Demanding The Best

Demanding The Best

A couple of weekends ago at WisCon I attended a party where one of the hosts asked people to write down a sentence or two about why they love WisCon. One of the answers was: “I love WisCon because it demands the best of me.”[1] I believe I screamed YAAAAAAS because that is exactly why I love WisCon. The conversations are awesome, of course, and getting to see people I love or really want to meet and discovering how intelligent and fun they are is high on my list. But WisCon isn’t just some old con, it’s a feminist convention with a specific aim and community vibe. And while I am well aware that there have been and continue to be issues and problematic aspects of the con on a systemic and individual level, there are plenty of people who demand the best of all of us and it makes the con a better place year by year.

There are many who don’t agree. I remember being quite pissed at a certain someone saying that WisCon isn’t a “safe space” for him, but when you count safety as “no one ever challenges me on my behavior or speech, even if that behavior or speech is hurtful” then yeah, it’s not safe and that’s good. Those who don’t want to be challenged for hurting other people are best off staying at home in general and away from WisCon in particular because, yes, we demand you be better than that.

Demand is a really strong word, and I know that there are plenty who will bristle at the use. I don’t care. When it comes to the things WisCon attendees demand, such as equality and the ouster of -ist attitudes (sexist, racist, homophobic, fatphobic, plus way more), you have to go right to the strongest possible terms. The history of this country and of many others shows that equal treatment does not come from asking politely, but demanding on the basis of what is right. Even people who want to trot out that old Malcolm vs Martin crap need to understand that MLK never politely, meekly asked for equal rights, he stood at podiums and in front of microphones and demanded it in very strong terms. So, if you want to puff out your feathers and get all harrumphy about the idea of someone demanding you be better? Then you clearly have no place in polite society.

I will acknowledge that out here in the non-WisCon world, it isn’t always possible to be in a community that demands the best of people. I accept that and I have my ways of dealing with it. It is in that context that I’m watching the newest argument around SFWA unfold. There is tons of background here[2], so I’m only going to give the short version. In the latest SFWA Bulletin there is a column (ongoing) penned by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg in which they have a dialogue about censorship and bullying that boils down to: Young people and women are liberal fascists because they want to silence us for saying some sexist stuff. Not even Jerry Fallwell ever tried to censor us! You can read their ramblings here[3].

Plenty of right-thinking people are upset about this and plenty of non-right thinking people are upset at the upsetness. There’s been a lot of discussion about how this reflects on SFWA as a whole. Mike and Barry aren’t officers or representatives of SFWA, but the column appeared in the official publication of the organization. What does the publication of the column say about SFWA and the people who run it and the people who are in it? There are many answers to that question and many debates around it and plenty of great things being said about the complexities. I encourage you to read them.

I know that SFWA is made up of a multitude of people, some of whom are quite despicable, some who are just annoying, and some who are working to improve the organization. The improvers are tackling issues around how the org works, how it can better help the writer members, and how SFWA can better reach out and tell people about itself. All wonderful things. Then there’s the aspect of SFWA that’s about dealing with the culture of the community. SFWA represents professional authors, not all of fandom. Still, the cultures sometimes mirror each other. And depending on the time and place, fandom might take cues from the culture around the pro writers (many of whom are fans, too). Whose job is it to address cultural issues such as sexism, racism, oppression, bigotry, etc. within SFWA’s ranks? That is the big question, and that is part of what people are wrestling with right now.

The officers and board members can set a tone but they can’t control people. The membership (and outsiders) cannot put all of this on them. What needs to happen is that the all of people who belong to and run SFWA need to demand the best of their community[4]. Demand that sexism no longer be treated lightly, that it be called out and put down and not tolerated. Unless you demand the best of people there will be plenty who will be completely comfortable giving you their worst.

How do I know this to be true? Read the SFWA Bulletin. All the proof you need is there.

Footnotes

  1. If anyone remembers who wrote this, please tell me![]
  2. Jim Hines has a nice link roundup which should lead you to many more[]
  3. Scroll to the bottom for images of the column and an OCR text version[]
  4. I know many SFWA members already do this. Most of them (on this issue) are women. They need all the other members to step up and help them and have their backs. Especially the men.[]

Standing Up For Sisko And Janeway

Standing Up For Sisko And Janeway

Ben Sisko DS9Over on my Tor.com Star Trek post I noticed something that I often see but don’t always comment on: the dismissal of Captains Janeway and Sisko (and their shows) as being bad, or mediocre, or not as good as Kirk/TOS, Picard/TNG or even Archer/ENT (wtf?).

I’m used to Janeway hate. Voyager started shaky, founds its footing, then fell on its face when a blond in a skin-tight jumpsuit wandered by. There were many individual moments of great television, but nothing that truly cohered. Plus, Janeway is a woman, and the sexism-laced commentary about her being too manly or too feminine or too whatever have flowed since the show began.

What I don’t understand is the lack of love for Sisko, who was by far the best Star Trek captain since Kirk. Deep Space Nine was the most ambitious and complex of all the shows, and explored issues that were sometimes touched on in the original series but rarely approached in The Next Generation. I realize that Star Trek began as Wagon Train in space, but is there no room in the franchise for a show that required a bit of deep thought?

What I’ve always wanted to do, and am now taking the chance to do, is to ask: what exactly do you dislike about Janeway and/or Sisko? And let’s not pussyfoot around here: I want concrete examples, not vague “she was too feminine!” bullcrap. I want to know in what way did Janeway’s femininity made her worse or negatively different than Kirk or Picard or Archer, if that’s your stance. Whatever your issue, bring it on.

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