Intra-Community Behavior – How Do We Address Problems Constructively?

This was a very long comment on the post from yesterday. However, in writing it I realized that this discussion is separate but related, so I broke it out into its own post. This comment addresses some stuff across multiple comments over there plus some things from this discussion on the anon community.

Just to clarify: For me, my worries over the doubts I had about Kynn and the way I pushed them aside isn’t about whether I should have known she would rape someone. It’s totally separate from that. It’s more about how I shouldn’t have accepted that behavior from a person who very clearly wanted to be allied with my community and me personally. I don’t look back and regret my errors because of what happened to jack specifically. Wanted to clear that up.

While on one hand I agree with the anon that points out that within social justice communities if someone doesn’t speak up and say “hey, I don’t agree with the actions this person is taking” then people may assume that we endorse or, at least, don’t find the behavior problematic. And that can be a problem both within and outside of the community.

On the other hand, I very much agree with Cheryl that I don’t then want us to turn the tone argument on each other or start deciding whose anger is more valid. Plus, I get the feeling that what some critics of social justice want in that instance is a public “I DON’T AGREE” in big letters. I’m not always comfortable with that.

Intra-community discussions of appropriate actions and words should stay inside unless the community decides to open it up to wider discussion.

Examples of this include the recent flare-up surrounding Ashley Judd’s condemnation of hip-hop as sexist. Women in the hip-hop and POC community have been dealing with this issue a lot longer, and many did not appreciate someone from outside the community swanning in to give her ill-formed and unwanted opinion on the matter.

Within a feminist context, women outside of mainstream white western culture are forever dealing with well-meaning feminists trying to tell them how their cultures are evil and should be abandoned. Whereas women inside those cultures and communities are constantly saying “Back off, we got this, we’re working on it from our own cultural framework.”

Those are big picture examples. Those are also more straightforward than what we’re dealing with here.

The dilemma I see is this: how does a community or an individual within a community approach another individual to say I/We think you’re crossing a line? That’s a tough conversation to have. I’ve found myself reluctant to have it the few times it’s come up. And, as I said yesterday, I am not the behavior police nor do I feel I have the right to be.

Still, this situation is making me realize how important it is to discuss this and come up with strategies not only to ensure the mental health of the community at large, but also to achieve our common goals.

As before, thoughts are very much appreciated. And to the anonymice out there — I allow anon comments here, but reserve the right to moderate as I see fit. (Generally: deleting abusive ones.)

ETA: Hey anons, want to further clarify something for those of you who seem to be lacking reading skills. This post is not about reactions to what Kynn did to Jack. I’m not saying AT ALL that intra-community issues need to be worked out around people’s reactions to that. I’m talking here about more general issues using Kynn’s behavior before this incident as a touchpoint, but not due to what happened at WisCon. This is about things I observed before that. How people deal with someone in their group who rapes another is a separate conversation and not what I’m addressing here (for that, see the other post). Okay? Okay.

Community, Trust, Responsibility, Consequences

This post may be triggering for some as it contains discussions of rape, sexual assault, and community responses to such.

I promised to write this post last week, but unfortunately preparations for BlogHer took up more spoons than I anticipated. Plus, I’ve been dealing with a lot of intense emotions around the issue and it kept me from posting publicly for a while. But I feel it’s important for several reasons, all of which you will understand by the end of this post. I’m placing the bulk of it under a cut, just in case. Continue reading “Community, Trust, Responsibility, Consequences”

Blog, Organize, Co-Sign, BE Against Racism

From the Carl Brandon Society Blog, in case you haven’t seen it:

Open Letter to the SF Community re: Ellison/Bradford Incident

To the Speculative Fiction Community:

We at the Carl Brandon Society are writing this open letter to our community regarding the recent incident involving Harlan Ellison and K. Tempest Bradford. Mr. Ellison, mistakenly believing that Ms. Bradford had criticized him on her blog, wrote a post on his discussion board that included the following passage:

She is apparently a Woman of Color (which REALLY makes me want to bee-atch-slap her, being the guy who discovered and encouraged one of the finest writers and Women of Color who ever lived, my friend, the recently-deceased Octavia Estelle Butler). And she plays that card endlessly, which is supposed to exorcise anyone suggesting she is a badmouth ignoramus, or even a NWA. Ooooh, did I say that?

Mr. Ellison has subsequently apologized to Ms. Bradford and she has accepted his apology. We do not wish to address what has now become a private matter between the two. However, since the problematic post was made in public and thus was published in full view of the SF community, the Carl Brandon Society wishes to define some basic principles of discourse which were put into question as a result of this exchange. We hope community members will consider and respect these principles in future debates and disagreements.

These principles are as follows:

1) The use of racial slurs in public discourse is utterly unacceptable, whether as an insult, a provocation, or an attempt at humor. This includes both explicit use of slurs and referencing them via acronyms.

2) Any declaration of a marginalized identity in public is not a fit subject for mockery, contempt, or attack. Stating what, and who, you are is not “card playing.” It is a statement of pride. It is also a statement of fact that often must be made because it has bearing on discussions of race, gender, and social justice.

3) Expressing contempt for ongoing racial and gender discourse is unacceptable. Although particular discussions may become heated or unpleasant, discourse on racism and sexism is an essential part of antiracism and feminist activism and must be respected as such. There is no hard line between discourse and action in activism; contempt of the one too often leads to contempt of the whole.

The Carl Brandon Society assumes in this letter that everyone reading it shares the common goal of racial and gender equity, and general social justice, in all our communities. We hope for a quick end to arguments over whether or not unacceptable forms of debate should be allowable. These arguments obstruct the process of seeking justice for all.

Sincerely,

The Carl Brandon Society

STEERING COMMITTEE
Candra K. Gill
Claire Light
Victor Raymond
Nisi Shawl
Diantha Sprouse

To express your agreement and “sign” this letter yourself, click here.

(comments are off here on purpose.)

Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #2

Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #2

The related post I promised.  (Also part of IBARW) To recap, Ashok Banker posted about problems of bigotry is SF/F field.  Said some very interesting and insightful things.  He also quoted me, Tobias Buckell, N K Jemisin, and Micole talking about the Sanders thing and bigotry in general.  He agrees with us, but has a quibble about our methodology:

Other American SF writers like K. Tempest Bradford have admitted that such bias exists, and have spoken out against it. Although their rants are invariably tempered with mention of the two or three SF editors they know and are working with who are definitely not racist or biased, because, how could they be, if they’re working with them? Punches are pulled, no doubt about it. And nobody seems to have the balls to really call a spade a spade–or, to use a less unfortunate turn of phrase, a white lily a white lily.

[…]

Writers like Bradford, Buckell, and others who have spoken out against racism are always cautious to do so in small measures, focussing their ire, often disproportionately, on individual cases like Sanders of Helix Magazine. This is understandable. These writers want to make a living in that field, and are undoubtedly afraid of antagonizing people they work with on a daily basis, or people they hope to work with someday.

No doubt, they also haven’t seen such bias openly exhibited by those fellow professionals and colleagues–not yet.

In a later response to me in comments (which I’ll post in full, below, as the first comment) Ashok went on to say:

I not only feel you pull your punches, I feel you don’t have the guts to name names and kick ass when it’s warranted, and the very fact that you’re still working within the field and associated with other professionals whom even you admit could be bigotted or racist or sexist in private, shows your naivete.

Just two weeks ago I had someone tell me that I go too far and write “crazy” things whenever I post about bigotry in the field. Also that if I would just moderate my tone a bit, people would listen to me.  The person in question was white, Ashok is a POC.  So essentially I’m too angry for one group and not angry enough for another.

I’m unsure how to feel about being the moderate here.  It’s so not me.

I have two reasons for bringing this up.  One is to record the exchange Ashok and I had on his blog, since the comments got shut down (yet were quoted from).  But the more important one pertains to the different ways people view what I and other anti-racist activists in SF do and how effective it is.

Most POC and women have experienced the phenomenon of pointing out some instance of racism or sexism and being dismissed, then having a white person or a man come along, say the exact same thing we just said, and receiving not only credit for pointing it out, but a positive reaction. Or, even more fun, being told that people would listen to us if only we were less shrill or angry (or other gendered or race-based adjectives) about it all. “Look at [white person and/or man]!” they say.  “He doesn’t go off the rails like you do!”

This is an oft-used tactic to dismiss what the POC or woman has to say, as Naamen educated us on in this post.  I mean, why be all angry about bigotry, particularly that’s directed at you?  Be sensible, polite, and reasonable about it so as to make the bigot comfortable, right?

If you buy that, stop reading right now.  In fact, let’s not talk to each other again until you’ve gotten rid of that notion, okay?  Because, seriously, the comfort of the bigot is not my concern, neither should it be yours.

I and other POC get this all the time from… well, I’ll let you guess.

As a friend recently had to point out to someone: yes, the word racist or sexist or bigot or related is very much a strong word that should not be tossed around lightly.  We know that.  Boy do we know it.  That does not mean we should hesitate to use it when that is what is going on.  No matter how twitchy that makes you, especially if the you is a person to whom a particular stripe of bigotry is not aimed. I’ve mentioned this before.

Even if you are a person who has experienced one kind of bigotry (for example: sexism but not racism) that does not mean you are completely immune to ignorance of how a particular bigotry works for other people. If you’re a white woman, even a feminist white woman who works hard for tolerance, you can still engage in or be blind to racism, unwittingly or not.   And one manifestation of that is by claiming you can’t listen to an aggrieved party because of their tone.

I’m used to that aspect of the discussion, but not so much used to the other side, wherein I am not being tough enough on the SF/F field. I’m not entirely sure what more I could say, what language I could use to make my issues with the racism and sexism of particular people and parts of the whole community clearer.  It’s certainly not easy for any author to say, “This editor and/or person in power is a bigot/engages in bigoted language or actions,” especially if the author is or hopes to work with that person. Because unless the author in question is a white man (and sometimes even if) there are repercussions.

Ashok points out in his post that he doesn’t care about or want to be published in any American markets or with American publishers, thus he can say what he wants.  That’s fine.  But I don’t think it’s at all fair to dismiss those of us who do as being too afraid to speak out.  I can’t speak for Tobias or anyone else, but I am certainly not afraid to call a spade a spade, just ask Gordon van Gelder or Ron Moore.  I suspect that Tobias isn’t, either, nor are other authors of color in this genre.  Major example right here.

What you think of this push and pull?  Do I and other authors who speak out about racism, sexism, and other bigotry in SF go too far or not far enough?  Am I the moderate here?  (scary…)

Table of contents for Two Separate Issues

  1. Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #1
  2. Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #2

Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #1

In response to some of the discussion in the magazines that want more diversity post and the whole William Sanders thing, author Ashok Banker wrote a post about racism, sexism, and cultural insesnitivity in SF/F.  The post makes several good points:

Today’s Science Fiction and Fantasy field, while possibly bearing some strands of DNA from other countries and cultures intermingled in its genetic makeup, is undeniably dominated by American authors, particularly in America.

And a sizable majority of those American SFF authors are white. Virtually all of them are American. And I won’t even venture to guess how many are Christian.

[…]

Which itself begs the question: Why is a genre that’s always so proud of its ability to explore worlds unable to integrate the world into its fold? Why is American SFF publishing not representative of American society and culture as a whole? Why is this white enclave dominating the genre and the field?

[…]

If anything, the very imbalance in the racial and cultural composition of the field in America itself points to a deep malaise.

The recent attempts by some editors to claim that they’re open to multicultural writing, that they welcome submissions from women writers, that they look forward to international writer submitting work, is itself an admission that these were failings of the field until now.

[…]

So is American SFF racist? And sexist, bigotted, culturally insensitive, etc?

Well, I suspect a great number of professionals in the field might be.

Go to the post to read more.

There’s also some stuff in the post about how authors of color such as Tobias Buckell and myself “pull punches” and focus only on specific editors and not the community-wide problem.  I have a lot to say about that, but I think it’s a separate but related conversation.

Normally I would suggest we all go have a conversation about the race/gender/culture problems over on Ashok’s blog, but he shut down comments (the reason has to do with the stuff we’re not talking about here, which I will illuminate in a related post coming up in a bit).  Since we can’t talk about it there, let’s talk about it here.  It’s International Blog Against Racism Week, after all!

I’m particularly eager to have a discussion about how certain racist tendencies extend to non-American and non-European authors and the books they try to get published.  Justine, Ekaterina and I discussed the sad state of translated books in the US a while ago. I shudder to think how many of those few translated are from non-Western countries.  (my guess: not many)

It’s true that American SF is reluctant to embrace the whole world — why?  And what can be done to move toward fixing that?  Is Ashok correct that segregating international authors into just one issue of a magazine does nothing to help?

Table of contents for Two Separate Issues

  1. Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #1
  2. Two Separate But Related Issues, Two Separate But Related Posts #2