William Sanders, Senior Bigot, Helix

William Sanders, Senior Bigot, Helix

I love writing science fiction and fantasy, I love reading science ficton and fantasy. I love (some parts of) fandom, I love (many parts of) this community. But there are times when I really feel like I could, and should, and must, walk the hell away before I end up hating all humanity. This is one of those times.

From a rejection letter William Sanders of Helix sent out:

I’m impressed by your knowledge of the Q’uran and Islamic traditions. (Having spent a couple of years in the Middle East, I know something about these things.) You did a good job of exploring the worm-brained mentality of those people – at the end we still don’t really understand it, but then no one from the civilized world ever can – and I was pleased to see that you didn’t engage in the typical error of trying to make this evil bastard sympathetic, or give him human qualities.

[…]

the narrator seems to be saying that it was this incident which caused him to take up the jihad, but he’s being mendacious (like all his kind, he’s incapable of honesty);

Full letter here.

You know what makes me so mad about this, beyond the obvious? I want to like Helix. It’s published some great stories by some wonderful writers (some of whom are my friends). But all of that is canceled out by the insane bigotry on display in that letter. And people like this are not shunned, cast out, or made an example of.

As I said. There are times.

ETA: Sanders responds:

Son, hasn’t anybody ever told you that public posting of a private email message is contrary to the rules both of accepted internet practice and common courtesy?

I do appreciate your efforts to be fair – certainly far more so than most of the other people in this ward, ah, group – but the fact remains that you’ve done something both socially and professionally unacceptable in posting it at all. So if you had any idea of submitting anything else to Helix, forget it. I won’t work with people who pull this kind of shit.

I suppose this is what I get for trying to be a nice guy, and give you a little encouragement rather than the standard thanks-but-no-thanks form rejection. Silly me.

(I notice, too, the presence in the lynch mob of another person I’ve tried to help, and to whom I thought I’d been particularly kind. No good deed, etc.)

Of course none of these people have read the story, and so they fail to grasp the context – that I was talking not about Muslims, or Arabs, or Oompa Loompas or any other religious or ethnic group, but about terrorists and violent extremists. (That being, after all, what your story was about.)

But I don’t feel any need to defend myself, or Helix, to these people; indeed I doubt that there’s anybody outside their little Mutual Masturbation Society who gives a damn what they think about anything at all.

They are cordially invited to have intercourse with their precious selves. I’m sure most of them could use the practice.

That makes it all better, right??

The contributions by lwe/Lawrence Watt-Evans on the thread are… special, as well.

Daughter of ETA: There is more commentary here and also here with the full rejection reposted, since apparently the person who was rejected deleted it from the original thread.  Speaking of the rejected person, he’s put up a post explaining that we’re all taking Mr. Sanders out of context:

There is a truly despicable Muslim character in my story. Sorry, world. Maybe I was playing into prejudices. Sanders was talking about that character, so it wasn’t an out-of-the-blue rant, it was targeted to the content of my story. In context, his comments were directed at MY character and those types of extremists. People are taking it out of context and interpreting it too broadly if they think that Sanders was referring to all Arabs or all Muslims. I’m sure that if my character was a Timothy McVeigh-like extremist, Sanders would have used different but equally scornful language. The extremism of MY character is what drew his ire, and so if there is any blame it’s MY blame.

I’m sure you can image what I have to say to that.  Lucky you, I posted it in the comments. I would cut Luke some slack due to him probably freaking out a little when Sanders was all “You’ll never be published in MY magazine again!” except that from his description of his own story I’m not at all convinced that he didn’t write something sketchy and racist himself.  I’m willing to be proven wrong.

Comments

  1. says

    Sadly, this sort of behavior doesn’t appear to be anything new.

    He’s done an impressive job of deleting his old rants, though (even Wayback can’t get to any of the assorted posts linked around the web), but there’s enough out there to make it clear what he’s like, even without this letter.

    What’s frustrating is that a friend has just started breaking in there as a poet; I want to support my friends, but I sure as fuck don’t want to support an asshole like Sanders

  2. Nora says

    And his bigotry (which I didn’t know about, Adam, or I’d never have submitted there; do you have any examples?) makes me doubt myself. He published one of my stories awhile back that dealt with a crazy Muslim woman (among many perfectly sane ones, but still), and suddenly I’m worried that he bought it because it feeds into his notion of their “worm-brained mentality”. O.o

  3. Scott says

    That made me wince, particularly the use of the phrase “no one from the civilized world ever can.” Wish he’d said “no one from that society ever can” or something like that.

  4. Scott says

    Ooops! That should be “someone _not_ of that society ever can.”

    And where did that icon come from? Guess I haven’t got the hang of your new blog!

  5. Elizabeth Donald says

    Holy (censored). And you left out the part where he called them “sheet-heads.” It’s so far out there I can’t help wondering if it’s for real – do you know where we might find the original source? Because… yowsa.

    ekd

  6. says

    Nora, I’m (anecdotally) certain that some of his obnoxious behavior online involved bigotry, but since every post I find links to items that are either friend-locked in LJ, or deleted (and hidden from the Wayback machine), I can’t say so for certain. He’s defined made an ass of himself before, but I might be imagining that he’s made a bigoted ass of himself.

  7. ladyjax says

    Damn, that is…I’m not sure what to say. If only because I would have expected a much more professional rejection letter without the added racial editorializing. And people can keep splitting hairs about it being just about religion. There’s a nasty racial component underneath that you can’t miss.

  8. says

    Hey,

    Thanks for the heads-up on the mores of Sanders and Watt-Evans. For both to show up and act as they did/do alarmed and disappointed me, but hate is a hardy weed.

    I’m disappointed and surprised. But if this is how editors carry on in writing, no wonder visual representations of people of color and other ‘othered’ are so hateful, problematic, and vicious.

  9. says

    Actually, Luke’s post is here. And my response is thus:

    Luke, I have to say that this really isn’t all that convincing. I understand that your story was about whatever, but Sanders didn’t just stick to your story in the rejection letter. He said he knew about “these things” and “those people” not referring merely to the characters in your story, but to actual groups of people in the real world. he used the term “sheet heads” not just in reference to your characters, but to Muslims/Middle Eastern people in general. And thus, when we get to the line about “all his kind” not being capable of honesty, it’s clear to me that he’s not just talking about all his kind in the story, but all his kind IN GENERAL.

    This is not only evident from the letter itself, but from other things Sanders has said in public and private forums. If he wasn’t notorious for this sort of thing, you might have gotten away with this defense. Maybe.

    You can feel as bad as you want for posting the letter and that’s fine. But please don’t be an apologist for William Sanders, cuz then you’re just being an apologist for a bigot.

  10. says

    Luke: What I’m finding a little extra disturbing about all this is not so much the racism of Sanders or the fact that the potential for a lawsuit freaked you out, but rather this comment of yours on your blog:

    “But at the same time, I can see how this implicit trust between us two white men to say such things would be seen as “problematic” by people of color.”

    As a white man I have to say that the thought there IS an “implicit trust between…us two white men to say such things” is extremely problematic and offensive to ME. There is no trust and should be no trust to be a racist just because both parties happen to share a skin color. That’s just wrong, sir. That’s like saying it’s okay to be a racist as long as I don’t openly say something to a black man or a muslim woman. Or, that it is assumed that all white people are racist because there is this “Trust” that white people can say stuff like that in their little white club.

    I want no part of that trust, sir.

  11. says

    Be careful who you defend. Mr. Sanders has written in bigotry, and while you may have been in error to repost the rejection notice, you may find that defending bigotry may have its own corrolaries.

    Also this comment, “But at the same time, I can see how this implicit trust between us two white men to say such things would be seen as “problematic” by people of color.” puts me in mind of another: “That’s mighty white.”

  12. Jonquil says

    ““But at the same time, I can see how this implicit trust between us two white men to say such things would be seen as “problematic” by people of color.””

    And this is where the outrage comes from: the idea that you can say anything you like in the private sphere, and that carrying information from the private to the public sphere is always wrong, *no matter what it is*. The cry goes up of “preventing spontaneity” — you see it a lot in political campaigns in the blog era, where if you use racist coding somebody will be there with a camera or a keyboard and publish it.

    Many people, me included, have decided that if you act like a total jerk in the private sphere, it *can* be carried over to the public sphere. Tell a racist joke in the clubhouse? Then it’s on you if somebody repeats the story. There is no consequence-free zone for being a bigot.

  13. celia says

    A) stop worrying about why the story was bought. You can’t do anything about it now, and it will just make you crazy.

    b) While it’s hard to find any exact examples now, as he cleans up his own nests (he deleted the helix newsgroup, for example, after a couple of us a) asked questions and then b) didn’t reply ‘properly’ or objected to being sworn at.), you may be able to get a feel for the situation via this post. If I’d known he was going to delete everything, I might have saved things, but probably not–I really don’t need to keep things that…horrible. You might also try wandering through the public groups on sff.net, as he at least used to post there (and seriously, I’ll bet there’s some frothing in his (publicly accessible) personal group.)

    At this point, I have a list of people I no longer respect *just* because I’ve watched them defend Sanders when he said indefensible things.

  14. says

    Jonquil: That reminds me of a definition of “integrity” that I’ve heard several times and really like: Integrity is what you do when nobody is looking.

  15. says

    This is exactly what I was thinking. Why does everyone born before the internet was mainstream think that even when using such technology, you can still control the flow of information?

    The only place bigoted thoughts are safe from exposure is *in your mind*, where they should stay and hopefully die.

  16. says

    So okay, I’m not gonna lay into Luke cos he sounds like he’s shitscared and trying to backpedal for fear of being sued…

    But Sanders… I really don’t see any way he can backpedal out of this one. Let’s look at his argument that he’s just refering to the character or a particular *type* of person:

    “There’s much to like. I’m impressed by your knowledge of the Q’uran and Islamic traditions. (Having spent a couple of years in the Middle East, I know something about these things.) You did a good job of exploring the worm-brained mentality of those people – at the end we still don’t really understand it, but then no one from the civilized world ever can – and I was pleased to see that you didn’t engage in the typical error of trying to make this evil bastard sympathetic, or give him human qualities.”

    Aside from the idiocy and prejudice involved in thinking a terrorist is simply evil and inhuman, I’m skeptical about his claim that he’s just refering to terrorists here…. There is *no* mention of terrorists before the sentence “worm-brained mentality of those people”; it leads directly on from his comment on life in the Middle East. But let’s be generous and say that maybe he’s just worded his email clumsily. Maybe he is just refering to terrorists… the sentence “no one from the civilised world would” is *still* pretty offensive, but okay let’s just skate over that one too…

    “like all his kind, he’s incapable of honesty”

    Okay, he’s still refering to terrorists here, right? Not being racist. Not implying any kind of inbuilt genetic disposition? Terrorists are incapable of honesty? Well, that’s a stupid opinion, certainly, but not necessarily racist… right? *pays out some more rope*…

    “most of the SF magazines are very leery of publishing anything that might offend the sheet heads.”

    Oh okay. So we’re still supposed to believe he’s *just* talking about terrorists here? So, he’s what? Arguing that most SF magazines are afraid of offending terrorists? Leaving aside the fact that it’s still a fricking racist piece of terminology in *any case*, I don’t *for one second* believe that this last sentence is refering to terrorists in particular rather than a broad racial group. And that invalidates any kind interpretation of the previous comments…

    It’s utterly disgusting and Helix is off my list of markets as of now…

  17. says

    I thought (hoped) that Luke was critiquing that notion of implicit trust between two white men in his comment… I certainly hope he was… otherwise, I agree with you…

  18. Xopher says

    I read that as meaning “The fact that Sanders assumed it was safe to say that to me, a white man, could itself be seen as racist by people of color.”

    It certainly could. As a person of no color (OK, the palest pinkish beige, at most) I think that assumption is racist. And racist against LUKE (as well as Arabs and other “those people” people), because it presumes that Luke’s whiteness makes him as racist as Sanders himself.

    I once had someone tell me, with a straight face, that she could tell I was a racist because I had blue eyes (I don’t), blond hair, and a Midwestern accent. I was too stunned by this blatant stupidity to even laugh in her face.

    That’s the kind of stupid (and racist, because after all “white” is considered a race by the ignorant (like Mr. Sanders)) Luke was talking about, if my reading of him is correct.

  19. Juan says

    *facepalm but not the least bit surprised at all the defensiveness*

    For starters, I feel ashamed to even have met and conversed with the guy when he came to my univ.

  20. says

    Semi Random Observation: On the futility of pulling closed the barn doors once they cows have left.

    Y’know what amuses me so, SO very much about the deletion? The deletion happens in a world of Firefox Scrapbook and other easy, one click page captures.

    Deleting things does not suddenly make everyone who quoted the letter’s text in entirety suddenly liars who’re making shit up. It just means they have to pull out a megaupload link.

    And I have given up on Luke, seeing as he’s pulled the ‘People who know me IRL say I’m OK’. Panic set in and the opportunity not to look badly alongside Mr. Sanders has flown.

  21. Saladin says

    Um…wow. I was blissfully unaware of this madness until someone mentioned it to me in person yesterday.

    Ready as I usually am to rant and rave at the open hatred for my people that exists in this country, I’m just kinda floored.

    Guess I know what my chances for ever publishing a story in Helix are…at least under my real ‘sheet-headed’ name.

    Oh, wait…he was only hates the EXTREMIST ‘sheet heads.’ Nice. Like only hating the drug-dealing niggers, or only hating the money-grubbing kikes. “I don’t mean ALL of them.” Of course you don’t. But tell you what — go fuck yourself anyway, just to be safe.

  22. Salistala says

    As an articulate, literate and sober First Nations reader, I want to Thank Saladin for this:

    “Oh, wait…he was only hates the EXTREMIST ’sheet heads.’ Nice. Like only hating the drug-dealing niggers, or only hating the money-grubbing kikes. “I don’t mean ALL of them.” Of course you don’t. But tell you what — go fuck yourself anyway, just to be safe.”

    Because the same people that are patting me on the head for knowing how to hold my knife and fork (and other equally important civilized behaviors) are viciously hating on the “drunken savages” that I’m related to and live amongst.

    As for the surprise that this type of offensive bigotry exists in the idealistic world of SF, I say “why?”
    If writers with an inclusive social awareness can write their view of what an ideal future looks like, so can the exclusionists.

    I’ve read some pretty extreme survivalist SF before (Battlefield Earth, anyone?). Call me a Psychlo but it wasn’t worth the thousands of pages of reading (and dead trees consumed, “…the Horror, the Horror”). These experiences helped me develop a good idea of what and what not to look for when choosing authors and publishers.

    I think the benefits to the letter being posted serve all those that want to live in an inclusive future by identifying some that don’t. I know now Helix is somewhere I’ll never go to find a vision of the future I hope to see.

    Thanks to those that brought this to my attention

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