Walking Myself Back

All right, here’s the thing: I’m an arrogant schmuck, but I can also listen from time to time. After I went off earlier this week, a number of people I trust came to me and told me I was being unfair to a lot of people, and in varying ways walked me through stuff I missed or lacked context for, and asked me to engage that brain of mine and think about it. Well, I’ve thought about it. And at the moment, here’s what I think:

1. The discussion was a big fat mess, and I still wish it had been better all the way around.

2. But a large chunk of it was a lot better than I had characterized it as being, and thus my characterization of the whole thing as a complete waste of time was based on ignorance, an assumption that the parts I tracked through were the majority of discussion (i.e., more ignorance), and a fair amount of pissed-offedness that an especially irritating if minor part of it showed up at my site.

So for that inaccurate characterization, and the various offense it caused: I apologize. I was wrong.

If you want to know who helped walk me back, both Justine Larbalestier and Tempest Bradford were instrumental; both of them did a good job of doing the “uh, dude?” thing, and because I know them both well and trust them to let me know when I’m bumping into objects, I gave their opinions great weight. Likewise, lots of folks in the comment thread here were good in challenging my position and doing it in a way that was polite but pointed, which was useful to me. I realize a few of you weren’t expecting that I was really actually thinking about what you were saying. Surprise! I was. I am grateful to Justine and Tempest and the commenters for taking the time, pointing out things I had missed, and being patient with my brain while I worked this out to my own satisfaction. We should be talking about things that are hard to talk about, and race (and the role it plays in sf/f) is one of those things.

Note, incidentally, that I don’t expect the people who are pissed off at me at the moment to stop being so; I worked hard at poking at them, so I imagine they’ll continue to be annoyed for some time. The apology isn’t to cover my ass in any event. The apology is to acknowledge my error and the wisdom of friends. For the moment, I think that will suffice.

150 thoughts on “Walking Myself Back

  1. It’s good to have a friend to give you a good smack upside the head…. because everybody needs one from time to time.

  2. Worth saying, and good on you for fronting up. I thought you’d overreacted somewhat, and am glad you’ve walked back a bit.

  3. O Karma Scalzi, see what happens when you fail to worship the Beauteous Ghlaghghee properly?

    All hell breaks loose.

    A proper picture of Magnificent She would go a long way toward rehabilitating you. And even perhaps earn you the coveted Seal of Approval Award.

    The Official Ghlaghghee Fan Club

    PS – The Executive Committee of The Official Ghlaghghee Fan Club still knows nothing of and cares even less about whatever ridiculous kerfuffle is going on.

    PPS – That is, except for learning about you being a shaved wombat’s arse. At least you’ve been promoted from arse-candle.

  4. John,

    Thank you for that fine example. If more people could listen to friends, reconsider positions taken in emotional heat, and admit when that reconsideration leads them to a change of position, discourse would be more rational. Oh, and the internets would be a lot less entertaining, in that WTF kind of way.

    It takes a big person to admit they were wrong, even a little bit. For what it’s worth, I think you were right in a lot of what you said before, because a lot of what was being said WAS crap. But the ratio of crap to worthwhile thought doesn’t negate the validity of said thought, nor of the topic under discussion.

    Yay for the wisdom of friends!

  5. You have admitted to being wrong on the internet.

    Something is seriously messed up with the universe…

  6. I don’t know, having just discovered this whole thing through your blog, and without having any horse in the race, I’m far more inclined to agree with your previous assessment than your current.

  7. … the “Fuck you, you fucking little worm” that precipitated the first rant still stands, though, right?

  8. good on ya, mate. it takes a bigger and better man (or woman) to own up and say “sorry”, than it does to lead the charge of the light brigade into those damned turkish cannon. and boy, am i looking forward to your new book!

  9. I considered sending you an email asking about your position in the whole mess, and links to posts that were in this scuffle that were thoughtful and intelligent, and to try and convince you that at least some of the talk was intelligent and well-thought-out…

    But you’re scary when you mad. Also, I wasn’t sure what would come out of it and I’m supposed to be working, and…

    Er.

    So I didn’t.

  10. From what I can grok of what happened over the last couple days, someone did something very assholish on your site, and you (justifiably) got pissed off. Instead of focusing your anger on the one miscreant, you apparently made some comments about the discussion as a whole that a much larger number of people thought were unfair and dismissive, which in turn got them pissed off at you.

    You aren’t the first person to say things in anger that you later regret, and you won’t be the last. That you can walk back from your anger and apologize for the things that need apologizing for shows class.

    And admitting that you were wrong — on the Internet — is indeed rare.

  11. Note to other folks: This is how it’s done.

    There are also Reader’s Digest Condensed versions of this sort of thing, too, and, speaking from experience, they really, really handy to have within reach when you’re in the middle of Drama, and you realize you’ve just choked on your own Chucks.

  12. Nicely done.

    Without going and poking sticks in the steaming mess (I have no stomach for carnage), I suspect there were at least a few who deserved to be whopped up’side the head, figuratively if not more so…

    OTOH… owing up to going all overboard ‘splody? Righteous. Having the kind of friends that will talk you down, politely? That is some *serious* cool.

  13. Oh, some out here figured that while you were less than thrilled about the vast scope of the Imbroglio, what really raised your ire was the violation of your space in the manner in which it was violated.

  14. Hey John,

    Not that you need any further input from me, but I did go back and read your original post. Although your language was inflammatory, deliberately so, I’m not sure it said then what you say now it said. (Ha!) In particular, I’m fairly confident that you did not say that the whole thing was a complete waste of time. Rather the opposite, actually, in that you said the topic deserved better.

    In your second post, each of the five points was well articulated and, well, correct, as far as I can tell.

    You don’t need me to defend you and I’m not here to do so. (Though I’m sure I would be considered a Scalzi “fanboy” by those who are Upset at the Whole Thing.) But in my experience some people seize on opportunities to become upset. There are folks who carry inside them pent-up frustration, rage, or just plain angst, usually from a particular trauma or series of traumatic experiences. These people seize on opportunities to trigger their inner rage/anger/fears/whatever. The opportunity often arises from an unexpected direction or source, and has only a weak or tangential connection to what might be viewed as a logical trigger. I reckon your original post, filled with righteous anger and words of dismissal, was one of those triggers for some LJ folks. I’m sure it’s not the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last.

    Of course, the attempted “outing” could also be seen as a trigger that you seized on ….

    Anyway, I’m encouraging you to lighten up, both on yourself and The Others. If you want to reconsider your words, of course it’s your right (and perhaps obligation) to do so. But I wanted to post that, from my POV, I don’t believe you were as wong then as you have been told you were.

    Either way, I’ll still buy your books … in paperback though, ’cause I ain’t that much of a Scalzi fanboy.

    Also, I just found about about The Webb School. When you were a freshman there, I was a senior just down the road at CMC. So we have that weak, tangential connection, which is nice.

  15. That there? That was awesome. Not always an easy thing to do, especially since it’s the internet and there will always be people who will rub your face in something like this, rather than respond to maturity with maturity.

    I hope I always have friends in my life who will let me know when I’ve been a bit of an ass.

  16. I bet the discussions with your friends on this topic were much more interesting that what’s been going on over at LJ.

    I think your original comment re:”bag filled with angry, feral cats” still applies to this discussion over there. I know I’m not poking my nose into it any time soon.

  17. Admitting you were wrong is hard. Doing it in public is even harder. So, yes, Mr Scalzi, you get a cookie for doing the right thing, and my thanks for redeeming some of the suck that’s going around.

    Your friends did good. I hope you remember that next time they go, ‘Dude, hold up a sec’.

  18. Thank you, John. It was good to see this post. And thank you for listening to both your friends and your commenters.

  19. Justine and Tempest are both awesome. (AFAIK. I haven’t met either of them in real life, but both their blogs are on my list of Regular Reads.)

    As one of the folks that disagreed with your initial characterisation (comment 216 in the Internets Hate Scalzi thread), I’m pleased to see this, and I’m glad you’re rethinking things through. I know it’s hard to retract words sometimes, and I’ve seen you do it before, but I’m especially pleased this time. (I still don’t blame you for some of the initial pissiness re: the site-jacking. That shit’s annoying.)

  20. I have to say also that I found the whole RF discussion terribly hard to follow, given that it was scattered over seemingly dozens of blogs, LJs, etc. Imagine going to an SF convention and having a single panel topic take place in 10 different rooms simultaneously. And while in two or three of the rooms, they’re having a serious, thoughtful discussion, in the others they’re largely throwing chairs at each other. Hotel security would likely shut the entire con down, even though many of the con-goers were having a fruitful discussion.

    I do recognize that some folks, such as rydra_wong, were making a heroic effort to provide an index to the discussion. But even with that, I found it quite hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, and I’m afraid that I gave up early.

  21. John, very nice to see you admit your error and apologise. Humble suggestion: perhaps you could link to what you thought were the more worthwhile areas of the discussion, in order to promote and continue them?

  22. [That's scary - I need to change username here I think. 'D.' is just too common.]

    Y’know, this just goes to further reinforce my wanting to come back. Although further cat pictures wouldn’t go amiss.

    Three cats, is it? Have they ever been photographed together in one place? One does wonder whether it’s just one cat (a certain Ghlaghghee perhaps) who adopts disguises as the other two in order to get more food and adoration.

  23. =)

    *hands you small and crunchy cookie made with lots of butter*

    Good Scalzi. Biscuit.

    Way to model being a grown-up.

    On a tangential note: Y’know, believe it or not, there’s actually been quite a bit of this in the RaceFail. A lot of the people who said ill-advised things did exactly this. And, honestly? That’s what progress looks like. Not Big Leaps of Fix. But little shifts in thinking and self-awareness.

    Perhaps I’m going to bake some real biscuits today. Sometimes, the world just needs bicuits.

  24. I was wondering if Goddess Tempest was going to give you counsel on this. I stayed out of the whole thing myself, but I have been watching it.

    To say it’s complicated is an understatement.

  25. John,

    I must say I’m impressed by your apology. Not because I though you were in the wrong, but because I realize what you’ve sacrificed.

    I can already hear the gloating from your attackers, and I know you knew beforehand that they would react that way. You’ve already been offered a cookie and a pat on the head, and congratulations on finally getting it. I’m sure you’re prepared for more condescetion.

    You’ve shown wisdom in this, in the face of deliberate misinterpretation from people spoiling for a fight. It’s clear that you have real adult problems and the perspective to walk away without the need to win. That is impressive.

    I wasn’t even sure I wanted to sully this comment with my last thought buy I am only human and cannot help it. I have to say that after reading her comments, Ann Somerville is one of the most angry hate-filled people I’ve run across. I won’t be commenting on this again, so I ask that those who are angered by that last comment complain elsewhere. Don’t hold my comment against John, as it is my thought and not his. I just can’t help seeing the contrast between John’s fairly mild statements and the hate and vitriol thrown at him.

    Bottom line is, you done good John, not because you were wrong and now are right, but because you were the bigger person. Of course you’ve got bigger things to worry about right now than affirmation from the internets.

  26. Well done, Scalzi. I know you don’t need my approval or the faith that I would soon be seeing a post from you that said very much this sort of thing– but you’ve got it.

  27. Now that things have calmed down somewhat, I have to ask what I fear might be a stupid question. What exactly is “outing” in this context? Initially I thought it was related to sexual orientation, but since this was a argument discussion about race, I found myself second-guessing that.

  28. Kevin– outing is connecting a person’s psued and their real name. Like if I started calling you “Kevin Jones of Pineapple Ridge” if your name was really Kevin Jones and you really lived in Pineapple Ridge.

    I was already in love with Justine and Tempest and now I love them all the more. Thank you for the apology, JS.

  29. Thank you for this.

    The world is populated with a great many bright, articulate, and opinionated people who have only a trivially light dusting of integrity; it restores my faith in humanity to see one who possesses a bright, thick vein of it.

  30. Persia @41: how the… I mean, honestly. How did you know that stuff about me?!

    Seriously, though, thanks for clarifying. I guess I could have figured that out on my own…

  31. Pineapple Ridge is such a nice place, too!

    It’s okay, there’ve been a lot of threads.

    @47: cathshaffer, probably a whole *different* group of people on the Internets hates him now.

  32. John, thanks.

    For those telling JS that he didn’t really need to say what he said in this post, that he shouldn’t cave to those irrational people who are just looking for something to be angry about: the irony is killing me. That’s exactly what escalated this whole fight the first time around.

  33. @46, Josh: I couldn’t disagree with the post on that link any more. When you’re asking a group to give up its privelage, you’re also asking them to take an advantage away from their children to improve the lives of strangers. Even though it’s the right thing to do, it’s still a difficult thing to do, and when they come through for you, it’s a slap in the face to say “Well hell, you should have done that AGES ago. No cookie.”

    And for another thing, “We don’t want people doing the right thing for the wrong reason?” WTF? Do we want things to get better, faster? Or do we want to make sure that the only people doing the right thing are the ones who are ideologically acceptable?

  34. @46

    Regardless of the linked article, people should be praised when they do a particularly difficult “right thing” like publicly admitting that they were publicly wrong. Maybe the choice of language was unfortunate, but I would argue that a context like this one demonstrates the stupidity of the linked article. I really don’t think Scalzi was looking for praise or accolades with this post, but it was a difficult right thing to do, and he does deserve them.

    People shouldn’t expect effusive praise (or even praise in general) for doing what they’re supposed to do. But I’ve always found the idea that people should not be praised for doing the right thing to be absolutely asinine. Positive reinforcement is a good thing in almost any context. At least until people start demanding it.

  35. I don’t want to argue about cookies but:

    When you’re asking a group to give up its privelage, you’re also asking them to take an advantage away from their children to improve the lives of strangers.

    No. You’re asking a group to let go of their short-term advantage for a greater long-term gain. Huge difference, IMO.

  36. The whole, “here’s a cookie” thing is bullshit, pardon the french. First, don’t like the “i have the authority to give cookies” inherent in it, and second, way to go at both belittling the “approved” action and the issues involved. Grow up.

  37. lydia @52: amazing, isn’t it, how there are people who can’t read anything without trying to find a way to jam it up somebody else’s ass.

    I’m hoping that we get a good, thoughtful Scalzi-post on the issue of race in SF/F.

  38. @50 Persia What a relief. I thought I was going to have to finish all of the Dolly Madison Fail Cakes with Creme Filling of Illogic by myself.

  39. Um, I seem to have forgotten to say good on ya for apologizing. It’s not easy. Especially for people like me who are convinced we are right.

  40. Zonder@32: That timeline is illuminating, but I have huge issues with some of the editorializing. For instance, 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.

    The implication being that you can’t call a person of color stupid, ignore their opinions and badmouth them even if the particular person in question is an obnoxious idiot. (I’m not saying that’s the case here at all…I’m not interested in wading through enough text to find that out.) Just like there are plenty of stupid white people, there are also plenty of stupid black people. The above statement seems to be saying that “that black guy over there is an idiot” is the same as saying “all black people are stupid” and by extension seems to be putting artificial constraints on the conversation.

    It would be like saying that because Jews were often tarnished with the epithet “greedy” we can’t say that Bernie Maddoff is a greedy bastard.

    In general, there seems to be a drive to take all insults as racial by default. In particular on that page, I see a lot of places where editors are using the argument from authority and being called racists for it. Argument from Authority is certainly a logical fallacy and certainly not a great debating tactic, but it isn’t inherently racist.

    Lobbing in the “racist” accusation in response to comments like that does not particularly “illuminate” anything. It causes one “side” to become pissed off and defensive and the other side to become self-righteous and indignant.

    Even more obnoxious to me is this “making it all about white people’s feelings” crap. This seems to be code for “just shut up and we’ll tell you what is acceptable for you to say.” It is not conducive to conversation.

    There’s a certain irony about the “making it all about white people’s feelings”, because a great bulk of the conversation up to that point seems to be not about “writing the other” but rather how the feelings of “persons of color” have been hurt. It really seems like lots of people on both sides of the conversation want to pretend that the feelings of the other side don’t matter.

    That’s really the root of the matter. There’s lots of dismissive contempt on both sides.

  41. @56 Persia:
    You’re asking a group to let go of their short-term advantage for a greater long-term gain.
    I’m sure this is the wrong thread, but, I’m not certain that’s the correct argument. Because it implies that the lack of priviledge is also a short term condition. Which I think many people would (and do) argue against.

  42. John,

    Actually, thank you for losing your shit so spectacularly and then making an effort to engage more politely. I was so glad to see you condemning what I thought was so awful about the discussion. I had written off the whole thing of in exactly the same way you had. Because of your very public supernova, I looked again, and saw Mac’s link to Yelling Class. I realize now that I was plugging certain values into an equation to get an answer of Negative Value, and that I wasn’t wrong about my input, but I was using the wrong equation. I’ve decided that I can’t judge whether the whole thing had any value because I can’t know the all the outcomes.

    cheers.

  43. I have to say I’m impressed. You’re a bigger man than I, Scalzi. But at the same time, I’m a bit disappointed and saddened, too, because I believe both sides of an issue can disagree and both not be wrong.

    In the past, I’ve found myself the recipient of accusations of racism, perversion, Islamaphobia and, most ironically since I’m bisexual and the person accusing me was straight, homophobia, simply because I did not agree with a particular point in a particular debate. Which just makes me want to ask:

    Where the hell have we gone as human beings when you can no longer say “I see your point and understand why you feel that way, but that doesn’t mean *I* have to feel that way”?

    I appreciate diversity of culture and opinion, and it follows that members of minorities (or majorities) who also supposedly value diversity should not impose their ideologies and values on me any more than I should on them.

    So I admire you, Scalzi, for taking the high road. But I kinda wish you hadn’t.

    P.S. Speaking as a bisexual, divorced mother of three who lives well below the poverty line, the person who hurls the term “white privilege” in my face is not going to like my rebuttal. In fact, after wading through most of that debate, if I never hear the word “privilege” again, it’ll be a billion years too soon.

    P.P.S. I’m not posting under my regular moniker, not because I don’t want to own my words, but because I’d rather not enjoy yet another helping of a particular brand of insanity espoused by one of your regular readers.

  44. The problem is, Steve, I honestly have yet to see any of the people of color in question being nearly as “obnoxious” or “stupid” as the butthurt white folks were declaring them to be. (And certainly not nearly as “obnoxious” or “stupid” as some of the butthurt white folks WERE being.) They were angry, they were forceful, they were refusing to Just Be Nice and in light of what they were up against, I didn’t blame them for a second.

  45. Where the hell have we gone as human beings when you can no longer say “I see your point and understand why you feel that way, but that doesn’t mean *I* have to feel that way”?

    If you just stopped at the comma in that sentence, you’d be fine. What you say beyond that comma and are so resentful that you can ‘no longer say’ is the root of the problem we’re having here.

    In other words, where have we gone as human beings when we can no longer say the entirety of that sentence? We’ve progressed immensely.

  46. Awesome. This is what I like about you, John. Introspection and humility. Think how much better Rush Limbaugh would be if he had them.

    In fact, I hadn’t read this post and was sending the following to someone on a private list who (jokingly, I presume) was talking about mocking this whole thing:

    Ooh, don’t do that. That’s (essentially) what Scalzi did. And while I feel he was right to be outraged at someone hijacking his blog to try and drag him into the discussion, he then proceeded to dismiss the whole thing as meaningless and all participants tossers, which was wrongheaded, to say the least. It’s one thing to say “I derive no value from participating in that discussion,” another thing entirely to say “there is no value in that discussion.”

    And then, while looking for the original quote to ensure that I captured the essence of it, I found this. Timing can’t get much better than that.

  47. Josh, I basically agree with this:
    “I’m not talking about heap the praise on kind of cookie, but clearly the personal warm fuzzies a person SHOULD get from helping another human being because it’s the right thing to do is not there. When I say cookie, I mean that the person should get some kind of positive reinforcement for their first-time effort so that they keep doing it, and all the while, they should be learning what the right, decent human thing to do is. One cookie, that’s it. The rest has to come from inside.”

    I didn’t mean to sound condescending. I could have said ‘gold star’ or something else. Screwing up in public and then fixing it in public has been a very rare event throughout this whole mess, and just as Mr Scalzi’s condemnation hurt a lot of people, his apology will, I think, do a proportionate amount of good (would that others who’ve offended so much more, would learn the lesson too.)

    And I’m white. My cookies are easy to earn. Convincing PoC to trust you after screwing up, especially with the history here, is going to be a lot harder. For one thing, apologies have been offered by some of the offenders in this and then retracted, or deleted and pretended to not exist. Mr Scalzi now has to do the follow up work to prove he means what he said.

  48. Just for the record, I like cookies. Also, I’ve been on Teh IntarWeebs long enough that “here’s a cookie” and its cognates can be meant well as well as sarcastically. So let’s not get too wrapped up on that one.

  49. Sheila @ 70

    It sounds like you’re reading an awful lot into half a viking’s post. I took it to mean “We disagree, but I understand your point and your feelings.” It could have been presented in a less ambiguous way, but if it matches my interpretation (and, if you ask me, everything should conform to my interpretation :P ) then it’s a great concept.

  50. Thank you. It’s really, really rare for people to apologize rather than backing farther and farther into an entrenched position.

    I don’t have any cookies, but can I interest you in a sparkling vial of White Woman’s Tears?

  51. Scalzi, #73: oh, I know, and in general, it’s use is light and fluffy. In the context of the current argument, it’s lazy and, sometimes, offensive.

    But, you’re correct, as getting wrapped up in the minutia is what made this argument for me not worth it, and why I still agree more with your original assessment than with your current one.

  52. I’ll take your word for it that there were worthwhile parts to the discussion. The bits I saw were very unpleasant, childish, and pissy-making, and thus I wasn’t much inclined to explore it more. I suppose I should have, but the whole thing made me tired.

  53. @65 Dr. Rocketscience:

    I was talking specifically to the ‘taking an advantage away from their children.’ For me that’s a short-term consequence, versus a better culture, more opportunities for smart kids to do smart things, and less general unpleasantness. (If, and I’m not convinced, we’re really hurting anyone’s children in the process.)

  54. “P.S. Speaking as a bisexual, divorced mother of three who lives well below the poverty line, the person who hurls the term “white privilege” in my face is not going to like my rebuttal. In fact, after wading through most of that debate, if I never hear the word “privilege” again, it’ll be a billion years too soon.”

    Okay, I don’t know if I should be replying to this in this thread and I will accept any malleting from our host as my due, but I think this sorta misses the point.

    I have not had the easiest of lives. For much of it I was very poor, and had lets just call it a poor family life. It took me ten years to finish college because I had to work full time to support myself and other people and pay for the classes out of my own pocket. I have lived in neighborhoods where the police were the enemy because they made themselves the enemy. I have quite often been so poor that I had no idea where my next meal was going to come from. In many ways, big and small, those situations have made me achieving what I have achieved difficult. Poverty marks you in ways that are hard to remove. I have worked enormously hard and suffered some things people should not have to suffer. I don’t say this to brag or to compare my situation to yours or claim that I suffered as much discrimination as you. Rather, I just need to point out that I have come form a background that is many ways disadvantged compared to the norm and that it took some hard work luck to get past that.

    But that does not mean that I was not privileged.

    Because I was a white male, I almost certainly never got refused for a job because of the color of my skin. Because I was a white male, some cops in some locations would not consider me a potential suspect. Because I was a white male, I probably got at least one job because of the color of my skin. That is not to necessarily to say that I was not qualified for the job, only that at least once in my life I probably got the benefit of being white when everything else was equal, or benefited because the person doing the hiring would not even seriously consider hiring a minority. The list goes on: I, for example, never got harassed driving through rural areas on deliveries like my African American counterparts did.

    None of the above diminishes the hard work that I did or the effort I put in to get to the place where I am now. But the plain fact of the matter is that even though I had a hard life, even though I suffered some serious disadvantages compared to the average, my life was not as hard as it could have been and I did not suffer some disadvantages for no reason other than the color of my skin.

    White privilege does not mean that you haven’t had a hard life, or that you have had things easy, or that you haven’t earned what you have achieved. It only means that if nothing about you changed except the color of your skin, your life would have been even harder still.

  55. “I do hope the people who’ve elicited this apology remain as gracious in victory.”

    The victory is Scalzi’s for turning around a massive FAIL into a good thing. You make it sound like he lost something by realising his mistake.

    Tell me – if you were driving along the highway with your briefcase on your roof, and people kept flashing you and beeping horns to let you know, and finally, finally, you realised there was something wrong, and retrieved the case before you lost it, your phone, and the confidential papers of your most valued client – would you say the other car drivers had won a ‘victory’ for helping you save your arse?

    I’m sure Tempest and Justine are very happy because they’ve helped a friend. Why wouldn’t they be?

  56. Half a viking @67:

    Yes, Virginia, people in oppressed classes–even multiple ones–can indeed have and abuse privilege. Straight PoCs have straight privilege. Rich people with disabilities can have class privilege. Gay folk who speak the dominant language can have language privilege.

    The world isn’t neatly separated into oppressed and non-oppressed people. It all depends on context as to which person is going to have an advantage over another. In issues of race in the Western world, yes, white folks will always have privilege that PoCs don’t. In issues of gender in sexist cultures, cisgendered men will always have privilege that women and trans folks do not. And so on.

    The challenge to any of us who truly care about making life better for everyone is to be consciously aware of what privileges we do have, and to not abuse them. Merely being in one oppressed class doesn’t give you a license to be a self-centered ass about other forms of oppression.

    (And with apologies to Scalzi for the derail, I’d like to invite you over here if you want to talk about this more.)

  57. Ann@82 I and a lot of people here don’t think it was a MASSIVE fail, just a small fail on one aspect of the situation. No offense, but we can be good human beings without agreeing with everything you belive in. That your discourse seems to deny this basic priniciple is, in my opinion, a massive fail on your part.

  58. Thanks, PalookaJoe. You got it, while others obviously didn’t.

    I’m a very live and let live type. I’m the kind of person who can choose not to have an abortion because I personally believe life begins at conception, while still advocating the freedom of other women to choose differently. Because I acknowledge that other people have beliefs and values that differ from my own, and that doesn’t always make them *wrong* and me *right*, and I have no right to tell someone how they should feel.

    Here, Sheila, how’s this: Am I allowed to tell my parents that I understand why they’re uneasy about same-sex marriage (their age and upbringing, life-long exposure to propaganda against gays, a lifetime of being fed religious BS, etc,) and I’m not dismissing their misgivings, wrongheaded though I believe they are, but that doesn’t mean *I* have to feel that way? I think I’d rather do my own thing and prove through my actions and choices that their worries are unnecessary.

    Or maybe: I understand why you (general you, not anyone in particular) hate cats (you’re allergic, you think they’re arrogant, one of them scratched your baby, their howling outside your window keeps you up all night, etc.) but I rather like cats, thanks*. So please don’t expect me to become a placard-waving member of your “neighbors united against irresponsible cat owners” lobby, even if I agree with its objectives.

    If we aren’t allowed to feel differently about things–and with different degrees of conviction–and freely express that, well, all discussion is stymied before it can start.

    When a person who preaches tolerance has the stones to tell me how I may or may not feel about something, I mostly just stop listening to anything they have to say about anything.

    *Actually, I’m a dog person, but I’m content to tolerate the existence of cats, so long as they stay off my sofa.

  59. Sheila@68: I certainly haven’t read every post, but from what I did see on *both* sides was lots of patronizing self-righteousness. You may well be right that one side is “worse” than the other in this respect, but that’s not any more relevant than the question of “who started it” in a couple of squabbling children.

    I personally think that a lot of people would do themselves good to think very long and hard about Scalzi’s example in the context of their own posts.

  60. half a viking @67

    “White privilege” isn’t about individual privilege or actions. Think of it more like original sin. You are born with it and there is no getting away from it. I don’t accept this premise myself but I find it a lot easier to read through a lot of live journal posts without getting angry now that I’ve figured out that a lot of people apparently do accept that premise.

  61. @kcr: “White privilege does not mean that you haven’t had a hard life, or that you have had things easy, or that you haven’t earned what you have achieved. It only means that if nothing about you changed except the color of your skin, your life would have been even harder still.”

    I agree. I do. And I know that I have reaped benefits based on the color of my skin that those of different color do not enjoy. But as Tal said, there are many, many different kinds of privilege. If my ex had wanted custody of our kids, he would have had to fight my “maternal privilege” which even in this enlightened age stacks the deck in favor of the mother in custody disputes.

    What I object to is the “minority privilege” of using the term “white privilege” or “male privilege” or “heterosexual privilege” as a way to discredit a white/male/straight person’s argument out of hand. And I did see a good deal of that in the imbroglio. Just because someone is speaking from a position of privilege doesn’t mean they don’t have anything of value to add to the conversation. It doesn’t even necessarily mean they’re wrong.

    And now, having uttered the word “privilege” multiple times in this comment, I’m feeling the need for some Listerine. Latahz.

  62. For the record, it wasn’t intended to be a condescending poop-head cookie. Just a: “hey, you did something important but ouchy. Here is a small, sweet bit of comfort for the ouchy, and a small reward for being decent.”

    That’s all. Any douche-baggery was utterly un-intentional.
    Just sayin’.

  63. *headdesk*

    Comment to certain people:

    There’s a 600 comment thread a couple posts down about privilege/the importance of the debate or otherwise etc.

    On the thread where Scalzi’s saying “hey, I think I was wrong and mischaracterised the debate a bit, sorry,” isn’t it a bit dumb to be saying “OMG Scalzi don’t apologise you’re not wrong!!!!ONE.”

  64. On the thread where Scalzi’s saying “hey, I think I was wrong and mischaracterised the debate a bit, sorry,” isn’t it a bit dumb to be saying “OMG Scalzi don’t apologise you’re not wrong!!!!ONE.”

    Maybe they’re just trying to show Scalzi how the debate went off course in the first place?

  65. Thanks, well done. I’ve followed the discussion from the beginning and have found some amazingly great stuff in it–deepad’s “I didn’t dream of dragons” is one for the ages, for example. So I was pissed to see you being so dismissive. I’m glad to see that you’re as open as ever to letting people tell you that you’re wrong. That you’re able to hear them, and change course as a result, is a particularly fine thing.

  66. @Eddie Clark:

    I never said Scalzi shouldn’t have apologized. But I think it’s important to note that it was the reasoned arguments of a few, rather than the ranting and berating of many, that swayed him to take another look at things.

    I’m just a little disappointed because I think it’s okay for someone to basically say, “I believe what you’re saying is important and I may even agree with you, but I don’t think your methods are effective.” Which is, IMO, what he was saying about the debate in general.

  67. Not going to get in a big argument on this thread – don’t think it’s appropriate to the thread, or given what’s going on in Scalzi’s RL. All I’ll say is I seem to recall that the problem (and I agree its not as bad a problem as some had made out) with Scalzi’s original post was discussed intermittently throughout said 600 plus comment post below. If you can be bothered, and haven’t already, I think the thread is worth at least skimming.

  68. I was stunned to see this. Just stunned. In part because so few of these (unhedged, straightforward, grown-up-type apologies) have occurred among the pros who’ve been the nexes of this affair; I figured it was only a matter of time before you locked or deleted your blog in a huff and started calling people names. Also because after your last post, I’d written you off as just another white guy afraid of self-examination, and covering that fear with nonchalance and arrogance. Hell, I’d written off most of SFdom because of this.

    This post makes me think better, not only of you, but of the industry’s future. Thank you.

  69. ellindigo said “I’ll take your word for it that there were worthwhile parts to the discussion…”

    Sure. Let’s not lose sight of these.

    I learned that publishers made non-white characters into whites on book cover art. [This is evil.]

    I learned that the stories of some authors may not be considered fairly by publishers because of the race of the author or characters. [This is evil.]

    I learned that some authors who make efforts to include characters who are not white heterosexual males are thinking hard about whether they have been doing it well and what they could do better, or even what these issues mean in the context of a far-future society.

    I’m sure others could add to the list or say them better than I can.

  70. John:

    I think you’re probably having a crap-tastic enough day without a patronising pat on the head from a complete stranger. I don’t actually think your initial post was THAT bad, but whatever. My opinion and three bucks will buy you a cup of coffee and it does make a refreshing change from the kind of on-line egomaniacs who’d rather go to their graves defending the indefensible…

  71. I think it’s interesting that one side of this argument has decided that Scalzi was against them because he was annoyed with the whole way this was being argued.

    Now that he’s apologized for saying that the “whole thing as a complete waste of time”, that side is taking it as though he’s apologizing for being on the wrong side.

    Currently, I don’t think anyone knows (I know I don’t but I could guess), where Scalzi stands on the issues of this debate. (Of which there really seems to be two debates – the original one about writing “the other” in SF/F and the second which I haven’t completely figured out yet – something to do with racism/white privilege).

    There is the possibility, although I doubt it, that this is a just a method of getting people off his back.

  72. @103 — Actually, I’ve interpreted it, rather, that “that side” is taking it as though he’s apologizing for being excessively dismissive.

  73. @ 104 – Same here (but that’s what we’d all say if this was a conspiracy, isn’t it?)

  74. @Kelly Norton: “I think it’s interesting that one side of this argument has decided that Scalzi was against them because he was annoyed with the whole way this was being argued.”

    There’s a real “for us or against us” thing that happens when sensitive issues are discussed. I actually had a lesbian once berate me for my decision to marry a man and have a traditional family. Um, I was in love, and I wanted kids, and I suppose it was nice to have the luxury (or privilege, heh) of choosing one path over the other. But from her reaction, you’d think that by making that choice I was betraying the cause or spitting in the face of GLBT people everywhere. You’re either with us or against us, was her reasoning.

    I don’t understand how anyone could have viewed Scalzi’s posts as an endorsement of one side over the other. Sometimes even people who are right behave like asses (and I’m no exception). I think we all have a right to decide the way we choose to deal with these issues. Participation in or dismissal of one particular conversation is by no means a yardstick for measuring someone’s commitment to an ideal.

  75. @ 107, half a viking:
    “Sometimes even people who are right behave like asses (and I’m no exception). I think we all have a right to decide the way we choose to deal with these issues. Participation in or dismissal of one particular conversation is by no means a yardstick for measuring someone’s commitment to an ideal.”

    Agreed, especially because what set this whole thing off was the intellectual equivalent of someone taking a dump on Whatever’s lawn, and citing the racefail conversation as justification for taking said dump.

  76. Mac / Josh Jasper @ 104, 105 – Thirded.

    Scalzi @ 106. Glad to see my reading comprehension is still intact – guess that English Lit BA was worth something after all :P.

  77. Eddie: One thing all parties can agree on, your English Lit BA was not, in fact, worth anything. My poli sci degree, now there’s a winner.

  78. Jesus, how many friggin’ lawyers are there here? My useless undergrad degree similarly led me to a JD.

  79. Nora @96, It’s been pondered whether the majority whites would miss POC if they left the sf/f field. This Wonder Bread cracker would sorely miss the author of L’Alchimista.

  80. I’m glad that you have discovered the error of your ways and made a public statement of culpability. Please realize that if I don’t see absolute sensitivity to all PoC and/or genderqueers here in the future, I will be forced to advise Miss Bradford herself, and you will no longer be considered one of “the good ones.” Be forewarned.

  81. Scalzi, sorry to ask at this time, but is a malleting possible? Mr Jackson is not remotely rational on this topic.

  82. I think Mr. Jackson’s message there can be left as an example of model asshattery, Eddie, although I encourage people not to engage him further, and will probably feel free to mallet him the next time. One example of asshattery in a thread is instructive; two is tiresome.

  83. Somebody needs to contact Mr. Jackson’s law firm and inform them that somebody is trying to trash his reputation on the Internet. I know I’d sure as hell want to know if somebody were trying to persuade my potential clients that I was an assjack.

    My useless undergrad degree similarly led me to a JD.

    Oh, Mary, do not even go there. I have the Least Useless Pre-JD Degree ever. Even Old French Literature majors bow to my uselessness.

  84. Even Old French Literature majors bow to my uselessness.

    Philosophy? Quantity surveying? Wait… post economic crisis… financial derivatives?

  85. I thought Mr. Jackson’s comment was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, not tongue-on-sub-zero-metal-surface . . . *checks calibration of digital tone sensors*

  86. Ouisel:

    I’m not going to repeat the (very nasty) things that he has said elsewhere. Suffice to say that he’s proven himself racist, sexist, and homophobic. Anyone ELSE writing what he’s written, I would have interpreted as tongue in cheek as well. However, this guy – he’s just an ass / troll.

  87. half a viking: I had a very illuminating experience when I was a high school freshman. I quit the marching band for purely personal reasons and was shocked at the way my own personal decision for entirely personal reasons was seen as an affront and a betrayal to those who remained in the band. I literally lost friends over it.

    Human beings fall into the “us vs. them” mentality over nearly anything, even the most utterly inconsequential crap. It’s impossible to avoid, but it’s important to do your best to recognize in yourself the difference between being pissed off because someone did something bad and being pissed off because that someone is in “them” however defined.

  88. @118: Sorry, but a useless BA cannot be truly useless unless it includes the phrase “theater arts” or “performance emphasis,” especially when earned from a school that lacks a reputation as an arts college. Says someone whose incomplete BA in such has only served to do her good by forcing her out of college before completing it to enter the job market. But “poli sci” is a close second.

    @123: Wide world of THIS.

  89. (blinks)

    No way that’s real. I call disbelief and demand a perception roll against intelligence with a +2 for over-the-top asshattery.

    (rolls)

    shit.

  90. Actual conversation with a paralegal at work:

    “Wow. That IS useless. What the heck do you do with a degree like that?”

    “Where are we?”

    “Oh.”

  91. @Steve Burnap: “It’s impossible to avoid, but it’s important to do your best to recognize in yourself the difference between being pissed off because someone did something bad and being pissed off because that someone is in “them” however defined.”

    I think that’s half my problem in life. I’ve (almost) always refused to buy into the “us against them” mentality, and I’ve lost friends over choosing not to take sides in crap that, as petty as it might have seemed to me, was apparently important to them. And living in the microcosm of a small town only complicates that. You have no idea how much sh*t you can get from both sides of an issue when you can see everyone’s point and refuse to hate anyone. :)

  92. I have a philosophy degree. I am the most useless of all of you.

    Pffft. I get less marketable degrees as prizes in my kids’ cereal boxes.

    (Mythology, which I actually had to file papers to create as a major because no university was fool enough to offer such a useless thing, and I concentrated in ancient Near Eastern mythology. So if you want to hear the story of Why Can’t You Be More Like Your Brother Zimri-Li, baby, I’m all over that.)

  93. Thanks for this, John. Since I’ve gotten a great deal out of the past two months of conversation and I know a lot of others have as well, I was one of the people feeling hurt by your dismissive words (and trying to figure out how to phrase an email to you saying as much), and I really appreciate you retracting them. I will even reconsider my idea of donating my copies of your books to the con_or_bust auction. *)

  94. Mark, that might actually make you more useful than some of us with JDs!

    But actually this is a little game law students play with each other: oh, I had to go to law school because I got a useless degree in ____________. Remember we’re talking about people who are naturally competitive and are going into a profession where there’s a good chance you will make your living as the modern-day equivalent of a Discworld Assassin; so there’s a certain level of reverse dick-swinging here.

    We have to let Scalzi play because, good Lord, have you SEEN that fucking Mallet? I cannot describe the its horrible contours, and yet I must—

    (Blog post found in the effects of one M——-o)

  95. mythago,

    My defence is that there were no degrees in CGI when I quit my physics degree (comp. sci. minor), and by the time there were I was already teaching, so it seemed redundant. And I was making good money. I’d love to squirt some funny in there, but that’s all I got!

  96. Hmm, I dunno.

    Medieval Studies degree here. (Medieval Welsh is totally useful in today’s marketplace. Seriously!)

    Of course, I’m currently getting an MFA in Fiction Writing. Which one might argue is possibly the most useless of all, after all, don’t we all learn to write in kindergarten?

    (tongue firmly in cheek, people)

  97. John,
    I saw a link to this post and followed it here and I have to say, this is the most rational piece I’ve read, particularly the part about the discussion being a mess.

    Now, still being in law school, I will admit I don’t have time to comb through the internet, so I have definitely missed a lot about this discussion. But isn’t that the point? How can we have serious discussions on a million different blogs? There’s no real back and forth, people ban the opposition from airing their viewpoints on their threads–wasn’t this mostly a bunch of people speaking from a million different pulpits? Still important, yes, but not what I would call a discussion… And in a forum that is way too big to keep up with.

    And in response to part of this thread, my law school has philosophy of law classes and organizations–so it’s not so irrelevant after all. But what do I know? I majored in Peace and Conflict Studies, the hippiest major at Berkeley.

  98. Hah! I flunked out of university twice, despite placing in the 98th percentile on my entrance exams. Now I’m stuck slinging hash and have nowhere appropriate to wear my braids and helmet. :(

  99. This is the first time I’ve gone to bed after reading about RF ’09 without abject misery.

    Thank you, John.

    ALSO: I beat you all. I’m getting a degree in Folklore & Mythology. You know, like the Comic Book Guy.

  100. Wow. I’m glad.

    Because as much as I like your stuff I had just about written you off. I mean, we’re talking outing fans, editors threatening to blacklist authors, and in-your-face insulting our readership. If you’re going to call discussions on that a waste of time then … “whatever” is a good word.

    So give thanks for good friends.

    (And no, I didn’t read all the comments. I’m trusting you, Scalzi. Don’t retract.)

  101. I’m getting a degree in Folklore & Mythology.

    Speaking from experience, you can use that to get into law school!

  102. It appears you are redeemed, Scalzi, but I wouldn’t think you’re in the clear until Tempest issues her formal pardon from on high. Does she still regret her friendship with you?

  103. Mr. Scalzi, thank you for this. You have restored a small portion of my faith in humanity, which was fast dwindling given Recent Events.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  104. Luke Jackson:

    I’ve been led to understand you have some bug up your ass about Tempest, Mr. Jackson. You won’t get to exercise that bug here. Or much of any other bug, since you’ve been dropped into the moderation queue for other reasons, and you’re not coming out of it unless I feel you’re fit to play with the other kids.

  105. @Indus (136):

    If you’re actually curious as to how people followed it, there are some simple explanations — LiveJournal isn’t just a blogging site, it’s partially down the road of a social networking site, and those of us who “live” there read it very differently that people tend to read individual blogs elsewhere. So it was a conversation, and mostly stayed in “one room”, except for the parts on other blogs like this one.

    To John Scalzi: Thanks for taking the time to take a second look at the discussion, and for contributing in a positive way.

  106. Mr. Scalzi: that was some kinda classy thing you did here.

    Thank you for it.

    ps: Oh, Internets: why must you hate wombats? Their asses *rock*.

  107. I’m impressed. Despite being your own blog, it takes a lot to stand up and admit etc etc. I wont bother rambling, nor by bringing up long standing cliches, since I’m sure they aren’t what you are really looking for.

    But regardless – thanks, and good on you.

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