Mary Anne Mohanraj Gets You Up to Speed, Part I

You may recall that rather recently I said “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.” And since I said it, it’d be nice if I followed up on that. But when talking about these things, it helps to have some useful context (trust me), and it helps to know someone who can provide you some of that context, particularly about some of the recent conversations about it online. So I asked my friend Mary Anne Mohanraj if she wouldn’t mind writing something on the topic of race and science fiction and fantasy, as I know it’s something that she thinks quite a lot about. She most excellently did, and I’m delighted to present it to you here.


Hey, folks. I’m Mary Anne Mohanraj. John’s kindly given me a space here to start a conversation about some of the useful points that came out of RaceFail ’09. Quick intro: nine years ago I started Strange Horizons, which has become one of the premiere SF/F magazines, and which once published one of John’s stories, which is how we met. I currently run the Speculative Literature Foundation, a non-profit arts organization that works to support SF/F, and I was a founding board member of the Carl Brandon Society, which works to support minorities in the field through various awards and other initiatives. In my day job, I write and publish fiction (mostly mainstream), and teach fiction writing and literature (mostly post-colonial) at the University of Illinois. Also, I was born in Sri Lanka, and have brown skin. So now you know where I’m coming from.


If you come into this discussion cold, without a long history of dealing with being a PoC (person of color) in the SF/F field, without practice in discussing race and privilege, you’re likely to find the sprawling imbroglio of RaceFail ’09 more than a little overwhelming. It can be emotionally difficult to handle, with a lot of grief and anger in the room. Also often quite off-putting, as there’s a lot of insults, threats, outings, harassment, and other nonsense flying around. I’m guessing that’s what led John to his initial response, that the discussion didn’t offer anything useful to him, that, in his assessment, it was a whole lot of noise for pathetically little signal. That was my initial reaction too.

But I kept reading, and slowly, my opinion changed. I learned (or re-learned, because sometimes this is an ongoing process and you need reminders) some things about race, privilege, writing, teaching, and about getting it wrong and being called out on it. That’s what I want to talk about now. These basic ideas about racism and privilege may all be very familiar to you, or they may be entirely new. Regardless, I think it’s helpful to think about these issues in the context of the SF/F community and its literature.

This is not a summary of RaceFail ’09, nor an exhaustive list of links on the subject.

This is also not focused on:

Speaking Truth From Power

White Folks, and Hearing What They Have to Say

Writing Identity, and the Need Thereof


Trying to Have Productive Discussions Online

…because I have already covered those topics elsewhere. If you haven’t read those brief pieces yet, I encourage you to go do so, and then come back. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.


I offer you a few premises — feel free to disagree. I won’t tell you to shut up, or to stay out of this discussion, and neither will John — as long as you stay civil, that is. Promise. Here’s what I’m arguing:

Part I: For Everyone

  1. We’re all racist.
  2. If you’re white, you have white privilege.
  3. Your other oppressions don’t erase your white privilege.
  4. Racism does damage to the genre.

Part II: For Writers

  1. You get to write whatever you want, including CoC (characters of color).
  2. If published, you may then be criticized for your handling of race.
  3. PoC don’t have an obligation to teach you how to write CoC well and avoid criticism.
  4. Nonetheless, here are some suggestions on how to write CoC well.
  5. You will get it wrong. This is what you should do.


Part I: For Everyone

1. We’re all racist.

Nalo Hopkinson, a wonderful SF/F writer whose work I recommend to you, put this pithily in my blog comments when she said, “…many in the science fiction community — like many in all kinds of other communities — lack an understanding of racism as a system. It’s pretty tough to live in a system and be unaffected by it. That’s like floating in a pool of shit and claiming that you don’t smell. So whenever you have the urge to silence people by shouting, “I’m not racist!” it’s probably a good idea to take a long, hard think and ask yourself how in the world is that possible? Really, it isn’t. Not until a whole lot more about the world changes.”

That’s a starting assumption for me — the world is racist, the culture I grew up in is racist, I’ve internalized and carry around a hell of a lot of racist baggage, and on some deep level, many of my basic assumptions are racist. So are yours. That sucks. But I also don’t feel particularly guilty about it, and neither should you. It’s something you’ve inherited, living in this world. The onus now on you isn’t to wallow in guilt — it’s to be aware of these deep-buried attitudes, and consciously try to avoid letting them dictate your choices in life.

I should note that there’s an alternate and widely-used definition of racism that goes like this: We’re all prejudiced, because we grow up in a racist culture and we inherit those prejudices. But racism is a system of institutional, systemic oppression, and in order to be racist, you need both the prejudice + the power to affect people. By that definition, which a lot of progressives share, PoC (people of color) can’t be racist, because they don’t have any reinforcement from that institutionalized power. We may hold individual racist ideas and thoughts, but we only have the power to do damage with our actions in the rare, brief contexts where our other privileges temporarily override color privilege. A relative of mine may say racist things about black or white people in her own home, but when she engages with the wider world, as she must do daily, she’s just another brown girl, and is therefore at risk.

There’s a definite utility and sense to that definition, but it isn’t the one I normally use. Part of what often goes wrong in these discussions is that people are using two or three different definitions of racism, but don’t realize that they’re using different definitions. So for this piece, please understand that I generally use the definition of racism that argues that in the world we currently live in, everyone’s racist, and when I want to talk about prejudice + institutionalized power, I try to say so explicitly.

The corollary to ‘everyone’s racist’ is that you needn’t get too upset when someone notices and calls out your racism. Let’s say you make a stupid racist comment. A friend might say, “Damn, John, that was kind of racist.” It’d be really easy for John to get incredibly upset at that point, because for a lot of folks, ‘racist’ = the kind of extreme racist who burns crosses on people’s lawns and wants to lynch black people. But most of the time when I use the word ‘racist’ these days, I’m not talking about that kind of extreme action. I’m talking about the often subtle thoughts and words that emerge out of a culturally-conditioned subconscious. That’s the kind of racism I have to deal with on a regular basis (racism in others or myself), and that’s what I’m generally working to eliminate in my life.

So when John gets called out on his racism, the best response I can think of is for him to take a step back. To think about whether he actually said something stupid and racist. If he did, he should apologize and then move on — because pointing out he’s been racist is not a scathing attack on his character — it’s just someone pointing out that’s he’s messed up, like a friend pointing out that you’ve got snot hanging off your nose. Wipe up the snot, get on with your life. Or, if you think the person who called you out got it wrong (after fair and careful consideration of the subject, and keeping in mind that if you’re white and they’re a PoC, there’s a good chance that they have a hell of a lot more experience on this subject that you do), then that’s fine too. Maybe they misread your actions, or misunderstood you. It happens. Clarify, if you think it would be helpful. And then, again, move on.

I do think there are phrasings that help with calling people out. People are more likely to respond calmly to “Dude, wasn’t that kind of a racist thing to say?” than to “You’re so fucking racist!” (Jay Smooth has a great and funny video on the subject: How To Tell People They Sound Racist.) But when you’ve said something stupid and racist and in the process badly hurt somebody else, they’re not always going to be calm enough (or care enough) to choose the kindest phrasing to point out your mistake. Since you screwed up first, the onus is on you to handle the fallout and then try to fix the problem.

For a first step in practicing this, check out Ampersand’s How Not to be Insane When Accused of Racism.

2. If you’re white, you have white privilege.

John has talked eloquently about class privilege on this site. Privilege is not a bad word. When someone tells you that you’re privileged, it’s not an insult or an attack on your character. It’s just a fact, a set of traits that you may have inherited by virtue of your gender, your class background, your body type, your sexual orientation. Your race.

Privilege is a smooth road. When you have privilege, you still have to travel from point A to point B to get what you want. It may tire you out. But the road you walk is smooth. It’s paved. The sun is shining and birds are chirping and there’s a cool breeze helping you along. You don’t even notice that your road is smooth; you expect it to be, and it is, so you walk it. Whereas the less privileged person beside you, also trying to get from point A to point B? There are potholes in his road. There are man-made barriers that he has to climb over. There may be a pit of snakes. Oh, and it’s raining, and he can’t afford a coat or umbrella. Sucks to be him.

This is not to say that your road is always and entirely smooth. Just the portion of it affected by race, in the case of white privilege. Or the portion of it affected by gender, in the case of male privilege. And so on. This doesn’t invalidate the individual and specific pain you may feel as you walk your road, because you have chronic arthritis, and your son has cancer, your boss is a sociopath, and your marriage is falling apart. We all have our individual pain. Privilege is the absence of pain in areas you can’t even see.

White privilege is a way of saying that in a racist society (and whether you’re living in America or elsewhere, I’d argue that they’re all racist societies), being white gets you privilege. Sometimes less, sometimes more. There are small exceptions here and there, pockets of time and place where maybe being white is going to screw you over. Yes. But overwhelmingly, it goes the other way, and if you are one of the handful of white people who have experienced real racial discrimination, you should ask yourself whether bringing that up in the middle of a discussion about the overwhelming institutionalized racism against people of color is actually going to be helpful. And remember that because privilege is a smooth and invisible road, the vast majority of the time, you can’t even see how privileged your road is, compared to the brown people standing next to you. That’s not your fault; it’s just the way it is.

The classic essay on this subject, that I highly recommend, is Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. And this is a great and moving piece on white privilege in white minority contexts, from a contemporary SF/F writer.

3. Your other oppressions don’t erase your white privilege.

This is an error I see so damn often in these discussions. Someone comes into a room and says, “Hey, we’re all racist, and based on that thing you just said, so are you.” Sometimes they skip saying the first part, probably because for them it’s been a baseline assumption for so long that they don’t even realize it still needs saying, that it might be totally new to you. Maybe they follow that up by saying, “You don’t think that was racist? You don’t understand, because you’re white. You don’t understand my pain. You can never understand what it’s like to be a PoC in this country.”

And people get defensive, because hey, no one likes being called racist (not even me). They think — hey, my life has totally sucked. I’m female, or poor, or oppressed because of my religion or lack thereof. I’m child-free, or a geek, or queer, or fat. I’m living with disability every damn day. My father raped me. My mother was an alcoholic. I have suffered, dammit, so don’t tell me that I don’t know what suffering is.

There’s a fundamental slippage here. Because the thing is, you don’t know. You know other suffering, yes. But it’s not a contest. It’s not a ‘my pain is bigger than your pain’ debate. The question is whether you have experienced a particular thing — whether, in a culture of institutionalized racism, you have walked down the street in a brown or yellow or red or black skin, and dealt with the consequences therein. That’s all. Because while there’s a damn good chance that you’ve suffered more than me (I’ve led a relatively sheltered life for a PoC, insulated by being part of the model minority, and by my family’s upper-middle-class status), that’s still not the point. The point has to do with specific experience.

One small example: On September 11, 2001, I got on a bus leaving the campus where I taught in Salt Lake City. I was still shaken by what I’d seen on the news, still worried about a friend of mine who worked in the Twin Towers, whom I hadn’t yet been able to reach. I got on that bus, and the bus driver, the passengers, everyone else on that bus, all of those overwhelmingly white faces, turned to me and there was this look on their faces. A look that said — ‘oh no, a scary brown person — maybe she’s one of them’. Based solely on the color of my skin. It shocked and scared me, and for the next ten minutes, I tried to sit very quietly and be as non-threatening as I knew how. Was this terrible suffering on my part? No. But it is race-specific, and if you were a white person in that time and place, you could not have known how I felt. You may have had other experiences of getting a bus and facing hostile stares for other reasons — your clothes, your disability, your fatness. But it’s not the same experience.

4. Racism does damage to the genre.

Maybe you never actually say or even think anything racist. (If so, you’re doing better than I am.) I hope you still choose to engage with these issues, because this shit is hurting us. Institutionalized racism is a massive structural system that leads to whole groups of people getting passed over for jobs because their names sound too ‘ethnic’ or too ‘black’. Whole communities get sidelined into reservations, with all the social ills that causes, and then have it blamed on themselves. It’s not single acts of hatred or fear that make those things possible; it’s a system that the dominant culture creates that gives permission to and often encourages those acts in the aggregate.

For literature, such racism leads to writers of color not getting their work published. Or only published if it falls into certain narrow ‘exotic’ categories. (Sometime soon I’ll get my analysis of South Asian book covers up on the web, and talk about why S. Asian women’s book covers do such damage to the writers’ books and careers.) In fifteen years of involvement in SF/F, I’ve met fewer than 30 writers of color — compared to literally several hundred white writers. The lack of writers of color, and of white writers writing characters of color, leads to a lack of literature featuring such characters — which leads to fans of color deciding that SF/F isn’t meant for them, because there’s no one in the stories who looks like them. Or if there is, they’re always the villain, or the emasculated sidekick, or the whore.

Too often, when people of color start pointing out the racism inherent in such representations, white writers and their fans become defensive about work they love. They fall right back into #1 above — too upset that they think they’ve been tarred with the brush of racism to engage in a real discussion of what they might have actually done that was racist, that caused damage. That’s how this whole RaceFail discussion started. That’s the kind of reaction we need to learn how to move past.


This is all basically Racism 101. If you’re looking for a friendly place where anyone is welcome to come and learn more about bingo cards, spoons, cookies, white privilege, how not to be insane when accused of racism, etc. and so on, please let me direct you to the newly formed Livejournal community Racism 101, where all of your questions will be answered, without mockery, by people more patient than I. This is the short version.

I was going to go on to talk about what writers can do to combat this in their fiction, but this is already long, so I’m going to save that for a separate post. Writers, stay tuned for Part II, coming on Friday.

For readers, if you love literature, what you can do to help support writers of color and combat institutionalized racism is simple — read their books. There’s a challenge going on right now — read 50 books this year by people of color. Any genre, and no need for them to be serious, heavy books. Comics count. Cookbooks count. For more details on the challenge, and book recommendations, visit the 50 Books_POC Livejournal Community. The Carl Brandon Society also offers some reading lists that can help you get started if you’re interested in genre fiction. (They also take donations and love volunteers, of any color.) And I encourage you to start discussions of your favorite films, tv shows, and literature — where are they racist? Where do they go horribly, horribly wrong? And on the other end, because this is valuable too — which novels, shows, movies are getting it right? Talk about the best and the worst, so that we can all learn how to make better art together.

Finally, for everyone, if you want to combat racism in our society, the best suggestion I can make is that you call it out when you see it (with a focus on what racist thing has been said or done, rather than on what people are), and try to handle accusations with grace when people call you out on your own racism.

I know a lot of white folks who have been following this are now very scared of getting it wrong, of being called out on their internalized, unsuspected racism by the scary PoC. And all I can say to you is — this stuff is hard, and with the best of intentions, you will get it wrong sometimes. I do too. That sucks, but racism is a huge, painful, intractable problem deeply embedded in our society, so it’s not surprising that the fix isn’t going to be easy. But the answer is never going to come from white folks or people of color sitting back on their hands and refusing to participate in the discussion. Come on in and talk about it. We’ll figure this out together.

Okay. Any questions?

Edited to Add: Part II of this essay is here.

569 Comments on “Mary Anne Mohanraj Gets You Up to Speed, Part I”

  1. This definitely gives me a lot to think about and chew on. Thanks, Mary Anne Mohanraj, for taking the time to write it. I’m looking forward to part 2.

  2. No questions from me. Very much *yes* from me.

    (I had a bit of a jump on some involved in the discussion, just a little, from Spinning Into Butter. Which I think everyone should see a performance of.)

    Thank you for this thoughtful post.

    And thanks to John for starting the series this way. You do think laterally, and it’s a relief.

  3. Am I one? (Refresh — darn. I’m not.)

    I know you objected to hero worship, and with the caveat that I am not hero worshiping, that was a wonderful essay. It provoked a lot of food for thought about my own assumptions; I’m not sure I’m in agreement with you on all points, but I’ll sit down and work out what my questions are and present them in as sane and straightforward a fashion as I’m capable.

    I imagine you might be expecting some negative reactions, or maybe not; either way, let me slip in there with a nibble of appreciation before anything starts. And I would be fascinated by that future review of book covers you mentioned. I’m learning stuff I wasn’t expecting to learn when I joined the discussions on Whatever, which I credit to the willingness of people on the site to reason rather than rampage.

    Thanks, Mary Ann and John. Must sit and think.

  4. MaryAnn:

    I’ve also got a little suggestion for some folks about an Avoidable Epic RaceFail, that I’ve had to call white folks AND PoC out on.

    It is not my obligation, as a person of mixed race heritage, to educate you on your bullshit — and damaging — assumptions about whether I “look” or “act” in an ethnically appropriate manner.

    Barack Obama may “brush it off” in a graceful manner. I don’t.

  5. This is just so much of a frakked up worldview that I don’t even know how to begin to respond. I guess in her view I will always be a White Male Oppressor, no matter what my actual actions are, who should tread lightly around others for fear of offending them.

    Um. No.

  6. *reaches for keyboard*

    *realizes that this thread will end in suffering, pain, and internet hatred between two sides who, thanks to linguistic inflation, will never be able to understand each other’s points, and respectfully declines to become involved*

    *makes a cup of herbal tea instead, goes back to paper inventory spreadsheets*

  7. Craig #4 –

    For a long time, Obama didn’t “brush it off” either. Currently reading Dreams from My Father (probably will also get the audiobook; right now I need quiet, unfortunately). Powerful, from the foreword of an older Obama, to the introduction from the younger Obama, to the story.

    I admit for a long time I avoided reading the book because I really hate talking about race.

  8. I’m glad we’re off to such a good start.

    I’d like to ask about the attitude that says, “we should all just be more thick-skinned about it: we’d get more done if we ignored the minor slights.”

    I expressed that in a mild way on the original, 750-post thread, and I recognize that it’s in many ways a very white reaction to the race issue. I’d like to get some other perspectives on it, as a way of kicking off a conversation here

  9. And Craig, thanks for that thought. My daughter is mixed race (her father, my partner, is white), and while she’s too young now for people to have any assumptions about how she ought to act or look, it’s going to be interesting to see how those attitudes will play out in her life as she grows up.

  10. I mostly agree with you, Mary Ann, and since I wasn’t there I can’t really call what happened in SLC into question. But frankly, I’d be surprised if you didn’t get that look every time you got on a bus there. And early on in the game there were plenty of people who thought the perps were Timmy’s Friends.

    I also hesitate to say that we’re all racist. Truth be told, I just think that sometimes we’re all idiots. Yeah, I make mistakes sometimes, but I do not make a conscious effort to say or do racist things. It’s my belief that making that effort is what makes a person a racist. And yes, holding a noxious belief does equate with making an effort.

    As for privilege, I’ll cop to that. I played soccer last season with 4 native fellows. Talking with them it became obvious that we had found our way to the game by two different paths, and their’s was certainly more bumpy. I won’t feel guilt about that privilege, but I will work to make sure that other roads are smoothed over in the future.

    And that future? We’ve recently moved to a bigger city (not that that took much) with a more vibrant multicultural community, and we deliberately chose an area with a school where the boys could experience more than a sea of white with only a small selection of colour. Last Fall, Aidan phoned me at work and asked if he could have a friend over for lunch. I hesitated, only because I didn’t know the boy, but Aidan said, “It’s all right, Dad. He won’t be eating, because he’s fasting.” I mentioned this at the dinner table that night, and Brennan said, in his best bloody-obvious-voice, “Well, yeah, that’s because it’s Ramadan right now.”

    This was not a sentence I would have ever spoken when I was in school. It pleased me to no end to hear it spoken in such a matter-of-fact way.


  11. PJ, for the most part, I kind of agree with you. But I’m also aware that as a South Asian, I deal with so much less racism than most people of color do — and even so, I get really exhausted sometimes from ignoring the minor slights.

    This actually hits me a lot more on gender issues, though. I get so frustrated about sexist shit on a daily basis, I feel like women swallow so damn much of the minor crap that we don’t even notice most of it anymore. And that’s just what you have to do to survive in the world. So that sometimes it erupts into a three hour rant about why Kevin won’t do the damn dishes even though he agreed that he would. He gets hit for it, just because a) he’s there, and b) I know that it’s safe for me to pound him with this. I’m very grateful that he’s so patient and able to stay calm until I calm down again. And in return, I try really hard not to do that too often…

  12. @12, Mary Ann,

    Thanks, that’s very interesting to me because my take was more in the vein of, “When you don’t have to deal with very many minor bumps in the road, it’s easier to let them slide” rather than, “When you get minor bumps pretty much constantly, you have to learn to ignore them or you’ll go crazy”

  13. Derryl, it’s certainly possible that I was sensitized to their gaze on that particular day — but I don’t think so. Because I’m South Asian, I have the luxury of forgetting I’m brown a lot of the time, and I don’t think I was even thinking about the issue until their startled looks made me aware of it.

    Salt Lake City actually isn’t nearly as overtly racist on a day-to-day basis as you might think — part of the Mormons converting so many foreigners and bringing them back home. Painfully conservative for my tastes, of course.

    And yes, to clarify, there do seem to be three definitions of racism actively in play:

    – racism involves conscious racist thought and action
    – racism is a system of inherited prejudice we all share
    – racism is inherited prejudice + power

    Which causes a lot of grief when people with different definitions run into each other.

  14. You’re free to have that opinion, Rodney, but whether I was right to walk back from my earlier position or not isn’t really relevant to this thread in a general sense, so I’d prefer not to have a discussion about it here.

  15. @Skip

    Wow did you miss the point.

    Maryanne thank you writing this and especially thank you for the swimming in shit metaphor. I have only recently begun to recognize my own failings in this area. When I was younger and more naive I believed that I was doing right in the world becuase I was open-minded nd tolerant but now I am beginning to understand that that isn’t enough; that you can’t fight prejudice and racism if are deaf, blind, and dumb to it.

  16. At least part of the problem IMO is that the term “racist” is used not as Ms. Mohanraj did in her essay, but as the Nuclear Option of argument, rather like an F-bomb. It is most often used not to inform but to wound. Denotatively she is perhaps correct, but connotatively it means “You’re an evil person”. Discussions about race might be more productive if the word “racist” wasn’t even used at all.

    If someone calls me a racist, it isn’t an invitation to rational discussion, it’s either an epithet hurled at me to injure me or an attempt to manipulate or silence me. Since I respond poorly to attempts to do either, all that person has done is cause me to categorize them as a person whose opinion is of no significance. Or to put it more simply, I simply think “What an asshole” and ignore them, much as I would if someone started F-bombing me in a conversation. Needless to say, this doesn’t promote useful and meaningful dialogue about race, or anything else.

    Perhaps instead of “Was that racist?” the proper question would be “Was that wrong?” in all its contexts (factually, connotatively, morally, etc.) or “Am I (or you) missing something?” or “Was that needlessly hurtful or insensitive?”

  17. I’m not new to this issue (I’m a Unitarian Universalist and involved with youth) but I found this post very helpful in answering some of my lingering questions. Thank you so much Mary Anne for agreeing to guest blog and doing a fine job of it and John Scalzi for asking you.

  18. Your post gathers the actual, insightful things that needed saying, but also has some inciteful bits. I guess this kind of discussion it’s almost impossible to have the first without the second.

    I guess I find that it’s unnecessary to say, “this isn’t about white folks, and hearing what they have to say.” I agree, it’s not about that…it’s also not about automobiles, big oil, or guantanamo bay. It’s inclusion says much about the prior discussion, methinks.

    I somewhat disagree with the proposition that PoC don’t have an obligation to teach (presumably non-PoC) authors how to write PoC characters. In fact, I think that’s part of engaging in the progress we need. No, I’m not saying, hay, go out and do X, but rather, it’s an affirmative response to a known problem, so shouldn’t we encourage it? I guess as stated, I agree, but I ask, as above, why state it so? Rather than the negative, why not, “the assistance of a PoC shouldn’t be assumed, but as you try (and fail), PoC are going to try (and fail) with you.”

  19. torgeaux:

    Not to short circuit the point about PoC folks teaching non-PoC to write PoC characters, but Mary Anne is going to be covering that point extensively in her next post, so it might be more fruitful to hang on to that for now.

  20. While I agree that one should try not to overreact when one’s racism (Mary Anne’s definition) is pointed out, the person doing the pointing should also strive to phrase it way that makes the action and not the person the subject.

    Bad: You were racist there.
    Good: That was a racist thing you just said there.

  21. Mary Ann thanks for that, and thanks to John for devoting the space for it. This kind of tone and clarity of message is exactly what’s needed.

  22. Jess, that swimming in shit metaphor is all Nalo’s — I agree, it’s very sharp and useful.

    Papapete, I think it’s in what you’re used to. I’ve been using the second definition (inherited prejudice we all share) for so many years, that that’s what racism now means to me in general conversation. It’s also pretty much the standard academic meaning, so for the people I interact with most of the time, that’s how they use the word too. If one of them suggests that I said something racist, it might sting a bit, because no one likes realizing they did something stupid, but it doesn’t feel like an attack.

    You could just say ‘Was that wrong?’ — but then you’d have to get into a whole long discussion of why it was wrong, and I’m not sure how you could really get into it without using the word ‘racist’ anyway. So it seems like a vague and imprecise way to start a difficult conversation to me.

  23. I’m kind of with Skip. This framework seems as dogmatic and inescapable as the doctrine of original sin, and I never accepted it either. And honestly, “living human”=”racist” renders the word meaningless.

  24. Well said.

    PJ @9: couple of problems with the ‘be thick-skinned’ approach.

    First, it puts the onus on the person slighted to suck it up, rather than the person making the ignorant/hurtful comment. You could just as well say that the person who gets told “Dude, that was kinda racist” is the one who needs to be thick-skinned, rather than expecting the recipient to do some teeth-gritting on their behalf.

    Second, it adds up. When a PoC gets pretty damn tired of the 3,912,393th iteration of a mildly stupid comment, they’re not likely to be as thick-skinned as the first time they heard it (and understandably so). And then they’re likely to react with “Well why didn’t you TELL me that bothered you?!” and we’re off to the Fail Races.

    Plus, really, I doubt I’m the only one who wants to be told they’re being an asshole, particularly when it’s early-stage assholery subject to treatment.

  25. Papapete #18 –

    Probably the last I’ll say on this for a while, since I can see the exhaustion point hitting soon for me, even on Whatever, or what looks like it….

    … but I think this is a generational divide. For instance, two generations ago, the kind of attitudes that definitely draw “racist” connotations for both this generation andone generation ago… were accepted. They would be surprised to be called racist.

    One generation ago, racism became a genuine topic discussed. But this was still in the early stages, when there was, mentally, a clear boundary between “bad racism” and “no racism at all”. The crosses on lawns, Martin Luther King, etc.

    This generation is more racially integrated than previous ones, so the definition of racism as something more personal and not necessarily condemnable (unlike the definition one generation ago) is more acceptable.

    Three generations clash. Or something.

    From what I’ve been watching of various conversations and blog posts outside of the main LJ argument, there looks to be something like a generational divide.

    I’m aware that I’m way, way oversimplifying things. But there is a disconnect that runs deep.

    (Also, I still like everyone involved in the argument I liked before. Gods know that we all make mistakes and think wrong things. I say this because I’m concerned that some folks are going to stop talking to me now, though I never stopped talking to them.)

  26. PJ@9:

    You made me think, PJ, damn you.

    My starting answer was that my experiences as an Asian woman in two fields that are significantly skewed in favor of Asians — classical music and software/medicine — have resulted in me experiencing more slights as a woman rather than as an Asian. I … think. There is an occasional measure of occasional, backhanded prejudice because I am of Japanese descent (not the most popular Asian group among mainland Asians ever, for some obvious reasons) but that’s counterbalanced by the whole model minority prejudice that balances things in my favor. From a gut feel reaction, I’d guess Mary Anne’s had a far more difficult experience, simple because of the venue that she’s in.

    Then I started to think about it, and I remembered back to the dark ages of my youth. Admittedly it was at least 20 to 30-mumble-mumble years ago, and some fundamental attitudes and assumptions have changed, not to mention I’m a totally different person. However, I remember feeling every look, every comment, every racist slight very strongly. I was a pretty neurotic kid, but I’ll be damned if I could tell you which was cause and which was effect. I remember desperately wanting to be white, to the extent that I tried to tape my eyes to make them bigger — a factor, I believe, of living in a mostly white environment and wanting to conform to the “norm” rather than any active encouragement.

    People who know me now will tell you I’m incredibly oblivious to things, and that I’m extremely insensitive to stuff that send them into a froth — sometimes on my behalf. My obliviousness is practically legendary in my small social group, as is my inability to remember anything related to social interaction. Considering it objectively, and remembering the misery I felt during my middle school years, I think this was a conscious decision on my part to develop a tougher skin. I can’t point to a specific moment in time when I decided, “This is how I’ll achieve happiness,” but it is a pretty classic model minority reaction to an institutional problem: if you don’t look at it, it isn’t there.

    I don’t know if you could say that this is bad or good, necessarily. It worked for me. To my detriment? Maybe. Probably. In the long-term societal good sense, it was — enh. The fact that I’m already out of my comfort zone just admitting that is probably an indicator of … something, anyway.

  27. Well, to be honest, I don’t really buy into a lot of the talk around “race” or “racism”. I find that most of it is linked to the use of post-modern language and concepts which I just do not grok. I find that much of this language is meant to obscure and confuse understanding. Similarly, I am not sympathetic to the deconstructionist movement in philosophy anyways, which is often employed in race discussions.

    However, I wonder if some of the issue is that SF/Fantasy is considered “white” so that minorities in North America are just not interested in these genres. However, I don’t think this is necessarily the case either because of the large influence of Asian sources for SF in particular. Similarly, I wonder if the relative dearth of PofC might be because their first language is not English (which, besides Japanese, is where most SF/F is published).

  28. @TOS: I think a lot of problems with discussing this is the baggage the terms are carrying. I know that I can’t change the terminology, but internally I think in these terms:

    living human = naturally having prejudicial tendencies (be it with race, gender, class, etc.)

    White Priviledge = Majority Priviledge (although I suppose there are examples of people not in the majority controlling a society)

  29. *don’t respond don’t get dragged into this you’ve been baited into these debates before… dammit all to hell, your subconscious warned you!*

    @7 Mary Anne:

    No, not clarification. To my mind, the exact opposite. The hot-button words in these debates – which I will not list here, we both know what they are – have lost their value through overuse, especially in academia.

    (And I work in a law school and attend law school part time, so I’m marinating in this twelve hours a day, five days a week, though the people who carry on this debate right in front of my cubicle make six times my salary and it’s all I can do to smile and nod politely when they ask me what I think. Oh, and I use a pseudonym for commenting everywhere just to be safe.)

    These words are nasty, accusatory words, the kind that should be used sparingly and only when you really mean it. If words can be loaded, these are linguistic assault weapons. But they are fired so frequently, so randomly, with so little supporting evidence, that the only effect they have is to get people mad – and often the same people you are trying to convince. I guess the saving graces of law school are that I have learned 1) words do have meaning, 2) intentions have as much meaning as acts, and 3) never ask a question if you don’t want to hear the answer.

    I spent my college years and a good part of my past internet browsing participating in these debates. They always ended up in anger, and in a few cases I provoked tears. (I fucking hate making people cry.) All because I made, and still occasionally make, the mistake of thinking that this is a debate with some sort of compromise or middle ground available. There isn’t. In fact, that’s the reason I like SF – it is one of the few genres of literature left that doesn’t wallow in human difference. To be honest, I hope everyone in the future looks like your daughter. Then we can stop fighting over this, because there will be one less difference to fight about.

    And now having staggered yet again out of the lion’s den slashed and bleeding, I appear to be dragging myself in for another round. I’m dumb like that. :\

  30. Skip: This is just so much of a frakked up worldview that I don’t even know how to begin to respond. I guess in her view I will always be a White Male Oppressor, no matter what my actual actions are, who should tread lightly around others for fear of offending them.

    I completely agree.

    and whether you’re living in America or elsewhere, I’d argue that they’re all racist societies

    You don’t know my country or my society, so please keep your prejudices for yourself.

  31. John, you still got that mallet warmed up? Looks like we have a few people thinking this would be a great place to take a crap.

  32. JS: Thanks, got ya. I read her linked commentary (which was nicely put, and made me want to engage on its own).

    MAM: Don’t bother replying, if you were so inclined. I’ll wait for the more full discussion. This is, indeed off to a good start, some commentary notwithstanding.

  33. @ Papapete

    “If someone calls me a racist, it isn’t an invitation to rational discussion, it’s either an epithet hurled at me to injure me or an attempt to manipulate or silence me.”

    Yeah, that’s my gut reaction to it, too. I’m not used to it being used the way Mary Anne is suggesting it being used.

    If someone said “You really fucked that one up” or “Dude, that was kind of a racist thing to say/write” it would feel less inflammatory (although it would still sting, because admitting I fucked up is never easy).

    But is that just my white privelage coming through?

  34. @TOS: And honestly, “living human”=”racist” renders the word meaningless.

    Not at all…because there’s different degrees, and perhaps more importantly, different manifestations, of said racism.

  35. DKT, I wouldn’t call that white privilege, personally, given that I’d feel the same way (stung, embarrassed, upset), as would many other PoC if they were called out on saying something racist.

  36. Thank you for writing this. You’ve wrapped concepts I see in my day to day life in words, and done it far more clearly and in far fewer words than I can.

  37. However, I don’t think this is necessarily the case either because of the large influence of Asian sources for SF in particular. Similarly, I wonder if the relative dearth of PofC might be because their first language is not English

    It’s a nice idea, but I don’t think language is the issue. As for the influence of Asian sources for SF (and in fantasy too) — we mentioned this in the other thread, but a lot of the influence in the genre is co-opting from a superficial standpoint rather than understanding or investing. I have often gotten a message that Asian culture is cool, and would be even cooler if there weren’t any actual Asian people around to dirty it up. That might not have been the intent, but that’s sort of the message I get. We’re good for extras and kung-fu movies! Otherwise, please be patient while we queue up the next White Hero to rescue you, noble savage.

    I can’t speak for why there aren’t more PoC writers on the bookshelves, though I’d dearly love to know. (Although that said, the lists Mary Anne linked to were enlightening. I realized: I can’t list you 10 published PoC novelists in the SF/F genre. Shame on me.) Mary Anne, as the subject matter expert, could you give us your opinion on what the operative factors are, up to and beyond racism? Or if there are links I could go to to research that, that’d be cool, too!

  38. Well, yes, there are Mary Anne, but not compared to global demographics. Furthermore, the country that produces a lot of the SF/f (Japan), the vast majority of it is not readily accessible to the North American market.

  39. “If you’re white, you have white privilege.”

    We all know about the 19th century and the Jim Crow laws of the Old South. I don’t think anyone here is going to defend the injustices committed in the past. Although I disagree with John on many issues, I agree with him that the Confederacy was evil.

    But much as changed since then…and more than just the Civil Rights legislation of *more than 40 years ago*. We now have an entire set of rules in place throughout academia, business, and government that actively promotes the interests of minorities. Racism is no longer acceptable in white society. As evidenced by the election of Barack Obama, many whites will now even vote for an African-American president…The final glass ceiling has been shattered.

    What exactly is “white privilege” in the context of 2009? And at what point does the racism of previous centuries become history?

    Anyone who has been in the corporate world knows that minority status is an *asset* rather than a hindrance in these settings. Corporations go out of their way to recruit and promote minority candidates. White privilege in corporate America?…I don’t see it there.

    Most corporations also have diversity sourcing policies….which basically means that they earmark a percentage of their sourcing for minority-owned businesses.

    Universities also go out of their way to recruit minority candidates. Most have explicit racial quotas in place designed to favor minority applicants. Many also have scholarship programs set aside especially for minority candidates. I can’t see the “white privilege” in the educational world either.

    This doesn’t mean that there is equality in the U.S. There is still a “class privilege”–based on education and economics.

    But it is difficult to argue that the U.S. is a pervasively “racist society” in 2009. For example, Asian-Americans, on average, have higher incomes than Caucasions. So clearly, you don’t have to be white to succeed in America.

    The race card in the context of 2009 is more of an ideological distraction than a legitimate issue.

  40. Similarly, I wonder if the relative dearth of PofC might be because their first language is not English (which, besides Japanese, is where most SF/F is published).

    ARGH. I run into this *every* *single* *damned* *day* when I take public transport.

    English is my first language. It’s the first language of many of the “people of color” I know. It’s the second and equal language of many more.

    We aren’t all just off the boat, so to speak.

  41. Yuhri, I tried to talk about this above, but maybe I wasn’t clear. I can’t know for certain, of course, but I think it’s mostly just an ugly cycle:

    – institutionalized racism makes it very hard for Writers of Color to get published

    – fewer WoC means fewer Characters of Color in fiction

    – fewer CoC means fewer Fans of Color

    – fewer Fans of Color means, in the long run, fewer WoC in the next generation

  42. Edward, I think you need to go back and read MAM’s post. You’re constructing some strawmen very carefully, but they’re easy to recognize.

  43. @47, Edward:

    In the context of 2009, white privelage is when I’m walking through downtown chicago, and I see a group of youths dressed like extras in a hip-hop video, and if they’re white I assume they’re ridiculous little wankers and walk right through them, but if they’re black and it’s after midnight I think twice about walking right through them.

    … Admitting I have this problem is the first step, right?

  44. @ Derryl

    I think the story of your son is a perfect example that many members of the younger generation are taking much more moderate views when it comes to how they view race and privilege. It’s heartening to hear that from a social standpoint, at least, America is moving in the right direction.

    Still, the vestiges of our country’s racist past aren’t going to be erased for many generations to come.

    Take for example economic class divisions. Those are starkly defined by race. These divisions will take decades to correct.

    But how do we correct it? Maybe I am missing the point (and I fear I am), but is getting more PoC in SF/F really going to combat institutionalized racism?

    Things like education will do that. Let’s get these disadvantaged kids excited about reading stories before we start bashing white authors for their non-inclusiveness.

    That said, excellent post Mary Anne. I look forward to part 2 very much.

  45. A few points:

    Rodney Graves and Skip miss the point – not unusual.

    All the people shitting themselves over the idea that everyone’s a little bit racist need to go see the musical Avenue Q. It has a song called “Everyone’s a little bit racist,” which is both funny and true.

    I also think that a lot of the people above who’re reflexively reacting to this topic essentially by saying “DON’T CALL ME RACIST!!! I’M NOT RACIST!!!” Are providing good examples of how not to engage in this debate.

    Giacomo – if you don’t think there’s racism in Italy, you’re not paying attention. Northern League, anyone? Treatment of the Romani?

    And most importantly – May Anne Mohanraj – great post. There are a few things I might quibble about at the edges, but great, great post.

  46. But Paul, I don’t think there’s any need to look at global demographics. America alone currently has 300 million people. Even if a tiny fraction of them read, and a tiny fraction of them read SF/F, and a tiny fraction of those readers also write fiction — you should still have more than 30 writers of color in the entire genre. (Okay, there are a few more than that, but not many more at the professional level. 50? 60? Somewhere in that range.)

    Heck, just today I talked to a class of freshmen, all minorities, and six of them plan to be writers.

  47. Yuhri,

    I am not really talking about the co-option of Asian influence by Western artists, writers, etc. I am more thinking of the direct works, such as Pokemon and Naruto to more adult fair like Cowboy Bebop of Trigun. These series have been immensely popular in North America and are considered groundbreaking precisely because they offer up unique cultural perspectives. (I am not sure if I like this last sentence as written, but I will let it stand for the moment).

  48. @52, Patrick: When I was in middle school I devoured Star Wars novels, and as a result my vocabulary was pretty remarkable compared to some of my classmates. Think of reading novels as a kind of informal education: If a child reads more stories with heroes from all over the ethnic spectrum, that child might grow up less likely to absorb prejudices from other sources.

  49. Patrick, I have no interest in ‘bashing white authors for their non-inclusiveness’. They should absolutely feel free to write whatever they want, about whomever they want.

    But assuming white authors would like more PoC in the field, I’m good with suggesting some ways they can help with that, if they so choose.

    Okay, I’m supposed to be saving the ‘for writers’ conversation for tomorrow’s post, so I’m going to stop here. I am.

  50. Scalzi:

    I’m so used to people saying things like “Yes, this is a discussion we should be having” and then moving on that it never even occurred to me you would deliver. I’m impressed. Thanks.

    Mary Anne Mohanraj:

    Love the even-handed definitional approach.

    One thing it reminds me of. It took me a long time to understand that when a gay friend shared with me some of the problems of being gay, grumping that I get grief too was NOT the point. I felt a bit like he was claiming Special Snowflake status, which is why I reacted to push it away; this was not at all fair to him, and I eventually figured it out, long after he gave up on me. Hearing it from a non-attacking source has got to be better. Thanks.

  51. Sorry, Mary Anne. You did, though my erratic brain always appreciates bullet points. I phrased my question remarkably poorly. My bad! What I was looking for was, in the daily process of slush piles, submissions, and decision-making on what to publish, market research, that sort of thing — i.e. the industry of publishing itself — what, hm, factors play into there not being more writers of color? What are the decision points where data lends itself to going with a white writer rather than a minority one, especially if the names of writers are not identifiably one or the other?

    …see, this is why I’m not a writer. There are tent caterpillars more articulate than I am. I can’t figure out how to phrase my question so it makes any bloody sense. Bah.

  52. Quibble away, Eddie — that’s part of the fun. :-)

    Paul, I can’t really address the direct Japanese material you’re discussing — I’m not familiar with any of it. I’m totally not denying that it’s having a wide influence on American culture — but I’m not seeing a wide influence on current SF/F.

    I think the only Japanese stuff I know is Robotech. And Akira. Okay, that’s kind of sad.

  53. should have realized that john and maryanne would know each other. Of course everyone I know should know each other.

    as a white girl from a small town, who didn’t grow up around people of color (in my community our minorities were a few Catholics and one hippie family) I don’t have a whole lot to say. I don’t know what it is like to be a minority and I never will. I am racist, I guess, by my very existence…but I think that being a part of the science fiction community has helped me to not be prejudiced.

  54. A note to my fellow bearers of privilege (in this case, whiteness):

    When someone goes to the effort Mary Anne did here to explain her usage, to link to further discussion, to acknowledge alternatives and draw back to her point, it is Not Helpful to just sit there and say something that amounts to “I absolutely refuse to let you use a contentious term that way; I insist that it has to mean what I want it to and will respond as if it did, without regard for anything you actually said.” Furthermore, it makes our fandom look bad. :)

    But seriously. Our literature is about imaginary worlds. If you have trouble connecting your internalized preferred usage with someone else’s, treat it as exploring another world. “What does it feel like to be here, seeing things this way?” You don’t have to agree with everything she says. Or any of it. But the refusal to even consider it, to ever try to enter into it even as a speculative exercise, guarantees that you’ll be learning nothing from the opportunity.

  55. Eddie Clark: Giacomo – if you don’t think there’s racism in Italy, you’re not paying attention. Northern League, anyone? Treatment of the Romani?

    So now you pretend to school me on my country? I LIVE here, I walk the streets, I talk with people, I watch TV and read newspapers.

    Of course there is racism in Italy, but there is no white privilege.

  56. Ah, got it, Yuhri. Well, I’d say overwhelmingly, we just don’t get enough submissions from writers of color. There are so few relevant submissions, comparatively speaking, that if we reject them at the same rate we reject white writers (based purely on quality of the work), very few make it through.

    There may be other factors at play — editors who subconsciously are less inclined to publish work from people with obviously ‘ethnic’ names. But that’s pure speculation at this point — the only way we’d know for certain is if we did a comparative study — say, read for three months at a high-volume magazine with names on the subs, then read for three months with the names stripped off, and see whether the percentage of minority writers published changed. It might, it might not.

    There’s a famous study about this kind of thing with music, and the New York Philharmonic. I’m sorry I can’t provide the citation right now, but the gist of it is that there was this huge disparity in gender breakdown for primary violinists — basically all men. And the folks who held the auditions said that they really wanted to hire some women, but they just weren’t as good. So then they hung a black velvet curtain on the stage for the next round of auditions, and the musicians performed behind it — and the number of women hired went way, way up. Startling.

  57. Let’s get these disadvantaged kids excited about reading stories before we start bashing white authors for their non-inclusiveness.

    False dilemma, and a loaded one to boot.

    Pointing out a lack of PoC authors and characters does not need to be ‘bashing’, as you characterize it. It’s good for the hobby. Look at a lot older SF that seemed perfectly sensible at the time, but makes us wince today – you know, futuristic space colonies that look exactly like idealized 1950s small-town America. The whole point of speculative fiction is a wide-ranging vision; when we arbitrarily or unintentionally limit that vision, we hurt ourselves.

    (I’m thinking of that joke from the Monsters vs. Aliens trailer, where the news announcer mentions that the UFO has crash-landed in America, “the only country where UFOs ever seem to land.”)

    And if we’re not racist, if people are people, then why do we need to wait for eager PoC readers to come along before we start putting PoC in fiction? Presumably a non-racist SF fan doesn’t really care if the kick-ass hero of an awesome space opera is white, black or Guatemalan. Similarly, that fan is going to find it a bit anachronistic if everybody on the 4,000-strong “Earth colony” ship appears to be a white Midwesterner.

    Finally, having more inclusive and interesting SF/F is how you get people reading it in the first place.

  58. An interesting discussion and a useful one, and kudos to both Mary Anne and John for letting it happen with their names attached — right now, stepping into the spotlight can be a scary thing, because there are a lot of people on both sides who have stopped listening and are only reacting, right now.

    I took a few days away from the discussion because I had to come to grips with the term ‘racist’ — my upbringing was that this was a terrible thing to say to someone, that it was an accusatory word, a fighting word, one of the worst insults to hurl at another person. So being told I was racist and I didn’t get to have any say in the matter — from people who didn’t know me at all — was tough to deal with. But I’m willing to move through that word and listen to what’s actually happening below it, and learn from it — and, when i screw up, as I undoubtedly will, to listen and learn and try again.

    I just hope that people in those conversations will judge each other by our actions, and not prejudge solely by the color of our skin. We can’t do a damn thing about the race we were born with. We can only change what’s inside.

    [as an aside — one of the gifts of science fiction is the training to think ‘human race’ and not ‘Black race’ or ‘White race’ or “Asian race,” etc. Not to lessen the impact of our cultures, but to remember that we are, at base, the same genetic soup. Saying that elsewhere got me flamed, but I still think it’s an important goal.]

  59. @63, is there Catholic privilege? Or native privilege? Do people who do not look like the natives ever get stared at or avoided?

  60. Edward@47:

    But it is difficult to argue that the U.S. is a pervasively “racist society” in 2009. For example, Asian-Americans, on average, have higher incomes than Caucasions. So clearly, you don’t have to be white to succeed in America.

    I wouldn’t deny that there has been some great progress made in race relations in the US over the last few years! However, I seem to remember Obama and others saying that just because he was elected, that doesn’t mean the race problem is “solved.” Parenthetically, the model minority is called the “model” minority for a reason. They — we — have chosen to game the system by trading our voices and our individuality for something perceived as a collective good. I don’t think you can compare the Asian-American income levels to Caucasian and assume that success is achievable for, let’s say, an African-American executive in the same game.

    I speak in gross generalities, o’course, but it’s a big population base.


    I figured you were speaking of that. I know what you mean, but — did you notice who they cast for Dragonball, the movie? Or The Last Airbender? Or Cowboy Bebop?

  61. @47 Edward:

    I guess I’m looking more for a society where we don’t need those rules in corporations and colleges. Where people are actually accepted/hired based on their skills and/or knowledge no matter what their color. If anything these rules and regulations help to more clearly define “white privilege” only because it draws so much attention to skin color.

    I’m sorry, but having to hire someone based on their skin color is a lot different than wanting to to hire the person based on their merit. We have a very long way to go.

    Until the first thing we ‘see’ in a person is their personality and not their pigment, we are destined to abide by the polite method of putting a band aid on a mortal and very deep wound.

    Ms. Mohanraj, thank you for your insightful commentary, as it made me very thoughtful and very uncomfortable at the same time. It is a drive to want to fix this inherited and irrational fear. I just hope it is our actions that define us and not our inaction through words. We can talk all we want. I guess, I want to see progress and it not having the form of rules and regulations but through common sense and compassion.

  62. I mostly agree with the points made in the original post, particularly for current conditions.

    One question that I thought might underlie some of the discussions I did read in RaceFail09: where is this all headed? It seems to me that some people envision a future where racial difference gradually blurs and fades over generations. On the other hand, I think other people envision a world where current “Others” create a hegemony founded on emphasizing their difference. Obviously, both trends might see-saw over time and for different areas of life. However, I imagine your idealized resolution of the project of anti-Racism greatly influences your positions on a lot of these debates. My take is that any difference, particularly one with the history of race, is going to be appropriated by power structures. So I would not mind seeing the “blurring” trend predominate. This is not simply the self-serving fantasy of a white hegemon (though I won’t deny that argument has some traction) that non-whites become culturally “etiolated” to suit my preferences. The blurring does not necessarily have to be all towards Western defaults. Also, if cultural differences/identities become emphasized, the repair of all the cultures entombed in the foundations of Universal whiteness will be a necessary and very problematic process in creating a “difference” future.

    Two minor notes: I like having these discussions without the 50 cent terms of post-structural theory; I think they tend to alienate people, even people who have some experience with their use, and are more of a barrier to communication than an aid. (Ditto for psych-speak and other such artificial, antiseptic linguistic choices.)

    Relatedly, given the context of this post, I cannot simply let the term “child-free” go by without comment. I find it offensive and not at all a neutral term. Others may disagree with that assertion, but since we are partly here to talk about the use of language, you should at least respect that I personally find it a vile term drawn from some potential Steel Beach culture in waiting.

    Anyway thanks for your attempt to start a dialog on this subject here. I think it is a good start overall.

  63. Kate, I do think we’re progressing, truly. I’m quite sure I’m less racist than my parents (and they might even agree with me on that now, after much discussion over the years), and I expect (and hope, devoutly) that my daughter will be much less racist than I am.

    We’re seeing this pretty clearly with sexual orientation, I think, if you look at the voting demographics with the Prop. 8 mess in California. The younger generation is overwhelmingly less homophobic than its elders.

    Race will probably take us a little longer.

  64. @ 56 PJ the Barbarian

    Fair point, but odds are you read books because you had a strong school system and good teachers that got you excited about such things.

    Many young students of color living in inner city America don’t have these chances. Not surprisingly, that reality ties directly back to the fact that they are economically disadvantaged.

    In large part, I think racism today is a class issue perpetuated (to a lesser extent than in previous generations but still perpetuated) by economic class. It’s the “the haves” feeling uncomfortable around the “have-nots” and vice versa.

    How can writing PoC into SF/F really fix this much much broader problem? Sure it helps, but this is a much larger issue that’s fueled (in my opinion) by money issues, not society issues.

  65. Thanks, to both John and Mary Anne. for this thread. I think the thing that made RaceFail so fail-y is lack of racism 101. Perhaps we should be teaching this to kids, eh?

    Is it possible, Mary Anne, to address the class argument and history brought up by Eddie Trimnell? I hear that one A LOT, but I don’t have the tools to unpack it for someone else…

  66. @70, PrivateIron

    Child-free is an interesting case. The primary alternative, “Childless,” has its own baggage. It illustrates how hard it is to come up with a neutral term. Even PoC is a bit of a landmine because it’s just an inversion of the completely unacceptable “colored people.” And you always get the occasional pest who feigns offense and insists that he is pink, or that white is a color.

  67. Mary Anne@64:

    Thanks for that explanation. I was wondering if that was the case. I know the study you’re talking about; I have an article about it on my computer back home, somewhere. If I could write worth a damn, I’d up the minority writer list by one, thereby helping prove the case on Sturgeon’s Law….

    I really need to hit refresh more frequently. This here’s a fast-moving thread. Better yet — I should go get some coffee.

    Right. New plan.

  68. “I realized: I can’t list you 10 published PoC novelists in the SF/F genre. Shame on me.”

    I can’t list 10 PoC SF/F authors either, but I am not ashamed nor need I be. I neither know nor care about the ethnicity of the authors I read. All I care about is “Are they good writers? Do I get enjoyment/edification/something else out of their writing?” Anything else is extraneous and unnecessary. I DO NOT CARE what ethnicity/gender/religion/whatever-else-you-care-to-name an author is. I didn’t read Laurell K. Hamilton (go ahead and laugh) years ago because she was a woman, I did it because once upon a time she was a good writer. I didn’t quit reading her because she’s a Wiccan, I did it because her work became incredibly craptastic.

    If you want me to read the book, make it a good read. Period.

  69. PrivateIron@70: No, child-free is not a neutral term. Neither is childless. Some of us who have made the decision not to have children find “childless” … not offensive, but implying that we are lacking something (ie, children) and somehow lesser, inferior.

    I’m sorry it offends you, but I, for one, am not going to stop using it.

    /threadjack (I hope)

  70. mythago@50:

    Everytime you disagree with me, you accuse me of some “hidden agenda” rather than addressing the point I actually made. This is usually because you prefer to argue from innuendos rather than facts. (I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark here and guess that you’ve been to law school.)

    I read the whole post, which yes, makes numerous points, not all of which are about “white privilege”.

    Are you suggesting that I have to address every single point in the post in order to comment on a *specific* point? I reject the notion of “white privilege”– which is one of the points that MAM declares as an opening premise.

    The author says:

    ” I’m arguing….If you’re white, you have white privilege.”

    No straw man there, just a quote.

  71. I agree with Papapete’s sentiment. When I picked up The Eye of the World, for all I knew Robert Jordan might have been Michael Jordan’s brother. Didn’t matter to me at the time.

  72. PrivateIron, I didn’t realize the anyone minded ‘child-free’. As a breeder myself, I’m happy to use whatever term those who choose not to have children prefer to identify themselves. I’d rather not use ‘childless’ — that really does seem to imply a condition of loss, of lack. Although perhaps we should save this for another discussion, as it’s awfully off-topic here. :-)

    I think the question of where we go from here, in terms of reinforcing racial/cultural distinctions versus blurring them is a terribly important but also terribly difficult conversation, and I’m personally deeply torn on the matter. In the person of my daughter Kavya (currently 22 months old), I certainly see the ethnic blurring effect in terms of facial features. She looks white, although not nearly as markedly so as her blond, blue-eyed father. And I think of the brutal ethnic conflict going on in my home country between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, the hate and misery and slaughter, and I wonder whether we would all be better served if these distinctions just…blurred away, over time.

    Yet at the same time, there is so much about my Sri Lankan and Tamil heritage that is precious to me. The language I barely understand today is still the language of my deepest heart — when my father calls me ‘kunju’ (darling) or ‘rasathi’ (princess), it makes me want to cry. When Kevin wears the blue sarong I brought back from Sri Lanka, I feel like I’m home. And I cook rice and curry three nights a week, using the same recipes my mother learned from her mother, for generations and generations back. When that specificity is lost, so much is lost.

    As Spock says, what I want is IDIC, infinite diversity in infinite combinations. But there are days when I’m not sure it’s worth the price.

  73. @79, Edward:

    White privelage is going to college and not having people assume that you play a sport or are in a certain major based on your skin color.

  74. Well, the Dragonball movie looks pretty bad, if that’s any consolation. The Wiki entry for Avatar mentioned the controversy that all the actors are white, while Avatar itself is heavily influenced by Asia. As for Keanu Reeves, well, he has a very mixed ethnic background, with English, Hawaiian, and Chinese background. Actually, physically, I think he could pull off the look, even if you could get a wood board to show more expression than him.

    Actually, I was pretty annoyed that they got a punk, scrawny, white kid to play Goku in DB.

  75. @ 65 mythago

    “The whole point of speculative fiction is a wide-ranging vision; when we arbitrarily or unintentionally limit that vision, we hurt ourselves.”

    I agree absolutely.

    PoC in these books certaintly would get disadvantaged students excited about reading them, but if these kids don’t have the resources to discover the benefits of reading in the first place how will they get excited?

    That’s my point. And why I think think thread, while fantastic, might be a little bit misplaced.

  76. Paul @ 55

    While getting more Japanese (and Korean and Chinese, for that matter) work translated into English would be awesome*, that’s still only one group. And at least that work already exists, with authors writing away, rather than having the problem that there are few PoC authors writing in the genre period.

    * I’m no expert, but I know a lot of the prose works aren’t benefiting from the interest in East-Asian comics and animation. Maybe because most of the people who pick up the translation rights overextended themselves, or are more used to marketing comics**. Or, I don’t know… all I know is that a lot of English-translation prose series I’m following are indefinitely delayed or canceled.

    ** Which leads into a whole ‘nother issue in that most of the light novels that do make it over get shelved with the comics. Which makes it harder for SF/Fantasy fen who are not also manga fen to pick them up.

  77. Thank you very much for such a well-written essay Mary Anne. And thank you to John for hosting it.

    I would like to propose a term: “Otherist” (has someone done this before?). This is both larger than and inclusive of “racist”, but perhaps gets at the heart a bit more.

    While reading the list of items that define white privilege on Peggy McIntosh’s site, it struck me that that list isn’t just about being white. It’s about being privileged, of a certain class, in a certain locale, etc. It has context, and it’s more than race.

    I would like to propose that we’re really talking about here isn’t just race, but any type of “otherness”. After all, “writing the other” is a well-accepted phrase that’s damn near spot-on. It’s very easy to understand that I’m being ‘otherist’ – that I misrepresented a viewpoint that I don’t understand. That sidesteps the race issue, adopts the humanity and uniqueness of all, and points out ANY type of unjustified overgeneralization that I may do to anyone…

    Just my $.02.

  78. A Different Jess, I didn’t really understand Eddie Trimmell’s argument. Maybe I’m missing something.

    If you can try to rephrase it for me, posing an actual question (which I don’t think he did), I’ll try to answer it.

  79. I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of “white privilege” in the last few days, and how it doesn’t mean what I always thought it meant.

    One of the ways in which white privilege manifests is in my ability (as a white person) to stroll through life, blissfully unaware of the racism around me, tra la la. Because it doesn’t directly affect me, I’m not really on the lookout for it, and thus I tend not to see it.

    Until that blind spot gets forcefully brought to my attention.

    Being able to go months, years, decades without having a conversation about racism is a privilege which I have enjoyed without even realizing it.

    I think that for a lot of white people, this blind spot leads us to believe that it doesn’t exist. But this is untrue. Things exist, even when you don’t notice them. (Racism: you’re soaking in it!)

    Privilege also means that the first reaction of everyone who reads this will be to brush it off and think, “Oh, that’s not me.” I can’t say that’s wrong, because it’s what everyone thinks. Myself included.

    It hurts to admit that you’re wrong, that you’ve been blind, that maybe the people attacking you are actually right. But please, I urge everyone to… just be open to that possibility.

  80. Oops, meant to put “attacking” in “scare quotes.” No one’s attacking anyone here, which is why I like it.

  81. Michael, did you read the piece I linked to on white privilege even when you’re a white minority? In that piece, she talks about various situations when she had *no* other privilege — not class or anything else, but argues that she still has white privilege. I really do think each group of privilege (race/class/gender/etc.) is orthogonal to the other groups. I.e., you could be a poor, black, fat, gay man — and still carry male privilege in a lot of situations.

    I’m also not up for trying to create linguistic change, personally at this point — it’s exhausting just managing the complex language we already have. But if you can manage to create a less loaded term for some of this stuff that is still specific and concrete and useful — and then get people to actually use it, more power to you!

  82. John and Mary, thank you for this.

    I don’t have much to contribute to what’s getting said, other than to affirm that this is getting read. It’s getting heard.

    And as an aspiring (white) writer whose first imminent ebook happens to have a PoC heroine in it, I’m very much interested in the post that’s coming tomorrow.

  83. Michael:

    The problem with the “I propose we call this X rather than Y” conversation is that it takes the conversation meta — you’re talking about what to call a thing, rather than talking about the thing itself. This “meta-avoiding” happens a lot in difficult conversations — every time I talk about same-sex marriage here, someone wants to talk about how government should just get out of marriage altogether, for example. Which does nothing useful to the actual conversation topic.

    I’m reluctant to meta-avoid here. Which, incidentally, would include a lot of follow-ups to this particular comment.

  84. You’ve challenged me on a lot of levels – the primary one, for me, being “Yes, I’ve suffered, but I’m still privileged”. That one rang my brainstem like a bell. You’re absolutely right – While I’ve had more than my portion of shit to eat in life, it’s an entirely different portion because, yes, as a white guy I had an easier ride.

    I’m having to grip the edge of my seat while my perceptions are wrenched around. What an incredible piece of writing that was. Thank you. Thank you, so much.

    I grok where Scalzi came from with RaceFail ’09 being a catastrophe in terms of signal-to-noise. It’s easy to fail out of discussions when the message isn’t coming through – but that doesn’t stop it being an important message. I’ll probabaly have more to say when this damn chair’s come to rest under me again.

  85. PoC in these books certaintly would get disadvantaged students excited about reading them, but if these kids don’t have the resources to discover the benefits of reading in the first place how will they get excited?

    We’re talking about two different things, though:

    1) making the SF/F community and literature more inclusive and clueful

    2) making SF/F more available to disadvantaged children.

    I don’t think that we must accomplish 2 before 1, or even that 2 has much to do with 1; they are both important goals, but that would be true even if every PoC were wealthy and every disadvantaged child were white.

  86. Erika @88 — yes, exactly. “Privilege” isn’t about the road being smooth, exactly — it’s about not having to wonder if there’s going to be a road at all.

  87. @86, Michael:

    That opens up a whole can of worms that might be more apropos to Part 2 of this conversation, isn’t it the case that any story where the villains are any sort of Other can be used as racist propaganda?

    To wit: Resident Evil 5 is coming out tomorrow, and the main character (who is white) is fighting a zombie infestation in an African village. The white hero shooting so many black bodies caused quite a stir, but my thoughts were in a different direction: Don’t all conventional zombie stories have an undercurrent of “the Other is your enemy, and must be fought?” Maybe the dark skin of these zombies make it more clear, but I don’t think they’re a special case.

    Zombies are a slow, creeping, inescapable threat that must be exterminated or quarantined and cannot be reasoned with in any way.

    If you don’t neutralize them, they will inexorably consume your neighborhood, your culture, and your ability to support yourself.

    Taken out of the Zombie context, that last sentence sounds a lot like what some people in America say about illegal immigrants, doesn’t it?

    So do we have to ban zombie stories as tools of prejudice?

  88. A couple ideas I wanted to toss out for curiosity’s sake.

    1) Might the relative dearth of PoC S/F authors be due, in part, (acknowledging that yes, there are many other factors involved as well) to cultural and parental pressure to succeed, and that a literary occupation is not often seen as a secure and lucrative field?

    2) I often have recourse to my favorite dictionary, the OED, when I wonder about specific definitions or etymology of terms. The OED says that “racism” is: “The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Hence: prejudice and antagonism towards people of other races, esp. those felt to be a threat to one’s cultural or racial integrity or economic well-being; the expression of such prejudice in words or actions. Also occas. in extended use, with reference to people of other nationalities.” In other words, racism is not inherently a derogatory term, or a word with negative connotations, but it has inherited it through use and practical application. I think that it is essentially human to differentiate between things – primates do this, as well as many other animal species, and easily have a sense of what’s “fair” or not. Often those differences are translated into positives/negatives based on self-interest. Everyone’s selfish to some extent, and we’re also herd animals in the sense that in many respects we’re afraid of difference because it might cause us to be eaten, or starve, or not get our fair share of M&Ms.

  89. Diana, I totally think that’s a fair factor to consider; it might help explain things. Certainly my parents didn’t want me to become a writer! (My sisters are both doctors.) It takes a particular stubbornness for a S. Asian-American to go into the arts at all. But that said — that’s not a factor we can do anything about, other than helping to make some minority authors wildly successful, so that the parents of the next generation say things like — “Hey, why aren’t you making movies like that M. Night Shyamalan guy?”

  90. I’m uncomfortable with lines of reasoning that connect racism with its anthropological and biological origins. It’s also within our biological origins to poop wherever we feel the urge. But as modern human beings, we poop in the toilet. (Mostly.)

  91. Mary Anne –

    I think some people would consider that to neutralize any racist undertones, but others would hold to the opinion that the imagery of mowing down wave after wave of dark-skinned enemies, regardless of the detail of the main character’s race, is still a problem.

    Either way, Capcom decided to make it a white character. (another interesting situation: the game is developed in Japan, but it’s a white American protagonist, not a Japanese protagonist. There’s probably another can of worms in there somewhere.

  92. PJ, I’d also add that I actually tend to think of zombies as sort of a sickly white, maybe with an undertone of rancid glowing green. So whatever they’re doing with that particular version, I don’t think we need to get rid of zombie stories in general. :-)

  93. Here is my question:

    If everyone is racist, then no one can not be a racist.

    So the question is: what are we telling people to do? We can’t tell them to stop being racist if no one can stop being racist. At best we’re telling them to be less racist, but if it is possible to be less racist – to eliminate some of our racism – why can’t we eliminate all of it?

    Sorry, just got caught in a philosophical loop. Can anyone help me?

    Also- I just wanted to note that I have no idea which sf/f writers are people of color or not, unless I’ve seen a picture of them, which usually comes long after I’ve read their book, if at all… I would find it as bizarre to carry a list in my head of ten writers as I would to be able to give you a list of ten sf/f covers that are predominately green. Is this somehow racist? I think I’ve possibly been confused by the argument….

  94. @Erika, #100: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with biological reasoning. Noting that a particular behavior or tendency might have biological origins or an explanation (such as, to use your example, defecating) does not mean that we can’t acknowledge it and prevent it from dictating our actions and reactions. In other words, yes, I have a biological urge to defecate, but I can hold it until I can use a toilet. That’s a choice you can make, but sometimes understanding why you have a particular urge helps you to adjust your behavior in a more socially let’s-all-play-nicely-together way.

  95. @Mary Anne

    This is slightly illogical, captain, if you don’t mind my saying so.

    You start by stating that we are all racist. No exceptions. We are brought up in a racist culture, where people of different race are to be regarded with suspicion and/or scorn. Note that within that definition black people are just as racist towards white, when for instance they suspect ulterior motives in white people that try to help a black community. Not saying they don’t have cause, you know, just sayin’.

    You then go ahead to say that calling someone a “racist” under this definition is ok, because we’re all racist, right, and said person should take it in good humour, mend their ways and move on. Furthermore, calling someone a “racist” won’t put him in the triple-K, burning-crosses-on-the-lawn territory.

    I respectfully disagree. First of all, calling someone a racist will do precisely that. The word “racist” has that power, because it is loaded with negative meaning, placed there by decades of civil rights campaigning. Which is, you know, good, because when someone is worth calling a racist, you bring the opprobrium of the majority to bear on his hateful ways. If everyone is a racist, then there’s not much meaning left in the word, is there? And what are we going to call the triple-K guys then? Rrrrrracists? Let “racist” be an insult; its reputation is well deserved.

    Secondly, I do believe that by “racism” in that first part of your argument you really mean “prejudice”. I agree, we are brought up in prejudiced societies. But prejudice is broader than race. It encompasses racial prejudice, for sure, but it is by no means limited to that. Depending on our upbringing, we may also be prejudiced against poor people, east-European immigrants, homosexuals, non-Christians etc. Fighting against prejudice is a noble cause, and one worthy of attention, but there’s a long way from prejudice to racism. Hitler was a racist, for Pete’s sake. Throwing a comment in poor taste, bad as it may be, should not put you in the same category with that.. thing.

    I do admit to a certain bias in my perspective, given that my contact with the American society and values is second-hand – mostly through news reports and cultural offerings. Due to my background and personal situation I got to walk both the privileged and the non-privileged roads – although the second one but for a brief period of time. Perhaps you are right in calling for a tougher civic stance on racial prejudice, at least in an US context.

    In my ideal world I wouldn’t need to consciously set aside 50 books written by people of colour every year. I wouldn’t need to keep the score at all, because in my ideal world SKIN COLOUR DOES NOT MATTER. That’s what I’m going to teach my children, when I have them, because that’s the kind of world I’d like for them to live in.

  96. I’m sorry Mary Anne (as an aside, do you want to be addressed as Mary Anne, or Mary or MAM or something else? I’m not sure if Mary Anne is a first name or a first and middle…) I’m guilty of not refreshing enough. It looks like Erika and a couple others responded.

    It looks to me like Edward Trimnell is making the same argument I see A LOT of white people make.

    1) Racism is a thing of the past. What are some examples of racism in 2009?
    2) Because affirmative action policies exist, PoC actually have an ADVANTAGE in a lot of environments. How does white privilege manifest in the context of environments where affirmative action or diversity policy exist?
    3) “racism” in 2009 USA is a red herring as most issues of race can be boiled down to issues of class.

    Number 3 is hard to refute because race and class are SO interlocked. Ex.: white people who lack education or certain social skills because they were raised poor and uneducated come up against some of the same cultural prejudices when dealing with, say, employers, that PoC of similar SES probably face. (does that sentence make sense outside of my head?)

    Those are the questions I see in his post, anyway.

  97. @103, SusieQ

    “normal” people have 20/20 vision. If we had the means to improve everyone’s vision to 20/16, including the people who had naturally bad vision, and we did so, we still wouldn’t all be 20/10. And we still wouldn’t be able to see in the infra-red spectrum. But there would still be benefits of doing so.

  98. @ 94 mythago (and everyone else)

    Maybe I wasn’t entirely clear.

    My argument is the debate over whether or not PoC are in SF/F books is misguided.

    When it comes to race, there are broader economic issues that preclude asking why a character is a white male and not a black, pregnant mother.

    Assigning the fact that there are a handful of PoC writing SF/F books to purely social causes is wrong.

    Economic topics might have fallen out of the scope of what Mary Anne was going for, but I think they are at the heart of the racism issue in America.

    Am I getting too off topic? Once again, great article Mary Anne.

  99. Mythago@65 wrote:
    Pointing out a lack of PoC authors and characters does not need to be ‘bashing’, as you characterize it.

    I reply:
    Certainly not, but (to cite a recent experience of recent occurrence) starting a topic on a board with an inflammatory header like “RON MOORE IS A RACIST HOMOPHOBIC BIGOT” certainly is. And, as a co-moderator of the board concerned, I make no apologies for deleting it and suggesting to the OP that she might like to read the board rules about personal attacks, scrape off the troll poo and repost the substantive matter — very little of which I agreed with, BTW, but worthy of discussion.

  100. Ms. Mohanraj:

    As I skimmed through the various comments of the entire argument, I found yours to be some of the best considered and most rational.

    Nicely done.


  101. SusieQ: We are, I think, shooting for these:

    Be more aware of prejudice in yourself.

    Reduce its influence over your actions.

    Help reduce the damage it does to the world, from whatever source.

    It’s a bit like absolute zero temperature, or the speed of light in a relativistic universe. You’re guaranteed not to get there. But it still matters whether you’re cold or hot, fast or slow, and what direction you’re going in.

  102. The whole conversation just seems to drain me. It feels like I’m on the defensive and a guilty oppresor before I’ve even said I word. I don’t even know how to engage a conversation like that.

    I appreciate that PoC perceive a problem in the genre. I have no idea if the sf/f publishing industry is inherently racist. I’m not in it…and honestly, I can’t admit to caring. I don’t read SF that seriously and I’d like to think that I was fairly race color-blind towards characters…at least so far as caring about the race and gender of the characters in books were. When I read Ringworld, I didn’t think “This book would be much better if Louis Wu was cacaucasian.” When I read some of Glen Cook’s Black Company books, I didn’t think “damn, if one he didn’t use women or black characters as viewpoint characters.” Now, you may argue that this is because those white male authors wrote all their characters inaccurately and you didn’t notice because you ALSO are a white male…and that’s valid. But I really don’t know what you expect me to do about that.

    For the last 40 years, I’ve had the message the RACISM IS BAD engrained in my engrams. And I’m not really sure how to engage any discussion telling me that I AM a racist and that I shouldn’t be upset that you tell me that. Or what your goal in doing so is or what sort of resolution you propose. I mean, call me selfish, but I just don’t see the value in having such a discussion, instead of doing something like playing Madworld, watching Leverage or reading an sf book which now apparently makes me a hardcore racist. :(

  103. A Different Jess, I usually go by Mary Anne, thanks for asking. (My middle name is actually Amirthi, but I only use it with family, normally.)

    I think why I had a hard time with Edward Trimmnell’s arguments is that I found his premises so confusing. I.e.

    1. Racism is a thing of the past. Umm…I actually can hardly believe anyone is arguing this. There are so incredibly many examples of racism out there in the papers, in the blogs, in just talking to people of color on what they’ve dealt with in the past week… Someone else is going to have to answer this one, because it’s beyond me.

    2. Affirmative action is meant to correct entrenched racial disadvantages…but for the most part, it fails. To see evidence of that, consider the racial population of most university departments — despite strong efforts at hiring minorities, for several decades now, they’re still overwhelmingly white. We have a long way to go before we achieve anything close to parity.

    3. I find the racism is really class argument to be particularly frustrating. For one, it ignores everyone like me (a good percentage of Asian Americans) who are middle-class or higher, but who nonetheless deal with race prejudice walking down the street. There are good and serious arguments to be made about class, and even about how we might sometimes be focused on race when we should be focused on class. But just trying to erase race as an issue and claim it’s all about class makes no sense to me.

    I’m sorry — I don’t know if I did a good job answering these questions, because they really make so little sense to me. They fly in the face of all my experience.

  104. Well, I suppose we could try looking at our tendency to be racist like we view our tendency to be spiteful, our tendency to be selfish, our tendency to be violent. We acknowledge that it’s there, but we recognize those urges as Bad Things and avoid taking actions based upon them.

  105. @112, WizarDru:

    Well, you could listen to “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from Avenue Q over and over again until it puts a dent in that connection between having prejudices and being in the Klan.

  106. I was really only asking questions, not asserting that one approach to blur/enhance was better. Ms. Mohanraj, I share your dilemma. I came in at the end of the time when white ethnicities in America still actively lived as such and I have a lot of investment in those childhood/youth memories. It hurts that there is no effective way of conveying that whole culture to my children and yet I can see a lot of good for children too in a world less encumbered by racial/ethnic expectations and the less fortunate artefacts of those old ways of life. So they win and they lose, just like everyone does.

    Also, it seemed like a question that was particularly apt for a SF/F forum.

    I sympathize with people who don’t want to be “childless.” However, there has to a better term than childfree. Think of almost any term of the form: x-free and how often is x supposed to be perceived as positive or neutral. A lot of people who use the term seem to be coming from the “children are useless at best and a drain on my precious DINC dollars” camp. So please, good guys who chose not to reproduce, use your imaginations to craft a better name. Personally, I would rather phase out the use (and perceived need) for the negative term “childless” than create a cranky new positive term. I am not going to go on with this issue, as that would be a true threadjack.

  107. Great post, Maryanne. Gosh, every time I try to write a comment, I fill up this little box. Let’s see if I can do it right this time. White people want to live in a colorblind world. Thus, they often don’t see what is in front of their face. Anyone who doesn’t believe in white privilege should spend time with some of my friends who are black, hispanic, asian, filipino. I really feel helpless when I realize that somewhere out there, people are being mean to them because they are brown, and I know it would hurt them if pretended this wasn’t true. (And I know it’s true because I am living and sharing their stories with them.)

    One bright spot I want to mention to you MaryAnne, is that my community is very diverse, and I think the children in these parts are growing up with so much less baggage than we did. For one thing, there are so many biracial kids around that it’s not even vaguely remarkable. Nobody knows or cares which one is half-asian, which is adopted from china, etc. When I was a kid, there was more tension around this. Heck, I had to think really hard just now to figure out which of my son’s friends are biracial, which are second generation immigrants, which are asian adoptees, which have blended multiracial families, etc., etc. I know so many older white people who used to be very prejudiced who are now in love with a little brown grandbaby. So I hope and pray that Kavya will grow up with no idea what used to be so hard about being biracial.

    Okay, I think I did it.

  108. There is a profound gulf between saying “that is racist” and saying “that sounds racist”. The first is an accusation, the second is a criticism. The first invites anger, the second invites discussion.

    Racism is, in essence, taking some action because of a prejudice. But many of those same actions may have perfectly innocent reasons. For instance, if there are four open seats on the train, and I chose the one next to the white man instead of one of the three next to black men, am I racist? Maybe. Maybe not. You can’t tell from observation. You can only tell from my thought processes.

    Many of what is being talked about here is like that. Did a certain person call a certain other person an “orc” because of racism, or merely because it is a vile thing to call a person and she was pissed off. She likely knows. No one else can say for sure.

    When you say “that is racist” for something like that, you are essentially claiming to know someone’s thought processes. That does not invite discussion. That invites anger.

    When you say “that *sounds* racist”, you are not at all claiming to know their thought processes. You are giving them the benefit of the doubt. You are implying not that the error is something that modern society considers abhorrent (racism). You are implying that the error is in communication. Since poor communication has much less of a stigma, people are much more likely to actually think about what they said, which may lead them to realize what they said was cool, and may even lead them to thinking if, perhaps, there wasn’t a kernel of racism there.

  109. Patrick, we do what we can, where we can. For those of us writing and working and reading in the field, there are some immediate and relatively simple things we can do to help bring more PoC into the genre.

    Should we also be dealing with the economic difficulties of many minorities in this country, which lead to vast educational gulfs and a host of other issues? God, yes. But that’s a huge problem, and I think beyond the scope of what we’re likely to accomplish here. Although if we can make some progress on that too, I would, of course, be thrilled.

  110. @ 113 Mary Anne Mohanraj

    “There are good and serious arguments to be made about class, and even about how we might sometimes be focused on race when we should be focused on class. But just trying to erase race as an issue and claim it’s all about class makes no sense to me.”

    This is getting into the whole “meta” argument Scalzi was justifiably concerned with so I won’t push this … but both race and class are tied together very closely. This isn’t true 100 percent of the time, but on the whole, certain races are less economically well off than others.

    Ignoring these facts when discussing race takes a crucial factor out of these discussions and, in my opinion, doesn’t really address the root cause of many race problems in America.

  111. @ privateiron
    i usually just say: no, i don’t really want kids. without putting a label on myself. the rabid “childfree” group kind of creeps me out too.

  112. WizardDru @112: you begin by setting aside those feelings: Okay, I’m feeling defensive, but I can get past that and listen. When you start running that internal tape that says “S/he’s calling me a white male oppressor and I haven’t DONE anything!” then you can’t hear what’s actually being said.

  113. With deference to John’s comment about taking the conversation meta and Brice Baugh’s quibbles, using the word racist is inflammatory. Maybe this is generational As Arachne Jericho posits… but to call me a racist is a deadly insult. To tell me I harbor prejudices and that my thinking is almost unavoidably tinged with racism because of social influences is, sadly, true. So I agree wither Mary Anne’s actual point, but I think the reason so many of these conversations go off track is that the second you say “Rick, you’re a racist” you are, in my mind and I think in the minds of many people I know, equating us with the KKK and related scum. I’d prefer the term prejudiced… but I realize that isn’t as specific to race.

    I don’t have a solution, but I don’t think you can just wish away the truly evil connotations of the word and say “well, I’m using it differently…” It’s like the N word to me – off-limits, incendiary and very loaded in meaning. It’s also made more loaded due to the usage that Mary Anne notes (PoC can’t be racists due to a relative lack of institutional power, just prejudiced).

    I do wonder, as I think more, if people under 30 take the term as such an insult or if the discussion is different in that generation and the term less loaded. I grew up in the 60s (I’m 50 (sob!) ) and even when I know it’s being used the way Mary Anne uses it I flinch when reading the word.

    In any event, a very interesting post and the comments are disturbingly rational. :)

  114. Giacomo:

    Thanks for your reply. I also live in a country other than America. Its not worth me trying to respond to you any more.

    WizardDru @ 112:

    With respect, you’re overreaching the point being made. No one is calling anyone a hard core racist (well, Mary Anne didn’t, and I’m not). The point, it seems to me, is when you’re white (I am) you don’t notice horrid shit that goes on to non-white people. When I go into an expensive store, my non-white friends get looked at as if they’ll shop lift. I don’t. The classic “driving while black” reason for being pulled over.

    Those are all racist assumptions. They’re not examples of hating non-white people. I’m white, but I’m also gay. And in THAT area (which is a different issue than race), all I ask is that people try to think how stuff looks to gay people. I read fantasy for years growing up, and never once came across a gay character who wasn’t a villain. It feels shit. If we want minorities to continue to engage with SF, and I think its a good thing if there are, we need to think of how SF work is received by people who aren’t white, straight, male etc. Be aware of one’s privilege, and act accordingly. Don’t feel guilty about it.

  115. papapete@77:

    I agree that quality of writing is a top priority, but in an unequal world, why shouldn’t I be aware of the thin end of the wedge? All else being equal, in an effort to encourage PoC writers and representation, I should at least make myself educated rather than remain aggressively ignorant. If it impacts my reading and buying habits in making me read a piece of work that I otherwise might not have bothered looking at, that’s fantastic. If it doesn’t, at least I’ll be speaking from a position of knowledge when it comes to the number of PoC in the writing community rather than basing conversation on assumptions.

    Er, at large … as a minority person, I feel a sense of victory when someone who is, hm, how to phrase this — similar to me? succeeds in a field. I was all, yay! about Carly taking over HP, for instance, from a female-in-software perspective. (Let us not speak of her tenure. Moving on. Moving on.) I was excited when I read about the first use of anesthesiology on New Scientist — a little-known Japanese doctor who performed the first mastectomy with anesthesiology in the 1800s before it was even a dream elsewhere. Okay, that one was out of date, but whatever.

    If I have those ten writers in my head, when I meet a person of color who has dreams of writing, I can say, look! You are traveling down a path towards a goal that is achievable, because you are going down a path that others have gone down before you! And they can say, oh, really? And I can say, yes! Really! Look at the works of Anne Mary Mohanraj, Octavia Butler, Tempest Bradford, Hiromi Goto, etc! There is hope, grasshopper! And they can say, Yay!


    Can’t say it makes me feel any better, though I’m not particularly surprised that Dragonball looks like it’ll suck. I’m disappointed in Airbender; have other issues with Keanu Reeves, though I will concede he could pass for the character. My point was the trend: manga is under the control of the original producer — i.e. the Japanese (or Corean or Chinese, etc) artist. Once it enters mainstream here and American companies have the power to manipulate the source material for market gain, it seems to convert to de facto white.

    Hm. I’m going to Submit Comment without doing a Refresh, because I think a Refresh might just make this too long to post. Y’all talk fast.

  116. Patrick, yes, I didn’t mean to claim that race and class were never entangled. Clearly, they so often are. But I think there are specific conversations we can have about race that…put class to the side, for the time being. To be reintegrated into a later discussion.

    Also, I know even less about class issues than I do about race, and as a member of the upper-middle-class, this is one area where I prefer to defer to John.

  117. Also, in this line:

    White privilege is a way of saying that in a racist society (and whether you’re living in America or elsewhere, I’d argue that they’re all racist societies), being white gets you privilege.

    You need to replace “white” with “the privileged group”. (for example: see Japan.)

  118. As an aside, couldn’t all SF/F writers just solve this whole “race” problem by making their protagonist green?

    I’m going to market this idea … oh wait. Dammit.

  119. Regarding, “we are all racist”, I think I can easily agree with the statement, as read. I can also see why people hesitate about it. Such broad statements tend to be untrue in specific instances. However, here, I think it’s back to “what do you mean by racist” that causes the disconnect.

    The part of this that is genuinely new to me is that the fact that the stuff I read is, in fact, almost 100% lily white and that, while itself not racist, it contributes to the larger problem of racism. I’m no PoC, so the impact on me is (was) invisible to me. I don’t feel diminished, simply because I am represented. But, and this is the “white guy talking” it does impact me, in that it reinforces the perception of normal = all white. Again, not damaging to me in the way it would be to a PoC seeking positive reinforcement for their own culture/race/institutions, but it makes me vulnerable to mistakes of a similar kind. As such, seeing this, noticing this, must push me to want more/better/different.

    Now, taking that to the next, obvious step, is realizing the other point above, that it can be actively hurtful to a PoC. More so when it’s made overt, as in the Airbender debacle.

    I can read the essays (dragons being a good one, with some caveats) about this, and not see myself as an oppressor. I can read MAM’s essay, and have a good, positive feeling about this as a step forward. This discussion has been fruitful. I had read the same good, thoughtful essays elsewhere, but couldn’t get past the nature of the current discussions, which had turned accusatory. That’s part of the reason I like MAM’s column, it’s got some stuff I see as subtle, backhanded accusatory (will discuss as separate issue if necessary), but it’s also clear that’s neither the point, nor seemingly intended.

    I don’t have to be classically racist to contribute to the group dynamism of racism. Nor am I absolved because I don’t act or think racist (not a claim I’m making, btw).

    I’m looking forward to part II tomorrow, but will be unable to take part in the discussion. I’ll hopefully be able to come back tonight and see how we’re doing.

  120. Thank you, John. I was almost one of those people who contacted you and was like, wtf. I’m glad this conversation is happening.

    And you know, it really does suck pretty hard to be told that you are behaving in a racist manner. Or that you are racist. But you know what sucks even more? Being treated a certain (shitty) way because of the color of your skin EVERY DAY OF YOUR LIFE.

    I have lost sympathy for white people who get all bent over being told that something they said was racist.

  121. Steve, I don’t think I need to replace ‘white’ with ‘the privileged group’ — although to be fair, I can speak with more authority for Sri Lanka than for any other country. But in Sri Lanka, ‘white’ generally gets you higher status than ‘Sri Lankan’. I think that’s certainly true in most post-colonial countries; a legacy of colonialism in part, but also part of white (and English-speaking) dominance in the world today.

    It’d be great to hear from more people from different countries, to hear what kind of status ‘white’ has there.

  122. You need to replace “white” with “the privileged group”. (for example: see Japan.)

    Hah. I was thinking that in my head when I read it, but I didn’t bother to comment on it, because much as Japanese society shuts out their Others of every stamp, up to and including Nissei and Sansei (and sometimes even Issei, it tends to treat white “other” better than all the others, simply because they’re white.

    That’s a tangent, though. In the generality, and I guess even in the specific, you are correct.

  123. Er, to clarify, in the generality and specific as it pertains to Japan. I can’t speak for other countries.

  124. Thanks, Mary Anne. It confuses me, too, for the same reason, but I hear it SO OFTEN and have no idea how to refute it.

    The best I can ever do is cite examples, like:

    I used to work with guy who was American-born-and-raised, but was of mixed Japanese/Korean ancestry. There was a white customer at our store who would come up to him and yammer at him in what he thought might have been Japanese, and just didn’t grok that he only spoke english. The customer’s fail was the “well, you aren’t white, so obviously you Aren’t From Around These Parts. You must be from *country of whatever language it was she was speaking.*

    I met a black woman once who looked, to me, obviously like an educated middle class professional-the way she spoke, the quality of her clothes, etc. Then she recited to me the litany of questions she asked herself when she knew she needed to catch a cab. Am I smiling? I can’t look angry or threatening. Am I wearing a baseball cap? I need to be careful, if they can’t see my face, they think I’m up to something and won’t stop. What am I wearing? If it’s a t-shirt and jeans, they’ll assume that I don’t have any money. I BOGGLED at this, because I had always made the race/class mistake.

    I used to be a stripper. A lot of the girls would not approach black or S.Asian-looking customers because the girls assumed black men were broke, and S.Asian men were cheap.

    And my own special race fail: I was in Detroit, getting into my car. A black man, dressed in the scruffy manner of someone leaving a manual-labor-type job, approached me. I tensed up, certain that he was going to ask me for money. What he wanted to do was compliment my angry, liberal anti-Bush bumper stickers. I could tell my the way he looked at me that he KNEW the ignorance running through my head. But he was nice, and engaged me anyway. He didn’t call me on it, and I didn’t apologize. In a way I wish I had, but I also think I would have done it such a ham-fisted way I just wouldn’t made it worse. I still feel like a horrible douchebag for that.

    Anyway. That’s what racism in 2009 looks like, in my mind. Weird, subtle things that most of white folks never encounter unless they go looking for it in threads like this.

  125. “couldn’t all SF/F writers just solve this whole “race” problem by making their protagonist green?”

    My problem with this approach (yes, I know what you refer to) is that it’s treating race like a disease. As if we could just innoculate everyone and make them white the same as each other, and poof! We eradicate race like we eradicated smallpox.

    Except racial differences aren’t diseases, they’re not inherently bad or evil or the *cause* of the problem. It’s the response to differences – which is hard-wired into primates, sure – that causes the tension. Overcoming the hardwiring is the hard bit.

    Race, cultural diversity, the differences between us, are what enrich our lives and our societies, and instead of treating them as the problem, we should look at changing our attitudes so we see them as the treasure that they are.

    As for a future where everyone is green – simple biology is likely to make sure that diversity of appearance, if nothing else, is likely to continue. Unless we’re all to be clones – how very dull.

    Mary Anne, this is a wonderful essay. Thank you.

  126. Mary Anne: In Japan, very clearly a Japanese national is more privileged than a white person. A white person there is always a foreigner. Many places, for instance, refuse to rent to non-Japanese.

    Of course, it is certainly better being white in Japan than black or probably even Korean. But the totem pole is not always white on top.

    I really don’t know about other countries…Japan is one of the few places that has no legacy of colonialism. But certainly in history, the instances of racism not involving Caucasians is endless.

    More importantly, pretending that whites are always on top of the totem pole in all societies implies that privilege is something inherent in white genetics, and not a product of underlying racist tendencies in all human beings. It also implies that it is something that we can never get beyond. Replacing “privileged group” makes it a lot easier for those of us in the privileged group to look at it, and think about it, objectively, without getting defensive.

  127. Folks, Kevin’s in bed with a fever, and I need to put Miss Kavya to bed. Given that she’s just COVERED herself in yogurt, this is going to take a little while. I should (hopefully) be back in about half an hour. In the meantime, as John says, please play nice.

  128. But this author is, of course, being completely objective in insulting millions of people she doesn’t know, and publishing assumptions about their character without making any attempt to get to know them.


  129. Ann Somerville:

    “My problem with this approach (yes, I know what you refer to) is that it’s treating race like a disease.”

    It’s worth noting in the case of Old Man’s War that while everyone was turned green, a) they generally looked like younger versions of themselves, which means that all the other signals of race (including things like the shape of one’s nose, lips, eyes, etc) would still be there, and b) Everyone there had lived on Earth for 75 years and would be taking their cultural baggage with them. So people who wanted to see race would still see it.

    I do have a drill sergeant make the point that up there there were no minorities, other than the human race, which was vastly outnumbered. Whether the recruits believed it is another question, and one which I spent no time with, because I got on with the rest of the story. But could be something worth having a thought about — although not necessarily at the moment, because they’re all fictional, and we’re not.

  130. I have to point out that one reason I saw “Scalzi = Racist!” as utter frakking bullshytte was the Minority Group Winnowing in OMW. The fact that he spent time hammering in something I take as read – “Yes, we are a minority group – human” endeared me to him in the first place.

    Still processing a LOT of other data. No conclusions yet.

  131. Steve@138:

    pretending that whites are always on top of the totem pole in all societies implies that privilege is something inherent in white genetics,

    I get what you’re saying. Pardon me while I quibble a little (it’s the engineer in me: forest for the trees, sorry.) Japan’s case wasn’t colonialism exactly, but I’d attribute it to pre- and post-WWII fascination with European culture. The cultural exchanges between Germany and Japan, and then the subsequent occupation by American forces (primarily white) has contributed to it. On top of which, across the board — again I can’t speak for other countries, but I suspect this has an element of truth; please correct me if I’m wrong! — there is the dissemination of American media internationally, and its heavily white-dominant influence.

    As an American, I probably have a skewed view of how pervasive and influential Hollywood’s products are internationally. International folks, am I way off base on that?

  132. @137 – Patrick was riffing on Scalzi’s OMW soldiers… :)

    Emily WK “I have lost sympathy for white people who get all bent over being told that something they said was racist.”

    I actually wouldn’t get bent if you say “Rick, what you just said was pretty racist.” I might do a doubletake and ask WTF you’re talking about, but I hope it would provoke a discussion. However, I certainly would get bent if you said to me “Rick, you’re a racist” for reasons I explained above.

    The “you can’t know what it’s like” statement, true as it is, sort of shuts down discussion. No, I can’t know. I’m white, male, middle class. And I live in Seattle… which is not the most ethnically diverse place in the USA. But if we retreat into “You’re racist!” “Am not!!” “You don’t know what it’s like” we’ll never get anywhere.

  133. PB:

    If it is a regular, deciding not to use their regular sign-in does not equal sockpuppeting, unless they then come back in under their usual name to start agreeing with themselves. It simply means they don’t want to own those particular set of words.

    Mind you, I could very easily figure out whether it is indeed a regular commenter or not. But as long as the comments are civil and there are no actual acts of sockpuppetry, everything is fine.

  134. “Racist” is a loaded word, for reasons exposed earlier. So how about this?

    Mary Anne’s “racism” = my “racial prejudice”.

    That translation is good enough for me, and given that translation, her points ARE valid.

  135. Wow. Reading all of this “talk” about race affirms what I continue to suspect: we, as a society, are never going to get past this stupid divide. As long as any one of us use race to define who we are, it’s never going to end.

    It’s a shame that we have to put ourselves in these boxes, and then we need to remind ourselves that others put themselves in boxes and then use pre-judgement on others when their box is different from others.

    Of course there will be fear, anxiety and irrational thinking whenever one encounters something that they do not share commonality with. This is the human condition. But a sense of “tolerance” to accept those that are different from you is no answer, because it does not bridge a gap from my identity and to those that I feel are not the same as me. All it does is strengthen the bond I have that I feel in touch with (same race), and place those that are different in a separate container. Even though I might strive for tolerance and even try to understand their condition, they will always be different from me, thus I will never see myself in them.

    This is the problem of the current thought on racial tolerance.

    People of Color is a silly term to me that holds no value. The more we focus on this, the more it won’t go away. If all of a sudden people with greens eyes were segregated in society, would there be a need for everyone without green eyes to be tolerant and accept that green-eyed people are different from the rest of us? I would think not. Most of us would feel it pretty silly to even judge people by eye color since it has no impact on who they are as a person. Why is skin color any different? Just because some people judge others by that physical trait?

    We have to stop seeing lines being drawn by skin color. It has to start from within. The first line in the post about all of us being racist is true. True in sense that if you define yourself as a member of a certain color, then you are racist. Because you separate yourself from others based on the color of your skin. Do you do this with eye color? Hair color? All three are part of the same thing. Each and every one is incidental, and in no way defines the wholeness of who you are.

    This continued marriage of race and culture has to stop. It’s part of the problem.

    We need to get to a point where we see each and every human being on the face of this planet as the same as the person in the mirror. We need more commonality and less diversity. The only way to get there is to erase this whole notion of race in the first place.

    If no one does this, I’m going to start labeling myself as a Brown-Eyed American and demand that people are sensitive to who I am as a BEA.

  136. I actually wouldn’t get bent if you say “Rick, what you just said was pretty racist.”

    Rick, you can say that to me right now, and I do believe you, but that is NOT AT ALL how other people react. You can say “Hey, what you said was pretty racist” and you get treated as though you said “You are a racist, you will always be a racist, and by the way, your parents are fucking assholes.”

    Seriously. It’s like a freaking lit match to a can of gas. Or something else that is highly flammable. Even when it isn’t intended to be that, it gets treated that way.

    It’s one of those things that goes hand in hand with “Teach me how not to be racist” and “I know about racism” that white people often say to PoC that just makes EVERYTHING WORSE.

  137. Laur:

    I think for the purposes of this discussion, we should leave terms where they are and leave discussion of which words we prefer to have been used for another time. [This sentence deleted because it sounded snarkier than was meant — yes, I even moderate myself — JS]

  138. @152:

    The problem with the argument “This continued marriage of race and culture has to stop. It’s part of the problem.” is that a lot of people (and I am not making this accusation at you specifically) really mean, “If all of you other people would choose to be just like us, we’d let you in.”

  139. Hey, I’m three quarters of the way through Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses!


    However, excuse me if I continue to mock religious views of all stripes. I’m a militant atheist; it’s my job.

  140. random aside: Seeing a well-moderated thread on this subject, with a majority of smart, literate commenters, I’m beginning to grok better why so many PoC said they Don’t Do Racism 101- and why there was so much ‘splody and fail in the RaceFail. For every “wait, what? Will you explain that again?” or “oh, shit, I’m sorry, I’ll fail better next time” there are three like 141 that only see the word “racism” and assume attack-they can’t get past the idea of overt racism to grok the sort of subconscious, acculturated (is that the right word) racism we’re talking about now. Which means that it’s not possible to engage them.

    This makes me sad. To steal blatantly from xkcd: Dear God, I would like to file a bug report.


  141. We have to stop seeing lines being drawn by skin color. It has to start from within. The first line in the post about all of us being racist is true. True in sense that if you define yourself as a member of a certain color, then you are racist.

    You are not being helpful here, Flunky. It isn’t me that defines me as white, it’s the color of my skin. I get certain advantages for being white and for me to claim that we should all just be colorblind is another way for me to show my white privilege because I have the gall to suggest that that’s possible.

    Unless you’re talking about what my friends and I call Happy Puppy Land where everything is perfect and nobody is sexist or racist or homophobic, then fine, but that isn’t what this conversation is about. Nobody here lives in Happy Puppy Land.

  142. Am I correct in observing that we have definition isssues here? I realize this is meta, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to go there before we’re going to get anywhere else.

    1. “Racism” is not an epithet. It’s a just a word that describes the systematic oppression of a group of people based upon their race. If it helps, mentally replace the word in your head with “oligarchy,” which is a similar concept that may not be nearly as loaded. (An alternate concept, which is equally valid and equally shouldn’t be considered a personal insult, is that racism = prejudice + power.)

    2. Noting that one is a member of the dominant group in a culture in which racism is part of the system is NOT an accusation that one holds individual hateful prejudice.

    3. Having privilege doesn’t automatically mean a given person is going to abuse it. Being willfully ignorant of that privilege, however, or denying that one has it, is a great way to get started on the path toward abuse: Just because you’re 10 times stronger than everyone else doesn’t mean you’re going to use that strength to beat people up. But if you pretend that you don’t have that strength, there’s a damned good chance you’re going to hurt someone, even if it’s only an accident.

    4. If the worst thing that happens to you is that people call you a racist on the Internet, you’re still light years ahead of the game and honestly shouldn’t be complaining. Being called on an act of racism should not be cause for more indignation than that racist action itself.

    5. Shameless self-promotion on this topic, because I’m taking off for a while, and will be more likely to read comments there. I’ll try to catch back up here later, though.

  143. Flunky,

    That all sounds so reasonable.. until you remember that white Americans enslaved blacks.

    Here’s a little story for you. I’m white. If you looked at me, you’d say that unequivocally. But my paternal grandparents are from Natchitoches Louisiana… they’re Creole. My grandmother’s family goes far back in that area… and as I traced it back I found documents describing them as ‘mulatto’ and as ‘black’… At one point I was looking at a census page from 1850… and it’s headed “Being a Census of the Free Citizens of the State of Lousiana…” You see, this was in the deep South… and while the people in my family were free… they lived in a slave-owning state. Mind you, this is three generations back in my family tree… not that far. So while I would love to get to a state of being where humans didn’t judge one another on skin color, I think we’re a ways off from that.

  144. Nobody here lives in Happy Puppy Land.


    If we’re ever going to get to a place where racial differences are not used as a socioeconomic Sorting Hat, we first have to acknowledge that they ARE being used that way, and that we have a responsibility–especially those of us who are automatically given more power in such a system–to work on ending that.

    Colorblindness may seem like a laudable goal, but in practice, it becomes more of a refusal to see racism than a refusal to see race.

  145. “If all of you other people would choose to be just like us, we’d let you in.”

    It’s more like saying, “People should stop doing things just because they’ve always done them.”

    A little logical self-examination goes a long way. This is true for people on both sides of the issue, white and non-white. Saris? Hijabs? Kilts? Come on, this is the 21st Century.

  146. I need to point out one thing that’s bothered me since I discovered this mess (and I knew John was talking about this from the first moment he mentioned it. Happy for me, I found it late and knew it made sense for me to stay out). Anyhow, one link took me to a blog belonging to a PoC (to use the acronym being bandied about here) who took an overused and irritating internet habit in linking to comments by a writer I won’t name. Her essential quote was “Shorter Unnamed Author: Blah blah blah n_ _ _ _ _ blah blah.” In other words, she took author’s words and decided in her own mind that that most racially charged of epithets existed there, never mind that it didn’t. And yeah, she really did put all those blanks after the n. She’s not afraid to wave the word around as a weapon, but strangely cautious enough not to actually, you know, use it.

    It put me off this whole thing before I even got started, and I certainly understood John’s suggestion that there was more heat than light.


  147. I found the remark “you can combat racism by buying books by ‘people of color'” a bit odd, frankly. Speaking as a casual book-reader, I generally don’t go out of my way to find out about an author until I have established that I like their work; I certainly almost never check them out -before- I’ve at least read at least a full book by them and enjoyed it.

    Personally, speaking from a “do I enjoy reading this” point, I couldn’t care less about the race of the person writing a book I’m reading. That said, I wonder if the idea of deliberately searching out books written by ‘PoC’ is really a good thing. Isn’t this sort of thing likely to color people’s perceptions? “I’m reading a book written by a black person!”, I know that this sort of thinking would start me subconciously looking for cues in the writing that would show they were different.

    I have this same sort of issue with things like black history month. Can they be positive? Certainly! But I can’t help but wonder if that sort of thing simply helps segregate out black people socially.

    Admittedly, I’m not up on this “racefail” thing as a whole, so I’m sure this territory has been tread before. This is more of a “here’s my two cents” from someone who rarely comments on Whatever. If I’ve missed something major, feel free to call me out on it.

  148. “- racism involves conscious racist thought and action
    – racism is a system of inherited prejudice we all share
    – racism is inherited prejudice + power”

    When I started trying to figure out this whole racefail09 thing, definition number 1 was the only definition of racism that I knew. Which I think is the big problem. No one I know thinks of racism in the other two ways. Before a couple of days ago, if you called me a racist, I’d get pissed and tell you to go fuck yourself. Now I have to figure out which definition you’re using.

    Maybe we need a new word for definition #2.

    I don’t subscribe to definition #3 at all and I’m still trying to process #2. It’s going to take some time to stew in my brain before have it evaluated to my satisfaction.

    Read 50 PoC books this year? I might only read 50 books in a year. I’ll take look at the list in the link you provided and see if there’s anything interesting. If so I’ll read that but I’m not enough of a social activist to dedicate all of my recreational reading time to books written by PoC just to read books by PoC. Based on what I’ve read in the last couple of days I would guess I’m reading books mostly written by white people. For the most part I don’t really know. Honestly, when I’m reading, I don’t really care.

    I also can’t see me running a racism detection thread(defintion #2) in my brain all the time. I don’t have the cycles.

    I must say though, that whatever (ha!) problems there were with racefail09, it has opened up this topic to many more people. I certainly would never have had any idea about this had Scalzi not went blog-postal the other day.

    And Kudos to Scalzi for bringing this conversation over here where he can keep the S/N ratio high.

  149. MaryAnneMohanraj@81:

    “I think why I had a hard time with Edward Trimmnell’s arguments is that I found his premises so confusing….I don’t know if I did a good job answering these questions, because they really make so little sense to me.”

    The stealth ad hominem attack…Edward Trimnell makes no sense and therefore I will sidestep his arguments. They are too crazy to respond to. Bravo!

    1.) Yes, racism of the *institutional type* is a thing of the past in the United States, for the reasons noted in my post@47: civil rights legislation, affirmative action, etc. Moreover, racism is no longer acceptable in mainsteam American society, and this has been the case for quite some time.

    As for *incidental racism* –a racist video on YouTube, the rednecks flying their Confederate flags, etc. All groups (including whites) face incidental racism. When I hear Louis Farrakan talk about sticking it to whitey, I certainly feel offended in that moment. But this doesn’t mean I’m the victim of “oppression,” as Louis Farrakan has limited power in our society.

    Likewise, the institutions of power in American society–corporations, universities, etc., are clearly dedicated to racial equality and in most cases, affirmative action. (See my post @47 for concrete examples.)

    This doesn’t mean that every nutjob on YouTube or MySpace is going to disappear tomorrow; but these folks exist at the margin. They can offend you, but their capabilities are limited beyond that. (Personally, I prefer to just dismiss Louis Farrakan as a jackass rather than taking the time to be offended by him; I suggest a similar approach when observing the smattering of white supremacist loonies on YouTube.)

    2. Affirmative action programs clearly confer advantages to qualified minority candidates in academia and the corporate world.

    There are other reasons why a particular department at a university might be predominantly white. For example: how many PoC enter the field? How many PoC live in the area?

    In my undergraduate Economics department, a majority of the students (about 60%) were Asian. Was this a racist plot of some sort? Many engineering and computer science departments have a disproportionate number of Indian professors. Is this a racist conspiracy against non-Indians?

    Obviously not: Computer science is emphasized more in India than in the U.S.; so there are bound to be a disproportionate number of Indian academics in the field.

    Likewise, there may be more whites who enter a specific field than PoC. But this doesn’t mean there is a conspiracy against PoC….anymore than there is a conspiracy against non-Indian computer scientists.

    3. As chance would have it, I happen to have a Sri Lankin co-worker…same ethnicity as you. (The only difference is that he speaks Sinhalese rather than Tamil.) I have been out to lunch with him on numerous occasions over the past 10 years. We have also traveled together for business, and I have never seen anyone be rude to him in a racially biased way. We talked about it once and he said he never has a problem. (And I live in the middle of redneck country.)

    So….while I can’t categorically refute your claim that racial prejudice is jumping out at you while you’re “walking down the street,” my observations of and discussions with individuals similar to yourself suggest otherwise.

    As you note, you are “middle class or higher.” Racist America seems to be working out fairly well for you. We seem to be in the realm of “feelings” here rather than anything tangible. You “feel” that America is racist, and therefore it is.

  150. S:


    I’m being backward if I want to wear a sari or a kilt rather than clothes in a style developed in the last 50 years??? Or were you making some other point?

  151. If this ends up back to back with my last post, sorry…

    Emily – I agree. Most people do take it that way and I might even in some circumstances, for example if the discussion was pretty heated already. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like to use the word casually… because I think Tal’s wrong. “Racist” IS an epithet for many people. It IS insulting and the academic stance (“I’m using it in a neutral fashion, merely as a descriptive term” seems more like a denial of reality than anything.

    You can play games all day long and say “That’s not what I mean…” but in general society if you call someone a racist you’re equating them with skinheads, KKK and the like. Sorry, but you just don’t get to remove the emotional burden because you want it not to be there. I get what Mary Anne is saying and in the context of her post it makes sense… but it’s a term that will, as Emily WK notes, act much like a match near gasoline in most discussions.

  152. Interesting discussion. It seems more civil than Racefail 09 appears to have been.

    In my case, I’m a Georgia-born, white (my dermatologist salivates with greed at the pallor of my skin), British Isles-descended (with some Cherokee, etc.), well-educated (MSME, Ga. Tech, 1977, with honors) male, who certainly benefited from all of those things. (Well, except the Georgia-born part – I wound up paying out-of-state tuition anyway, darnit.) I was not from wealth (cotton mills + farming), but I’m now in a comfortably high income percentile, thanks. Now anchored, we can float on an even keel.

    In my case, white privilege was a tangible thing. I still remember the colored water fountains. You had to bend lower to use those. Whether it is as important or pervasive today, I’m skeptical. That it still exists, I’m sure. That’s certainly an undesirable thing, but I’m not going to change it except by erosion. Neither is anyone else here.

    Using the word ‘racist’ in the wrong way is nearly as offensive to some white people as nasty epithets in the other direction are to PoC. I’d suggest avoiding calling anyone not a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, the KKK, or Forsythe county government “a racist”. :)

    When someone of my age and station hears “Racist” used in a personal way, they hear “Overt Racist” or “Closet Racist”, not “Poor Judgment”. I have been places where it would get you a beer, a laugh, and a slap on the back, or a baseball bat across the back of the head. I never cared for either one of those kinds of places.

    I have no idea what the solution to this problem is, and it is a problem, the volume of traffic and the vehemence of opinion makes sure of that. It may simply take every person who was born before 1970 dying of extreme old age. That saddens me on many levels.

    Jack Tingle
    Who will never go back to Georgia again, but Thomas Wolfe was an idiot.

  153. @Scalzi

    John, I only wrote that translation because half the comments in this thread (and I’m among the sinners) discuss the word rather than the issue. The issue at hand being discrimination.

    Back on-topic, I agree with @152 in that drawing lines in the sand based on skin colour (or any other prejudice for that matter) is narrow-minded and just plain wrong. Positive discrimination is still discrimination, and can be damn condescending at times.

    Activism on this front doesn’t have to be discriminatory. Like I was saying previously, when I’m appreciating art I’m not interested in the author’s skin colour. Hey, sometimes I’m not even interested in the political views of the author, which, you know, might actually influence his or her works. Activism is donating, rallying, campaigning. Activism is, you know, buying 50 books of authors of colour and giving them to your local library. Activism is NOT forcing yourself to read those books BECAUSE they’re written by authors of colour. I refuse to add or subtract merit in any field, and especially in art, based purely on prejudice.

    Because prejudice is something worth fighting against.

  154. True in sense that if you define yourself as a member of a certain color, then you are racist.

    Yo. My name is Yuhri, and I am a racist.

    So here’s the thing. I totally understand where you’re coming from, Flunky, and I sympathize completely with what you’re trying to say. It’s a nice idea and has a certain charm in it, not to mention it’s one of those things that we’ve been brought up to believe: fundamentally, we are all the same. Those of us with liberal upbringing are conditioned to believe that.

    That said, I don’t automatically identify myself as a “Person of Color.” I identify myself as “Japanese-American.” You can say that’s identifying myself as a person of color if you like, but I tell you, I will kick and scream and fight anybody who tries to take away either of those adjectives. I have great pride in being both those parts. The confluence of culture, family history, language, worldview — these things are unique to me and my people, and I wouldn’t give them up for anything. That goes for both the Japanese and the American. I don’t see why I can’t keep both halves of my identity — in fact, they’re inextricably combined, after a lifetime of experiences — and be treated as an equal to anybody else, whether they be European-American, African-American, Hispanic … whatever. It is not the only measure by which I identify myself, but it isn’t the least significant, either.

    Gandhi said something once that, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” With all due apologies to a greater person than me, I’d like to swap out a few words and clumsily say, “Identity for equality makes the whole world faceless.” Mary Anne said that what she wants is IDIC, a la Star Trek, and that, to me, describes in a simple phrase what I want. I don’t think it’s right to me or anybody else who’s different than the mythical “norm” to demand anything less.

    Does that make sense?

  155. Edward Trimnell:

    Sri Lanka is a country, not an ethnicity. Tamil is a different ethnicity to Sinhalese.

    You’re assuming bad faith, and then not engaging with the issues Mary Anne actually raised. I don’t think that’s cool. You are still, of course, perfectly entitled to your opinion.

  156. A side note, of no actual use to this discussion, and likely to be completely impenetrable to anyone who doesn’t remember usenet:

    Holy crap, Mary Anne Mohanraj formerly of once upon a very very long time ago? Wow, what a very long time, and I completely missed the whole part where you became a multiply published author. Good on ya!

    (No, you don’t remember me; no particular reason why you should.)

  157. @ 167:

    A white family serves rice when their teenager brings home his or her asian-american boyfriend or girlfriend to make them feel “more at home.”

    A country club still has all white members, except for the one Asian doctor who moved in a while ago.

    Tiger Woods’ ethnicity is a Big Deal in professional golf.

    A black teen is assumed to like hip-hop and basketball.

    A person with what could be called a “ghetto” accent has to be twice as erudite to be considered intelligent (or a southern drawl, for that matter)

    These kinds of prejudices persist regardless of what the law says. They represent systematic cultural biases, not systematic legal biases.

  158. Tribing up in order to fight racism inevitably leads to getting “Tyler Perry’d.” Overcoming it is going to be a pan-racial battle or one you’re going to lose.

    Case in point: Black History Month.

    The primary argument for Black History Month, so far as I know, and feel free to correct me on this, is that the rest of the year is dominated almost exclusively by white history. Rather than fix the actual issue, being that white history takes precedence ALL THE TIME, someone decided it’d be a good idea to fit it all, to segregate it, into one month. So now, once a year, teachers go through the motions, “Frederick Douglas, peanut butter, blah, blah, blah…” most white people tune out for twenty-eight days, and the country goes back to ignoring the problem.

    Further separating people is not the answer. Minority-targeted media, ethnicity specific school diversity clubs, black/brown/yellow congressional caucuses are counter-productive. They all just serve to alienate people of color from the mainstream, and isn’t that what we’re trying to fix?

    Man, my writing sucks compared to most of the other commentors. I’ll take solace in the fact that most of you probably have degrees, whereas I’m eighteen and in my second semester of college.

  159. “I’m being backward if I want to wear a sari or a kilt rather than clothes in a style developed in the last 50 years???”

    Kilts are just dumb looking. Saris make you look like you wish the last two centuries hadn’t happened.

  160. S:

    Considering the last two centuries, etc.

    Also, I know some folks who look dashing in a kilt. So let’s chalk both of these statements to personal taste.

  161. S – stop making me feel old [at least the age difference isn’t quite 10 years yet!].

    On minority media, I see what you’re saying, but you need to ask one more question. Why does minority media (and why do minority interest groups) exist? Because the mainstream isn’t particularly interested in minorities. If you want to see ‘yourself’ (i.e. gay peeps wanting to see non-stereotypical gays, asians wanting to see asians etc) in the media, something that’s really important for one’s self confidence, I think, you have to do it yourself. For example, serenity was clearly based on asian cultures, but there was virtually no sign of anyone actually asian! And the now well known whitewashing of the Avatar movie. Minority media isn’t isolation for the sake of it, its a response to a major gap in the mainstream.

  162. @ #83, Paul Barnes – It actually gets worse than that. I’ve heard rumors that a US company is going to make a movie of Akira, which, given what’s happened to Avatar and DragonBall, we can assume will also be littered with white actors.

    And the Avatar adaptation is actually something I can speak with a smidgen of authority on. There have been some minor changes in the main cast, and it is no longer all white: Jesse McCartney has been replaced by Dev Patel to play Zuko, the anti-hero for a good five-sixths of the show itself. Another actor of Indian descent has been cast as Suki, who, even if her role is fused with Toph’s, will still end up playing something of a side character to the rest.

    That being said, our three “main” heroes are starkly white. (Granted, we still don’t have any images of Noah Ringer, but given the complaints the fans have raised, I’m sure they’d have toted out photos by now if he actually were of Asian descent.) To paraphrase another fan, this means that the predominantly white heroes, of their innocent/good white nations will be fighting against the evil brown nation and possibly rescuing and/or also fighting the corruptible yellow nation. Our main good brown character – that’s Zuko – is seen as an enemy for most of the story, and ends up rejecting and eventually overthrowing the brown nation where he was born and raised and that had previously rejected him.

    And this isn’t even getting into the horribly insensitive extras casting calls, or the original casting calls for the main four.

    There’s really a lot more information on this at Aang Ain’t White and Racebending, but, long story short, there are a lot of unhappy fans out there, me included. Most of us know to expect some level of adaptation decay, but this really feels like a betrayal of a lot of what the original – and the show’s creators themselves – stand for.

    While I’m here (and now that I’m done with my long-winded, rather tangential rant – please excuse me for that):

    Scalzi – You’re doing some very classy things here, and I salute you for it.

    Mary Anne – Wonderful guest post; I greatly anticipate part two.

  163. S., are you trying to stir shit up, or are you young enough that you genuinely believe that the only thing worth wearing are blue jeans, which were invented yesterday?

    Women wear saris for the same reason that many people wear blue jeans; it’s traditional, it’s comfortable and they like it. I assume that if you or I wear jeans, we’re not pretending that we’re 1950s-era blue-collar workers.

    my observations of and discussions with individuals similar to yourself suggest otherwise.

    Okay, reality check me here, all: did somebody just make the “I have an [ethnic] friend” argument?

  164. If the worst thing that happens to you is that people call you a racist on the Internet, you’re still light years ahead of the game and honestly shouldn’t be complaining.

    I am not complaining about people getting called racists. I am suggesting that there are better ways of communicating the ideas that you desire to communicate. There’s a profound difference in that. At the end of the day, is it more important to hold onto the use of a certain word or is it more important to open up lines of communication?

    There is also a fair bit of irony in saying “racist” isn’t an offensive to the target given that a very typical ploy but certain overtly racist people is to say that certain very offensive words are not epithets.

  165. @ mythago,

    I think it’s more of a “My anecdotes are definitive” argument.

  166. Okay, back now. And S, I wear a sari for formal occasions because it’s a) so much easier than finding a formal dress that fits and looks good, and b) it almost always makes me the best dressed woman in the room. :-) Saris for all!

    (Jed Hartman, senior fiction editor of Strange Horizons, looks fabulous in a sari. There are photos.)

  167. “On minority media, I see what you’re saying, but you need to ask one more question. Why does minority media (and why do minority interest groups) exist? Because the mainstream isn’t particularly interested in minorities. If you want to see ‘yourself’ (i.e. gay peeps wanting to see non-stereotypical gays, asians wanting to see asians etc) in the media, something that’s really important for one’s self confidence, I think, you have to do it yourself. For example, serenity was clearly based on asian cultures, but there was virtually no sign of anyone actually asian! And the now well known whitewashing of the Avatar movie. Minority media isn’t isolation for the sake of it, its a response to a major gap in the mainstream.”

    There’s no doubt it’s a reaction to mainstream media, but it’s a reaction that exacerbates the problem. Rather than ignore the problem and set up lesser side-groups, why not reform the main group? America is a nation where peoples meet, interact, and mix which each other. The media should reflect that.

  168. Steve, I agree the word is loaded. But I haven’t found a better word to address the specific issue of someone doing something racist. Given that actually coining a new word is unlikely to be effective, can you suggestive a better solution?

    Scenario: Your friend, John, makes a racist joke at the bar, and expect you to just laugh along. You want to call him out on it. What do you say?

  169. And I’d like to propose another (Easily Avoidable) Epic RaceFail: Borg Queen-ism (or “who the fuck are ‘you people’ anyway”?) Please don’t assume PoC are a homogeneous mass, and that entitles you to either make very dumb generalisations about millions of human beings and/or start using the majestic plural in conversation. This kind of discussion stays constructive, at least in MNSHO, if people stay specific and crystal clear that they’re speaking on their own behalf and from their (inevitably circumscribed) perspectives.

  170. “it’s traditional.”

    Not an argument I’d use to justify anything in a discussion on the grand Western tradition of shitting on brown people.

  171. PJ @185: no, I think it’s a bit more than that, because the Ethnic Friend gets used as a battering ram in these discussions a lot. (Poor Ethnic Friend!)

    I’m more of a salwar kameez person than a sari person, myself, because you don’t have to fold the damn things and they’re great in the summer.

  172. S, for f’s sake, do you actually want to engage, or just stir up crap?

    “kilts looks dumb and saris are 200 years old” ????

    I’m 27, of scottish heritage, and have the legs to pull of a kilt damn well. I wore one as a prefect back in high school.

    A sari is a style of gown that developed in a non-western country. Why does that make it any more archaic than, I don’t know, a three piece suit, or a formal evening gown? Those are styles that have been around for 200 plus years, too. The only difference I can see is that suits/even gowns are from a western tradition, and saris are not. Are you REALLY saying all men should wear jeans on informal occasions, and suits on formal occasions. And all women should wear a skirt and a tshirt on informal occasions, and an evening dress or ball gown on formal occasions?

    If that’s not the argument you were making, what exactly IS your point?

  173. Not an argument I’d use to justify anything in a discussion on the grand Western tradition of shitting on brown people.

    I didn’t realize that Mary Ann or anyone else had to justify wearing a sari. Tradition is a reason, not a “justification”. About the only dumb reason I can see for wearing a sari is if you’re doing so in order to display your cred as Cool Culturally Hip White Person.

  174. I found this to be a wonderful essay that made some very good points.

    However, I agree with some of the posters that some of the language used by anti-racist groups is often counter-productive. By counter-productive, I mean likely to evoke defensive reactions that make progress more politically difficult. That includes some of the language used by Mary Anne in her essay, although not as she so carefully used it. It’s the possible abuses that this language may lead to that concern me, not how the language is used in the essay itself.

    I think our goal should be overwhelmingly pragmatic: how in practice do we move to a more just society? And a big part of that in the U.S. is moving to a more racially just society.

    Within SF/F, the issue is, how do we move to a literature that is more open to the writings of all racial groups?

    I find two terms here to be prone to abuse, in a way that is likely to be counterproductive. Again, I do not think they are abused in the way they are used in the essay. But I think they are easily abused.

    The first, as pointed out by other posters, is the term “racist”. I would prefer to use the terminology, “we all have racial prejudices, or racial stereotypes”. I would prefer to reserve “racist action” for cases where someone takes actions that are harmful to those of a stigmatized race as a result of those racial prejudices or stereotypes . I would prefer to reserve calling a person a racist for cases where that person is conscious of their racial prejudices and actions, yet makes little or no effort to change those actions.

    It is important for people to know that racial prejudices are very widespread. There is ample evidence from associational studies that people tend to have negative associations with stigmatized racial minorities.

    There is also ample evidence that people frequently act on those prejudices. For example, there is significant evidence from racial testing programs that employers and landlords often act with racial prejudice towards job seekers and housing seekers of stigmatized racial groups.

    However, I believe the term “racist”, when used in a debate with people who are trying to find solutions, is often a nuclear weapon that blows up the argument, and leads to mutually assured destruction. I understand that in your essay you are trying to use the term in a different sense. However, I believe that this effort is very difficult except with relatively narrow audiences.

    Second, the term “privilege” is problematic because it conflates some diverse concepts. Furthermore, I believe privilege is a term that tends to evoke guilt feelings and often is used in an accusatory manner. I understand that you are not trying to use it that way in your essay, but more as a descriptive term. Again, except in narrow audiences, I believe that this terminology is often more likely to lead to more heat than light.

    I don’t dispute the notion that people have very different rights and opportunities. It is certainty true that there are people who are denied rights that I have. But this is not quite the same as saying that I am “taking advantage of my privilege”, which is the kind of accusation that this terminology can lead to.

    If you look at the root words of privilege, it comes from the notion of a private law. If a “private law” grants me the privilege to not pay any taxes, regardless of my income, just because of who I am, then in my view that is completely unjustified, and I should not agree to accept this privilege. Or to take another example, if a private law says that Caesar should have the right to put anyone to death without trial, and if I am Caesar, I should indeed feel guilty if I accept that privilege: I am accepting a right that no one should have.

    On the other hand, many of the things attacked as “privileges” associated with one’s race, gender, class, etc., are actually rights that not only should the privileged group have, but everyone should have. I do not think people should feel guilty about exercising these rights. They should instead try to change things so that everyone has those rights.

    I recognize that you said people shouldn’t feel guilty for privileges, for everyone has them. But in fact there are privileges that people should feel guilty about exercising. And there are ones that you should not feel guilty about exercising. We need terminology that distinguishes the two. And in my opinion, the terminology of “privilege” implies that the person with the privilege should feel guilty about exercising those rights.

    To take an example from the disputes over gay rights, as a heterosexual I am allowed to get married, whereas this right is in most of the U.S. denied to gay couples. It could be said that be getting married, I am exercising “heterosexual privilege”. But in fact my getting married, I am exercising a human right that people of all sexual orientations should have. Although some may disagree with this (there was a recent debate at Mark Kleiman’s blog in which someone made a serious argument for heterosexuals not getting married, on grounds similar to this), I do not think I accomplish anything practical for gay rights by refusing as a heterosexual to get married. I accomplish something practical by arguing for gay rights, helping campaigns for gay rights, etc.

    In the present context, I think that we would have moved further forward by simply asking the following question: what can as a practical manner be done to encourage more published writing within SFF by persons of diverse racial backgrounds? We know there is a problem of under-representation. Let’s document the size of the problem. Let’s figure out practical steps to change the situation. Let’s spend our efforts debating those practical steps.

    Change is rarely made because people feel guilty. Terminology that makes people feel guilty is powerful terminology. But it is usually not productive of change, except in some narrowly defined groups. More commonly, people walk away from situations that make them feel guilty, and go on to other aspects of their lives.

    I recognize that you are not trying to make people feel guilty. But sometimes the terminology that is in your essay can be prone to being so used.

  175. A lot of folks have brought up the point that they don’t pay attention to an author’s race when they buy books. And look, that’s fine. Really. I’m not saying you have to.

    All I’m saying is that:

    – IF you want more books by PoC in SF/F, and think that’d be good for the field

    – THEN you can help that happen by buying and reading and talking about the few books that are already there

    Does that make sense?

  176. Eddie@192:

    Oooh… I’ve seen this movie! We’re sensitive and poetic people intimately in tune with nature when we’re not raging alcoholics on welfare, beating the snot out of our womens… Meanwhile, the reality is a little from Columns A and B, and a whole lot of something else.

  177. Mary Anne #186 –

    For the good of this thread, there must be pictures. *g*

    And I would like to second Craig #190 very strongly.

    I wear a skirt these days at work. Saris I can see as being very comfortable; a skirt is also more comfortable than pants too. Not always (cold weather, but why this didn’t stop the Scots, I do not know).

    I sort of see the word “discrimination” floating around the conversation and somehow think it might be a better term than “racist” since the KKK pretty much ruined that one here.

    At the moment I just want people to get off their ledges and stop being afraid. Probably the only reason I’m not explody-angry at some of the things being said here (but then again, that happens very rarely).

  178. Oh yes, I meant to say — men in kilts are hot. Seriously hot.

    Sigh. Yes, Mr. Mythago has the legs for it, but keeps making some excuse about how he’s not Scottish. I tell him that his Viking ancestors probably raided Scotland at some point and carried off some kilts, but he’s not buying it.

    rdaneel @198 – whether or not you are exercising a right everyone should have, not everyone in fact has that right (at least not in most of the US). The issue isn’t that you’re “exercising heterosexual privilege”; you have heterosexual privilege. Yes, you shouldn’t have it and don’t want it, but that doesn’t make it go away.

  179. @47 Edward, For a white man in corporate America, “white privilege” is not having people assume that that they reached their position because “Anyone who has been in the corporate world knows that minority status is an *asset* …Corporations go out of their way to promote minority candidates. ”

    Another example might be that white presidential candidates are not presumed by significant portions of the U.S. electorate to be closet terrorists…

  180. Mary Anne Mohanraj, a really good post and obviously a lot of work.

    Reading your words, I kept imagining my aikido instructor from years ago. Calm. Cool. Collected. Centered. Able to pin someone by hand or with a wooden staff with out a stitch of harm.

    I think this collection of links and the concepts behind them about racism ends up sort of like a sword or other weapon. It is relatively neutral, and it is how it is used that gives its morality. a weapon can be used for defense or for murder. How the person weilds it determines which you get.

    My experience with weapons is that there are a lot of people who pursue them for reasons of bravado, to feel strong, feel right, feel some kind of identity. They’re usually the most willing to attack when it isn’t neccessary, because they define themselves by the ability to attack.

    As a weapon, this collection of works does have some ragged edges in my opinion. “white privilege” as a phrase occurs to me as nitroglycerene. The “White Folks, and Hearing What They Have to Say” occurs like a garrote. And some concepts seem extraordinarily unwieldly and unuseful, like a ten foot double-edged sword, with a jagged edge right where you grab it.

    What I get reading your post is that these weapons can be used with almost surgical precision by someone who has a lot of training in using them, doesn’t have anything to prove, isn’t posturing, and is simply out to fix a problem as they find it.

    And I also get that a lot of people use these weapons the way some of the mall ninjas I’ve met in my life use guns.

    I don’t know if altering the weapons would alter how the mall ninjas use them or not. Sometimes a tweak can radically alter the use. The way the trigger safety of a Glock works actually allowed police departments to switch from service revolvers to Glocks. Sometimes a mall ninja will be a mall ninja no matter how you redesign the inventory of the armory.

    The fact that your definition of “white privilege” isn’t the connotation that a lot of people get, seems to indicate that the language is flawed, but constantly changing the standard issue weapon, trying to find the best one, can be a problem too.

    Meanwhile, there are a variety of subclasses for the mall ninja types. Clearly there are some white people who seem so guilty to be white that they bend over backwards to defend the dojo, and even defend the other mall ninja crazies with weapons. Then there are the folks who want payback for whatever wrong they’ve suffered. And the people who think a gun will solve everything. There are those who join because of the identity it gives them to attach themselves to the dojo. They too will defend the dojo no matter what it or its members do.

    And then there are the folks like you. A third level dan in the racial arts. Whether it is something you are consciously aware of or whether you developed it by trial and error, you seem to be aware of, on some level, that your weapons have limitations. Your identity doesn’t seem to come from being in the dojo, being in the dojo seems to be an extension of your identity. You’re clearly not out to prove anything. You’re not thumping your chest with these weapons.

    And I don’t really have a point other than to make that observation and to mention one of the things I remember we did at the dojo was at the end of the session, we’d all line up again, the instructor would say a few words about how the evening went and whatnot, say thank you for teaching and for learning, and then we would all bow out of respect to one another before we’d go back out into the world.

    thank you.


  181. rdaneel,

    Thanks first for so carefully clarifying that you weren’t objecting to my usage of the terms. I appreciate it.

    I actually agree with you (and others) that in general, using specific phrases like ‘racial prejudice,’ ‘racial stereotype,’ ‘racial action,’ is less likely to trigger a white-hot response than the term ‘racist.’ I do. Since I’m an academic, I might also use phrases like ‘racially problematic,’ ‘inherited racial assumptions,’ etc. and so on. When I’m teaching undergraduates, I do tend to phrase things, very carefully, in those terms. And on the rare occasions when I need to call out a friend for something they’ve said or done, I’m also pretty damn cautious about my phrasing.

    But those are two situations where I have a particular responsibility — to my students, to my friends. It behooves me to take extra care with both classes of people.

    I’d like to think that I’d take extra care with strangers too, or casual acquaintances. I probably would. But I also don’t encounter a lot of racism in my day-to-day life (due, again, to that model minority status, interlaced with my upper-class status). So this is not a fight I have to have very often.

    Also, I was raised to generally be super-polite by white people standards. That’s part of being a member of the model minority; you have to even politer than the white people around you, to help them forget that you’re brown. I’ve internalized that rule so well that it’s become part of who I am.

    If I encountered casual racism several times a day (as many of my students do, for example), than I suspect I’d quickly grow just as casual as they are in commenting on it. “Dude, that was so damn racist what you just said.” “Shit, really? I guess it was. Sorry.” And then they shrug, and move on. It’s fascinating to me, watching how the use of the language changes, depending on who’s using it, and whom they’re talking to.

  182. I have to agree with WizarDru @ 112,Tal @159, Jack @ 179 and whoever else I’ve forgotten:

    If you grew up white in the late 60s and 70s, racist was the worst sin in the civil religion. We were taught to ignore race. To mention it was to make it an issue when we were taught not to, so as not to be a racist.

    Mary Anne, you want to define racism: racism is a system of institutional, systemic oppression, and in order to be racist, you need both the prejudice + the power to affect people. By that definition, which a lot of progressives share, PoC (people of color) can’t be racist, because they don’t have any reinforcement from that institutionalized power. But the baggage the word carries is not lightly thrown aside. Certainly your third definition is new to me – it adds a dimension that I will probably have to put up a sticky note to remind myself of it in the conversation.

  183. mythago@203: How then would you distinguish between “privileges” that I should feel guilty about exercising, and ones I should not feel guilty about exercising?

    For example, perhaps I am wealthy, and I contribute enough to my congressperson that he or she passes a special law allowing me to to waive ordinary environmental laws in the operation of my factory.

    IMHO, I SHOULD feel guilty about exercising that privilege.

    When I read the various documents listing examples of “white privilege”, I find some things that are in that category, and others that are not.

    Should the same term be used to describe both?

    Do you think the term “privilege” tends to evoke guilt? If so, is that helpful or not?

    Is there a way of expressing the concept that might be more productive?

  184. Just looking at the specific problem this is all supposed to be about (lack of diversity in SF/F authors), I’m confused as to where the real barrier is. Whether it’s short stories or novels, submissions are words, conveyed by snailmail or electronically. Just as I don’t know the race/religion/sexual orientation of most books’ authors in the store, the agent/editor receiving the submission doesn’t know either, unless a point of it is made in the query. All they know are the words.

    So is it that not enough diverse-background writers submit? Is it that not enough diverse-background potential writers feel welcome to the SF/F field?

    (btw, John, I mistyped my email address in my earlier comment – fixed it in this one)

  185. Cassie, just to clarify, the definition you mentioned isn’t the one I personally use — but I wanted to bring it up because it’s widely used that way in progressive circles, and it helps in these discussions to be aware of that.

    The way *I* usually use it, the way that has become natural to me, with years of practice, is option 2 in comment #14 above. Everyone carries racial prejudice, given the society we live in and the assumptions we’ve inherited: shorthand version, everyone’s racist.

  186. I hesitate to add this, because I don’t know if it furthers the discussion or not but I thought some people might find it enlightening.

    I grew up in rural Washington, and know a lot of old school racists. Well, one time about a year or so back, I was doing construction for this old man. I’m under his house, hanging insulation, and he’s dropping N-Bombs left and right. He was saying horrible things. Blamed all the problems of society on black people, said they stole from him all the time, you name it he said it.

    So flash forward about four hours, after I tell him I’d rather not listen to those kinds of opinions. We’re sitting in a diner, and he tries to get me to talk about politics. I make a probably stereotyped decision because I want the conversation to end and say “Oh, I like McCain.”

    Then he gives me this look, like he can’t believe what I said. So I take another stab and say “Oh, I meant to say Ron Paul.” He’s still giving me that look, so I try to change my answer to Hillary.

    He gave me a good fifteen minute long diatribe about how Barack Obama is the greatest thing ever to happen to the United States of America.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that racist thoughts are very strange because they have to be in order to support phenomenon which don’t exist. Even in people who are apparently completely ruled by those ideas, there are always jagged edges where you can find them making exceptions and hedging their bets. You could probably look at this and say “Well, that’s just an old man proclaiming someone ‘one of the good ones'” and there’s probably a lot of truth to that, but I like to think it’s indicative of a pattern of erosion.

    The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice, and such.

  187. You can play games all day long and say “That’s not what I mean…” but in general society if you call someone a racist you’re equating them with skinheads, KKK and the like. Sorry, but you just don’t get to remove the emotional burden because you want it not to be there.

    Rick, the burden of “that thing you said was racist” not being as inflammatory as “You are just like the KKK” should NOT be on the people who are pointing out racist actions. It should NOT be on PoC who would like to be able to tell their friends and acquaintances that the thing they just said is kind of awful. That is total white guilt there — “I don’t dress up in a white sheet and burn crosses on black families’ lawns, so I clearly can’t be racist! There’s only one kind!”

    Kind of like when a guy says something that is sexist, and I call him on it, and he flips out because clearly a guy who doesn’t MEAN to be sexist is TOTALLY INCAPABLE of accidentally being sexist. Because he’s so above everything ever. Whatever.

  188. I’m with all the other people who think that “racism” is a poor descriptor for what Mary Anne Mohanraj is describing; to me, them’s fightin’ words. “Racial prejudice” is more accurate and lacks the stigmata. But our gracious host has made it clear that this isn’t a discussion about terminology, so “racism” is what I’ll use right now.

    Now I’m from Christchurch, New Zealand, which is probably the whitest part of a predominantly white country (one in eight of our four million people may be Maori, but they’re predominantly up in the North Island, due to historical population distributions pre-colonization). I have European ancestry right back to Britain in every branch of my family tree. Which is to say that racial prejudice is harder to see from where I’m standing than it is elsewhere (I’m also male, and while my sexuality is complex, in a binary distribution I fit into the box marked “straight”, which compounds the effect).

    So a lot of this debate seems … faintly alien to me (although I agree, of course, that racism (including both conscious and unconscious forms) is a Bad Thing and needs to be fought). The problems seem to be two-fold;

    1) If people of colour publish less sf/f than people without colour, is this because they are writing less sf/f, or is it some institutional bias of the publishing industry? If it’s the former, how can they be encouraged to write more sf/f? If it’s the latter, how can this be compensated for?

    2) Because the default colour in the Anglosphere is white, writers without colour tend to default to white a lot of the time. And 2b) when they do write people of colour, they can get it wrong.

    Heaven knows I am not qualified to talk about the publishing industry, so I’m going to concentrate on 2; certainly writers shouldn’t assume that everyone is going to be white, because it looks like white-washing (one of the things I notice, because close members of my family are gay, is that some conservative fantasy authors will avoid mentioning homosexuality at all. It just doesn’t happen in their fantasy worlds. Neither does adultery, for that matter. Which makes me think they are writing about some other species of monkey than H sapiens).

    I would love to see more sf/f with red, yellow, brown, black, green, blue, or luminescent purple people, but then we run into 2b); authors without colour may avoid writing characters of colour because they’re scared of getting it wrong and being jumped on by angry people (of whatever colour) claiming they’re racist. Certainly I’m reconsidering the ethnicities of some of my characters in a story I was planning, in the wake of this whole RaceFail debacle.

    But then, if one makes an honest effort to understand the culture one is writing about, I don’t feel that one should be censured for failing to achieve Perfect Verisimilitude. It’s when someone /doesn’t/ try, or where someone has characters solely for the purpose of cultural exploitation, that it becomes a hateful thing.

    So I guess I feel somewhat underwhelmed by the Terrible Importance of Race in SF/F; but then, of course, I /would/.

    Hopefully the above was comprehensible; I’ve been awake for a while now and my brain is operating at reduced efficiency.

  189. @211, In my personal experience, the very most common case of that is the middle-aged white woman who is afraid of black men but who thinks that Will Smith is just wonderful.

  190. Mary Anne @ 210

    Thank you, I’ll bear that in mind.

    And kilts are totally hot. Always. Especially with leather jackets and boots. I’ve never seen a man wearing a sarong with a leather jacket and boots, but if someone posts a link, I’ll follow it.

  191. Aha, I think I’ve found my point!

    Skirts, suits, etc. are presumed okay for everyone to wear, whereas the sari, as someone has already pointed out, is only supposed to be worn by those of a South-Asian persuasion. Anyone Caucasian person trying to wear it because they like it or they think it looks cool will immediately be written off as a “Cool, Culturally Hip White Person.”

    Due to its status as a “for them, not for me” type of item, combined with some bad experiences acquired during my time spent with a certain Sri Lankan substitute teacher; saris scream to me “I’m a bigoted, endogamous luddite who’s completely obstinate in the face of cultural change!”

    Wee, I’ve been swept away by the availability heuristic and my own personal aversion to traditional practices of any sort.

  192. rdaneel @208: you keep talking about ‘exercising privileges’. I doubt that most white people, for example, consciously think “Ah, I will go into that store and peruse the merchandise, knowing that I will never be suspected of shoplifting, unlike my darker brethren!” White privilege means you get that benefit of the doubt based on skin color, but it’s not something that’s an activation-based power in most cases.

    When should you feel guilty about ‘exercising privilege’? When you never lift a finger to get rid of that privileged status.

  193. This whole discussion hurts my brain, not because I wish it would go away or because I think it’s too hard, but because it calls to mind a classmate in a Medieval British Women’s Lit class who could only respond from her many self-defined “ism’s.” I knew way more about her personal life than I thought I should, definitely more than I wanted.

    And since the class was cross-listed for history (my major), Lit, and women’s studies (classmate’s major), there were lots of interesting exchanges, but classmate always found a way to bring it around to how none of us really knew what we were talking about because we weren’t x (PoC, queer, femme attracted to butch, mom, BDSM, etc. etc.).

    I am white, middle-aged, straight, fat and a woman. Yes, I understand that I have privilege as a white, straight person and that my road is not as difficult as others. At least I can walk around the potholes in my road. No, I do not understand what it is like to be anything other than what I am, no matter how hard I try. This does not negate my wish to understand and empathize and have my own difficulties. But you do not get to tell me I am less than because I am who I am. And you do not get to tell me that the only way to view the world is through a PoC femme mom’s eyes.

    Furthermore, you do not get to tell me that the only man in the class does not get kudos for taking the class and being patient when the discussion sometimes turns to man-bashing and that I should not apologize for my part in those discussions when I realize I am being insensitive.

    My white privilege hasn’t taken me very far in this world but I have so much more than others. At least I know I have a bed to sleep on tonight and a flush toilet that works. We won’t even talk about the large number of books I own or the fact I have a computer connected to the internet.

    So, yeah I’m a little bit racist and I understand it’s an important issue that needs to be discussed and that I can’t possibly understand the nuances. But don’t treat me like I’m a complete moron just because I’m white.

  194. Anyone Caucasian person trying to wear it because they like it or they think it looks cool will immediately be written off as a “Cool, Culturally Hip White Person.”

    Really? By whom? My daughters wear salwar kameez as often as they can all summer, and we’ve never gotten so much as a glare. On the contrary, I’ve had people (who I presume are South Asian) passing by smile at them, or stop me and ask “Salwar kameez?!” in a very pleased manner. I’ve gotten some surprised looks taking them into sari stores to go shopping, but nobody’s ever been rude or sneery, either.

    Anyway, I’m wondering how this bears on your point that nobody should wear a sari because the style is over 200+ years old?

  195. Fletcher, I was going to say some substantive stuff, but I see this is Tomorrow’s Topic from Mary Anne and she can probably deal with it better than I. I’ll just say that, in general, if you (generic you, not you personally) can’t handle criticism about your work, whether its about the quality of prose, setting, or your treatment of race, you sure as hell shouldn’t be a published author! Your work is available to anyone who wants to read it – not a good way to limit potential criticism.

    Also, good to see another kiwi. Hi from Wellington :P.

  196. Another vote for S in a sari. :)

    This point has been made in other places: but portraying people of color well is a worry for writers of color as well.

    But that’s for tomorrow, I gather.

  197. Stephanie, did anyone here treat you that way? Granted, I’m also a PoC femme mom, so there’s some overlap with the woman in your class, but I honestly didn’t mean to imply anyone was a moron, so if there’s something I said that led you in that direction, I’d love to know what it was.

  198. 222.

    I attempted to address that by mentioning an insufferable bigot of a substitute teacher whom I was occasionally subjected to in high school. I then conceded the point when I admitted to falling prey to the availability heuristic.

  199. I’ve read several thousands of SF/Fantasy stories and books in my lifetime, and I know of very few that would have read and informed differently if all the characters had been changed from any combination of red, white, black, blue or pink to another. As a matter of fact, almost none even made it explicit what color or ethnicity the characters were. (Except yours, John – Hmmm.)

    Maybe those authors should have been more explicit & mentioned red dots on foreheads, or perhaps had a few characters do the shuck & jive, so readers could have been better informed about the paucity of racial equality and embedded racism in these literary efforts.

    Of course, that makes the assumption that the author had not intentionally assumed that such disparities in looks or social behavior both by the characters and the society had not carried /forward/sideways/into the alternate dimension/ that the story was set in, as well as that such minor distinctions were actually pertinent to the story or it’s telling.

    So, while SF has in the past explored some of these themes of racism and sexism, I find it repugnant when someone attempts to inject the subject into discussion re the genre in order to impugn its development or current state. Similar to when someone calls me a racist because I might say that I like some white race car driver over a black one, or vice-versa. I don’t check the book jackets to verify the race of the authors before I read them, either. I just read the blurb and a few pages.

    Yes I understand all those post modern arguments and dissections of embedded racism and privelege, I grew up with them and was spoon fed all of them all through my education, and had at times even subscribed to them.

    Now that I am an adult and have started thinking for myself, however, I reject them utterly, and take responsibility for myself and my behaviors – not you, not my genetics, nor my societal embeddings are responsible for who I am and what I think or do.

    I must say, John, that while I have enjoyed your writings immensely, I find it disturbing that you indulge yourself in this guilt-trip mind game.

    And Ms Monhanraj, while you seem to be of sound mind, It is a pity to see it so wasted on this sophistry, defined by others, so totally internalized in your worldview, with no way out for anyone who indulges in even considering it except to “Not to play”.

    That’ll be me.

  200. Stephanie:

    Who is telling you that? Certainly not Mary Anne’s post (see the 3rd para of her point 2).

    Some people wield their own opression like a hammer. I don’t see Mary Anne as doing that. If you think anyone in THIS thread has, can you point to where, exactly?

  201. West:

    1) Wow, that’s an angry post for no apparent reason.

    2) “I reject them utterly, and take responsibility for myself and my behaviors – not you, not my genetics, nor my societal embeddings are responsible for who I am and what I think or do.”

    Then you have no understanding of neuroscience or genetics. Non postmodern social theories – hard biological sciences.

  202. Eddie Clark @ 223: … I had a big long post and then I realized you’d written “generic you, not you personally” and my post tumbled down. :P Good to see a Wellingtonian, I <3 your city.

    Apologies for forgetting about Part Two, coming tomorrow; I did read that, but it was 200 posts earlier … I shall look forward to it.

  203. “I accept them completely, and refuse responsibility for myself and my behaviors – you, my genetics, and my societal embeddings are responsible for who I am and what I think or do.”

    Turning that around 180 doesn’t seem to work too well.

  204. Steve Burnap@118:

    You say that saying “that is racist” is claiming to know someone’s thought processes, but if that’s true, saying “you are claiming to know their thought processes” is doing the same thing.

    In my experience, people say “that’s racist” to inform somebody of the effects of their words or actions, not their intentions. If I accidentally use a racial slur out of ignorance, I can’t think of a better thing for my friends to say than, “Uh, that was racist.”


    I’m 22, and I haven’t noticed any major generational differences — in every age group, I see some people flinch and then say that because of this nobody should use the word “racist,” I see other people flinch and then control and deal with that emotional reaction, and I see some people who are so used to thinking about the minor and major roles race plays in their lives every day that it feels everyday, not catastrophic. I’d say it breaks down more by experience with racism than age.

    I’d like to suggest that you think about the fact that you said that the word “racist” is like the n-word to you, and what that comparison implies. That made it hard for me to respond to you calmly.


    Why would you think that?

  205. (I’m using my middle initial so as not to be confused with any other Stephanies in this topic.)

    I’ve been very quietly watching the entirety of this discussion since its inception. This is my first time commenting, to say: thank you, Mary Ann. I appreciate the thoughtfulness in your essay.

    And thank you John for hosting it.

    And thank you to the Academy…oh, wait.

  206. This is coming from a fairly non-empathetic perspective, but why is person A’s pain person B’s problem? In short, why is it assumed that the ideal discussion that starts “Hey, that was kind of racist/sexist/classist/etc” ends with “I’m sorry, how can I not repeat this?” versus “That may be so, but it’s a position I’m comfortable with, and intend to keep. You may react in whatever way makes you happiest.” After which, both parties can choose whether to maintain acquaintance or not.

  207. OK, let’s see if I’ve learned anything about institutional racism in the last few days. It terms of the industry at hand I see it running something broadly like this:

    – Writers, and especially aspiring writers, do best when “writing what they know.” Correlary: aspiring white writers do best when writing white protagonists, and aspiring writers of color do best when writing protagonists of color.

    – Readers, and especially uncritical readers, most enjoy a protagonist they can easily identify with. Correlary: uncritical white readers most enjoy a white protagonist, and uncritical readers of color most enjoy a protagonist of color.

    – White readers substantially outnumber readers of color. Correlary: in broad statistics, works with white protagonists outsell works with protagonists of color.

    – Publishers (broadly) are risk-averse, and so are substantially more likely to publish a work similar to something which has sold well in the past than to publish a work similar to something which has sold less-well in the past. Correlary: in broad statistics, publishers are more likely to publish works with white protagonists than to publish works with protagonists of color.

    – Conclusion: without anyone necessarily having done anything overtly bigoted, the barrier to entry for aspiring writers of color is noticeably higher than the barrier to entry for aspiring white writers, simply because of the former’s minority status.

    Whether or not the above represents the current state of the industry, am I correct in thinking this is at least one facet of what is meant by the term “institutional racism?” If so than I can imagine many more ways a similar scenario plays out.


  208. Mary Anne, this is a wonderful piece. Thank you for posting this. It’s especially brave to post it here, which is clearly not a welcoming, comfortable space for people of color. The comments here also pretty clearly refute the old tone argument — “Stop being so angry! If PoCs were nicer about racism, then white people would listen!” — because this is basically the kindest, most patiently explained thing I’ve seen in a long time and there are still defensive white people flipping out and shutting down. Keep fighting the good fight. And Scalzi, I hope you’re actually reading.

  209. This thread needs more hot bi alpha nerds with purple hair.

    Uh, I mean, Hi Doctor Memory.


    So anyhow, though you can get there via a two link hop from Mary Anne’s original post, I highly reccoment Deepad’s I didn’t dream of dragons as an example of what reading and really grooving on fantasy when young, then realizing that you entire culture is unplugged from it looks like.

    It tears me up every time I read it. I think *shit* we’re really blowing it. Yes, it’s nice to think that you don’t have to care about race, all you want is quality fiction, but look, Robert Jordan, David Eddings, heck, even the good YA stuff that’s feminist friendly like Tamora Pierce is set in fake-Europe.

    If you’re not from a western culture, that’s not your home. For at least half of my childhood, Asia was my home. I loved the European stuff anyway, and didn’t notice it’s absence from the field until I left Asia, and was pretty much surrounded by western culture 100%.

    And you know what? Reading the same fake-Europe again and again an again and again OH GOD WHEN WILL IT EVER END it was brain numbing. It got to the point where, even if a book was good, it’s the same damn boring fake-Europe *again*, and that takes away form the quality of the book.

    And so someone handed me a copy of Bridge Of Birds and I read the thing cover to cover about 5 times in a single weekend. It was like a phantom limb was just re attached, and I never even knew it was missing.

    I cannot for the life of me comprehend how I would have gotten into fantasy or SF if it hadn’t been for my background n a western culture. And I certainly can’t really grok what it would be like to want there to be something I could connect to in a genre that seems cool, but for there to be nothing written by anyone with a any understanding of my culture. But Deepad speaks *her* truth.

    And, as is 100% inevitable in discussions like this some utter douchebag decided that it would be 4-chan style lulz to troll her journal and write a long venomous screed on how she’s (a) not really Indian, just faking it, and (b) India should be thankful for colonization.

    And that sort of thing is inevitable in open discussions about race, and it drives me up a fucking wall.

  210. Cicada, I think most of us are starting from the assumption that most folks we interact with would rather not be racist, and would rather not hurt people with racist assumptions, actions, words, etc. This conversation is pretty much for people in that category.

    If folks are comfortable being racist (as some of my relatives are), then they probably aren’t interested in this conversation at all.

  211. A few notes that I find interesting about the depiction of race.

    1) I rarely think about the race of a character in a novel – I have a hard time visualizing them, so I make them all featureless. Basically, they are empty suits performing actions. The only time that is different is when I notice that they have a specific characteristic – like the Kzin being tiger-like, or the main character in Chindi being a black woman. Anyone else do this?

    2) I watch children’s TV with my daughter on Noggin. All the shows are preschool shows. Not one has a white girl on it. They are all either Chinese, Hispanic, or CGI animals. Her favorite show is hosted by a black man. The only white guy is on Blue’s Clues, which is pretty old by now. Does this swing the pendulum the other direction? I kind of think this is a bit “too much” diversity – now my daughter is left out and sees no one “like her” on these shows. All the shows are fine, if just one would include a young white girl I’d be happy.

    3) A media person once called me a “sand n*****” because of my skin tone. Now, he’s an abrasive jerk, and that’s his shtick, but still. I’m pretty white unless I get out in the sun a lot – I tan deep brown because I have olive-toned skin. Has anyone else encountered this, being called a racial epithet that does not even apply?

    I have other stuff to say about MAM’s post, but I’ll read more comments and go from there.

  212. ZOMG, I’m not utterly out of my mind and ignoring a “cornerstone” of academic race discussion by using the “we are ALL racist” definition of racism. I get the significance of defining racism as purely institutional racial prejudice, but I personally believe it’s more important to recognize the importance and impact of personal/individual racism, of which PoC are equally liable for and for which PoC should equally bear the burden of “racist”‘s connotations.

    Thank you so much for this, too. All of it.

  213. Tacky, I’m quite sure John is reading, no worries. He’s actually a pretty thoughtful guy, although sometimes you have to hit him over the head with a hammer. But isn’t that true of all of us? :-)

    SMQ, I wouldn’t agree entirely with each of your points; there are some subtleties you’re missing, I think. Hopefully we can hit some of those tomorrow. But yes, that’s a reasonable start on how institutional racism works. And once you start adding in some ‘actual’ racism — i.e., a single major editor in a small field who subconsciously isn’t comfortable with black people and without even noticing it rejects any work from someone with a ‘black’ name, then that quickly aggravates the effect.

  214. All the shows are fine, if just one would include a young white girl I’d be happy.

    Welcome to the joys of sexism, which are best left for another thread.

  215. I just want to say thank you, John and Mary Anne, for this cool-headed take on things. I’ve learned a lot from even the original discussion — no, really — but it was difficult to follow for long without losing a lot of sanity and becoming hopelessly depressed. Suddenly I feel like I can see the way forward.

  216. josh @ 228 re: anonymous asstroll. I saw that. I had a thought, and would like to know if it would be helpful or obnoxious.

    So, Seeking Avalon sent people to go chew on the troll (if you appreciate snark and outrage wielded eloquently and skillfully, which, as a Scalzi fan, I’m assuming you do, the thread is worth the read.) My question is: was it more useful, you think, for people to vent their fury on the troll(carthartic cussing-out of a safe target), or would it have been more useful to help DeepaD figure out how to block the asstroll from posting?

    I wanted to offer help of the second sort (I HATE seeing that post, and the person who made it, harmed. Just…HATE) but I wasn’t sure if that would make me the arsehole or the useful…

  217. Fletcher@213: 1) If people of colour publish less sf/f than people without colour, is this because they are writing less sf/f, or is it some institutional bias of the publishing industry?

    And I also wonder if there’s good old-fashioned genre snobbery involved. I recall plenty of curled lips at Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks for slumming in the Trek ghetto, rather than doing real plays. Of course, you avoid it if you’re a “real” literary writer — like Walter Mosley or Margaret Atwood or Philip Roth — whose excursions into genre are really ‘socio-political allegory’ etc. You know, something more meaningful than bullshit for socially-retarded nerds.

  218. Paranoyd, we watch the Sprout network. Caillou is my daughter’s favorite show, featuring a four-year-old white boy (who is also bald, oddly enough). She absolutely adores it. And Bob the Builder’s female friend, whose name I’m blanking on, is white. Granted, she’s an adult instead of a kid, but they’re all very short. :-)

    She also likes the Berenstein Bears, which, okay, they aren’t white or brown or anything — they’re bears. But maybe it’d help balance things anyway? There’s a little girl on that show.

    Other than that, I hate to say it, but your best bet might be Barney. Ugh.

  219. @239- On the other hand, your starting premise was that all people are racist to some degree or another. It starts looking like a Catholic discussion on avoiding sin– impossible to do, but try really hard anyhow. Why not accept it as an intrinsic component of all societies, ameliorate the worst real effects to whatever degree feasible (anti-discrimination laws, toss the cross-burning loons in jail, etc), and assume that people will thicken their skins to whatever degree they need to to function?

  220. Tacky Tramp:

    “And Scalzi, I hope you’re actually reading.”

    Are you under the impression I don’t read what’s on my own site? Likewise are you under the impression that I wouldn’t read or be actively engaged in a comment thread of a guest post I actively solicited? A guest post I solicited after reading criticism of my original position in other comment threads? Additionally, have you not seen that I’ve been actively contributing to the thread? My comments are easy to recognize; they’re in green.

    So, yes, I’m actually reading. Are you?

  221. I was glad to see this. I had come close to suggesting just this course; selecting a third party to come onto this site to explain to those of us who stop by now and then to see what’s up…just what this was all about. I guess great minds think alike. I’d be a bit worried were I you, John.

  222. Hmm…Cicada, I think you, and some others, are actually far more pessimistic than I am. I’ve seen remarkable strides on the societal racism front in my own lifetime (37 years and counting). If I go back even one generation and consider what my parents dealt with as immigrants to this country, or what my grandparents dealt with under colonial Britain, I’m frankly astonished at how far we’ve come, in such a short amount of time.

    Yes, we live in a racist society, and yes, we carry that within us. But our society is SO MUCH LESS racist than it was. And I have great hope that it will be SO MUCH LESS racist in another generation, or two. I can imagine the day when this society is no longer so poisoned by racism, and then, all of these conversations will be unnecessary. I’m not certain that that day will come, and I don’t expect it to come in my lifetime. But based on the astonishing progress in the last hundred years, I think there’s a good chance we’ll get there eventually.

  223. @paranoyd: #1-yes! Maybe that’s where my disconnect here comes in. I don’t watch a movie in my head when I read, or picture the scenes or characters, or any other image-based interpretation. So the characters are what are revealed in the words, and any pieces not defined are simply not part of the character. If the writer didn’t define something, it’s unknown (and unimportant).

  224. A Different Jess @ 245 – I’m sure Deepad knows how to block people, but I think both can be done – block the asshat, and tall him off for the schmuck he is.

    Personally, I think it’s helpful to see that sort of behavior called on for being the giant pile of festering suck that it is, because if it isn’t it might well be taken to be tolerated.

    Which is where a lot of this started – racism has to be stopped, and *part* of stopping it is not always going to use pretty language. Some of it (not all of it) is about it being safe for people who’ve been, oh, say, outed on Whatever to have Scalzi threaten to kick the person in the crotch. Because standing up to bullies is important.

    And sometimes, just feeling safe to let loose and scream at them *is* catharsis. And who doesn’t like a good bit of catharsis now and then?

  225. Chris Triolo@165: I couldn’t care less about the race of the person writing a book I’m reading either. But I do care a lot about not letting my reading sink into a lazy and complacent rut — I could quite happily spend the rest of my life re-reading Jane Austen. I’ll happily admit I’m basically monolingual (don’t really think Latin and Classic Greek really counts), and novels published by well-distributed “mainstream” Anglo-American houses are always going to be easier to find. But some of my happiest reading experiences have come from the times I’ve consciously decided to push out of my comfort zone a bit.

  226. Okay, it’s almost ten, and I usually go to bed at nine, so I’m officially signing off for the night (although I have this bizarre desire to keep refreshing the damn page every three seconds, for the rest of the night. I must resist).

    I’ll catch up in the morning, but if anyone has specific questions for me, you might want to hold them until after 8 a.m. CST, just to be safe. Thanks!

    And again, play nice!

  227. Eddie Clarke

    Wow, that was a contentless rebuttal. You clearly know nothing about self awareness and determination.

    I also reject elitist non-sequiteurs about how much smarter or more educated others are than I merely on their say-so.

    I am angry because here is a artistic genre that I happen to love being impugned by a professional race grievance-monger (Don’t think so? Go read the excerpts John recommended – nothing BUT race there – and then follow a few of the traces there and also follow some of the info from in several of the comments here & see where that info leads…) who has managed to insinuate herself into the corridors of power in that very same field that has been a very enriching part of my life – and in doing so, doing it and its practitioners a great disservice.

    Maybe you could inform me just how an injection of race would have improved “The Weapon Shops of Isher”, or “The Twin Towers” while you are at it – because that is exactly what Ms. Mohanraj suggests in one of her posts.

    As far as my knowledge of genetics or neuroscience – heh. Everybody on the Internets is a genius, didn’t you know? Not just you.

  228. @251- I am indeed a pessimist, yes. That being said, the notion of eliminating racism seems a bit unlikely given human proclivities to categorize and attribute traits to people. Consider “dumb blonde” or “ginger” jokes if you want to see finely-sliced distinctions.

    Given that the human brain likes to group things for easier processing “a flock of birds” “cats”, you’re working against the current to try and get people to essentially say “A bird. Another bird. Yet another bird.” instead.

  229. Why not accept it as an intrinsic component of all societies, ameliorate the worst real effects to whatever degree feasible (anti-discrimination laws, toss the cross-burning loons in jail, etc), and assume that people will thicken their skins to whatever degree they need to to function?

    If you’re going to accept racism as “an intrinsic component of societies”, and your approach is that it’s really the job of PoC to suck it up and deal, then why are you drawing lines at the ‘worst’ effects? Shouldn’t we simply treat cross-burning as vandalism, assume the market will take care of anti-discrimination laws, and leave racism alone? I can’t fathom why you would have some arbitrary cut-off point beyond which certain kinds of racism are Right Out, but the rest of the time we treat it just like the rain (can’t do anything about it so why complain).

  230. West@256:

    I don’t see a smoking gun in the fact that links put in an article about race happen to be to sites about race. Nor do I see anywhere that Mary Anne or Scalzi are saying that Sci Fi and Fantasy suck. The discussion is that there is room for improvement to make it more inclusive of people who are commonly marginalized and mis- or under-represented in the arena, but–

    …uh, folks, am I feeding a troll? I’m not sure, and my troll-identifying skills are sub-par.

  231. Mary Anne Mohanraj: As I said before, “that sounds racist” is a lot less loaded than “that is racist”, and is a lot more likely to get people to think about what they said before the defensive wall goes up. Speaking as a white male, I can say that saying “that’s racist!” at something I say is likely to get an instinctual response of “screw you” while saying “that sure sounds racist because…” is more likely to get a response “is it?”

    As for responding to racist jokes, well, perhaps I am sheltered here in the SF Bay Area, but I rarely, if ever hear racist jokes. In my mind, that’s a bit of a strawman example. I’m much more likely to encounter something borderline, something reflecting unconscious racism.

    And honestly, that seems to me to be a lot closer to racefail thing. Teresa Neilson Haydon referred to a group of posters as “orcs”. Was that because she was racist or something she would have called a similar group of white posters? I don’t know…it sounds like it could be racist, certainly, but would you assert that it is, 100%, definitely, for sure because she was racist? I think more constructive than pointing and saying “this is racist” is saying “gee, you know, the symbolism of dark-skinned orcs certainly sounds racist”. And by more constructive, I mean, more likely to get people to think about what they say, which is, I hope, the goal.

  232. Correction – “The Two Towers”, not “The Twin Towers”. The latter sounds like a really bad action thriller.

  233. West:

    “who has managed to insinuate herself into the corridors of power in that very same field that has been a very enriching part of my life – and in doing so, doing it and its practitioners a great disservice.”

    If you’re speaking of MAM, she “insinuated” herself into the genre by opening up a magazine that paid people to write fiction in the genre, and gave a number of current SF writers their start — including me.

    If someone wants to insinuate themselves in the genre in such a manner, I heartily encourage it. Paying people SFWA-qualifying rates to write fiction is a funny way to do the genre a “disservice.”

    If you don’t like what MAM does, that’s your business. But she’s earned her right to speak about the genre by the old fashioned way: Paying people to make more of it.

  234. @259- For the same reason that we don’t ticket speeders who go two miles over the speed limit– the offense is too minor to bother with the effort of enforcement, and effectively all of the population engages in the act anyhow.

  235. @260- Redheads. Y’know, the funny-looking freckly folks with poor self-control and anger issues?

  236. Yuhri:

    I too am Asian. And I take pride in what Chinese culture represents, also taking pride in what American culture represents as well. But my racial make-up has nothing to do with any of it. I refuse to define myself by markers that others place. I define myself based on who I am, which encompasses my experiences, my self-reflection and the outcomes of decisions based in my life. Chinese culture has played a part in who I am, and American culture has played a part as well. I don’t define myself as Asian-American at all, just as I don’t define myself as Black/Grey-Haired-American, or Brown-Eyed American. I’m just me. Physical attributes are incidental.

    I’m proud of who I am, but my skin color (regardless of how someone judges me on the exterior) is no more important than the color of my hair or my eyes. No matter how many people will use it to misjudge me, segregate me or deny me.

    You didn’t remark the Happy Puppy Land comment, so this isn’t directed at you.

    I’m not at any moment saying that we should stick our heads in the sand. The argument that African slavery did exist doesn’t counter what I wrote. White guilt doesn’t erase racism; it just continues to fester and feed it because it is still based in a racial view of things. I’m not saying that racism doesn’t exists, but I am saying that staying in the same prism and using race to define things doesn’t end the separation between races. Commonality brings people together, not labels. To think that I’m saying “I do this, so you better do the same” is missing the point. In fact, I’m saying the complete opposite.

    I don’t mean to offend, but “my people” encompasses everyone, regardless of what culture played a part in the make-up of who they are. If I felt any other way, I would be segregating myself from someone that is Japanese-American, or African-American or… white.

  237. Wow. All I did was leave work and go home — will I ever catch up?? :-D Forgive me if I repeat stuff.

    @103 — SusieQ: If everyone is racist, then no one can not be a racist.[…]So the question is: what are we telling people to do? We can’t tell them to stop being racist if no one can stop being racist. At best we’re telling them to be less racist, but if it is possible to be less racist – to eliminate some of our racism – why can’t we eliminate all of it?
    I think we’re encouraging people to be aware of their racist thoughts, and to make a constant and concerted effort not to let these thoughts dictate their actions.

    @170 — I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone a racist, actually. I’ve pointed out that I take issue with such and such a statement because it paints people like me in this light, and the response has been “OH MY GOD, ARE YOU SAYING I’M RACIST!!?” and then I shut up and never bring it up again. I’m not painting my experience as universal, but… I dunno, I think it’s significant that these are my good friends I’m talking about. There’s a level of over sensitivity that white people could stand to let go of. I said today to a fellow at my job, in the midst of a four-person joking session that involved literal, physical throwing-at-one-another of a makeup product, that I was too dark for a particular product (“Eeek! No no no! I do not need bronzer!!”), and his face dropped like an anvil. Why? I don’t need bronzer. There’s a lot of things I don’t need. I also need to make sure I get Vitamin D. Why So Serious?? (Of course, this same guy accused me of “playing a race card” when, after him asking me repeatedly why my hair was curly on such and such a day and I told him (also repeatedly) I wasn’t flatironing my hair for a while, because I wanted to grow it out some; after about three “Aw, but whys,” he responded “Aw, but it’s so pretty that way,” and I said, with a big grin and wink, “Eh, I’m embracing my African roots.” “Oh so now you’re playing a race card?”) I’m sorry, but that feels like disproportionate response to me.

    @ 172 — Yuhri, I would have paid good money to have written that post myself. Bravo.

    Okay, I’m gonna play more catch-up, and then do the on-topic thing.

  238. @Josh Jasper, attempting to show how cool he is because he “gets it” shows that he doesn’t get it by minimizing the suffering of the handicapped.

    And so someone handed me a copy of Bridge Of Birds and I read the thing cover to cover about 5 times in a single weekend. It was like a phantom limb was just re attached, and I never even knew it was missing.

    As an amputee I could explain to you how that’s a completely stupid and ignorant statement and how you’re completely ignorant of what a phantom limb is but I have things to do. John, I’m disappointed that you wimped out and walked back on this. Your spinelessness here is of truly Harry Reidesque proportions.

  239. And…. exactly 1 minute after the incredibly gracious, and jaw-droppingly polite guest host leaves, someone calls her a “professional race grievance-monger”.

    Did anyone think we wouldn’t see some replay of the same sort of thing that happened to Deepad?

  240. @265: there’s no law against chewing with your mouth open, it’s not illegal, and many people do it, but I still teach my kids to chew with their mouths closed because it’s impolite and kinda gross. Should I stop?

    I’m also not following the analogy you present: because law enforcement does not have the manpower to enforce every violation of traffic laws, people should say and do nothing to counteract racism short of actual violence or severe economic disadvantage.

  241. @271- Would you ask a dinner companion to shut mouth while chewing, or would you simply not dine in that company again?

    As for the analogy, nonsense– a few GPS trackers in the cars, and each and every offense could be recorded and fined. Is it not worth that effort?

  242. and I said, with a big grin and wink, “Eh, I’m embracing my African roots.”

    That had me LOL, but some folks have trouble relaxing enough to spot a straight line. :-)

  243. Mary Anne–thank you very much for this post. It may be the single best overview of the topic I’ve read, and I’ve read a fair bit, though not as much as some, to be sure.

    I especially appreciate your choosing to go with “we are all racist” over “racism = prejudice + power” as your default, because while the latter is indeed a useful analytical tool, the discussion of what we mean when we say “power” gets very technical and/or meta, very fast. In my experience, at least, a lot of folks react better to being called prejudiced than they do to being called powerful.

    One thing that is very very very important to me, that I don’t usually bring up in these conversations but feel like I can here, is that “everybody is racist” does not mean “everybody is racist in predictable ways.” I’m glad you linked to the Implicit Assumptions Project, which I think as an empirical exercise is a good way of introducing people to the idea of unconscious bias…Anyway, a few months back, I did the online exercise, and I was surprised to discover that my unconscious bias actually did line up with my conscious intuitions about my racial attitudes: Despite being white, I have an unconscious bias *against* white folk, and *in favor of* black folk. (I even replicated the experiment to be sure, as a good empiricist).

    That doesn’t change the fact that I have a knee-jerk prejudices against, for example, Latino men. It doesn’t mean I am free of racism. But it does mean I get frustrated when someone tells me, “you’re white, so you have ingrained negative attitudes towards black folks.” No, I don’t, apparently. That doesn’t make me a special snowflake or morally advanced or anything like that, and my own attitudes or reactions aren’t important to this conversation, but. It still seems like it won’t hurt to lift up the idea that “everybody is racist” does not mean “everybody is racist in predictable ways,” as a general thing.

  244. Gratitude for this post and for your courtesy and patience with the commentary, Mary Anne. I feel lucky to have found your blog thanks to extensive linking on my LJ flist; I look forward to reading your work.

    Part of what’s accomplished in this kind of massively multiperson online debate (tm Benjamin Rosenbaum), I think, is the heightened visibility of the rhetorical strategies that get used to derail, denigrate, or deny the validity of any discussion predicated on specific occurrences or loci of racism.

    As you mention, “I’ve suffered too!” is one of the big ones. I also see “How do you know X is evidence of racism? Maybe it’s Y instead!” being used here. There’s a fairly small set of them and they recur with amazing frequency; their heavy deployment in such a (relatively) concentrated exchange is a spur to the invention of counterstrategies. The concept of Racism 101 is an example, one I’m grateful for.

    I’m anxious to hear of some Racism 101 equivalent of “thank you for mansplaining” frankly: A succinct conversational indicator that, in a discussion of racism, a white person has just told a person of color why and in what ways the POC’s experience of racism isn’t representative/worthwhile input/nearly as important as what the white person thinks/feels/says about racism. We’d get a lot of use out of that, I think.

  245. I would just like to mention another way to support under-represented authors is those folks who have access to public lending libraries could have a look at those institution’s collections and if they don’t find the authors they desire, they could also ask the libraries to purchase them. If the collections have examples of your favorite authors, well get the word out, authors who circulate tend to get bought again and again. Circulation is as close to a hard bottom line as libraries get so anything that helps that figure can only help.

  246. Typically if someone around me says something I find offensive or inappropriate or hurtful, I point it out in that regard. I tell them that they said something inappropriate that sounds like they have a problem with the other person’s (insert here – racial, sexual, gender identity). That is my opening remark because it allows me to find out if the person had a problem with the person on that basis or if they just didn’t like that person in particular. Then we have a discussion about race issues, etc. And I have a zero tolerance policy about stuff like that around me, so being in the south, I have had many of those discussions. Never once have I had the discussion disintegrate taking the approach that I recommended.

    Where I am from (New Orleans) and where I worked as a journalist (Texas), having someone call you a racist or call your actions racist brings up thoughts of the James Byrd Jr murder of 1998 and issues surrounding the evacuation and emergency response work during Hurricane Katrina or the Jena 6. So it is a very charged word.

    If you are unfamiliar with those incidents, I highly recommend looking them up on Wikipedia and perhaps it will shed some light as to why I make an effort to make the distinction when calling my friends out. Because around here, where sometimes you can still pass an old church and see people getting out of their cars with sheets over their arms and high school kids hang nooses from trees, the term ‘racist’ is considered a slur, and NEVER a polite opening for reasonable conversation.

    I know we aren’t supposed to be talking about semantics of the word, but I don’t believe people realize just exactly how charged that word is in some places.

    Around here, it has the same social smear result of calling someone a child molester. And the person is then guilty until proven innocent.

    Maybe your experience is a better one that allows you a different view on the term ‘racist’. But many others have a history of it being a really, REALLY bad word to be associated with.

  247. Cicada @273 – I’d certainly tell a friend that their open-mouth eating bothered me, because I assume my friends are nice people who want to be polite and not eat in ways that are kinda gross. I myself would not want to find out that the reason my friends mysteriously had important obligations every time I extended a lunch invitation is that I lacked basic manners, and nobody wanted to be the one to tell me.

    A stranger? Well, there are steps up from ‘chewing with your mouth open’ in the table manners world. I wouldn’t sit quietly and think “don’t eat with him again” if a stranger started forking food off my plate without asking, or if he loudly asked me to justify what I’d ordered for dinner.

    I’m still not following your speeding/racism analogy, but hazarding a guess, you seem to be saying that if racism is endemic there’s no point in doing much about it. (Which I do hope is not a way of trying to cleverly say that racism is not endemic.) That argument, I don’t follow. Violence is endemic, greed is endemic, cruelty is endemic, yet I don’t know many people who would think it sensible to argue “Oh, let’s just make murder and committing great bodily harm illegal and let the rest of it slide,” or “Why are we bothering to prosecute muggers or burglars who steal less than $100,000?”

  248. Scalzi, the end of my comment was snark. Sorry to have omitted the smiley; it is here instead: :) I appreciate you hosting this conversation.

  249. I think, is the heightened visibility of the rhetorical strategies that get used to derail, denigrate, or deny the validity of any discussion predicated on specific occurrences or loci of racism.

    This seems like a long way of saying “anyone who doesn’t agree with everything we say is the enemy”. It is toxic to real discussion. It is “you’re wrong, and we don’t have to listen to you”. It is “our team good, your team bad”.

    The way to actually solving the problems of race in this country is to *listen* to other people’s concerns rather than lecturing them.

  250. You think Luke Jackson’s complaints need listening to? Heck, I don’t even think he rates a lecture.

  251. about privilege…

    Someone above was confused about taking privileges. It’s not like that – privilege is assigned to you by the system. It’s like when computer security types talk about how a program is being run with “elevated privileges”. The operating system [The Matrix!] sets a flag on the program that lets it read/write/execute.

    Software programs aren’t self aware, so the analogy breaks down there. We are self aware so we could actually try to use our elevated privileges to modify the OS. [Take the red pill! The red pill!!]

    **I really should be packing, I leaving for vacation really soon

  252. @279- Your guess is fairly accurate, actually– although the word endemic does bring to mind what might be a better analogy: diseases are endemic, but we put billions of dollars into research to cure cancer and heart disease (let’s call those the equivalent of cross burning and the like), but we just assume we’ll get a cold now and again (the equivalent of encountering the odd racist comment).

    I’d just cut off the dinner company, myself– if we presume the person is happiest chewing with their mouth open (because that’s what they did before anyone intervened), we can either make them unhappy by continually telling them to shut it, or we can just go separate ways and let them chew as they wish while we sit among closed-mouthed chewers.

    Ultimately, this comes down to how large an offense you or I would take a low-level racist comment to be. “Affront to decent society” or “Oh, well, some people are vegetarians, some are Republicans, some are racists.”

  253. Yuhri –

    Take me as I am – if you decide that I am a troll, then I guess I am one to you.

    Personally, I think that in many (most) cases the injection of racism/sexism/anyism into a story can and will actually detract from the story or point that the author was attempting to make, adding unnecessary bulk and complexity where it is neither necessary nor pertinent. I was ruminating on my first post re John’s writing and was struck by his little vignette about the the two Indian colonists (in “The Last Colony”) who were portrayed arguing over – what? – a goat. Now tell me that was not racist, or at least a little stereotypical. Did it add to the story – well, it was funny, as so much of John’s writing is, but I do not see how it added to the story at all – he could just as easily has two ethnically unidentified people arguing about a tree on a property line, or something equally insignificant. However, by the PC standards of the day, he should have been pilloried for his depiction. I noted it for what it was & moved on – after all, he was just attempting to flesh out the story as regards the mundane day-to-day job functions of a small enterprise administrator – that I got & left the ‘racism’ behind.

    If you want to do stories about -isms, there are examples of that being done successfully – “Enemy Mine”, and just about any Ursula Le Guin story. Read anything published from about 1975 through the early ’90’s and you will get all you want or need of SF -ism stories.

    What I object to is the inflexible mindset that a story absolutely must include issues that are peripheral to the story or point to make them ‘better’. It does not. It just makes them fuzzier. Sometimes fuzzier is good – but IMO, most of the time not. I like conciseness, economy of exposition, and elegance, not PC crap thrown in because it ‘fleshes out the story’ or “adds depth” – when that kind of ‘depth’ may be secondary or tertiary to the piece.

    But that’s just me.

  254. @ 286 — What if instead of injecting “issues,” we just injected “people”?

    I don’t see why the presence of nonwhite people, or the treatment of nonwhite people who were already there, has to be irrevocably linked to teaching lessons.

    Nobody has to write about anything they don’t want to write about. As somebody said upthread, sometimes some of us (color notwithstanding) just want to journey OUT Europe-With-magic for a spell.

  255. @283- Except in those cases where you have a group that actually does establish privileges for itself. For example, the British in…well, basically anyplace the British went, come to think of it.
    Generally this seems to involve guns at some point, but I’m sure it could work in other ways.

  256. Flunky@267:

    Thanks for your perspective, Flunky. I don’t find anything you’ve said offensive, and I’m perfectly willing and happy to be included in an all-encompassing “my people.” I respect you for having such a good sense of self; it took me a long time to come to equilibrium about my own identity.

    For me, consciously or not, and even though I look at my reflection less than 10 seconds a day, my self-identity is strongly identified with face. My face is strongly identified with my race. A = B, B = C, therefore A = C. In an ideal world, that wouldn’t matter: we could be different but equal. We’re a ways away from that, as you say.

    I understand what you say about commonality being more important than differences. To a certain extent, I agree with you. However, as a cautionary tale, can I point out the experience of Japanese-Americans in the United States after the internment camps of World War II? After they were released from the camps, there was a kind of dispersal throughout the United States; many Japanese-Americans avoided creating Japanese-American communities, fearing that it would make them targets. As model citizens, they performed one of the most passive-aggressive integrations into American society that you could imagine. Many of them erased all family memories of their Japanese ancestry, out of a misplaced feeling of shame; they passed down that ignorance to their children, and their children’s children. Those children are today rediscovering their roots and struggling to own their identities as Japanese-Americans, something that they empathize with rather than have artificially draped around their shoulders.

    You could argue that the rewards of that diaspora outweighs the harm. I’m on the fence about that myself. They chose to promote the commonalities rather than stand up and say, I am different. What about me? Sixty years later, I’m still waiting to see faces like mine on TV and the big screen outside a few imports from Asia and the rare, rare show. I think that choosing to go the quiet route has allowed the thoughtless to push representation of us to the outskirts, and to point to us as an object lesson to other minorities — “See? They’re successful and they’re minorities. Therefore, the fact that you are not is a problem with you.” — without asking if we really want more from life than to fit into a box with the good toys.

    Hm. A surprising amount of bitterness there. I hadn’t even realized I had any.

    I speak of generalities, of course; not every internee did that, and not every Japanese-American lost touch with his/her ethnic heritage. And I sympathize with the people who made that choice; it made perfect sense for them, and they were trying to provide for the future of their children. Still, it’s worth noting.

    This may be an out-of-date story for the current generation; they have different worldviews and frames of reference. My point — I finally get to it, using way too many words for the point! — is to make sure that in your emphasis of the common, you don’t lose sight of the unique.

    And that is all!

  257. @281:

    The way to actually solving the problems of race in this country is to *listen* to other people’s concerns rather than lecturing them.

    To me, it looks like that’s where Rez is coming from. Although you could probably substitute “rather than derailing the conversation,” “creating a straw man,” or a few others. Paying attention to how a conversation unfolds — and to patterns in how people avoid listening — isn’t declaring everyone who disagrees with you an enemy.

  258. West:

    “Did it add to the story – well, it was funny, as so much of John’s writing is, but I do not see how it added to the story at all – he could just as easily has two ethnically unidentified people arguing about a tree on a property line, or something equally insignificant.”

    Small point of order: it actually couldn’t have been two ethnically unidentified people, on account that the particular world John Perry and Jane Sagan were on was established in an earlier work, “Questions for a Soldier,” which had Perry visiting the planet some time before, and was equally established as having settlers from India. And in that work, there was a specific and direct conversation in which one character (Savitri, actually, who is also in The Last Colony) accuses the Colonial Union of racism and colonialism, etc, and waits to hear Perry’s response.

    So the two brothers had to be Indian — and as it happens, since I happen to have a fair number of Indian friends, I ran that bit past a couple of them to make sure I wasn’t flubbing it. It’s one reason, actually, I chose Indian for the original story: lots of folks to cross-check with.

  259. cicada @284: I wouldn’t presume that people who chew with their mouths open all do so because they enjoy offending others, or because they don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. They may be unaware they’re doing it, or that it’s considered rude, or that anyone is bothered. Perhaps they’ve simply gotten so much deference all their lives that nobody has bothered to tell them “Hey, don’t do that.”

    The disease analogy doesn’t work. Racism is human behavior; a cold isn’t.

  260. Steve Burnap:

    This seems like a long way of saying “anyone who doesn’t agree with everything we say is the enemy”.

    Pardon me for my clumsy wording. It was actually a long way of saying “White people’s reactions to statements about racism by people of color are frequently beside the point in predictable ways; the RaceFail imbroglio makes this really easy to see.”

  261. West @286, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that racism as a theme needs to be done more (although I don’t see anything wrong with that), but rather, it would be nice to see more characters of other hues and it would be nice if they weren’t hakneyed, cliched or basically airbrushed white folk.

  262. My God, Scalzi. I’m just … fizzing all over your site. Sorry. I’ve got some bizarre diarrhea of the brain. Or keyboard. Or something. I’ll just do this one last thing and then shut up!

    Welcome back, Mac! And thanks! I’m surprised at myself; that was unusually articulate for me.

    West, I’ll assume you are not-a-troll, and respond appropriately–

    –except I just hit refresh and Scott@294 had already responded (succinctly, at that!) so I will erase my more long-winded response and wave a hand at what he said.

  263. 288, Cicada,
    @283- Except in those cases where you have a group that actually does establish privileges for itself. For example, the British in…well, basically anyplace the British went, come to think of it.
    Generally this seems to involve guns at some point, but I’m sure it could work in other ways.

    Yeah, I was actually going to put in an extended analogy about malicious users and self-replicating malware, but I figure I was on the verge of losing everybody who didn’t know much about security theory. (That, and too many Matrix analogies sound cheesy.)

    My privilege, of course, was inserting myself into the narrative as the poor deluded bit of software that has no idea that he is the nth generation of pop-up window.

  264. John –

    I apologize If my meaning of ‘insinuated’ was not clear – I did not mean to imply that she had not done honest work, or was a beneficiary of of some affirmative action effort in spite of poor qualifications for her positions.

    I mean that she has become part of the SF&F community and then attempts to make arguments that SF-F should pay more attention to race relations and that it suffers from the lack thereof.

    What has endeared SF&F to me has been the relative lack of race conflict and various other PC -isms – the genre IMO had transcended these current petty concerns and dealt with issues of less ephemeral (one would hope) attributes.

    I was particulrly affronted by her dissing of RH Heinlein and his character protrayals – Of course, his women were men with boobs, he had problems with women in almost all his writings – does that imperfection disallow enjoyment of the other issues he raised and how he dealt with them? For her that is seemingly so. She also fails to mention his celebration of multiculturalism in several of his stories, particularily in :The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” – but seemingly that is not enough to redeem him in Ms. Mohanraj’s eyes.

    So, it seems for that any story that does not follow the properly sensitive script as defined by her, that story is forever fatally flawed and worthy of dismissal. Not terribly inclusive, if you ask me – maybe even a bit prejudiced. But that prejudice is on her terms, so that makes it OK.

    I would also like to state that at no point did i imply that she was not allowed to speak her mind in whatever manner or by any medium she cares to choose. I do not have any standing to attempt to suppress anything anyone wants to say on this site (or just about anywhere but my own blog – if I had one), and would not presume to attempt to do so. If you prefer to hear her arguments rather than mine, well, it’s your blog – you know what to do. If you want to knock me off here, that is your prerogative – I’ll even still buy your books.

  265. @292- And yet, that’s the way that they, in the absence of correction, choose to chew. While I personally loathe people who chew with their mouths open, it seems to me the simplest solution is to avoid contact rather than to change what the other person does. This keeps me happy, and if they’re confused about it it’s their problem to solve.

    I suppose essentially I consider low-level racist behavior to be below my personal threshold level for correction. it’s not my cup of tea, but neither is it so offensive that it’s worth mounting the effort to change someone’s mind. Perhaps people are less stubborn where you are?

  266. A point of clarification, I am not saying that anyone on this thread has treated me (or anyone else as far as I can tell) the way my comment seems to indicate. I meant that that is the way my classmate treated those of us not her. I am deeply sorry for the confusion.

  267. mythago@203 – that’s it. I’m buying a kilt. I’ve been looking for justification for years, and now you’ve given it to me. I owe you a pie, or some other confectionery equal in price and portability.

    Colorblind. Man, I can’t think of a more depressing state of affairs if we were all completely ignorant and dismissive of what each of us bring to Universe based on our class, education, philosophy, culture, sexuality, and race. I enjoy my POC friend’s differences, and my sexually-ambiguous friends, and my poly and gay and straight and moneyed and all the others I interact with (which is unfortunately limited right now due to being a house-husband and stay-at-home parent of a 16 month old.) I understand many white people think if we could just make all the colors go away we’d have no reason to hate each other. You know we’d find a way: look at Prop 8. Colorblind would be horrible and boring, and it’s just poor form to expect people to give up all of their characteristics just to make it easy on you.

    I grew up in a very conservative family – they voted for Bush twice and I’m sure would have done so a third time. It took me going into the Navy to see that there really are other people on the planet and they aren’t all the same if they aren’t white. It was quite an education. Without that I’m sure I would not be able to accept the things I understand now about not just myself but “The Way Things Work” whether to my advantage or not. For instance, it was only last year that I finally understood evolution, and it was here on Whatever that I learned what the error I was making was. And it’s here again that I find myself arguing that white people have privilege even as on my own blog and elsewhere in the past I have argued that we don’t. (I still may not see it as quite as extensive as others, but hey, a start is a start.) I find it interesting that the ones most vehemently against the concept of wp have, as far as I have been able to glean from other postings of theirs, conservative leanings. It probably goes along with many teachings from that camp that it’s all someone else’s fault if there is racism, because they are good God-fearing people who would never hold someone down because of their race. (Supposition based on living in that toxic atmosphere for 21 years of my life.)

    BTW, I think the 50 books of POC are not in a year, but at all, for those who were concerned about the year thing. I know I couldn’t do it – I could get close, but even trying really hard I only got through about 40 books last year – and I even counted a couple of kids books LOL.

  268. 289, Yuhri

    Good heavens that was insightful!

    I had no idea about the deal with Japanese American assimilation. Thank you, that was really, really helpful. Not the least because it has been weighing heavily on my mind for some time that I don’t have insight into what it’s like for my Japanese American cousin to be who he is. What I mean is, I don’t even know what questions to ask, let alone have the kind of relationship with him where I can impose on him and ask what it’s like to be him. Your telling of your story is a tremendous gift.

  269. shati–

    Paying attention to how a conversation unfolds — and to patterns in how people avoid listening — isn’t declaring everyone who disagrees with you an enemy.

    Thank you! You’ve said it much more gracefully! Yes!

    Big huge swaths of almost any conversation about racism seem to consist of tangential interruptions by white people such that the specifics entered by people of color are shoved aside or drowned while we debate for the nine millionth time whether it’s necessary for people of color to be polite before we’ll listen to them, or reassure white writers that it’s okay to make mistakes when writing characters of color, or explain in detail why my childhood poverty means I understand exactly what you’re going through even though I’m white.

    Hence Racism 101, for which, thank you again, Mary Anne.

  270. I didn’t figure I’d read this whole thread, but there I went and did it.

    Thank you for this essay, Mary Anne, and thank you, John, for posting it. It’s pretty much along the lines of how I’ve been thinking over the last few years.

    I’m a straight, white, middle class, male. I’m also a skinny, geeky redhead, so I’ve had a few (minor, minor, minor) bumps in the road, as you put it. I live in a predominantly Hispanic and African-American neighborhood. And, God help me, I have found myself thinking too many times, “I shouldn’t have to live here. I’m not like those people.” And I hate myself for it.

    White privilege exists, everyone. Racism is real, and we’re (almost?) all racists. Yes, all… no matter what race you are. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight it. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to root it out of ourselves.

  271. @47 Edward and others re: what modern white privilege looks like.

    Sometimes it’s easier to see it when it’s taken away from someone who would otherwise expect to have it.

    If you want to see what it looks like when all those potholes, barriers and other obstacles become a part of the life of someone who’s not actually black, check out this post made by a blond-haired, blue-eyed southern woman whose activist mother gave her a very black name.

    Remember that all of this stuff happened and continues to happen to her on a daily basis not because of who she is, her merits, her education, or even her race, but simply because of what her name is and how it affects what others believe about her because of that. I’d be willing to bet that few of the people she talks about would consider themselves racist. Read the comments, too. Lots of great insight.

    As one commentor notes, it proves that when it comes to human interaction, a rose by any other name apparently doesn’t smell as sweet.

  272. West@297

    1. MAM’s success in the sf/f field doesn’t invalidate her point that the field isn’t racially diverse. Nor does Octavia Butler or Samuel Delany’s success, as I’ve heard others say. The majority of the authors, editors, and publishers are white, so that white ends up being the norm. I doubt the sf/f field consciously sets out to be that way, but those are the end results.

    2. It is possible to like a story or think it has merit, and still think it’s flawed. It’s not necessarily an either/or proposition.

  273. Yuhri – thanks for the response.

    Scott – there is a way to get more of what you want – when you see them, buy them. I don;t think the way to get more varied characterizations in SF & F is to advocate professionally for more racial portrayal.

    Certainly the genre has been dominated in the past by white authors and seemingly white protaganists – in that most protagonists speak in the European white English vernacular, but I once more contend that in almost all instances, the stories are not informed by the racial attributes of the characters, and would not suffer in the slightest bit if that were changed to some other ethnicity/race/species.

    Think about it, what race is Takeshi Kovacs?

    However, IMO what is being advocated is the specific intrusion of current race relation stressors into stories that have little or nothing to do with the stories themselves. If someone wants to write a story about just that – fine, it would be difficult to write a story about race relations without two races in it, but I am offended by the insinuation that “Neutron Star” would have been a better story if there had been a black person or some racial tension in it – as a matter of fact we don’t really know what race schaeffer is, now do we?

    Someday, I hope that the silliness of the idea that the way to bring everyone together is to make and emphasize racial/social/ethnic distinctions between us becomes obvious to all. We can rise above the Green Monkey Syndrome – that is what makes us human and determinant of our own fate.

    Enough for tonight, thanks all for putting up with me.

  274. It’s interesting to note that the first Japanese American to make it big in sci-fi TV was also imprisoned in an American internment camp when he was a child.

  275. I like the word “biased” myself. Qualify as necessary.

    I’ve had the interesting experience of watching my attitudes towards visible race markers change over time. When I first starting watching Bollywood movies, I did not understand why Amitabh Bachchan was such a huge star in the 1970s and 1980s. Him? He wasn’t even cute!

    After years of exposure to Bollywood movies and South Asian faces, I noticed that the young Amitabh was starting to look very handsome and appealing. My cute-meter had been reset to South Asian.

    Now imagine the old me as a Hollywood casting agent :)

  276. West:

    “I mean that she has become part of the SF&F community and then attempts to make arguments that SF-F should pay more attention to race relations and that it suffers from the lack thereof.”

    I think everyone who comes into SF/F and achieves some notability has their own basket of things they would like it to do, or do better, or not do at all. So MAM having her own basket is not particularly remarkable. It’s a different basket than, say, John Ringo’s basket.

    I don’t find her general position re: race in SF/F controversial, nor have I since I started writing novels, so to some extent there’s some evidence that her positions do not have a noticeable negative impact on work you might enjoy. Her opinions don’t mirror mine 100% or vice versa, of course, but the general outlines are similar.

    I would be willing to suggest the primary issue is not necessarily ideas but execution — no one likes to feel like they’re being lectured when they just want to read a good book. But this is a matter of writer skill. It’s possible to create a work that features diversity in characters, etc and not have it knock you over the head with it, it just is.

    However, I’d not that a lot of this stuff I suspect will be covered in the second part of MAM’s piece, so it might be worth it to wait for that.

  277. piotono@301:

    I wish I could take credit, but the experience of Japanese-Americans during WWII and immediately after are not my immediate family’s experiences. The story I relate there is the experiences of extended family who came to the US two generations (or so) before WWII. The divide between my branch and the extended American cousins one is immense at my mother’s generation; it isn’t so wide at mine. My branch is only one generation removed from Japan — I am Nissei, American-born descended from Japanese green-card nationals — and so their stories are fascinating to me, as mine are to them. Or at least, they politely pretend mine are interesting. Close enough!

    My suggestion to you is, just ask your cousin about his experiences, if you’re curious! Statement of the obvious here, but every individual point of view is different: identity may be something that is important to him; then again, it may not. I hope you’re not disappointed! In my early 20s, if someone had asked me, “What is it like to be a Japanese-American?” I would’ve just stared blankly and said, “It’s … whatever.” Having a son has put a whole new perspective on my past, and driven me to actually give it thought.

  278. West, you’re giving a good example of “white as default”, and only “minorities” being perceived as having race at all. When a character is named Robert Stone or Mace Hunter, we don’t think about his race because white is the default and it’s not, to white readers, something to comment on. (I know I have read more than one SF/F book where characters’ skin color is described specifically only if they aren’t white, and I’m sure you have too.)

    You’re also kind of assuming that the only way race can ever be present in a story is if the story is All About Race, or if it’s awkwardly grafted on. I’m not sure where that comes from.

  279. More catch-up:
    I never met a South Asian who had a problem with me in a sari. I’ve met several who have tried to put me in one, though. Luckily, I like ’em. Although personally, I vote shalwar kameez. At least until I can work on my abs a bit… ;-)

    @283 — Vacation privilege! Vacation privilege! ;-) (Have a good time!)

    @ 274 — Tully: And I’d been trying so hard to be nonthreatening! :-) Ah well. (He’s really not a bad fellow at all.)

    @240 paranoyd — I have a friend of Assyrian ancestry who gets anti-Latina slurs hurled at her from time to time.

    @large — in the argument that racism no longer exists, I don’t think economics should be the sole measure.

    @187 Rather than ignore the problem and set up lesser side-groups, why not reform the main group? America is a nation where peoples meet, interact, and mix which each other. The media should reflect that.
    @147 Yuhri: On top of which, across the board — again I can’t speak for other countries, but I suspect this has an element of truth; please correct me if I’m wrong! — there is the dissemination of American media internationally, and its heavily white-dominant influence.

    I need to go to bed soon, so I’m going to have to truncate.

    I blame our media for SO MUCH. American media is truly everywhere, and it does affect how people view us to a huge extent. (I honestly think that if more Americans realized how much the world was looking at us — how much more than we look at the rest of the world — we would all start dressing in the basement.) I’ve witnessed and experienced it in travel. What people define as “real American” (tights in Britain colored “American Tan” always amused me; “all-American” being consistently defined as blonde and Midwestern and people asking me to explain Jerry Springer’s guests as though they were my close personal friends and family did not; also people — not in Britain! — asking, in wonder, if a black man was really “allowed” to become president struck me as both sad and spooky) and how people expect different types of Americans to behave (my students expecting me to be able to tell them where to get breakdancing lessons…in 1999; kids throwing hip-hop poses at an acquaintance of mine in Indonesia; other encounters I’ve had where people expected me to be, well, whorish, for want of a better word; the really unfortunate “pimp”-based films I saw on TV in Japan). I personally think the visual media are most responsible for this — movies and shows. Our visual media tend to play to the lowest common denominator anyway, on all fronts (not just race) in order to sell to the largest number of people — this reductiveness hurts us and feeds prejudice.

    I don’t actually know how to combat that. It’s bigger than SF.

    I’m not sure how my experience intersects with what happens in (written) SF as an industry, but once upon a time, I worked for a magazine which would experience a documentable lowering in newsstand sales when an African American kid was on the cover. The audience assumed that it was a “black” magazine, and therefore “not for them,” in the case of people who didn’t buy. (We didn’t lose a significant amount of subscriptions. Further, there was not as big a drop at newsstands when an East Asian child was on the cover. We did not have a South Asian child on the cover during my time there.) How can this be combated? Or is it that people really don’t want to read about ethnicities they don’t share? I don’t think the latter is the case.

    I feel like I’m just throwing things out there and running away…but I shall return. When I wake.

  280. Bed time for me, so you kids carry on for now.

    Please do remember to be polite with each other; I prefer not to have do any ex post facto moderating when I wake up. But things has been on a pretty even keel so far, for which I thank you all. Have a good night.

  281. Yuhri #289 –

    Passive-aggressive integration. And how.

    I am only Vietnamese, but from an early age (kindergarten) I learned that I wasn’t allowed to speak my language in public places. I was bilingual early on, as much as a five-year-old can be, but defaulted to Vietnamese, ’cause, well, that was what was spoken at home. I could read and count pretty high and do basic math, which may or may not be good for a five-year-old.

    On the first day, I said, “Hello” in Vietnamese to my teacher, not thinking that this would freak her out. She immediately assumed that I was swearing at her in some hidden lingo, twisted my ear, had a notice sent to my parents, and I ended up in special education classes for the year…. I’m not sure… punishment? So that she wouldn’t have to teach with me in the class? I don’t know, I was too young.

    She was probably having a bad day. I’m pretty sure that still doesn’t excuse her.

    I’m also pretty sure my parents did try to argue with the school—certainly my father would have—but it all came to naught to get me back into the normal classes any sooner.

    My parents decided it was best to never speak Vietnamese again, so that I wouldn’t pick up the habit and unknowingly cause myself grief in school again. Or rather, more grief.

    And so it was.

    Kind of made an impression on me. And that was the 80’s. I grew up knowing that Asians were weird, that Japanese and Chinese were smart and Vietnamese were ugly and dumb and did laundry and sold vegetables, and that there would never be, for instance, an Asian president. Asians are not heroes, and are at best sidekicks.

    It was much, much better to be white.

    This wasn’t lost on me.

    These days I don’t feel it as often, but throughout most of my life I would have given a lot to be white. And indeed, most of the time these days I prefer other people to think of me as white on the Internet. I actually did think about never saying anything, but for some reason I felt strongly about all this discussion.

    Really, it sickens me sometimes to think that I’m Asian. Things are better these days about that. I admit some of the better did come out through RaceFail ’09, wherein this stuff began to be discussed, although I totally did NOT like where it went about, like, 24 hours after it started. Or maybe sooner.

    So… that’s what’s behind my conviction that it would be nice to have more people of color as strong characters in books. And, y’know, while it *was* the 80s (which I know many of us would like to forget), since then things have still gotten better, but in little steps.

  282. To back up Mythago at 311 (and mention the nemesis, Brandon Sanderson) on the subject of White as Default:

    I liked the Mistborn trilogy. I liked it a lot. And while I know that intellectually the people in that book have gray skin because of adaptation to a harsh environment, I can’t help but think of them as white. Part of this is because the cover art depicts healthy pink white people, but part is because I expect the default to be white.

  283. One last –

    John – Point of order taken. But I did not know that. Another book to buy, now.

    Taking that piece of the story as a standalone, and despite what YOUR Indian friends said, I could easily see OTHER Indians being affronted by the stereotype. See? Once you let others set the rules of the discussion, there is no exculpation possible. And that is exactly what the ‘everybody is racist’ types do from the start of the exchange.

    I just thought it was funny, BTW.


  284. West #306: I don’t disagree with you. But I counter that a character where their ethnicity doesn’t matter is a thin character to begin with. But your getting back to racism as theme again. The story doesn’t have to be about race relations. If it doesn’t matter what color the characters are, why do they generally have to default to white?

    Anyway, it’s late, I’m ill and I think we’re entering tomorrow’s territory here.


  285. On the subject of [majority] privilege:

    A friend of mine made a post a while back (which I cannot find in the amount of time I’m willing to dedicate to looking for it) which I can summarise as follows:

    One of the essences of [majority] privilege is being treated like people ought to be treated as a default. The idea is not to “get rid of privilege”, it’s to make it no longer privi-. To get all people access to treatment of basic decency.

    I don’t think this is a complete picture of privilege by any means — my personal contribution to essences-of-privilege is the ability to think of things as isolated incidents without experiencing massive cognitive dissonance — but it’s what I think of when I see people complaining, “But what you’re calling ‘white privilege’ is just being treated like a normal person!”


    That’s the point.

  286. In relation to ‘injecting race’ into SFF stuff… I think Mary Anne might be covering this in her post tomorrow, but from my perspective, no one is saying that you must write minorities. Simply that SFF would have more appeal for a wider range of people if more people could see themselves in SFF.

    For me that’s gay people (and I freely admit this is not the same as racial diversity, but its close enough to make the point I want to make) – I loved epic fantasy growing up, but it got depressing to read book after book after book where the only gay characters are baddies. Where are the books where the little farmboy finds out he’s the prince and finds out he’s destined to be together forever with the totally hot other prince?

    When one is white, straight, and male, its realtively easy to be “blind” to the race and other characteristics of a character, because you’re the default (This is why I think John copped out a bit in the android’s dream making the gender of the only possibly gay character ambiguous). It’s not so easy when you’re not, and you wonder whether its ok to be the way you are, either in real life, or in the genre you love to read. Making a wider range of people feel they have a place at the SFF table, and as a subject of SFF, is a good thing. I like multiple perspective, and I think it enriches the genre if we have them.

    And, in a more mercenary fashion, I’m not saying anyone HAS to write that epic fantasy with the gay major character, but the ‘me growing up’ has a fairly decent salary now, and I’d give an author that wrote me something like that my money. Seems to make commercial sense to me to try it, unless people genuinely think that white/straight people will be turned off by books with coloured/gay protagonists? Is it true? SF visual media seems to think so, because they heavily whitewashed the TV Earthsea adaptation, and they’re going to do it to Avatar, too. Isn’t it good to suggest that this isn’t a situation we want to remain the status quo?

    (West – I enjoyed your later posts a lot more than I did the first one, which I thought was hellishly dismissive. The others weren’t.)

  287. John Scalzi@309 wrote:
    I would be willing to suggest the primary issue is not necessarily ideas but execution — no one likes to feel like they’re being lectured when they just want to read a good book. But this is a matter of writer skill. It’s possible to create a work that features diversity in characters, etc and not have it knock you over the head with it, it just is.

    I reply:
    Indeed. I loved the episode of ‘Babylon 5’ where two (male) characters are sent on an undercover mission, and their cover is as newly weds on their honeymoon. Instead of the expected homosexual panic (I’m really straight…), the joke is rather more broad (Hey, my mother always wanted me to marry a doctor!) And without beating you the head with it, you’ve been told that in this 23rd century same-sex marriage is not only legal, but commonplace and widely accepted enough not to be worth a second glance. An approach I find a damn sight more acceptable than the “very special episode” with added gay.

  288. Arachne and Yuhri:

    Can I recommend “Covering” by Kenji Yoshino. It may not be as interesting if you’re not lawyers (which you might both be, given the proliferation apparent on this thread!), but its by a gay Asian law prof on the problems of minorities being asked to ‘pass’, both in the context of civil rights law, and a meditation on his own life. I thought it was really great, and it seems germane to the topic.

  289. Mary Anne Mohanraj,

    Thank you very much for your writing today. I also liked the links to help me get up to speed. I tried to the other day but got hopelessly bogged down.

    I have always been keenly aware of the fact that white privilage exists. Without going into my life history to deeply, I know you were really hoping I would. Growing up most of my friends were PoC. We were not the best of kids and found ourselves in trouble from time to time.

    There were two very large incidents of trouble in my childhood that I walked clean away from and my friends did not. In both these incidents my friends ended up in juvenile hall. I have always believed that I got a break because of the color of my skin. It is just my experience and that’s all I can speak from.

    Those friends of mine never really recovered from their childhood. However, when I decided that I wasn’t going to be that person anymore, I simply walked away from it, with no record of it following me. I have always felt guilty about it, they were my friends. Every lesson I teach in my classroom I keep those lessons close to heart. I try to teach my students to open their eyes and think about what kind of world they want to grow up and live in. I hope it’s better than mine.

    Thanks again.

  290. Cicada:

    Yep. I loved Ringil lol. I also genuinely wonder, despite how obvious Morgan made it, how many people noticed that the ‘elf’ equivalents (of which the last remaining one was a lesbian lol) were all jet black.

  291. @ 320, Eddie:

    I feel like I can safely interpret what you’re saying as the following: it was a let-down when the protagonist turned out to be not like you, because you couldn’t share the character’s feelings as well. (Please let me know if I’m off-base)
    I think many straight people would feel the same way about a gay protagonist, if that character’s relationship was a big part of the story. Unfortunate but, I think, true. In that case we have some deep institutional bias because statistically there are so many more straight readers.
    To provide an example, as a supporting character in Old Man’s War, I really like Alan. but if he were the main character I wouldn’t quite be able to identify with him the way I do with John Perry. I recognize that as a minor failing in myself, but I don’t think it’s a rare condition.

    As for the secret prince living happily ever after with the other prince, that of course raises some minor issues about preserving the bloodline (which is often important to royalty)

  292. I’m not really following West’s point there – is it that you’ll be accused of racism no matter what, so….it’s better to make all your SF characters white? you should assume anyone who suggests you were less-than-clueful is one of those “types”? you should never listen to any criticism of your writing, because Lord knows where that will lead?

    I remembered the goat scene alluded to from The Last Colony somewhat differently, so I went and pulled down my spiffy autographed copy (which I bought with my own money!) and looked. Sure enough, I had not misremembered. There was no comical scene where the foolish, rural Chengelpet brothers had a tug-of-war (in Amusing Indian Sidekick Dialect) over the farm animal they use to support their quaint ethnic lifestyle. There was a scene where two asshole, relentlessly feuding brothers who are farmers with land, property and livestock, living on an agricultural colony planet, are accusing one another of bad faith and theft over their livestock and breeding rights thereof. And the goat is cute.

    I’m guessing that John knows of people just like this in rural Ohio, where he lives, only they’re named Yoder or Lehman instead of Chengelpet.

  293. I feel that one thing that helps in realizing that one has privilege is experiencing what it’s like when it’s gone. I certainly try to work past my white privilege, although it’s easy to slip back into those same old habits. However, a recent temporary disablity has required me to spend the last three months in a wheelchair. Talk about losing privilege! I will be walking soon enough, but it has opened my eyes to the difficulties of being an ‘Other.’

  294. @326 Eddie- I’d think it’d require a strong effort of will and perception to miss that one.

    What was hilarious to me about my reaction was that I kept trying to figure out whether her people were properly more like elves or dwarves. (Well, they act a lot like elves…on the other hand, they like engineering a lot and came from underground…)
    Fantasy racial shoehorning?

  295. (Eddie, I’m kind of cheating because I’ve been home sick the last few days, so I’m infesting the blog more than usual and giving it a rather more lawyer-heavy appearance than is perhaps strictly correct.)

  296. @330: Tabletop gaming is apparently really good for making me put people into categories :-\

    You said the dark-skinned elves were from underground, and my mind said:

    Oh! Drow. OK.

  297. Josh Jasper: I wasn’t talking about Mr. Jackson’s arguments. (I hardly want to be associated with him.) I was responding to a comment that I felt was implying that something I said was some sort of crypto-racist rhetoric.

    Res: I apologize if I misunderstood you. It sounded like you were implying that by trying to point out that racism is, in essence, about the thoughts that drive actions, that I was somehow making a crypto-racist argument.

    Can we agree that some comments in particular, may or may not be racist depending on the actual intent?

    My point is really that people may make comments that may be unintentionally racist, and that that unintentional racism takes two forms: either simple slips of the tongue or real, but subconscious, racism. In both those cases, I would suggest that focusing on how the words sound to the listener is more conducive to dialog and understanding.

    mythago@311: One of the interesting things that Heinlein did in Starship troopers was to deliberately screw with that default notion of race. It wasn’t just that Johnnie Rico was Filipino…it was that Heinlein waited until 90% of the book was done to get around to telling you. (Heinlein was, of course, pretty pathetic at non-white characters otherwise…but he meant well.)

    One of the things that is very sad is that in the fifties and early sixties, SF writers were far ahead of the game as far as race was concerned. Perhaps the characterizations weren’t great, but SF writers were at least willing to put non-white characters in prominent roles (for instance, PK Dick in “Doctor Bloodmoney”) which is something “real” writers wouldn’t do. Unfortunately, it seems like SF has moved only slightly since then, while the rest of the world has moved forward. In 1967, a black character on an SF show was a battle that pushed the boundaries. In 2009, having a token nonwhite character or two on an otherwise Caucasian show is pretty pathetic. (For instance, BSG.)

  298. Yeah, still here. Thanks, Eddie. You’re no slouch, either. I’ll stand by my posts, flawed as they may be.

    My abrogated PS was to the other responders to my posts – I read them, and thanks for the responses.

    My take on Ms. Rohanraj’s reaction to Heinlein’s flaws was not merely to reduce the impact of his stories, but to negate any value they had whatsoever. But I may be mistaken on that, and right now I am not going to chase down the bit where she mentioned it – i’ll stick for now with my original interpretation unless it becomes a real big issue.

    OK, last bits- for the gay people who want some gayness in their SF, Ursula le Guin should be a good start. Joe Haldemann’s “The Forever War” portrays straights as the weird ones, although I admit the protaganist was straight as an arrow, who finally finds a little straight ‘reservation’ to live on. (And how is that different from today, aside from the role reversal? Might be satisfying for a gay person to get some imaginary ‘payback’, but it’s hardly progress.)

    I know there have been other instances, mostly in that 1975-90 morass of touchy-feely SF, but can’t bring them to mind right now. Maybe gays are underrepresented, but methinks that the solution to that is for more gays to write.

    I really gotta get to bed now, tho.

  299. Eddie @320 —

    I’m not at this point a published author, but the book I really ought to be editing so that I can start submitting places has a gay major minor character. (It also has a biracial major minor character.)

    I realised after I’d written it that I had unconsciously adapted one of the Tragic Gay Guy tropes in fiction — not intentionally, but nonetheless the whole ‘oh, sure, we have gay characters, they just don’t have partners on-screen so their gayness is invisible/ignorable’. He lost his husband on the frontier; one of the main characters lost a partner in the same way, in the same place, and thus they have a lot in common that nobody else shares. But she is heterosexually partnered on-screen, and he is visibly mourning.

    I suspect if the book ever gets published someone will call me on supporting homophobia – and I think that’s a legitimate call to make. Not because I consciously decided to kill off the gay guy’s husband before the book started to make him the Tragic Gay Guy or anything like that, but because having a gay widower keeps what was his loving partnership off-stage. And it’s all well and good to say “That’s what happened to the characters!” but it still means I haven’t contributed to writing something where the partnership is a visible part of the story.

    I’m trying to figure out how to handle this in the book with the deeply-closeted-and-in-denial bi guy. (This one’s set much closer to the “real world” than the other.) I think he has to come out of the closet by the end of the book, if only so that someone other than me knows ….

    (I suspect I’m rambling a bit off-topic, but I did want to comment about both a) awareness of this sort of issue and b) awareness of my own inadequacy in having written to it properly thus far.)

  300. Also, it occurs to me that in Arthur C Clarke’s “Songs of Distant Earth,” part of the characters’ medical histories include percentages that indicate how likely they are to be attracted to members of either gender, and more than 90% gay or 90% straight was considered to be a minor personality disorder. That was a unique take on it.

  301. Arachne@314:

    I’m really sorry to hear your story, Arachne. It sounds … horrible, really. I have nothing meaningful to say beyond that. I would say encouraging words about self-identity as an Asian woman, but that’s unfortunately a very personal thing and something that each Asian woman has to figure out for herself. I will say that I’m glad you decided to step out of your comfort zone and comment on these threads; I’ve found your voice really interesting and definitely a benefit to the conversation.


    Thanks for the recc, Eddie. I’ll check it out!


    Tacking on to your comment here: I think I read somewhere someone saying that the reason assorted media consciously choose to use white straight men as protagonists when they have a choice to use alternatives, is that they think, “It will be an entry point for viewers/readers.” Which is based on the premise that: (1) white straight males can’t enter into a story unless it’s about them; (2) anybody who is not a white straight male must, by necessity, adopt the viewpoint of the white straight male in order to access the story.

    Random thought. And now I’m going to start heading off to bed. Man. If this obsessive need to hit refresh and read this thread keeps up for another day, I swear my boss is going to call me in for a talk.

  302. West – thanks. I we can continue to disagree, but yeah, lets not be dicks about it :).

    PJ @ 327:

    Slightly off base. Its not so much I can’t identify with straight people – some of my best friends are straight (snerk) – more a “hey, that dude’s like me!” warm feeling of identification. Like when you meet a stranger and start talking to them and get that warm feeling in your gut when you realise they see the world like you do (I love meeting cool random people at parties). 95% of what I read and enjoy has straight protagonists, and that doesn’t harm my enjoyment of those books. I’d just like to see myself a little more often.

    (and at 332 – drow always squicked me out slightly. The Evil Elves that are Racially Evil and Black. And WotC made it worse – one of the later (non Salvatore) writers of drow stories made it so that when Drow turned good (aka did a Drizzt) their skin got lighter!!!!)

    Mythago @ 331:

    Ok, this thread is a haven for SICK lawyers. I came home in the afternoon with a horrid fever. So If I come across as being on acid anywhere in this thread, that’s why :P.

    Parallax @ 335:

    Yes, know about them have read books about them. But I didn’t have the internet until I was 18 (late 90s – parents were late internet adopters), and by that point, I didn’t desperately feel the need for a gay Belgarion as much :P. I guess I would have just liked (and would still like) mainstream fantasy to have some non-whiteys and gayz, at least as sympathetic support players.

  303. Dw3t-Hthr- I don’t think that being widowed is the problem, but is there a way for the character to, say, find someone to love and live happy ever after? Because a queer character getting the happily ever after thing would be a nice change.

  304. This is a great topic, and yet an uncomfortable one. Having been brought up to think the term “racist” is a horrible thing to be, it is hard to accept my own racism. Thank you Mary Anne for the insightful and informative post, and the links are great too. I learned quite a bit. There are some good discussions of this topic on Steven Barnes’s blog.

  305. You know, Josh, I suspect if I ever write a third one, he will. And I know who’d set him up, too. Hah. More little insights like this will roll me over into critical mass for having a story there.

  306. @341: Wotc actually made it worse: for 4th edition Forgotten Realms they’ve killed off the good-aligned, rebel Drow god and consigned the whole race back to evil.

  307. but methinks that the solution to that is for more gays to write.

    That’s certainly a good thing, but careful of dipping your toe into the argument that gay authors necessarily will prefer/want to write just about gay characters, and that straight authors won’t.

    Setting that aside, those gay authors then need to get published, and SF/F readers need to buy their stuff. If the people involved in publication are disinclined to publish stories that get outside their comfort zones, possibly because readers are disinclined to buy stories that &c, then we still have a problem.

    As an aside, and maybe this is for tomorrow’s thread, I wonder if suggestions of Mary Sue/Gary Stu are brought up more often when a PoC and/or female author writes about a main character who is a PoC and/or female, respectively (if that makes sense).

  308. Memo to West:

    White is a race.

    Yes, it is.

    You can’t “inject” race into “The Two Towers” because it’s already there. It’s in the construction of the world, in the linguistics, in the cultural antecedents, in the way the characters speak and in a hundred different, subtle ways.

    So, perhaps you object to the idea that we would have the gall of injecting, oh, diversity into fantasy fiction? Because that would just be turning the genre into a giant cesspool of inclusiveness!

    …who has managed to insinuate herself into the corridors of power in that very same field that has been a very enriching part of my life – and in doing so, doing it and its practitioners a great disservice.

    Hate to break it to you, West, but this sounds mightily like worrying about the black family next door ruining the tone of the neighborhood.

  309. The LGBT focused Lambda Literary Foundation has a F/SF section. Last year’s winner was Dust Of Wonderland. Finalists for this year should be announced soon.

    Oh, and there’s also the Tiptree awards for exploration of gender issues in F/SF.

    That’s how I found Maureen McHugh’s ASTOUNDING novel, China Mountain Zhang. It’s culturally sensitive, queer, talks about colonial issues, talks about love, art, and New York City.

  310. @Eddie 320
    Gay characters in SF/F? Try this post on that very subject:

    As for writing the Other, whether the other darker, lighter, straighter, more gayer, more sexually liberated or virginal – research, research, research. You’d do it to get details of weaponry, transport and crops right. Same applies to people. I suspect Mary Anne will make that point tomorrow. Can’t wait to read that post.

  311. This is a question for Mary Anne when she wakes up :) or others.

    If Chip ever finished his Diptych, it would be on my Kindle in like ten seconds. Most of us have read several well known active writers of color being published in sf recently, and there have been some interesting treatments of race and ethnicity in the future by other writers not of color themselves, and a few of these have won awards. But for very recent or less well known writing on race? Where to look?

    There was a shortlist for the CB awards of 2005 and as you said some recommended reading on that site including some classics. But is there any (hopefully annotated) list of recent writing (esp the last three years) that have a thought provoking treatment of race, so that we could all buy :) and discuss them? Or can we make such a list?


  312. Yuhri #340 –

    Well, my life has been kind of horrible. My parents weren’t doing well at the time either, since they came to America as refugees from the Vietnam War. It was… just not very good on many points. My father actually fought for the Americans. Didn’t really help with the hiring/promotion. I will never forget the day I found my father in tears because he’d worked so hard and they had passed him over for promotion *again* and we were barely making food and rent.

    I’ll figure out about the identity one of these days; it is indeed a very personal experience.

    I felt encouraged to participate more by reading your words actually. I like your voice and tangents. :)

    I compensated for reading the blog by working longer hours. Deadlines deadlines deadlines….

  313. Dw3t-Hthr @ 337: Would it be possible for major minor gay character to go out on a date three-quarters of the way through? It could even be a “my mother called and said her friend Phyllis’s son is in town” type of thing. The date could be unsuccessful and major minor gay widower could remain in mourning.

    As for the closeted bisexual – it’s always easier to first come out online than it is to come out in public. Trust me on this. (That being said, The New Facebook doesn’t display one’s preferences very prominently. I suspect I shall have to resort to a discreet tricolor delta pin.)

  314. Josh @ 349:

    China Mountain Zhang IS amazing. I like all of McHugh’s work I’ve read. I think that’s an excellent example of a straight (I’m pretty sure) white (I’m pretty sure :P) author writing gay and multiracial very successfully.

  315. Steve Burnap–

    It sounded like you were implying that by trying to point out that racism is, in essence, about the thoughts that drive actions, that I was somehow making a crypto-racist argument.

    No, my first comment up above wasn’t referring to anything but the OP, with my extensive reading of the RaceFail conversation as context. I wasn’t addressing you and apologize if I seemed rude.

    I’ll add, though that in exchanges such as those of RaceFail, “thoughts that drive actions” are of minor importance compared to actions that drive results, imo. The retreat to conceptualizing (or, on the other end of the scale, logic-chopping) when what’s under scrutiny is specific and immediate is another rhetorical deflection, it seems to me.

    Nor do I care, as an SFF reader and friend of aspiring SFF writers, what’s “intended” by any act, omission, statement, or silence by influential SFF players, if the result further injures or estranges writers and readers of color and, not incidentally, we pallid fans who also crave word of the worlds of experience they, and only they, can share.

  316. 1000 comments on this subject and we’re still not ready for a group hug? **sigh**
    Thanks for the support Mac!
    Imagine by John Lennon. It used to make me hope. Now it just makes me sad.
    [end simplistic comment]

  317. @327 PJ – In addition to what others have said, if you (generic white, straight you) pick up a book with a gay or non-white protagonist and find that you can’t/don’t identify with the character then you can put that book down and pick up another one. With the way things currently stand, the odds that the protagonist in the next book will be white and straight are very, very high.

    When a gay or non-white person puts book A down because they can’t identify with the protagonist, it’s unlikely that book B (or C or D) will contain a protagonist that they can identify with. They need to conduct a targeted search to find books containing these characters.

    In my opinion, this has been one of the key issues at the crux of this discussion. Non-white fans are crying out for greater representation, they want the odds of book B (or C or D) containing a character they identify with to be higher.

  318. I think racism is learned. Babies aren’t racist. Little kids aren’t racist. Kids just see people.

    I also don’t think that all adults are racist. (I would give an example of how I realized in 8th grade, twelve years after I met one of my Sunday school friends, that she was a different race than I, but that would just make me look foolish.) I’m too tired to make a coherent statement in favor of that claim right now, so I’m going to bed.

  319. West@297: “she has become part of the SF&F community and then attempts to make arguments that SF-F should pay more attention to race relations and that it suffers from the lack thereof”

    I’m not following you. Would it be better if she had made these arguments from outside the SF community? Or if, as a member of the SF community, she had kept her mouth shut?

    If hearing it from a (straight, white, overpaid) white boy will give the argument more credibility in your ears: SF should indeed pay more attention to race relations, and it does suffer from the lack thereof. (Also gender relations and class relations.)

    But if you’ll hear that argument from me (or John) and not from Mary Anne — dude, you know how that looks, right?

    And if you won’t hear it at all — dude, you know how that looks?

  320. Shati @233 – “I’d like to suggest that you think about the fact that you said that the word “racist” is like the n-word to you, and what that comparison implies. That made it hard for me to respond to you calmly.”

    I made the comparison deliberately. They’re both offensive. I refuse to type or say the N word due to the extreme offensiveness of it. However, I wasn’t saying that they’re equal in emotional power or historical meaning – they’re not and I realize that as fully as someone who’s white can. My point was merely that both words evoke immediate negative emotional responses… witness your reply. Is calling me a racist equivalent to calling an African-American the N word? Hell no. Not even close. But they will both cause emotional reactions. That’s all I meant… that if we want to have these discussions and don’t want to see them derailed into flaming and anger, using emotionally loaded words isn’t going to get us there. Sorry if I upset you.

    At this point, though, I think we’ve talked the terminology issue out. I’m intrigued to see MAM’s next post. My initial take on the issue of PoC novels is that they probably *aren’t* going to be the same as if that exact story were written by a white author… partly because a the two authors might write about different things and even if they write the same basic story, their experiences will cause the actual work to be very different – identity can’t help but inform creative works. I doubt Octavia Butler’s fiction would have been the same had she been a white man and I distinctly remember picking up a book (the name and author of which I can’t remember right now) thinking it sounded interesting. I realized part-way though it that 1) the protagonist was lesbian and later (after looking it up) 2) so was the author. Fascinating in a way, because much of the book was from an internal point of view and it was one that was simply very different than mine.

    It’s odd in a genre that asks us to believe in many unbelievable things and accept, literally, aliens that the creators are all from such a narrow segment of humanity.

  321. Post #18, Papapete, starts an excellent line of reasoning. I do not find Mary Anne’s line of reasoning to be even remotely realistic. I read her essay thoroughly, but it seems to start somewhere near the middle of a philosophical discussion about what is right or wrong. Racism can be thought of as herd mentality (consider Larry Niven’s “Puppeteers). Racism can be framed as a way predators and prey observe and react to one another.

    I am saying that racism is not right or wrong. It is. Different ethnic backgrounds will be racist to one another. Racism is little more than preferring circles to triangles, if one happens to be a circle. If a triangle lives in its two-dimensional world where circles are the majority, it will be rubbed the wrong way every time it wants to think it was.

    As to the circles finding the triangle to be potentially dangerous to live around, they are correct. A triangle that rounds off its sharp corners a bit will fit in far more easily. If a triangle insists on maintaining its ethnic points, then it must realize it will always be dealt with at a distance by the circles.

    But maybe I am missing some dimension to this discussion, you say? Maybe I’m just out of my depth. Let me take you on a tangent for a moment.

    I worked in a very progressive (read as sickeningly liberal) fortune 200 company that shall remain nameless. In the corporate world, people of color are a major concern for those about them. The hiring policy required a representative reflection of the actual population as to race and sex. This means that when it’s time to hire a black or a woman, by gosh we’re gonna get us one and damn their lack of skill, knowledge, ability, training, or any of the other several useful things needed to fill a particular job.

    I am a racist, because I would ask that newly hired minority, “so, are you useful to me or are you a token?” It is racist to say, but it is not wrong or bad. For every example where one can point to a racist statement as a bad thing, there is an equally good use for such a statement.

    I think I have come “full circle” to where I need to ask, why is racism always a bad thing?

  322. I know mixed race may have been brought up already, but it’s on my mind right now, so here’s more randomness:
    If you’re mixed race, but look caucasian, do you still get all of the white privilege? Walking around with a family member who got the genes to make him look like the “other” half of the family, does one lose these privileges?

  323. Jeff: I am thoroughly convinced that

    (1) you miss the point; and

    (2) I wouldn’t want to work for your company if it is genuinely more interested in hiring tokens than qualified people of diverse genders and ethnicities.

    I won’t say anything else because it would be shouty.

  324. Eddy, I completely agree with you on all points, but I really, really wanted to use my triangle/circle analogy – whatever the cost…..thank you, though.

  325. Jeff:
    I don’t know how many times over the last two months I have read white men claim affirmative action causes racism.

    Affirmative action is an attempt to fix the damage *caused* by racism. Your comment is an example of the attitude which causes the damage. You assume that a ‘newly hired minority’ only got the job because of affirmative action. Which is the kind of mentality which derailed the Rail Face discussion so fast – the assumption that non-white people just aren’t real smart when you get down to it.

    “why is racism always a bad thing?”


    Racism kills people. It keeps them poor. It keeps them from reaching their potential. It keeps rich white people in power – and we saw how well that worked out under Bush. It leads to children dying in great numbers, and adults dying younger and from preventable diseases. It leads to people being jailed at disproportionately greater rates than whites. It leads to worse medical treatment. It causes mental illness in those who suffer the stress and depression resulting from racist attitudes and attacks.

    It makes the world a harsher, colder, more dangerous place for everyone, and makes diversity of opinion and culture a social sin verging on a crime.

    You think racism is good because it lets you insult people who are not like you, question their ability based on their skin colour, denigrate their success, and treat them with suspicion and dislike?

    Dude. Seriously.

  326. Wow, what a wonderful, thoughtful, incisive post. Thank you for writing it, and thank you, Scalzi, for hosting it. I’ll be looking eagerly forward to Part II.

  327. Josh Jasper: As an aside, a queer character gets a happily ever after in Bujold’s Ethan of Athos. (So many good lines in that book.)

    (returns to the discussion of race)

  328. I really did read everything Mary Anne and every post – all the way through. My brain is sore from all the liberally swinging ideas here. Baseball bats have less hate ingrained in them. I disagreed with just about every sentence of Mary Anne’s essay. Her argumentative style is rather good, but she should have begun at the beginning. I find it unlikely any of the vast majority of posters would end up anywhere else regardless of how she wrote.

  329. Jeff, when a company is happy to install managers like yourself who think of minorities and women as “probably tokens,” it should be no surprise that company has trouble attracting and retaining stellar minority and female employees. Ditto when management assumes that white males are automatically meritorious hires and everybody else is a “token”. Just sayin’.

    Now, doing you the courtesy of assuming you want to talk about SF/F and racism rather than trying to bomb-throw with that “is racism bad?” line: you get the same problem when you tacitly approve of the genre limiting its vision. It’s like saying that fantasy novels can only be set in 11-century Russia from here on in; that’s fine for 11th-century Russia fans, not so fine for everybody else with money to spend, and in the long run it’s not so good for the reader whose interest in Yet Another 11th Century Russia Novel eventually wanes.

  330. Cross-posted with @368. Never mind, I take it back. The Bomb Squad of Loving Correction will turn up in the morning, I’m sure.

  331. Ann S., I did not assume anything about minorities, beyond the fact they were hired through an overly aggressive pursuit of Affirmative action. I came right out and asked the minority member in question. I harbor no suspicion or dislike. I *did* have both the need and the right to know if I was dealing with someone able to stand next to me and be mutually supportive in a closeknit, team environment.

    Racism does not kill. Doing something wrong can. From what you write, it seems you have some strong – if mistaken – views. But that’s why we’re here.

  332. Holy attack of the completely inappropriate analogy, Batman! Circles and triangles? CIRCLES AND TRIANGLES?

    You know we are talking about people, right? Real living, breathing human beings with complex cultures and mores and social institutions backing up thousands of years of racial oppression.

    Mythago@ 369: Thumbs up.

  333. mythago, thanks for (wrongly) assuming I was management. Was that racist on your part? Skip it. On racism in sci-fi, when given to a character as a plot element, it has great play. You’ll recall I mentioned Larry Niven? He does an excellent job – for a very, very rich, insulated, white male.

    As to choosing what one reads, there are too many fake author names out there today for me to tell. I read about 50 books a year and have, since I was ten or so. What this discussion has done for me is to raise the race issue to a level where, when I read next, I will be looking for it. I do not want that, unless it is used as setting or part of the plot.

  334. Jeff:
    Why did you assume they were hired because of the policy? And do you think it was likely to give them the feeling they were welcome and supported to be immediately questioned in that manner? Sounds like you assume the only person whose working environment needs to be safe and nurturing, is you.

    You expect to be treated with respect at work. You don’t seem to understand everyone has that right. Your question isn’t just racist, it’s rude, disrespectful and counter-productive to a happy workplace. I bet your HR people loved you.

    Racism Kills. No doubt whatsoever about it.

    “But that’s why we’re here.”

    To derail the conversation by making intentionally racist statements? Speak for yourself.

  335. My point was merely that both words evoke immediate negative emotional responses… witness your reply. Is calling me a racist equivalent to calling an African-American the N word? Hell no. Not even close. But they will both cause emotional reactions. That’s all I meant.

    Thank you for your clarification.

    While some people, perhaps like our pal Jeff, here, may wear the scarlet R proudly, most white people under 50 who were raised with even an inkling of the idea that discrimination on the basis of race is Bad Shit ARE probably going to bristle at any use of the word in reference to themselves, even if it’s in an extremely broad sense, and not intended as an accusation that one has committed a felony.

    I get that. I really do. I get that some people are going to flip the fuck out when they’re first confronted with notions of white privilege and racism as an indelible element of society rather than an act between perpetrator and victim.

    But what you should consider is that the people who flip out about this shouldn’t.

    I wouldn’t doubt that sometimes people do use the word as a means to deliberately cause confrontation. Some people feel that they get their message across better when passions are high. (I’ve been known to do that myself, though not on this issue.)

    But when we’re having a mostly calm, academic discussion like this, the burden is on the white folks in the room to recognize that the word is being used in its academic sense, and not as a pejorative, and that getting their undies in a bunch about it is both an overreaction and counter-productive.

    Like it or not, “racism” is going to be the word we use to talk about systematic oppression and our roles in undoing it. You need to understand that one of your roles in this is not taking on a victim mantle at all, ever when you’re in a position of privilege on this issue.

    Now, if you want to talk about how a given PoC is herself forgetting her privilege if she’s marginalizing you for being atheist or having a disability or being gay, then be my guest. Merely having a disadvantage in one aspect of life doesn’t mean one has no advantages in other areas.

    But on issues of racism, white folk simply are not in victim positions, and thus need to just shut up and listen, instead of trying to derail the subject talking about how butthurt they are that someone dared use the R word.

    This is not to say that PoCs cannot hold prejudice against white folks, or that that prejudice can be unreasonable or can never cause harm to an individual. They simply cannot be racist because the overall social framework simply isn’t there to give them enough power to perpetuate the overall problem.

    You have that power. I know you didn’t ask for it. I know your parents probably didn’t ask for it, either. But you have it, and you can’t get rid of it. The best you can do is to wield it wisely. And part of that is going to mean quietly taking the occasional sting from an angry bee instead of acting like you were stabbed with an ice pick by Andre the Giant.

  336. A few data points for those wondering how much racism actually affects daily life in the US.

    Whites pay about 15% less for housing in a particular neighorhood than blacks do; white neighborhoods are overall about 25% cheaper than black neighborhoods with similar features.

    “This study confirms the findings of the 1992 Boston Federal Reserve Bank report that revealed statistical evidence of mortgage discrimination in the Boston metropolitan area. Boston Fed researchers concluded that after controlling for all objective indicators of applicant risk, lenders still rejected minorities 56 percent more often than otherwise identical whites.”

    “In this detailed study, bright, articulate, college students posed as job applicants. Even though the results were strikingly close, black men without criminal records were called back only 14% of the time, while whites with criminal records were called back 17% of the time. The study, titled “The Mark of a Criminal Record,” was conducted in Milwaukee between June and December 2001, and the results were released last month.”

    “Government statistics show that the average lifespan for a newborn black male is 69, compared with 75 for a newborn white male. But critics of that argument say the six-year advantage that white males hold over blacks in lifespan is due to the higher infant mortality rates in black communities, as well as to the higher rates of violent crime, which affect black children and young adults more than whites. These people are dying before they ever pay into the Social Security system. Life expectancies are closer when comparing adults. A 65-year-old white man is expected to live two years longer than a black man of the same age, according to government statistics.”

    And on, and on, and on, like that. I’ve just gathered up a few items I remembered reading about in recent years; this isn’t trying to be comprehensive (nor to deal with any issues specific to other ethnic groups, nor ones particular to women, to LBGTs, and like that, come to that). The point is that, yes, racism is very much alive and well, limiting people’s prospects all along the way to an earlier grave, if they happen not to be white. This is all going on now, as we speak, not off decades ago and far away.

  337. So Jeff, when you have a new hire who’s a white guy whose dad golfs at the same country club as one of the VP’s at your company, do you ask, “are you useful to me or are you just a nepotism hire?”

    I’m always amused that the people who complain about “unqualified” minorities taking jobs/college slots away from more deserving white folks are strangely silent when it comes to the Old (White) Boys Club.

  338. And, just before I toddle off to bed, a non-racial example of privilege in action that may be helpful to some folks.

    I have uninteresting hair. It’s middling-dark brown and I have to keep it pretty short because it gets oily on slight provocation, and to wear it long would mean multiple washings a day if I wanted to avoid that dashing grotty sleazy look.

    That doesn’t sound very privileged, does it?

    But here’s a thing I’ve seen myself, and heard about from lots of others. I have had, over the years, friends with beautiful long straight brown hair, wonderfully curly vivid red hair, excellently maintained afros, and cornrows that are true labors of love to tend. Random strangers will come up and, without asking, start patting and fondling their hair. Many such strangers actually get indignant when told to stop.

    That’s a reaction born out of privilege: the implicit confidence that other people’s hair is public property to interact with as they wish, if it’s interesting or appealing, and that any objection to this interaction is just a selfish rudeness. I don’t get that because my hair doesn’t appeal. Until I saw it for the first time, it literally never occurred to me that one would, should, or could want to do that to a stranger, and it still boggles me on a very deep level.

    It’s an invasion inflicted far more often on African-Americans than whites, far more often on women than men. It’s quite possible to be a white guy and never really know that it ever happens…until you do notice, and then if you watch for it, you see it happen with something like regularity.

    And as with hair fondling, so with many other things that are depressingly common in some people’s experience and utterly alien to others. We all have things to learn about what happens around us, and privilege is exactly the condition that makes it easy for some groups of us to glide through life without having to learn about a kind of offense.

  339. Darkrose, I was an equal opportunity SOB. Any little thing I thought might affect the bottom line of my project has to be addressed. Soldiers’ lives were on the line.

    Ann S., I did not nor do I expect or assume to be treated nicely or nurtured at work. If I work hard and smart, so will those around me.

    Guns don’t kill people, either…

  340. This is all going on now, as we speak, not off decades ago and far away.

    Yep. I’m always amused at how white folk think they can say racism is over. It’s like saying the infrared spectrum doesn’t exist just because you can’t see it with the naked eye.

    Reposting here an analogy (Yes, I love my analogies. Shaddup.) I made elsewhere on a similar subject

    (Please note that the “you” here isn’t aimed at one particular person, just at privilege-awareness-challenged white folks in general):

    Say your great-great-great grandmother worked in an apple orchard. She got paid five apples for her labor. Meanwhile, the son of the orchard’s owner gets paid 10 apples for doing the same thing. Now, each successive generation works in the orchard, too, and passes down their apples to their offspring. Over the years, the pay inequity starts to narrow up a bit. Your great-great grandmother gets paid six apples, your great grandmother gets paid seven, etc. Finally, it gets to you, and you’re getting paid 10 apples, just like the descendant of the owner’s kid.

    Problem is? You’ve earned and inherited 45 apples. The owner’s great-great-great granddaughter? Has earned and inherited 60. Even if you’re getting paid the same amount of apples as the privileged kid (and chances are good that you’re not, actually), you’re STILL at a disadvantage because of the inequity your ancestors experienced.

    THAT is what racism is about. It’s not solely about individual people being shitty to each other. It’s a culture-wide phenomenon that reaches across time and geography to poison everyone and everything it touches. We are nowhere near being a post-racism society, or one in which individual acts of prejudice are the only problem PoCs face.

    To further this a little bit: I think a lot of white folks who are in the position of being that owner’s descendant feel angry about being “blamed” for what their ancestor did to cause that inequity.

    But that’s really, really not what’s going on here. All that’s being asked of that descendant is to be aware that he has more apples than the other person, and to not behave in ways that causes that other person to have fewer apples, or to never eventually get to the point of having the same number of apples.

    No, you can’t go back in time and change what happened to start things on the wrong path. But you CAN act NOW in ways to help even up the still-existing inequity. And because those inequities have enormous, far-reaching consequences that yes, even ultimately affect you, you DO have a responsibility to work on that.

  341. AJ, at least when using anxiety reducing drugs, we are all too lazy to respond to a slight – even a perceived one. I will let yours pass.

  342. Found in Locus New and Recommended Books about Nov 07-Nov 08:

    John Joseph Adams, ed., Seeds of Change (Prime Books Aug 2008), includes original story by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, Spider the Artist,” Nigerian culture and issues (PW)

    Stephen Baxter, Flood (Gollancz Jul 2008). I guess it has a discussion of the developing world by nature of the story?

    Daina Chaviano, The Island of Eternal Love (Riverhead Jun 2008). A Cuban story of a haunted house.

    Benjamin Rosenbaum, The Ant King and Other Stories (Small Beer Press Aug 2008). Some stories of Jewish culture.

    Lucius Shepard, The Best of Lucius Shepard (Subterranean Press Aug 2008); Dagger Key and Other Stories (PS Publishing Sep 2007) Latin American etc themes.
    Gardner Dozois, ed., The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-fifth Annual Collection (St. Martin’s Jul 2008). Includes Ted Chiang, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”, set in Baghdad, Ian McDonald, “Sanjeev and Robotwallah” with Indian characters, Vandana Singh, “Of Love and Other Monsters” about an alien, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, “Craters” about future Islamic terrorism (don’t know if that should count, I haven’t read it), Chris Roberson, “The Sky is Large and the Earth is Small” about a non-western future. Also a globalization theme (though in Eastern Europe) in Bruce Sterling, “Kiosk”.

    Jay Lake, Escapement (Tor Jun 2008), seems to have a China-related plot but not much for Chinese characters?

    Shaun Tan, Tales from Outer Suburbia (Allen & Unwin Jun 2008; McClelland & Stewart Canada Nov 2008; Scholastic/Levine Feb 2009), children’s fantasy with multicultural elements.

    John Joseph Adams, ed., Wastelands (Night Shade Books Feb 2008) reprints an Octavia E. Butler story.

    Paolo Bacigalupi, Pump Six and Other Stories (Night Shade Books Feb 2008) has social commentary on the urban poor and other themes.

    Lavie Tidhar, Hebrew Punk (Apex Publications Dec 2007) has Jewish cultural themes in fantasy.

    Brian W. Aldiss, ed., A Science Fiction Omnibus (Penguin Modern Classics Nov 2007) updated to include a story by Ted Chiang.

    Chris Roberson, The Dragon’s Nine Sons (Solaris Feb 2008), military sf, doesn’t appear to be strong on Chinese culture but correct me if that is a wrong assumption.

    Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Arabesk (Gollancz Oct 2007), the collected Ashraf Bey SF mysteries

    Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, The Shadow Speaker (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun Oct 2007), YA novel set in Nigeria.

    Gene Wolfe, Pirate Freedom (Tor Nov 2007), Cuban character.

    Charles Stross, The Merchants’ War (Tor Oct 2007), a nobel prize winning economist actually praised Stross for exploring the economic issues of the developing world.

    Ted Chiang, The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate (Subterranean Press Jul 2007); “Arabian Nights-style”

    Ursula K. Le Guin, Powers (Harcourt Sep 2007), YA fantasy about a slave boy.

    Shaun Tan, The Arrival (Scholastic/Levine Oct 2007), about immigrants.

  343. PJ @ 327: I’m not Eddie, and I don’t play him on TV, but I get the wishing that protagonists in books looked like me, and it’s not simply a matter of being able to identify more with the character. It’s about always seeing characters who are not only not like you, but are something you’ll never be–like being a short, round girl who’s never going to be tall and thin enough to pass for a boy like all of the fantasy heroines, or the black girl who can’t help noticing that all of the beautiful princesses are noted for their “fair” skin. And it’s about the sinking feeling you get when you realize that the only people in the book who look at all like you are the bad guys, and they’re usually stereotypes.

    I know people hate to think of LotR as being racially problematic, but I will always remember the way it felt when I first read it and got to the description of the Haradrim–the first humans explicitly described as being dark-skinned, and they served Sauron. To me at 12, that said that there was no place in the Fellowship for people who looked like me. It felt like I’d just been punched in the stomach.

    26 years and a lot of reading later, I’m used to feeling like I don’t really belong when it comes to fantasy. And I shouldn’t be.

  344. Arachne/Ann/mythago – braver people than I, engaging with someone who wants to raise blood pressure rather than talk. Asshattery speaks for itself and/or will get malletted (to quote calvin and hobbes – verbing weirds words!). I’m taking my sick self off to bed in the somewhat vain hope that I can still avoid coming down with a full on summer cold – I shall see with interest how much use the mallet has had in the morning :).

  345. rick @360

    At this point, though, I think we’ve talked the terminology issue out.

    If this were a seminar on how to suppress discussions of racism, I’d put “make sure the word ‘racist’ is out of bounds!” right up near Lesson 1.

    As it is, someone’s just told you as politely and calmly as possible that, in a discussion about racism, you’ve said something that hit a big, burning, raw spot that’s there because of racism.

    You reply that you did it on purpose, in order to make the point that white people react negatively to being called out on racism.

    Then you explain why it’s important not to derail these crucial discussions by getting people upset. Because these emotionally loaded words cloud the issue.

    Then you deliver the classic “Sorry if I upset you.”

    And you figuratively dust off your hands and prepare to move on.

    Since I’m not supposed to use The R Word, I’ll call that argument “talking down to someone when they’ve called attention to a racially hurtful act you’ve had the bad luck to commit: a demonstration of white privilege.”

  346. Tal, I really liked that! It’s a fine analogy; far better than mine. I used mine *because* I knew I would get a great response from someone like you, sooner or later. If we could move ahead from where you left off…who knows? Even a poor, downtrodden redneck like me might learn something useful; both for life and for my favorite genre.

  347. @Tal: “But you CAN act NOW in ways to help even up the still-existing inequity. And because those inequities have enormous, far-reaching consequences that yes, even ultimately affect you, you DO have a responsibility to work on that.”

    Well, that’s where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it?
    Let’s say you’re applying for a job…a good job, a job you want or perhaps even a job you need. If you get the job, you’ll be well-paid, and can spend that money on yourself, your family, ensuring their greater wellbeing and health and future prosperity.
    If you don’t, maybe you’ll get another job. Somewhere.

    Now would you give up _any_ advantage, fair or unfair, just or unjust, when it comes to getting that job? Would you put pursuit of noble goals ahead of, say, your kid having health insurance?
    Good on you if you would. I can’t even pretend that I would, though. I’d rather be well-fed in an unjust world than miss a meal in a just one.

  348. 26 years and a lot of reading later, I’m used to feeling like I don’t really belong when it comes to fantasy. And I shouldn’t be.

    I wouldn’t say my consumption of written and filmed SF/F has been particularly extensive, so I know I’m missing things here, but I think it says something that for 25 years, I’ve been holding on to one character (from of a beloved series I read as a young teen), who came anywhere close to being a stand-in for me as a short, stocky tomboy who dumped the submissive girly stuff and spoke her mind.

    All other characters I’d seen who had something like those qualities eventually femmed up (Leia, Eowyn), or were punished for acting like a boy (Jinjur), or whatever. She was the only one I’d seen who was actually rewarded for simply being who she was, and who stayed true to herself through the whole series. Sadly, she wasn’t a protagonist, but she was a main character, and I loved her. Still do.

    To take a page from Deepad’s essay, I didn’t dream of princesses. Nor did I dream of being a barely-clothed Warrior Barbie, either. So finding this one character in a sea of willowy beauties and brass-bra-wearing wank material really was amazing for me, and I’m forever grateful to the author who wrote her (especially because he included a similarly drawn character in another series later on.)

    It may be that I’m more sympathetic than some white chicks might be to the plight of PoCs in this particular problem because I understand how crushing it is to spend a lifetime looking for characters in my favorite kinds of stories to identify with and being disappointed, time and time again.

    I realize that publishers are in the business of selling books and authors are in the business of writing what they like, but I honestly don’t think it’s too much to ask to consider tapping into a few (quite large, IMHO) relatively underserved potential markets. I mean, really… If we can have fiction that panders to furries, why can’t we have fiction that pleases other smaller groups, too?

    I don’t expect to see the reams upon reams of Manly White Guy Protagonist stories to disappear. That market exists and always will. I just would like to see more than that more often (and preferably without it being treated as a Very Special Episode.)

  349. Now would you give up _any_ advantage, fair or unfair, just or unjust, when it comes to getting that job? Would you put pursuit of noble goals ahead of, say, your kid having health insurance?

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone ask this kind of sacrifice from someone else in the service of equalizing power.

    I’d say most folks who are campaigning on this issue are firmly in the camp of “secure your own mask before assisting others.”

    We just don’t like it when people fiddle while Rome burns.

  350. Jeff, I can’t tell if you are intentionally trolling or just a happy right-wing racist, but either way, the only thing you seem to be adding to the conversation is making the rest of us look bad. (I would like to reiterate my point above that it seems as if the conservatives think it’s perfectly fine to have these opinions and it doesn’t make them racist.) Obviously I can’t, nor would I, stop you – I just want to let people know you don’t speak for me, a white guy, and I’m distancing myself from you the way I distance my daughter from her dirty diapers.

    Bruce, I have heard that people, white I guess although race is not usually mentioned in this story, walk up and grab black people’s cornrows and other hairstyles. While I suppose that can be pointed to as privilege, it seems more to me an issue with the idea of personal space. I have to say, as a bald guy, women of all colors tend to ask to rub my head. I do feel slightly bad not wanting them to so I let them. But again, not racial in any way, just a personal space issue. Anyway, it is just such a strange thing to walk up and touch someone’s cornrows, without asking even.

    Tal, as has been said numerous times, you don’t get to define the parameters of the discussion for me or anyone else. Now, it just so happens I don’t get offended by being called a racist – I know what I am. Yes, we are all racist to some extent, so I just ignore it and wait for the reason someone thinks that. But racist is a painful word, especially for people who have worked on letting go of a lot of prejudice and sometimes it takes a little while for them to allow the word to lose some of it’s sting.

    Also, the “shut up and listen” meme is not really helpful, especially when the same people saying “shut up and listen” are also saying “white people aren’t doing enough.” If we were quiet, this conversation would be incredibly one sided, and much shorter, and would be the commenting equivalent of onanism. And frankly, that is a racist position, especially regarding MAM’s definition of racism that she forwarded in her post. You are disregarding much of her post in your comment, which is your prerogative, but being that the majority of commenters here seem to agree with her definitions you may be shouting into the void here.

  351. @392- But it is essentially what you’re asking, you have to realize. Making things fair for everyone means that people who are currently enjoying privilege will have a slightly harder time. For some, this will make a difference in their wellbeing when in competition with others. And you wonder why such people get irate?

  352. While I suppose that can be pointed to as privilege, it seems more to me an issue with the idea of personal space.

    Ah, but it IS an issue of privilege. People with “unusual” hair are automatically assumed to have no right to their personal space.

    Same thing happens to pregnant women.

    Personal space and the lack of respect for it is, in fact, a very key issue wrt privilege. Most white folks don’t even think about it until they’re put in a category in which people feel entitled to cross those lines.

    Tal, as has been said numerous times, you don’t get to define the parameters of the discussion for me or anyone else.

    This is the sort of thing you need to let go of. Really. This discussion is not about you, so you don’t get to dictate what’s important about it.

    I know it may feel condescending or patronizing, but sometimes that’s necessary. Accepting one’s necessary submissiveness in cases like this can be really uncomfortable for people who are used to being in a position of dominance, but it’s really vital to do that in order to proceed with any hope of getting anywhere.

  353. But it is essentially what you’re asking, you have to realize. Making things fair for everyone means that people who are currently enjoying privilege will have a slightly harder time. For some, this will make a difference in their wellbeing when in competition with others.

    I assume that you’re alluding to Affirmative Action with regard to employment?

    Because that’s the only possible case in which an issue of meeting one’s basic needs might ever come up.

    Every other concession we need to make wrt not abusing privilege has only to do with giving up extra icing on our already-large piece of cake so that others can have any cake at all.

  354. I haven’t read anything from the fantasy end of our genre in a long time. I have stuck with military sci fi. I have read a little outside that narrow bandwidth, such as Jack McDevitt.

    Is there a lot of characters in Fantasy that are at least tacitly seen to be white/UMC? I always found the plethora of “fantastic” races, from elves to dwarves and beyond to be an area where an author could demonstrate race issues with these analogues. looking back, there did seem to be a lot of effort put into making them seem more like humans. It brought a certain credulity to them, where one might see them as more real.

    I did read “Grunts!”, by Mary Gentle. Talk about rich, white folks getting their asses handed to them….

  355. Tal, if a POC who is female asks to rub my head is it privilege? Possibly. But it is also an issue with personal space. I’m not saying it IS NOT categorically privilege, but that there is a huge personal space issue that needs to be addressed. Personally, I am annoyed by people violating my personal space on a regular basis, but they aren’t aware of it, so I just grin and bear it, unless it gets really obnoxious.

    Tal, as has been said numerous times, you don’t get to define the parameters of the discussion for me or anyone else.

    This is the sort of thing you need to let go of. Really. This discussion is not about you, so you don’t get to dictate what’s important about it.

    I will let you read the above statements a few times and see what’s wrong with them.

    See it yet?

    OK, I said that you can’t define the argument for me or anyone else. Take me out of it leaves anyone else other than you. By telling white people they shouldn’t be offended by being called racist when some people here have expressed some very good reasons why it will take some time to get rid of the onus if it is even possible, you are trying to dictate whet is important about it – for you. You are blaming me for expressing to you what is an essential point of this whole thing. You are free to do so, and since this thread is not to discuss how to discuss,
    I won’t call this out again. I just think it’s disingenuous.

  356. @396- That would probably be the notable example, yes.

    Of course, the second question is why you’d give up extra icing if you happen to really like extra icing and be used to having extra icing.
    Appeals to fairness are all well and good, but what if icing tastes better than justice?

  357. As a person of colour (yup, from the spelling you probably know I’m from a former Anglo-colony), I found this discussion pretty interesting.

    As someone who is familiar with all the ‘players’ in this ‘internet theatre’, I was left scratching my head over the actions of some of the powerful first responders. Strangely enough, about 18 months ago on an issue / cover-up (not related to race) these first responders have also acted in a manner that is not consistent with previous known reasonable actions.

    1] I agree with a lot of what Mary Anne says above.

    2] I can’t untangle the reasons for the strangely inconsistent actions mentioned above. I suspect it’s SUBTLE racism + UNSUBTLE racism + STANDING BY YOUR friends and COLLEAGUES and CLIENTS (therefore doing the opposite of criticizing them) in varying proportions.

    3] I think people like John and Charles Stross have reacted to the magnitude of the shitstorm instead of the shitstorm itself. That is NOT racist, per se. It happens when you comment on or are dragged into a war that has started months before you stumbled into it. They are asking: “why has the ‘discussion’ or ‘analysis’ gotten so ugly and personal?” This has more to do with the nature of the internet than just racists commenting on blogs.

  358. Paranoyd, I have been accused of being a racist, reviewed my nature and come to the reasoned conclusion that I am racist. I am also still looking for more discussion on racism as it applies to the genre. While I may not enjoy the personal attacks foisted upon those who have very poorly attempted to read between the lines of my posts, I read and considered all of them. I even responded to a few.

    More to the point, didn’t John kick this discussion off with a hope that it may raise issues/concerns with how we both read and write SF & F? To that end, I am learning a lot. As for this being any possible excuse of a helpful discussion on racism (even my small part in it), most readers are going to walk away in disgust.

    Have you written or read any fantasy, where the fictional races are portrayed as being victims/privileged? And really, if posters are going to continue bashing others’ spelling, word use, political affiliation, etc., I don’t find it useful. I like useful, as a few of my earlier posts have stated.

  359. 400 comments in, it’s certain that I can’t bring anything new to this discussion. So instead I’ll repeat something that’s been said in case someone missed it, because it’s important. Jess @17 does the best job I’ve seen of summarizing why institutionalized racism and privilege are still problems you should care about even if (you believe) you’ve rooted out all of your own prejudices:

    “When I was younger and more naive I believed that I was doing right in the world because I was open-minded nd tolerant but now I am beginning to understand that that isn’t enough; that you can’t fight prejudice and racism if are deaf, blind, and dumb to it.”

  360. I usually just read this blog and stay in the background, but tonight I actually feel I have something to bring to this discussion. In this thread, the meanings of racism, or to be a racist, have been of great conflict and debate. To me, this simply demonstrates that these words are simply too incindiary (to some) to be used in any meaningful way. I myself, when seeing a statement “everyone is a racist” am offended, as the most common usage of this term as I know is is generally reserved for the white hood club or swastica tatoo group. Simply the use of the word offends, and ends any hope of meaningful dialog.

    Ok, now for personal opinion: the concept of ‘race’ is part of the problem, since there is NO SUCH THING. These are arbitrary groupings. There are simply varying shades and styles of humanity. The problems arise from, I believe, CULTURAL BIAS. To be racist is to be stupid by definition, since it’s to be hateful to someone simply based on an arbitrary skin tone or facial structure.

    Humans are raised in groups. We get our concept of ‘who I am’ by the surrounding people around us. For most of human history, the surrounding people generally looked like us. We mated and had children with those nearest us, making more people who tended to look like us. This was our cultural base.

    In modern times, race is as much behavior as it is color tone or facial features. Not long ago, I read an article on an individual who, though he could pass for what people tend to think of as ‘white’, quite vehemently insisted on being identified as ‘black’, as that was what his famly identified as (he’s some sort of politician, though I can’t remember in what capacity offhand). This is a CULTURAL difference, not a racial one.

    Using this type of terminology, everyone (yep, I include myself in this) IS CULTURALLY BIASED, not racist. Children don’t grow up automatically thinking ‘this skin tone is good/bad’, but they DO look for ‘who is around me, and acts in ways that my group says is ok to behave like’.

    The dominant culture in America is based on our European settlers, who generally have light skin tones (not saying that’s good or bad, it just is). Turn on your TV, and that’s who you’ll see. There are also many other cultures in America, the largest being Hispanic and Black cultures. (you also have your ‘redneck’ group, your ‘obscenely wealthy’ group…). People can cross the ‘color’ line into another cultural group, and do so. One personally observed case in point: a friend of my sister, as pale a woman as you’ll ever meet, fully immersed herself in the hispanic community in our area when dating a man in it – language, behavior, manner – and was fully accepted by them.

    To get past our natural biases, we first need to understand why we HAVE those biases. I think our society has made strides in eliminating ‘you don’t look like me’ bias, but we need to get to the next stage: ‘your group acts/thinks/comes from a different historical perspecive than me – how do we come to greater understanding of those differences? what can we learn from your group? are there things in my group and your that can be changed to help incorporate our 2 groups into one bigger, better culture – making it OUR group?

    Do I think we can get to a ‘colorblind’ society? No, nor do I think we should. ColorFULL would be much prettier. :)

  361. Cicada, thanks. Been there already. Even written a few (mind-numbingly bad) interpretations for Tolkien’s satire of pre-WWI political landscape. I could look back to his writing and try to find an example of racism. Maybe something with his bad guys, other than the obviously intended quality-over-quantity issue. I could try and take Tolkien’s view of orcs and their deviant qualities, teeming masses, and total disrespect for the beautiful, white cities of men and read more into it. Tongue firmly in cheek, at this point.

  362. Jeff, my problem with every comment you’ve made – apart from your lack of empathy with anyone who’s not white and male – is that your proud parading of your racism is making this yet another unwelcoming place for women and people of colour. Already during RaceFail too many PoC authors and fans have said they categorically will not read or write in this genre again. That’s because of the aggressive, insulting behaviour of white authors like Charles Stross, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, (and even Scalzi), the threatening, dismissive actions of white editors like the Nielsen Haydens and Kathryn Cramer, and oh so many white fans (most male) making outright racist, offensive remarks and posts which take no account whatsoever of the picture it paints of SF/F as a place to enjoy.

    In other words – you want to talk about SF/F *and* your proud racist attitudes, but you really don’t care if that drives people away from this discussion, and the genre.

    Well I do. I write, I read SF/F, and I’m a woman. I want more women in the genre, I want more diversity in voices and readers. It matters deeply to me that you are staking out your racist tent, and making it clear people who you think have to be hired through affirmative action etc, have no intrinsic worth, and aren’t welcome in your really rather large tent. And there are a lot of tents like that in SF/F. So many, there’s very little room for those who aren’t like you.

    If you really are interested in learning – which I have to say I highly doubt I’ve encountered so many men like you – try this exercise. Be quiet. Listen. For the entire discussion. White men aren’t used to not being the dominant voice. Discover what it’s like to be on the other side.

    But I doubt you will. I’d love to be surprised.

  363. This is way back in the discussion, but I saw it a couple times so I wanted to bring it up – the assumption that there is something about SF, or about fans/writers of color, that is not racism, but that magically causes people of color not to read/write SF.

    I learned, recently, that a lot of towns in the US Midwest, where I have lived almost all my life, were “sundown towns” that excluded residents of color. Seriously recently, within the last couple years.

    That means I’ve had to reverse my lifelong conviction that there are just some places where Black people just magically don’t want to live. It’s not true – or it’s no more true for Black people than for anybody else.

    What is true is that there were official policies, enforced by community and police violence, making lots of places all or nearly-all white, some as late as the ’70s, and that has an effect on the present.

    I’m a reader, not a writer or an editor, but it’s not too hard to look at the definitional writers of the genre and see that they put a lot of racist crap into their books and short stories. It’s not too hard to find stories of people of color experiencing racism at cons. It’s not too hard to find current editors who have said racist things in public about stories or writers.

    So why bother looking for the magically nonracist exclusionary elements of SF, or anti-SF elements in various cultures, if there are easy-to-find examples of actual actions that push people of color away?

  364. Ann, near as I can tell, you are the one making assumptions. Your forensic style is excellent because of it. You misquote me and mislead others beautifully. I will do my best to simply shut up and ignore your false assumptions, since they are useful to me, to try and understand how to incorporate more realistic portrayals of racism in my writing. Reading your posts has truly been a learning experience. Thank you, for taking the time to bother responding to my posts at all.

    I will leave you the last word. No doubt you’ll take it.

  365. Folks, apologies that when I skimmed through 2008’s “notable releases”, I somehow momentarily forgot to note that ARTHUR C. CLARKE’S LAST CHARACTER was a bisexual Sri Lankan.

  366. “No doubt you’ll take it.”

    Indeed. Just as you can’t make yourself be quiet and listen, I can’t make myself obey a man telling me to shut up. I’m just perverse like that.

    I should point out that claiming anti-racists are the real racists is a common derailing trick (and already tried by friend West above.) Try again, boyo.

    “how to incorporate more realistic portrayals of racism in my writing.”

    Well ahead of you on that too. I have a novella already written with you in it, and I didn’t even have to know you existed to do it.

  367. I can’t believe I’ve read this whole post/comments…

    Papapete nailed it in one. “Racist” is hardly ever a rational descriptor, but an epithet thrown to win an argument or put you in your place.

    Bottom line is that none of us can look into anyone else’s mind or heart. If you want to say I said something that sounds racist to you, then we can have that discussion. You call me a racist? Like you know me? Go screw.

    Cause as much of an argument is made that saying someone is racist doesn’t mean they’re a card carrying man of the KKK, for a long time, it did. So you need a new word. For a long time “colored” or “negro” was an appropriate word, but language changes. We gotta get a new word.

    Because calling somebody a racist, who has probably spent a good portion of his/her life trying not to be a racist, is gonna mean something else than you may think it means. [As an aside, I’ll call anyone anything they want me to call ’em – common courtesy – but I defy anyone to explain to me why “colored” is ‘bad’ but “person of color” is ‘good.’]

    Calling someone a racist IS, absolutely a “scathing attack on his character” despite your assertion to the contrary. That’s what it means. To me, and a lot of folks. Which is why liberal white folks like me [on issues of race, leastways] will take it as an affront.

    An example… we lost of friend of the family when I was in Jr High. Late 1980s. He was ex-military, working as a cab driver is a military town, and he was murdered by another military serviceman, in his cab. The reason? According to friends at the brig, because the murderer “wanted to see a nigger die.” That’s racism. That’s a racist. You can’t say that that’s the same thing as somebody who simply says something stupid. And if you call me a racist, in my mind, that’s the brush you paint me with. And the group you lump me in with.

    Now, you can’t possibly know that. Of course. But racism is a hateful thing. A hateful, evil thing. And I may have unconscious bias and prejudices, but to label me a racist in a conversation? No, you don’t know me dude [or dudette.]

    If you want to say somebody is biased, or has preconceptions, or is even prejudiced, fair enough. But ‘racist’ is loaded with baggage. And if anybody want’s to throw it out there, expect reactions. There are all sorts of loaded words in debates and discussions about race – and racist is one of them.

    Everybody’s got something that makes their road less “smooth.” Trying to convince anybody else than your friends and family that they should care what your particular difficulties are is a lost cause. Live your life, treat others decently and fairly, and let success be your best revenge against douchebags of all race and creed.

    And further, though it’s been hit upthread, the ideas of racism, oppression, only the powerful can be racist, POC can’t be racist… that’s just nonsense. I’m living in Japan now, and I know some prejudiced/racist/confused people. And I’ve known folks of all creeds and colors, both in the states in here, who have some amazingly insane biases and beliefs about race and nationality.

    And I don’t want to discount your experience on the bus on 9/11, but even the way you tell your story, it sounds a lot like textbook projection.

    I do, however, agree completely that Jay Smooth/Illdoc’s vid on racism is awesome. We’d all be better off if we interacted that way.

    “Scenario: Your friend, John, makes a racist joke at the bar, and expect you to just laugh along. You want to call him out on it. What do you say?” My standard response to ignorant, racial stuff – “Dude [it’s always invariably a guy] THAT’s fucked up.” What you said, not what you are.

    All this nonsense being said, everyone has an absolute right to call somebody else a racist. And then that person has an absolute right to ignore you. Such is life.

    But in a world where the assumption is “we’re all racist” – with so much going on and all the stuff we’ve all got in our lives – if you proceed from the “we’re all racist” viewpoint, you’re gonna have a lot a folks, including me contemplating it, saying, “screw it, I give up, it’s not worth fighting.”

    Regarding your interest in privilege groups outside America, it’s been my experience in Japan that the norm here is – Japanese, whites, other Asian cultures and then other non-white foreigners.

    “As an American, I probably have a skewed view of how pervasive and influential Hollywood’s products are internationally.”

    I had a Japanese girl explain to me in a bar I was working in that the reason Japanese girls hook up w/gaijin so much is because they’re brainwashed from the cradle to the grave by Hollywood. Take it fwiw.

    I thank you for writing this whole thing though. It’s really great, despite where I disagree.

    Though, imho, Cicada has the ultimate win: “This is coming from a fairly non-empathetic perspective, but why is person A’s pain person B’s problem? ”

    And I don’t think this means “If folks are comfortable being racist… then they probably aren’t interested in this conversation at all.” I think it means that some folks will never be pleased, and may see racism where there is none. Only an individual can ever know their own intent, and if someone doesn’t agree, that’s on them.

  368. I’m white, my wife is brown.
    This has caused a great amount of discussion and disagreement in our fifteen years of marriage. Looks like the thread has already been very busy, so here are my thoughts as a WP (white person) married to a PoC.
    1) I’ve always disliked the use of the word privilege as applied to race discussions and the White Culture (WC) because to my mind a privelege is something you have to earn. Ergo, one of my military privileges I enjoy as an Army Reservist is the ability to use local PX, commisary, and fitness centers. This extends to my wife and also any guest(s) we happen to have with us at the time we use these things. They don’t hand this privilege out to anybody. I only get this because I choose to be in the military. Nobody chooses to be white. Thus for me the phrase “white privilege” seems misapplied because how can you have a privilege you never earned? I know, I know, that’s semantics for lots of people and it’s probably too late to change the language of the dialogue in this regard. But I still think it’s an important distinction. I’d much prefer the phrase white advantage because this seems much more straightforward and frames the issue properly: being born white in a White Culture (WC) is a natural advantage, not a privelege per se. If PoC wonder why middle and lower income WP balk so often at “privelege” as applied to WP of their socioeconomic status, I think the use of the word privilege explains some of it. Poor and average-income WP never respond well to being told they’ve ‘got it easy’ in any way, shape, or form. Regardless of whether or not PoC think poor or average-income WP have a significant step up the socioeconomic ladder.
    2) I think that racism is itself a misapplied word, because so often what we’re talking about — when we talk about our internal prejudices, which we all have to a certain extent — we’re often dealing with culturalisms, which are different altogether than racism per se. Explore the prejudices of any given “racist” and what one often hears are fears and opinions focused almost entirely on culture and not at all focused on race. Consider the integration of Eastern-born or African-born Muslims into Western Liberal society. It’s not race that has so many Western folks nervous. It’s the unreformed Islamic culture that’s on the minds of many people, especially given the various terrorist activities of Islamists around the globe, and the high-profile nature of 9/11, the London and Spanish train bombings, etc. Also consider the fact that PoC who are “culturally white” have an easier time moving through and integrating with a majority White Culture (WC.) This is not a function of race, it’s a function of culture. So to my mind the race discussion would be aided greatly by an expanded awareness of this dichotomy, and its further exploration any time race and racism is discussed openly.
    3) There is an unfortunate taint of ‘original sin’ that floats through race discussion in America, as applied to WP, which — I think strongly — inhibits white understanding and ownership of certain problems. Nobody likes to be blamed for being what they are, yet that is precisely the case with WP; we are blamed — often loudly and in high dudgeon — for the high crime of being white, and thus are expected to wear it like a scarlet letter. As if we WP under age 40 had any choice in what WP and WC did to PoC 50, 100, 150, or 200 or more years ago. I think it goes without saying that most of us who are white Americans in the 21st century and who have explored racism and racial issues with a progressive attitude, wish very much that the past could have been different. A few of us resent greatly the fact that certain race discussions — and certain PoC — expect all whites to feel and act under an automatic racial guilt complex. This accomplishes little IMHO because nobody alive in 2009 should be expected to feel personal guilt over the body they were born into, nor the awfulness of WP-PoC relations in eras past. Yet this is precisely the expectation that is placed on WP, and White Guilt is a fundamental stumbling block to removing racism in many aspects of modern American life.
    4) Racism/Culturalism towards WP gets a free pass in our modern American culture. This is a direct byproduct of White Guilt and the concept that WP, being born white, must ‘pay their white dues’ and put up with a certain level of anger and hatred directed at them by PoC. We see it in movies, music, in writing, on college campuses, etc. Consider the nasty rantings of Jeremiah Wright, who blends racism and hatred for WP with his religious sermons. If this man were white, he’d be a pariah and anyone connected with him would find their public and political aspirations dashed. But because racism/culturalism on the part of PoC is tolerated or at least given a blind eye during discussions of racism, it is allowed to persist and even flourish at the same time racism/culturalism on the part of WP is being actively combatted both legally and morally throughout American society. IMHO the race discussion cannot advance until racism and race hatred on the part of PoC is given equal scrutiny, compared to racism and race hatred on the part of WP.
    5) Any discussion of SF & F and the lack of PoC in its authorly ranks, cannot be moved forward without first discussing why there are so few PoC reading SF & F. And any discussion of why so few PoC are reading SF & F cannot move forward without discussing, overall, how many PoC actually read fiction for entertainment, as opposed to movies or music or any other form of entertainment. Because all authors and writers must first begin as readers, and if your initial base of readers is very, very small, there will naturally be an even smaller — by several orders of magnitude — author base. African Americans especially are behind the curve on this because so few African American children from the lower economic echelon — ergo, the majority of black children in the U.S. — have or are exposed to active fiction reading in the home. They’re far more likely to be exposed to music or sports (among other activities) than they are to fiction reading, as a form of pleasure and entertainment. So before anyone decries the stark absence of African Americans from the SF & F author scene — or the American fiction scene in general — we have to go all the way back and examine why so few African American children grow up reading for pleasure, and how society and African American culture can address reading — or the lack thereof — as a comprehensive stumbling block in the African American community.
    6) The author of this essay makes a classic PoC mistake in that she assumes an authoratative, lecturing cadence towards whites, and never lets it go. This is inherent in the, “Me Person of Color, you Guilty White Person” relational dynamic, and it too is a stumbling block to ‘moving past’ racism/culturalism. It assumes that the onus of racial progress is entirely on WP and that PoC have little to offer or do, beyond being pissed off, angry, or at the very least, relaxing into the Victim recliner where they can condescend to WP at length. I’ve seen this too often and it’s ironic, really, given the fact that so much of race discussion focuses on automatic authority and ‘privilege’ on the part of WP. Yet here we have a PoC assuming automatic authority and ‘privilege’ to condescend to WP about race and racism in the SF & F field. And while I have no doubt the author in question experiences and has experienced a tremendous amount of racism as a PoC in a dominant WC her tone of superior-to-inferior grates so often, I am not sure anyone who doesn’t actively suffer White Guilt won’t be annoyed by it at some point. And yes, being non-annoying matters. Nobody wins over hearts and minds by annoying the very crowd he/she wishes to win over! Unless of course the point is to simply wag your finger at the unwashed, instead of getting down to it on the level of, “Me human, you human, we = same!”
    7) Finally, it’s quite true that WP who write PoC will get it “wrong” just as men who write women get it “wrong” and vice versa. But to me, especially with SF & F — a medium traditionally given a great deal of liberty when dealing with any subject — getting it “wrong” is not a mortal sin. I’m not sure there is any genre out there that spends more time fretting collectively over its inclusiveness and social progressiveness. At least in the last 15 years. Yes, we can blame the Old Dogs of the field for their chauvanism and blatant whiteness. But then this is true of virtually all else that originated prior to Civil Rights and the emergence of the multi-ethnic cultural paradigm in the U.S.

  369. Mary Anne – this is a thoughtful post, much of which I agree with, but I think that it fails to capture some of the dynamics that have made this discussion an unpleasant (and in some aspects unhelpful) one. I’d like to put out some counter arguments. None of these are meant to deny the existence of racism, white privilege and so on, or to deny that there is something weird and unpleasant about the dominance of white voices in f/sf. But I’m delurking here because I think that there are some issues that you’re not considering here (at least not explicitly).

    First – my impression from skimming this debate (and that’s all I’ve done; I came to it pretty late) is that there is a lot of rhetorical slippage in the way that some people have been tossing around the accusation of racism. A lot of the debate is about systematic racism – but some of it has involved accusations that particular individuals are racists in pretty unpleasant ways. In some cases at least, these accusations seem to me not to be merited by the evidence. There furthermore seems to me to be a sense among some of the people who have been most vociferous in this debate that anyone who disagrees with them even slightly (or even in some cases, remains silent) is ipso facto racist. This isn’t necessarily right. That unconsidered racism can be very pervasive indeed, doesn’t mean that every perceived slight is necessarily racist, even in the broad social-and-not-intended sense of racism. People can misinterpret. And this is especially likely to happen in online debates, where indirect cues are missing. And it leads to lousy argument – if your response to anyone who disagrees with you is that they are disagreeing with you because of their racism, it means that you’re never going to re-examine your own assumptions. And everyone can get stuff wrong.

    Second – you say that this isn’t a debate about whether my pain is bigger than your pain. But to some extent it has been exactly this kind of debate. Even skimming, I have seen repeated statements from major protagonists that the pain of being accused of being a racist is nothing like the pain of being the victim of racism. This is something that seems to me to be particularly unhelpful because it denies that the people who see themselves as victims (as they may indeed be in a broader social sense) actually have some power, and some power that (to be blunt) I think they have been misusing. More on that below.

    Third – reader response theory cuts both ways. This whole argument, if I understand it right, began in an argument over _how to read_ something – whether the author’s reading of their own text was definitive, whether a reading of a particular text that suggested racist undertones was correct and so on. One of the claims that emerged from that was that we shouldn’t privilege the author’s preferred reading over others – that we had look at how readers of different kinds were likely to respond and so on. And personally, I think that is mostly right. But it also means that when person A publicly accuses person B of being a racist, that they not only have to take account of what they mean by the term ‘racist’ but what others mean by the term ‘racist’ too. Other people who come across this debate may understand the accusation in very different ways than it was originally intended. When we write something down, we don’t own it any more – it becomes a social fact floating out there.

    And this gets us back to the issue of power. I am at most a pretty peripheral member of the f/sf community. I read f/sf but I don’t go to conferences. Still, for what it is worth, my strong impression is that it is a community, and that the position of writers/editors etc depends to a great extent on how they are perceived within that community. Sure, they are privileged actors – but their privilege depends on their position in a kind of web of social relationships.

    And here, public accusations of racism can both (a) be interpreted in ways that are far more far-reaching than the sense of ‘your position exemplifies a general problem of unconscious racism’ and (b) have pretty substantial effects for people’s livelihoods. If you are accused in a broad public setting of being a racist, this isn’t just hurtful in a personal sense. It can lead to you becoming socially isolated and even in an extreme case, perhaps even to lose your livelihood (I don’t know that this is going to happen, but I can speculate that it is a real worry that people have, and are scared about).

    To be clear – I’m not trying to provide a general impartial analysis here of what is going on. Instead, I’m trying to do what I think you have done – to try to synthesize as best as I can a ‘best case’ version of the argument for one side, and why people have felt hurt/angry etc. I haven’t participated in these debates, haven’t spoken to or heard from the people involved in them etc, so I am coming at this from outside (the people involved on the side I am trying to represent may have a very different take). But I do think that there is an alternative point of view here, which has some worth to it. You’ve made a good and convincing case that those who are being accused of racism have some responsibilities to think this through – I would really like to hear what you think about this. Perhaps you think that those who accuse have no responsibilities or have trivial responsibilities compared to those who are being accused (this is obviously not a position that I would agree with, but if it is your position, I would like to hear and consider your arguments for it). Or perhaps you think that there are some responsibilities/standards for good debate and behavior on both sides of this kind of argument – in which case, I would again like to hear your specific arguments as to what they should be etc.

  370. “PoC don’t have an obligation to teach you how to write CoC well and avoid criticism. ”

    I have to slightly disagree with this one. IF the POC is not complaining about/sees nothing wrong with the written CoC then you are right. BUT the minute someone starts to complain about something, they are then IMHO required to start trying to fix it. Otherwise shut up about it. Complaining to complain isn’t useful. If you don’t like something attempt to fix it or to do it better than the other person did. Don’t just stand there and say “You are so stupid that you don’t know how to do this. I know how and I hate what you did, but I’m not going to help you fix it. Im just going to stand here and whine about how wrong you are.”

    Complaining without logic or without an attempt to fix/give reasons for the wrongness is just that. Whining. Whining fixes nothing. It only makes the whiner look bad.

  371. A good essay, and thank you for writing. I’ll make my way through the comments bit by bit.

    I agree that the many different meanings of racism are trouble – I’ll admit to being racist under some definitions, in the same way I’ll admit to a bunch of other failings – but I’d want to do it in a conversation in which I had some control of the definition being used, because in other senses of the word, I’d say I’m not.

    THe only real comment I’d like to make is that racism runs in many directions, and the power to affect people doesn’t have to come from institutionalised power – plain old ethnic violence works a treat. What I’m thinking of specifically is my neighbourhood and a spate of attacks against Indians, often by Arabs. There’s race in that, and I suspect also an element of social class.

  372. Sorry – last para above was garbled – it should be –

    I would really like to hear what you think about the responsibilities of those who accuse others of racism. Perhaps you think that those who accuse have no responsibilities or have trivial responsibilities compared to those who are being accused (this is obviously not a position that I would agree with, but if it is your position, I would like to hear and consider your arguments for it). Or perhaps you think that there are some responsibilities/standards for good debate and behavior on both sides of this kind of argument – in which case, I would again like to hear your specific arguments as to what they should be etc.

  373. Eddie Clark: Thanks for your reply. I also live in a country other than America. Its not worth me trying to respond to you any more.

    Oh noes. My life is meaningless now.

    So you read a couple of newspapers’ articles and that made you an expert? “Look at the Northern League”.

    Well, I live in Veneto, THE Northern League country, and I’m old enough to remember when Northern League exploded in the early ’90s: the Northern League was founded as a Northern Italian party for Northern Italians, specifically opposing the central government and those lazy, untrustworthy, potentially criminal Southern Italians. Still is, by the way: if you have a Southern-sounding surname or a Southern accent it can be difficult to rent a house, and every month or so some Northern League leader comes up with a “there are too many Southern teachers in our schools” or a “unemployment benefits should be reserved for locals, not Southern Italian immigrants”. But wait. I must be lying, because Northern and Southern Italians are all white, aren’t they?

    The color of your skin doesn’t matter. In this country you are likely to encounter more or less heavy discriminations if you’re not a native: these days the top discriminated foreigners are, in order, white Romanians, white Northern Africans, brown Rom, white Albanians, white Slavs, black Western Africans and finally brown Southern Asians (Indians, Bangladeshis) and Eastern Asians (mostly Chinese).

  374. As far as I’m concerned, hjf and Sub-Odeon make some excellent points. The terminology you use, Mary Anne, is far too powerful to use in the context you describe. Racism is an existing concept, one that is a criminal offense in many countries, mine including. Inciting to racism will land you in jail here in Belgium. Because of the “weight” of the term racism/racist, you cannot hope to have a serene debate of any kind if you start out by claiming that everyone is racist. There are lots of other terms you could choose which would allow for more rational exchanges.

    The same goes for privilege. And yes, I am white and I am offended by the term white privilege, especially when combined with the “road” metaphor you use. I will not deny that my road has been smooth, and that the road is bumpier for PoC, but using extreme terms (privilege is an extreme term, laden with historic and judicial meaning) just wipes that away and leaves me feeling dirty for being called “white privileged”. Bad language use, no other word for it.

    Please don’t consider this an attack on you personally, or on the rest of the debate – it’s just about the terminology. It undermines the whole point of what we’re trying to achieve here. The same goes for the disgusting word “fail” by the way.

    In a sense, what we’re doing here could be compared to having a presidential debate where McCain would openly address Obama as “Communist” and Obama would speak of McCain as the “Neocon”, or even “Fascist”. Because let’s face it, that’s the kind of terms you’re flinging to our white privileged heads here. There’s not a chance that debate would turn up anything useful, is there?

    Once again, the issue itself is very much valid. We do need to get more PoC in SF, but also in every layer of society where they have a voice and can work to slowly erase the bumps from the road, where they can collectively wipe out the traces of cultural and ethnic prejudice until we are all, finally, truly equal.

  375. Interesting article. I was following along quite nicely (not necessarily agreeing mind you, but following the thoughts) until the end.

    Isn’t reading a book simply because the author is a PoC, by definition, racist? It’s making a decision about a person’s worth (or more specifically, the worth of their writing in this case) based on their skin color. Isn’t saying “I should read this book because the author is a PoC” akin to saying, “I won’t read this book because the author is a PoC.” I have no idea what color most authors that I read are, unless their picture is on the cover or something. That’s certainly not what makes me pick up a book, or put one down. I want my authors to write a d*mn good book, period. If I love literature, the best thing I can do is not read crappy books – regardless of color, creed, gender, etc.


  376. @406, Ann: I understand what you’re saying about Jeff’s tone making the thread less welcoming, less safe, etc. but don’t we need to talk about to what extent we make that a priority? As a viewpoint in this conversation in race, it’s also true that it’s useful for us to hear and respond to outlying viewpoints, even when it seems like the person who holds them isn’t making any attempt to grow from them.

    I’ve been very upfront about my prejudices and my little failings and my ignorance about race and sexual orientation in this thread, and I hope it’s been clear that I’m not doing so out of either strident defiance or whimpering apology, but out of a desire to be earnest and honest and contribute to the discussion. I sincerely hope that no one has been offended or intimidated by my words, but if one person has been intimidated, and ten more people have found my contributions valuable, I feel justified in having said what I have said.

  377. Giacomo: There are systems of priviledge in Italy, it’s just not whites benefiting from them. That’s why I’m not fond of the term using “white”. I suspect the term was coined in the US where we’re a bit insular and tend to forget there are places beyond our borders.

  378. I hope I made sense in my previous post. I just rolled out of bed and I tend to suffer from grammar fail if I try to write this early.

  379. Steve Burnap, I’m confused — you seem to keep saying something I spent a whole paragraph on in the original post. To whit: “I do think there are phrasings that help with calling people out. People are more likely to respond calmly to “Dude, wasn’t that kind of a racist thing to say?” than to “You’re so fucking racist!” (Jay Smooth has a great and funny video on the subject: How To Tell People They Sound Racist.)” Are you trying to say something in addition to that? Or something else entirely that I’m missing?

    Dw3t-Hthr — a quick suggestion that might help? Would you be able to work in a mental flashback or two, so that the reader could see scenes of the guy with his partner? Would address the whole ‘offstage’ issue, and might also add poignancy to the loss.

    West, I think you did misread me. In my original post, I said, “I just re-read some Heinlein, and while I still have a terrible fondness for the old man…” I love Heinlein, I really do. I still press The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Strange is a Strange Land on random folks all the time; I think they’re both brilliant, in different ways. I’m about to go re-read The Rolling Stones, because I’m in the midst of writing a space opera about a family with children, and he’s one of the few writers who even attempted that, and he did a great job at it.

    I absolutely didn’t mean to dismiss all of his work just because sometimes his women were sad caricatures. (Not all of them, either. But the one in I Will Fear No Evil, which is what I just re-read, is…oh, painful. In several different ways.)

    Brian, I don’t know of such a list, but it’d be a great thing to generate out of this whole discussion. The Carl Brandon awards list is the closest I can think of.

    Bruce, thanks a lot for those statistics; I think they’re really helpful in making this racism thing concrete.

    On the hair thing. I used to have long hair, down past my waist. Once I was in an airport, and a white man walked up to me, smiled, handed me a business card, and walked away. I looked at the card. It was pre-printed with a sketch of a woman with long hair, and the words, “Your hair is beautiful. Don’t ever cut it.” Creeped me the hell out.

    Tal, I think we’re basically on the same page, but I’d like to ask you to leave the ‘shut up and listen’ bit aside for now. I intended this to be a safe space for white folks and others to read through Racism 101 and talk about it — I don’t want to ask anyone in this particular conversation to shut up and listen.

    hjf, I actually wasn’t trying to do an analysis of what happened over the last two months — since I came into this a week ago, I’m sure I missed a lot of it, despite ardent efforts to catch up. A lot of what I did see was white folks in the genre basically asking for Racism 101, for an explanation of where the PoC were coming from, what the basic premises were. So when John offered me this platform, that’s what I tried to offer. I think I mostly agree with you on what happened in the community, but it’s beyond the scope of what I was trying to do here.

  380. Mary Anne Mohanraj,

    So, after reading through your initial post again, and reading through some of your links, I’ve definitely gotten a different feel for what you mean when you say phrases like “we’re all racist” and “white privilege”. What I’ve gotten from previous discussions about “privilege” were a lot of mall ninjas using the phrase, pretty much drowning out what anyone else might be saying.

    a lot of times, when someone says to me that “we’re all racist”, they’re actually pointing a finger at me. You weren’t. I think what you’re talking about is something called “implicit bias” in psychology. We all have implicit bias and most of us don’t know we have it. Another term is “implicit association”.

    Harvard has a little test you can take online to try and extract what sort of implicit bias you might have about several topics including race, gender, age, and so on.

    The thing that made it click for me was when you said “we are all racists” really did apply to you too. The study that really drove home how powerful implicit bias can be while remaining subconscious involved asian women and math. The experimenters would put a bunch of asian women in a room and give them a math test. Before the test, they’d give some rooms a speech about how asians are percieved to be better at math, talk about the stereotypes, etc, than non-asians. In other rooms, before the test they’d give a speech about how women are percieved to be worse at math than men. The results of the math tests tracked with which speech was given before the test. The rooms that heard “asians do better” actually scored better than the rooms that heard “women do worse”.

    So, implicit bias is internal, everyone has it, it is often subconscious, and it can even be self-damaging.

    The harvard implicit association test has people sort out pictures and words. pictures of blacks and whites are sorted and words like good and bad are sorted. But those four categories are sorted into two bins. sometimes you have to put white/good in one bin and black/bad in another bin. Sometimes you have to put white/bad in one bin and black/good in another bin.

    Someone who has an implicit bias against blacks will tend ot have a harder time with white/bad and black/good binning, and may be reflected in more wrong answers or slower test times for those conditions. You can take the test and see how you land on your implicit association with different categories.

    When you say “we are all racist”, I think “implicit bias”. When a mall ninja says “we’re all racist” with a finger pointed at me, I’m thinking something else entirely.

    I’m not sure, but I think when people say “white privilege” I think some of them are trying to point to the idea of implicit bias or implicit association. I think it’s a bit unfortunate that the fairly neutral term “implicit bias” had to get turned into something so emotionally loaded as “white privilege”, but maybe the mall ninjas wouldn’t join the racial dojo if they didn’t get to play with that particular BFG9000 weapon.

    Clearly the pyros will not be interested in saying “we all have implicit bias” when so far they’ve mostly been saying “we’re all racist, but especially you.”

    I’d rather see “we are all racist” simply point to an introduction to ‘implicit bias’, but then, I’m only a green belt.

  381. hjf, re: the responsibilities of those who accuse others of racism — it’s an interesting question. Again, a lot of it comes down to phrasing, I think. If one of my readers wants to pubically dissect one of my books and goes off into a long discussion of why X character comes across as racist for Y reasons — well, sucks for me, but I think that’s totally valid, and probably good for both me and for literature and the community.

    On the other hand, if someone publically slams me with “You’re racist!” then I’d want a) to know exactly what their reasons were for saying so, and then b) a chance to publically respond. Hmm…that’s probably about as much as I’d ask, so actually it’s not so different from the first case. Once I’ve had my fair say, it’s up to the public to judge.

    I do generally prefer polite discourse over heated, but I’ve talked elsewhere upthread and in related posts about why that doesn’t always happen, and why there might be good reasons for some of the anger flying around the room.

  382. Greg, I did actually link to that in my post. :-) But I think the long description you offered is helpful — it might make more people click the link and try the tests, which I found painfully illuminating.

    For one, I learned taking those tests that I am way more prejudiced against black people than I would like to think. Also, apparently I think women should stay home and men should work. Dammit.

  383. Isabel: I think the I just want to read a good book argument doesn’t apply. No one wants to read lousy books.

    Do you think the genre of sf/f lacks diversity in its characters? If not, then this discussion probably won’t interest you.

    If you think the genre of sf/f lacks diversity in characters do you think it would be improved by having greater diversity in characters? If not, then this discussion probably won’t interest you.

    If you think the genre would be improved by a greater diversity of characters, how do we go about getting there?

    1. Read books that feature more diversity. Currently these are mostly written by writters of color.

    2. White writers could write more diverse characters. I suspect we’ll get a lot on this later today.

    Just because you haven’t sought out books by writer’s of color doesn’t mean you can’t give it a try. And no ones saying you should buy it if it doesn’t look like it will interest you. Maybe you would have found a writer of color eventually anyway (heck, maybe you already have), but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to kick start the process.

  384. And I’m back (I slept in).

    I am seeing a lot of attempt to drive the conversation into meta-discussion, particularly about MAM’s choice of words in her establishing article. Let me suggest we take that some people are discomfited by word choice here as a given; let me also suggest strongly that people table that as an topic to deal with other stuff in the thread. I will be reminding people about this.

    Also, I suggest that we focus our attentions specifically on race and SF/F and not wander into general discussion and kvetching about race. Jeff, I’m looking at you very specifically. Since that conversation has numerous participants and thus the Malleting therof would leave an obvious hole in the comments, I’m letting it stand. But it was a whole lot of derail, it was.

    So: Please table discussions about wanting words to be different; please keep the focus on race and SF/F. I and the Mallet of Loving Correction thank you in advance for your co-operation.

  385. Mary Anne,

    This is slightly off the point, but something I’ve noticed and wondering about. You identify yourself as “South Asian”. If I had to guess, from your last name I would guess that your ancestry is Indian.

    I’ve noticed recently some Indians showing preference for the term “South Asian” over “Indian”. I recall a comedian, I think his name was Russell Peters, talking about it in his act, but I didn’t get why the distinction was important.

    I’ve always thought of the Indian subcontinent as being somewhat distinct from the rest of Asia. That’s mostly based on my knowledge of continental drift and other geological differences.

    Can you tell me why it is important to people from India to be identified as Asian (or let me know if I’m incorrect in that assumption)?

  386. I’m white, and I really don’t have a lot of patience for the “use different terminology because yours hurts my feelings” argument. If it makes you feel guilty to think about having “white privilege”, then maybe the problem is not that somebody didn’t refer to the exact same phenomenon as, I don’t know, “eirwyken”. I’d also note that on the what you do/what you are split, while from a strategic POV it’s certainly better to target the behavior, plenty of people will poorly no matter how you phrase it.

    And then we go back to derailing. Because instead of talking about something using fairly commonly-accepted terms, we buff our nails and say “Ooh, sorry, PoC. I don’t really think that one fits, do you? Run out and fetch another term that’s more appropriate, and then maybe we can talk about this racism thing.”

    Cicada, I’m not particularly interested in turning this thread into a debate about the utility of the social contract and both legal and social constraints on our selfish, greedy impulses. And that’s where you’re going with this, intentionally or no. If you assume that it’s pointless or stpuid for people to try to limit the damage we’d otherwise cause if we all unilaterally pursued our self-interest, then I don’t think you’re going to find this a useful discussion.

    Isabel @421: not really following why “expanding your reading horizons” is racist.

  387. Er, Stephen, it says *in her intro* that “I was born in Sri Lanka”

    Sri Lanka != India. Trust me on this.

  388. Stephen, I’m actually Sri Lankan (as I said in the original post). I find S. Asian a useful term for an area that shares a history and certain cultural traits. But I also at times will identify specifically as Sri Lankan-American, or even Sri Lankan-American Tamil (marking my actual ethnicity). Or even, occasionally, simply American.

    It depends on the scope of the discussion, generally, and what aspect of my background I want to focus on. In other discussions, I might identify primarily as a woman, or bisexual, or polyamorous, or a writer, or a geek. :-)

  389. Isabel @ 421 (and others)

    I don’t hear anyone is saying a book by a PoC is “worth more” than a book by a white author. I do hear them saying that going out of your way to read books outside your normal range may be rewarding (1) to you as an individual reader (by finding books that you enjoy that you wouldn’t have found if you didn’t make that little extra effort to look for them); (2) to PoC who are both readers and writers, by making it more visible to the publishing industry that there is a market they are underestimating; and (3) to all other readers, by encouraging the publication of a greater diversity of good work.

    I also don’t believe that books by PoC are any more likely to be crappy than books by white authors (and I’m sure you didn’t intend to imply that).

  390. Mary Anne Mohanraj and John Scalzi (also many,many of the people who have commented here)

    Thank you. I bacame aware of this very recently. I found a lot of what was said in other places deeply unpleasant and also difciult to follow, and I did have an initial reaction of frustration with some of the dismissive and/or angry responses which were made of people who appeared to me to be asking reasonable (if perhaps naive) questions.

    Your posts and the comments have given me a great deal of food for thought – (I think Jess @17 put particulaly well, the place I was starting from).

    So thank you.

  391. Josh @434: “Er, Stephen, it says *in her intro* that “I was born in Sri Lanka”

    Sri Lanka != India. Trust me on this.”

    Er, Josh, I missed Mary Anne’s statement *in her intro* that she was Sri-Lankan.

    I never said Sri Lanka == India.

    Stop trying to put words in my mouth to match your assumption that I don’t know the difference. I’ll keep trusting my own knowledge and judgement if it’s all the same to you.

  392. The lack of writers of color, and of white writers writing characters of color, leads to a lack of literature featuring such characters — which leads to fans of color deciding that SF/F isn’t meant for them, because there’s no one in the stories who looks like them.

    Is there some sort of evidence to support this statement? I ask as a reader of color (I am so not going to start using another acronym) who couldn’t tell you the race of most of the authors he reads. I’ve seen a photo of Scazli, and met GRRM at a convention, so I totally know they are white, but for the most part you ask me, if Neil Gaimen or someone is white and I don’t have any damn clue (turns out Gaimen is! Thanks google!).

    I guess I could do a better job of looking at dust jackets, but I certainly don’t imagine myself ever picking up a sci-fi/fantasy book, opening up the back cover, looking at the picture and saying “Wow, this is written by a white person, not for me!”.

    Now, wether or not there is an instutional racism towards nonwhite authors on the editors end, I cannot say, but making the claim that a bunch of white authors results in a bunch of white readers is a logical leap that I am not yet willing to follow.

    In the 1920, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc people of color went and saw movies. They did so despite a studio system overwhelmingly favoring a white audience. Those people *still* see movies, even though the system is *still* racist.

    So, yea, not really following this particular cited effect of the racist worldview. I propose that people of color would discover good genre, the problem is, of course, most of it isn’t good. Lots of minorities like Star Wars, and Dark Knight even if they clearly are by and for people who don’t look like me.

  393. Ashman, I think the evidence is purely anecdotal — there’s obviously been no effort to collect data. But there are quite a few PoC who have written about giving up on SF/F because they didn’t see anyone to identify.

    For myself, I still read the genre, because I love it — but I spend more time these days reading mainstream lit., which tends to have a more diverse cast of characters. Although they have their issues too.

  394. mythago: I’m white, and I really don’t have a lot of patience for the “use different terminology because yours hurts my feelings” argument. If it makes you feel guilty to think about having “white privilege”, then

    mythago, I think you want people to feel guilty. I think you want to use terminology that makes people feel hurt. Why you want to do that, I’m not sure. Honestly, I don’t care. It’s your issue. Whether you ever decide to deal with it or not is up to you.

    After reading Mary Anne’s almost zen like calm approach to talking about this stuff, immediately after dealing with you and Bruce (waves to Bruce) beating me over the head with it on the previous thread, the differences in not only the approach but also the intent are clear. Same weapon, completely different approach. She seems intent on stopping the problem while causing as little collateral damage as possible. You want to find problems and shove people’s noses in it.

    How can you possibly believe “we are all racist” while insisting that you be allowed to point out someone’s racism in the manner that is most painful to them? Either you don’t really believe you are quite as racist as everyone else, or you believe you are racist, and you want to make sure everyone, including you, does pennance for it.

    Whatever it is, you’ve got issues. Stop taking them out on everyone else.

  395. I didn’t know queer was a socially acceptable word to describe gay people again. Maybe it’s a regional thing. I hope it’s being used ironically.

  396. Greg London:

    Does this conversation you want to have relate specifically to Race and SF/F? If not, please table it. Mythago too, for that matter.

  397. Ryan, I think it depends on the circles you run in. In my crowd, we use queer to describe ourselves; it’s a nice, inclusive term, and less clunky than LGBT, which is hard to say.

  398. John, I actually managed to crosspost @433 with you, but happy to accept a Mallet Warning. It’s way better than an actual Malleting. shudders

    Ashman @440, I’m sure PoC read books and read SF/F; the issue is really whether they would read more SF/F (and see more SF/F movies, I guess) if it were a little broader in spectrum, and whether those of us who aren’t PoC would benefit from having a broader spectrum in the genre. I think I already used the example if what if virtually all of the SF you could get your hands on was limited to one genre; say, cyberpunk. Now, cyberpunk is fine, but even people who still wear their mirrorshades at night would probably get tired of yet another gritty futuristic Gibsonesque novel, and might like to see a space opera from time to time; and people who really prefer sweeping Epics of Future Mankind would be poking at the genre listlessly, if at all.

    In other words, we wouldn’t have the same community of writers and readers, and the genre would be the poorer for it.

  399. I love these kinds of conversations, being blind, since birth, I don’t know what color is, but I do know how people treat each other. Even a blind person can see that kind of thing.

    Now, all you writers, explain color to me.

  400. Mary Anne Mohanraj@426:

    Hum… nice to see that I’m not the only person who still feel a great deal of affection for RAH — except for the bits I don’t. And, sorry, I find ‘Farnham’s Freehold’ utterly indefensible. And about six months ago, I re-read ‘Friday’ (the last RAH novel I found readable) and the bit where our heroine enjoyed being raped? Oh, fuck off Bobby.

    Then again, I will walk into any seminar room you choose and offend 90% of the audience by saying, yes, I don’t think you can honestly argue that T.S. Eliot wasn’t an anti-Semite BUT nor do I think that changes his status as the 20th century greatest English-language poet.

  401. 1. Nice post, interesting discussion.

    2. With all due respect, John, MAM didn’t really get into race as it relates to SF/F past some statistics about publishing, so is it really fair to limit the discussion to the subject? It probably is, and I’m probably wrong, but asking anyway.

    3. As far as race as it relates to SF/F, is the focus more on the struggle of PoC Authors, or they way race plays out in the stories themselves? I sort of assumed the latter.

  402. As an aside, and maybe this is for tomorrow’s thread, I wonder if suggestions of Mary Sue/Gary Stu are brought up more often when a PoC and/or female author writes about a main character who is a PoC and/or female, respectively (if that makes sense).

    I think it might happen more often that a person of color is more often instructed to write about their own race/other social category if they want to be published.

    Just one more quick point, which I think only Arachne touched on — when the statement “we’re all racist” is made, I think it would do us well to remember that nonwhite people also internalize some really heinous prejudices AGAINST THEMSELVES**. Arachne is not remotely unique in that.

    Hi, I’m “Mac,” I’m black, and I’m a racist! (I’m going to ponder for a while why it doesn’t bother me in the least to say that, and get back to you.)

    (Okay, I’ve only pondered for a few seconds, and will do some more of that, but I think a major part of it is that I’m over thirty but not over forty — too old to buy into “all racism is contingent on power” thing but too young to have experienced the government-sanctioned varieties of Jim Crow and cross burning — so for me, racism pretty much does equal prejudice — as opposed to bigotry, which is malicious, intractable, doesn’t want to change, and doesn’t give a crap. But I don’t want to sidetrack into a terminology argument; terms are malleable.)

    Oh, and black people read lots. This is something that could spawn its own essay, or indeed ignite its own LiveJournal Fail, frankly, but yes, blacks do read, especially certain new marketing categories that have just been tapped into (sometimes exploitatively, but I’m not getting into that now) in the past five or so years.

    Is there some sort of evidence to support this statement? I ask as a reader of color (I am so not going to start using another acronym) who couldn’t tell you the race of most of the authors he reads.

    I would submit that the race of the author is far less striking/significant to me than the races of the characters contained in the work. I would also submit that the treatment of the characters when they do show up has affected me more than their presence or absence. My feelings on this are far from universal, I know, but I’ve always preferred being invisible to being denigrated (strong term) or inaccurately portrayed (less strong term).

    Oh, and the problem with being portrayed in a denigrating way is that you start to believe it. Reading is formative; stories and fiction are some of the most powerful things we have and are our earliest and most universal teaching tools as a species.

    I should do some work now before I’m given a stern talking-to.

    **And each other! But that’s another tangent.

  403. Does this conversation you want to have relate specifically to Race and SF/F?

    One of my first works of fiction I ever wrote had a Magical Negro in it. I didn’t know it at the time. I realized it later when I was reading some thread about white privilege, racism, and was talking about magical negro characters.

    I felt bad about it when I realized it.

    The story was partly flawed because this character was operating essentially as a writer’s device to give the protagonist the things I wanted the protagonist to get to be used in the plot. And I ended up making him black.

    implicit bias? Maybe. Maybe it was just sucky writing and some random choices that made that secondary character black instead of some other secondary character.

    Whatever, I felt badly about it. I tried fixing the story to get rid of the magical negro aspect. First I changed his skin color, but it wasn’t enough because now I was still aware of the fact that this character wasn’t acting on his own agency, he was a writer’s tool I used to get certain information and help to the protagonist, and he didn’t actually make complete sense when you looked at him. Then I tried to modify the character so that he was acting with his own agency, not for the benefit of the protagonist. And what I got was I needed to just rewrite the story.

    By that time, I was tired of churning the same text over and over. So I just chucked the story. well, not chuck it. it’s in my computer, with all the other ancient relics.

    THe point is, when I realized I had a magical negro in my story, I felt badly about it. Badly about the implicit bias it was probably reflecting and badly about the bad plotting I had done. I felt guilty about the racism. I felt badly about the writing.

    But then I went and fixed the problem by chucking a bad story. Nobody’s ever going to read it. No damage done.

    If I do something and hurt someone, I’ll feel guilty about it. If I can fix the problem or make up for it somehow, I stop feeling guilty about it. If I don’t cause any damage, then there’s some guilt for the implicit bias I discovered, but I fixed it by making sure that story won’t cause any harm. So now I don’t feel gulty about it anymore. I learned something about my implicit bias, and I learned something about sucky plotting and sucky characters.

    My goal is fixing the problem I created, correcting any damage I caused. Whether I feel guilty about it or not, doesn’t really matter to anyone but me. If someone approaches me about something I wrote and tells me I’m bad for what I wrote and I should feel guilty, then they’ve got a different goal.

  404. Hi Mary Anne

    First – I should probably make it absolutely explicit that my remarks aren’t intended to provide cover for the racial weirdnesses of f/sf. I _do_ think that there is something wrong about the way in which PoC play a minimal role in f/sf, and this comment thread provides ample evidence of implicit racial bias on the part of at least some fans. So if you’re someone in this thread who thinks that there ain’t a problem and that I am providing cover for your position, then you’re dead wrong.

    But I do think that people who make accusations of racism have some responsibilities in debate too. So here’s my first base approximation of what they are for you and others to agree/disagree with.

    (1) Personal responsibilities of fair argument etc. I don’t think that anyone has a responsibility not to hurt other people’s feelings – if your feelings are hurt by a private comment that your position is a racist one, then that is tough and the way the world works. But if you are making the accusation in a public forum, you have to recognize that the accusation may have broader repercussions. You are not only saying that you believe the person is a racist; you are asking other people to recognize that this person is a racist too, and take whatever steps they feel are appropriate. This may involve unpleasant consequences for the accused racist, and it may also involve (unless you are careful in your wording) people thinking that the accused is racist in different and more pernicious ways that perhaps call for shunning or even more extreme responses. More generally, I disagree with your claim above (if I understand it rightly) about angry statements. I think it is _understandable_ that people get angry and call people ‘fucking racists’ or whatever when they shouldn’t. I don’t think it is _justifiable_ – I still think that people should not do it, should apologize and clarify when they have a chance to calm down. Of course, there are situations when it is _completely appropriate_ to describe someone as a ‘fucking racist.’ But you should be completely sure that you are in one of those situations before going for the nuclear option.

    (2) Responsibilities to the community that you are part of. This is a debate about the f/sf community and how it should work. People wouldn’t be so heated if they didn’t think that there was something valuable about it. This means that they should, I think, try to minimize damage to the broader community that they are trying to change in order to avoid a ‘we had to destroy the village in order to save it’ problem.

    (3) Responsibility to the political cause that you are representing. People who are trying to represent a point of view that they feel to be vitally important, need to be humble. Their cause is more important than they are (this is the foundation of political responsibility, I think). They should try not to let their uniquely personal grievances get in the way of the changes that they are advocating, and (in a political situation like this one) recognize that part of what they need to do is to persuade and to build alliances, as well as to represent. And here, I think that (to put it mildly) there are some opportunities for coalition building that have been missed.

    All of these responsibilities cut both ways of course – because they are the basic principles (at least in my view) of useful debate on contentious but important issues. So you could easily modify these principles a bit and use them to critique the ‘side’ that I was trying to synthesize above. But in a way, that is the point, I tink.

  405. Mac at 450 got me thinking: If we expect to have black authors write about black characters, and gay authors write about gay characters, are we going to wind up with “category ghettos” at the local bookstore? I worry that if this is how we expect to address the PoC in SF/F issue we risk a future where we go into the bookstore and see “Here’s SF/F, and here’s black sf/f, and here’s gay sf/f, etc.

  406. Ben:

    “MAM didn’t really get into race as it relates to SF/F past some statistics about publishing, so is it really fair to limit the discussion to the subject? It probably is, and I’m probably wrong, but asking anyway.”

    I do think there’s value in keeping this discussion focused, yes. Let me put it this way: I’m happy to have some general stuff discussed if it trends toward talking about race in SF/F, because that’s the genesis of this overall discussion in the first place, and because, while big and messy, it’s still a focused enough topic to get one’s head around. If discussing the general stuff leads to discussing even more general stuff, that’s not very useful and the tangents multiply, etc.

    Also, in the case of the particular commenter, he’s exhibited a tendency toward derail, not out of a Machiavellian desire, but because he has big questions he wants to ask about all this stuff. That’s fine, but as the moderator, I see those discussions trending away from usefulness rather than toward it. So I make the call, and assume the commenter will refocus. As I’ll make the call here by saying that a continuing follow-up on this particular discussion has a risk of trending away from usefulness.

  407. Personally, I’ve found the idea that we are all racist to be incredibly useful in helping me to improve my own behavior. A lot of folks like to operate under the illusion that they’re entirely rational creatures, so the idea that they have prejudices and predilections outside their conscious awareness flips them the fuck out. It’s possible that these sort of people are more drawn to SF/F than other genres, but I don’t have any data on the issue.

    There’s a great bit in Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey about the assumed race of protagonists, and what that does to the reader’s head. I don’t have my copy in front of me, but the basic idea is that if the protagonist is named Bob, the reader thinks, “White guy”, and if the protagonist is named “Chu”, the reader thinks, “Asian white guy.”

    Thanks, MAM, for starting a relatively non-explosive discussion of some hard issues. It was a trip running across your writing here, as I was a fan back when you were writing, well, I guess you’d call it non-mainstream fiction.

  408. John @454: Fair enough.

    Greg @451: As far as race in SF/F goes, this is probably getting us closer to where I thought this discussion would be going. The “Magic Negro” archetype is not something I’m familiar with, but once you put it to words, it’s easy to think of a dozen examples.

    I think more specifics like that would make for a more interesting/enlightening discussion. Anyone know of any others?

  409. Heh, MikeT is referring to the smut, I think. I spent about ten years as an erotica writer before I slid over to the mainstream side of things. Although my mainstream stories still tend to focus around sexuality, ’cause I still think it’s fascinating. :-)

    hjf, I’m not going to discuss your separate points, because mostly I’m not interested in defending the folks who say “You’re a fucking racist.” As I said in my original post, I think that’s almost never productive, not unless the person has transgressed so very badly that it’s really necessary to call that out. Personally, I’d be very cautious about levelling such accusations, because I agree, they do have serious weight and consequences, and I wish other folks were equally cautious.

  410. PJ the Barbarian@453: If we expect to have black authors write about black characters, and gay authors write about gay characters, are we going to wind up with “category ghettos” at the local bookstore? I worry that if this is how we expect to address the PoC in SF/F issue we risk a future where we go into the bookstore and see “Here’s SF/F, and here’s black sf/f, and here’s gay sf/f, etc.

    Since my connection with the GayBorg is temporarily disabled, anyone who “expects” me to write any damn thing is going to be politely but firmly told to go administer a rectal exam on themselves.

    You don’t really want to get me started on the “category ghettos” that already exist in my local Borders — I certainly wish Mary Renault and Patricia Highsmith were still alive to eviscerate the boob who put all their books in the gay/lesbian section along with all the prose soft porn. And, of course, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘The Road’ and ‘The Plot Against America’ aren’t the SF/fantasy fiction because they’re written by “real” writers. But to be coldly pragmatic about it, if putting my writing in the “gay Tory Catholic misanthrope SF” section is going to nudge me above the poverty line, I don’t really care.

  411. Putting my frustrations on the terminology used in this debate aside as demanded by the Wielder of the Mallet of Gentle Correction:

    I’ve been thinking some more about the PoC in SF writing and the PoC writing SF issue. It is rather striking that while a fair few of recent Booker and other major lit prize winners were PoC, and often dealt with very “exotic” or “Other” environments, cultures, and themes, it is hard to see the same happening in SF.

    Would the average SF reader or editor be more biased than the average lit fiction reader/editor?

    Would the cause be more endemic to SF, in that it is by nature writing of the Other, the unknown or speculative; and that writing of PoC / by PoC in an SF form adds an additional layer of “difficulty”, an additional move out of the comfort zone?
    Just playing with some ideas here, that may have been mentioned elsewhere…

    Would there be less of an SF tradition among PoC – as if there such a thing as the one big category of PoC, of course? I mean, is there such a thing as African SF, South-East Asian SF? I have no idea, but it might play a role as well. Just as a reference, science fiction/fantasy is a genre that does not really exist in Dutch literature (my native language). Magic realism, some fantastic aspects, yes, but no straight SFF.
    Of course, people here do read SFF but it’s all translated from Anglo-American authors.

    From a very personal level, I find it hard to write about PoC because they play a very minor role in my life. At the moment, I have quite a few colleagues, but few personal friends who are PoC and that makes it – artificial? if that’s the right word – for me to write about them. I would have to do a lot of research for fear of getting it *completely* wrong (I know I’m supposed to get it wrong, but there’s wrong and there’s hideously, ridiculously wrong).

  412. I really have no idea what the hell I’m talking about here, but I’ll take the plunge anyhow.

    First off I’m I surprised that nobody has used the word “Xenophobia” in this rather lengthy discussion. From my standpoint, racism = xenophobia, plain and simple. The human animal is basically programmed from day one to be xenophobic, and there’s pretty good evidence that various early species of man (see Olduvai Gorge) enjoyed killing one another. I can’t imagine they spoke the same language, so I’m guessing it boiled down to “That creature looks different than me so I’ll crush it’s head with a rock”.

    It’s a probably a good thing that aliens have never seen fit to land on the White House lawn, because it’s doubtful that they would look like Star Trek aliens (bi-pedal with only minor facial cosmetic differences). Imagine a space ship filled with aliens that look like centipedes, otters, or big blobs of goo. Our culture is so heavily ingrained with xenophobia, (and popular entertainment drives that effort) that non- symmetric, non-bipedal aliens landing on the White House lawn would probably result in worldwide riots, civil unrest, and fear – it might even cause the collapse of civilization as we know it.

    Ok, back to the real world. I’ll present an argument here, and say that xenophobia (again, I’m scrubbing the use of the word racism) is a worse for a little person, than it is for a person of color. And when I say little person (the politically correct term), I mean dwarf or midget. When a person of color walks into a setting with primarily white people, people are going to give that person of color and extra glance – and the POC knows it. When a little person walks into that same setting, regardless of the racial mix, they are not only going to get the double glance, they are probably going to be blatantly stared at. If you have ever seen The Station Agent with Peter Dinklage, there’s a great scene where he stands up on bar stool and yells “Here I am! Take a look. Take a look!”

    And because I’m more of a film guy, I’ll reference 2 of my favorite SF films – one racist, and the other one about racism.

    RASCIST: Brother From Another Planet. Writer/Director: John Sayles (white). Basically a black guy (alien) lands in Harlem, but nobody pays him any attention because he’s a person of color. What makes it racist? The fact that the other 2 aliens chasing him are white, which promulgates the Hollywood stereotype of “the evil white guys are chasing the black guy”. Once you get past that piece of nonsense, it’s actually a pretty good film.

    RASCISM: Enemy Mine. Writer: Barry Longyear (white – Hugo Winner for same BTW). Snip from the IMDB: In other words … replace “alien creature perceived as being evil” with anybody different from you (creed, color, sexual orientation, you name it…), and you pretty much get the tale of tolerance this movie tells about life (on earth or other planets):

    Did I prove a point here? Probably not, but I hope I added to something to this great conversation.
    Thank you John & Mary Anne!

  413. @Mike T: “Personally, I’ve found the idea that we are all racist to be incredibly useful in helping me to improve my own behavior.”

    This! I remind myself of it all the time, especially on rare occasions when PoC (we have a large community of First Nations where I live–Natives in U.S. vernacular, I gather) assume that any perceived slight in my work environment (another table’s food coming up first, etc) is a result of racism against them. I tell myself they have preconceived notions of how they’re going to be treated, not just based on the color of their skin, but on the color of mine, and I make a subtle effort to reassure them that in *this* case, that’s not what’s happening.

    And you have no idea how appalling it is to hear someone educated and “respectable” come out with some hideous racist word that leaves me feeling like I need a shower. (Well, I’m guessing you actually do, heh.) When that happens, they get “the look” and that’s usually enough to let them know I don’t put up with that sh*t. Sometimes they need a less ambiguous hint applied with a mallet, though.

  414. @ 461, Brother from Another Planet also stars Joe Morton, who I’ve always thought is one of the best people on Eureka.

  415. Just a note to say: I am thrilled to be linked here, even if it’s just in the comments!!! (#304)

    The MetaFilter comments on that post argued and argued that I must be wrong or over-dramatizing. (And there was plenty I didn’t include, since it would make me more identifiable.) White people do not want to believe racism is real, so they try to argue it away. *clears throat*

    Hi John, I’m a big fan. And I love your cats too, which you are late in posting today. ((snaps fingers)) Hurry up, dude!

  416. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Please forgive me if this has been already addressed – it’s a very long thread and I’m only halfway through it. But I do have a couple of questions for you.

    I like the fact that you start with the statement that we are all racist. I’ll even cop to some of my own racism. I do see a persons skin color first, and I’m aware that colors some of my reactions.

    However, I rarely see any discussion of the racism that I see among African Americans in this country. My wife, who is from Japan, noticed it strongly after being in this country only a year.

    Do you consider this significant? Or is it irrelevant because African Americans are more rarely in positions of power? I am confused because so much of the discussions of racism are about the tyranny of the white races.

    Second, the term POC that I am seeing so much these past few days. Is my Japanese wife or one of our children a POC? Is a Mexican immigrant a POC? Or is it a term for those of us with darker brown skin only? I ask just for clarification, because I find the term a little confusing.

  417. First off I’m I surprised that nobody has used the word “Xenophobia” in this rather lengthy discussion. From my standpoint, racism = xenophobia, plain and simple. The human animal is basically programmed from day one to be xenophobic, and there’s pretty good evidence that various early species of man (see Olduvai Gorge) enjoyed killing one another. I can’t imagine they spoke the same language, so I’m guessing it boiled down to “That creature looks different than me so I’ll crush it’s head with a rock”.

    I’m not totally sure that claiming that racism is an inherent fact of human biology is the way to, uh, move forward in discussion.

    But, then again, “scrubbing” the word “Racism” out of the conversation may mean that you’re not actually interesting in moving the conversation at all, but rather stopping it or, at best, diverting it.

  418. But it is essentially what you’re asking, you have to realize. Making things fair for everyone means that people who are currently enjoying privilege will have a slightly harder time. For some, this will make a difference in their wellbeing when in competition with others. And you wonder why such people get irate?

    That’s assuming there are no benefits to giving the non-privileged a leg up. Would our culture be better if, say, Salman Rushdie had never been published? I’d say no. Would sci-fi be better without Octavia Butler? If Some Anonymous White Author was pushed aside in favor of Kindred, I’m not shedding any tears for him or her. Diversity of backgrounds and thought lead to better literature and a better culture. To better science and better science fiction.

    Complaining without logic or without an attempt to fix/give reasons for the wrongness is just that. Whining. Whining fixes nothing. It only makes the whiner look bad.

    Really? Because I’m never watching Born on the Fourth of July again, you can’t make me, and I don’t care if it makes me look bad. I can list twenty reasons why I hated that movie but I don’t feel obligated to do that. It would be nice, if I were telling a friend not to watch it, if I told them why, but I don’t have any kind of moral obligation to say exactly why I hated it. Good criticism is a privilege, not a right. As someone said long ago upthread, writers get called out on style, punctuation and generally bad (or perceived as ‘bad’) writing all the time. Why is this different and special?

  419. I am going to do what I think really needs doing, here or somewhere: that is, explain again why positing “racist” and “ni**er” as equally Mean and Hurtful Words we should not use is so offensive and–here it comes–racist. This bizarro assertion has cropped up all over the RaceFail disscussion zones, not only here, and it deserves a through rebuttal since it will not die. The thread has moved on but I don’t think the people claiming that have figured out what’s wrong with it. But it isn’t complicated at all.

    Everyone here will agree that racists exist. Not you, never you, but let’s say, David Duke. David Duke is a racist. It follows, it is a verifiable fact that some people are racists. When you say “I am not a racist,” if you are not quibbling over definitions and connotations, you are saying something more akin to “I am not an airline pilot” than “I am not Santa Claus.”

    So, in order to claim that calling a white person a racist is like calling a black person a ni**er, you must assert that some black people are ni**ers. You must believe that a ni**er is a real thing that a person can be. This belief is racist. Screamingly racist. There are nicer ways to say that, but the nicer ways are not equally accurate and true. Accuracy and truth are important.

    I think maybe some people didn’t think long enough to realize that was what they were saying, but now they know.

    (I apologize for the asterisks, I don’t like the coyness of “n-word” and I will not write the word itself repeatedly here out of respect, so it was an unpleasant compromise. I think the practice is stupid but I don’t know what else to do.)

  420. @Chris Entwistle/465:

    Mary Anne talks about it right up front– racism in this culture affects us all, and you don’t get away from it by being a person of color.

    Your wife and child would both be considered a person of color, yes.

  421. Craig @ 459, I’m a taxonomy geek in the book business, and one of the things I love about the online world is that I can put a book on as many “shelves” as I want. If you’re looking for Gay Sci-Fi of Color, we can do that, but then I can also put that book in 20th C American Lit., because it’s that, too.

    @462, boy, do I ever know what that feels like. Had one of those experiences fairly recently, and it left me fuming.

  422. Chris, Wikipedia offers a good definition of People of Color:

    And yes, I’d consider your wife, child, or a Mexican immigrant people of color.

    And the question of whether African Americans can be racist depends on which definition of racism you use. By mine (everyone inherits racial prejudices in this racist world we live in), yes, absolutely.

    By the definition of racism = inherited prejudice + (power) institutionalized systems of oppression, then no, they can’t. So it’s helpful to be clear which definition you’re using when you use the word, and when you’re in conversations with others, know which definition they’re using!

  423. I’ve pondered some more (and will continue to do so): It’s possibly because I’m one of those Lit-Crit people. (that’s where MY useless BA in English led me — to even more certifications of questionable usefulness…). Words are cowed minions that serve me as they do Humpty Dumpty, bwahaha!

    The argument about writers of color writing is twofold, for me: there’s a literary argument and an economic argument.

    I have no qualms about skilled white writers doing characters of color if they’re doing them in a way that does not cause me to flinch and feel upset. It is true, however, that writers of color are simply more likely to get certain details right, in the write-what-you-know vein (and to get a bit of a pass, if we’re honest, if they fudge some: “Hmmm. Okay, maybe that’s an exception that this writer has experienced, even if it sounds off to me, so I’m gonna move on”). So to get more accurate, or even simply more varied, portrayals, it behooves us to get a greater variety of folks contributing. That’s the purely literary argument.

    The second argument is economic. I’ve found it easier to make this point with acting: I don’t mind an actor that can “pass” taking a role if they are skilled as actors — if they’re passing, they’re going to be interpreted as that minority (inherent in “passing”) and so all the little more-”authentic” children watching can still go “hey, s/he looks like me!” and get validation from that. (This does NOT include the Rathbonian “oh, well I’ll just work on my tan” or “let’s put funky tape on her eyes.” We can all see through that, and it’s gross, and insulting to all parties in my opinion, including the actor in [insert color]-face. However I will not get too up in arms if, say, Marianne Jean-Baptiste is picked to play an African-American — she can do the accent; her presence is not devaluing to me.) And I’m not particularly concerned if the actor in question has suffered properly in real life, or what have you — that’s where the “acting” part comes in (and also, more to the point, the “skillful” part).

    HOWEVER, that becomes economic discrimination when actors who actually are members of an ethnic group (and who might be equally or more skilled, but we’ll never know) are habitually passed over, never even considered, in favor of the one or two “popular” ones who can “pass.” (I think — please correct me if I’m presumptuous — that this reasoning can be tweaked to apply to gay actors vs gay themes in film as well: it’s a good thing that we have more visible gay characters in Hollywood, whoever is playing them, but it still not as encouraging all that when an admission of real-life homosexuality is still enough to derail your acting career.)

    In writing — I was mostly made aware of this in the romance genre, particularly interracial romance — this comes to the fore when white writers who write about minorities are given more leeway and more promotion and marketing for doing the same damn thing that a writer of color is doing. This also touches on the Fail inherent in sequestering off books based on the ethnicity of their authors rather than on the subject matter they deal with — white-authored interracial romance being put on the general Romance shelf, African American-authored romance being placed on the African American literature shelf, which limits that author’s exposure not just to 11% of the population, but only the subset of that 11% who want to read Romance! The white author, dealing with the same subject matter and generally at the same level of quality, will get more exposure, therefore a longer shelf life, therefore more cold hard cash. This is systemic, and not fair. (The argument “African American kids can have a shelf of books to look at and can therefore feel validated” doesn’t fly much with me when it actually hurts the producers of those books directly in the pocket.)

    If we expect to have black authors write about black characters, and gay authors write about gay characters, are we going to wind up with “category ghettos” at the local bookstore? I worry that if this is how we expect to address the PoC in SF/F issue we risk a future where we go into the bookstore and see “Here’s SF/F, and here’s black sf/f, and here’s gay sf/f, etc.

    We already have category ghettos in some bookstores; Craig @ 459 pointed out some others that I was not aware of. This is an ongoing subject that we’ll have to be continuously vigilant on.

    @464 — Daisy, I loved your post. And was greatly saddened, but unshocked.

  424. As a fellow brown person, with a name that is as Muslim as it gets, i feel your post 9/11 pain. My friend, who is black, and I have vowed to travel separately in certain parts of the country because otherwise we run into DWB (Driving while black) on the roads and FWB (Flying While Brown) in the skies.

    My only problem with the argument I’ve seen on participation is that it almost seems to assume there is only one race discussion going on. For me, at least, this is a discussion I have with myself and the world around me on a daily basis. I chose not to participate in this one because I tend to think important discussions should be had in a more face-to-face or back and forth setting, but I definitely felt as if NOT commenting on this was tantamount to guilt. Which is ridiculous–why am i sitting on my hands if I chose not to get involved in THIS discussion, when i actually work in organizations devoted to addressing these problems?

  425. Indus, I don’t think there’s any obligation on you or anyone else to participate.

    I do think there was a time in the discussion when it seemed to many fans and aspiring writers that all the big professionals involved were on the ‘other side’ (I dislike that framing, but am having trouble coming up with a better phrasing right now). At that point, I think it was really worthwhile that Susan Groppi and Pamela Dean and Justine Larbalestier and other prominent writers and editors spoke up against racism. But I don’t think there was an obligation on any individual to speak, nor should have been.

  426. There are standard ways of derailing a debate on racism. Derailing is an implicit “I don’t want to talk about your point. I want to talk about something that doesn’t make me feel guilty or edgy or sad.”

    1. One of them is “Black people are racist, too!”
    See Mary Anne’s comment. Everybody is racist (by Mary Anne’s first definition). Black/Japanese/any other people’s being racist doesn’t make it any less painful, or wrong, that white people, the people who, as a whole, have the power are racist.

    2. Another one is “I don’t notice color!” (You’d think Stephen Colbert would have shot that one down.)
    I encourage people who believe this to take the Harvard Project Implicit test, which asks you to make decisions too fast to censor them.

    3. Another is “You’re so angry!”
    Yes. People are angry. And their experience is that it doesn’t matter whether they are polite and distant or furious; people find an excuse not to listen. It is not true, and has not been true in the current discussion, that people listen to calm arguments any better than to angry arguments. For example, DeepaD’s detailed discussion of her problems with Blood And Iron has been consistently ignored in favor of complaining that Avalon’s Willow only read a couple of chapters.

    If you look at Section 4 of “How to Suppress Arguments About Racism”, you’ll see many derailing arguments laid out.

    They are there for a reason. Each of these arguments is a way to avoid talking about the subject that was raised, the subject of racism in the community.

  427. @474, let me try to phrase it better, although you’ve phrased everything so beautifully so far I hesitate to try:

    I too think there was a time in the discussion when fans and aspiring writers were troubled by the silence of a lot of pros in the industry. I think most fans think of there being a community among s/f professionals– and there is to an extent– so having so many professionals say nothing felt very much like the quiet people approved of the Pros Behaving Badly, or at least didn’t want to spend any time or effort calling them out or supporting fans of color. (Who were, at the time, being called orcs and the like.)

  428. Yes, thank you for clarifying. There certainly is some community among SF/F professionals, but it’s far more of a offline community, periodically renewed at various in-person conventions.

    I, and many other pros, weren’t aware of any of this until a week ago, but that wasn’t at all obvious to the participants in the months of discussion.

  429. Mary Anne (471), I don’t see how this is possible even under the second definition of racism. A recurring theme in Black American music and literature is the horrid treatment of blacks by black police officers (see, e.g., the works of NWA, Jay-Z, and Spike Lee). If that’s not an abuse of the most simple and tangible form of institutional power–the authority to do violence legally–I don’t know what is. And that theme started at least 20 years ago. When the president and the last two lawyers-in-chief have been PoC (PoC’s?), what can it mean to say that PoC have no access to the power of institutionalized systems of oppression?

    I don’t mean that rhetorically–I know you don’t abide by this definition, but can you clarify? Because it sounds to me like this second definition of racism is crafted specifically for the purpose of excluding non-whites from its purview, rather than accidentally having that effect.

  430. MikeT@470: Oh, I don’t mean to be excessively snarky about Balkanization in large chain bookstores, because I guess they’re there to shift enough stock fast enough to cover the bills not massage my delicate literary-critical sensibilities. (I also have a sneaking suspicion that actually reading is grounds for dismissal from those places.)

    But they sure throw throw up some weird results — one indie story I shop at regularly has everything by Walter Mosley in the mysteries section because that’s the genre he’s always going to be associated with. James Baldiwn and Samuel R. Delany are tucked away in the gay section. Alice Walker hangs with the feminists. Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison are enshrined as ‘literary fiction’ — which is somehow different from the fiction fiction.

    I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, but it certainly says a few intriguing things about the customers of that store.

  431. I have a concrete example of racism in the genre, by the way.

    Cindy Pon was shopping around her novel, Silver Phoenix. Here’s what she has to say:

    when i met with a [sci fi/ fantasy] publisher
    at a writing conference last year, he had read the first
    12 pages and said to me : “why is this fantasy?
    this is amy tan meets crouching tiger.”

    like it was a BAD thing.

    also : “asian fantasy does not sell.”

    This publisher compared a novel to a bestselling NYT legend-based novel and an Oscar-winning wujia movie to explain why it wasn’t saleable. “Amy Tan meets Crouching Tiger” is an elevator speech, not a barrier. Many people on my friendslist said “Oooh! I’d buy that!” based on the description alone.

    The publisher also said, point-blank, that Asian fantasy wouldn’t sell. That means anything drawing on the Asian experience.

    To rule out some obvious derailing points:
    1. Cynthia sold her novel. It’s coming out this Spring from a major publisher, HarperTeen. This was not an unpublishable novel.
    2. Asian fantasy does sell. Look at, to take the most obvious example, the thriving market for manga.
    3. “Asian” is more properly an ethnic group than a race. Don’t go there. The definition does not matter — what matters is that an entire group is being excluded.
    4. Yes. This is only one publisher. But it’s a concrete example that explicit racism — not just the unconscious kind — exists in the industry.

  432. Mary Anne Mohanraj:

    “I, and many other pros, weren’t aware of any of this until a week ago, but that wasn’t at all obvious to the participants in the months of discussion.”

    Yes, and additionally it’s worth remembering that a lot of people who frequent here were not aware of this discussion either, or, commensurately, are aware of all the inside pool about the rhetorical dynamics of the discussion as it’s gone down on LJ and other places. I note this because I see some folks who have been following the discussion all this time being less than charitable about the comments and questions here (the dreaded “bingo card” snark has been in effect more than one place).

    My feeling about this is: Dude. People are trying, here. Some of them are new to the conversation. Would be nice to see some slack being cut.

    But that’s again a meta-conversation that need not be pursued further at this point.

    Also, in case it’s not already amply obvious to everyone, I am remarkably grateful to Mary Anne for her participation, both in the original entry and in her continuing work here in the comment threads. This has been great for me to read and think about.

  433. I like seeing diversity-in the people around me and my friends and in the worlds and characters I read about, . I admit, living in Southern California makes it easier to see a diverse society. Yes, it’s easy for me to fall into the ‘default = white,’ so anything that writers can do to make it easier for me to see the fictional world as diverse is that much more appealing to me. Got a minor character that needs a name? It doesn’t have to be Bob or John or Amanda. How about Nguyen, Danisha, Esparanza, Abdul? I saw students with all those names, plus Jack, Anna, and a few more, yesterday alone. The world is full of different people- I don’t see that our future or fantastic worlds should change this.

  434. Jonquil: I encourage people who believe this to take the Harvard Project Implicit test, which asks you to make decisions too fast to censor them.

    Yeah, I took it yesteday. Results:

    Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between Light Skin and Dark Skin.

  435. Greg@484: Go team you. I flunked like a freighter full of fail colliding with the Golden Gate Failbridge in San Failington, Failifornia.

  436. DPSquared, I don’t know that I really understand the prejudice + power definition; I only encountered it in the last week. Some of this stuff is new to me too! But I think this is what they’re arguing:

    You can certainly have individual black folks with individual power. Clarence Thomas, for example, could decide that he really hated white people, and could start voting against any white people who came into his court. We could come up with all kinds of scenarios where a black man had power over some white folks, and chose to do damage to them, based on their race.

    But what the prejudice + power folk seem to mean isn’t individual power, but rather, the institutionalized power structures endemic to our racist society, that will act to deeply reinforce white action against people of color. Clarence Thomas can do whatever damage he can do, based on his own position, but he won’t have an entire social structure reinforcing his prejudices and helping him enforce them.

    Does that make sense as an argument? If anyone else can explain this viewpoint more clearly, please do!

  437. jonquil: Go team you.


    I flunked like a freighter full of fail colliding with the Golden Gate Failbridge in San Failington, Failifornia.

    And I did not.

    The point being not every objection to the way a conversation about race is being conducted is a lie and/or an avoidance technique. It can be a legitimate objection provided by someone not acting from implicit bias.

    And when a legitimate objection gets a response like

    Derailing is an implicit “I don’t want to talk about your point. I want to talk about something that doesn’t make me feel guilty or edgy or sad.”

    Then who doesn’t want to talk about some point of fact because of how they feel about it?

  438. Just a brief note about a long ago post (I’m slowly catching up): Steve Burnat@127 implied that whites were not privileged in Japan. I lived there for three years. It is true that we were not as privileged as the Japanese, but we were generally regarded as being better than other Asians, and much better than darker-skinned minorities. So yes, there was white privilege there as well.

  439. also : “asian fantasy does not sell.”.

    Does this publisher perchance live at the bottom of a deep well? Or in a nuclear shelter of some sort?

    (I really hope the underlying subtext was not “when it’s written by actual Asians.” Because, yuck.)

  440. Greg: That was a genuine congratulations. I’m sorry if my tone made it seem otherwise.

    “Then who doesn’t want to talk about some point of fact because of how they feel about it?”

    The point is that there are many, many factual issues that are irrelevant to the point being made.

    If I say “Horrible things are happening in the cattle industry” and you reply “Don’t you realize there are starving children in Asia?!?!?”, that’s derailing. It is refusing to talk about the topic in favor of another topic.

    The discussion at hand is not “How a disfavored racial minority sometimes oppresses other minorities.” The discussion at hand is “How racism affects SF/F.” And black people, and Japanese people, are not in power in the SF/F industry, and their (possible) racism is irrelevant to that discussion.

  441. Greg London:

    “It can be a legitimate objection provided by someone not acting from implicit bias.”

    Let us posit that this particular online test, while interesting and apparently of clinical utility, is neither definitive in terms of one’s disposition toward racial bias, and also — without suggesting such in this particular case — reliant on self-reporting of results when played with on the Internet.

  442. Jonquil @ 480:

    Uncomfortably reminiscent of a rejection letter I got 20 years ago (one of many for the same book, all on similar grounds, although it was eventually published):

    I’m no kind of homophobe, nor do I think many in the SF audience would be, but I found no reason for the plot to revolve so integrally around a gay relationship, and the book was off-putting to me for that reason. [The author] breaks no new ground with the same-sex relationship, and thus I think she takes an unnecessary chance of alienating some readers who would otherwise enjoy the story more wholeheartedly.

    I can’t help thinking that there’s a mindset making some book publication decisions that thinks: I’m no kind of racist, and I don’t think many in