Steampunk without POC is so 1899

Saw the other day that Hullaballoo, a new steampunk animation project by former Disney animators, reached it’s funding goal on IndieGoGo. Good for the project. It looks like a worthy one. The animators involved want to prove that hand-drawn, 2D animation is still where it’s at. I’m down. The story takes place in a cool steampunk world and has two female leads. More down. The animators themselves are not all white dudes. Very down.

But then we come to the characters. All of them are white.

hullabaloo poster

Seriously??

When I pointed this out to Mary Robinette Kowal, one of the voice actors, she pinged the producer to bring up this point. The answer she got was that the team didn’t have time to make changes to the trailer and concept art before the IndieGoGo campaign, but that there would be a “diverse cast.” Mary also suggested that raising this question in the comments on the IndieGoGo page would not be a bad idea.

I agree. But that shouldn’t be the limit to where we raise that question. It needs to go on the Facebook page, mentioned in YouTube comments, brought up via the contact form on the website, and raised wherever you see someone posting about this project.

Because while I do really want to see this succeed, it would be ridiculous to make a steampunk film with only white characters. There’s no justifiable reason for this cast not to be racially diverse. Even if we’re sticking with Victoriana, it would not break the world to make one of the protagonists Indian, Black, or Asian, just to name three obvious choices among many. And let’s not stop there–diversity among secondary and background characters is just as important as it is for the leads. Hullabaloo could be a great opportunity to show what a racially and culturally diverse steampunk world could be like.

So my challenge to you is this: make that happen. Tweet, post on Facebook, leave a comment on the IndieGoGo page, write blog posts about this. Advocate for positive change. The time to do so is now when the project is still in a nascent form.

Erasure Comes In Many Forms – A ReaderCon Report

Erasure Comes In Many Forms - A ReaderCon Report

The other weekend ReaderCon happened and, on the whole, I had a great time. I am sad I had to leave early to go to a wedding in the city, but that’s way better than missing everything. ReaderCon is usually a good time, even as much as we snark about multiple references to Proust.

There were a couple of things that marred my enjoyment of the con and I’d been trying all last week to write about them. Instead of trying to temper my anger and aim for tact, I’m just going to be blunt.

The fact that none of Andrea Hairston’s books were in the dealer’s room is bullshit of the highest order. Andrea was a Guest of Honor. You don’t fucking NOT stock the book of a guest of honor at a con where you are a book vendor. How is this not con vending 101?

Andrea Hairston is not here for your bullshit

 

The ReaderCon dealer’s room is called The Bookshop for a reason: almost 100% of the stuff for sale is there are books. Every now and then there might be a T-shirt vendor or maybe a flash of jewelry. But it’s ReaderCon, so it’s all about the books. This makes sense.

Some of the booksellers are publishers who are pushing their own books and maybe the occasional extras by smaller presses who can’t afford a table. Those dealers not carrying Andrea’s books makes sense–they are not her publisher.

Some of the booksellers deal in used books or rare books. They also have some excuse for not selling Andrea’s books.

But to the several vendors who sold current, regular books? You all need to have your asses kicked.

Throughout the con attendees asked these sellers if they had any of Andrea’s books. I know for a fact that one of them, Larry Smith Booksellers, told people that her books are out of print. Which is a lie. When I asked, a guy I can only assume was Larry Smith himself yelled this at me. He was angry–really angry–that I had dared to ask him about this and proclaimed loudly that he only sells new books. Meanwhile, Andrea’s most recent book came out weeks ago. Guess that’s not new enough for him.

As an aside, the selection of books on offer by Larry Smith and the other general book vendors is hardly any better than what I can find in the Barnes & Noble. So what value are they adding to ReaderCon, exactly?

If you can’t be bothered to order the books of a guest of honor at the con and you’re rude as hell to con attendees? You shouldn’t get to vend at ReaderCon. And I’m filing a report with the con chair to that effect this week.

In addition to that indignity, the newest issue of Locus contains this:

Alaya Dawn Johnson wasn't even there

That’s from their article on WisCon. There’s a picture of Andrea (with correct attribution) to the right of these words. So it’s a real mystery why the 2011 Tiptree award winner is identified as Alaya Dawn Johnson, who has not won any Tiptree nor was she at the con at all. Seriously, not at all.

Alaya Dawn Johnson wants you to stop saying she was at WisCon

Ever since I started going to cons I’ve joked about how (mostly) white folks can’t tell the POC at the con apart from each other. I don’t even mean just mistaking one black person for another black person or one Asian person from another. I mean mistaking an Asian-American for a Latino dude (this happened at WisCon).

This happens all the time. ReaderCon was no exception. I watched a guy come up to John Chu at the Meet The Pro(se) party and ask him to sign the issue of F&SF with Ken Liu’s The Glass Menagerie. John was very polite when he said “I’m not Ken Liu.” That was, apparently, only one of the times that people mistook him for Ken Liu at ReaderCon this year. I heard that someone congratulated Sofia Samatar on being the guest of honor. I heard that someone started up a conversation with Mikki Kendall and then continued that conversation with a different black woman later on, not realizing that the shorter, lighter woman looked absolutely nothing like Mikki.

Here’s the thing: at cons, we are all wearing name badges. Thus, it is not at all shameful for you to look at said badge to confirm that you are, indeed, addressing the person of color you think you are. Especially if you have not ever met said person of color. It’s okay. But assuming that the Asian man standing in the room must be the Asian man you’ve heard of and asking him to sign a thing? No, people. No.

Over the years I’ve often joked about this. In fact, in my introduction of N. K. Jemisin at WisCon I referenced this phenomenon for the purpose of making folks laugh. I do sometimes find it funny.

Very often I do not. Because this is a form of erasure. It’s a microaggression with a subtext that says: I do not care to figure out the difference between one non-white person and another. And it makes us feel like you don’t eve think of us as people, but interchangeable entities.

And it needs to end.

Stop erasing our humanity by assuming that any brown person might be any other. Learn how to tell non-white people apart. Check name badges. If in doubt, ask us: “What’s your name, again? I’m good with faces but not names.” Don’t ask us: “Are you [other person]?” Stop erasing our accomplishments by assigning them to other people. Check your facts. And for the love of Seshet, stock our books in the damn dealer’s room!

Pearls Before Swine – Or, Why I Bother

Pearls Before Swine - Or, Why I Bother

Just read this really excellent post at Mother Jones by Phil Plait answering the asinine questions put forth by some of the Creationists who attended the Bill Bye debate at the Creation Museum. In the comments you right away get people saying “Good on you for doing this, but why bother? Those people are so stupid and it’s a waste of time to explain things to them.”

This immediately brought to mind a comment on my post from yesterday about making an POC scholarship FAQ wherein Saira basically said the same thing –“Pearls before swine”–and said she’d rather focus on other things. I totally respect that and I say do what you have to do for self care and where you can be most effective. But I get that a lot of from people, the Why Do You Even Bother, about issues ranging from racism in the genre community to sexism in tech. My reasons are probably similar to Phil’s.

Reading through his post I learned things I didn’t know before, and that’s awesome. Any time someone wants to educate me about science I am there. Even if I don’t specifically go looking for it.

Also, I’m fairly sure that the reason the creationists in the Buzzfeed article asked such ragingly stupid questions is because no one has ever bothered to answer them seriously before. I know why that might be. Like I said, the questions are really stupid.

stupidquestion

So stupid they can inspire rage. Or stupid enough that it makes people shake their heads and think This Person is Not Even Worth It. Not everyone has the spoons to deal with crap like that.

If one does have the patience to answer and explain in a real way it helps both the person asking the stupid question and it helps people who have to deal with the kind of people who ask those stupid questions. They can either offer up the knowledge as they understand it thanks to the helpful answers and info behind those links or they can say: “This post over here answers all of that and more, go read it and stop talking to me.” Drop that link and mambo, people!

That article will not change every mind. It may not change more than a tiny fraction of minds right away. It will help some people to think, though. And perhaps if they get more information from other people, the new thinking will start to sink in. I know this can happen because I’ve seen it.

At the beginning of my post yesterday I mentioned my friend who was appalled at the Butler scholarship when he first heard about it and then came around later? That didn’t happen magically. It happened because I took the time to explain things to him and argue and challenge him. And I wrote about issues of race on a regular basis, which he saw. And it wasn’t the next day or week or month that he came to me saying “You were right and I am sorry for how I reacted,” it was long after. I didn’t change his mind right away or even all by myself. I helped.

Other people have come to me over the years, usually at conventions, and told me how they, at first, thought I was SO WRONG about race and the community and so angry and every other thing I’ve heard said about me over the years[1]. But then their anger and defensiveness went away they and they pondered and listened and read other people saying the same things and finally came to a better understanding. They usually thank me or apologize or both. Doesn’t happen super often, but it happens enough that I keep doing this.

Even if Phil Plait only changes a handful of minds, I still say that his effort is worth it. I’m going to the comments section of Mother Jones to say so right after writing this. And then I’m going to go bookmark every single thing on the Con or Bust auction site I want to bid on. Because I also agree that there are many ways in which to make a better world, and I try not to get mired in just one of them.

Footnotes

  1. I know for a fact that people say some pretty shitty things about me behind my back. A lot of it worse than what they say to my face, if you can believe it. What those people might not know is that many of the nice white people and chummy men they think they have such a rapport with are actually my friends, too, and often inform me of these conversations so I can laugh and laugh.[]

This Is Why White People Can’t Have Nice Things

This Is Why White People Can't Have Nice Things

Years ago when the Carl Brandon Society first announced the formation of the Octavia E Butler Scholarship for Clarion and Clarion West, I got into a heated argument with a white, male friend over the need for such a thing to exist in the world. At the time, I was surprised–shocked, actually–at his vehement objection to this scholarship. It wasn’t right, wasn’t fair, excluded people like him, and was likely some reverse racism. We argued, got nowhere, and stopped talking for a while[1]. It was my first time engaging with a person on an issue like this, it was not my last.

Just last month I found myself in the position of explaining the need for a scholarship specifically for People of Color yet again after the announcement of the Writing Excuses/Carl Brandon Society retreat scholarship. If you scroll down to the bottom you can see my very long response to several comments, most of which boil down to:

This isn’t right, it isn’t fair, it excludes white people like me, reverse racism!

And then today I looked at the comments[2] of the io9 post about the Con or Bust auction to see yet more white people complaining that such a thing exists. Giving people money to go to a con based on skin color! What about all the white people like me who can’t afford to go! I haven’t noticed a lack of diversity at the one con I go to! Reverse racism!

It makes me want to facepalm and headdesk at the same time.

Since it seems that this is going to keep happening over and over until the aliens arrive to solve all our problems or take a select few of us off to an otherworldly paradise, I wondered if it would be useful to put together a general FAQ. Instead of battling the seven-headed hydra that is the comments section on any post of this nature, why not crowdsource answers to the most common questions/complaints/ridiculous screeds? Then when someone is Wrong on the Internet, you can drop the link to it and mambo away DJ Older style.

FAQ topics could include:

  • Rebuttal to any comment about how it’s about “skin color”
  • Reverse Racism!
  • I’ve never noticed a need for this, therefore there is no need for this
  • I’m poor and white, how come no one is offering to give me money to attend cons/workshops/retreats?
  • What about women/LGBT/people from outside the US/any other group I can name? Why doesn’t your scholarship/grant cover these groups? Aren’t they minorities, too?
  • Not everything is for you, white people

Please do add any others you can think of. Suggest a FAQ topic, answer, or both in the comments. Your answer can be a condensed version of an existing blog post you wrote or found to be useful. Be sure to include a link for further reading.

Oh, and: get ready for the Con or Bust auction! There are so many awesome things!

Footnotes

  1. That particular friend later on realized his error and apologized to me and we resumed our friendship.[]
  2. I heard tell that Will S showed up in the comments but don’t see him now. He might have gotten moderated into oblivion, but be aware that he may return.[]

Are You Shocked?

Are You Shocked?

Yesterday I spent more time than is strictly necessary reading blog posts by Vox Day and some other people of his caliber. I started my journey at Vox’s response to N. K. Jemisin’s Continuum GoH speech and ended up in some serious weeds once I got to a giant manifesto about how John Scalzi is the soul of racism against whites. No, I’m not linking. I read it so you don’t have to and TRUST ME you do not have to. I’ve also read many responses to Vox’s post, including this one from Amal calling for him to be booted from SFWA. Amen to that.

In several posts and status updates I came across variants of this sentiment: don’t dismiss Vox Day as just some troll. I feel like this isn’t getting said enough. Not because there needs to be more vehement objection to his very existence (there is plenty), but because I think a lot of people have a tendency to consider him extreme and way far out of the mainstream and maybe even purposefully jerking us around not because he believes what he says but because he gets joy from making us all angry. Old Theo probably does enjoy making everyone angry. He also means everything he says. That is important to realize. He’s not a parody, he is serious, that is really the way he thinks. And there are plenty of other people who think just like him. Not only the pathetic commentors on his blog. There are tons of people with his same attitude in the world.

I know why so many people look at him and want to just dismiss it as whiney baby attention grabbing bullshit. There are likely many people who, like me, are pretty selective about the people they allow in their lives or selective about the circles they socialize in or spend more time on friendships that are mainly digital due to distance. I spend most of my time with awesome people. So when I run across someone who says something super misogynist or blatantly racist I’m often taken aback for a few seconds because: really? People like you still exist? Somebody honestly thinks it’s okay to say something like that to me? Or to her? Or him? Why, yes.

Mind you, I’m used to people saying or doing bigoted things out of ignorance or blindness or unexamined privilege. That’s different. That is understandable if not forgivable. But people who just outright call a black person a savage by virtue of them being black? Who does that?

The image of the type of person who does that is often the southern redneck with a KKK hood in the closet. That person surely exists. They are not the only type of person who would unashamedly say that sort of thing. That’s the reality. You and I may not encounter a person like this every day or every month or year or for many years. They still exist. And pretending they’re just some dismissible hillbilly does not, in fact, make them go away or make them less dangerous to our culture.

Make no mistake, the Theodore Beale/Vox Days of the world are depressingly common.

Instead of being OMG Shocked! by it, acknowledge it and make a determination of what you’re going to do about it. I don’t mean going after the dude with torches and pitchforks. he probably would enjoy that too much. You can go after his ideas, though. Drag them into the light and expose them for the vile entities they are. You can provide counterpoint, a less hateful view, and support for the types of people he seeks to put down and belittle. Make it clear where you stand and who you stand with. Demand the best of yourself and your community.

And realize that by doing so you are not making this all about him but all about the people you do want in your community or your life or your inner circle.

Let’s Talk About Human Nature

Let's Talk About Human Nature

Specifically, the Doctor Who series 3 episodes “Human Nature/The Family of Blood”.

Those of you who read my Chicks Dig Time Lords essay know a bit about how I feel about this episode, specifically Martha in this episode, but I’ll give a small bit of explanation and background for those who don’t.

In this two-parter, the Doctor runs away from the Family because they want to capture him and feed off of his Time Lord essence. So he hides the Time Lord bit of him in a watch (aided by the TARDIS) and hen goes to live as a normal human for a bit so that they can’t find him. The species the Family belongs to apparently have a short lifespan, so the Doctor knows if he can just wait them out in hiding, they will eventually die.

So the Doctor becomes human and hides out in pre-WWI Britain as a teacher in a rich boys school. Martha is his companion, so she has to hide out, too. So she gets to be his maid. Since he brought her along with him to this job as a teacher (I think the explanation was that she was his family’s maid) she focuses most of her energy on caring for him, but is also made to do work around the school. At one point we see her cleaning floors with another maid she’s become friends with.

Then, of course, the Family shows up, stuff happens, big adventure[1].

I have a lot of problems with this episode.

  • For a long time I wondered what possible justification the Doctor had for taking Martha to this time period and this place on earth when he had, oh all of time and space to choose from?
  • People have pointed out that the Doctor did not choose the time and place, the TARDIS dd. Well, TARDIS: wtf? Still not okay[2].
  • It’s yet another example in a long list of examples where Martha is put into the Mammy role. I might have let it slide except it happens so often it’s a damn theme, and that’s really problematic.

There are a lot of different strings tying this all together. To start, this episode was based on a Doctor Who novel written by the dude who also wrote the script: Paul Cornell. Apparently RTD liked the book so much he asked Cornell to make an episode of it. But the book was written some time ago starring a different incarnation of the Doctor with a different (white) companion. And thus the companion’s role was very different in the book.

By doing this episode during season 3 Cornell and the creative team introduced a tricky element that wasn’t in the original. They did address race more than once, and that’s good. But they only addressed race in the more surface, basic ways while letting other deeper issues stand.

This is more complicated by the fact that I really like the episode overall. It’s well-written and the story itself is interesting and the dilemma the Doctor faces in the end is crunchy and thought-provoking. I’ve found myself wishing many times since watching it that they’d done this episode with a different companion, because obviously there just wasn’t enough deep thought about race to do it the way they did without being super problematic. Or, that’s the way it seems from the result.

So what precipitated this post? Over on Tumblr I reblogged something from Karnythia about this ep where people expressed their frustration with it. It’s the part where the nurse that the Human!Doctor has fallen in love with is talking to Martha, who reveals she is a (medical) doctor. The woman then says: “Women might train to be doctors, but hardly a scivvy and hardly one of your colour.”  Karnythia points out:

“Black women had been training to be doctors in the UK & the US for almost 40 years at this point. Were there a lot of them? No. But there was a lot of coverage of the ones who did succeed. If she knew women were training to be doctors, then she knew some of them were women of color.”

Perhaps she would have, but the writer and the creative team apparently did not[3].

That gives me a whole other reason to be mad at this episode.

As I said in my Chicks piece, I don’t think anyone was being intentionally racist here and it’s clear that some thought was given to race when they decided to do these episodes with Martha. That’s a good thing. But when you’re dealing with something as thorny as this, you can’t just put some thought into race. And as many people have pointed out, there is all kinds of just on the surface or just under the surface problems with race in the new Doctor Who[4].

These episodes are a source of great rage because of the lack of deep thought about race. For me, the rage is informed by that and by the knowledge that it could be such a good episode if not for this stuff.

And it all makes me realize I need top hop on getting this book started with Karnythia.

Footnotes

  1. If you want a full synopsis, check Wikipedia.[]
  2. In the world of the show that is bad enough. But I find it to be handwavy and bull on the part of the writer/creators/whoever came up with this idea. It looks like they’re trying to absolve the Doctor of responsibility here, and that’s a dick way to do so. Plus, it doesn’t fly for the TARDIS, either, as it’s been well established by this point that it has a consciousness, too.[]
  3. Or there’s another explanation. I think we may find out.[]
  4. The classic episodes, too, of course.[]

You People Are Out Of Your Goddamned Minds

You People Are Out Of Your Goddamned Minds

Can someone please explain to me how one makes the leap from “We no longer want to honor this person” to “Book burning and censorship“? You people do not even understand what censorship means, do you? And to this asshole who threw up the Heinlein quote: since when was WisCon ever a government or a church?

Do you people even read? Do you have brains that work in a logical manner? Or do you just simply wander through life parroting the things you read without any understanding or absorption of them?

Goddamn you stupid, ignorant troglodytes. I am ashamed to share a planet with you, much less a community.

Also, can I just point out that at no point has anyone said Elizabeth Moon can’t come to WisCon. At no point has anyone said that there can’t be a discussion about the issues raised by her post, with or without her. Hell, it’s WisCon, there is going to be a lot of fucking discussion. But I love how these useless wankers run right to that mission statement and declare that there obviously won’t be any of those things because… apparently because they’ve imagined it in their tiny minds.

Your tiny, dirty imagination has no bearing on actual fact. And, you know what, I am hella glad you all won’t be coming to WisCon. I wish you would refrain from coming to World Fantasy, Readercon, or any other con I happen to attend. People like you we don’t need. But thanks to the free speech you so loudly claim no one at WisCon has[1], you can spread your bullshit in public places and at public events. All the while whining about how you’re being oppressed.

I have reached a real breaking point with the cowards in this community. The sad, pathetic people who wish to stir up shit just for the sake of pageviews or getting well-known as crusader against people who think racism and sexism are bad[2]. I am tired of this utter bullshit that comes up Every. Single. Time.

The bottom line is this: you are wrong. You’re just wrong. Bigotry: is wrong. Elizabeth Moon: was wrong.

That doesn’t mean that things or people or ideas or thoughts can’t change. But this is immutable: Bigotry has no place at any con, and I can only be thankful that many of the people who run and attend WisCon work very hard to eliminate it from that one. And that starts by not honoring someone whose bigotry is not in question and who does not, apparently, feel she’s done anything wrong nor has shown any proclivity to dialogue that would lead to something valuable. Therefore, it was the right decision to remove her.

If you feel differently, then say so. But do it out in the open.

Footnotes

  1. Because of RaceFail, doncha know. It’s just so hard to be racist when all of your friends are totally against it![]
  2. I know people think the same thing about me — that I say what i do just to stir up shit and get attention. Because it’s so totally fun being an activist and working to eliminate racism and sexism. It is just too, too exciting feeling all the time like there is a giant group of people out there that thinks nasty thoughts about me, or wishes harm on me, or thinks I’m less than nothing because I’m a black person or a woman or queer or any combination thereof. I absolutely love that! And if I open my mouth even a little bit to say: Hey, that’s not cool, that is hurtful, that is fundamentally wrong, suddenly I am the problem? What even worse: I am not the only person in the community to whom this paragraph could apply.[]

WisCon developments and my breaking heart

WisCon developments and my breaking heart

For those of you who haven’t heard, the SF3 organization that is the parent org for WisCon passed a resolution at their Oct 3rd meeting recommending to the concom that they rescind Elizabeth Moon’s guest of honor invitation. This is just a rec, though. It’s still up to the concom — I assume the troika, actually — to follow through on it. Based on this post by Karnythia, there seems to be a lot of discussion going on within the concom about following this rec, with some strong voices opposed to doing so.

Karnythia’s post is a must read, but even more so the comments. She is not the only one stating that she does not want to attend WisCon but will probably come to Madison. There are even some saying they will not come to Madison at all. The people saying this are people whose contributions to WisCon — both on the concom and the community — are so valuable. They are awesome people, exactly the kind of people you’d want to spend a weekend having conversations with.

That these people may not show up to the con is breaking my heart. And I am so, so angry and hurt by those who are seriously attempting to brush aside the bigotry of Elizabeth Moon so that she doesn’t have to feel uncomfortable and be sad.

Fuck that.

These people are pouring acid over the best part of WisCon, the community. A community that will be diminished if this foolishness doesn’t come to an end. I want to go to WisCon and honor Nisi and have a fabulous tine. Damn you people for putting that in jeopardy.

As Nora succinctly states: A con that honors a bigot is not feminist.

You Know What I Wish?

You Know What I Wish?

I wish people would stop mischaracterizing what went on during RaceFail as mostly a bunch of name calling and ad hominem attacks online[1]. I really do. Why? Because that’s not how it was[2].

You know what else I wish? I wish people would quit using the scare quotes around the word fail when speaking of that time. And trotting out the fallacy of the Fail Fandom or referring to people who work for social justice within the SF community as the Fail Community. Why? Because that’s utter fucking bullshit[3].

Given how at least two people lately have rolled up with this kind of language only to then look at the conversation around MoonFail and say “Oh my, I am seeing a different side of things now!” elicits mixed feelings. I mean, yay that they see the inherent issues here. But the fact that they are still talking about how RaceFail was all just This Way or the Fail Community is usually wrong about these things and just picking on people makes me seriously want to throw hard, overbaked and burnt cookies at them until they cry.

When you dismiss all of the conversations that happened during RaceFail as one kind of thing and when you refer to a Fail Fandom, you are dismissing the very real problems we have in our community surrounding prejudice and the work people have done to eliminate that prejudice from said community. And taking a dismissive stance is just a punk move all around.

Maybe instead of holding on to your ideas of what RaceFail was and what we Fail activists do, you ought to step back and re-examine in light of what you see going on right now.

Footnotes

  1. Before you ask: Yes, I do realize that the person in that post is apologizing for making assumptions. Though I appreciate that, I don’t think that erases my overall point.[]
  2. I’m not going to say that every single person behaved well during RaceFail. But I have seen less evidence of widespread evil orc horde activity and more evidence people ignoring the bulk of the discussions in favor of keeping to the self-perpetuated myth that everyone on both sides were acting badly based on a small sampling or just one person/post. No. Just no.[]
  3. I got no qualifiers for this one. It’s bullshit.[]

MoonFail: Reasonableness

MoonFail: Reasonableness

Jim Hines wrote an interesting post the other day about being the voice of reason and how taking that particular tack can be problematic, even when it has its benefits. This right here is what crystalized it for him:

Isn’t reasonableness a good thing? …I couldn’t quite parse it … until another commenter popped up to say he was talking to me because of my reasoned take on things, “unlike 85% of the poo-hurling monkeys.”

In my time as the Angry Black Woman, I’ve encountered many who have pointed out to me that Martin Luther King is remembered and revered, whereas Malcolm X’s attitude was rejected by sensible folks. These people do not often include folks who have actually read King’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail, and especially not this section of it:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

The idea that it’s never okay to be angry, to speak angrily, to be persistent, vehement, and unyielding to the idea that a little bit of prejudice is okay as long as Big P Prejudice isn’t happening here is an idea that only people like the white moderates King speaks of feel strongly about. Funny how that works out, right?

Jim is right in that reasonableness (or the appearance of it) and patience has a place in sticky issues like this. May of you will probably never believe it, but I used to be known as a “reasonable” black person. I know, crazy, right? I used to be the one who would make very low-key, patient, thought-out and emotionally leveled posts or emails or explanations. I thought that it was something I should do as one of those black people whites felt comfortable around because my skin was light and I spoke “properly”. I thought I was being sneaky by flying under their radar, when in reality I was behaving exactly as they hoped I would behave and not having much impact at all. Even if they agreed with me in principle, most would still go away thinking “Well, Tempest isn’t like those other black people. She’s articulate, intelligent, and reasonable.”[1]

There is a really delicate balance and a fine line to walk concerning reason and anger.

People need to understand that prejudice hurts in all its forms. No matter where that prejudice lies along the spectrum from major to “minor”, it hurts people. Real people. Not just ideas of people. If you hurt me, and I react in anger, and you react badly to that anger even though you did the hurting, who is the jerk in this scenario? If you cut me, why do I need to spend hours and days and weeks explaining to you calmly that I do not enjoy bleeding, that it is bad for my health, and it does not foster a great sense of fellowship and community between us if you keep doing it. Anger is sometimes the only way to make people understand the seriousness of their actions. But, instead of realizing this, they just decide that people are being mean to them.

The balance is, sometimes putting a calm face between the anger and the person hurting you is the more effective route. I’ve found that it’s easy to treat the 100th person to say something stupid and ignorant just like the first 99 people who did the exact same thing and then argued with you about it. It is hard, so hard, to take a step back and realize that there is this constant process of starting over when you introduce people to new concepts. Thing is, those who are constantly embroiled in these fights, who have had this stuff explained over and over, perhaps even calmly, reasonably, and still persist in their ways, don’t get that benefit anymore. And yet they’re the first to complain about it.

And the sad truth is that it’s often the allies who take the position of sounding “reasonable” as they try to get through to people. It’s a sad fact that sometimes their words are given more consideration and weight. I would say it’s incumbent on them to then say: I’m glad you listened to me for whatever reason. But I need you to understand that, as patient and reasonable as I’m being with you, have no doubt that I agree with these people. I think their anger is justified, and your actions/speech are not.

Footnotes

  1. This post by Shweta Narayan about assimilation reminded me of some of what I went through at that time in my life. I did not have the extreme experiences she did, but the tenor of what she describes is so familiar to me. If this doesn’t help you understand what I mean by prejudice hurts, then you’re a cold-hearted person.[]