Drowning in Apathy

Drowning in Apathy

I’ve been trying all weekend to write a post that will express several emotions and truths about this latest explosion of debate, discussion, and fail around cultural appropriation and other related issues. You’re all sick of hearing about it, yadda, yadda. I never could write that post. Because it would be pointless. Because most people just aren’t fucking listening. And those that are don’t need the post.

I love how it’s always those people over there causing the problem. I love how everyone gets to say “Oh, it’s those people who love conflict doing a circle jerk!” I love how people are complaining about the lack of listening to individuals and not reacting in a knee-jerk way while being completely unspecific, waving hands in general directions, and not listing or linking to anything specific or engaging with the ideas of the people you reluctantly admit aren’t necessarily a part of it.

It’s so easy to point to a group of brown people and hurl the label “mob”, isn’t it?

I love how when it’s you or someone you love who is hurt, other people’s hurts don’t matter. Not just the specific hurts involved in arguing in this climate, but the hurts involved in just being a person of color and having your very self dismissed on the basis of bullshit and, yes, racist thinking.

I used to think that it was possible to make a difference in this community when it came to this kind of thinking. Hell, I’ve had people tell me that my writing or my taking part in discussions has helped open their eyes, change their minds, make them see other points of view. But I’m not sure if it’s worth watching yet another of these discussions devolve again.

Once again certain people have made me question my participation in the SF community. Once again, the majority of those people are white folks engaging in racist thinking and activities, unconsciously or not.

A friend of mine recently complained of a lingering feeling of apathy over this whole issue. Recently as in 3 days ago. At the time I cautioned her against giving in to that feeling — it might not pass quickly, but it will pass, I said. Well, after this weekend, I am mired deep in that apathy myself. Though still pretty damn angry, as the several times I have had to stop and take a breath while writing this attests.

I’m not about to do a flounce-off. Mainly because if I do, nothing will ever get resolved. Or, more accurately, I will not be part of the solution, and I do strive to be.   But I am thinking about what I want to do going forward. I need to take some time on this, because my current instinct is to separate everyone into categories of “Worth my time” and “Worthless” and just go from there. In the long run, that’s probably a mistake. So I’ll hold off.

In case you were wondering, here are the posts I have either partially written or thought about writing:

  • I was going to write about how there’s a difference between someone saying you’ve engaged in a racist act or in racist thinking and calling someone a racist.
  • I was going to write about how the side of this argument that is mainly made up of white people using words against the side of the argument made up of POC and allies like “mob” and “horde” “oversensitive” and “attention whores” is extremely problematic, not just from a reasonable debate standpoint, but also from a racial one.
  • I was going to write about how divorcing yourself from the label of ally because of all the horrible people picking on you is not a form of bravery or self-righteousness, but a form of saying “I refuse to be an ally to you on your terms, seeing that you’re the one suffering from the hurt and oppression I’m allying with you against. It’s really more about what I’m comfortable with.”
  • I was going to write about how if you don’t want people react to your involvement in a conversation as if you’re just like the 10,000 people who have come before, then maybe you should shut up and not make the same statements or ask the same pointless questions that aren’t really questions as those other 10,000 people.
  • I was going to write about how this is the same thing I have seen happen in every debate about race and gender in SF and how we never get anywhere.
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53 thoughts on “Drowning in Apathy

  1. The last of those bullet points is the one that saddens me most.

    You (and others like you) do make a difference. Your efforts are appreciated. Some of us try and listen, and try and learn. It’s often the case that you’ll never hear about the people you DO reach, only the ones you don’t.

    It’s a thankless task. But thank you for doing it.

  2. Um, I could buy you a beer or something and talk about whatever’s on your mind. If there’s anything else I can do, let me know.

  3. “It’s so easy to point to a group of brown people and hurl the label “mob”, isn’t it?”

    Yeah, just as easy as pointing at a group of white people and hurling the label “mob”. The label isn’t used because all of the people are one color or another or a mix of some colors, it’s because whoever uses it feels that, well, those people are acting like a mob.

    “I was going to write about how the side of this argument that is mainly made up of white people using words against the side of the argument made up of POC and allies like “mob” and “horde” “oversensitive” and “attention whores” is extremely problematic, not just from a reasonable debate standpoint, but also from a racial one.”

    First of all, pitting quote “POC” and their “allies” against white people is itself a racial stance, one equally problematic. “Mob” and “horde” may be unnecessary, debate-wise, but in this case “oversensitive” and “attention whores” are definitely applicable. If the issue at hand is factual and objective, then the personal nature of the discussion’s participants is indeed irrelevant. But if the issue at hand is focused around the subjective experiences of the participants, then the relation of those participants’ reactions to events in the world is quite relevant.

    “I was going to write about how if you don’t want people react to your involvement in a conversation as if you’re just like the 10,000 people who have come before, then maybe you should shut up and not make the same statements or ask the same pointless questions that aren’t really questions as those other 10,000 people.”

    What if you don’t want them to react in the same way because the way they’re reacting is wrong or misguided?

    1. When someone is feeling exhausted from the fight isn’t the time. We get tired of trying to point out sexism and racism – because we get knocked down a LOT by people telling us we don’t even know what we, ourselves, are feeling.

      Whether you have something relevant to say isn’t really the point here – the point is that Tempest is worn out from the fight. And if you don’t understand what THAT is about…well…I don’t know what to say to that….

  4. I was just thinking about how simply browsing and reading these links for forty minutes made me completely exhausted (and horrified, and ashamed, and guilty, and a lot of other emotions) — and therefore how brave and strong YOU must be for putting up with this bullshit day in and day out. You deserve a break once in awhile from educating people. Because even if you take one, or even if you were to stop altogether right now, you will still have made a WORLD of positive difference.

    There’s a lot people don’t realize until they’re smacked in the face a couple billion times, and even then they don’t realize it. I can say that because … umm, I’m kind of that way. But then again, the Obamas happened, so that means that PROGRESS CAN OCCUR. Even in the sf industry.

    If only you could come to Pittsburgh so I could BAKE YOU COOKIES. ;)

  5. I am struck, most of all, with the fact that media fandom has these arguments over and over too — but that we’ve developed (creaky, awkward) customs that facilitate argumentation. And SFF never has; the same arguments happen and the same clueless mistakes happen among the same people and no consensus view of reality ever seems to emerge. It boggles my mind.

    I don’t know if it’s the extra resistance of a culture already convinced it is better and smarter than the mundanes, or if it’s some other form of ossification, but it’s really becoming dire and non-functional.

  6. I really appreciate all your work, Tempest. And I can say that I’m listening, my (white) girlfriend is listening, and I am sure others are, too. But like the first commenter said, I’m sure you’re not hearing from the ones you are reaching as much as you are from the ones you are not.

    1. I do wonder why SFF hasn’t developed any kind of structure for a discussion of racism. The lack of any structure, no matter how shoddy, makes me twitch about taking on discussing race in SFF type cons.

  7. I have been reading as much of this as I could timewise and otherwise, and feeling despair, and thinking that posting about it would be futile, and wanting to scream, and then moving my white ass quickly into the “apathetic” column.

    I am sorry for my silence. I am so very sorry.

  8. Possibly not the best time to say so, but you have helped open my eyes, change my mind, and make me see other points of view, and I’m glad you stick with it.

    1. Yes, thank you.

      I am very conscious of how little I am entitled to the kind of hard and eye-opening work you and others (delux_vivens, deepad, ithiliana, so many people) have done in response to the idiocy of some of my fellow white people (and also aware that it could have been me who showed my ass in ignorant, hurtful rants).

      So really, thank you. You shouldn’t have to do any of this.

  9. Just so you know, back when I started reading your stuff a couple years ago, I had these immediate and really clueless kneejerk responses to most of what you were talking about, but I successfully avoided commenting with them and kept reading instead. I’ve learned a ton from you without ever being one of the obviously unschooled people out there, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Some of your impact is effectively invisible, but it’s real.

    1. You’re definitely not the only one. I hate that my learning is coming at the expense of wonderful people like ktempest, that part really sucks. But I /am/ learning, and I am incredibly grateful for that.

  10. I don’t want to write too much about a work in progress, but it was reading what you have to say that made me seriously re-think whether or not a certain little girl in a piece I am working on was to be the “truth sayer” in the story.

    The handful of main characters are various ethnicities, but that particular little girl is Black (half-black -actually, but you get the point). After a few months of reading what you have to say, I thought, “Maybe she’s not the best choice for that.” After a year of reading what you have to say, I realized that it was just lazy. Everyone can speak their own truth – even in fiction. SO – she’s going to be an expert on dinosaurs instead. In short, yeh, you do make a difference.

    I don’t say much here or at ABW – mostly because I feel it’s better to “listen”, in this place,thank “talk.”

    I suspect that may be true for MANY people you ARE getting through to…


  11. I know a number of very thoughtful people who are quietly watching and listening and learning. (Like me, brown as I am.) Learning to shut up and listen can be hard, and so can learning when one needs to speak up finally. By all means, take the time to refuel, but do come back to this when you can. You make a HUGE difference.

  12. Second what Lisa said!

    Oh, and I should say that I did not, at first, even realize that I’d MADE the little girl a “truth-sayer.” I just needed a character to SAY some things, and wasn’t really thinking THAT through.

    SO..you brought my thinking a long way. And I am grateful on many levels – but I am sure you will understand when I say I have PROFOUND gratitude is that my writing is much, much better.

  13. My greatest hope is something positive will come of this, and that you and the other’s I have come too appriciate who brush the gltter off the crap people try to push on the fannish community will continue to do so, despite those who don’t care to listen. In the end I look forward to all our convewrsation, and whatever happens I got your back.

  14. I feel you on all of it, especially the apathy. When we keep having the same conversation over and over it feels like we’re just talking to air. It’s reinforced when different folks make the same mistake in a single conversation. As I’ve been unable to pull myself from the apathy I don’t have much advice except to always put your health – emotional, mental and physical first and step away when you can no loner deal with the fail.
    If you need someone to talk/vent/commiserate feel free to give me a ping on chat or a call.

  15. I was going to write about how divorcing yourself from the label of ally because of all the horrible people picking on you is not a form of bravery or self-righteousness, but a form of saying “I refuse to be an ally to you on your terms, seeing that you’re the one suffering from the hurt and oppression I’m allying with you against. It’s really more about what I’m comfortable with.”

    hey, let’s take a break from cult approp and TALK about alliance.

    i’m sure someone’s (a lot of someones) done this before, but now would be a really good time to define “ally” and talk about mutuality and what both sides of an alliance owe to each other.

    i’ve been trying to stay out of this round personally, but from what i’ve picked up from this and previous fights, there seems to be a lot of confusion about roles and responsibilities. maybe we should fight that out first, before going back into the topical stuff.

      1. I’d be totally up for listening. And, whatever I can do as a white ally, I’m up for it. Because I just watched two women writers that I had hoped I could admire, totally fail.

        And there just aren’t enough women writers out there that I can admire, and I can’t be someone else’s fail, if I get to that point.

          1. Well, you don’t suck, as evidenced by the fact that you are awesome. QED.

            And I do apologize if I added to the load you’re bearing right now.

          2. nah, I am always looking at the folder of ally stuff and going “damnit, I need to, like, stop being so fail about that.” This is actually a really, really good time for it, so the reminder was needed :)

          3. That’s the reaction I was hoping for, but I don’t think I prodded as well as I should have.

            I’ve been looking forward to it since May, and I still will be!

    1. Dude, you haven’t finished reading Lord of the Rings or American Gods or Stranger in a Strange Land or Kavalier & Clay yet. Like, seriously, wouldn’t it be more fulfilling to spend your time actually reading a fantasy book than being pointlessly cruel to a fantasy author? And don’t toss out that “she started it” stuff, either — you’re nominally a grownup.

  16. I don’t want to even begin to think of commenting on the current discussion(s), nor would I have anything useful to add to them.

    But I wanted to echo Revena’s comments about your invisible impact; I’ve spent a lot of time reading your posts without commenting, not just in this discussion but previously as well.

    I haven’t always agreed, although sometimes I’ve come around after my initial reaction. Either way I’ve appreciated the posts, and the discussions, and often the humor.

    But most of all I appreciate the challenges to my perceptions and preconceptions. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about things you’ve written, and sometimes I’ve come to a better understanding of things that were not obvious to me.

    So, for whatever that’s worth (I know enough from reading here that my education is NOT YOUR JOB and my approval NOT THE POINT) I’m personally thankful for your posts and grateful to have you within our community.

    Thank You.

  17. I just want to add myself to the list of people who are watching and learning, and not speaking up and making our presence known because we don’t have anything to add yet. Personally, I’ve spent about 80% of my time on the internet in the past week reading this blog and the things you link to, and I’ve learned a lot. You’re definitely making a difference here. That said, of course I’ll support you if you choose to take a break or even stop doing this work altogether. But I did want you to know that you are measurably subtracting from the amount of stupid in the world, even if it’s hard to tell the difference because there’s so much more stupid to fill in the places it’s emptied out of.

  18. So several years ago when I stumbled into my first big race/racism imbroglio on Livejournal, like Revena I had these kneejerk reactions which I’m grateful I managed to squash before posting. Instead, I kept reading and kept thinking, and in reading (and occasionally participating in) these conversations, I’ve gotten to see people say things that I might have said, and to see the responses to these statements, and through those responses been able to see many of the real problems in my thinking.

    You do make a difference.

    Some of us are slower to get it than others, some of us are having a harder time getting up the courage to dive in, or figuring out how to do it without making things worse, but you do make a huge difference.

    I hate that my learning is coming at such a high price to you and to others whose powerful words are having such a positive impact. Heck, I hate that I have to learn it at all, that I wasn’t born being the person I wish I were. But I am learning, and you’re one of the people to whom I’m grateful for that. So I just thought I should say thank you.

    So, thank you. A lot.

  19. On the not making it all about white people front:

    Whether or not you’re educating any white people? You keep making it better to be a POC in fandom. So thanks. And take breaks as and when you need to.

    (Also, the difference between “you’re being racist” and “you’re a racist” was addressed here at Shakesville. Does it make me a bad person if I think, though, that this is just more “people don’t listen to you because you’re saying it wrong”?)

    1. Does it make me a bad person if I think, though, that this is just more “people don’t listen to you because you’re saying it wrong”?

      I think that’s exactly the right way to read that particular post, actually, and as always with the question of “saying it wrong”, I think anyone who says “You must say it this way because no one will put in the effort to understand you” is full of it, as is anyone who says “You can say things any way you like and everyone else has to put in the effort to understand you”.

      Communication improves directly with the sum of the effort put in by the speaker to be understood and the listener to understand, and that sum needs to be at least 110% to get anywhere. Specifics of phrasing don’t matter nearly as much as the willingness of the participants to try and figure out what the hell the other person is saying and why they’re saying it.

  20. While I agree, that in -the long run- it’s probably not a good policy to do the worth/not worth my time division, perhaps in the short run it is useful.

    I feel a lot of the apathy and burn out comes because we pour so much time and energy into people who are lost causes, instead of people who get something useful and bring something useful.

    And it becomes like an abusive situation – maybe if we just tried harder, maybe if we just found the “right tone”, maybe, maybe, maybe – we could fix things.

    It’s hard, because, the more you love your particular geekdom, fandom, or hobby, the harder it is to admit that the problem exists because a great number of people willfully maintain the problem.

  21. It is very hard to say what does and does make a difference in the long run. Dividing people into “worthwhile” and “not” has several advantages–the most obvious of which is that you can make more allies with less effort. More allies means that you don’t have to tackle this shit alone; it is better for your blood pressure I think =)

    Not only that, but some people really are lost causes–for you. But allies might get to them–they might be friends, or they might be better at seeing the other side (because they’ve been there!). The more allies you make, the more chances you have at even people who cannot be convinced by you.

    Then the only problem left is how to determine which ones are educable and which ones are not. Optimally everyone should be engaged regardless of initial judgment, but at some point (perhaps even early in the conversation) you should cut your losses and stop replying. Usually by that point they’ve outed themselves as bigoted jerks and neutral bystanders will realize that.

    I cannot comment on your tactics, because I have not seen (most of) them. But your efforts (and efforts of people like you!) do make a difference. No one has ever “engaged” me on this issue, but by reading the discussions and thoughtful posts that everyone has made on the subject, I have come to fully support your efforts.

    …And it’s not just because it came to my fandom too. In case you needed *more* proof that anything you can do is valuable.

  22. I’ll add my voice to those who say: You’re already making a huge difference.

    I’ll also share an image that’s been useful to me personally. (If you find it a waste of time, please just bin it.) I was on holiday by the sea, walking along a pier, furious over a particular instance of misogyny. I turned to walk back, and saw the waves crash against the cliff by the shore. And I thought: That rock is coming down. It may take a thousand years and I won’t be alive to see it, but it’s coming down.

    It made me feel a lot better about being a wave.

  23. Keep your head up sis. One day, sooner than later if I have anything to do with it, we all will learn that the battle to “change people’s mind” is a fruitless battle–human beings will always have character flaws that will allow them to abuse power for ignorant reasons.

    But like the female who tries to “change” a man who is cheating on her, abusing her, and disrespecting her, as some point we have to stop wasting energy trying to “change” grown folks’ mindset and start focusing on self improvement. Eventually the day will come when we stop waiting on others to validate our self-worth. When we no longer allow others to define who we are, then what they say or think has no affect on us–we can focus more on dealing harshly with any racist things they do.

    There are cultures that define beauty in ways that isn’t dependent on the definitions of the west; some even have large rings placed around their necks or oversize jewelry in their ear lobes. If you get a photographer from Vogue magazine to go over there and say, “You are ugly,” they would look at him like he is stupid.” The women won’t run away, crying because some white man called her ugly. She’d laugh, assuming the backwards fool was joking. Why? Because they don’t depend on his definition of beauty. They don’t live by the west’s rule book.

    One day we will learn that–so long as we allow ourselves to be defined by others–we give away our power to others.

    I don’t depend on others to validate me. Therefore, unless they violate, it doesn’t bother me what they think. Simple actually.

  24. I just wanted to let you know that I greatly appreciate your posts in general, Tempest.

    Regarding the current LJ dust-up, I’ve been reading and thinking about it. I’m not sure I have anything worthwhile to say, so I’ll likely continue reading quietly and hoping for constructive responses and resolutions.

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