to accusations of racism (such accusations are still often enough valid that it’s definitely not fair to reject them all out of hand as per GL). But really, it’s not specific to racism. I think it’s usually fair to apply something like Godwin’s Law to ANY ad hominem attack in such a discussion.

    TL;DR: It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the “right” side of the discussion. If you get emotional and start tossing around ad hominem attacks or automatically reading the worst possible intention into other peoples’ words, you are wrong and you are destroying the discussion.

  112. Josh Jasper:

    “Scalzi, if you’re finding it ‘absolutely goddamn pointless’ and people who are forced by reality to think about this ever goddamn day find it important, don’t you think there’s a little bit worth noticing?”

    As noted several times now, Josh, and also specifically to you, there is some useful stuff in the discussion. It doesn’t mean the overall discussion was generally useful. This is the divergence here, I suspect: how much noise one is willing to sift through to get signal. You seem to be willing to wade through rather more noise than I am.

  113. Scalzi –

    I not aware of saying any such thing. What I’ve said is that it’s a discussion worth having, this discussion wasn’t a good version of it.

    So why should you be the one who decides what is or isn’t a “good version” of the debate, rather than the people who’re personally affected by it? Because by doing so, you’re electing yourself arbiter of when the debate should happen – whenever something you say is a “good version” of it shows up.

    You do realize that, by being public here, you’re not just deciding for yourself, you’re informing a large blog audience as to what is or isn’t a “good version” of the debate. For some reason, these people will now look to you, a white guy, for a sign as to when a “good version” of a debate about race can happen.

    You’re not seeing anything wrong here? I am.

  114. You know, I think I may have been unclear before. I don’t have disdain for sociologists or sociology, but for kids who’ve taken one sociology course (which they maybe attended half of the time), and think that this experience entitles them to pretend to be an expert. I feel the same way about lots of other subjects too, but sociology is the one that seemed most applicable to the race conversation.

  115. For those who want the recipe for Dolley Madison Fail Cakes with Bad Logic Creme Filling™, be warned… creme fillings are always a bit difficult to deal with, and this one always breaks down under scrutiny.

  116. Josh Jasper:

    “So why should you be the one who decides what is or isn’t a ‘good version’ of the debate, rather than the people who’re personally affected by it?”

    Because I’m me, and I’m not them, and my opinion is the one I work with on a day to day basis. If they believe it’s been useful, fine. I think it was a mess.

    “You do realize that, by being public here, you’re not just deciding for yourself, you’re informing a large blog audience as to what is or isn’t a ‘good version’ of the debate.”

    No, I don’t. Apparently you think the people who read my blog are stupid, Josh, and that they have a) no ability to think about the subject independent of me, and b) no ability to read about the subject outside of Whatever. If we know anything about Whatever readers, it’s that they’re argumentative and argumentative with me in particular, and while they may think about what I say, they don’t feel obliged to agree with it.

    You need a better model of the people who visit this site, Josh. I’m not buying yours.

  117. Josh Jasper @140 — Wait, are you suggesting that Scalzi is the arbiter of what other people think, or should think?

    He hasn’t claimed that right, and anyway many (most? all?) of the smart, critical-thinking folks who come here wouldn’t let him have that much sway on them. He expressed his opinion, he did it clearly, and now each of us is free to agree or disagree (or in-between) as we like.

    I give John a lot of credit for his rhetorical skills, the scope of the audience he’s built, and his ability to *persuade* that audience of his viewpoints. But you’re giving him *too* much credit by suggesting he’s the “arbiter” of this topic for his audience.

  118. @Josh Jasper —

    John Scalzi isn’t God. He doesn’t “decide” for everyone else what’s good and what isn’t. Only for himself and for what he wants to facilitate on his blog.

    And I’m also a little offended you think those of us who read here take everything he says as gospel. He’s obviously apocryaphl at best.

  119. The Internet hates you for your rational approach to the airings of differences among groups of varied people when those discussions begin to affect your website, not just the original website from which those discussions spawned!

  120. Ahh, fresh proof that leftists can be (and often are) just as elitist, punitive and small-minded as right-wingers.

    It feels nice to have my complete lack of faith in humanity validated.

  121. Scalzi @125
    “Indeed, I hope other people who waded through it got something worthwhile from it, because I found it total mess.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever been in a discussion about racism that didn’t get at least somewhat messy. But I did wade through it, and I did find worthwhile posts in it, and I do see worthwhile, constructive action coming from it.

    That’s why I was taken aback to see you calling it an “LJ hissy fight”, an “absolutely goddamn pointless discussion” and “something [that] has been primarily used as cover for a bunch of people to spend quite a lot of time being shouty to be shouty and being pissy to be pissy.”

    You don’t have to participate, you don’t have to make a big statement of your beliefs, but to take a discussion you’re not part of and characterize it in those terms is really dismissive of the people who are participating.

    If that’s truly your point of view on the matter, then that’s that. But I don’t find it surprising that people who are part of the discussion and finding worth in it, and in many cases sharing difficult, painful and very personal perspectives on the topic were hurt to hear that you thought they were pointless, shouty and pissy.

  122. @140,Josh Jasper

    “So why should you be the one who decides what is or isn’t a “good version” of the debate, rather than the people who’re personally affected by it?”

    I think John’s said multiple times that it’s not good for him, which is within his right to do just as you are able to say that you, personally, feel that it is a good version. I can say, “You know, I’m not a fan of apple pie.” without meaning “I think all apple pie is HORRIBLE AND YOU SHOULDN’T EAT IT EVER! VIVA ICE CREAM.”

    Personally, I find your last comment a bit insulting at the insinuation that the people who read John’s blog (including me) are sheep who simply march along to whatever John says and a pretty ignorant generalization.

  123. (Forgive me if this comment/post seems incredibly long-winded and tangential.)

    I don’t pretend to speak for everyone, obviously, but I’ve found this entire discussion very enlightening. Despite being full of epic fail at times.

    You’ve said that you’d rather not have a spittle-tacular argument about this topic, and would rather talk about it maturely. I think RaceFail ’09 has been a pretty obvious example of how this is near-impossible. It did, after all, start off as a pretty reasonable discussion. The author that triggered the landslide even admitted (at first) to doing wrong. But inevitably, the internets being the internets and people being people, there were comments like, “Well, I don’t think that was racist,” or, “These POC sure are overreacting.”

    Which began the fail.

    Talking about racism is hard. It’s hard for people to acknowledge that they have privilege or prejudice or internalized racism. It’s especially hard when people equate, “Hey, your writing reinforces racist tropes,” or, “Hey, the thing that you just wrote is full of privilege,” as, “Gosh, you’re a racist.” Because these things are NOT the same.

    The biggest fail of all was that pro SF/F writers or editors, some of whom are in significant positions of power within the industry, started making veiled threats or dismissive comments full of fail or, you know, outing others. People begin to wonder, if this is how people who have so much leverage in the industry think, how on earth are we going to critically examine SF/F? Also: how on earth are we going to have a reasonable discussion about race?

    (Especially because those People in Power were otherwise reasonable, intelligent individuals. When reasonable intelligent individuals start throwing around threats and denial and other fail, what hope is there for the rest of us?)

    I think, really, that’s one of the biggest reasons I feel like this discussion is important. Because it brings up questions of, hey, do POC feel safe or welcome in SF/F fandom?

    Like others have said, I do think a lot of good has come out of RaceFail. (Yes, out of it, not despite it.) You said it was hard to separate the static from the noise, or something like that — have you seen rydra_wong’s roundup of links?

    Also (if this constitutes as spam, feel free to remove this part), intelligent well-reasoned things coming out of this: Deepad’s essay, “I Didn’t Dream of Dragons,” easily one of the best written pieces to come out of this. The Remyth Project, which is a fantastic collection of POC stories/pieces. Verb Noire, a small publishing press with an interest in POC characters and stories, Alistair Reynolds talking about how it’s given him thought, and on and on and on. Someone mentioned the fund being established to help people get to Wiscon. And so forth.

    For me it’s been enlightening to read experiences from various POC about themselves in fandom, and the discussion of whether or not they feel welcome or comfortable at conventions, or trying to find their (our?) places in SF/F. I do happen to think that RaceFail was doused in a whole lot of Fail, but was also redeemed by a whole lot of merit. It’s opened up my eyes.

  124. Mac@137

    Thank you for the link to Yelling Class. What a great essay, and very helpful in showing me unseen value in recent discussions.

  125. “The sort of person who believes that if one doesn’t like their particular discussion of [x], one must therefore be an [x]ist, is the sort of person who is has just eaten a heaping plate of **Dolley Madison Fail Cakes with Bad Logic Creme Filling™** and is looking to chomp down on a second platter”

    LOVE the ** **!

    !!

  126. SusieQ@123: Talking about particulars is in practice often the only way to get anywhere. It’s easy to get well-intentioned people of many kinds to agree in principle to all sorts of good ideas. Rooting out actually existing bad attitudes and unintentionally harmful actions is where real change generally happens – we usually have to talk about specific cases to tie those principles to ways of talking and acting in our own individual lives. Starting with what’s at hand won’t change the world, but trying to change the world overall at once too often degenerates into never doing anything particular at all.

    Cory McCarty@138: The “why can’t you be calmer?” argument is a tricky one in practice. People who genuinely do want to shut up challenges use it and people who don’t may not realize the minefields they’re in. Think of whoever in the world you love most – family member, significant other, whoever. There’s got to be someone you care deeply for and wish to do the best by. Now picture someone coming along and heaping up every abuse they can find lying around onto that person, assaulting their intelligence, dignity, and virtue on every front. For good measure, picture them attacking you as well for being so vile as to care about such an obviously worthless person, and tearing down the very idea that real love could possibly exist in such a degraded, degrading relationship. Then, when you get angry – as would be right and proper – they say, “But why can’t you be calm about it? The very fact that you’re so upset just goes to show that we’re right and that you can’t be trusted to talk about it anyway.”

    Something like that is the part of the experience of the vast majority of people in every minority group. I was once spat on while having an episode of autoimmune reaction that’s pretty much like petit mal epilepsy to outside observers, by a passing businessman who thought I was drunk and that drunks are fair game for spitting on. I recovered, got home, collapsed. That evening, when I wrote about the experience on a local BBS, someone told me, “I can see you have a complaint, but do you have to be so worked up about it?” Well, yeah, I did. So do people who find themselves on the receiving end of other kinds of prejudice and discrimination. This is their lives up there as targets, being twisted around this way or that.

    Note that I’m not here commenting on particular concerns in the RaceFail thing. My feelings are far too tangled for me to say anything meaningful about it. But I completely understand the principle of getting roused and not at all wishing to be calm about things, and I think that others can and should understand it too.

  127. I would suggest that a FAR more productive discussion than the existing one might be had on a single message board with very clear posting guidelines that forbid ad hominem attacks and very active moderators who carry very heavy ban-hammers.

    Now the hard part would be finding moderators who are sufficiently reasonable (and recognized for it). I suggest Scalzi. *ducks*

  128. Fletcheron@67: “Clearly we’ll have to melt down his Hugo and forge it into a tiara. Possibly bacon-shaped.”

    Fletcheron, it’s much worse than you think. We have to MAKE THE TIARA OUT OF BACON.

    I don’t really have anything productive to add to the discussion except that my research efforts off of the last, mysterious post led me to conclude that this somehow involved the guy who criticized Tor’s website & Scalzi’s response. EPIC RESEARCH FAIL.

    No matter. I bought “Ghost Brigades” on Thursday, read it over the weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed it. As soon as I’ve read enough books that I don’t feel guilty about reading so much Scalzi, it’ll be onwards to “Last Colony.”

  129. @114 Mac:

    Sometimes transcending requires us to subvert or give up those parts of our culture that narrow our vision of what is possible. (And all cultures have them. The cultures that are the purest are also the most xenophobic.) That’s a good, and probably necessary kind of hurt. I don’t think the people who are attracted to or write scifi misrepresent or offend out of malice or spite. They either don’t know (a lack of knowledge is always fixable) or they’re trying to spotlight a cultural foible so that it can be discussed in the open. In case of doubt, always presume stupidity over malice. It’s the default human mode of operation.

    As for our faces/cultures/selves, the better path, in my view, is to be mindful of our own reaction to discrimination. I think the reason why it’s so easy to be political is that it’s so easy to be angry when we see discrimination. But we only see what we expect we will see. That’s where having a sense of humor helps – done right, it disrupts the thoughts that lead to anger, especially if you can do it to yourself. You put out fires with water, not gasoline. (To my mind, when someone tells me that their face is “the gateway to the uncanny valley,” my first reaction would be to ask if they are some new form of android. See what I mean?)

    We can’t choose our skin color, and we’re mostly but not entirely creatures of the culture that we were raised in. But these differences need not be sources of division and recriminations and internet drama vendettas. That’s the human past. That’s where it belongs. Humans can choose not to let it matter, we can live and treat each other as equals. Besides, we’re probably one of the last generations of humans where there are going to be racial or ethnic differences at all. Our descendants will be so genetically and memetically jumbled up that these debates won’t matter. How can you be racist when your grandparents are Ibo, Irish, Thai, and Cherokee?

  130. @ 154 Hope:

    Wasn’t it a lovely post? :-)

    I remember way back around 9/11 when trying to have similar heated discussions (in offline life; I wasn’t so Internetty then and had no LiveJournal) a good friend of mine who is significantly older and wiser than me told me that yes, it hurts now, but you can never know what effect the things you said will have in someone’s private heart. So, make ‘em good! (She’d just had someone she’d argued with YEARS previously, to the point of estrangement, come back and tell her that what she said had changed their way of thinking.)

  131. Josh @ 140:

    You could reverse that same question and ask why you get to decide that it is a good version. Without embroiling myself too much, why are you trying to define a subjective definition in an objective context. The discussion will appear important to some folks, not so much to others. That John (among others) feels that it is not a particularly fruitful does not make him ArbiterMan simply for saying so.

    It would be presumptuous of me to put words in John’s mouth, but I strongly suspect that he doesn’t care much if RandomNetGuy thinks that suddenly he is an authority on when TheOneTrueRaceDebate can occur. I fairly sure he’d think that’s RandomNetGuy’s problem for having poor selection criteria for role models.

    As far as the rating of the conversation, if you like the discussion on LJ, you go ahead and keep on with that. Neither John nor anybody else can stop you, even if they were inclined to do so. Maybe by your efforts you can stop the crapfling and turn it into a real discussion, which would make you pretty much the AwesomeArbiterMan yourself. Good luck with that, but don’t expect everybody to think that a crapfling is important just because you think its important.

  132. I can understand why you want to stay out of this, but I felt your dismissive tone was, well, dismissive and insulting to the real people involved.

    Persia: Is it within the realm of possibility that some ‘real people’ (as opposed to the surreal ones) actually deserve to have their bad arguments dismissed and insulted? And while you mileage may vary, I get very dismissive of people who think spurious appeals to authority (citing their race and/or gender) are going to be well received.

  133. Smaur@153: Thank you very much for those specific links! My autoimmune problems sometimes make it really hard to deal with sustained stress, so I’d bailed early on the overall exchange. But I’m really glad not to have missed some darned good responses and side trips. (I owe a lot to people willing to filter that way and appreciate it a great deal.)

  134. Just a general note for people:

    If you put in three links or more in your comment, you’re likely to get sent to the moderation queue. Don’t panic, I’ll get your comment out of there presently.

  135. Bruce Baugh @156: I think the distinction between what you’re talking about and what I’m suggesting is that of actually wanting to have a productive conversation about it. In the hypothetical you suggest, you bet I’d be angry! But the degree to which that manifested in my actual response would depend on how constructive I wanted that response to be. And odds are I would actually write that person’s opinions off as being largely worthless pursuant to my modified version of Godwin’s Law.

    I will freely admit to not being a member of a minority (with the exception of the Irish issue raised above, but I don’t think it’s terribly relevant to this conversation). So I can’t speak with any personal experience about exactly what some people involved in the discussion have been through.

    The point is that I WOULD like to see a general improvement in the quality of discussions like this specifically because they ARE important. And that improvement can’t happen until people learn to make more reasonable contributions. I never said it’s easy. But it is necessary.

    BTW, I totally realize that I’m pissing in the wind when I say I hope for more reasonable discourse on the intarwebs.

  136. First, let me say that I’ve done nothing to investigate this battle royal since, like the many conflicts d’internets that have preceded this one, the potential for a really good knock-down, below-the-belt-gut-punching, bloody fight remains nearly zero. Besides its hockey season and it’s just so much easier to get what I crave via from other media.

    Next up I would point out that the primary competition between wonks on the internet of have Important Discussions about Important Topics is for the position of Straight Man. The comments thread of this and other associated posts invariably proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt. I’m just trying to keep track of who’s winning that race. Or I would be if it weren’t hockey season.

  137. I read the stuff at the beginning (ebear’s journal and some follow-on), and gave up not terribly long into it because just a very few people were drowning out nearly everyone else in their infinite-loop arguments with each other.

    When I realized a few days ago it was still around, I was astonished. It’s good to know good things have come from it–I’d read something about Verb Noire but had no idea it came from this discussion.

    One of the things I like about both ebear’s and Scalzi’s journals is they both are very clear–I think what I think, I say what I say, I take responsibility for same, and I can fight my own battles.

    This sometimes gets interpreted as “My opinion is the one true opinion.” For THEM, sure it is (or at least until they change their minds); I don’t see either of them claiming it to be the one true anything beyond that.

    Those of us who’ve read them for any length of time know this and don’t mistake their expressed opinions as a fiat to agree with them. ‘Cause they aren’t.

    Now I need to go figure out whether I hate Scalzi…

  138. Not all the internets hates you baby! Us OG internets types lurves you!!

    *wipes tear from bloodshot eye*

    Now where are those pictures of you in your bathrobe o’bacon? I don’t pay whatever I pay to get slow intertubes access just to do without mah bathrobe bacon fix!1!0!!!

    *ceases to objectify the author, the bathrobe, and the pig that sourced the bacon*

  139. Emmy:

    “You don’t have to participate, you don’t have to make a big statement of your beliefs, but to take a discussion you’re not part of and characterize it in those terms is really dismissive of the people who are participating.”

    First, I was part of it: I was reading it, looking for value, and finding little.

    Second, given that I found the vast majority of the discussion to be bad, I don’t think it’s in the least surprising that I was dismissive of it. Also, to be blunt about it, most of the people who are having the discussion are grown-ups; they should be able to handle criticism, even the sort they find fantastically unfair.

  140. I’m really sorry I looked. Some appear not to have noticed that the perfect is the enemy of the good. I feel a rant coming on, and I’ll leave for the day. Thank you, John, for exposing this; I’m sorry our world still has such cesspools, but see no reason to expect that humanity[sic] will ever change so that those who want to be offended can’t be.

  141. Fletcher @122– I read that post, but it doesn’t explain who did what to drag the site into it.

    However, I think Scalzi answered my question at 130. I just couldn’t imagine what had happened to piss him off quite that much, but I can see how impersonating someone else would do it.

  142. THE PROBLEM WITH the interwebs is that there ain’t no qualification requirements.

    The number of people who think *ad hominem* statements, and cursory judgments of people they don’t know, are o.k. far exceeds the number that at least try to be somewhat polite. Maybe “considerate” is a better word.

    Incidentally, this site is worthwhile JUST because you run martinet on the *vulgus pecum*, that is to say us all, the great unwashed.

    Your site is already enjoyed by others I’ve mentioned it to — it’s known, they went “Oh, Whatever, great site” — others who listen to R3, the CBC’s web (and Sirius) indie station, i.e. http://radio3.cbc.ca/.

    Ciao, B.

  143. Scalzi –

    Because I’m me, and I’m not them, and my opinion is the one I work with on a day to day basis. If they believe it’s been useful, fine. I think it was a mess.

    Why aren’t you informing yourself based on their opinion of the thing? Remember your “Being Poor” essay? People who weren’t poor chimed in, and got told that, no, you’d really experienced it, so you knew what you were talking about. This discussion is about race.

    And of course it’s been a mess. Racism is messy. But you really did say it wasn’t worth having. That’s different than saying that it’s painful, or uncomfortable, or even that you’d rather not have it. You start calling the people who’re having the discussion “spittle flingers” and then all of a sudden, that’s all there is. You didn’t talk about the useful things that did come out of the conversation until I pointed them out.

    If you make lot of anonymous complaints about noise, but no actual compliments about the signal, you’re making accusations about an unspecified group of spittle flinging sorts who might as well be *everyone* in the debate, because no one good has been described.

    As for claiming you’re somehow brainwashing people here, I’m sorry that was the impression I gave. I should have been more clear. My main point, which I made badly, was that by not providing information, just your opinion, you didn’t give people a lot of information on the topic, and you really should have, because you’re painting everyone who participates as spittle flingers otherwise.

  144. Back off, inkgrrl! BaconBoy is mine. I am pulling into his driveway right now.

    Yoohooooo? Scaaaaaalzi!

  145. Cory: The other thing I left out was that it’s often true (I believe) that knowing that something which seems lightweight or not that big a deal makes someone else furious or despairing is a part of reasonable discussion. It tells me “I have not thought enough about what parts this plays in other people’s lives.” And I think people should be clear in saying “This is my life that’s stepping on”, precisely because it’s a detached matter for others but not for them.

  146. @164 Persia: Is it within the realm of possibility that some ‘real people’ (as opposed to the surreal ones) actually deserve to have their bad arguments dismissed and insulted?

    Sure it is. There are some people in this mess I’d like to insult and dismiss a whole lot. I was more thinking of the people whose anonymity had been compromised, which is significantly more hurtful than having their arguments attacked on the Internet.

  147. Oh, and I should point out that’s why the ‘real people’ phrase was used– because it could have negatively impacted people’s offline lives.

  148. @159 How can you be racist when your grandparents are Ibo, Irish, Thai, and Cherokee?

    I don’t believe racism is a function whatsoever of who your ancestors were. This sounds too close to a free pass. (Do you believe only white people can be racist? I don’t. For very very brief starters, whites aren’t the majority everywhere, so that would mess with the “systemic” definition of racism, in, say, Japan.) I think it’s a function of believing, spreading, and acting on demonstrably false, untrue, harmful and/or overgeneralized things about a group of people who are united in having certain (arbitrary) physical characteristics as defined (at the moment) by anthropologists. Thus I’m not entirely sure how your post is meant to affect me. How one observes oneself being portrayed affects one. It’s a developmental fact. (See generations of small children still associating negative words with the darker-skinned doll in controlled tests.) You may call it political if you like, but it doesn’t improve my life any.

    (To my mind, when someone tells me that their face is “the gateway to the uncanny valley,” my first reaction would be to ask if they are some new form of android. See what I mean?)

    I dunno what to say to you. Do you think my statement there was rude or belittling to you personally in some way?

    Have you ever had someone scream upon catching you out of the corner of their eye? Been stared at and heard a kid ask “What’s that, Mommy?” or “What’s wrong with her skin, Mommy?” in a Western country? (Not that I’m blaming a little kid who hasn’t seen much of life — I’m not — but ouch!)

    Would it be rude or belittling to you if I were to ask you to ponder my point of view a little harder?

    (Not that being an android wouldn’t be fun.)

  149. Seconding (thirding?) the Yelling Class link above. That was the clearest explanation of all the links I’ve followed so far of why “colorblind” is not an admirable trait.

    I may eventually have something to say about this overall phenomenon – it’s certainly of interest, professionally – but I’m having trouble wading through the emotion to get to my dry, analytical place. I do appreciate it being brought to my attention, however circuitously.

  150. smaur:

    From a general discussing-race-is-hard standpoint (I have no involvement with RaceFail 09 myself, and haven’t poked around in it), it’s worth noting that in your post you put all the blame on one side; e.g. the side saying “well, maybe isn’t necessarily racism or an example of a racist trope”.

    Having sifted through similar discussions, it’s worth noting both sides can mess up, yet your post seems to be rather lopsided – all of the intelligent reactions are on one side, all of the stupid and fail on the other. You can’t expect people to show up for a discussion just so they can play the role of the stock villain in whatever way the other side demands.

    I may try poking around links tonight in regards to this specific discussion.

  151. Sorry, finger flub. Here’s the actual post.

    Where in his original post does Scalzi actually say that the original topic isn’t worth discussing? I must have missed that. He did say that the original topic was lost beneath all the pointless screeching going on and when it was brought up was “primarily” being used as cover to yell some more.

    I have to think that most of the commentators who are making measured relevant statements should be more upset at those doling out vicious attacks rather than the person who’s pointing out that most of the comments are pointless vicious attacks, no matter how colorfully he does so.

  152. (Re: Me, at 180: No, little black American children do NOT have the same reaction to whiteness. Not if they have a TV or ever leave the house. White=normal here. It’s absorbed. This is a function of majority. This does not make the majority automatically evil, but it does make the minorities suspect something is wrong with them. Being shrieked at doesn’t help.)

  153. Andy @ 162 –

    You could reverse that same question and ask why you get to decide that it is a good version.

    Good question – there’s a variety of reasons I think it’s important

    * the people who cope with racism on a day to day basis are not saying it’s a bad version of the debate, thy say it’s good.

    * the people who started the outing did so in an attempt to intimidate someone who thought the debate was important. Hell if I’m going to shut up now. Trying to intimidate my friends into silence is a bad way to get me to shut up.

    * Elizabeth Bear did something really dumb (she admits it was dumb) in pretending to take the original critique with good grace. She copped to doing so just because she wanted to “take one for the team”. She then tried to tell everyone who was talking about race that the wise thing to do was to shut up, and if they were good, she might deign to have a conversation at Wiscon. Again, that compelled me to speak up.

    * Verb_Noire was founded as a publishing start up that’s here to encourage diversity. They raised over $4000 so far. This is actually doing something about it

    * If I see something that’s racist, I stand up and call it out. Read The Qualities Of An Ally for ally-work. It’s important, if you care about racism.

    * On a personal note, I was very afraid of getting in to this because I thought there’d be social fallout. I recognize that that’s white privilege talking, and it’s a voice I’m making a conscious choice not to listen to as often as I can. Yes, this *is* a dangerous discussion. But the people I’d avoid pissing off by not calling out when they say something I see all of my Person Of Color friends getting annoyed at are people who either need to hear it, or are toxic, and I shouldn’t care what they think.

    * I wish there were more people who did this about queer issues, which are personal to me. When someone is homophobic around me, and no one else speaks out, the world get smaller.

    * Lots of people are making the “there’s more noise than signal” argument without actually saying what is or isn’t noise. This means the signal gets ignored, and actually, the signal has been enlightening

    *I’m a better person for knowing what African Americans, Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, Latinos form a variety of backgrounds, Indian Americans, and other minority groups really think about fantasy and science fiction, where they’re let down, what bothers them, and why.

    *The groups mentioned above are the ones who need to be leading the debate. If white people are in charge of deciding what is or isn’t the right conversation to have, the conversation is invalid.

  154. John Scalzi—

    Good for you for staying out of the current flame war.

    We’re a biracial family, but that doesn’t give us the the right to question every look we get from strangers, or make us feel “excluded” in genre literature, among other things. Both of my kids love SF/F, and write fanlit.

    I hope that as a wider range of authors are published, both on paper and online, there will be a wider range of characters and families who “look like” ours in fiction.

    The current discussion in teh internets, however, does not seem to be one I would join in, either.

    Love your blog!

  155. I only stumbled upon this “debate” from my daily foray into Scalzi’s blog. I don’t know any of the people involved and don’t normally go to Live Journal. However, having now read Ms. Bear’s original post that started this while thing off, in my opinion the responses, no matter how much of a legitimate point they had to make initially, are now buried under a mound of fecal matter and histrionics. As a card-carrying pinko liberal I would have been a natural ally of the ones making valid points about people of color and their portrayal in fiction. However, now I just don’t care. I’m tired from reading the ad hominem attacks, the junior-high level of reasoning that that made certain people feel the need to scream “racist!” because someone had a thought that they didn’t agree with, etc. I now officially don’t give a shit about how people of color are portrayed in fiction, whether they are portrayed, etc. I’m done. Anytime someone brings this up in the future, no matter how reasonably they may make their point, I will reflexively shut down. I’m not saying this to “get back” at anyone, or be a troll, but to just let those people in on the thought process that their childish tantrum has produced. I have problems closer to home that I need to spend precious brainpower and effort on. From now on my response on this issue will be, to quote one of my favorite bloggers: “Whatever.”

  156. Josh Jasper:

    “Why aren’t you informing yourself based on their opinion of the thing?”

    Josh, you might want to consider getting out of the habit of the phrasing your questions in the form of an accusation. It’s not likely to give you the result you desire.

    As to the question of whether I’m considering other people’s points of view on the matter, indeed I am — some here and some elsewhere. I’m not sure why you seem to think that means I abandon my opinion while considering theirs.

    “If you make lot of anonymous complaints about noise, but no actual compliments about the signal, you’re making accusations about an unspecified group of spittle flinging sorts who might as well be *everyone* in the debate”

    No I’m not, and this is a bad argument, not in the least because of the qualifiers of “some” which I frequently use to imply not all. Try a better argument here, Josh. This one doesn’t work.

    “was that by not providing information, just your opinion, you didn’t give people a lot of information on the topic”

    Which was my intent, because initially I didn’t want the discussion here. Beyond this, I’m always giving my opinion here. It’s what the site is for.

  157. I’m interested in serious discussions of racism. I’m even interested in discussions of how we discuss racism. However, at about the point where we start discussing how we discuss how we discuss racism, my interest begins to wane and I begin to suspect that people are mistaking mastubatory recursion for profundity. Fortunately, the internet has plenty of places for other people who enjoy that sort of thing to enjoy that sort of thing.

    I’m of the firm opinion that 95% of complaining about “political correctness” amounts to someone saying “pity me, for I have acted like an asshat, and now someone has called an asshat.” But there is also very occasionally genuine political correctness worthy of contempt, some of which I see in this debate. Some elements of the same include “shut up and listen” (No. Fuck off. This is the internet. It’s for discussion. If you want a rapt, silent crowd of adorers, go form a cult.) and “to participate in this debate, you must accept that [X] people are inherently [Y]” (Come over here and make me, plus any of the variations on the “false consciousness” meme. If people find it horrifying and debilitating for such notions to be questioned and even ridiculed, they ought retreat to someplace where the “safety” of ideas [that is, the concept that some ideas should not be challenged] is a shared value. Like my college’s English department, for example. But it ain’t the internet.

  158. @159

    It occurs to me I seem to be assuming you’re white. Apologies for that. (However, what you look like determines your treatment like whoa in this country — if you can pass as white, you’re going to just have to take my word for some of this.)

    I am, however, still quite amused by the android idea. ;-)

  159. Peter L @ 185 – Nowhere does John say that the topic as a whole is not worth talking about, but he does say that the current incarnation is “absolutely goddamn pointless “. And I disagree.

  160. Fiona:

    We’re a biracial family, but that doesn’t give us the the right to question every look we get from strangers, or make us feel “excluded” in genre literature, among other things. Both of my kids love SF/F, and write fanlit.

    I, too, am part of a multiracial family, and I respectfully disagree with you in one respect: we do have the right to question every look we get from strangers. What we don’t have is the right to demand that everyone accept, without question, our opinion if we conclude that the strangers must be racists who are glaring at us because of our ethnic makeup.

  161. Josh Jasper:

    Yes, but how does the second imply the first — i.e., that because I find a particular discussion not worthwhile, that I think any discussion is not worthwhile? Which generally appears to be what people seem to think my implication was. It’s difficult to combat a logic fail that deep, especially when my initial post has language in it that strongly suggests I think it’s a topic worth talking about.

  162. This type of conversation is just fundamentally unsuitable for the Internet, and clearly has been the entire time (look back at email mailing lists, Usenet, MUDs, plenty of historical antecedent). The lack of audio and visual / nonverbal cues disconnects people from the “There is another person on the other side of the screen” social tie-in, which makes people far too free to escalate discussions into unreasonable or rude attacks.

    Flashpoint topics and the internet are just bad juju.

    Every now and then you find a venue that, for a time, works ok (enough social pressure, or everyone knows each other well enough in real life that it stays focused, or really good moderation). The Web 2.0 diffusion of links means that things like this discussion here, where people don’t know each other in real life, there’s no focal point for social pressure, and nothing remotely like central moderation…. this discussion is just Fail.

    It’s an important topic. I come from and live in the San Francisco area – our cons are more media cons, our fandom is a functional mix of media and book fans rather than separating out that much. Being the San Francisco Bay Area, our fandom is pretty widely mixed (sex, race, gender, sexual preference, political orientation) and pretty tolerant. The arguments are showing me a bit of insight into problems people see in other areas of fandom and writing.

    But the way it’s all coming out is just Epic Fail. It’s unfortunate when people who have been around long enough to know better participate in making it Fail.

  163. I’ve just been reminded of one thing that really gets on my last nerve about this kind of discussion: People who fret about their “position of white privilege”, then go on to spend several hundred words patting themselves on the back for how fabulously tolerant and progressive and they’re taking the hit for their fabulous Friends of Colour.

  164. @184:

    “Having sifted through similar discussions, it’s worth noting both sides can mess up, yet your post seems to be rather lopsided – all of the intelligent reactions are on one side, all of the stupid and fail on the other. You can’t expect people to show up for a discussion just so they can play the role of the stock villain in whatever way the other side demands.”

    I don’t know how you are dividing the sides, but in my head it was pretty much fail versus non-fail. Which is why the one side is disproportionately more articulate than the other. I only linked to the intelligent reactions because everyone’s already acknowledged that there was a whole lot of stupid and fail emerging from the discussion. There wasn’t a whole lot of talk about how it was in some ways a good discussion, and an enlightening intelligent one.

    Hope that clarifies my previous post.

  165. Josh Jasper @ 187,

    “* If I see something that’s racist, I stand up and call it out. Read The Qualities Of An Ally for ally-work. It’s important, if you care about racism.”

    This is a very interesting point. Not so much because I disagree with it (I definitely don’t), but because it is extraordinarily sensitive to how it’s implemented. And actually, I see two parts that require some further discussion.

    First, “If I see something that’s racist”: This can be in issue because you and I might not agree on what constitutes racist. Most importantly, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt on the meaning of their words. There is a perception among some people that their words are being parsed for anything that could possibly be construed as racist even if it definitely wasn’t intended that way. I think that perception is the result of a small, but vocal, minority (among minorities). Regardless, I think it’s hard to argue that that perception is destructive. So I think it is very important to make sure it’s clear that what you’re reacting to really is something that’s racist.

    Second, “I stand up and call it out”: In what manner do you do this? If something is obviously and willfully racist, it probably doesn’t matter how strongly you react. It’s probably not going to change the position of the perpetrator. As such, I encourage you to expend your vitriol and anger on these people. But if it’s more a question of a thoughtless comment or ignorance from a basically decent person, I would suggest being careful of how you handle it. It’s definitely something that should be addressed, but if you do it in the wrong way, you’re likely to just increase their hostility toward minorities. Interesting story about a time I wound up on the right side of this particular issue entirely by accident:

    Several years ago, I decided to spend Christmas Eve at my volunteer firehouse. I brought along my DVDs of “Band of Brothers” because I wanted something to watch during the likely long hours between calls. A friend of mine who is of German descent was also spending the night at the firehouse. We ended up watching all of “Band of Brothers” while we were there. When we got to the episode in which E Company discovers a German concentration camp my usually loud and boisterous friend got very quiet. At the end he turned to me and in a subdued voice said, “Wow…I’ll never give [insert Jewish firefighter's name here] crap about how my people are supposed to kill his again.”

    As it happens, I didn’t even know that my friend had made the comments he was referring to. In hindsight, I suspect that if somebody had confronted him in an accusatory manner about them, it would have had little to no effect on him.

    The point is that my friend is basically a pretty decent person, but he simply had not been educated on the issues, and came from a background where, unfortunately, that sort of thing was fairly common. And most people (even decent people) will react negatively if they perceive themselves to be attacked. On the other hand, if you can educate them about the issue without attacking them or suggesting that they’re bad people, you might actually be able to make a difference. (Note that I’m not trying to be self-congratulatory here. The example I provide above was entirely accidental on my part, though I am happy with the outcome.)

    So yeah, what you described can be done is an extremely constructive manner or in an extremely destructive manner. And while I’m a big fan of the constructive form, the destructive form is nothing more than petty self-righteousness. (I’m not suggesting that you engage in the destructive form. Simply that your original description didn’t specify, and it’s a distinction worth making.)

  166. @195: Ken

    Just to add to the multi-racial fun, I am part of a multi-racial family and while it is your right to question every look, doesn’t that get tiresome? Maybe you forgot to wipe that little bit of toothpaste from the corner of your mouth?

    Questioning everything does help give you a measured look, but I think in the end, if you overdo it, you end up being colored negatively as a result. Innocuous looks become racist looks and while you point out that other people have the right to look at you.

    I think that’s what happens with these flame wars. People get so used to thinking that simple things could possibly mean racism, that all of sudden, simple things do mean racism, regardless of intent.

    PS. I know you weren’t serious about taking every strange look as racist and were just making a point about your right if you were so inclined. As the second part of your statements implies so nicely.

  167. Okay, now I’ve done a little reading.

    It’s a good topic. Writing about “the Other” is important. Discussions of “the Other” are important, regardless of how lines are drawn. I’m Catholic, and get annoyed on occasion at the representations of Catholics in fiction. It’s especially funny when I get submissions to the magazine that are essentially anti-Catholic screeds (either by atheists or by fundamentalists, doesn’t matter), since my Catholicism isn’t exactly a secret.

    Since humans are pattern-matching creatures, we should expect them to discriminate (as in “discriminating tastes”, not “you discriminating bastard”) among themselves for all sorts of reasons. Some groups are more intuitively identified than others because they’re defined according to physical characteristics, but even in the absence of those we still identify “others” all the time (e.g., by education, values, demeanor, or accent). The point isn’t to avoid making groups, it’s to learn how to act like reasonable people when dealing with the groups we recognize.

    From that perspective, Racefail remains a lousy discussion.

    I was going to say more, but refreshing the page mercifully lets me say “What strech said @184.”

  168. Just as an aside, Mac, it’s been my experience that anyone who thinks “the personal is political” is bullshit has never watched an immutable aspect of their personal life turned into a political bargaining chip in front of their eyes. The Proposition 8 argument in CA in specific and the same-sex marriage discussion everywhere else has taught me that yes, the personal IS political when it is unnecessarily politicized. It shouldn’t have to be, but it is. My private life is on the fucking CA Supreme Court’s docket because some assholes decided my rights should be edited out of the state Constitution. Tell me that isn’t personal AND political. I dare you.

    PS to John S – You’re better off not bothering with Mr. Jasper on a logic front. I’ve been aware of him far too long to find it worth the effort.

  169. @180 Mac –

    I don’t believe racism is a function whatsoever of who your ancestors were. This sounds too close to a free pass. (Do you believe only white people can be racist? I don’t. For very very brief starters, whites aren’t the majority everywhere, so that would mess with the “systemic” definition of racism, in, say, Japan.) I think it’s a function of believing, spreading, and acting on demonstrably false, untrue, harmful and/or overgeneralized things about a group of people who are united in having certain (arbitrary) physical characteristics as defined (at the moment) by anthropologists. Thus I’m not entirely sure how your post is meant to affect me. How one observes oneself being portrayed affects one. It’s a developmental fact. (See generations of small children still associating negative words with the darker-skinned doll in controlled tests.) You may call it political if you like, but it doesn’t improve my life any.

    One of the most interesting definitions of prejudice I’ve heard is “Skinnerian conditioning run amok.” And yes, how other people perceive you can affect how you perceive yourself – if you let it. There are two possible responses in this situation – trying to change the way that other people see you (a.k.a. the “political” way.), and trying to change the way you see yourself. The reason I brought up politics is because many of these race/gender/sexual identity movements adopted the slogan that “the personal is political,” encouraged followers to mingle their personal grievances with programs to force society to address those grievances, and created atmospheres where honest reflection wasn’t exactly encouraged. (I blame this slogan for turning American politics into bloodsport, but that’s another debate.)

    I dunno what to say to you. Do you think my statement there was rude or belittling to you personally in some way?

    No, I was confused by what you meant. So I disguised my puzzlement with humor. I do that a lot. :(

    Have you ever had someone scream upon catching you out of the corner of their eye? Been stared at and heard a kid ask “What’s that, Mommy?” or “What’s wrong with her skin, Mommy?” in a Western country? (Not that I’m blaming a little kid who hasn’t seen much of life — I’m not — but ouch!).

    I have been stared at, actually. And you’re right, being different wasn’t fun as a kid. But humans are not born knowing about this stuff. And there’s no reason to haul around that kind of baggage for the rest of your life. It’s heavy, and not at all useful. Which is where being aware and mindful of your own emotions and reactions is a useful thing, and far better for your own mental health.

    Would it be rude or belittling to you if I were to ask you to ponder my point of view a little harder?

    Not at all. But I think this is one of those arguments that resemble two college professors debating from their office windows across a street – we’re arguing from different premises. I was taught that differences were just obstacles to be overcome, not permanent divisions.

    (Not that being an android wouldn’t be fun.)

    If there’s anything I’ve learned from SciFi, it’s that there’s no such thing as a free fun.

  170. A guy who can write a novel like AGENT TO THE STARS and then post it online for free reading can’t be all bad.

    In other words, I like you.
    :)

  171. @197:

    “This type of conversation is just fundamentally unsuitable for the Internet, and clearly has been the entire time (look back at email mailing lists, Usenet, MUDs, plenty of historical antecedent). The lack of audio and visual / nonverbal cues disconnects people from the “There is another person on the other side of the screen” social tie-in, which makes people far too free to escalate discussions into unreasonable or rude attacks.”

    This is something a pro writer brought up, which I don’t think is true. There have been responses to what he said that are significantly better thought-out than what I am going to say, and I wish I could find them, but I can’t so I’ll try and address this to the best of my ability.

    In a lot of ways, I think the internet is a better place to have this conversation than in the real world. First, the kinds of things people have been saying on the internets are definitely things that have been said in real life, too. Secondly, not having to immediately identify as a POC is incredibly helpful and very empowering.

    Thirdly, people on the internets has the magical (although rarely used) ability to step away from their computer screens, take a deep breath and count to ten, think about all of the implications of what they have just said, or what the other person has said to them, and then respond. Whereas in real life, people don’t have the same luxury in a conversation. Once things get out of hand, they’re out of hand, and it takes a moderator with a Very Giant Stick to even get a word in, let alone calm down the foaming masses.

    A lot of things said in this conversation aren’t easy to process. They’re things that you read, think about for five minutes or a day or a few weeks, and then come back to. Again, in real life discussions, this is harder to accomplish. Like I said, the comments that people have made on the internet aren’t uncommon in real life. Those comments are almost inevitable in a discussion of race. These are the comments that brought on the start of the Fail, and don’t think that wouldn’t happen in real life, either. On the internet, you can ignore them, disengage, and continue to have an articulate, insightful discussion without them. When they are yelling in your face in real life, this is not so easy.

    (Sorry for spamming your post with a jillion comments, Scalzi.)

  172. Josh@187:

    I expect in about ten seconds I’ll hit refresh and see a Scalzi reply to you, but honestly, I’ve been reading this thread and I’ll speak for my part, not that it’s particularly important. I’ll assume you’re speaking for ‘some’ when you say that “the people who cope with racism on a day to day basis are not saying it’s a bad version of the debate, thy say it’s good.” I am one of “the people,” and personally, I say this particular version of the conversation is like a cheesecake that’s been shat on by an incontinent elephant; one could scrape off the feces to get to the cheesecake, or one could just give it a pass and wait for the next one out of the oven. Some people like cheesecake enough to dig for it! It just so happens that I do not–and this is going to really bad places I didn’t originally intend, not to mention I’m not sure I’m going off-base, so I’ll stop there, a few sentences too late.

    I’m all for the good parts of this conversation: the money raised, the small press, some awarenesses and new ideas brought up? Fantastic! I’ll tell you what I find is bad about this conversation, and that is the fact that so many people are so eager to shout, they’re doing very little listening. They’re doing what I think you might have done above–misreading (or not reading at all), leaping to conclusions, and then reacting–but to the Nth degree, with violent accusations, flailing, and bridge-burning stupidity. This births more reactions and overreactions and misunderstandings and stupidity–anatomy of a typical Internet drama.

    I know racism is a volatile subject, and that passions will invariably be excited. However, until I got so annoyed that I stopped reading, my uppermost thought was I wished many of “my” (in the minority “me” sense) would-be allies and advocates would stop talking.

    You know that piece of Scalzi’s about how he hates your politics? That section about liberals? It was just like that.

    The extra-special stupid on the cake was that from what I saw, up to the point I stopped paying attention, was that many of the people squabbling were actually in agreement in the fundamentals. And that people who were not in agreement, many of them, set themselves in opposition because they were placed there by people who decided they were in opposition.

    Errata–

    I will freely admit to be a Japanese racist of a milder sort, in that I was raised to think the Japanese are cooler than everybody else. Well, duh! My father had a family tree on the wall that traced our lineage all the way back to god, which he used to explain why we shouldn’t have to pay taxes. (I doubt the IRS would have been impressed.) However, I was born and raised in America in the depths of a Washington suburb and was one of three non-whites in school. A few weeks ago, my sister confessed that when she was growing up, she’d secretly wanted to be white. I thought, oh, how sad–and then remembered that I felt the same way when I was a kid.

    I look at my 5 month old son and wonder if he’ll have the same secret wish. I have hopes he won’t, because things are changing a lot, and rapidly (for a given value of ‘rapidity.’) Today, Hollywood practices yellowfacing at will. Twenty years ago, nobody batted an eye. Today, there are protests. Tomorrow, it might not even be thinkable for Hollywood to do it at all. When I was growing up, my family was one of three families of color in our school district. Today, I live in Silicon Valley where sometimes I think people of color are the majority. It’s all relative.

    Geez, I ramble. Back to the regularly scheduled program!

  173. @189

    Oh. Oh dear.

    Look, here’s my take: If I and other concerned black people react about the anti-black backlash that the passage of Proposition 8 drummed up the way that you’re reacting to this Fail (which has resulted in absolutely no legislation or anything really affecting your life much), we will never get anywhere as a society.

    (Ta-Nehisi Coates over at the Atlantic has blogged wonderfully about this from the start.)

    Yes, I was very hurt by some of it, and there are events, marches, and online conversations I avoided with a ten-foot pole because of it. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop arguing when small daily opportunities come to me for what I see as just (or maybe donating money, or maybe writing my Congressman) whenever I can. Right is right whether or not it feels nice. (And there are plenty of gay people who are NOT yelling at me. Y’know? Which incidentally is why I didn’t have to avoid any OFFline conversations. Nature of the medium…)

  174. I’m still waiting for someone to say “Scalzi likes Heinlein, and everyone knows Heinlein was a facist/Nazi/racist so therefore Scalzi must be a racist”.

    But then, sometimes I’m evil that way.

  175. Scalzi> @ 196 –

    Yes, but how does the second imply the first — i.e., that because I find a particular discussion not worthwhile, that I think any discussion is not worthwhile?

    I wasn’t making that point. But the point I was trying to make is that even if it’s not a good time or place for you to be having the discussion doesn’t mean it’s a bad discussion to look at, or that it’s particularly hard to get through it and find lots of worthwhile stuff. Oh, and that in a discussion about race, really, deferring to the people who suffer form bigotry is the polite thing, and that you were pretty dismissive of the current debate beyond not being something you felt like participating in. Claiming the debate is

    “Primarily used as cover for a bunch of people to spend quite a lot of time being shouty to be shouty and being pissy to be pissy.”

    is pretty dismissive.

    We disagree over it being right for you to be dismissive, and that unless you’re naming names, you paint the entirety of the debate in one tone.

    I don’t know what more to say about that.

  176. Minor point to Ken @ 195: You don’t know why they’re glaring, just that they are.

    The whole thing gives me a flashback to grad school, and early message board flame wars breaking out over Lacan. [shiver].

    I’m sure there’s something useful in there somewhere, but it like a group of people trying to rewrite the Magna Carta in the middle of a high school food fight: the useful stuff gets buried in overcooked mush.

    Firefox needs a plugin called “Dudgeon Squelch”. You set the level of dudgeon you’re willing to put up with, and you only see that level or below. Those of you who enjoy high dudgeon can feel free it leave it off.

  177. Josh Jasper:

    “But the point I was trying to make is that even if it’s not a good time or place for you to be having the discussion doesn’t mean it’s a bad discussion to look at, or that it’s particularly hard to get through it and find lots of worthwhile stuff.”

    While this is true in a general sense, in this particular case it’s not: This was a bad discussion, in my opinion, and what little was good about it was too diffusely embedded in what was really crappy about it to bother wading through it.

    “deferring to the people who suffer form bigotry is the polite thing”

    “Defer,” however, is not equivalent to “swap out one’s brain and opinions for someone else’s.” Also, allow me to suggest you’re making a mistake in assuming all people of color that I’ve spoken to about RaceFail09 have found it useful and worthwhile, so depending on which person of color I’m speaking with, swapping my brain out with theirs would get me back to where I started. It’s that whole “people have minds of their own” thing.

    “We disagree over it being right for you to be dismissive”

    We do, but you seem not to understand is that I don’t care what anyone else thinks about that. I have a strong suspicion that people are making a whole lot of assumption fail, among them that I’m being dismissive of the discussion because a) I haven’t read into the discussion in detail and b) my own personal position is one lacking in sympathy/agreement for the folks who are happy to point out my invisible backpack of white privilege, and the endemic issues of race in SF/F, etc. These both happen to be wrong. I’m personally satisfied I know enough about the discussion and what my own positions are in the matter that I feel competent to state an opinion, so I did. No one else gets a vote on the matter.

    I’m dismissive of the discussion as a whole not because of ignorance or lack of sympathy but because in my opinion it’s been a really shitty discussion, with people acting very badly on all sides of the discussion, and are continuing to do so, even as a few are working to make something good from it. I don’t believe in dignifying a whole mess of shit; I believe in saying it’s a shitty discussion, and asking why the discussion had to be so shitty in the first place.

  178. Hrm. As a fairly big Scalzi fan, I will admit that I was somewhat startled and disappointed to see John’s post of the other day. Startled that somebody had tried to drag him in by outing somebody else on his blog and disappointed to see what felt like the entirety of the discussion dismissed seemingly out of hand. At least that’s how it seemed to me at the time, and while I note that John has thrown in some qualifiers, the overall feeling I got was that most of the people involved were flinging spittle. (And, um, being one of the lurkers/listeners/commenters on LJ, feel that is a mischaracterisation. Perhaps not what Scalzi fully intended, but MY initial experience.)

    As you note, John, it is not the definitive discussion of race. But while it seems to emanate from some specific epicenters (Rydra_wong’s link roundup, for one), it’s actually a number of discussions about race (not just one) and some of them really have been valuable in my experience. Nojojojo, Tempest Bradford, Yoon Ha Lee, Kate Nepveu, DeepaD, and CoffeeandInk had been providing thoughtful commentary and links on privilege and discussion on how language is used to minimize. A large number of the discussions I saw were rational, calm, and thoroughly chronicled with citations and sources. (And yes, there might have been a dash of snark and more than a dash of frustration leaking in between the cracks, but where on the internet do you not find that?) I do also realise that not everybody has the same friendslists, nor the same entrance vectors, and their experiences may differ. Having said that, I did think the overall conversation was worth having, and I’ve deliberately looking for those conversations in the noise. In the bigger world, race sometimes gets drowned out in the static too, but if the conversation is important, I’m going to try and participate where I can.

    I had already been following some of these discussions from prior go-rounds (Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis, Open Source Boobs, and William Saunders, respectively) and these discussions about race and who feels welcome in the SF/F/Media Fandom communities has been going on a long time. They aren’t One Definitive Discussion, but they are part of a larger struggle towards Figuring Stuff Out. A lot of people thinking out loud. A lot of people with a vast array of experiences attempting to squeeze their personal message out.

    I know some folks involved in the discussion were decrying a tendancy to what they saw as “me-too-ism” when somebody would pop up with yet another post about what they’d learned from this, or how cultural appropriation is bad, mmmkay. This is understandable, but again, it’s symptomatic of thinking that there is just one discussion. For every person who is posting about race, there is a unique set of people they are posting to, a completely different friends list. When I post about race (or sexism/gay rights/etc) on my journal, I’m not just posting it to dogpile in, but because I want my family in Utah and my friends across the world to know where I stand. I want my Hispanic friends in Sandy Eggo to realize that I don’t want to minimize them, and I’m sorry if I have. I want my black friend in Chicago to realize I have been listening to what she says about her experiences. I want my GLBT friends to be aware that I’m writing better characters because of what they’ve shared with me.

    (As a side note, for people just becoming aware of the situation, in most of the posts I’ve followed, including the Rydra_Wong link roundups, VERY FEW mentions of Scalzi were made prior to this. A few folks wondered why he–and other pro authors–hadn’t weighed in, given that various professional editors were involving themselves, but I don’t recall anyone saying, I’m going to go give Scalzi a piece of my mind. Since that time, folks like Justine Larbalestier, Elizabeth Moon, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Naomi Novik, etc. have weighed in with a variety of opinions. The current irateness/bafflement/disappointment/insert-your-reaction-here seems to be mostly due to what a lot of people perceived as a dismissal of their efforts to discuss an issue. The previous iterations of this discussion have not been about Scalzi. And hopefully, will continue to not be about Scalzi. As some folks have noted upthread, people are doing stuff to raise awareness and change. Verb Noire just raised a buncha money and has released their submission guidelines. Various blogging carnivals are being held.)

    I am sorry that somebody attempted to hijack the Whatever in the manner they did. That stuff is also uncool. I will continue to disagree with you (politely, I hope) over the characterisation of the discussions in progress. (For other readers, look up some of the names I’ve mentioned, and check out their stuff. As I’ve said, I found it valuable.)

  179. As an LJ person currently watching this explode on my friendslist, thank you.

    Normally this sort of thing is called a “wank” in LJ circles. But apparently the topic is too important for that term to apply. The current approved term (you’ll love this): imbroglio.

  180. @204 Blue Raven — WHAT YOU SAID THAR.

    @ 205. You’re being analytical about injustice, which is, hmm, a brave stance. ;-) I will try to rein in my emotion in the following:

    Are you sure you weren’t being stared at because you are adorable? (This was a misperception a couple of my Japanese ESL students had back in the day when I taught ESL, being unused to our forwardness, and also being pretty goddamn hot.) There is a difference between being stared at for being striking and being stared at because you are perceived as a negative entity. Nor was this confined to my childhood. In fact, I spent my childhood in a fairly minority-ful place, Hispanic, Caribbean, Indian, et cetera. I’m talking about being followed around in stores (and learning that a certain babies’-clothing store has made such profiling their policy). I’m talking about, for example, last week and people clutching their wallets to their bosom. Or the time the police came to my house in broad daylight because someone reported me “breaking into” my own home. Or the cop that pulled a gun on my dad for speeding when we were on our way home from a wedding.

    Which can be expanded, actually — in a larger sense, I’m talking about, say, Joss Whedon — whom I adore — scripting jokes about the “unprofessional” and “funny” and “terrifying” nature of natural African hair into his shows, or Hill Street Blues teaching a preponderance of my agemates that Perp Equals Black, or more recently the universally acclaimed film “Traffic” teaching the world that the correct symbol for the lowest point in a young white girl’s life — lower than drug abuse — is sex with a black man — just to begin with. Our media teaches our society these things, and these things are absorbed, and zaftiq white women internalize the idea that my skinny, bookish, drug-free, bespectacled, girly behind is threatening and has nothing better to do than steal their stuff.

    If you were stared at as a kid for negative reasons, I’m sorry, and I hope that it helps you to empathize with my entire thirty-plus-years of life in this country.

    (The android crack was my attempt at diffusing my own upset with some humor. I’d actually prefer to be a chameleon.)

  181. Josh @ 187: “Elizabeth Bear did something really dumb (she admits it was dumb) in pretending to take the original critique with good grace. She copped to doing so just because she wanted to “take one for the team”. She then tried to tell everyone who was talking about race that the wise thing to do was to shut up, and if they were good, she might deign to have a conversation at Wiscon.”

    Ummm… Yeah. In retrospect, it was a dumb mistake. Because when I read Bear’s second post, back when it was made, I wanted to comment on the critic’s blog, “errrr, you do know that the character in question is not actually a black man but is a mythical being known as a Kelpie, right?” (I didn’t though, just in case someone else did.) ‘Cause a Kelpie — which is to say, a supernatural water horse from Celtic folklore that is believed to haunt rivers and lochs — *is* traditionally black. But not, you know, human. And one of the things I like about Bear’s work is the way she takes Celtic or Norse myth and plays with it.

    And I thought Bear was pretty cool to say, ok, let’s talk about how this plays out if you think this character was supposed to be a black man and and this book was about race. Because if you’re not familiar with Fairie, you might not understand where she’s coming from and so yeah, let’s talk about that. Only the conversation got away from her and descended into fail and maybe even Epic Fail and I seem to recall a post or maybe set of comments where Bear even said that WS and others were being asses about it.

    And (again mostly following this on Bear’s blog) my impression when she said, ‘let’s not talk about this until maybe WisCon’ was that she was asking if everyone could please just take a step back and take a deep breath. That her hope was that if things could lay fallow for a few months, folks could begin to discuss the topic of racism in SF/F with less fail.

    But hey, as we say up here in the Motor City, YMMV (Your Maya May Vary).

  182. Pixelfish:

    “I will continue to disagree with you (politely, I hope) over the characterisation of the discussions in progress.”

    I don’t expect people to agree with me all the time in this or any other subject, and you’ve always been a great part of Whatever. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong any time you feel like it.

  183. @219: Kelpies are black or white depending on what source you use. (One of the useful things I’ve learned.)

  184. Somehow, because this debate is on a VIT, a sensitive issue, Scalzi is not allowed to not want to talk about it?

    I am boggled by the ferocity with which the RaceFail crowd (because let’s face it, it’s beginning to look like there’s a group of people, on both sides of the fence, who find their roles in this online wordwar a goal in itself) believes that their debate is of supreme importance, high standards, and no one should be allowed to say or write anything else.

    People write damning reviews of Scalzi’s work from time to time, I’m sure; and freedom of speech grants them the right to do so in whatever terms they want. Similarly, if Scalzi feels the LJ debate is not worth getting into for signal-to-noise and other reasons, that is his every right.

    Also, because he posted it on his blog, which draws an audience many times the size of the traffic of all the other blogs involved, he has actually given the debate (more than?) its due share of attention, if you ask me.

    My opinion? A little realism would not be amiss here. We’re SFF fanboys discussing SF books; niche literature at best. Ask anyone in a ghetto what bothers them most and I’m sure they’ll come up with the heroes in SF not being PoC… right?

  185. Ask anyone in a ghetto what bothers them most and I’m sure they’ll come up with the heroes in SF not being PoC… right?

    The first thing I think of when I hear ghetto is “poor”. This is about racism, not classism.

  186. David:

    “Also, because he posted it on his blog, which draws an audience many times the size of the traffic of all the other blogs involved, he has actually given the debate (more than?) its due share of attention, if you ask me.”

    It’s possible, the stats show a fair amount of outflow to the links here. And LJ/SF internet community is fairly hermetic, so some new folks may have been exposed to the discussion, for good and ill.

    It’s also an interesting bit of perspective that while the LJ links to Whatever today and yesterday have sent a fair amount of traffic, a single link from Instapundit (regarding my Watchmen mini review) has sent in ten times as many readers today as all the LJ links put together.

    This is to say RaceFail09 is a significant discussion, in a somewhat small arena.

  187. Is it possible for me to agree with Scalzi and Josh Jasper?

    The nasty thing about RaceFail, it seems to me, is that a lot of SF pros said patronising as hell things in relation to non-white readers’ interpretation of various texts. Specifically – you can’t interpret this text as well, and as correctly, as I can from my privileged multi-degreed perspective (despite the fact that several of said readers were MORE qualified than said pros). Sounds very much like Anne Rice-level “you’re interrogating the text from the wrong perspective.” To their credit, most of these pros have subsequently apologised.

    Then later on, other (white) SF pros made threats of defamation suits, compromised people who clearly wanted to stay anonymous, and said things that could be interpreted as “you’ll never work in this town again.” None of these people have really apologised.

    So there was a stream of nasty statements, underlied by some fairly racist assumptions, coming from the SF pro community. And there was, for quite a while, general silence from other pros – quite possibly because they’d not heard of the shitstorm, but silence nonetheless. Which makes it understandable, to me, why people would be pissed off with Scalzi’s initial reaction – another pro sf author that doesn’t care when his colleagues act racist. Another white pro telling everyone else the value of their discussion.

    SAYING THAT, its not really a fair characterisation of the post. A lot of posts by non-white fans (and white supporters) have said “you can’t dismiss an argument because its angry, people who’ve suffered from racism for years have a right to be angry.” Well, yes. But doesn’t Scalzi have a right to be angry, and make an angry post, about someone trying to draw him into a fight that isn’t his? The outing wasn’t about the race debate per se, it was one particular editor and one particular author being vindictive. If that’s the point at which you’re being forced into the debate

    Can I finally say that I found a fair bit of useful stuff in the various posts that were interesting in calling me up on the things I take for granted as a whitey, and also had me nodding along at similar (though certainly not identical) experiences I’ve has as a gay guy.

    Saying that, a lot of people who were trying to engage, but refused to use the Approved Terminology (the phrase “white ally” creeps me the f**k out), were dismissed with the magical phrase “white privilege, white privilege, white privilege.” And/or “white women’s tears,” which is to me incredibly b*tchy, dismissive and overrides any arguments that people are making with sarcastic invective.

  188. Gah, missing end of sentence:

    “If that’s the point at which you’re being forced into the debate, is it any wonder you think it’s a pile of crap?”

    Also, the ‘anti-racist’ side is now so ready to assume bad faith on the part of others, it’s a bit scary [see: ann sommerville's response to Scalzi squashing an outing - it's all a Tor's based conspiracy!!!!1111ONE SCALZIFAIL!!!]

  189. Yeah, about that fail.

    John, I think you are both right and wrong. It depends on which part of the racefail you read – the first 2000 to 5000 words were pretty intelligible, sensible, and insightful.

    On the other hand, Elizabeth Bear’s first post, with comments, albeit not fully expanded clocks in at 13,724 words. Bear’s second post is up to 17,758.

    If you think reading the comments is important (I do!) then Bear’s original post, Avalon’s criticism, Bear’s response post, and lets, say, Avalon’s timeline for good measure, and you’re already up to 35,000-37,000. That’s a novella, right there. I can understand why someone might have to draw the line somewhere about how many pages of this argument they needed to read.

  190. The first thing I think of when I hear ghetto is “poor”. This is about racism, not classism.

    Why do I bother rinsing the blood and scalp fragments off the Whacking Wall? The first thing some of us think of when we hear ghetto is the historical phenomena of Jews being forced to live in certain areas because of legal coercion not necessarily poverty. And as a gay man, I also think of heavily gay/lesbian neighbourhoods most poor people couldn’t afford to walk through, let alone live in.

  191. Shawn @225: Note that the racial (or ethnic) meaning of “ghetto” is much older. Historically, the word referred to the part of a European city that was reserved for Jews — i.e. in which Jews were compelled to live.

  192. The first thing I think of when I hear ghetto is “poor”. This is about racism, not classism.

    Don’t bogart the oppression, man.

  193. Shawn Struck #225: Well, yes. Poor, and statistically, racial minority. All the ghettos I’ve seen in Europe, Asia and the US, have been inhabited by almost (but not entirely) exclusively minority/colored people. Of course, I don’t have statistics lying around to back this up.

    John Scalzi #226: “a significant discussion, in a somewhat small arena” — well said. Also, one might add, “in a somewhat small and very supremely fractured arena”. Piecing together who said what on the fleeting waves of the interwebs is by no means simple.

    I am amazed how the debate – carried on as it has been on a dozen LJ blogs of varying “sizes”, in comment threads that have (f)locked, deleted, post-edited, and possible other even less enduring media – has been able to gather this much momentum. Momentum in the sense that people have given it a name; have started putting up indexes and wikis and whatnot.

    There seems to be something profound in this whole event; an evolution of the web undergoing growing pains as we try to make sense of the multitude of social sites and the intense but at the same time impersonal communication they enable and perhaps even stimulate. I suppose if I was a better writer I would turn it into a stunning short. For the moment I am left with the feeling that this kind of self-organizing web discussion might be a phenomenon worth watching itself – regardless of the Topic this particular one was (is) about.


    For the record: I am neither poor nor colored, well aware how fortunate I am to have a very nice job, to be in good health, and face very little obstacles, and certainly no racism, sexism, or other bigotry in my life.

  194. John, your “The Internets Hate Scalzi” was enough for me to track down the discussion. From what I read, your reaction to what happened was entirely correct. I would have done _exactly_ the same thing if someone had tried to abuse my blog in that way.

    As Charles Stross keeps pointing out, a blog is the author’s, it definitely does not belong to the person making the comment. If they want to comment about something you write, they are entirely free to write it on their own corner of the internet.

  195. Josh Jasper @ 140

    Jeez, that was condescending. Like I look to Scalzi for that much of guidance? He’s smart, he’s a sharp writer, but give me a break.

  196. Eddie Clark @227:
    The nasty thing about RaceFail, it seems to me, is that a lot of SF pros said patronising as hell things in relation to non-white readers’ interpretation of various texts.

    I reply:
    Perhaps those “non-white readers” need to ask themselves what the fuck kind of reaction they expect when they engage in patronising as hell efforts to school the stupid white folks on what they’re really thinking, and why they should really stop LYING to cover up their obvious racism.

    I don’t think you have to be a “SF pro” to resent the fuck out of complete strangers presuming to have magical access to you mind, or being called a liar.

  197. I apologize, Todd. I did not intend to imply that you or anyone here blindly accept whatever he says. That was clumsy. I’ll try better.

  198. Well, I’m glad my sleep-deprived first guess at the topic drawing Scalzi ire was wrong. ‘Cause I was worried it might have something to do with the Scans Daily imbroglio somehow.

    Although I was curious how you might have figured in, were that the case.

  199. AT LAST!! SCALZI, IT’S CLEAR YOU ARE ADEPT IN YOUR INTUITIONS, AND CLEAR IN YOUR LOGIC. NOT TO MENTION CONCISE AND IMAGINATIVE IN YOUR USE OF LANGUAGE. WHAT A REFRESHING MOMENT TO COME ACROSS YOUR USE OF THE WORD “COMMENTERS”, RATHER THAN “COMMENTATORS”, WHICH IS SIMPLY AN ORDINARY SPUD. I HAPPEN TO SPELL IT “COMMENTORS”, BUT NO MATTER. YOU DA MAN.

  200. Just as an FYI, my default position on teh interwebz is this:
    1) Assume every argument is being made in good faith — even the dumb ones.

    2) Leave the psychoanalysis to qualified professionals.

    3) When you call someone a racist liar, you shouldn’t expect flowers and a thank you note.

  201. @236 There was enough patronizing to go round. Some of it was even apologized for in open forum. =/

  202. I’m still trying to understand this “white privilege” thing that keeps getting tossed around. I keep getting the feeling it means I’m inherently wrong no matter what I do, especially if that’s “shut up, and stay out of it.” I’m afraid to even google it.

  203. WOW that’s a lot of text to read to get me up to speed on this whole RaceFail thing. Rather than get worked up about it and throw my hat in the ring (my poor hat would be so confused because it doesn’t even seem like there are sides to this argument, just a lot of arguing), I’m just gonna leave it at this: I thought SciFi was supposed to be about transcending race barriers! Not fighting about them!

  204. 250 comments in a few hours about a topic we can’t even talk about? All I can say is:

    Let that be your last battlefield.

  205. Eddie Clark:

    “see: ann sommerville’s response to Scalzi squashing an outing – it’s all a Tor’s based conspiracy!!!!1111ONE SCALZIFAIL!!!”

    Ms. Sommerville’s righteous indignation (as well as that of her commenters) has been delightful to read, to be sure.

    However, to set the record straight, there is no Tor conspiracy, even though THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT WE WOULD SAY ABOUT IT. I’ve talked to PNH about RaceFail09 once and all other related Tor folks not at all.

    Greg London:

    Better than that: 250 comments without derail.

  206. Richard: If you would like to understand more about “white privilege”, I would suggest googling Peggy McIntosh’s essay, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. (Succinctly, and I may be getting this wrong, you can’t stop being white, and you can’t stop benefiting however unconciously about the assumptions other people will make about you because you are white. This is not your fault, but you may be benefiting from the institutionalised power structures. Think traffic stops, assumptions about family structures, assumptions about education level, and a number of wide-ranging situations. What you CAN do, is choose how you react when you realise you are in a situation when you can level the playing field a little.)

    If you are afraid of something, sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich may not necessarily alleviate that fear.

  207. Richard@242:

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t! I have no idea which permutation of ‘white privilege’ is being knocked around in RaceFail at the moment. All of them, I expect. So many flavors!

    Am reminded of that anecdote about (I think) Peter Ustinov, entering the US for the first time. Asked on his entry forms what color he was, and never having encountered the question before, he conscientiously wrote down “pink”–and was subsequently held for hours on the suspicion he was a communist.

    Possibly apocryphal, but still funny.

  208. Richard: To grossly oversimplify, I always looked at it (enviously) as getting to be a blank slate. There are essays on it though.

  209. Richard, 242,
    # Richardon 10 Mar 2009 at 4:23 pm

    I’m still trying to understand this “white privilege” thing that keeps getting tossed around.

    Dude, it’s okay. White privilege is not your fault, and it’s not an accusation. It’s just one of those things: if you were born white, you get to not have certain bad things happen to you.

    Have you ever been pulled over for driving while white? Nope. That’s a privilege. Howabout, have you ever prayed that you skin was another color? Probably not. That would be a privilege too. Are most books and movies about heroic people who look like you? That’s a nice privilege. There’s nothing to feel guilty of, it’s just that the world is stacked against people who aren’t like you.

  210. Through all of the blogs though, I have yet to find anyone who supported racism or discrimination or any other inappropriate behavior. So I don’t even understand why it has evolved into a two-sided debate. Racism – bad. Equality – good. Sounds like we are really on the same page.

    I think that is why it is hard to have a decent reasonable discussion about it, because people are nitpicking on words and phrases and dismissing intent and context. And if you don’t subscribe to their Dictionary and their rulebook, then you have “failed” and you don’t get to play with them.

    I find their whole Bush-mentality of “you are either with us or against us” to be very entertaining.

  211. pio @229: This entry alone (through comment #244) is 30,234 words, equivalent to a novella. The sum of all the words written in RaceFail ’09, including comments (scattered across dozens of blogs and LJs over a couple of months) must well into the millions by now. And Sturgeon’s Law no doubt applies.

  212. Craig @ 236/240:

    More used to arguing with/occasionally agreeing with you about NZ politics, but happy to argue/agree with here, too :P. I disagree that the everyone was trying to tell authors what they Really Think and are Really Racist, though some were. I agree that good faith should be assumed, and when it isn’t, the entire point of debate is mostly lost.

    Scalzi @ 245:

    But Tor’s symbol is a mountain. And Tor means hill in some celtic languages. So its clearly a Welsh Conspiracy To Be Mean To Everyone!!!

    [I'm disappointed there is no conspiracy. That would be much more fun]

    Richard @ 242:

    The easiest example of white privilege I can outline is this, and although it’s not an uncommon experience, I’ll personalise it.

    White privilege is, among other things, walking into an expensive [jewelwer, clothing store, hell, even a nice AV store] store with your coloured friend who earns more money than you, and having the shop assistant talk ONLY TO YOU and ignore your friends, because you’re white and are assumed to be the one with the money to buy expensive things. Or, as a teenager, noticing shop assistants watch your coloured friends Very Closely to see that they don’t shoplift, while ignoring you.

    White privilege isn’t the fault of the current generation of whiteys, but we do all benefit from it. I don’t think we should be asked to be guilty about it, but we sure as hell should be aware of the things we don’t have to put up with cos we’re white. [similar statements apply to male/straight etc privilege - its not your fault, but you should be aware that its a hell of a lot easier being the default setting than something different]

  213. Have you ever been pulled over for driving while white?

    Does walking while white count? Several years ago, several friends and I got what I guess would be the walking version of pulled over while checking out some houses and buildings in a high-crime area of Baltimore. We were there because one of my friends was interested in buying a house there. But it seems that the majority of white people who wander that neighborhood are up to no good. I guess you could call that racial profiling, though I didn’t really think of it that way at the time.

    Both officers (one white and one black) were polite and perfectly friendly after we explained why we were there. They also pointed out that we should be careful given the crime rates in that particular neighborhood.

  214. Scalzi @ 245: Better than that: 250 comments without derail.

    There’s been derail, to be fair. But your blog post is a microcosmic (and moderated) version of the LJ discussion of racism in SF/F, so naturally the derail is [1] limited to only a few commenters, though they may be recurring, and [2] comparatively smaller than on LJ. But as it is a smaller discussion involving less people, that makes perfect sense.

  215. Through all of the blogs though, I have yet to find anyone who supported racism or discrimination or any other inappropriate behavior. So I don’t even understand why it has evolved into a two-sided debate.

    Sectarianism. It’s like the old joke:

    A man is walking along a bridge when he looks up and sees another man poised to jump to his death.

    The first man runs up to the jumper and yells, “Wait! Wait! Don’t Jump. It can’t be all that bad. The world is a wonderful place. Besides, killing yourself is a sin, are you a christian?”

    The jumper looks at him and says, “Yes.”

    The guy goes, “Me too! Protestant or catholic?”

    “Protestant,” the jumper says.

    “Me too! Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran?”

    “Lutheran.”

    “Me too! Lutheran standard or Lutheran reformation?”

    “Reformation,” says the jumper.

    “ME TOO! Reformation of 1869 or Reformation of 1757?”

    “1757.”

    And the man pushes the jumper off the side of the bridge, yelling, “DIE, YOU HEATHEN SCUM!”

  216. This may be unique to my experience, but my perception is that a variation of white privilege is extended to Asians in certain quarters because of the whole “model minority” thing.

    It may be specific to region and environment–and God knows we’re under-represented in US media and frequently yellowfaced in Hollywood (Last Airbender, anyone?) to the extent that it’s a huge deal in my family when an Asian shows up on the TV. “Asian on TV! Asian on TV! Everyone, come quick!”–but we certainly do get better treatment than other minorities in many scenarios.

    And before anybody unfamiliar with the phrase comes smashing down on me as making racist comments about other minorities, despite what it sounds like superficially, the model minority stamp is not actually a good thing.

  217. @249 That’s a good way of summarizing something most people don’t like to acknowledge.

    I remember telling my 6th grade history teacher that white men were evil after learning about the smallpox in the blankets, Native American relocation, and African slavery in the South. He laughed and asked me what that made me (implying that if I were male, I would be a white man). I didn’t have an answer for him then, but I suppose the correct word for it would have been “indignant!”

  218. smaur@260:

    Interesting list, though the writer seems to be mixing up ‘rich’ and ‘white,’ as well as giving some curious insight about the assumptions she makes herself about other people based on race.

    I have to say, I liked pio’s definition better!

  219. OK, now I’m curious…

    (googling)

    (jaw drop)

    Are you fucking kidding me???

    Alright, that’s it. I’m handing out virtual umbrellas to any who want one.

  220. I agree with perhaps 50% of the descriptions of the existence and nature of “white privilege.”

    Where I tend to diverge is where it is used not descriptively, but as a sort of trump-card rhetorical technique. Among some, “white privilege” is a sort of ad hominem/magic pixie dust argument allowing its user to discount opposing views without engaging them substantively. Because it’s premised on an entire group of people inherently not recognizing or understanding things, it’s very easy to use dismissively.

  221. Yuhri – Several of the people on the list of links I put out are Asian (Indian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, off the top of my head). There’s Deepad, who wrote the I didn’t dream of dragons post. You might find it interesting.

  222. @ Yuhri

    Heh. I’ve had my share of jealousy over both Asian (East and South) and Jewish stereotypes. But I’m older now, and have learned more and seen some of the bad flipside (for example, people expect nice things of Asians, but…like two point five visible Asians in the the history of American TV is not cool. And “Do you speak English?” has got to get really frakking old).

    Airbender Fail is Big Damn Fail indeed. Oh, I won’t start.

  223. So, where should I ask to get back the time I wasted in the last three days trying to make some sense of this whole stinking and steaming pile of shit who passes as “the RaceFail”?

    Seriously, to think of all the energy wasted in this thing… to everybody who participated in it and still think that it was useful: you FAIL. You fail HARD. Give me my time back, NOW.

  224. I popped over here to poke around your archives, because I could swear I read something from you a while back about the lack of gay male characters in science fiction. (There are tons of lesbians, and plenty of gay men if you broaden the category to “speculative fiction as a whole,” but I’ve only come up with 2.5 gay male characters. 1/2 point for the Doctor, who isn’t actually human, so I’m not sure if that actually counts.)

    I couldn’t find what I remembered (which means it probably doesn’t exist, and I shouldn’t have eaten so much ground beef because obviously my brain has gone spongiform). So I was going to ask if you had any pontificating you’d like to share with the masses. But… having noted this thread, it… err… it looks like maybe now is just not the time.

    Maybe once the internet has solved The Race Thing, we can all discuss The Gay Thing? (I shouldn’t joke. Tensions are obviously running high with this. Apologies for not being able to treat the world-wide publishing industry flamewar with the level of gravity it probably deserves.)

  225. Giacomo:

    Well thats a useful contribution, thanks. I agree there was high signal to noise ratio, but if you got NOTHING out of 3 days of reading, either you made a very unfortunate selection of links, or you didn’t want to get anything useful out of it.

  226. Seems to me that the likely result of this brouhaha is for fewer non-white characters to get written. Were I Elizabeth Bear, I’d certainly never touch a non-white character with a ten foot pole again.

    That’s sad. It seems to me that the energy ought to be directed at those without good intent first.

  227. I agree there was high signal to noise ratio

    The former Electrical Engineer in me is screaming, “it’s a *low* signal-to-noise! Not much signal, mostly noise!”

    Sorry. Back to your regularly scheduled pogrom…er, program.

  228. Steve:

    I agree that the level of criticism here has been very (probably unreasonably) high, but as a general point, I don’t think it’s fair to say “I might get criticised for writing minorities so I’ll never write minorities.”

    By the very act of publishing a book, you open your text up to criticism. This includes everything from writing style to plotting to, yes, representation of minorities. And your intentions don’t necessarily translate into how others read your text. Bear herself said her goal was to “fail better” when trying to write minorities – you can’t improve if people won’t comment.

  229. Following Pio in @249 and Cory McCarty in @255 –

    Yes, I’ve been pulled over for driving while white.

    About 9 months ago, on Willow Road in East Menlo Park (right next to East Palo Alto), headed out to the Dumbarton bridge late at night.

    There are basically 3 routes from 101 in Palo Alto / Menlo Park out to the bridge – University (by far the slowest but most popular), Willow (slightly longer but much faster, however more dangerous part of town to the point they built a bullet wall between the road and the housing to one side), and Bayfront Expressway, which is 2 miles further up 101, but only a 1 block cutover to the expressway by the salt ponds and has only industrial property on the inland side.

    White folk on Willow the wrong time of night is apparently a tipoff for crack cocaine or crystal meth purchases. Officer gave me a thorough lookover and a ticket for the cracked windshield.

    I take Bayfront Expressway now. Nobody out there, so there’s no ambiguity. Also, it has four stoplights on a 50 and 55 rated expressway… How often do you get the chance to legally do 0-to-50 or 0-to-55 as flat out as you want short of reckless driving, on a public road?

  230. @ Scalzi 271 — From some of the feedback I’ve seen, I almost think the 10-year-olds are the ones recognizing it first, or at least, most keenly.

    @ Erika 270 — Are you confining yourself to the visual media?

  231. 273, Steve Burnapon
    Seems to me that the likely result of this brouhaha is for fewer non-white characters to get written. Were I Elizabeth Bear, I’d certainly never touch a non-white character with a ten foot pole again.

    Uh, yeah, this is where the racefail discussion actually gets inside this thread.

    We used to have two choices: write about white people we know and ignore everybody else OR write about people you know little of.

    We don’t have those two choices anymore. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. Now we can either give up in despair, and never write about people who aren’t like us, or we can try and fail to include people who aren’t like us.

    I know which I’d rather try. I would rather fail, and fail trying, than give up and despair. Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.

    Oh, and that sense that you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t? That’s a tiny, tiny, taste of what it’s like to be the Other.

  232. Just one quick thing:

    Scalzi, I think you came into RaceFail at a point at which it had irretrievably devolved. Undoubtedly that has framed your opinion of the discussion as a whole.

    I came into it late, too, but I wanted to learn more, so I read the first dozen or so posts. And then I stopped, because at that point, it was spinning in more circles than the entire cast of Stars on Ice.

    Taking it entirely on its own, the early discussion WAS substantive and valuable. A lot of extremely good points were made, and good issues raised, and I think a lot of people learned things.

    And it’s a damned shame that the subsequent “how dare you call me a racist” shitstorm drowned all that out, to the point where even smart folks like yourself can’t find the signal in the static.

    I encourage you to not throw out the baby with the bathwater on this one. There’s a LOT of nasty bathwater, yes, but the particular baby in this case really is important, and not just for the meta issues raised.

  233. Another practical example of privilege in action:

    I’m about to go looking for renter’s insurance, having let my old policy lapse. Stats say that I as a white male can expect better terms than a black man with my same situation, and in turn both of us better than a black woman ditto. I can’t control that, either – there’s nothing I can say to compel a more race- and gender-neutral appraisal from insurance agents. This is not an advantage I seek, nor is it one I can give up. To deal with it, I have to do things like lobby for standards of practice to compensate for it and enforcement to make those standards stick.

  234. @277 George: The point being, it’s pretty easy for you to avoid being pulled over for Driving While White–you just go a couple miles down the road. Doesn’t quite work that way for people of color, sadly. White privilege doesn’t mean that bad things never happen to you because of your race, just that it’s much less common (in large part due to being much easier to avoid), and typically startling.

  235. Tal:

    “Scalzi, I think you came into RaceFail at a point at which it had irretrievably devolved. Undoubtedly that has framed your opinion of the discussion as a whole.”

    This is entirely possible, actually, since I became aware of it after folks started going after eBear, and caught up with it from there.

    “I encourage you to not throw out the baby with the bathwater on this one.”

    If the baby in this case is discussing race, etc in SF/F, it’s securely out of the bathwater.

  236. @279 pio:

    “Oh, and that sense that you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t? That’s a tiny, tiny, taste of what it’s like to be the Other.”

    Yeah, my general reaction to complaints of “but I can’t win, that’s not fair!” is “so? who said life is fair?” I’m white and male, with some other non-privileged characteristics, and I figure if the worst thing that happens to me in this messed-up world is that there are some areas of life where I get criticized by default, I’m getting off really easy compared to the statistical majority of people in the world.

  237. Josh@267: I read Deepad’s post when it was originally posted and thought it was brilliant, moving, and put into words a lot of stuff I felt but never was able to articulate. It was one of those, “Aha!” things. And then I blinked and everything went kaploot.

    Model minority conditioning, among other things, means that you don’t talk about that. I’m American-born and -raised, and a small part of me still lectures the rest of me about how I’m a guest in the country so I should shut up and be grateful and continue to prove our racial value to the US, be good and not make waves. It’s a cultural relic, from the courageous–and amazingly forgiving–American-born volunteers out of relocation camps to modern-day hate mail from Asians that say Margaret Cho tarnishes the Asian-American image.

    …I swear, sometimes we are our own worst enemy. I am going off track.

    MY POINT, before I distracted myself with my own mouth, is that it’s fantastic and admirable that Asians are breaking out of that mold to actually speak up for themselves. Ourselves. Uh. Us-ness. Right!

    I still think the wank is fail, though.

    Scalzi@271:

    I HAVE A QUESTION. I was going to ask it in the other thread, but since this is on-subject here (if you squint with one eye and close the other) — you have insight in the movie industry! Am I right in thinking that no company like Paramount would risk that kind of money on Last Airbender without doing due diligence about what would and wouldn’t sell in terms of casting, racially speaking? Or is there real merit to their, “We hired the best actors for the roles without reference to race” claim?

    …and if that’s too off-topic, I’ll apologize meekly and bend over for my spanking.

  238. “but I can’t win, that’s not fair!” is “so? who said life is fair?”

    An appeal for fairness (equality) defended in part on “life isn”t fair”?

    This doesn’t even matter if you’re talking about racial equality, sexual equality, class equality, political equality, age equality, or any other form of social justice. If you are campaigning for fairness, and in the course of events propagate an unfairness, and rather than say yeah that wasn’t fair, if you instead say “suck it up, we had to suck up unfairness for the last (insert large arbitrary number) years, so you should be able to take some unfairness yoruself”, then yeah, this conversation deserves to be locked right the fuck down.

  239. Eddy Clark: if you got NOTHING out of 3 days of reading, either you made a very unfortunate selection of links, or you didn’t want to get anything useful out of it.

    What I’ve got is a fucking annoying irritation: discuss what the hell you want but try to leave out of your fucking condescending generalization about the “White Privilege in the Western Civilization” me, my family, my country and my continent.

    White privilege my ass: I’m white, European, and the descendant of countless generations of downtrodden peasants and sharecroppers, who kept dying of pellagra until the beginning of the 20th century. Four of my greatgrandmother’s brothers and sisters died before they were five, my grandfather was the first factory worker, in the end he died of fucking silicosis just after retirement but he made enough money that his third son, my father, could attend and graduate from high school, the first of the family, in 1967 (yes, 1967). I’ll spare you the story of the rest of my family: they weren’t more privileged than this. We were all fucking white Italians in this country, up to the end of the ’80s, and even now in the ghettos you find the POOR, Italians or foreigners alike.

    You want to end racism? Start with eliminating classism, in the old Socialist and Social Democratic tradition.

  240. Yuhri:

    “Am I right in thinking that no company like Paramount would risk that kind of money on Last Airbender without doing due diligence about what would and wouldn’t sell in terms of casting, racially speaking?”

    Clearly, I can’t speak authoritatively, because I’m not a Paramount/Nickelodeon exec. But would be surprised if they did a focus group or anything on it, because that’s the sort of thing that leaks and makes you look bad. I think it’s more to the point that the execs at Paramount/Nick didn’t intend to spend $80 million (or whatever) to make a movie that had a bunch of Asian kids in the lead. They would assume it would never go over.

    Giacomo:

    Turn the heat down just a bit, please. Among other things, it’s not immediately obvious you’re not an American and that you’re coming in from another place, geographically and culturally.

  241. “Oh, and that sense that you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t? That’s a tiny, tiny, taste of what it’s like to be the Other.”

    Yeah, my general reaction to complaints of “but I can’t win, that’s not fair!” is “so? who said life is fair?” I’m white and male, with some other non-privileged characteristics, and I figure if the worst thing that happens to me in this messed-up world is that there are some areas of life where I get criticized by default, I’m getting off really easy compared to the statistical majority of people in the world.

    @285 Mark K. @279 pio

    While I think you may both be right, the damned if you do damned if you don’t thing when “white privilege” is talked about is also racism and just because it’s a “little taste” that doesn’t make it right. Nor is using “white privilege” or anger at racism as an excuse for anyone’s actions correct. Even if you’re angry, that doesn’t mean you can’t be civil or logical. Nor does it mean anyone has to give dismissive arguments like that any time.

  242. Giacomo:

    Spell my name right and I’m more likely to listen to you (he said, smiling passive aggressively).

    You story is nice, and I’ll resist the temptation to play downtrodden working class background with you – given that, despite the fact that generations going back on my mother’s side WERE just that, I’m firmly middle class and have had to deal with very little prejudice personally other than through being a fag.

    I’ll leave it at: white privilege exists. Its not original sin, its not a moral failing on your part, but it does exist. And it cannot be conflated with class distinctions.

  243. Scalzi – posted before your interjection appeared. Apologies if I failed to dial back the heat in the meantime – leave it to you to judge if you want to delete/redact my comment @ 291.

  244. If the baby in this case is discussing race, etc in SF/F, it’s securely out of the bathwater.

    Sadly, that’s not the baby I meant. And I think that baby is very well protected among most thinking people.

    The baby in this particular case is important on its own, and it comes down to one thing:

    Some white writers, editors and other publishing pros and their white supporters reacted to criticism of how they handled race and race issues by acting as if someone had accused them of poisoning drinking fountains at a grade school. Instead of doing the smart and simple thing of saying, “Oh, hey, I’m sorry for being ignorant on this, thanks for giving me a heads up and I’ll do more research in the future to ensure this doesn’t happen again” the reaction was more along the lines of “OMG How DARE you question my anti-racist cred?”

    I’m sure you can see where the fail is in this.

    To her credit, Bear initially did more of the former than the latter, but by the time her posse got in the mix, it was all downhill from there, and I’m guessing she got carried along on the righteous indignation bit and started digging her own hole (the latest example of which is something akin to “I’m going to take my toys and go home, so there.”)

    The meta on this is that a LOT of self-described educated liberal folks in positions of privilege (race, gender, orientation, class, ability, etc.) don’t simply shut up and listen when someone in an oppressed class pipes up and says, “hey, you’re doing something kinda fail, and here’s why. I’d appreciate it if you took the initiative to learn more about this.” It’s somehow become more gauche to point out when someone might be saying or doing something that helps further systematic oppression than it is to be saying or doing that thing in the first place. (See Jay Smooth for more on this.)

    What makes this so disappointing in this particular case is that it’s creating a massive barrier to entry for PoCs not just as writers, but as readers. The current running impression is that if supposedly aware and smart people are going to throw a fit when asked to check their privilege, then it’s just one more place where PoCs aren’t welcome.

    I dunno about you, but I think that’s a far greater fail in itself than the devolution of the conversation.

    All that was asked, at the very beginning of this, was for Bear and other white SF/F authors and editors to shut the hell up and listen and not act as if they somehow knew better than PoCs on this stuff. That didn’t happen, and thus the earth quaked, magma spilled and a lot of other bad things went down.

  245. Eddie Clark:

    I have faith you’ll dial it back from here.

    Tal:

    Ah, yes. Now I get you.

    “The meta on this is that a LOT of self-described educated liberal folks in positions of privilege (race, gender, orientation, class, ability, etc.) don’t simply shut up and listen when someone in an oppressed class pipes up and says, ‘hey, you’re doing something kinda fail, and here’s why. I’d appreciate it if you took the initiative to learn more about this.'”

    Also understood, as I’ve done my share of this as well (and, clearly, some would say still do, even at this very moment). There’s a learning curve involved.

  246. I DO blame the people who tell those people that “the personal is political.” No, it is not, and if you say it is, you are a motherhonking twit.

    You don’t understand the phrase at all, then.

    “The personal is political” means that many things that we consider ‘personal’ aren’t just about us, but happen because of a larger system. In the context of the modern feminist movement in the US, this phrase was about women discovering that a lot of what they were going through wasn’t simply something limited to their own lives or marriages but happened to many other woman, and was indicative of a larger, society-wide problem.

    Giacomo, your post is pretty much a repeat of one of the things that got the RaceFail discussions to blow up. I’m pretty sure that John’s point was not to bring it all here.

  247. white privilege exists. Its not original sin

    Yeah, it is original sin. People who are white are born into it, they have fallen from grace because of it, and they have no way to be redeemed from it. It is literally “sins of the flesh”.

    An interesting thing about original sin, you cannot redeem yourself from it. It doesn’t matter what you do, you cannot escape it. Man is not saved by works alone.

    It is a completely non-functional, non-useful label. You can’t do anything about it. If you’re white, you’ve got “privilege” all over you. Doesn’t matter how poor, disadvantaged, or whatever else you were, if you’re white, you’ve got “privilege”.

    Which means it has no functional use. None. Nothing can ever be changed about it. Nothing can ever be done about it. five hundred years from now, whites will still have “privilege” because, well, because they’re ancestors had “privilege”. By all accounts it’s a racial perjoritive, a label based solely on the color of skin rather than the content of a person’s heart.

    It doesn’t matter what you do. You either have “privilege” or not based solely on the color of your skin.

    That isn’t justice by any sense of the word. And anyone who invokes an injustice to fight another injustice isn’t creating anything but more injustice. Arguments that “life isn’t fair” forget that fighting for fairness doesn’t mean you create new unfairnesses and expect people to accept it as some form of payback for the “sin” of being “privileged”.

    Original sin exactly describes it.

  248. Greetings again, John. Know that my comments yesterday were made in ignorance of the “Racefail” controversy. The post that drew my ire now seems understandable, maybe even necessary, if still a little hamfisted.

    As far as my opinion on the whole matter goes, I’m still waiting for a network sitcom starring an interracial couple that’s not actually about them being an interracial couple. I don’t know what that says about me. Regardless, cheers.

  249. Scalzi: Turn the heat down just a bit, please.

    Don’t worry, I’m going to bed now.

    Among other things, it’s not immediately obvious you’re not an American and that you’re coming in from another place, geographically and culturally.

    Apparently being from another country wasn’t enough to spare from his share of anti-racist abuse the poor Frenchman who tried to point out this little thing on the much-commended “I didn’t dream of dragons”. He wasn’t the only one, the same thing happened in a few other comment threads.

    @Eddie Clark: Spell my name right.

    Sorry, I copy/pasted the content of the comment but trusted my (unreliable) memory for your name’s spelling.

  250. I’ll leave it at: white privilege exists. Its not original sin, its not a moral failing on your part, but it does exist. And it cannot be conflated with class distinctions.

    And to this I’ll add: Just because someone is at a disadvantage with regard to one aspect of their being/existence doesn’t mean they’re not privileged in others.

    This happens ALL the time, IME. It’s tunnel vision, really. People get soooo focused on the traits that tend to bring them shit from the larger world that they become ignorant of the ways in which they may be furthering the oppression of other people.

    Merely being (oppressed class) doesn’t mean you’re incapable of furthering oppression for (other class).

    I mean, I have a laundry list of traits that render me an invalid person by the standards of my culture (what Kate Bornstein calls The Perfect Gender.) If we want to play in the Oppression Olympics, I’d be competing in the freaking decathlon.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of abusing what privileges I DO have: I’m white, educated, I speak the dominant language of culture and commerce in my hemisphere, I’m (currently) middle class, all of my senses are mostly functional… There’s quite a lot that gives me advantages that many other folks don’t have.

    And it’s up to me, as someone who doesn’t want to be an asshole, to learn about ways in which I might be unconsciously abusing those privileges and thus making someone else’s life shit.

    Really, all that any of this comes down to is the Wil Wheaton principle: Don’t be a dick. And that means that you need to shut up and listen when people with less privilege than you in some area or another tell you you’re being a dick.

  251. Scalzi@289:

    Thanks for the reply, Scalzi. In thinking through that scenario you posited, I actually feel better about the racism in the casting. In a choice between a bad thing that demonstrated embedded racism in an entire country/demographic, and a bad thing that demonstrated racism in a specific powerful industry, I prefer the latter. And isn’t that a pathetic statement in and of itself. Still…

    Last time I asked, I couldn’t find a single person at work who could name five Asian actors and five Asian actresses working in Hollywood. Today I found two who could give me the former. Little steps!

  252. Greg London: I do not think that term means what you think it means. Others, upthread, would agree with me. There’s nothing wrong with asking that people try to have awareness that white/straight/male is the default in western countries, and difference from the default is noticed (and all the implications that flow from what). Others may try to ask you to do more than that but if you look at what I’ve said above, I have not.

    (You’re perfectly entitled to your own opinion, of course).

  253. Also understood, as I’ve done my share of this as well (and, clearly, some would say still do, even at this very moment). There’s a learning curve involved.

    This is what I like about you. :)

    Ah, I do wish the whole world would just step back now and then and ask themselves, “Hey, is there anything more I could stand to learn on this?” Whatever “this” might be. Damn shame that there’s so much anti-education sentiment out there.

  254. @ Yuhri:

    That’s an interesting observation. I was talking to an Asian friend of mine not too long ago when she asked me to name all the Asian actors I know. I was able to force out Lucy Liu and John Cho.

    I then proceeded to ask her why she’s chosen to major in Biochem rather than theater.

  255. Smaur @ wherever — it does count, in the sense that it helps people understand a bit better what others cant escape from.

    One of the things that has bothered me about the way the discussion has played out is that so many people have been willing only to accept one flavour of privilege. Privilege is contextual. Really, it is.

    Having said that, in the US, Britain, Canada … hell, all of the Eurocentric countries, privilege is white.

    But … privilege is also male. And straight. And Christian (preferably Protestant)

    And in some Eurocentric contexts, male privilege trumps white privilege.

    Because privilege is rooted in power, in some contexts the playing field is much more like equal.

    And because there are ways in which privilege can be multiplied, it’s likely that women, gays, OMG lesbians — both women and gay!, Jews who are often seen as white, but often not, depending on the part of the country (like Yuhri’s ‘model Asians’) all may have experienced some sort of ‘less-privileged-ness.’

    No, it’s no the same. White people are the default in a Eurocentric culture. Gay people *can* hide it and ‘pass’. Women? sorry, I can’t hide that. And there’s a shitload of penis-based privilege in my line of work.

    But I’ve lived in other places, too, and there (as someone else, Mac, I think, pointed out) privilege is manifested and institutionalized differently.

    So one of the things that has bothered me is that frequently people — and when I was paying attention, it was mostly self-professed Allies who seemed very intent on proving their non-racist street cred — would start to scream, “what you say doesn’t count, because you are showing your privilege, and that means your feelings and experiences don’t matter and must be ignored!”

    Admittedly, some of the comments made by white people about their pain were pretty ignorant. And I *do* understand that it gets really old trying to explain privilege to someone who is not even willing to accept that it might exist — or to say, “Waaaaah! but it’s not *my* fault!”

    But I’m asking this seriously. If the best way to get people to understand your feelings and experiences is to find some common ground, as minimal as it might seem, then how is telling them that their experiences don’t count going to get us there?

    I know — it’s like mourning the loss of a spouse and being confronted with “It’ll be fine. You’ll get over it” by someone who has only ever lost a goldfish. And flushed it down the toilet. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

    And if the person who’s lost the goldfish can see that someone is upset, maybe s/he’d be wise to stop, shut up, and put hirself in the other person’s shoes for a minute.

  256. “Really, all that any of this comes down to is the Wil Wheaton principle: Don’t be a dick. And that means that you need to shut up and listen when people with less privilege than you in some area or another tell you you’re being a dick.”

    Agree entirely! One of the things that’s bothered me most about the way the RaceFail discussion went on is that people being dicks in criticising what they see as racism are immune from criticism. Any attempt to criticise rudeness is stated as falling foul of the “Tone Argument” – which as far as I can tell goes “I’ve been subject to racism so often that I’m allowed to be angry about it when you say something racist, even unintentionally.” The analogy given very often was what you do when someone stands on your foot – you say “get off my foot, that hurts!” not “oh excuse me, I feel some pressure on my foot, could you perhaps remove it?”

    The problem with this analogy is – what if I’m not standing on your foot? If you yell “get off my foot, asshole!” at me when in fact, I don’t know, someone else dropped something on it, or you put your own chair leg on it, you just look like an asshole. Similarly, in this discussion, any deviation from a particular line of anti-racist thought has been deemed racist and an expression of white privilege, white wimmins tears, asking for cookies etc.

    Look, in the comments above you’ll see that I acknowledged that (and was somewhat pilloried for) assholish, and in some cases racially clueless, behaviour came from some white sf pros. But angrily saying “You’re racist, asshole” and immediately assuming bad faith (see: ann sommerville and some other person who I see recently posted on scalzi) to people broadly sympathetic to your aims but who have different ideas about how this stuff should be talked about and what should be done is assholish in turn. In summary – being angry doesn’t make you wrong, by any means, but it sure as shit doesn’t make you right, either.

  257. Last time I asked, I couldn’t find a single person at work who could name five Asian actors and five Asian actresses working in Hollywood.

    Tangent!

    Daniel Dae Kim
    Will Yun Lee
    Archie Kao
    Masi Oka
    George Takei

    Yunjin Kim
    Margaret Cho
    Grace Park
    Sandra Oh
    Michelle Yeoh

    Of course, I’ll qualify this by saying that I happen to find all of the above ridiculously hot, so perhaps I’m a little biased. ;)

  258. @Eddie Clark

    There’s nothing wrong with asking that people try to have awareness that white/straight/male is the default in western countries, and difference from the default is noticed (and all the implications that flow from what).

    Have to agree with you here. A great example I used to point this out is in the realm of professional sports:

    Women who play basketball (or women who are professional athletes) are referred to as female basketball players. Breaking this down, the word female is added to basketball players because anyone without that added to it is automatically assumed to be male. Women aren’t even labelled athletes the same way men are.

  259. You can’t do anything about it.

    Of course you can. That’s what the productive end of discussions about priivlege is all about: working together to eliminate those pointless barriers. Getting mad because somebody points out you have privilege (or fails to note that you are in other ways not privileged) solves nothing.

  260. @307,Tal

    You’re also leaving out Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, and Jet Li.

    What? I like Asian action films.

  261. @ Yuhri:

    I’m sure you’ll admit there’s a lot of pressure on young Asian-Americans to go into fields related to science and medicine. It probably contributes to the apparent dearth of Asians in the entertainment industry.

    And @ everybody else: T

    here is a way to remove white-privilege, at least in subsequent generations. Date non-white.

  262. Whoops! @ 214 Another Goshdarn Medievalist:

    *blush* “Yelling Class” was a pretty cathartic post for me. As many people as I can direct toward it… *rolls up sleeves*

    OK, LOOK.

    RE: White privilege — look, just because you’re white doesn’t mean you’re the only one who experiences privilege either. I’m black, sure — I’m also middle class, and an Anglophone, and college educated, and straight. (And frankly, I often also think it’s somewhat easier to be a black woman in the U.S. than a black man, at least in the wider world.) I have and have had my share of listening and learning to do, too. It’s not the end of the world.

    (I had the creepiest deja vu feeling just now that I’ve said that before in exactly those words. I’m not being sarky.)

    (Aaaaaaand…this already got said at #299. Ah well. “I agree,” then.)

    And with that…I need to get home. Later…

  263. Sure. Not shaving for weeks and generally dressing like a homeless person works as well, which is generally what I do.

  264. Tal@307:

    That’s practically identical to my list! –although I had Ken Watanabe instead of Will Yun Lee. Cheating, because Watanabe doesn’t actually work in Hollywood that much, but c’mon. Batman counts, right? Right? Even if there was a brouhaha about casting a Japanese guy in a role that was supposed to belong to a Middle-Eastern actor?

    S@311:

    I’m sure you said that with the best of intentions (or tongue-in-cheek) but I couldn’t help a little shudder, remembering college and the strange migration of white guys from the neighboring campus, who used to come to mine so they could hit on the Asian women….

    Yellow fever is creepy, man. Creepy.

  265. You’re also leaving out Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, and Jet Li.

    What? I like Asian action films.

    Heh. I was just doing five each. I could list sooooo many more. And don’t get me started on South Asian actors. Hellllooooo Sendhil…

    Ehm… Excuse me for a moment. I need some alone time. :)

    /embarassing horndog hijack

  266. Before I tell you all to reel this particular line of conversation in, I guess I’ll not mention to Tal the time I had lunch with George Takai.

    There. Now: reel in the horndog, please.

  267. …oh. I forgot to say this.

    S@311…

    I’m not entirely sure that there is a dearth of Asians in the entertainment industry. Although I don’t know for sure, mind–I wonder how one goes about getting statistics from SAG? (Maybe I could just ask. Duh.)

    I found an interesting article a while back. Not having insight into the Asian-American actor/actress experience, I can’t speak to its accuracy, but a lot of the things the writer says rings true for me, given what I know about certain Asian-American attitudes … in my generation, anyway.

    http://www.imdiversity.com/villages/Asian/arts_culture_media/quill_asian_TVa_0805.asp

  268. Hi Greg London,

    *waves*
    I’m the white dude who described white privilege upthread here. I don’t think you’re having the same discussion I’m having. Let me explain:

    If you play a game, say, Monopoly, and you start with more money than the rest of the players, that’s a kind of privilege. If you played it a lot with your folks in a really cutthroat way, and you have a lot of experience, but not a lot of skill, you have a kind of privilege relative to even skilled newbies. There are markers in life that identify you as having money, or skill, or experience. Some of these markers are language, or accent, or clothes, and some cannot be changed easily (religious beliefs) or at all (pigmentation.) So, no, it’s not really about the skin color. And yes, you can minimize your privilege in a couple of ways, but unlike Monopoly you can’t erase it through giving or training others because not all the players who are on the “white team” have gotten the memo.

    The positive part of this discussion is about getting the memo out there.

  269. I do not think that term means what you think it means.

    Yeah? Tell me how I can become “unprivileged”.

    privilege means “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor”

    Who granted me this right? Who granted me this privilege? Who do I tell I no longer want this privilege?

    The word is from the Latin word “privilegium” which means “law for or against a private person”.

    What law grants me this privilege? How can I repeal this law? How do I have this law overturned?

    How can I surrender this privilege? If someone has privilege and does not give it up, then they are accepting the status quo, the inequality that the privilege gives them. And so, by being assigned this “privilege” in such a way that I cannot surrender it, I am guilty of not only accepting the injustice that created it, I am guilty of continuing the injustice by keeping the privilege that I cannot surrender.

    Anyone who thinks that “privilege” is an objectively neutral description of the issues, and carries no connotations of wrongdoing or blame or guilt, is kidding themselves.

  270. If someone has privilege and does not give it up, then they are accepting the status quo

    False dilemma. You can also work to change the status quo.

  271. pio, the point is that there is no choice in white privilege, and that carries a very specific moral implication to it.

    If you play a game, say, Monopoly, and you start with more money than the rest of the players, that’s a kind of privilege.

    If you choose to play that advantage, that’s one thing. If you surrender the privilege before the game starts, that’s something else. Wouldn’t you agree?

    So, how do I surrender this “white privilege”?

  272. @ Yuhri 319:

    Interesting article. I can’t say I agree wholeheartedly with the “tradition is wonderful” sentiment, but then again, I’m an ex-Catholic. Also it seems to me that rallying the Asian American community exclusively may be counter-productive in the long run when trying to gain greater representation in entertainment, it could result in, I don’t know, call it “Tyler Perry Syndrome” or whatever. But again, that could just be me selfishly trying to get Asian chicks to talk to me.

  273. And in fact, you can work to undermine your own privilege. Choosing to submit your work only to magazines that do blind readings, is one quick example relevant to many writers in the room.

    I say this as a S. Asian from the upper-middle-class; I carry a ton of class privilege and a fair bit of model minority privilege. When I walk into a hotel hosting a medical convention, everyone starts addressing me as Doctor. I can attest that they do not do this for the black friend walking beside me. Or the white one either, for that matter.

    Resisting that kind of privilege is hard — one way I do it is by not whining that “oh, woe is me, Asians don’t get included in affirmative action quotas.” Damn right we don’t, and shouldn’t. We haven’t been systematically discriminated against for generations upon generations in the way that blacks and Hispanics have in America. Which is not to discount the racism that many Asians have faced (esp. Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, and those who can be mistaken for same) — but it’s not the same, especially in its economic effects across the culture.

  274. There. Now: reel in the horndog, please.

    Aye, Cap’n. My apologies. :)

    Though I must add one note to Yuhri with a hell yeah on the “yellow fever” thing. Ugh. Really, it’s symptomatic of the overall problem, IMHO, which is a tendency to see people solely in terms of one or two biological traits, and not see anything else. (Conversely, there’s the well-meaning but counter-productive attempt to see “beyond” these things, as if they don’t have any bearing on the life of the people in question.)

    Relating this back to the original issue, one of the problems with people writing from a position of privilege about folks in an oppressed class is that too often, the writer gets lazy and does one of two things: Relies on facile stereotypes to convey a given character’s trait or completely erases all evidence that that character has that trait, save for maybe one brief mention of it three pages in. If you don’t make an effort, your character will be assumed to be (white/straight/w’ev), but you also can’t be an ignorant douche and use cheap or even offensive caricatures to convey this, either.

    I call this Ethnic Barbie syndrome. Back when I was a wee thing, there was an attempt to go all It’s a Small World with Barbies, so they took the same exact doll mold, and just changed the dye lots for the plastic, gave it darker or curlier hair, and dressed it in ridiculously garish “traditional” costumes. There wasn’t anything qualitatively different about the doll that made each one unique. She was just the same old Barbie, only playing dress-up, just like she did with every other fantasy role-play version. It was ridiculous.

  275. Wow, considering that I have been pilloried for stating that privilege is largely contextual and that both sides of the current Racefail (an ironically appropriate name if I’ve ever heard one) discussion need to take some large steps back and breathe, it is good to see others making those arguments for me.

    And for the record, one of the huge impetus for the whole Racefail discussion at the beginning was a couple of people telling the POC who read Bear’s book that three chapters was not enough to form a cohesive review of the work and then being ganged up on by pretty much every LJ user who even tangentially blogs about race issues. That, to me, poisoned the well at the very beginning of the conversation and set the tone from there on out. For shame, bloggers. For shame.

  276. I actually think this could be a constructive thing to come out of this whole mess — a discussion of how white folks can work to resist the culture attempting to impose white privilege on them.

    Personally, I’d rather white folks led that discussion, though. John, I actually think you’d be very well suited to do so, given that you already have some background on this topic from the class side of things.

  277. greg: If someone has privilege and does not give it up, then they are accepting the status quo

    mythago: False dilemma. You can also work to change the status quo

    except I’m privileged because I’m white. Whether I “fight the status quo” or not, I still have “white privilege”. I cannot give it up.

  278. I don’t think white privilege (or any other privilege) is a kind of original sin, just a mark of the universe’s imperfection. As a species, as primates, as mammals, as living organisms we discriminate, seldom with anything worth calling a chosen agenda. But y’know, we fall down, because we’re tippy bipeds, and our balance isn’t that great, so we make no-slip treads, handrails, ice removers, and things like that. Well, we can do things about discrimination, too, many of them not what you’d want to call fun, but things that can become habits, parts of our routine to bring in a bit more justice and bit less unearned loss. That’s the way we roll, or at least the way we can choose to roll.

  279. paranoyd:

    “Wow, considering that I have been pilloried for stating that privilege is largely contextual and that both sides of the current Racefail (an ironically appropriate name if I’ve ever heard one) discussion need to take some large steps back and breathe, it is good to see others making those arguments for me.”

    Oh, make no mistake, this conversation is likewise being pilloried. It’s just not happening here.

    Mary Anne Mohanraj:

    “John, I actually think you’d be very well suited to do so, given that you already have some background on this topic from the class side of things.”

    I’ll have to give it thought. Since I don’t exactly shy away from using my own socially-provided advantages when it suits me, however, I’m not 100% sure people will buy the conversation from me.

  280. Greg, did you read the rest of my comment, or just quote selectively? All I’d ask is that you be aware that being white makes you immune from certain shit that non-white people get. It doesn’t mean the bad stuff that happens to you matters less. It does mean that you don’t even have to THINK about a whole category of bad that is heaped on non-white people. All I expect people to do is think about what their privilege spares them from, and act accordingly. From there, it’s a matter of individual conscience. If you don’t think you need to do anything, fine. I think you’d be wrong, but fine. If you think you should call out friends that might make jokes about black violence/crime, the funny way asians speak, how indians all own corner stores etc… whatever.

    Be aware and act accordingly. That’s not the definitive way to deal with privilege, of course. It’s my interpretation. Which is open to being called Completely Wrong, but it works for me.

  281. @Giacomo: sono tre giorni che me ne vado in giro borbottando cose sulla Cia, la strategia della tensione, piazza Fontana e cose di questo genere. Ma spiegare sarebbe troppo lungo. E mi sono sentita dire che la mia predilezione borghese per il confronto civile derivava dal fatto che il mio habitat naturale e’ fra le borghesi bianche di Manhattan. Io che fino ai quarant’anni Manhattan l’avevo vista solo al cinema.

    @John: I’m not always with you, but I love your clarity of thought. There has been so much bad rethoric, I would love to see you unpick it with a few choice words.

    This mess broke my heart. Made me delete my LJ, too. I do think other people managed to get something positive out of it, which is good, because I’d hate to think that the damage it has done has been for nothing at all. I don’t regret diving into it, I do regret that I wasn’t wise and strong enough to do a better job of it.

  282. Anna Feruglio Dal Dan:

    “I’m not always with you, but I love your clarity of thought.”

    That’s the loveliest thing anyone’s said to me today, Anna. Thank you.

  283. Anna, after reading a hell of a lot of links and comments over the past month, can I say that I thought that your comments were mostly very sensible, and I’m sorry that you got so hurt. I made exactly 2 comments on the whole mess, and I still have a weird quesy stomach feeling every time I think about it – both about privilegy things I hadn’t thought about before reading, and about the sheer level of assholery that was thought to be ok because its in the furtherance of the Greater Good (ie anti-racism).

  284. Interesting things I learned during RaceFail ’09:

    – Don’t assume that others think a certain way.

    – Don’t go after people with a big stick.

    – Don’t label people.

    – We were all on the same side except for about 1 truly racist troll whom everybody more or less shut out of the discussion.

    – You are not a race traitor if you disagree with certain people about where the discussion has gone.

    – Obama did it right after all.

    – Damned if you do/don’t applies to everybody.

    Things that were there before RaceFail ’09:

    I’m Asian.

  285. So, how do I surrender this “white privilege”?

    You listen to PoCs when they tell you you’re ignorant of or abusing it?

    It can be really uncomfortable to do this at first. I grew up in a racist home, and even though I rejected the overt parts of it (I would never have considered telling a racist joke), learning to be aware of the more subtle, subconscious effects of that was really quite painful. And I’m not done, either. I never will be. There will always be aspects of life for PoCs that I can never truly understand or appreciate because it’s something I’ve never had direct experience with.

    The best I can do, therefore, is to just stand back and get the hell out of the way of the PoCs who deserve the lead on these issues, and not assume I have anything to tell them about it. And, on occasion, give a smack upside the head to my fellow clueless white folks when they’re being SO clueless that they refuse to listen to what PoCs are telling them.

    On the flip side of this, though, I’m also not shy about pointing out to others who have a privilege I don’t have when they need to STFD and learn something from me (and I appreciate when other folks in the privileged class give their fellows a kick and tell them to listen.)

    This has resulted in some very illuminating, if awkward and painful, interactions. One in particular, for instance, was a go-round between me, the bisexual white chick, and a friend who’s a gay black man. He got to give me a much-deserved kick in the ass about my ignorant assumptions about racism, and I got to kick him for his ignorant assumptions about sexism. The sad part is that it was contentious enough that it ended our friendship, but I do think we both came out of it wiser for the wear.

    Honestly, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for people to simply stop taking the microphone away from people who are trying to tell their own stories.

  286. Scalzi, at least I’m not the only one on the pillory, though, and I consider yourself and the others here good company. I can take the rotten fruit aimed at my head if I know that we’ll all be there to clean each other off at the other end.

    Um – you know what I mean.

    Greg, think of it like this. Don’t get caught up on the word “white”. Can you walk up stairs? You are able to do something people in wheelchairs cannot. You have a privilege over them in this circumstance. So, we put in a ramp, and now the playing field is leveled. Some things you can just do because of certain traits you have and even some you don’t have. That’s not your fault, that’s life. Now, I’m completely in agreement that some people wield the words “White Privilege” as a club of victimization, but that’s not what we are talking about here. This is the “other” white privilege – the one with small letters, not the accusatory one.

    As mentioned above, every single person has privileges in some way, whether it’s color or class or intelligence or what have you. Some things can be downplayed or lessened in some way, like the aforementioned wheelchair ramp. Some can’t, like your color. Look, I’ve been stopped in my own neighborhood driving late at night. I’m white and lived in a nice place in Colorado Springs – which barely gets more white when it snows. It happens. It happens to POC more often. Your privilege, then, is to NOT get stopped more often.

    The trick is deciding if it is important to you to keep some kind of score on what you are or are not getting due to these types of privileges. If you do, you run the risk of staying angry, rejecting the entire notion, and you become the problem. Or, you could acknowledge that it exists, even if not in the exact form some people feel it does, and work towards finding ways of evening it out so it has less and less impact with each succeeding generation. Your choice.

  287. John: Changing the word doesn’t change the underlying condition.

    Yeah, I’m not debating the inequalities in the underlying condition. I’m debating whether “white privilege” doesn’t actually misdescribe the situation in some connotative way.

  288. @ 338

    “You’ll never understand, just take what I say as the truth of the matter and be done with it” isn’t something I’m ever going to accept as a logical argument. I’m sorry.

  289. Its not logical, necessarily. But being challenged about deeply held beliefs about one’s own life by someone who hasn’t shared the same experiences can be horrid. For example – trying to explain to someone who’s just had a miscarriage How It Feels to have a miscarriage, when you’ve never had one. Or a straight person telling a gay person that there’s hardly any homophobia These Days, because you haven’t experienced it (happened to me for realz).

    In that context, a response like “this is my experience, don’t you DARE try to invalidate it” is an understandable response, if not exactly logical.

  290. S, you can understand it. It starts with a lot of listening, both to individuals and to the results of scholarship. Then it takes a lot of looking with the fruits of that listening in mind. There will be parts you don’t get, but then each of us doesn’t get some things about ourselves and our nearest and dearest, too – you can understand enough enough to get by with if you are prepared to start by suspending a lot of whatever assumptions you bring in.

    Certainly for me it’s work in progress.

  291. Greg London #340 –

    Well, I used to wonder that too. Because a lot of my friends throughout life are white and do try to have a clue and generally are okay. Things were okay.

    But on the other hand, sometimes things were not okay, and when they weren’t okay (and didn’t involve relatives) they were almost always about race. It was disappointingly consistent.

    Things that weren’t okay included people not talking to me who didn’t know me, but they were willing to talk to my friends right next to me, for instance. Or someone who assumes that I can’t speak English. Or, you know, the Yellow Fever thing, which was really offensive and creepy to me as an Asian female. Or, well, the Avatar fail. Or that Star Trek: Classic was considered really daring for including non-white characters. Or, um, having clueless people throw rocks at your head after 9-11 because you looked “foreign”.

    I kind of think privilege is the best way to put it. It’s sort of like how I have privilege in, I hate to call it this, deeper “China Town” because I’m Asian and you’re not.

  292. Arachne, can I ask the difference between creepy yellow fever and non-creepy liking going out with asians? I ask with interest because my current and immediate ex bfs are both of asian ethnicities.

  293. except I’m privileged because I’m white. Whether I “fight the status quo” or not, I still have “white privilege”. I cannot give it up

    Only in the highly artificial analogy you’ve constructed, where privilege is a tangible item that one can hand over, like a poker chip, and that is the only way to eliminate the effects of having that privilege. Not so.

    Somebody’s already used the example of a wheelchair ramp. Let’s use “hamburger privilege”. I have a big yummy hamburger and everybody else is very hungry because all they’ve got is a carrot stick. If everybody else is given a hamburger to eat, I don’t have privilege anymore. Same thing if the Free Bacon Stand is opened down the street; it doesn’t matter if I have a hamburger because everybody has something delicious to fill their bellies.

    The way one “gets rid” of privilege is by refusing to acknowledge it as the proper order of things, and by working to change the status quo so that one’s status is no longer perceived and treated as privileged. Of course it’s not an instant process like dropping a poker chip, but I’m not sure why that’s relevant. It’s still worthwhile.

  294. Greg, think of it like this. Don’t get caught up on the word “white”.

    Except it’s exactly the words “white” and “privilege” I have issue with.

    Now, I’m completely in agreement that some people wield the words “White Privilege” as a club of victimization, but that’s not what we are talking about here.

    They’re the same words.

    This is the “other” white privilege – the one with small letters, not the accusatory one.

    I get the distinction you’re trying to make, but I honestly don’t think what you’re describing would be best labeled “white privilege”. “privilege” is accusatory. It carries with it certain implications if you accept the privilege rather than reject or surrender it. And in the case of white privilege, I cannot reject or surrender it.

    And I also get that some people do wield the term “white privilege” as a weapon. which is why I think a phrase that connotes individual guilt isn’t the right phrase for what you’re are trying to distinguish.

  295. Eddie #345,

    It is creepy when you don’t know me at all and you go on about how “exotic” I am and you seem to have this idea of how I should behave towards you/other people when you don’t know me at all.

    It is not creepy when we hang out and we just talk and eventually we just kinda like each other.

    Basically, treat me normally and it’s cool. I like older guys. You like Asians. If it’s just like that, it’s cool. If it becomes an obsession, it’s not cool anymore.

    Hm. “Old guy typhoid”? It doesn’t have the same ring, sadly.

  296. *sigh* Once again, Sage London will explain how he, starting ex nihilo, sees right through matters that have been far more urgent to many people for a prolonged period and if we’d only do it his way, all would be well.

    One manifestation of privilege is the belief that others ought to pay the slightest attention to that kind of thing.

  297. @304, Another Damned Medievalist:

    “Smaur @ wherever — it does count, in the sense that it helps people understand a bit better what others cant escape from.”

    Yeah, you’re right. Didn’t think of it like that. : )

    “One of the things that has bothered me about the way the discussion has played out is that so many people have been willing only to accept one flavour of privilege. Privilege is contextual. Really, it is.”

    I definitely agree. I linked to a White Privilege article, but there are also many articles out there on Male Privilege, Straight Privilege, etc. There are definitely many shades of privilege out in the world, some of them intersecting (black and poor, female and gay, black and poor and female and gay, et cetera).

    The point is, however, that this particular topic isn’t about those other privileges, it is about race. And, to be sure, there have been conversations about women in SF/F and whether they are comfortable or welcome there, or not; I am sure (or at least, I deeply hope) that there have been conversations about other privileges, such as the under-representation of LGBT in science fiction but unfortunately, I don’t know if there have been.

    A lot of people have mentioned that, “yeah, well, there’s classism, too,” or, “women get the tough end of the stick in SF/F, too,” or other such arguments, here or elsewhere on the interweebs. And they’re right. They’re very right. All of those things need to be discussed, and none of them should be trivialized. But this is not a discussion about that. This is a discussion about race.

    There are other discussions about those other issues.

    I say all of this because one of the derailments that made RaceFail an epic Fail was a Certain Someone who kept going on about, forget about this race stuff, classism is much more important! Classism is everything! Which, you know. Epic fail.

  298. “Arachne, can I ask the difference between creepy yellow fever and non-creepy liking going out with asians? I ask with interest because my current and immediate ex bfs are both of asian ethnicities.”

    I believe the difference is something like the difference between dating and “trolling for pussy.”

    Pardon the language.

  299. Arachne,

    LOL thanks. That was, I though, the difference. “OMG EXOTIC ASIANS” is kinda creepy.

  300. @ 348

    Ah, thank you. I had a sinking feeling that the general consensus had become that interracial relationships were intrinsically racist or something.

  301. Bruce Baugh:

    I think you might be being a little rough on Mr. London. I don’t think there’s a problem exploring the words. That said, I don’t think the phrase “white privilege” is going anywhere anytime soon.

    S.:

    Really wish you picked a different term there.

  302. It carries with it certain implications if you accept the privilege rather than reject or surrender it.

    I’m not exactly sure where you’re getting the “accusatory” thing from.

    Merely acknowledging that you have advantages over some people doesn’t necessarily mean you’re actively abusing those advantages.

    Look at it like this: Say a dad’s wrestling with his six-year-old kid. He knows very well that he naturally has enormously more physical weight and strength than the kid, so in order to not hurt him, he pulls that back. He lets the kid tackle him a few times. He’s gentle. And if he gets too rough, and the kid tells him he’s being too rough, he apologizes and dials it back. He lets the kid take the lead on how rough the play’s going to get. He listens and observes for signs that the kid might be hurting more than he lets on and adjusts accordingly.

    Being a grown man who’s more physically powerful than a six-year-old child doesn’t make you a bad person. But refusing to accept that you ARE more powerful, and thus have a responsibility to pull back so you don’t hurt the kid, makes you an ass.

    (And yeah, I’m aware that this isn’t a great analogy because of issues of, quite literally in this case, paternalism, but you get the point, yes?)

  303. S. #351 – well, the language is okay with me, and it is indeed something like dating versus the hunt for pussy, except the hunt for pussy has a lot of uncomfortable historical baggage.

    I’m Vietnamese, so it also recalls the, ah, “comfort women” I suppose. Mail order brides. That kind of thing. It’s very weird but importantly it’s also very targeted. It’s worse when the search for pussy is *intentionally* targeted for that.

    And when you’re the target, well, it does hurt when the arrow goes through your center….

    Eddie #352 – Yeah, that’s how some people do come across. You’d think they would know better, or something, and at the very least I hope they don’t reproduce.

    I actually left a forum once because of a yellow fever thread that went too far. Someone asked me, “why would that disturb you so?” and perhaps they wonder why I never replied. Clang, goes the cluelessness.

  304. S #353 – Nope, it’s not racist to date someone of a different race. I’m all aboard the “date someone who is not like you” bus.

    My parents, however, were not. Never like a white boy when your parents are… abusive control freaks. Should’ve known better.

    (It didn’t work out, but for reasons other than race. Ah, young love. How foolish you are sometimes.)

  305. classism is much more important! Classism is everything! Which, you know. Epic fail.

    Well, there were other major reasons for the epicfailness of that fail besides the mere discussion of classism, but I won’t repeat them here.

    And what Arachne said. There’s a difference between an interest, and maybe a slight preference, vs. that glassy-eyed fetishizing that doesn’t even take into account the notion that the class of people you’re lusting after do not automatically reciprocate that interest. I won’t speak for Arachne, but having been on the receiving end of creeptasticness in non-race-related areas, such people often become enraged on finding out that their attentions are perceived as the creeptasticness that it is, rather than as a compliment that should be rewarded with putting out.

  306. There’s no way I am reading over three hundred posts. I must admit that I am pretty curious as to how it got from the Internets hate of Scalzi to white privilege. Hehe.

  307. Ah, thank you. I had a sinking feeling that the general consensus had become that interracial relationships were intrinsically racist or something.

    Generally speaking, I think it’s kind of creepy to base one’s attraction to another person solely or primarily on an aspect of their person over which they have little or no control.

    I mean, I think green eyes are attractive, but I’m not going to go date someone just because they have green eyes. There’s a person in there, too, and IME, whole people are much more fun to interact with than disembodied parts. :)

    If someone knows nothing more about me than my physical appearance and wants to date me, they’re being creepy and usually get told to fuck the hell off. I get it, you like (trait). But there are six gajillion more things about me that make me a unique human being and you haven’t even tried to learn about a damned one of them. I am not a fetish object. Go away.

  308. Mythago: Ew. That is all I have to say. Ew. With race issues (and clearly others) I think recognising the individuality of the person you’re talking to / obsessing over goes a good long way to avoiding fail.

  309. Rembrandt:

    Briefly, the Hate of Scalzi (that sounds like an old skool 1st edition D & D module, or an Endless Quest book) was based on him being dismissive of a particular, largish debate about white privilege and race issues in SFF fandom and writing – lots of people thought that discussion was at least partially good, and having a prominent whitey like Scalzi tell everyone it was dumb was a Bad Thing.

    The people who were interested in just defending/attacking scalzi seem to have been scared off after the first couple hundred posts, and now there’s just those of us who want to discuss privilege and icky modes vs non icky modes of interracial dating :P. (and no doubt are being eviscerated on other blogs for being Incorrect and Clueless and Wrong for having slightly different views on these issues).

  310. Someone asked me, “why would that disturb you so?”

    Oh, sweet fancy FSM, I HATE that. And I get it so much. “But, but, I LIKE (trait)! Why can’t you just be flattered?”

    Which is along the same lines as, “But I’m PRO-(group). It can’t possibly be bigoted of me to appropriate or fetishize a stereotype of it!”

    Makes me think about all those silly white folks who find the one NA person in their ancestry six generations back and think they’re now entitled to hang dreamcatchers off their rear view mirrors and call themselves Running Deer. They’re dead convinced that they can’t possibly be racist because they LIKE the culture they’re ripping off. Sigh…

  311. Bruce@349: , Sage London will explain how he, starting ex nihilo, sees right through matters

    yeah, I said “white privilege” as a phrase has some definitional issues, that don’t exactly line up with the highly nuanced distinctions that some people are trying to make when they say “white privilege”. As paranoyd@331 said “some people wield the words “White Privilege” as a club of victimization” and then he tried to distinguish what he was talking about from that club, but all I’m saying is “white privilege” is inherently “clubby”.

    that have been far more urgent to many people for a prolonged period and if we’d only do it his way, all would be d be well.

    I was raising a specific issue with the language and the baggage that it brings along. At least one other person seemed to acknowledge that the wording can be used in less nuanced ways and more “clubby”.

    That isn’t me saying people should do everything “my way”.

    One manifestation of privilege is the belief that others ought to pay the slightest attention to that kind of thing.

    I’m having a conversation on a blog. At least one person seemed to connect with at least one point I was making.

    Several others have gotten that it’s a definitional thing, not me trying to say that there isn’t inequality in the world. I think the phrase carries some baggage with it. I think it carries enough “clubby” connotations that it might in part explain why the hell “RaceFail09″ was such a phenomenal fail.

    I happen to know a few of the people who got flamed in that mess and I know sure as hell that they are the farthest from deserving to be called racist. And yet, a bunch of people decided to club them as racists, or “privileged”, or ignorant, or whatever.

    You think the entire outcome of RaceFail09 was purely logical interactions on one side and a bunch of raging racists on the other? Cause pretty much all I’m saying is that certain terms like “white privilege” have a rather “clubby” feel to them and sometimes people swing them like clubs.

    I don’t think that makes me a Sage, but whatever.

  312. I’m entitled to hang dream catchers from my rear-view mirror because I like dream-catchers. I think they’re purdy.

  313. Greg London @ seemingly everywhere:

    I’m pretty sure I spent serious amounts of time on this exact conversation with you elsewhere this week, right down to the asinine etymological definition of privilege. (unless there are two people who argue exactly the same way with the same examples, in which case, I apologize)

    You didn’t seem to genuinely want to know anything then, nor do you now.

    Let me try one more time

    In this culture, straight white men have advantages automatically that other people don’t.

    You can’t give them up unless you can also give up being straight, white, and male.

    BUT you CAN help to make it so that, in future, either straight white men are less automatically advantaged (or privileged, although you seem to not like that word) AND/OR that people who aren’t straight white men have the same advantages, all other things being equal.*

    You know, it’s really not that new a concept — I think Gentlemen’s Agreement was made in the 40s, and Black Like Me maybe in the 50s or 60s. The latter is easier read, because the main character convinces others he’s black. But Gregory Peck’s character in GA is more pertinent to this conversation — until he *tells* people he’s Jewish, he is treated with all kinds of advantages, deference — in fact, he’s granted privileges that go away the minute he identifies himself as Other.

    You can do this by, as others have suggested, trying to recognize when you have those advantages, and giving them up when you can. You can do it by making other people aware when they automatically recognize your privilege and treat you differently than they do a person of color, or woman, or any other person who was not granted those advantages.

    To this point, you haven’t really said anything that says to me that you are trying to understand an issue that really is not only fundamental, but very important to a lot of people. Mostly, you seem to be arguing against its existence.

    Is that what you mean to do?

  314. John “Illustrious Host” Scalzi: I wouldn’t react that way if I hadn’t seen Greg go through this quite a few times on Making Light, responding to others’ explanation of their priors to have opinions beyond just “I think so” with reactions from ignoring them through bewilderment to condescension. Greg talking about his own stuff is often interesting and sometimes downright useful; Greg trying to fix other people’s problems has consistently been a disaster ending in hurt feelings and worse that he never seems to understand he has the slightest responsibility for.

  315. Greg, can you correct me if I’m wrong in this assessment:

    You seem to be wanting to have a semantic argument about whether “white privilege” is the nicest possible term for a social phenomenon that you don’t deny exists?

    If so, you’re making a very, very, very minor point distracting from how non-whites (and non-male, non-straight, non-able bodied people, in different ways) deal with crap that whiteys don’t have to.

    Can you let me know if that’s right? Cos if it is, I don’t want to engage.

  316. Bruce Baugh:

    So far people seem to be dealing with each other well, and I’ll tell people to move on if I think it’s getting out of hand.

    On the other hand, on a personal level I’m wondering if this particular conversation is going anywhere.

  317. You know, I wrote a thing. Then I remember I wanted Obama to win (and if I hadn’t had my nuts in a PATRIOT-Act sling, I would have voted for him). So I realised – you know what? I think I can let myself off the “white guy guilt” thing a bit. I think we all can. Because I think it’s time we all got frakkin’ colour-blind and got our eyes re-tuned for ability. Mine’ve been that way for years, but hey…

  318. Greg #365 – re “white privilege” as a “clubby” term –

    I think it carries enough “clubby” connotations that it might in part explain why the hell “RaceFail09″ was such a phenomenal fail.

    It doesn’t explain the fail at all, I think.

    For me, what explains RaceFail ’09 is people not thinking about other people as individuals rather than blocks of Generic Trait.

    Which is admittedly a very simplistic thing to say, and also it’s what 99.99% of internet arguments boil down to. RaceFail ’09, because it was about race, wounded a lot of people as well just because of the topic matter. It’s different from, say, a Twilight fan fight.

  319. The problem with this analogy is – what if I’m not standing on your foot? If you yell “get off my foot, asshole!” at me when in fact, I don’t know, someone else dropped something on it, or you put your own chair leg on it, you just look like an asshole.

    But so what? People do that all the time. It happens. If you’re not very thin-skinned, you get over it, and realize that that guy dropped the cinderblock on that other guy’s foot, and you got caught in the crossfire. Is it really the end of the world?

  320. @ Greg London, various:

    “except I’m privileged because I’m white. Whether I ‘fight the status quo’ or not, I still have ‘white privilege’. I cannot give it up.”

    Try thinking of it as being kind of like this, if you’ll forgive the somewhat weird and oversimplified analogy:

    You live in a room with a bunch of other people. The room has an extensive sprinkler system in the ceiling, that goes off with depressing regularity. Some people have umbrellas over their heads that are, I dunno, surgically implanted, something that makes them irremovable, anyway. You’re one of those people. So there you are, watching some of your roommates getting soaking wet all the time, and all you get is splashed sometimes. You can deny that you have an umbrella; you can try ripping out your umbrella, doing a lot of damage to yourself; or you can get to work with others, trying to figure out how to get that damn sprinkler system turned off. That’s working to change the status quo. You never do get rid of the umbrella, but the more success you and your roommates have in reducing the amount of water coming down, the less it matters that you have an umbrella. Hopefully, one day “umbrella privilege” is gone entirely–but not because nobody has an umbrella.

    “An appeal for fairness (equality) defended in part on ‘life isn’t fair’?”

    I am not convinced that equality and fairness are synonymous, for one thing. For another thing, not all unfairnesses are created equal: the unfairness of my feelings getting hurt on occasion is much lesser than the unfairness of someone facing constant marginalization and outright discrimination. Given that I don’t believe we live in a world where perfect fairness is possible–I think it’s better to choose the smaller unfairnesses. Hopefully, over time, the unfairnesses we have to choose from will get so tiny, they barely even register.

  321. On the other hand, on a personal level I’m wondering if this particular conversation is going anywhere.

    Hey, it’s a remarkably civil conversation about privilege and racial issues. I think that’s an accomplishment right there.

  322. MarkHB #371 – Maybe you are (or something) but a lot of people aren’t, and the people who aren’t affect your dealings with others as well as just you.

    Colorblind is a little bit weird. It’s like being genderblind or orientationblind. All three are a strong part of a person’s identity.

    Just because some of my ancestors were Vietnamese doesn’t make them any less significant than my ancestors who were Provencal French. But being French is an identity, and so is being Vietnamese. Few people would deny someone their Frenchness, or their Irishness, or whatnot. Why deny my ancestors’ Vietnameseness (the South, if you must know).

    But being colorblind means being blind to one of my ancestors’ personal traits. And heck, mine as well. And I don’t think that works very well.

  323. Persia @ 374:

    No, but if I recall the rest of the post I made that in, I made that point in the context of saying anger doesn’t make you instantly right – if you have a cinderblock dropped on your foot, that doesn’t make your accusations about someone else correct. Walking into the crossfire doesn’t, in and of itself, make you a supporter of how great white privilege is. In some (far from all, but enough to make me uncomfortable) RaceFail debates, it was treated as such, however.

  324. @ 350

    I agree that the conversation is/was about race. And boy, do I agree that the incredibly tiresome ‘it’s not race, it’s class!” chants from that quarter were grand mal fail. But I’m not sure they really succeeded in derailing anything, because they were just so laughable. I mean, seriously, how many people bought it versus the number of people whose responses were, “WTF?”, “Dude, Whatever,” or “that guy’s on his same old hobbyhorse. again. Dude, not helping the cause here.” ??

    The reason I think it’s important to make the point, though, was that there were a lot of people using ‘privilege’ as some sort of buzzword — it got used a lot by people who seemed to be trying to score points by reducing everything to terms on bingo cards. Sometimes there was genuinely reason, but other times, not so much IMO. I think a lot of people crossed a line from pointing out when a person was unconsciously exercising, or even denying, their privilege to actually condemning people for having it and even saying that, because they had white privilege, they could not possibly understand what is was like to be in a situation where they had not been the privileged person.

    Basically, I think that the emphasis shifted from “racial privilege is the privilege pertinent to this conversation” and to “racial privilege is the most important and ONLY pertinent privilege Evar.”

    I’m not saying that was universal, but I did see it on many occasions.

    And because I really do believe that analogy and empathizing over similar experiences are often our best bet for understanding each other and making things better, I kind of have to reject the idea that, even when one thing is directly related to a conversation, other things that are similar that might be used for explanation or illustration should be excluded out of hand. Does that make sense?

  325. Eddie #379: Yes, and it was still bad if you weren’t white. I watched an Asian gal get dragged down in the RaceFail ring because of that. I felt like a race-traitor for thinking some things had gone too far. And then that bounced up against some people driving frenzy from some other side. And so on.

    I even felt like a race-traitor because my typical avatar on many sites is a white dude.

    It all drove me crazy.

    But then again, I did discover how to take 300+ LiveJournal posts and make them all private with one minute of effort and 15 of waiting for the network connections to finish. I count that as good.

  326. Tal: (And yeah, I’m aware that this isn’t a great analogy because of issues of, quite literally in this case, paternalism, but you get the point, yes

    so, back to a non-analogy. Driving While Black is a real phenomenon. Statistics for police departments have shown a far higher percentage of blacks are stopped by cops than whites.

    Turning that on its head and saying that me, a white guy, not having to worry about getting stopped by a cop because I’m white is a privilege is shifting the issue from “racist cops doing racist things” to… what exactly? Me being white?

    I say the problem is racist cops. If you say I’m benefitting from “white privilege” around the cops, then what exactly are you saying in any sort of actionable form?

    i.e. if the issue is racist cops, then the action is to hold cops accountable for racist profiling. Get the police department to correct it. Get the politicians to correct the police if the cops won’t do it themselves. Train them to fix it and then kick them off the force if they keep doing it.

    If the issue around “driving while black” is that I have “white privilege”, then what is my action item? I’m being held accountable for being a white man in a system that has racist cops. What is my corrective action?

    The thing about “white privilege” for me is that it takes a real issue like DWB and racist cops and then it turns individual responsibility and accountability on its head and puts it in my lap. And there’s nothing I can “do” about it because I”m responsible for it simply because I’m white and have this “privilege”.

    And I’ve had conversatiosn where discussions of DWB has turned into accusations of “white privilege” getting thrown around. Racial profiling => bad cop. White privilege => Bad… me?

  327. Scalzi @ 370: See, this is a RaceFail classic of epic derailment. No longer are we talking about whether PoC in fandom feel comfortable but how Greg London thinks discussing white privilege hurts his feelings.

    (I don’t mean to sound like a complete ass. But I think upthread, many people have already made very cogent points about it. Mary Anne Mohanraj being one such example.)

  328. Greg #382 –

    White privilege doesn’t mean “bad you” it just means “you have an advantage and it’s just because you’re white”.

    It’s not blame, any more than me being able to walk means I’m bad because another person needs to use a wheelchair.

    That’s all I’ll say on the matter to you, though. I really don’t know of any other ways to explain the semantics and context of the term, as myriad of them have been used, both here and at Making Light and elsewhere.

  329. ADM, the question isn’t really whether other privileges besides skin color exist, but discussion of other issues being used as a sidetrack. If you and I are trying to talk about Star Trek and somebody jumps in saying “C’mon, there are other science fiction movies, what did you think about the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica?” they’re not contributing to the discussion, they’re derailing it. You might even get a little shirty if they responded to you by saying that BG is a worthwhile subject, too, and you can’t really talk about Star Trek unless you talk about BG too.

    To go back to the rock-on-my-foot analogy, if somebody is regularly having rocks dropped on their foot by others who are purposeful or reckless, I tend to cut them a little slack if they say “Hey, asshole, you just dropped that rock on my foot!” I mean, maybe I am totally innocent. Maybe, like so many others before me, I sat down in that inviting cliffside rocking chair and didn’t notice that I tipped a rock over. Maybe it was an accident. (And maybe they’re a little cranky from having actual assholes constantly dropping rocks on them, so they tend to assume the worst.) But if I insist they retract the word “asshole” before I can possibly allow them to consider my rock-dropping culpability, we’re never going to get anywhere.

  330. Greg, since you didn’t respond, I’m assuming you actually want to engage, though it REALLY does just look like you’re obsessing over the word privilege (complete with scare quotes!). The problem with your racist cops analogy is:

    a) that it’s extreme, and
    b) that it makes it too easy to make this about individual prejudice.

    I’m talking about the privilege of being the default. Not prejudice. Not actively shit treatment. Just that white people are invisible to scrutiny in a way that coloured people are not. One of my posts a long way above talked about the assumption of money – shop assistants talking to the white person if a mixed race pair goes into a shop. Or the asian kids at school being assumed to be math geeks. This isn’t out and out “I hate coloured people” its about the assumptions we make about non-white people because they’re not white. God knows I have them – I wince when I realise I assume that, say, the samoan lady I see with two small children is on welfare. Its hard not to make the assumption, but its easier to monitor them when they come up and try not to let them come back.

    Own your own assumptions. Interrogate them. Don’t treat the status quo as the natural order of things.

  331. Using the word privilege to describe the condition that white middle class anglophone straight men have a number of advantages, and that the non-(X,Y,Z) are comparatively disadvantaged in our society was a deliberate rhetorical choice. It moves the focus from the outgroup to the ingroup, and what the ingroup can do, rather than the outgroup.
    The negative connotations of privilege in the U.S. is part of that rhetorical advantage.

    As Scalzi pointed out, none of the above changes the social condition.

    Some of the things that get laid out as part of privilege also border on what many consider as fundamental human rights. Like equal pay for equal work, access to education, adequate health care, etc. Calling those privileges is dangerous, because privilege can be take away, rather than a right that is an entitlement. Except the entitlement is also a word with negative connotations.

    When used in good faith, it’s not a bad trade off. It can re-frame the discussion in useful ways.

    It’s also easy to use in bad faith. Unearned privilege is an accusation outside of the context of ‘white privilege’. If someone reacts to the implied accusation, the bad-faith actor gets to claim to have used the phrase in all innocence. It is, after all, the standard term.

  332. Arachne @378 – I’m with you on the problems of “-blind” constructions. The fact that you’re not *bothered* that I’m white, male, straight, etc. doesn’t mean that all that stuff isn’t *there*.

    Not sure this is the best term, but I’d favor something like “race-agnostic,” in the sense that online/software companies sometimes talk about being “platform-agnostic.” The companies make sure that their wares *work* with Mac / Windows / *Nix / etc., but they don’t *care* which one you use.

    As much as I can help it, I try to be the same way about people. I wouldn’t make light of anyone’s race, religion, orientation, nationality, etc. — and indeed I try to be sensitive to all of this — but I’m not *bothered* by it one way or the other.

  333. “But if I insist they retract the word “asshole” before I can possibly allow them to consider my rock-dropping culpability, we’re never going to get anywhere.”

    Agree. But its also hard to have a conversation if the response to “umm. I didn’t drop anything on you” is “YES YOU DID!!! Proceeding to escalating sarcastic comments ending in “white wimmin’s tears, cry some more,” at every attempt to say “I’m sorry someone dropped a rock on your foot, but its really unfair that you’re blaming me just cos I’m here.”

  334. I agree that I’m not quite getting what Greg’s aiming at with his point, and I suspect it’s not going to get resolved here. Greg, you can make a final post on this particular issue, but then wrap it up, please.

  335. ADM@367: I’m pretty sure I spent serious amounts of time on this exact conversation with you

    No, that was a different asshole, apparently.

    people. Mostly, you seem to be arguing against its existence. Is that what you mean to do?

    No, to quote you from #380: that there were a lot of people using ‘privilege’ as some sort of buzzword — it got used a lot by people who seemed to be trying to score points by reducing everything to terms on bingo cards. Sometimes there was genuinely reason, but other times, not so much IMO. I think a lot of people crossed a line from pointing out when a person was unconsciously exercising, or even denying, their privilege to actually condemning people for having it and even saying that, because they had white privilege, they could not possibly understand what is was like to be in a situation where they had not been the privileged person

    What I meant to do was say that there is something inherently “clubby” about the phrase “white privilege”. We can argue about assinine etymology and what not, but what you report in 380 is what I’m talking about. Either the term itself is “clubby” or the people who tend to use it are “clubby”, or both.

    I don’t think I”ve ever read a thread that invoked “white privilege” where it didn’t eventually get used in a “clubby” way by at least one person.

    We can debate whether its the person or whether it’s the phrase itself, but I think RaceFail09 is another example of that kind of clubbiness. And your post at 380 seems to agree with that assessement.

  336. On that note, I’m heading to bed. Play nice while I’m away; don’t make me mallet y’all retroactively when I wake up. But everyone’s done well so far, which pleases me very much. Thank you for a very interesting (and largely quite civil) discussion so far.

  337. John, you said, “Since I don’t exactly shy away from using my own socially-provided advantages when it suits me, however, I’m not 100% sure people will buy the conversation from me.”

    I actually think that’s a good place to start the conversation. Giving up privilege is damn hard — it has real world consequences, for you, your finances, your family. Starting the conversation with a reluctance to give up privilege (especially, perhaps, given your lack of privilege in class background) would be in many ways a powerful place to start, and would make it easier for your readers to examine their own understandable reluctances.

    This comes up fairly often in conversation with talented and successful white writer friends of mine, who are deeply afraid of magazines switching to a ‘blind’ submission process. Even though they are bleeding-heart liberals, and in theory committed to an equal process, to a fair chance for PoC writers — when it comes down to the bone, it’s very hard to give up any advantage that might let them finally sell a story to the professional magazines. If you know that your [white, male] name might just possibly give you an edge in the slush pile — it’s seriously hard to give that up.

  338. I have to admit that I went out and tried to follow what the original argument was about. Then people started to bore me.

    I am always bored by people behaving badly. The topic itself I believe has merit. People slinging mud at each other, not so much.

    Then I started to read through this thread. At that point I got up and began to beat my head repeatedly against a wall. This was only to remind myself that the internet is evil and that it was slowly sucking my brain out through my eyes.

    I have not finished my writing goal for the day and it is time to return to reality. I leave you to your joy.

  339. Eddie @391 – Yes, there are some screamy folks who won’t listen no matter what. But saying “I’m sorry someone dropped a rock on your foot, but its really unfair that you’re blaming me just cos I’m here” is not productive. You are, in essence, saying “You’re wrong, you’re being unfair, and furthermore, your motives in saying that are either stupid or malicious.”

    And imagine if you really did accidentally drop a rock on your foot, right after several other people dropped a rock on their foot on purpose.

  340. Greg, you can make a final post on this particular issue, but then wrap it up, please.

    sure.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a thread where someone invoked “white privilege” where it didn’t eventually get used in a “clubby” way by at least one person.

    Maybe it’s just the person would be “clubby” no matter what the terminology was. But I think “white privilege” has a kind of “clubbiness” to it that lends itself to being used as a club. When swung the right way, it acts as an accusation, assigns blame, determines guilt.

    And what I read of RaceFail09, there were a lot of clubs getting swung at people I know who didn’t deserve it.

    The end.

  341. Mythago – perhaps I’m expressing myself wrong. My whole engagement with the hurt foot analogy was to get into why some PoC in the RacFail debate thought that bringing up Tone was some sort of mini-Godwin – if you ask people not to be an asshole to you, you’re instantly a racist white person. In short – being angry may be understandable, and certainly doesn’t make you wrong, but it doesn’t magically make you RIGHT, either.

  342. I should say [angry about racism in general, and about a particular statement that you think is clueless].

  343. There could be some thought that the connotations of the word privilege can make the debate harder by

    1) Making it easier to see as a club to use against the privileged, especially given the power of a term like racist in the current culture. It carries implications of unearned advantages that could be shared but aren’t.

    2) Making it harder for the privileged to see past their own blinders that it’s not something to feel guilty about, or that they can or even should give up as such. You can’t and shouldn’t give up being white, or straight, etc, simply because it’s a privileged position. But the more common use of the term is about things that can and in some cases should be given up.

    Re: (2), the analogy drawn up above to the father holding back on his strength when wrestling with his child is poor; given the solution there (privileged person holds back) and the connection between privilege and employment (solution: definitely not privileged person “holding back”, as that could only consist in not taking a job).

    I agree with much of what Eddie Clark @386 said. But privilege in the context of race has a lot more baggage than simply the set of unearned and unconscious advantages it needs to be treated as, and the word may not be helping get rid of that baggage. Though I haven’t put a lot of thought into what might.

    (The word choice privilege is of course minor next the phenomena itself, but it’s a dicussing-how-we-discuss the issue, which is where this thread sort of started, so it’s what I decided to go on about).

  344. Greg — apologies again, if you were not that asshole :-)

    But I think you and I differ greatly on the clubbiness — you think it is inherently clubby. I do not. Really not.

    Pointing out privilege isn’t using it as a club. Using it as a starting point to shut down someone else is. I think we’ve demonstrated here that it can be discussed very easily without it being a club.

    Mythago @ 385– I get that. And when that analogy (the BSG one) holds true, I totally agree. But I think that analogy only works in the cases where people are trying to shift things to being all about them, or when they are trying to do the thing with saying it really isn’t racism, it’s classism. Those are genuine derailing tactics (although I don’t know that the former is always intentional)

    But when (using the other analogy) someone says, “you asshole, you dropped that cinderblock on my foot!” And the other person says, “Wait, I wasn’t that asshole!” or even “Oh shit! I was totally not paying attention and dropped that cinderblock on your foot, but it was an accident” (i.e., still not quite getting that, if they’d paid attention, the cinderblock might not have got dropped) and THEN goes on to say, “Somebody once dropped a bag of hammers on my foot ” they could be trying to empathise, rather than trying to say that everything is hunky dory because there are two smushed feet.

    And I think a lot of people made the latter assumption of people who might have been trying, albeit clumsily and defensively, to do the former.

    Obviously not everybody in all cases. But I definitely read some of that.

  345. Hey, I just wanted to pause and say that a whole bunch of people have posted some really smart, insightful things in the last couple of hours, and, like, yay!!!

  346. bringing up Tone was some sort of mini-Godwin

    Bringing up tone before substance can, in fact, be used to derail a discussion.

    Imagine a woman confronting her husband with undisputed evidence of his infidelity and getting the reply “I’m not going to talk to you about this when you’re raising your voice to me. You’re too angry; we’ll have a civil discussion later, when you’re calm.” Nobody would have any trouble seeing the tone-before-substance dismissal as what it is: a diversion and an attempt to shut the discussion down because it’s not going to end in happy.

    So when there’s a refusal to discuss substance unless the “tone” is polite, non-accusatory, and judged appropriate in nature by the alleged rock-dropper, that’s perceived very much as diversion. And you know, sometimes it is. Viz., accusations about “strident” and “shrill” feminists.

  347. mythago:

    Ok, I can see this. I don’t disagree that it can be used to derail. I even think its dumb to say that angry people can’t make good arguments.

    And here’s the bit that makes me angry. Where does that leave me? I want to contribute to the discussion. I broadly agree about the dangers of privilege and institutionalised racism. But I don’t have the same ideas on how it should be talked about it or necessarily what the solutions are.

    Is there any way to get into the conversation other than to be yelled at (fairly, unfairly, or part way in between) as a racist white person? Why can’t we all get along is a dumb thing to say, but is there any reason why someone on the traditionally higher side of a power dynamic should EXPECT to get yelled at, and then be told they’re not confronting their own privilege when they yell back?

  348. This isn’t to say that me being angry is more important than racism, but is there any way to engage in tactical disagreement without opening yourself up to criticism that has, in racefail, occasionaly verged on abuse?

  349. Not meaning to directly engage with Greg on this, but I’m going to use his position here as a jumping-off point (before I, too head off for other pastures!)

    I think one of the biggest disconnects many of us have in discussing issues of racism (or other -isms) is the common misunderstanding of what that word really means: Does it mean only individual prejudice, or does it also describe the larger pattern of systematic oppression throughout a culture?

    Most people who come from an individualist/individual responsibility perspective will take “racism” to mean “one person with active, engaged prejudice against someone else because of their race.”

    They concieve of racism, as they concieve of poverty, crime and many other social issues, solely as a matter of individual people failing to behave the right way.

    And because they see these things as isolated cases, and not part of a larger pattern, they feel a lot more free to divorce themselves from the issue entirely. They get the idea that if they’re not actively engaging in violence or discrimination against PoCs, that nothing they do could ever cause any harm to PoCs.

    They get angry, therefore, when they’re told that they have privilege of which they need to be aware, and avoid abusing, because they don’t see themselves as a perpetrator of racism.

    But that’s simply not how things work in the real world.

    None of us is an island. Just like computers on the net, all exist in an interconnected network, and even seemingly small things we do can contribute to the overall good or ill health of that network. And if we care about that health–which includes caring about our OWN health–we have to behave in ways that keep the network healthy for everyone.

    Furthering the network analogy, it’s as if some big company refuses to use virus scanners because they have the resources to remove them from their own machines if they get infected. But then they pass them on to smaller networks, and eventually, someone’s going to have a massive system crash.

    Just because you didn’t write the virus or upload it in the first place doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility to not pass it on. ESPECIALLY if you have a massive network that feeds an entire backbone. With great power comes great responsibility.

    Acknowledging that we in positions of privilege have a responsibility to try to behave in ways that don’t further systematic oppression doesn’t mean that we’re pleading guilty to a hate crime. And thus no one should react as if they’re being accused of such when they’re asked to be mindful of disparities in privilege.

    Someone asking you to install a virus scanner is not telling you they think you’re writing the viruses yourself. They’re just asking you to do your part to help keep the whole network healthy.

  350. Is there any way to get into the conversation other than to be yelled at (fairly, unfairly, or part way in between) as a racist white person?

    Sure. I hate to sound all Zen and stuff, but the first step is for the first item of concern not to be “Am I going to get yelled at for being a racist white person?” Having been on the other side of this in discussions about things other than race, it becomes very obvious very quickly when a participant’s main priority in the discussion is preserving their self-image as a Good Person Who Always Does Right. (And you can imagine how much that contributes to a respectful, productive conversation.)

    There’s a saying that the only common factor in all your failed relationships is you. That doesn’t mean you were always the bad guy, but if every time you try to get into a discussion about privilege where you’re in the “privileged” category it goes wahooni-shaped, then maybe it’s time to consider if the problem has something to do with your end of the discussion, too.

    So, yes, I’ve had conversations with people of color about race without being yelled at, and I don’t think it’s because I am especially sensitive or enlightened. Helpful things: listen, don’t assume you’re right, listen some more, don’t feel the need to respond defensively when something makes you uncomfortable, try to understand why people are saying the things they’re saying, ask questions that are designed to further the discussion rather than divert it, realize that other people’s experiences may be true even if they’re wildly different from yours, and your experiences are not really the central issue at hand. Also, listen.

    Of course that won’t do much against actual screechy people, but it will make it much more likely that you can have a thoughtful discussion with people who would be reasonable and not yelling, if only they weren’t being told to lower their voices and say ‘please’.

  351. 407, Eddie Clark
    This isn’t to say that me being angry is more important than racism, but is there any way to engage in tactical disagreement without opening yourself up to criticism that has, in racefail, occasionaly verged on abuse?

    I don’t have an answer for you.
    I think tactical disagreement is probably not the answer, you need something more akido-like that redirects the discussion away from tone. Recently, I’ve tried distracting my ‘attackers’ by asking specific questions about some thing they’ve mentioned. It seems to reset the tone pretty darn quickly, because it’s hard to stay mad at someone who is curious about some factual aspect of your life.

    I do think there is a minimum level of mutual respect that has to be there for the discussion to go well, and that having a bad tone AND/OR accusing someone of the tone argument grind that level of respect waayyy down. (I call it “tone bingo.”)

    I think this discussion has been pretty good so far because though we don’t know each other, we do know Scalzi, and we all are working within his “respect space.” We’re also working inside his flatten-bs-with-a-hammer space. This keeps me, at least, from saying stupid inflammatory crap in order to be right at all costs. I want him to respect me, so I must give respect to others. (That, and I tend to reflexively assign respect to people. It’s just easier here, because we’re being civil.)

    Oh, and mythago, I think you are totally on target regarding how tone accusations get used on the otherwise helpless.

  352. Mary Anne Mohanraj@395

    I’m with you. A Scalzi essay on race would be interesting and entertaining! Also, a damn sight more articulate and intelligent than most of the crap that comes out of my keyboard. (Not that that ever keeps me from typing, sadly.)

    Back to privilege. Sorry.

    Short note: Maybe that it could be less contentious to describe things as rights rather than privilege? (Also, pigs could fly but who’s keeping track?)

    There must be a bill of minority rights somewhere. Like, as a minority, I should have the right to be addressed as a possible customer instead of an appendage to my non-minority friends.

    As a minority, I should have the right not to hear, “American,” when someone asks, “What race is he?” and know that what they really mean is, “White.”

    As a minority, I should be able to say, “Seattle,” when someone asks, “Where are you from?” and not receive the follow-up question: “No, what country?”

    You know, that sort of thing. Instead of: you’re white, so you get to– It might take some of the sting out of a perceived accusation that people get to rest on their race because they’re not a minority?

  353. Mythago: thanks, that last para is a great point. Disingenuously asking to say please is, in a lot of circumstances, hella patronising – and nothing makes me unreceptive to arguments like being patronised. I hadn’t thought of it that way until reading that para. Ding. Lightbulb comes on.

  354. Hi, Mary Anne, If you didn’t know, I’m Corby, Jen’s husband. We met at WisCon.

    I have to say, other than the old guard of scifi writers, I always assumed no one cared what my name was (and they wouldn’t be able to figure out my race because of it anyway). I thought all submissions were blind.

    How does that work if they aren’t?

  355. 411, Yuhri,

    I like the rights idea. I also think that lots of the “privilege” talk could be repackaged as “advantage”, and we could save the term “privilege” for the more privilege-y bits. Here’s what I mean: I was born with a pretty big advantage over the other players in this game – more counters ($), parents who taught me the rules from when I was little, that kind of thing. But that’s not exactly privilege. Privilege comes in when the local rule administrators (cops) treat me as if I have a get out of jail (scrutiny) card.

    That’s still not as good a good distinction as it could be. The rules of game itself used to grant my parent’s guild extra privileges just because they were on the white team. There have been several patches to the local server instance (14th amendment, Civil Rights Act), but it doesn’t change the fact that they still carried forward a bunch of extra loot and experience points. Note that the presence of a new game administrator who was not promoted from the white team (in patch #44) does not negate this advantage.

    I’m getting a little silly here, so I think I’ll stop for a while.

    Oh, and I really like the other stuff you posted about before, particularly the “list the actors” bit. And your experiences also. Do you have a blog? (Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.) (No, seriously, I would. And would you believe that the quote originated from a Simpson’s episode about tolerance, of all things?)

  356. pio@414:

    Aw. Thanks, pio. I linked to it in my handle, though it’s not particularly exciting. I have no attention span, so I tend to write about whatever shiny thing passes my field of vision at any given moment. Speaking of noise to signal ratio….

    As for silly: I regularly try to check the mood icon over people’s heads to see if they’re green or red. I also occasionally bash the delete button to try and erase my last 30 seconds of verbal foot-in-mouth. Neither have proven a successful way to interact with real people yet, but hope springs eternal.

  357. I’ve been trying to follow all the strands of this conversation on multiple sites and can’t really keep up with all of it. But there is one point that seems important to me as an avid science fiction reader, and one that I haven’t seen addressed explicitly by a lot of the comments (although Alastair Reynolds got it).

    We are at a point in our history where the past global dominance of European peoples is unlikely to survive into the early part of the twenty-first century, much less the far future. Isn’t it incumbent on the writers and fans (and editors) to spare no effort in informed speculation on the diverse cultures of most future worlds? Shouldn’t we BEGIN a discussion on race with an acknowledgment of the absolute centrality of the question to this genre? The question isn’t if the conversation is worth having, it is why science fiction is failing so spectacularly at having it.

    Most certainly, editors must be encouraging diversity in science fiction or else they have failed at their job. If the portrayal of the “other” in many works is inept or offensive (which it may be, and we all have been given pause or worse by negative cultural stereotypes), the writers need to do some more effective research, and publishers obviously urgently need more writers and editors from more diverse backgrounds. Is this so controversial? It seems like the central challenge of science fiction in 2009, not a FAIL 09.

  358. @416

    Maybe this is soul-crushingly business-y of me, but I have to disagree with you on your central points: It is NOT incumbent on SF writers and editors to get the racial composition of their future works “right.” It is incumbent upon them to sell books. It may behoove the authors to consider future trends in diversity because getting it wrong means that future generations will think of them as fools, but beyond that… art is a business.

  359. PJ, I think you largely miss mr 416’s point, although I won’t speak for him/her. It seems to me that a good point was raised – namely – european dominance won’t last FOREVER, so for the future viability of the genre, including its commercial viability, it makes sense to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, including by writing character of colour and soliciting writers of colour.

    Makes sense to me.

  360. Eddie and PJ @416-7,

    Thanks – right, I am concerned with the relevance as serious speculative fiction, not just commercial viability, though as we are seeing, many buyers of sf do seem to be demanding more diversity.

    Just another point of clarification – I’m talking about “hard sf” that is trying to make an informed statement about a possible future, not fantasy or perhaps other kinds of sf.

  361. I don’t see a way to edit comments here so sorry for the follow on post.

    I just want to stress that I DO have a high respect for fantasy or fantastic fiction rooted in specific cultural tradition (s). To state the obvious, Tolkien stands out because of his deep knowledge of European tradition. Of course, there should be more diversity in fantasy publishing today, particularly because of the more diverse consumers of today and the future, but that doesn’t mean that all fantasy books must have people of different skin color. Personally, my ancestors were from western europe, but I buy and devour (well researched) fantasy novels that draw on cultures from say, Africa or East Asia. Or books that drew on multiple traditions. And I think a lot of others would as well. That is the nature of the globalized society we now (or will soon) live in.

    But hard science fiction works by different rules, and I think it has become clear that those basic rules are being broken when depictions of race in the future (whether intended to be literal or allegorical) are not well researched and not written in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. Many authors are trying, though I don’t know if they have all been successful?

  362. If people feel passionately about any topic, a discussion on said topic is bound to degenerate in an informal setting.

    Personally I believe that art is a highly personal endeavour, and artists shouldn’t compromise their art for the sake of a political agenda. This is not as bad as it sounds, since artists have historically always been more progressive and more aware of social issues, and if artists do want to make a political point, they are perfectly capable of doing it properly.

    This is just another case of YouCan’tPleaseEveryone Syndrome (TM). There were no burka wearing females in Star Trek – do you count that as discrimination?

  363. Laur:

    “Personally I believe that art is a highly personal endeavour, and artists shouldn’t compromise their art for the sake of a political agenda.”

    I don’t suspect that’s the intent of folks, however; I suspect the intent is, all other things being equal, why not reflect diversity in your work, and when doing so, work so what you reflect is done accurately. Which is not a bad idea.

    Also, you know, we’ve gone 420 comments here without any major blow-ups. I think it’s possible to have a civil discussion, if everyone decides to work at it.

  364. Corby (paranoyd), as far as I know, most of the sf/f magazines don’t do blind subs. So when they read your story, your name is attached to it, for good or ill.

    There are certainly reasons why magazines wouldn’t want to switch to blind subs — a small amount of additional paperwork, but more importantly, they would no longer get to select work based on the author’s name recognition, which can be an important factor in sales. They also wouldn’t be able to give friends’ (or previously-published in their mag, or famous peoples’) stories a second read, if they weren’t impressed on their first pass. They also (to argue the other side of things) could no longer deliberately search for gender parity, or diversity in ethnic background in the authors they publish. So the magazines would give up something noticeable, in switching to purely blind subs. The question is what they (and we) would gain in the process.

    There’s a compromise position too — blind for the first pass, but put the names back on before you reject or accept a piece. Again, more administrative hassle, but it does give you a bit of the blind benefits without much penalty.

  365. I read your blog regularly. I often enjoy it, and up until now I’ve found you to be a reasonable person who conducts himself well. (I don’t mean to sound condescending here, just want to make it clear that I’m not taking a chunk out of you in general). I’ve read some of the racefail discussion–it has been a painful experience and I understand the criticisms that many people have levelled against the discussion as a whole. However, I was disappointed by the hostility of your initial post. It struck me as unnecessarily defensive.

    You are skilled with words and you could have handled the situation more diplomatically, in my opinion. I don’t see how throwing more fuel on the fire has done any good.

    I was hoping for something more proactive from you.

  366. @Tricia 424

    Not that Scalzi needs me to defend him in anyway because he doesn’t. I can’t say that I agree with you. I felt that his skill with words was used qite well. He clearly laid out that he was not ok with what was done on his site.

    His anger, it seemed to me, had nothing to do with the subject matter at hand. I get the feeling that is why the comments were opened on this one. I am not sure you can call it throwing fuel on something when your anger is about people behaving badly on your site.

  367. Tricia Sullivan:

    “I was hoping for something more proactive from you.”

    And I was hoping not to engage in the discussion at all, since as noted I found it to be a really bad one that wasn’t worth participating in, not because of its subject, but for the conduct of it. However, then one of its spats ended up here, and a discussion that could have been useful had devolved to people taking hammers to each other, and in one case, attempting to use my site to do it. At which point was I definitely hostile, and I feel entirely justifiably so.

    You’re disappointed in my post, which is of course your right. I’m not, because the post reflected both my irritation at someone trying to use me as an unwilling tool for their own bad and petty ends, and my disappointment with the discussion as a whole. Quite obviously I understand it’s not the response some people may have wanted from me, but we don’t always get what we want. I wanted not to have to bother with this particular discussion at all, and clearly I didn’t get what I wanted, either.

  368. Can’t tell you how good it feels to be characterized as a member of the spittle-throwing horde who has no frame of reference for finding your words problematic other than baseless silliness. I’ll just keep that tucked in my pocket for the future.

  369. I’ve just discovered RaceFail ’09 and the mind boggles.

    The one point that comes to me is that for a single somewhat misguided, but probably non-malicious, post from a fan to an author to stir up so much trouble suggests that kindling has been piling up for awhile.

    Also, while my eyes tend to glaze over at some of the more “PC” rhetoric about inappropriate cultural appropriation and that silence is giving comfort to the enemy (which smacks of emotional blackmail), the fact of the matter is that I expect more discipline from the pros then seems to have been the case. The threat of a professional blacklist is more disturbing to me than any other aspect of this whole mess.

  370. Tempest:

    “Can’t tell you how good it feels to be characterized as a member of the spittle-throwing horde who has no frame of reference for finding your words problematic other than baseless silliness.”

    Well, see. This is why I use modifers like “some people,” which implies “not all people.” As noted several times, there have been people who have been trying to make good come out of the mess. If you want to identify yourself as a member of the spittle-throwing horde, Tempest, you feel free to do so. However, I don’t personally believe that characterizes you.

  371. One quick recommendation for anyone trying to make sense of this mess. Read the posts Rydra Wong links to (http://rydra-wong.livejournal.com/146697.html). Skim or perhaps better skip the comments to those posts. Most of the comments are ‘me too’, so you don’t need to spend time on them if you’re short on time. And quite a lot of the over-the-top stupid reactions are in the comments.

    Sticking to the actual posts will give you a much better sense of the interesting elements of the discussion.

  372. @ # 420 – I just want to stress that I DO have a high respect for fantasy or fantastic fiction rooted in specific cultural tradition (s). To state the obvious, Tolkien stands out because of his deep knowledge of European tradition.

    And that about his knowledge of *non* European tradition? Because guess who got painted as the bad guys? (hint, they were not white). See, this is the sort of thing that gets people talking about race in fantasy. No one has a problem with Tolkien’s portrayal of how European traditions can translate to fantasy. But the Haradrim were taken from the Middle East and/or Africa.

  373. I’d like to express thanks to Scalzi for having explained why he was so annoyed with the intrusion onto his blog a few days ago. When he expressed his annoyance in an earlier post without giving any details, I was curious. Now I’ve been able to satisfy my curiosity.

    As for the substance of the debate, I’ll limit myself to saying that I’m a SFF reader and a white woman. Some of the posters here and elsewhere have been claiming that they speak for readers and for women (as opposed to writers and men). I would like to state for the record that they do not speak for me.

    I don’t want to get drawn into this debate, so I’ll stop there. Thank you, Scalzi, for this post (and this blog in general). And to everyone who says they’re fighting for the rights of female SFF readers: please don’t bother to fight for me. Thanks!

  374. Pio said (way back): “Dude, it’s okay. White privilege is not your fault, and it’s not an accusation. It’s just one of those things: if you were born white, you get to not have certain bad things happen to you.

    Have you ever been pulled over for driving while white? Nope. That’s a privilege. Howabout, have you ever prayed that you skin was another color? Probably not. That would be a privilege too. Are most books and movies about heroic people who look like you? That’s a nice privilege. There’s nothing to feel guilty of, it’s just that the world is stacked against people who aren’t like you.”

    I’m having difficulty comprehending your point. First of all, you only identified one “bad thing” that “happened to you” about being pulled over. The rest was sort of generic feeling left out emotional stuff.

    White privileged folks get pulled over for driving a nice car frequently because officers think the ticket will get paid without any fuss. How many times have you seen a BMW pulled ofer with an officer writing a ticket and said “Hell, yeah!”

    White people don’t get preferential treatment in, literally, hundreds of fields, including really big-ticket items like government contracting. It is quite the reverse – minority owned businesses get preferential treatment. The entertainment industry celebrates funny people of all hues of skin, but is beginning to be dominated by people of color. Professional sports are still dominated by people of color. You can list dozens of professions where people of color are making their presence known.

    When it came time to apply for law school, my best friend, who had a GPA of .02 higher than mine, but scored lower on the LSAT, but who happened to be a Puerto Rican Jew, was actively recruited and given a scholarship to an Ivy League school. He got a free ride, while I had to scrimp and save to pay my own way. Hell, I’m still paying for that, while he has a house, wife, family and is incredibly successful.

    In today’s society, a person should be thankful that they’re not white. This discussion of Racefail is absolutely ridiculous.

  375. Just another point of clarification – I’m talking about “hard sf” that is trying to make an informed statement about a possible future, not fantasy or perhaps other kinds of sf.

    Oh, I don’t know, fantasy and non-hard sf could also benefit from a wider perspective.

  376. Let’s not wander back into the woods of White Privilege, actually.

    Elthaelas shook his wizened head. “Nay, youngling. Turn away, return to your farm, marry a good woman and give up this dooméd quest.”

    “I cannot,” said Vangelis firmly. His fingers tightened around the Amulet of Kalon-Thyr, given to him by a mysterious stranger the very night that the Dread Gray Emperor’s shadow first fell over the Summerlands. “The path to the salvation of our people lies straight through the Woods of White Privilege, and I cannot turn aside.”

  377. John Scalzi, one suggestion: What about having two seperate threads, one for discussions of racial issues in general, and one for discussions of Racefail 2009? You might say that one thread is already one thread too much for your taste, but one of your main points in these posts seems to be that the whole LJ explosion is not really the great debate about these issues that some people claim it is, and two threads would make it less likely that general discussions of race and privilege get derailed by debates over who said or did what. (Sorry if this suggestion has been made before; I’ve only skimmed this thread.)

  378. Raphael:

    It’s been suggested upthread I open up another thread, and specifically on white privilege, and it’s something I’m considering. On the other hand, I am but one man, and when I opened this yesterday I did so under the assumption that this is what I would be doing with my whole day. As indeed it was. Intensive moderating has been great for this thread (440 comments without a flame war), but it’s something that takes planning on my end.

  379. These comments have been great on so many levels. I am glad our host got dragged into the debate, has a big mallet, attracts interesting folks, and created a place for a (mostly) civil and (mostly) intelligent discussion. I’ve learned a lot about race, racism, identity, terms that have changing definitions, and how all are wielded in discussion and arguments. Thanks to all the commentors for so much food for thought.

  380. Josh @ 432, thanks for your comment.

    I actually suspect Tolkien DID have a fairly deep knowledge of middle eastern and north african history and folklore, but just chose not to use it much in his mythology which had most of its roots in northwestern europe. If he had incorporated more non-western elements, it would have been very interesting, but I also understand why he didn’t.

    In my first reading as child I associated the haradrim with the amazement at the mumak and the skilled warriors, archers, etc. Tolkien was harsher on other (white) Men he described, and hadn’t the haradrim also been enslaved? Maybe Tolkien made a mistake to leave them completely in the background rather than develop any sympathetic haradrim characters. That was probably a mistake. But I never understood the use of the concept of a dark lord in the trilogy to be equated with literal skin color. I may be completely wrong, and I will accept criticism on this point if I’m wrong!

    Anyway, my real point was that characters of diverse races/ethnicities may be considered optional in some fantasy writing, but it is definitely not optional in any credible science fiction.

  381. 442, a science fiction reader,

    You know, I really love Tolkien, and I would love to believe that he had respect, sympathy, and compassion for characters of color, but those three things are not a substitute for understanding and insight.

    In any case, almost nothing positive about the characters of color actually makes it into the text, and the text is what we have to live with. Combined with the trope that white/light/fair = good and black/dark/tan = bad, well, it’s just not a good picture overall, Sauruman the White notwithstanding. I sincerely doubt Tolkien was interested in perpetuating the prejudices he grew up with, but he was blind to the ones he was expressing in his story.

    Darn, that’s harsh. I really, really love Tolkein, anyway.

  382. @Tempest, Last night I told my wife how much I’d learned from your’s and Mary Anne’s posts. Definitely not spittle-throwing.

    @Scalzi, I’d like to see a white privilege thread. I think there’s a fundamental disconnect between the concept is sent and how it’s received that needs discussion.

  383. Don’t worry, John, my opinion of you won’t change as a result of how you’ve handled the RaceFail discussion. Your first novel had plenty of green people in it, so clearly you able to write with great sensitivity about people of color.

    {Ducks and covers for as I wait for the inevitable barrage of insults after attempting to make an off-handed joke about such a serious discussion.}

  384. I enjoy discussing metadiscussions.

    Scalzi, I have to admit, that was a masterful discussion of the meta-discussion. I can’t compete. The next step would be an endless discourse involving post-modern critical analysis.

    With warm regards,

    Dave

  385. It would have helped if I properly proof-read and edited my own lame attempt at a joke before posting it.

    {Head smack to self.}

  386. Here’s a question for John and the other authors out there.

    I’m sure some of people involved in the big discussion had serious concerns that they were honestly trying to address. Still, when I look at the dog’s breakfast that is the result, my first reaction isn’t to think, “Boy, I’d like to do some of my writing in ways that will involve me in this further.” I’d personally be more likely to dodge or ignore the whole issue, not experiment and stick my neck out. So despite whatever good intention was actually involved, the whole discussion looks sort of self-defeating to me.

    So my question is: if a double helping of Internet drama isn’t going to interest you in writing about things that other people want you to write about, what would it take?

  387. white/light/fair = good and black/dark/tan =bad

    The “bad” in LOTR are orcs, trolls, cave trolls, spiders, ring wraiths, dragons, and such.

    I call that a part of war handwavium. It presents the opposition to the hero as unrepentantly evil so that they can be justly killed, and it presents them as non-human so the viewer/reader doesn’t have to worry about empathizing with the tens of thousands being killed by the hero. It’s a standard trope used in fiction where killing has to be done by the protagonist and the author doesn’t want the reader to get squeamish about it.

    Not saying there can’t be racist issues with LOTR, but the bad guys are presented as Orcs not because Tolkein’s racist but because the entire world of LOTR is based on “Good” and “Evil” with capital G and capital E. And orcs, trolls and whatnot are capital E Evil.

    The very first bullet point of the war handwavium scoring system is othering the bad guys to make their deaths more paletable. Human but different skin color gets a point. nonhuman (orc, spider, etc) gets three points.

    http://www.warhw.com/declaration-of-warhw-short-form/

    The warhw for the three LOTR movies would probably be through the roof. If there is an equivalent “race handwavium” scoring system, I don’t think LOTR would score very high.

    Speaking of “war handwavium”, I am reminded of a story of how it all started. My blog used to be called “war pr0n” or “war porn”. It’s about how violence, war, and whatnot get misrepresented in fiction (among other things). I came up wtih the scoring system and told some people about it. The initial reaction was mostly negative. I’d posted scores for “V for Vendetta” and for the 12 issues of “Watchmen” graphic novel.

    What I eventually got was that people weren’t disagreeing with the scoring system itself. They were disagreeing with the actual phrase of “war porn”. The term “porn” has negative connotations for many people. And even if “V for Vendetta” scored relatively low on the “war porn” scale, they were uncomfortable with it being called “porn”.

    some were concerned that the scoring system was intended to indicate some sort of “goodness” or “badness”. Cause, you know, only bad people read porn, right? I had several conversation about how it isn’t a moral ruler, it’s meant to raise awareness about how fiction war and real war don’t match. If you’re aware that it’s not matching, enjoy whatever you want. “Killl Bill” would probably get one of the highest scores of all, and I happen to like it as a movie. The point of the scoring system isn’t to say you shouldn’t watch or you shouldn’t like this movie or that movie. The point is to simply act as a public service announcement before or after the movie to say “you know it isn’t accurate, right? Yeah? OK, we’re good.”

    But the name “porn” was something some people couldn’t get beyond.

    I ended up getting a new url and website, copying all the files over to the new site, and doing a search and replace from “war porn” to “war handwavium”.

    To me, the label wasn’t as important as the message. And if a number of people heard the label “war porn” and it turned them off to the point that they couldn’t hear the message, then it was more important to be heard than insist on the label.

  388. Pio #443, do you know the Baldwin essay, “Stranger in the Village?” I’m betting you do, but just in case (or for others) here’s a link to an online version: Stranger in the Village.

    It’s dated, of course, but there’s a passage towards the end that I think might be sort of relevant to a discussion of Tolkien and racial/cultural blindness: “The cathedral at Chartres, I have said, says something to the people of this village [in Switzerland, where he's been living] which it cannot say to me; but it is important to understand that, this cathedral says something to me which it cannot say to them. Perhaps they are struck by the power of the spires, the glory of the windows; but they have known God, after all, longer than I have known him, and in a different way, and I am terrified by the slippery bottomless well to be found in the crypt, down which heretics were hurled to death, and by the obscene, inescapable gargoyles jutting out of the stone and seeming to say that God and the devil can never be divorced. I doubt that the villagers think of the devil when they face a cathedral because they have never been identified with the devil. But I must accept the status which myth, if nothing else, gives me in the West before I can hope to change the myth.”

    Anyway, it’s an interesting essay.

  389. Pio @443,

    Your comment is very considerate, thank you.

    Tolkien had some serious missteps on race, particularly as you said not creating any positive character – or even NAMED character – who was a dark-skinned Man.

    But in other respects I found his treatment of race to be sensitive, ahead of its time, and in places very moving. Clearly he was extremely concerned with Europeans’ treatment of Jews at that time, and look what he did with Legolas and Gimli.

  390. @ 448, Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I’m really glad to have discovered your blog and books during the course of this, by the way.

  391. Oh yeah, I know, it’s never me anyone is talking about. I’m not like those other horrible people.

    Except there are no specific names, just a wide swath of generalized (and wrong) dismissiveness and shallow thinking. It’s easy for me not to stand with those nameless people you characterize as the spittling hordes because I haven’t been named, and I’m always “one of the good ones” and whateverall. But I won’t.

    Because I’ve never, ever been more regretful of my friendship with you than when I read the post the first time. I may get over it, we may sit down at a con and have a beer and talk it through. But right now I am so upset with and hurt by you I can’t see wanting to do that any time soon.

    You want to say “Oh, I wasn’t talking about you, didn’t mean to hurt you,” but that is what people always, always say whenever they make stupid blanket statements and act in otherwise stupid, hurtful ways.

  392. ryber @437: You believe *LiveJournal* is the center of the GIDT. This, on an internet which includes 4chan, SA, and the people who hounded Kathy Sierra. Kudos.

  393. Thanks, Mac — glad you’re liking what I have to say.

    Interestingly, John and I actually went to college together at the U of C, though we didn’t know each other at the time. I’m trying to remember when we actually met — probably after my magazine, Strange Horizons, published something of his?

    Anyway, that’s all a bit off-topic, although it does connect to the issue of preferring calm, strongly reasoned debate, with citations. We’ve been indoctrinated. :-)

  394. Tempest:

    “You want to say ‘Oh, I wasn’t talking about you, didn’t mean to hurt you,'”

    Actually, I don’t, otherwise I would have said it. What I want to say is what I said; I wouldn’t characterize you as a member of the spittle-flingling horde. I say that because I know you and read your comments, and in any event you haven’t flung spittle at me, and indeed have been polite if pointed in your responses when you’ve disagreed with what I’ve said and done. Which is manifestly different from, say, the comments that have been along the lines of “What a racist asshole! I will never buy his books!” which are currently littering many a comment thread on LJ.

    As for no specific names, why should there be? I’m not keeping an enemies list, nor do I think there’s much value in saying “Wow, isn’t [X] being especially an asshole?” People are of course entirely free to visit the places were people are talking about RaceFail09 and my contribution to it and judge for themselves, and take down names if they choose.

    This is likewise why I haven’t personally linked back to any particular LJ or blog that’s discussing me in the context of this. On one of the LJs, there was a comment along the line of “wow, I can’t believe Scalzi hasn’t sent his fanboys to attack you yet,” which indicates both that they think I would tell people to attack, and that people would willingly do so, which I think is unlikely. Even so, best not to leave myself open to the accusation. I have enough accusation on my plate already.

    Mary Anne Mohanraj:

    “I’m trying to remember when we actually met — probably after my magazine, Strange Horizons, published something of his?”

    To the best of my recollection, we met for the first time in Toronto, at Torcon 3, and specifically at the Strange Horizons tea party there. A very warm and crowded room.

  395. Mary Anne Mohanraj@456

    I enjoyed your post as well. Hero Worship, is something that bothers me as well. I also abandoned Making Light. I found the same activity everywhere I looked in the recent discussions. You don’t have to be famous to have all your friends come to your blog and give you cookies, and I thought it reinforced the Us vs Them nature of the debate and undermined any hope of exploring ideas together.

  396. As the one who first asked what “White Privilege” is in this thread, I’m grateful for all the calm, thoughtful responses. So, with that thought I have a new question that drives back to the topic: why the Internets hate Scalzi.

    In trying to read up on this, at least on what’s being directed at Scalzi here, what I seem to see is a suggestion that one cannot dismiss this discussion without dismissing the many PoC and AoC (artists or authors, take your pick) who must live with the challenges against them and their work to try and wake the rest of us up to our White Privilege.

    Ann Sommerville, who has had some of the most vitriolic reaction to Scalzi’s initial post as noted above, recently posted her own summary of events with “Cliff’s Notes” as to where people went so wrong. Some of those notes are bits like this:

    Why is this about race? Because calling People of Colour stupid, ignoring their opinions and badmouthing them is a common racist tactic in discussions on race. So is comparing them to non-humans (’orcs’). So is trolling and attacking PoC and their supporters. So is making it all about white people’s feelings…And so is telling PoC their own continuing discussions on race have no value…It is a racist tactic to pretend that white people are the only ones who should decide who talks about what and when.

    I’ve seen these thoughts repeated elsewhere. It strikes me as an attempt to frame the debate in terms of all people of color to all people of privilege. Worse, it seems to avoid this particular discussion is to dismiss all PoC who want to have it. It’s like we can’t talk person to person, we’re talking group to group or race to race. But how? How do you talk to an entire race? How do you speak for an entire race?

  397. Lydia @455 – I was only addressing the parts of the Internets that were at one time considered to be semi-normal. GIDT does not cover a great whopping portion of the Internets as a whole. Those parts of the net were built for/by D’s, and are therefore automagically unquantifiable.

    LJ is no longer normal. A lot of the people who reside there are normal, but the Über-vocal groups who can do nothing other than bash those people who happen to have differing opinions have turned it into a cesspool. LiveJournal is one gigantic flamewar, and I can’t stand what has happened to that once thriving community.

  398. I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot since I first stumbled across it yesterday. I think what’s happening is that science fiction just tripped over the bomb that went off in mainstream fiction about 30 years ago. Bodies… blood… bits of hurt feelings everywhere. The difference in this case is that it all happened publicly.

    By the time I hit college (1990-1995) the English Lit department had completely reformed itself. In fact, so much care was taken to provide alternate viewpoints that I got an English Lit degree without ever having read something by a straight white male. (True!) This discussion gives me deja vu because it’s got all the topics we discussed when I was in school.

    We didn’t solve the question then, and we won’t now, but talking about it openly is important. I believe this firmly. The most critical thing is that every participant must treat both the conversation and its members with the utmost respect. In school, this respect was enforced by the professor.

    On the internet, there isn’t a professor, and sometimes things have gotten out of hand. That’s alright, too. Lessons have been learned, and sometimes you have to air the dirty laundry before you can clean it, etc etc.

    I don’t think it behooves us to argue about things like whether or not X exists. The important thing is that many people FEEL that it exists. Instead of asking “does X exist?” let’s ask “why do people believe that X exists?” Clearly, many people FEEL that science fiction is the bastion of straight white men, and that other viewpoints are given short shrift, or are handled in an insensitive and/or uninformed manner. As with so many things in Real Life, whether or not this is factually correct isn’t the issue.

    So let’s all agree that we need to be better people. More sensitive to the feelings of others. More open to other viewpoints and to well-meaning criticism, even though it may sting to hear it, because it will help us in the end.

  399. It’s absolutely possible to be a good and considerate person about, say anti-semitism, but then turn around and be racist about other issues. In F/SF writing, in fact. The William Sanders Helix internet debate comes to mind.

    Pointing out where j-random-author fails is not an immediate abandonment of all of the good they did in other areas. But many people take criticism badly when called to task about race issues. To them, racists are people who burn crosses on lawns or blow up churches.

    Actually, a good measure of someone’s ability to deal with this on occasion is *ever* seeing them concede that, yes, they were doing race/culture badly, and say they’re willing to try again with guidance from the people who were offended. The common instant reaction in fandom to this sort of suggestion is to say “well, what if I think that person is just wrong?”.

    But after the 9000th time, either all of your critics are eternally wrong, and somehow the person accused is eternally right, or there’s two totally incompatible versions of what racism looks like, and we get back to the “well, I didn’t burn a cross on your lawn” definition of racism, when in fact the criticism was that (drawing an example from actual fiction) you wrote a book where all of the heroes were white in color, and all of the villains “happened” to be dark in color. Or you used an Asian person as a card board cut out of “exotic” to provide interesting scenery. Or the one visibly black person on your TV show is blinded, and has no sex life outside of one episode. Or when you finally create a powerful, complex, virile black hero, and the end of the long, popular series, he kills himself to save white skinned aliens, abandoning his son, wife, and unborn child. (the only reason I actually know about this is because Steve Barnes pointed it out)

    Or that any one of these issues taken alone isn’t the problem, the problem is that they’re part of a pattern that when looked at as a whole has the people who’re being portrayed that way not even able to finish a book because it starts with one of those damn stupid things *yet again*.

    At that point, it isn’t interesting anymore that the author fought against anti-semitism, and bringing it *back* to anti-seminitsm looks like a way to deflect the conversation about those other races that the author really did screw up on.

  400. And that about his knowledge of *non* European tradition? Because guess who got painted as the bad guys? (hint, they were not white).

    Saruman was passing? And Josh, one thing that really strikes me as critically and intellectually lazy (if not outright intellectually dishonest) is the kind of presentism that gets all outraged because… well, an Oxbridge academic, born in the reign of Victoria, whose area of expertise was Anglo-Saxon doesn’t exactly massage contemporary political-critical sensibilities?

  401. Richard@459 wrote:
    I’ve seen these thoughts repeated elsewhere. It strikes me as an attempt to frame the debate in terms of all people of color to all people of privilege.

    I reply:
    Stinks to me of an attempt of someone trying to wrap themselves in the Cloak of Spurious Moral Authority. You see, it’s all about nasty people like Scalzi patting those uppity women and coloured people on the head, when they’re not beating them down instead. From a feminist point of view, it might be interesting to compare and contrast Ann Sommerville’s post with the rhetorical tropes used to put those stroppy women back in their box.

  402. Craig, Sauromon *started* as a “good guy” (white, also a class of angel known as a Maiar) and turned traitor. The races of men that formed the non-Orc armies of Sauron were all dark skinned people.

    And there have been large bodies of academic work on this topic. It’s not like it’s a discredited area of inquiry. Heck you can even read Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz make the same point I’m making over here

    Fanboys will go out of their way, they’ll bend over backwards to swear to God that J.R.R. Tolkien has no racist elements, which is hilarious. In some ways I’m equally committed to both cultures, but I’m an artist, so try to avoid being too much of a partisan. And the same thing, you watch a movie like 300, and it’s fucking hilarious. If you talk to fanboys that are into this, they swear to God that the fact that all the villains are black is not a problem. And yet those of us who exist in the real see how problematic that is, so in some ways it’s not as if I have a sense that one side or the other is superior. I think each of them have an extremely strong blind spot and that neither proved entirely satisfactory to me as an author or to me as a human being. I feel like I had to lay down ten or eleven or twelve different sheets of acetate for the little hole in my eye; the blind spot became less and less and less.

    Diaz, is a professor who teaches creative writing at MIT. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao which features a main character who’s a nerd, a fanboy, and Dominican. In the novel its self, Diaz points out that Oscar noticed the race issues I’m talking about.

  403. Oddly enough, all the LOTR talk is making me wonder how Star Wars fares on the ol’ racism-o-meter. The bad guys are all white, right down to the armor (except Darth Vader, who’s jet black and voiced by one of two black cast members in the whole trilogy), and the good guys are various shades of earth-tones (although the only black human starts off as a bad guy, and the only major non-humans are an odd green Muppet and a big brown monster that’s there to be seen and not heard)

  404. PJ:

    Star Wars lost at Jar-Jar, end of story.

    That said, I am hesitant to use this particular thread to vet every well-known media property on this subject. The LotR subthread is robust enough, I suspect.

  405. Erika @ 461 said: “Clearly, many people FEEL that science fiction is the bastion of straight white men, and that other viewpoints are given short shrift, or are handled in an insensitive and/or uninformed manner. As with so many things in Real Life, whether or not this is factually correct isn’t the issue.”

    Well, it’s at least part of the issue. While we in the fan community can do so much more to make POC feel welcome, POC have to want to be included in the first place, and if they do not in the numbers that could offset the community being seen as a bastion of straight white men, how do we address that? (FYI, while I would admit SciFi looks white, I would say that straight and male is not as big a part of the public face anymore, regardless of the crap the TV show The Big Bang Theory tries to say.)

    There was an apocryphal story a few years ago about a gay POC who sued a gay bar because they didn’t have enough black patrons. Like that bar, we can’t force POC to care about scifi or fantasy, but until they do, the field will be largely the realm of the pigmentally challenged. What we need to do is ensure that we aren’t lording that over everyone “not like us” so they feel safe bringing their friends.

  406. Josh @ 462,465:

    Steve Barnes knows the reality. One of his great early novels had an African-American protagonist — and the book’s cover art showed him as Caucasian.

    Samuel Delany has written cogently about this, both as a successful professional (and professor) outside the dominant discourse.

    Robert Heinlein didn’t mention his protagonist’s skin color until near the end of Starship Troopers. Ursula K. Le Guin’s latest botched TV miniseries adaptation changed skin color, to the detriment of the story.

    Was C.S. Lewis a racist because some of the bad guys in the Narnia trilogy were dark skinned?

    I agree with my Stuyvesant High School co-alumnus Eric Himpton Holder, Jr. (born 21 January 1951) the 82nd and current Attorney General of the United States and the first African-American to hold the position. He says Americans Are Cowardly on Race Issues.

  407. John @ 486

    You’re absolutely right about Jar Jar. I should really stop pretending that those three movies don’t exist.

  408. @ PJ Barbarian: Oddly enough, all the LOTR talk is making me wonder how Star Wars fares on the ol’ racism-o-meter.

    Hint: Not very well.

    See: Jar Jar Binks.

  409. White privilege.

    Yup, there is such a thing in our culture, I suppose, and I suppose that I benefit from it, as my ancestors were primarily from the European continent.

    And I can’t get rid of it. There is nothing that I can say, or do, or not say, or not do, that will remove it; either from myself, or from your projection of it onto my words, deeds, and motivations.

    How much of it is due to my skin color, and how much of it is due to the way of being in the world that I was taught as a child and still follow (at least some of) as an adult, I don’t know. If someone treats me as if I have white privilege that is something that they are doing to me, not something that I do. I usually try to ignore people’s skin color; over the half-century I have noticed that what I was taught in my childhood is correct: normal skin colors tell me little that is useful about the other person (burns, infections, … are differences that are useful), and I try to ignore their eye color, hair color, dress, piercings, and tattoos, as well. I reject the idea that I should extend either white privilege or PoC privilege. There are times and discussions where such things are or can become important, especially if I have a relationship with someone beyond that of meeting them, but usually they are not; such (inherited or not) group memberships (or lack thereof) are just not a major factor in how I will interact with you. (Or at least I try not to allow them to be a major factor; if someone wears seven earrings in each ear, five studs in your nose, five in your upper lip, and four in the lower, I’ll probably stare the first time I see them, and I’d wager that you would, too!)

    I suspect that the use of skin color as a marker of Otherness goes very, very far back in history, to the pre-language times, and that those distinctions were made on much more subtle differences than the black/white we use today. The Other stole your carrots and hunted your game, and you were hungry. If your tribe survived, your children learned that The Other(s) were BAD, and that was wired deep into the genetic programming of our cerebellums — those who did not make those distinctions did not survive. Sadly, it’s going to be a long time before this mess gets cleaned up.

    Writing as The Other seems to me to be almost impossible (I have a hard enough time writing as Myself); that some appear to do it well must be extremely difficult for them to accomplish, and I commend even their attempts at doing so. Were I to dye myself black and attempt to write as a black person, I couldn’t — I’d be writing as a white person who was dyed black.

  410. @469, paranoyd: “Like that bar, we can’t force POC to care about scifi or fantasy, but until they do, the field will be largely the realm of the pigmentally challenged.”

    I think one of the best things that RaceFail ’09 has done for me is to highlight that there is a significant POC fanbase, they just get disregarded time and time again. Which, you know, leads to not feeling comfortable/welcome in the fandom and distancing the self from SF/F. But POC fans exist, and they do exist in considerable numbers.

    I can link you to some articles/essays/thoughts if you’d like, although rydra_wong’s list o’ links does the job pretty well.

  411. paranoyd @469 “POC have to want to be included in the first place, and if they do not in the numbers that could offset the community being seen as a bastion of straight white men, how do we address that?”

    Exactly! I think we can start by asking “why DOESN’T science fiction appeal to people of color?” Fortunately we don’t actually have to ask. A lot of people of color have provided their input on this question over the last few months. We should listen thoughtfully.

    From the perspective of the fandom (i.e. not being a producer of science fiction), I’m white, so I’m not sure I’m qualified to speak on that issue. However, being female, I can say that nothing curdles me faster than overhearing a conversation between men arguing whether or not something is misogynist.

    I’m not saying that men can’t or shouldn’t defend things against charges of misogyny, or that no man ever has the right to say “that’s not misogynist.” I’m just saying that if I walked into a room (literal or virtual) filled with men having a heated, vitriolic argument about misogyny pockmarked by name-calling and poop-throwing, I’d walk right back out and never return.

  412. JVP @ 470 – wait, it gets better, Barnes was told that if there was a black man on the cover of his book, it wouldn’t sell as well as if there was a white man, an he says he understands, and it’s true. A black man on the cover of his book, at the time, would have hurt sales.

    This is why efforts not to have this conversation, or to silence the unhappy parts suck so deeply.

    Was C.S. Lewis a racist because some of the bad guys in the Narnia trilogy were dark skinned?

    This is not a question that is ever well served by a yes or no answer. You ought not to consider it outside of the larger context of the portrayal of race in the field of fantasy as a whole.

  413. And by “a room” I should clarify that I DON’T mean this comment thread. I think everyone here has worked really hard to be respectful, open-minded, and even-tempered. Clearly we need to carry that code of conduct To The Masses, so to speak.

  414. Josh Jasper@465:

    Nice straw person set up and knocked down there. I live “in the real” where Oxford academics between the First and Second World Wars routinely held social attitudes that make my flesh crawl — this was a time, remember, where married dons and conferring degrees on women were shocking innovations to many. I also cringe every time I read the ample evidence that the supposed progressive views of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set seldom extended to being civil to or about the servants, or avoiding making casually anti-Semitic remarks about her in-laws.

    I guess we can continuously whitewash inconvenient facts and consign the works of impure writers to the memory hole to match present day sensibilities, but I fail to see what that achieves.

    (BTW, if I’m supposed to find Diaz more authoritative because he’s won a Pulitzer, I’m going to remind you that one of his fellow laureates is a woman by the name of Margaret Mitchell.)

  415. I have only read parts of this debate, but the parts I have read suggest that the problem is in part the natural human tendency, on both sides of the debate, to personalize the debate and make ad hominem arguments.

    It’s hard enough but possible to have a civil debate when each side is saying: “In my opinion, for reasons X, piece of writing Y does not succeed in doing Z (or does not adequately support critique Z)”.

    It is probably impossible to have a civil debate, especially on the internet, when each side goes on to characterize the persons on the other side of the debate. People take personal criticism personally, even if it is artfully framed, and even if perhaps it is in part true or in part justified.

    In any event, in internet debates, one rarely has enough information about the different protagonists so that any outside observer can tell whether personal criticism is accurate or inaccurate. I can perhaps learn something from debate about a piece of writing, whether it is a work of fiction or an internet post. I am less likely to learn something from arguments about how to describe the character of someone participating in an internet debate.

    The cause of civil debate would be help if people made every possible effort to avoid personalizing the debate.

  416. Arrgh. Proofreading is hard.

    Or at least I try not to allow them to be a major factor; if someone wears seven earrings in each ear, five studs in their nose, five in their upper lip, and four in the lower, I’ll probably stare the first time I see them, and I’d wager that you would, too!

  417. John, thanks for the comment that our (limited) LOTR discussion here might be useful here. Both sides have a useful perspective on Tolkien. He took a powerful positive stance on race relations in Europe – particularly with the very allegorical dwarves – but was also extremely insensitive, even for his day, with his casual and thoughtless depiction of the haradrim. (I think the comparison to 300 quoted @ 465 by Diaz is a little disingenuous though – I mean Diaz not the commenter! Frank Miller is no Tolkien.)

    But that’s all fantasy. If serious science fiction is going to have relevance to TODAY’s readers, much less tomorrow’s, we need to do a better job with ethnicity. Not just readers of color, to anyone who thinks about what our multicultural future is going to look like. I really don’t mean to single out any authors or publishers in particular. Erika @ 461 is right that as a whole sf has some major catching up to do.

  418. I don’t want to derail the conversation, but as a (female) comic book nerd, this often reminds me of the general lamentation that Girls Don’t Read Comics, even though (a) they do and (b) it really is uncomfortable to see your gender served up as an adolescent fantasy, or reduced to only two or three character roles that painfully stereotype women.

    There’s noise made about giving women more representation or just a broader spectrum of roles, but in the end it’s just noise because, well, girls don’t read comics, right? And they continue to make the same types of comics with the same types of gender roles as they bemoan the lack of women and plunging sales of comic books.

    Again, not to derail the conversation into women and comics because that’s not what this is about, but to give an analogous example where it’s obvious that there are girl comic nerds (just as there are POC nerds) and that this isn’t a very good excuse.

  419. While I’m perfectly willing to grant levels of systemic racism in LOTR, especially in the terms used to characterise e.g. orcs — which is effectively inescapable, and pretty mild, in terms of the period — let me point out:

    1) In terms of the genesis of the Middle-Earth history white bad guys (notably Ar-Pharazon & Co.) predate any of the instances of foot-soldiers from Harad. For that matter Umbar — the closest Sauron-allied part of Harad — was a Numenorean haven. There’s a twist in perspective imposed by the fact that LOTR was published before the Silmarillion and the Akallabeth, even though they were prior in Tolkien’s imagination and execution.

    2) In terms of the logic internal to the story, the North-East of Europe is special only because it was twice colonized from outside by special forces: first the Noldor (in the First Age), and then the Faithful from among the Numenoreans (end of the Second Age). Of course, this is closely related to the presence of Morgoth and Sauron in those locations as well. But everywhere outside that area was at best disadvantaged and more strongly put was under the effective dominance of Morgoth and Sauron in Middle-Earth. So in addition to Haradwaith, some of whom are dark-skinned, Sauron has white-skinned footsoldiers for Sauron from Rhun.

  420. Paranoyd said @ 469: Well, it’s at least part of the issue. While we in the fan community can do so much more to make POC feel welcome, POC have to want to be included in the first place, and if they do not in the numbers that could offset the community being seen as a bastion of straight white men, how do we address that?

    Um. I’m not sure if you’re realising how your post looks, but it looks like you’re putting the onus on the PoC to openly stand up and say “Hey, we’re here,” into a environment which looks hostile (and demonstrably so) to them.That said, part of this series of discussions IS PoC saying, “Hey, look, we want to feel welcome in this community, and you guys keep doing X, Y, and Z.” I don’t think it’s entirely about the numbers of PoC (although as attidutes change, I expect the numbers to improve).

    …like that bar, we can’t force POC to care about scifi or fantasy, , but until they do, the field will be largely the realm of the pigmentally challenged.

    PoC ALREADY care about sci-fi and fantasy. (In spite of its pigmentally challenged status.) I’m trying to find the link, but somebody had this list of PoC speculative fiction authors and it was quite long. Anyway, part of the bigger conversation started in part because a few of them tried to speak up about what they felt was inconsistent writing techniques, and then when this whole thing turned into the many-headed hydra that it is, in part it was because a lot of fans of colour were saying, “Hey, we’ve been here this whole time.” (I found this comment by Susan Marie Groppi to be useful: http://www.susangroppi.com/2009/03/frames-of-reference/ Basically, she pointed out that the Harlan Ellison Boob Grab wasn’t solely about Harlan Ellison, but became a starting point for many many women to discuss how they’d felt SF/F and its many communities were often hostile spaces for them. While racism and sexism have different privilege sets–some overlapping, some not–I think she had a point in that a lot of this hasn’t been SOLELY about one white author getting criticized by two PoC, but a bunch of PoC going, “Hey, look, we’re not feeling welcome, and this is why.”)

    Anyway, my point is that PoC ARE into SF/F, but many of us keep overlooking them or self-selecting for people JUST LIKE US, and the deep-sunk racism that pervades our society has been “teaching” us that PoC aren’t into various nerdy things. And it’s just not true. They’re there already.

    …..

    Jonathon Vos Post: I’d say C. S. Lewis said racist things or wrote racist things. (With only two exceptions, the Calormenes are all considered to be eeevil and barbaric, or at the least, rich, spoiled slaveowners. Aravis and Emeth escape this characterisation, but generally the dark-skinned Calormene hoards are the bad guys for a good half of the books. They show up as slave traders in Dawn Treader, and feature prominently in Horse (book 5, by original publication numbering) and The Last Battle (book 7).

    Whether he was a racist….I don’t know. There was some discussion about calling people out on their racist behaviours and somebody (Chicken Fried Jo, I think?) sent me to this video which I found useful.

    It’s about the what-you-did versus what-you-are. “I don’t care what he is, but I need to hold him accountable for his actions.” So whether C. S. Lewis (long-dead) is or isn’t a racist isn’t as much important as what I would do with his material and if I would expose my kids to it. (Short answer: I would. But with a lot of caution and discussion.)

  421. I know, I’m repeating, but:

    People of color DO care about fantasy. A lot. Or none of this would have come up. There are people of color who care about every single genre you could name. (Tangentially, there are people of color who care who are not in this country and who are speaking other languages who are maybe just now getting translated — Anglophone privilege, right there.) A MAJOR misstep in the conversation was the assumption that they don’t, simply because they don’t show up at Cons or some other arbitrary measure — even though Cons are geared towards people who can drop their job for three days and spent bunches of money to live in a hotel for a while. Another major misstep was this assumption being made with nobody trying to check the veracity of the statement at all. Any census being taken?

    One of the more enlightening things for me (well, read) Charlie Stross said during the Martin ASoIaF slugfest was about the difference between fans (the vocal, the Internet connected, et cetera) and READERS, who also, well, READ, and have money, and outnumber “fans” by a quite healthy margin.

    My whole eighth grade class of blacks, Latinos and Asians were reading the stuff in the way that 13-year-olds do — pass the book around to everyone. Our Colombian teacher read us “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” which is what kicked most of us off on the journey. Haven’t gone to many Cons myself, but I see plenty of blacks and other buying comics, manga, and so on in my fairly large city, and showing up in droves at cons when you can get to them by bus. And, you know, Oscar Wao, as mentioned above, is a character taken from life, not fancy.

    Seriously — if such statements are to be made, there need to be some numbers crunched.

  422. Josh: . If you talk to fanboys that are into this, they swear to God that the fact that all the villains are black is not a problem. And yet those of us who exist in the real see how problematic that is,

    So, the question I have is, can you make the problem be about the fiction and not about the fan? And even not about the author?

    I only ask because my war porn scale thingy started out with people thinking it meant somethign about them for reading it or meant something about the author for writing it.

    And while I discovered the RaceFail09 discussion only after Scalzi (didn’t) mention it on this thread, if I understand the sequence properly, it seems to have started because someone offered feedback to an author, and made it about the author, not the work itself.

    People write cardboard characters. People write magical negroes into their stories. People write war handwavium into their battle scenes. With the war handwavium stuff, I”m willling to make ti about the fiction, not about the author or the fans.

    This whole thing started as a critique about a work of fiction. And I’m pretty sure the basic reason it exploded into the gargantuan watchmen-style squid that it is now, is because some people on both sides made it about the people on the other side, rather than keeping it on the topic of works of fiction.

    It doesn’t matter why you as author chose to show torture produce good intelligence. Maybe you thought torture works that way, maybe you just needed a plot tool to get info to the protagonist and this happened to be what you came up with.

    It doesn’t matter why you wrote it that way. The point of war handwavium is to say, look, torture doesn’t produce good intel. It produces far more false positives and so much unactionable intel that you get overwhelmed. If you write a torture scene into your story, and it produces useful intel, you’re going against how reality works. Its fiction, so you can do that, but it is unrealistic.

    If I start asserting things about the author’s morality and the reader’s morality because he wrote an unrealistic torture scene and the readers liked it, I can expect things to start getting ugly really fast.

    It seems that the RaceFail09 conversation quickly shifted into moral judgments about the author for having written something into their fiction, rather than keeping it to an assessment of the fiction itself, and then the giant squid exploded all over New York.

  423. Mac:

    “One of the more enlightening things for me (well, read) Charlie Stross said during the Martin ASoIaF slugfest was about the difference between fans (the vocal, the Internet connected, et cetera) and READERS, who also, well, READ, and have money, and outnumber “fans” by a quite healthy margin.”

    Yes. This. Which makes a difference in a lot of things, for a lot of different reasons, for both good and ill.

  424. It’s my naivety, of course, but I always thought that the Fellowship of the Ring was an allegorical model of multi-racial togetherness, going off to smite the multi-racial bad guys.

  425. The good ole PC heifer horde strikes again.

    Though they may threaten book sales, their online volume far exceeds their actual numbers. Have they accomplished anything besides their LJ froth and spittle?

    The Encyclopedia Dramatica summarizes these types nicely.

  426. C.S. Lewis was an Irishman living in an elitist, English academic world. As in most cases, those whose claim to in-status is most tenuous are the ones fighting hardest to justify the existence of in-status. If I remember correctly, his only significant experience outside Ireland and Britain was World War I.

    He had some racist ideas — normal for his time. (Writing about the Calormenes “eyes flashing horribly white in their brown faces” and “reeking of onions” is NOT COOL.) He also had some funny ideas from being immersed in the hierarchal and abusive “fagging” (Note — UK usage of this term does NOT refer to homosexuality) system in British boarding school (which explains a lot about Prince Corin in The Horse and his Boy). He was also pretty anti-French, as was his friend Tolkien. He also had some very silly ideas about the dangers of sexy women.

    The question to ponder, then, becomes, “Since we know the man had these flaws — what is OUR course of action?” Do we avoid? Disavow the things that he expressed well? Or read with consciousness, and acknowledge the problems and learn from them not to repeat them, and move on? Does reading him make me evil or self-hating? (I think not.)

    (And no, just because I’m saying “normal for his time and social position” doesn’t mean I’m going “A-Okay” or “excusable.” T.S. Eliot was an anti-semite — normal for his time, but Tolkien, a contemporary, stood up to Nazis publishers and told them he was sorry he could claim no ancestry from that “great race.” So it can be done.)

  427. Luke Jackson:

    “The good ole PC heifer horde strikes again.”

    I see you come with a bottle of gasoline and a match.

    Let’s not do that twice, please.

    Also, let’s not have other people bring in their own Molotovs. I have a mallet and I’m not afraid to use it.

  428. Craig, this conversation isn’t being had with the goal of you deciding if it’s achieved something or not. For those following along, it’s about portrayals of race in Fantasy and Science Fiction, not “Tolkien was a racist ninny”. Actually, he wasn’t (IMO), and it’s more complex than that.

    Saying X=problematic does not translate into the person who wrote X needs to be consigned “to the memory hole”. Just that it’s a problematic portrayal of race when taking in the context of the fantasy genre as a whole, which has a history of problematic portrayals of race.

    And also, Diaz is a well respected academic in the field of literature, who’s devoted a good deal of time to critical analysis of F/SF. You don’t get a professorship at MIT (yes, they do have good liberal arts classes) for collecting bottle caps. And it’s not just one award for one book either. His Wikipedia entry has the top awards he’s won :

    Diaz has received a Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Readers Digest Award, the 2002 Pen/Malamud Award, the 2003 US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

    He is a well respected and educated academic who spends time thinking about this very issue.

    a science fiction reader @ # 482 – I thought the LOTR/300 comment was more about saying, look, here’s a book coming form the start of the genre, where hordes of dark skinned baddies storm the white good guys, and here’s a big deal movie at the current day that’s doing the same damn thing.

    I think Diaz is saying, look, there’s a pattern here, and there’s also a pattern of fanboys throughout history refusing to look at the pattern, and shouting down anyone who talks about it.

  429. but I always thought that the Fellowship of the Ring was an allegorical model of multi-racial togetherness, going off to smite the multi-racial bad guys.

    When I saw the first LOTR movie by Peter Jackson, I remember seeing the scene at the big birthday party and thinking, ‘why is everyone white?’ I had always imagined it as multiracial when I read the book. I thought they might fix it when they got to the bar where they met Stryder. Surely the Cantina scene will have persons of different colors. But no.

  430. (pardon my typos, of which there are legion in those last two posts, yikes ;-)

    I was trying to type “one of the most enlightening things I’ve heard (well, read)…”

  431. Also, congratulations to everyone for making it to the 500 comment mark with nearly everyone being civil, useful and engaged in the discussion. This is nice. Thank you.

  432. Luke Jackson has been trolling this mess from very early on.

    When I saw the first LOTR movie by Peter Jackson, I remember seeing the scene at the big birthday party and thinking, ‘why is everyone white?’ I had always imagined it as multiracial when I read the book.

    I thought of the hobbits as having varying skin tone too, though I think I more thought of them varying between Spanish and Irish (so to speak) than, say, Welsh and Korean. But nope, it’s England!

  433. Josh Jasper:
    Craig, this conversation isn’t being had with the goal of you deciding if it’s achieved something or not

    *cough* Mr Scalzi: Could you pre-emptively hit me with the Mallet of Loving Correction?

  434. Oh, and it occurs to me that the nasty comment might not be from the real Luke Jackson but someone trolling in his name, so to speak.

  435. Tongue in cheek, as someone who escaped intact from the trenches of an English Lit degree in the early 90s: when discussing racism w/r/t a work like LOTR, the optimal phrasing will be something like “It can be read as racist” or “It can be framed as racist.”

    Can LOTR be read as racist? Certainly, and many people have explained how. Does that mean that it IS racist? The answer to that question depends on where you fall on the spectrum of post-post-modern literary criticism.

  436. I’m teaching colonial and post-colonial literature right now, works like Kipling’s Kim and Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines. This is how we tend to phrase things:

    – these authors naturally shared some of the racist assumptions of their times
    – yet here are some interesting elements of their work that actually seem to work against prevailing racist ideas
    – this character’s attitudes are racist (as you might expect, given the context, and which might be a deliberate choice on the author’s part)
    – although we can’t know for certain, on the evidence of the text, both of these authors seem deeply conflicted on race issues, and I would argue are at times attempting to interrogate those issues in their work

    I’d apply much of that to Tolkien too.

  437. Josh (and incidentally Craig):

    One of the (very peripheral) things I got out of reading the various posts across LJ was a reference to Junot Diaz and Osacar Wao. I picked the book up from the library this week and it’s very, very good.

    On the topic of whether people should feel obliged to engage with this debate, see the two contrasting posts below:

    http://londonkds.livejournal.com/333368.html

    “White people have nothing useful to say right now”

    vs

    http://seeking-avalon.blogspot.com/2009/03/horn-of-orcdom-sounds.html

    “Your silence sucks, white people”

    I realise these are two isolated posts on the topic. But I HAVE seen both sentiments expressed, often in the same comment thread. While, as I said (a long way) above, Scalzi was too bitchily dismissive of the usefulness of the racefail debate, is it any wonder that people who haven’t been immersed in this debate from the start don’t want to get involved?

  438. Josh @ 495,

    I think I’m pretty well-informed about Tolkein’s books, and moreover just refreshed on some wiki detail before posting. It’s been pretty clear to me that Tolkein was not describing “hordes of dark skinned baddies” storming the white good guys. Now, your mileage may vary and I grant you that your perception is as important to you as mine is to me.

    That said, I have a hard time finding any description that fits “dark skinned baddies” other than “swarthy skinned” (which is close, I admit, but applied to a small fraction of the baddies and not to the whole). More importantly, most of the baddies attacking our heroes were of distinctly mixed-blood. For example, the Corsairs of Umbar included the descendants of “Black Numenoreans” (so-called because they worshipped the “black arts” and Sauron, not because of their skin color), as well as the descendants of Gondor’s kings via The Usurper’s sons who fled from Gondor to Umbar after they were overthrown. The Corsairs had those progenitors as well as those from other races.

    Of course, there were Orcs aplenty and my clear impression is that they were black-skinned. Perhaps it’s my bias, but I never thought their blackness was a key distinguishing characteristic, except as it served to point to their unnatural orgins as the result of meddling with those “dark arts” that contrasted with worshiping of the light. If you say Tolkein was unconsciously denegrating people of color by linking them to an unnatural creation, well, all I can say is that I didn’t pick up on that as a critical reader, one who ostensibly has some credentials in the field (B.A., English Literature).

    Now if you want to assert that Tolkein’s subtext included a message of racial purity and warned against mixing of races, which would lead to weakness and eventual downfall, I can’t really argue with you. It’s there.

    I admit I may not have your same sensitivity to the issue(s), but I’m not seeing the lightness = good and darkness = bad in terms of skin-color. I’m seeing it in terms of the ancient terms used in many Western religions throughout history. In particular, I don’t see the same skin-color issues in Sauron’s forces that you assert are there.

    Finally, I know this topic has been argued back and forth many, many times. I don’t expect we’ll solve it here, today. But I’m open to reading and thinking about your point of view. More than that, I cannot promise.

  439. I know I shouldn’t have, but I kept reading and I’ve found more and more annoying this whole charade.

    I’m not going to name names, but some livejournal pages and the related comments were deeply disturbing: there are people out there that remind me of the Chinese Red Guards, I can easily figure them metaphorically looking for “enemies” to parade on the streets with placards proclaiming “racist”, “enemy of the PoC” and “privileged white” hanging at the neck, for the joy of the harassing mob who can insult the unfortunates, spit on them and kick them while they’re trying to crawl away.

    Apparently being from a different country, with a different culture and a different history isn’t enough: you’re enjoying the “white privilege” even if everybody’s white, and if you point this little thing out it doesn’t matter, they know better than you though they probably can’t find your country on a blank map.

  440. Just ran across this conversation. My take:

    Social Engineers fighting Social Engineers over who gets to be the patriarch (or matriarch) and who has to be the poor confused automoton that doesn’t understand the implications of their thoughts and words. (You Just Don’t Get It! No, you Just Don’t Get It.)

    I find this hilarious. Sucks to be on the other end of the PC stick, huh?

  441. @508: “Of course, there were Orcs aplenty and my clear impression is that they were black-skinned. Perhaps it’s my bias, but I never thought their blackness was a key distinguishing characteristic, except as it served to point to their unnatural orgins as the result of meddling with those “dark arts” that contrasted with worshiping of the light.”

    Here is the thing about the Orcs: they’re black-skinned, they’re ferocious and savage and mindless beasts of destruction. If this doesn’t sound familiar yet, it’s one of the biggest stereotypes of black characters in media, and (arguably) a conception that many people carry unconsciously or consciously.

  442. More importantly, most of the baddies attacking our heroes were of distinctly mixed-blood.

    I know that interracial marriages are not something sane people blink an eye at now, but in Tolkein’s day, they were something out of the ordinary, and many folks had strong reactions to them. Or to “mixing” with others than your own kind. So I’m not seeing the mixed-blood argument as a mitigating factor.

    Also, the portrayal of the Easterlings is very one-note, and in cases where the group in question isn’t overtly hostile, like Ghan Buri Ghan’s folk, they have been hunted in the past because they are seen as uncivilized savages. (Also, among the pigmentally challenged, there’s discussion about how Gondorians are higher than Rohirrim, and how the blood of Rohan has been diluted.) That there are caste systems of some kind in place seems evident. That there are structures that are being upheld that indicate status based on race and family seems evident.

  443. Of course I’m enjoying the “white privilege” — and I agree that the issue is not finger-pointing, but deciding what to do that makes the world a better place. And then actually doing it. I have used my privilege to get two professorships, and then, on deeper reflection, to have taken a big pay cut to teach in predominantly African-American high schools (Nia Charter School in Altadena, June-Dec 2008) and in predominantly Latino high schools (Lincoln, Los Angeles, March-June 2009).

    I appreciated Mary Anne Mohanraj@505 for her linguistic care. And admit with a little embarrassment that I thought: “attempting to interrogate those issues in their work… hmmmmm. I hope that the interrogation confirms to the MLA clauses of the Geneva Convention.”

  444. Picking apart whether a particular author or book is racist (or ‘can be read as racist’, or whatever) is looking at individual trees and not seeing the forest. The issue isn’t really whether a single work is racist – I hope nobody is going to stick up for Robert E. Howard or H.P. Lovecraft on this – but the body of SF/F as a whole. When the vast majority of fantasy centers around white characters, or is set in pseudo-medieval England, or uses “black” as a proxy for “evil,” that’s a problem. When Asian characters overwhelmingly pop up as characters who are exotic and always good at martial arts, that’s a problem.

    (I’m thinking of Harlan Ellison’s tale of attacking a lit’rary type deconstructing “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” where he got tired of listening to the guy talk about all the symbolism he supposedly put in, and asked “What do you make of the fact that Ellen is black?” The guy apparently totally missed the description of her face being ‘black against the snow’ as a literal description.)

  445. Eddie #507

    is it any wonder that people who haven’t been immersed in this debate from the start don’t want to get involved?

    Or that of those of us who were involved at the start, some don’t want to be a part of that anymore? If you think “you didn’t apologize enough” is troublesome, there’s also “you waved the flag for your white friends” being shot out at, hah, people of color. Personally I don’t like that term but what are you going to do? The whole “house negro” thing brought up again—historically, “you get to work in the master’s house, of course you’re going to defend him,” which is demeaning and implies that someone like me can’t get near a white person without having my mind all TAKEN OVER.

    Fah.

    And was also my parents’ argument against not dating a nice Asian boy (preferably not Japanese, because then Vietnamese brains naturally get taken over etc).

    When I see that going around, I want to scream and kick in some heads, but then that gets taken the wrong way by multiple sides, and then you just want to stop and get away from the fail. Because you can’t defend your white friends—even if it’s “with reservations about some mistakes”—any more than they can defend themselves.

    Good gods.

    Of course, I’m waiting to be descended upon now for saying this stuff, but really, I hope I’m insignificant enough for the vultures to pass on by.

    (Note: just because I don’t like the way some parts of the conversation on LJ is going *and* I’m not white *doesn’t mean* I’m a race traitor and *doesn’t mean* I don’t think racism exists and *doesn’t mean* I prefer to demean myself/others of color. Repeat to self again. Repeat, repeat, repeat….)

  446. [Deleted because I don't want to bother with this dude at this moment. Feel free to wander around the rest of the site, Luke, but stay out of this particular thread -- JS]

  447. 489, htom
    It’s my naivety, of course, but I always thought that the Fellowship of the Ring was an allegorical model of multi-racial togetherness, going off to smite the multi-racial bad guys.
    Well, of course that is what it is. At the same time colored with assumptions made by the author about “color” that are really, really, hard to ignore.

    484, James,
    some of whom are dark-skinned, Sauron has white-skinned footsoldiers for Sauron from Rhun.
    Right, the wainriders. You know, semi-nomadic people who travel around in wagons, a kind of mobile warrior culture. Which sounds cool and all, until you learn that in real life there’s this nomadic group decended from a nomadic warrior caste from the East (in or near India, depending on the anthropologist you ask), that is still stereotyped as theiving gypsies, pretty much wherever they go. (And still persecuted, according to people I know in Slovakia. The term you want to google is Rom or Roma) It’s no great stretch to assume that Tolkien was alluding to the myths and ideas surrounding actual Rom that he and his imagined audience would know.

    Tolkien was working inside the cultural references of his time, because thats what authors do. I don’t particularly blame him for that – it seems not too useful at this point – but I think we could all learn from this that not thinking consciously about to whom we are referring when we allude to a little bit of local color is a bad idea. (*Tounge firmly in cheek*)

  448. I have been following this discussion and have found it enjoyable, enlightening, and interesting. Of course, I am taking regular cat-breaks in between reads. I haven’t joined in the conversation up to now, because so much of what I would say is ‘what she said.’ I am especially pleased that the conversation has remained [mostly] rational, polite, and on-topic.

    But on the other hand, I keep wondering- is John getting any writing done with us all sitting around in his metaphorical living room discussing all this?

  449. Arachne Jericho @ 515: Amen. It had reached that stage before I found it, and I had not the least desire to step into it.

  450. @519: It’s not Scalzi I’m worried about. I have this essay to write that was due a week ago that has been sidelined because of RaceFail ’09. I suspect it’s not getting done today, either. Sigh.

  451. One of the (very peripheral) things I got out of reading the various posts across LJ was a reference to Junot Diaz and Osacar Wao. I picked the book up from the library this week and it’s very, very good.

    Eddie: Seriously, I’ll put it on the very long list of books I’ll get around to when I’ve got a spare year or three to vege out and do nothing but read. But my point was that I don’t regard the Pulitzer Prize as an infallible barometer of quality, so citing it repeatedly doesn’t really move me either way. :)

    but the body of SF/F as a whole.

    Mythago, if you read quickly, thoroughly and comprehensively enough to make that judgement with any real confidence I’m impressed. Sincerely.

  452. It’s my naivety, of course, but I always thought that the Fellowship of the Ring was an allegorical model of multi-racial togetherness, going off to smite the multi-racial bad guys.

    Here was me thinking it was a prolonged howl of rage and horror at how the Industrial Revolution ruined everything.

  453. Pam Adams:

    “I keep wondering- is John getting any writing done with us all sitting around in his metaphorical living room discussing all this?”

    I made the choice yesterday not to get other work done in order to ride herd on this discussion. Today I wrote a column and did some other work. So yeah, I’m doing work today.

  454. Nick, my original comment was about the Haradrim, not the Black Numenoreans, the Haradrim were the ones with the Oliphants. Interestingly enough, Peter Jackson drew from South American and Arabic sources for them, but they’re described in the books as having dark skins. The Black Numenoreans were sort of the ruling class, having colonized the south, where the Haradrim came from.

    And the Haradrim were written up as swarthy. The one that dies at Sam and Frodo’s feet is described as having dark skin.

    Oh, and the orcs were Mongolian in appearance, as he said in later letters about the topic.

  455. It occurs to me that purity was a big deal with Tolkien, which today is obviously going to be pretty unsympathetic. Feeling a gap in pre-Christian English history and myth (and feeling somewhat envious of the Norse and Finnish equivalent), he even went on diatribes about the purity of languages (privileging Saxon over Celtic, although for who knows why, he still listed Welsh as one of his favorite languages if not his favorite). Not only that, he was into purity of storytelling form, which is why he spent so much time bitching at Lewis for including Greek and Roman myth and Babylonian and Arabian trappings in his “Merry England” fable, and for bringing his otherworldly creations to then-modern England (Jadis in “The Magician’s Nephew”) for OMG humor (Jadis the ubervillain being MOCKED and stood up to by a traditionally forthright Cockney woman) not to mention the fights over including Santa Claus…not to mention bitching him out for preferring the “adulterated” C of E to the Catholic church…

    Man, these dudes had issues.

    @524 Why confine it to one or the other? It’s litchrachoor; it can be nearly anything.

  456. pio @517: I was actually thinking of the short easterners with axes and beards like dwarves, not the Wainriders.

    The Wainriders are more likely based on long successions of nomadic cultures which have tended to come out of the eastern steppes (including, if some people are to be believed, the original speakers of PIE) who have been ethnically unrelated but whose way of life has been shaped by the geography of wht is now southern Russia. Or, more precisely, would be precursors of them. The Rom map fairly poorly onto this model: closer maps would be the Goths (the early Germanic-speaking homeland was in that area), Huns, etc. (Note that the Goths, for Tolkien, were a distinctly positive group, given his philological background.)

  457. Mythago, if you read quickly, thoroughly and comprehensively enough to make that judgement with any real confidence I’m impressed.

    So we have to look at individual trees and can’t say anything about the forest because there are just too darn many trees in a forest?

    People talk about SF/F as a genre all the time. Of course there are exceptions, of course there is a lot of variation within the genre, of course we can derail any discussion with “But what is SF/F anyway?”

  458. Eddie @ # 507 – I’m not in agreement with londonkds about the issue of keeping silent. But what’s being said is, in part, that white people trying to correct the behavior of people of color in this debate is toxic. It’s the famous “tone” argument.

    After reading the 900th iteration of some racist trope, someone’s going to loose their shit. A white person telling them that “oh, if only you calmed down and talked in the tones I say you should” is toxic. Telling them “oh god, I’ll never write another black person again because of all of your anger that I just can’t bear” [both quotes in italics are paraphrases of things that are really being said. If you want examples, let me know] is toxic. Outing someone is toxic (that was done by two well known white people, who’ve both used the “tone” argument as well.) Saying provocative things so you can record the reactions of angry POC for use in a fiction project is so toxic as to be insane.

    That’s the context of where a lot of these angry rants have been coming from. if people are acting like they’ve been horribly offended, it’s because there’s been some horribly offensive behavior out there.

    Seeking Avalon’s post was more poignant. She gets that her friend can’t comment without getting ignored “she can’t jump in front of me, or any of my friends, because the bullets pass right through her.“.

    An also, she’s been reading about how British colonialism was good for people from India. She’s been reading about how it’s OK to say racist things if you’re conducting a sociological experiment to see how people react,in order to get good examples of angry racists.

    And she’s loosing her shit, because those are insane things to say, and ought to be condemned.

  459. 485 & 486 – Pixelfish and Mac:

    I see I wasn’t clear in my post. (It is tough to hold this sort of conversation when your 16 month old wants your attention.)

    I never said POC didn’t care about sf/f – there are plenty who do. There is a stigma attached to sf/f that keeps them quiet, and it’s not just racial. The doors of fandom are open, but if the only people who walk through are white and considered as social outcasts, how do we entice POC to come in, too? Why would they want to join another splinter group of society when they already are part of a minority?

    Do you know any POC who read sf/f who are not a part of this discussion? I bet you do, you just don’t know it. We have to let those people know it’s OK to “come out” as it were and be a part of the group. While we have many vocal POC who read/write sf/f and are part of fandom, there just aren’t enough to offset the white stigma and the social stigma attached. That was my point. To use the bar example, there are obviously plenty of gay black males, just like every other race. The point is for the bar owner, regardless of race, to get them into his establishment, to let them know they are fine how they are. This was what I meant – I was not saying just that they have to be vocal so we care – I was saying we need to establish that we care so they can be vocal.

    So, yes, I quite understand what this discussion is about – I’ve been a part of it for quite a while, I just wasn’t a vocal part for much of it after being shouted down. (Ah, the irony, eh?)

  460. preferably not Japanese, because then Vietnamese brains naturally get taken over etc

    Vietnamese brains taste good. My peeps can’t help it. We’re culinarily challenged. :(

    You should see the kinds of dishes we make with otaku brains.

  461. So we have to look at individual trees and can’t say anything about the forest because there are just too darn many trees in a forest?

    People talk about SF/F as a genre all the time.

    To torture the metaphor to death, when you’re saying the forest is rotten I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask what basis you’re making that diagnosis on. And perhaps it’s my boring academic side popping out, but I’ve certainly been (deservedly) sent home with a thoroughly spanked arse for making over-broad and badly argued generalisations in front of people entirely capable of busting me for it.

  462. Craig @533 – sure. But “what’s your basis for saying that?” is different than “you can’t possibly talk about the forest unless you can discuss each and every individual tree, because the forest is too big for generalizations.”

    It’s a little more complicated than the metaphor allows because we’re talking about both what comes through in fiction, and about the SF/F community, which includes many people beyond those doing the writing.

  463. Josh @ 530:

    That I agree with – I forgot to put it in my original post, and I should have. What that anonymous poster said about deepad/in response to her post was seriously f**ked up. I have no problem with saying that categorically.

    As for the “Tone” argument – see discussion of it between mythago and I where I finally get the problem with it @ 412, in response to mythago’s post @ 409.

    What I guess I’m trying to say is “I do not want to engage in THIS discussion in THIS context where it’s unclear if I’m welcome and I’m not sure I find it useful” does not equal “I have an all knowing, better, whitey way of discussing racism, and I refuse to discuss it in any context other than the one I want.” I did not see Scalzi, or the majority of the 500 plus comments above, saying the latter.

    In short – not wanting to engage with RaceFail doesn’t mean not wanting to engage with race in SF. And it doesn’t mean that the points made there are wrong, but it does mean some people feel unwelcome / wary about how any attempt to contribute will be construed. Does that make sense?

    Btw, Jeff Vandermeer has a post on this subject, and I feel similarly to him.

    http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2009/03/10/evil-monkeys-fail-fail-fail-win-win-win-push/#more-4015

  464. There’s also the fact that some people are saying “hey, there’s a disease in our trees, and if we got rid of them the forest would be healthier.”

    And the response is, as mythago said, “You can’t possibly talk about the forest unless you can discuss each and every individual tree…”, or “I don’t think you have the academic credentials to talk about tree diseases”, or “how dare you suggest we cut down the forest!”

  465. Mac @ 486 said One of the more enlightening things for me (well, read) Charlie Stross said during the Martin ASoIaF slugfest was about the difference between fans (the vocal, the Internet connected, et cetera) and READERS, who also, well, READ, and have money, and outnumber “fans” by a quite healthy margin.

    Sorry for the extra post, I missed this upon my first reading.

    This was what I meant. Get the POC readers into fandom to let other POC readers know that being a fan isn’t about being white. This is prat and parcel with writing good POC characters and having POC authors. It also means we – fandom as a whole – have to not only be aware of them, but we also have to buy their books and promote them to friends. (This assumes quality in writing and theme, etc. Like Acacia by David Durham – high quality, good fantasy, characters of all colors. Or Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell. Both good ones to give a friend.) So, yeah. This.

  466. Josh @ 526, points noted. I missed that your description applied to only a subset of the “baddies” and not to the entire cast of baddies, which would be a large and diverse cast indeed.

    To follow up, I think the Black Numenoreans were more than a ruling class. I would call them invaders and colonists. To some extent I think those labels apply to all Numenoreans who came to Middle Earth, whether they were Black, While, or Chartreuse. It matters little that they were liberating Middle Earth from Sauron’s dominion–or, perhaps, reinforces the cultural biases, if you will.

    To me, a bigger, more interesting point, is that Tolkein seemed more interested in–and more sympathetic to–the Elves than the humans. From a strictly Elvish point of view, the humans (as an entire race) were weak, vain and selfish. Regardless of the color of their skin. I can’t say whether that offset other, negative, aspects of his work.

    Smaur @ 511, I also acknowledge your point. I was (purposely) limiting my post to the books and not to the movie and especially not to all “media.”

    pixelfish @ 512, I was drawing (or trying to draw) a distinction between “dark skinned” and other skin colors such as tan or swarthy. If that doesn’t work for you, okay.

    To the extent Tolkein might have been unconsciously preaching against racial mixing and in favor of racial purity, I agree with your comment, as my original post shows.

    Finally, with respect to the Middle Earth hill folks hunted (in the past) for being uncivilized, my points were about skin color and not about other cultural or class distinctions. And to some extent I think Tolkein indicated the characters felt remorse and regret for those past actions (my memory may be fuzzy on that last point). So I guess I’m not seeing how your point ties to the one(s) I was making. On the other hand, as others have pointed out, to some extent the entire discussion here and elsewhere has been about cultural and/or class distinctions (of which Tolkein’s ground zero had way more than we do today), so I acknowledge the relevance of your point to the larger discussion as a whole, if not to my particular post.

  467. Josh Jasper:

    “But what’s being said is, in part, that white people trying to correct the behavior of people of color in this debate is toxic.”

    This is something I know I’m getting hit with. My position on this is: Just because I think your discussion is bad, doesn’t mean you’re obliged to have it on my terms. It does mean, however, that I’m not likely to engage with it.

  468. Persia@536:

    I still scratching to see where I actually said what (I think) Mythago thinks I said. Oh crap, can I go back to torturing that metaphor now and say I don’t actually think burning down forests is a terribly good idea unless you’ve got a very good reason?

    Certainly, from my English-speaking far from comprehensive perspective I’m very reluctant to make broad generalisations because (to be perfectly blunt) there’s better than even odds I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. It’s not as if there’s a gaping niche in the online ecosystem for people talking nonsense.

  469. Scalzi, #539:

    Yes. I’ve engaged, regretfully, to raise that point on other forums. It’s met with derision and scorn, and, I believe, deliberate misinterpretation. “But, you’re defining MY argument by saying it’s a flamewar.” No, I’m defining the parameters of when I’ll engage. When racist terms are being hurled at the participants, I won’t be a participant, no matter which side is shouting them (and in this case, the institutional racism is on one side, but the racist insults come from the other). Do I understand the invective? Sure. I’m not making a moral judgment on it (because I see that I’m not in a position to do so). But, I choose what debates I’m part of, and I won’t be part of this one.

    Yet, here I am, part of this one. Go figure. At least no one here has dropped to the ad hominem attack yet.

  470. Yuhri #532 – LOL!

    John Scalzi #539 – Anybody, other People of Color included, trying to correct the behavior of *some* people of color in this debate is totally toxic. In some ways, that’s seen as worse, because such people of color have obviously capitulated and no longer see the dignity of their own people (I’m sorry, I can see mine just fine, thank you, and it doesn’t need to be involved in a flame war) and that is OMG a darker and more subtle Evil.

    And at this moment I would like to say: I am kind of offended at being lumped in by anybody as on one “side” or the other, either by that “side” or the other “side”. Really. It offends me a lot.

    Someone made a very kind apology to me (even though *I* did none of the yelling) and it was still… weird. In a “I didn’t do anything to you and I’m pretty sure you didn’t do anything to me and why are you apologizing to me again?” sense.

    I let it go though. Because there’s too much confusing crap flying around.

  471. @530 Saying provocative things so you can record the reactions of angry POC for use in a fiction project is so toxic as to be insane.

    That’s downright sociopathic and I’m so f*cking glad I missed that part.

    I think it could indeed stand to be reiterated that I found out some things about (erstwhile admired) non-PoC bigwigs I would rather have not known, particularly in the form of vile “equivalence” arguments. They are NOT getting a “tone” pass.

    @ paranoyd 531
    I see what you’re saying. This bit:
    we can’t force POC to care about scifi or fantasy, but until they do, the field will be largely the realm of the pigmentally challenged.

    …led me to think you were saying that nonwhites do not care and the “we” in question can’t make them. (Specifically, the “force” and “until.”)

    Do you know any POC who read sf/f who are not a part of this discussion? I bet you do, you just don’t know it.

    I do, and I know them. :-) Many of them I am friends with on the basis of this mutual genre love. (Most of my of-color friends are not on LiveJournal, or, indeed, the Internet at all, except very marginally.)

    But I think, for my own understanding, I need a clearer idea of what you mean by “come in.” They buy the books and comics they like and read them, and watch the movies they want. Involve themselves more in fandom? In Internet fandom — heh, does the Internet have to be part of it, as some of them are old and not savvy? (Given the ratio in ANY ethnic group of “readers” to “fans” makes me wonder about the feasibility, although I can see it as a worthy effort.) In dialogue with writers? Become writers themselves? (This last option is my favorite, but really not feasible!)

    If I sound like I’m hounding, I’m really not — this is brainstorming for me too. And dealing with the fact that while my very presence here outs me as a “fan” — fandom scares me, and would it be friendly of me to inflict that on people!? ;-) (That’s an ongoing, years-old scare not particular to this, or to SF, or to race discussions.)
    a
    I have owned “Acacia” for a good eight months now. I really should dig it up…

    @536 Persia — Excellently put.

  472. Mac @ 543 – actually, I’m sort of glad that the attitudes are getting an airing – I’d rather know what people really think.

    That person who did the “say something racist to get a sense of how people react to racism so’s I can use it in my book” ? I’d really rather know who she is so I can not make the mistake of ever buying that book.

  473. Josh @ 545:

    Yeah that was seriously f**ked up, too. Let me deliberately make people feel crappy so I can improve my writing, yay!

  474. Regarding LoTR, etc.

    My layman’s take on things is that art is strongly influenced by the place and times the artist lived. This means that stuff that is relatively recent and from my own or closely related cultures can be parsed by my default moral filters, and stuff from very different cultures or times (Others, I guess) can be classified under “I don’t understand the context enough to get the moral assumptions, just enjoy the ride.” (Or rarely, “I understand this person

    Unfortunately, there is a gray border area full of people who are similar enough to invite empathy of the context, but different enough to spark moral outrage. JRRT is square in the middle of that gray area. Oddly enough, so is Lincoln.

  475. @545 — Josh, Good point, actually. But sometimes this shit gives me bona fide insomnia — I need to mete out my doses carefully. ;-)

  476. Mac, this was exactly my point, when you said “fandom scares me, and would it be friendly of me to inflict that on people!?”

    It may be for different reasons than the average reader, but still, the phrase is telling. That’s the problem – fandom scares people and drives them away from having a voice in the discussion.

    If you watch TV and movies, the “fan” is pretty much always the same – white geek, talks funny, has no social life, and lives either alone with his toys or with other geeks and their toys. Male, usually, but that’s changing. Straight, generally, but that’s changing. But white – 99.9% of the time. Also, xenophobic, weak, and snobby. Who would want to be associated with that?

    That was the face being discussed upthread, and that was what I meant by opening the door and making it enticing for POC to come in. The only geek on TV right now who is not a stereotype is on Leverage – he’s black, cool, a decent fighter, and attractive. If we can convince more POC that that is closer to the truth, maybe that will be the turning point for this whole discussion.

  477. *waves at everybody*

    I’m going to flounce off now, since the lurkers support me in email. Oh! Wait! This conversation has been civil and intelligent! I’ve met some really interesting people, learned some new things! Hmm. Not sure how to respond to that. Anyway, I’m going out of town in about a day, and I’m all out of resources to keep up with the discussion. See you all later!

    Oh, and Yuhri, 532, do you like your otaku brains scrambled or over easy?

  478. The more I digest what people have said, both here and elsewhere, the more I think… I might be falling out of love with science fiction.

    A lot of people have pointed out some very big problems with racial politics in science fiction, making valid and genuine and heartfelt points. And they’re right, and why didn’t I see all these things before? Why didn’t any of us?

    I feel awful. And while Alastair Reynolds’ blog post about trying to do a better job gives me hope, it seems like a drop in the bucket.

    This has all made me wonder why I like science fiction, and whether it’s even remotely relevant to life in the year 2009.

  479. fandom scares people and drives them away from having a voice in the discussion.

    Funnily, the list of adjectives that you gave for ‘fandom’ was not–in my one, specific case–what gave me qualms about involvement in fandom. Since I’m a minority female working in the software industry in the depths of Silicon Valley, I’m okay with the “white geek, talks funny, has no social life, and lives either alone with his toys or with other geeks and their toys. Male, usually–” What gave me pause after a few short days of internet exploration of fandom was the excess and the rabid fringe, who also (often) seem to be the ones who drown the voice of reason. This has not been specific to gender or race, although it does seem strongly related to Internet anonymity and its Lord of the Flies effect on social responsibility.

    That said, I can definitely see a barrier for minorities of to entering that world, though–hm. The one time I went to a con, I was so squicked out by some over-the-top personal-space issue otaku (over-easy, pio!) I got the hell out of there; on an ongoing basis, I’ve seen plenty of penis-waving in some forums that hasn’t particularly impressed me. In terms of sci-fi, I’ve always felt the barrier was one based on gender rather than race–but then, I’m Asian, and my racial group is a significant segment of the hard-sciences community. How is it for other minority backgrounds?

  480. @ 555, Erika

    Aw…but there’s problems everywhere! Everyone learns, everyone grows. Let those other genres work on their problems — they have enough of their own. We have to believe that speculative fiction, which is capable of so much, and which HAS given us joy in the past, is worth working on.

  481. Erika > It’s definitely disheartening, but don’t give up hope. I think as long as people are critical and vocal and continue to discuss these issues and examine race in SF/F, we are working somewhere in the right direction.

    Again, I think it is so very important to stress that good things are coming out of this. Lots of good things. If anything, it has forced SF/F fans and pros to think about these issues, but it’s also brought so many good essays, conversations, projects, and writers to light. Somewhere in rydra_wong’s list of Epic Linkagery is a link to book recs for POC or just books that do POC right.

    I did for a small amount of time consider withdrawing myself from fandom, despite how small and insignificant my presence there already is. I have been looking forward to going to WorldCon this year, but RaceFail ’09 pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks and made me think long and hard about whether I felt comfortable being there. (The fact that it costs so much and that I have to work full-time in the summer are things that did not help WorldCon’s case, either.)

    But I think if anything, I’ve kind of realized that it’s important for me to be there, for me if for no one else, and to keep striving for some sort of change in SF/F community. I think this is a really important discussion to have, and I’m glad fandom as a whole is having it.

    I hope you stick around, too.

  482. I’ve been thinking for some time now – quite apart from matters of race, gender, and other inclusion – that the basic concept of “the fan” as we’ve got it at this point may be worth trying to replace rather than reform. There’s a balance between “you are welcome right where you are right now” and “we approve of all your flaws and blind spots and will never try to encourage you to improve, and will indeed come down on anyone who suggests that you have anything to learn”, and too many fandoms are way over on the wrong side of it.

    *pause*

    It occurs to me just now to wonder whether some fannish problems with matters of inclusion rise out of the tribal construction of “I am this” rather than “I do this”, elevating a set of interests and tastes to fundamental identity status. It’s one more way not to be well-prepared to take seriously concerns of identity over which there is no choice.

  483. Josh@530: that white people trying to correct the behavior of people of color in this debate is toxic. It’s the famous “tone” argument.

    Uh, no. “White people have nothing useful to say right now” and “Your silence sucks, white people” is over the line. It is racist itself.

    And no, the racism someone suffered doesn’t give them some cosmic karma that allows them to make blanket statements about all whites and it’s OK.

    If you want to accept the comment without protest, that’s your choice. But you don’t get to tell me and every other white person that we have to suck it up and take comments that have crossed the line into beligerent racism.

    This is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about when I said that a lot of people are saying things that carry with it the baggage of guilt and blame. It just so happens that the above comments just come out and say ‘it’s all your fault’.

    Certainly, being called the equivalent of “whitey” is no where near as bad as getting pulled over for Driving While Black or suffering physical violence and so on. But two wrongs don’t make a right. The wrong of racism doesn’t give a blank check to commit other wrongs in trying to correct it.

    The above comments crossed a line.

  484. I think the last few comments on fandom are spot on, as once you get away from the very real issues of identity, ownership, respect, and the like in play here, I suspect what we have going is the classic fight between those who hope that fandom is going to be a welcoming, sensitive community (hah!) and those who see fandom as a great cockpit for social warfare. Sadly, the too sensitive usually get steamrollered in these affairs. Only this time those who think that a public brawl is great fun may have gotten more then they expected, seeing as the subject of this conflict transcends the usual stuff of fannish politics.

  485. I’m curious, as I’m not well read in the genres of mystery and romance. Do those genres get the same kind of scrutiny in the area of race/gender/orientation/etc. sensitivity that SF/F does?

  486. Your experience may differ, but if I let arseholes drive me out of any given room then the only place I’d have left is cowering in the back of the wardrobe praying the door to Narnia would open sooner rather than later.

    I don’t do that, not to be some grand ‘change agent’ or make a political statement but because I just can’t be bothered moving. And with my experience in ‘Battlestar Galactica’ fandom, the creeps and weirdos don’t outweigh the very smart and passionate people I’ve come across over the last six years or so.