MoonFail: Safe Spaces Made Unsafe

MoonFail: Safe Spaces Made Unsafe

There’s a lot to talk about regarding the WisCon concom’s response to the Elizabeth Moon thing, but I am going to start with something that’s been brewing in my head for a while and this issue has crystalized it a bit. It’s to do with feeling safe and safe spaces, conventions, and individual effects on such.

I don’t think I have it in me to be really elegant about this right now, so I’m just going to lay my brain out on a plate and hope it makes sense. Okay? Here we go.

Remember right after this year’s WisCon when there was much discussion on the meaning of safe spaces instigated by Jay Lake’s statements and the reaction to such (including mine)? You may also remember that in the wake of that other Wiscon attendees also emailed the concom about their feeling of unsafeness and Debbie Notkin wrote a passionate response to them here.

I happen to know one of the people who wrote to the concom, and in a discussion with that person afterward ze told me that hir unsafe feelings came not from physical discomfort (obviously) and not from fear of POC ganging up on hir. The fear was that ze would say or do something hurtful, or clueless, or whatever, and then would be talked about on the Internet. It was the last part – that people would talk about hir on the Internet – that was of most importance. Because once it got to the web it could hurt hir tangibly (this person is a published writer).

At the time, I wasn’t really sure how to answer that fear. And I’ve been chewing on it over the last few months. And I’ve finally come to realize why I can’t really sympathize with that fear, nor sympathize with the feeling of unsafeness it gave this writer. Because, truly, where else are we supposed to discuss these issues but on the Internet? Yes, we discuss them at conventions, or in person at other gatherings, or amongst friends. But we’re a community spread out across the country. And we come together on the web to do many things, including to discuss that which harms us. The unspoken desire here is that this writer would rather people just not bring up hir problematic behavior in public.

This is also what’s behind the “unsafeness” Jay Lake was on about. He doesn’t want people to bring up his problematic behavior to his face. There appear to be several people who feel this way. It all comes down to this: Don’t bring up my problematic behavior in venues where it will make me feel uncomfortable. The writer I spoke to seems to be comfortable processing her problematic behavior in person, which is fine. That’s a step up from people who don’t even want to acknowledge they might have problematic behaviors. But still, it’s a riff on that whole attitude where people who are hurt by this problematic behavior should kindly, quietly, take the person aside and have a closed, private discussion in order to make the perpetrator comfortable.

Making the perpetrator comfortable is not the goal here. It should never be the goal. When you engage in hurtful actions or speak hurtful words, your comfort is not of prime concern.

And that brings me back to Elizabeth Moon.

What the concom has done is to make the prime concern NOT the people who are hurt by Moon’s words. Instead, they’re asking them to once again to step into the role of educator to the ignorant, the hurtful, the actively prejudiced. Yes, it is hard work erasing prejudice in society and in individuals. And yes, those who are most hurt are often the ones who have to do a lot of the erasing. But, you know what, good allies would recognize that this is not how things should be. And instead of putting the onus on the hurt, they should be taking up that burden for the good of everyone.

Instead we have some bullshit about teachable moments. I’m sorry I can’t be more delicate than that.

As much as people tied themselves in knots over those few (probably) white folks feeling unsafe because someone might call them on their unexamined privilege, their hurtful words, their clueless actions, I don’t see many of those same people getting upset that the concom has done quite a thorough job ensuring that Muslim attendees really will feel unsafe. Not because of some feared encounter that may never happen, but because of a person who has baldly stated their views and is coming to this con to be honored.

This is what it means to feel unsafe at a convention. This.

I’m bothered even more by this whole situation because WisCon is not supposed to be the kind of con I skip over stuff like this. Other conventions have truly despicable people as GoHi, but then you just don’t go. You don’t support. You go to WisCon, instead.

Now what do we do?

That’s another post. In the meantime, read these things:

  1. Looking at you, Orson Scott Card []

Very Short Post On WisCon, Elizabeth Moon, And How None Of This Is Satisfactory

Very Short Post On WisCon, Elizabeth Moon, And How None Of This Is Satisfactory

I am at work and on deadline, so I don’t have time to write out everything I want to say. Some of you may have noted my relative quiet on this issue. It’s not on purpose. But again, my reasons belong in a longer post.

I do want to state, unequivocally, that I disagree vehemently with Elizabeth Moon’s feelings on the non-Ground Zero non-Mosque, assimilation, Muslim Americans, and related subjects. I also want to state that this response from the WisCon concom is just not good enough.

As Amal points out in this excellent, heartbreaking posti, it’s time we stopped giving kudos to people for basic human decency and start asking for more. I know the women who wrote and signed that letter and consider them friends and friendly acquaintances. I like them quite a bit. But I feel no compunction to applaud them for taking the safer road.

I don’t like it. I don’t know what I’m going to do about it. I have far too much to say at this point. But it will have to wait for tonight.

  1. Which, may I say, echoes feelings I’ve had about responses to racism, which is why it made me cry, because I have been there so often, and no one else deserves it. []



Longer, more detailed and specific post later. But:

Dear publishers, producers, directors, studio heads, network presidents, and other people in charge of media,

Stop it with the fucking racism, already. It’s just not on, anymore. It’s stupid and ridiculous and disgusting and not right. Racism is never, ever okay. Even if not being racist cuts into your bottom line, or even if it angers racist consumers; even if being racist is comfortable, or even if racism is what you really enjoy perpetrating, it is not okay.

And in case you need some help understanding what racism is, I’ll give you some clues:

  1. Whitewashing? Racism.
  2. Portrayals of racial stereotypes? Racism.
  3. Magical Negroes (or any variation involving any other racial or ethnic group)? Racism.

I could go on. But honestly, you all know what you’re about. I know you know because you all have ready-made excuses for it, or deflections, or any other number of cheap tricks. Quit it. Even if it might have been a tiny bit acceptable before, it’s just not now.

Racism is not ever okay. If you don’t believe that, then get the fuck off of this planet. We don’t need you.

No love,

The Last Airbender’s Target Audience Thinks Whitewashing Is Wrong, Too

The Last Airbender's Target Audience Thinks Whitewashing Is Wrong, Too

I wish that M. Night would read this moving essay by a young Chinese American adoptee about how the whitewashing of The Last Airbender made her feel as both a fan of the show and as an Asian person. I wish he would read it and have to respond to her in person.

Avatar is important to me because it shows that Asians can be leaders and heroes as well as white people. I was born in China, and I like to watch something about Asian and Inuit culture because usually at school we don’t get to read about these cultures. It feels really good to see something about my birth culture along with other Asian and Inuit cultures so I can learn about them too. It feels important to me that there’s a series that doesn’t have stereotypes about Asian people.

I felt sad when I heard that the main characters in the movie were going to be played by white actors. I was crestfallen about that because I thought it showed a message that only white people could be heroes while the TV series says the exact opposite. I thought the movie wouldn’t look at all like the original Airbender series because white people would play the main roles and it wouldn’t be believable for me. I felt sad, insulted and furious all at the same time!

…it’s horrible to treat us like dirty laundry that needs to get bleached. We are human beings just like everybody else.

Sing it, sister.

Hat Tip: Racebending

Realms of Fantasy: Full Of Some Whitewashing You Don’t Care To Read About

Realms of Fantasy: Full Of Some Whitewashing You Don't Care To Read About

I know that pointing out RoF Fail is a little like kicking a puppy, but you know how it is when Nick Mamatas sends you a link clearly meant to induce blog-worthy rage — you just have to accommodate him.

So, LJ user torrain was reading the latest issue of Realms of Fantasy and didn’t get far before the facepalm reached epic proportions. Inside the magazine’s movie review of The Last Airbender ze found this awesomeness:

However, The Last Airbender has already caught flak for “whitewashing,” meaning, the casting of white actors (or actors who appear to be white) to play non-white characters, especially when those characters are heroic. It’s a hot-button issue that dredges up memories of images like Al Jolsen wearing black-face makeup. Of course, there are two sides to this coin. On one hand, whitewashing can feel insulting, disrespectful, and disappointing to movie-goers. Many may label it as politically incorrect. On the other hand, anyone who has run a casting call will tell you that when you find the right person for the role, something magical happens. Time seems to stop, and you feel as if the character comes to life right in front of your eyes. The character is no longer ink on paper; the character begins to live and breathe. It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the individual human being reading for the part. Adding to the mix is the fact that some roles written for white people have been won by actors of color, and some roles written for men have been played by women. In other words, whitewashing isn’t a one-way street. It’s a difficult situation that places filmmakers between the goal of finding magic and not offending audiences. At the end of the day, most directors simply want to tell a good story.

There’s a lot of obvious fail going on here, and it’s hard to know where to begin, but I’ll start with this notion that “something magical happens” when the right person comes along for the role, even if that person is white and the character is not. Even if this was ever true somewhere in the world, it’s not true in this movie. Let’s quote Roger Ebert talking about the casting, specifically:

Shyamalan has failed. His first inexplicable mistake was to change the races of the leading characters; on television Aang was clearly Asian, and so were Katara and Sokka, with perhaps Mongolian and Inuit genes. Here they’re all whites. This casting makes no sense because (1) It’s a distraction for fans of the hugely popular TV series, and (2) all three actors are pretty bad. I don’t say they’re untalented, I say they’ve been poorly served by  Shyamalan and the script. They are bland, stiff, awkward and unconvincing.

Entertainment Weekly:

The trouble with The Last Airbender is that Aang, as a character, is a saintly abstraction (Noah Ringer plays him with a sensitive pout that grows cloying), and he’s surrounded by generic young actors who are like place holders for real stars.


Shyamalan has worked wonders with child actors before, but Ringer is no Haley Joel Osment, delivering some fancy footwork but zero charisma in the pic’s key role. Most dialogue scenes are framed in tight Sergio Leone-style closeup, emphasizing the actors’ wooden nature. At that proximity, we notice that Rathbone never blinks; nor can he be counted on to deliver any of the comic relief of his animated counterpart.

I could go on. The issue here is not that M. Night just happened to find these amazing kids to play these roles who just happened to be white. This is what he or the producers or the studio set out to do from the beginning because, even though millions of people love the cartoon and its clearly Asian characters, they felt that audiences just can’t handle brown and yellow people as the heroes. As the evil villains, sure. But protagonists must be white, right?

Whitewashing, no matter how much you pretty it up with the magical casting feeling of amazingness, is still just damn wrong.

The second half of that paragraph, which you probably didn’t even read because the first part was so rage-inducing with its faily wrongness, I shall paste again, because it also needs addressing:

Adding to the mix is the fact that some roles written for white people have been won by actors of color, and some roles written for men have been played by women. In other words, whitewashing isn’t a one-way street. It’s a difficult situation that places filmmakers between the goal of finding magic and not offending audiences. At the end of the day, most directors simply want to tell a good story.

Jesus. Okay, deep breath. First of all, the conceit of having women play roles written for men is usually about deconstruction more than it’s about some magical audition process or someone being “right” for a role. And I can’t come up with any examples of people of color playing roles “written for white people” unless you’re talking about classical theater or something. Maybe they mean Sam Jackson as Nick Fury? But again, when POC play, uh “white” roles, that actually has a different weight and purpose behind it than whitewashing. The power differentials there are NOT equal. Are POC overrepresented in Hollywood movies and American television? No. Are white people? Yes. So when whitewashing occurs, do you know who it hurts and disrespects and diminishes? POC.

The fact that this Realms columnist doesn’t understand any of this is already major fail. The fact that his or her editor doesn’t understand any of this is even bigger fail. And it’s leading many people to question why they would even bother to save such a magazine from its impending cancellation when all they have to look forward to is a bunch of racefail in the non-fiction section.

I’m just going to bottom line it for you: Whitewashing is never okay no matter what. If you don’t agree, then you’re really too far gone to exist in polite and cultured society and perhaps you should do us all a favor and go back to the cave you most certainly crawled out of.

Is that too harsh?

And she says this without any sense of irony, too…

And she says this without any sense of irony, too...

Shorter Kathryn Cramer: How dare conventions promote panels that are hostile toward people who repeatedly engage in racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudicial speech or actions against oppressed groups within the SF community. You are making those of us who want to prop up the oppressive status quo that has served us so well feel uncomfortable, and I think that’s just wrong.

Anonymized link, for those who care.

Before you get too upset at Paul DiFilippo’s review of Nnedi’s book…

Before you get too upset at Paul DiFilippo's review of Nnedi's book...

Remember that he is the massholei who compared including women and minorities in an anthology of science fiction stories to finding lettuce in reams of copy paper.

In other words, he is not to be taken seriously at all, ever. His ignorance stands as a monument to his vast privilege wanking which stands as a monument to… something. So of course he doesn’t understand Who Fears Death. It’s not like he tried. It’s all just lettuce and potatoes to him.

  1. that’s mass asshole to you all playing at home []

Thoughts On Jay Lake’s Continued Ass Showing

Thoughts On Jay Lake's Continued Ass Showing

Late last week as I was getting settled in at WisCon couple of people brought this to my attention:

“I probably won’t ever be at WisCon again, sadly, as it used to be one of my favorite cons, but RaceFail has made it very unwelcoming and unsafe for me.” –Jay Lake

This was a comment on someone’s LiveJournal in response to their post on the panels they’d be doing at WisCon. Why Jay felt the need to express this sentiment at that time in this journal, I couldn’t tell you. But the comment had the predictable effect on me.

I made some snarky tweets at Jay on Twitter (hilariously getting his Twitter name wrong twice) and went on to spend a lovely weekend with fine people and free liquor. But then I read more of the conversation on that blogi and saw a little of Jay’s post on the subject and then this going on in yeloson’s journal and I just…. smh.

So here’s the thing. I will say that I probably should have written an in-depth teardown of Jay’s crazypants instead of just snarking on Twitter. I just don’t like to give that dude any more time than he’s worth. But if his requirements for criticizing him must include having read the things he’s written, then obviously I’m the person for it. Because I was once Jay Lake’s friend.

I met Jay in 2003, I started following his blog shortly after, we always hung out at conventions whenever possible, we chatted and emailed and became good buds. He was at various times incredibly awesome to me. And at various times I stood up for him to people who had Things To Say just as I’m sure he may have done for me without my knowing.

But then.

Okay, the POC reading this will know what I’m talking about, and probably the allies will, too. Because we have all had that friend who is well meaning and smart, but who says problematic things about race (or gender or religion or whatever) and because they are otherwise awesome you engage with them on a good faith basis and try to get them to understand where they’re mistaken, how their problematic words are hurtful, and how they can possibly do better. When a friend tells you that you’ve got your skirt stuck up in your pantyhoes, you might be embarassed for a bit but you’re grateful a friend was there to tell you, right? Right.

But then the hits just keep on coming, and pretty soon you feel more ragey or just plain annoyed than you feel in kinship with this person. And then one day you have enough.

So this is pretty much what went on with me and Jay. He would say incredibly problematic stuff, I would attempt to untuck his skirt, and he would say thank you and profess to do better. Thing is, he didn’t. It was Lather, Rinse, Repeat every time. Finally I reached the point where I’d had enough.

The nature of the lather, rinse, repeat on issues of race, at least, was that Jay would use the same two nuggets of his existence as a shield against accusations that he was not as enlightened as he purported to be. One was that he’d been raised (partially) in foreign countries where whites where in the minority in the population (though not in terms of power, necessarily), and this gave him a better understanding of priviledge and of otherness than the average American white guy. The other nugget is that he has a Chinese daughter, and therefore he Knows, Man.

Setting aside the sketchiness for a sec, both of these elements can indeed lead someone with privilege to examine it, work against it in their sphere of influence, and come to deeper understandings of the workings of racism in our society in order to be a good ally and maybe change things. Unfortunately for Jay Lake, this doesn’t seem to have quite happened.

I’m going to go on another tangent — it’s related, so bear with me. This weekend at WisCon I was explaining to people at the Dollhouse panel that there are many levels to privilege and understanding and such. Down on the bottom level you have the folks who are just racist or sexist or whatever and haven’t ever examined anything and don’t want to for various reasons.

But then up higher is the level where people agree that racism is bad and wrong, we’re all equal, and everyone should just stop being so mean. Na’amen helpfully labeled this the Kumbaya level, because it’s that kind of surface, touchy-feely non-racism that doesn’t actively engage with people of color or any oppressed people.  Nor does it work to change things for the better because, hey, aren’t things just great now?

While the Kumbaya level is much better than just plain racism, people on this level often really frustrate us because they are resistant to acknowledge that they still have work to do. They don’t wear white hoods so they can’t ever say or do things that have a basis in racism. Not that they are racist, but they aren’t helping, which is bad enough.

This is where Jay Lake is right now. And he’s a walking cliche of Kumbayaness. He uses those two nuggests about himself not as a way to grow, but as a sheild against accusations of problematic behavior or speech. Literally. You can’t have a conversation with him about this stuff without him bringing up “but I have a Chinese daughter” as if that gives him special cred or insight. I can point to the words of many transracial adoptees to show that just because a white person adopts a child not of their race, they do not automatically have some special insight or are any less prone to fail. This situation most certainly can produce this result, but it is not a given. So no, no one is going to give him a pass for that.

Having spent many years reading Jay’s blog and talking to him personally on these issues, I feel I am qualified to say that he is a Kumbaya, not an ally. That his views and words are deeply problematic for many reasons. And that he constantly weilds his privilege like a bat instead of examining it deeply. He may know what privilege is and understand how it works, but that does not mean he isn’t guilty of still being mindlessly mired in it. After all, take the statment that started all of this. How he feels “unsafe” at WisCon because people there might make him uncomfortable. The privilege dripping from that whole mindset is staggering.

I meantioned that I used to be Jay’s friend and that one day I couldn’t take all of this any more. Here’s how we became unfriends: After years of being one of the people untucking his skirt from his pantyhose only to find it stuck there again the very next day or week or whatever, I finally said to Jay that in further discussions of racism, he could no longer use those nuggets I mentioned as sheilds, because that was problematic and unhelpful. If he needed me to explain why that was, I would do so.

His response? Silence. He unfriended me on all social networks where we were connected and hasn’t spoken to me since. I wasn’t too surprised at this. I’d avoided saying these things to him so bluntly before because even though Jay says that he wants his friends to be truthful and honest with him about his own behavior, he didn’t model that mindset, ever (or, at least, in the scope of my hearing/seeing/reading). People who criticized him professionally were “jealous of his success” and so forth. But there comes a time in every POC’s life where they have to lay it all out for that Kumbaya-level white friend. It either means that you and the friend come to a better understanding of stuff, or you lose that friendii. You already know how this story ends.

The bottom line is this: I have read Jay’s words, his fiction, and have enjoyed a friendship with him for a time. So I feel I’m qualified to say that, yes, Jay Lake’s ass is showing, and in a big way, and more often than not when it comes to issues of race. He is not a racist, but he sometimes says racist things and holds some sketchy ideas in his head about race that he then articulates and wonders why people find it a problem. He does not model good ally behavior, he seems unable to truly examine his own privilege as a man and as a white person, and because of this he takes up the “Everyone is mean to me just because I’m white and male!” cross at every opportunity. The people who buy this act? Other Kumbayas.

The only thing Jay isn’t safe from at WisCon or any other SF event is people who don’t agree with himiii. Does feeling uncomfortable = unsafe? I’m going to go with: No. But you see, Jay has the privilege of sailing through life without ever having to purposefully encounter those that bring up uncomfortable thoughts around these issues. And if he chances upon them, he runs back to the comfort of those who are so very willing to prop up his privileged notions. If these are the only notions he has of safe and unsafe, he’s a lucky guy. A lot of us have to deal with real unsafeness.

And that’s what pissed me off the most about his bullshit. That he would use the language of safe space/not safe space in the context of a feminist event to justify his unwillingness to not be beloved by all. Yes, I know he said “Oh, I misspoke” and claimed “chemo brain” for the slip. And I would totally be willing to give him a pass on that if not for two things. One: that statement is of a piece with how he’s been since before he had cancer. Two: his comments on yeloson’s blog were long after he claimed to have misspoken.

Someone needs to pull his skirt down. Thank goodness it doesn’t have to be me, anymore.

  1. The comments have now been erased or screened so you won’t see anything at the link. There is a screencap here — thanks gem225! — so his words are preserved forever and ever, amen. []
  2. Though the latter is more often the result in my experience, I can say that since RaceFail I have had more conversations that ended up with a happier ending. []
  3. Just like in life! []

Once More, With Feeling: Intersectionality

Once More, With Feeling: Intersectionality

Or: why the Male Only Table of Contents issue is about both Gender and Race

So over on Marguerite’s blog editor Mike Ashley of the Mammoth Book of White Men Fail Mindbowing SF explains that the stories he was looking for, those that blew his mind with science, aren’t usually written by women, and therefore that’s why he couldn’t find any to include. Women are writing about people, you see, not necessarily science. Whatever. But, as I pointed out there, even if this was a valid excuse for an all-male TOC, that does not explain the lack of POC. A white male friend then pinged me, privately, to say: but isn’t that confusing the issue? Are you criticising him for having only men or no POC? And the answer is: both. And, not surprisingly, the two issues are intertwined.

To wit: when anthologies like this hit the Internets and we look at the TOC it’s very easy to notice that there are no women. It is therefore very easy to comment on and get angry about this fact. It is also easy for editors to come along and address only this exclusion, usually by saying “I didn’t pay attention to the bylines” and “women don’t write the kind of stories I was looking for” or “I don’t want to include them just as tokens”. Because at that point editors can pass it off as taste, and not even one based on gender, but on types of fiction.


When one notices that these anthologies also don’t include any writers of color, either male or female, that complicates the issue, doesn’t it? It’s no longer just about whether men write these kinds of stories and women don’t. Because men of color write science fiction, too. Are we then going to even begin to say that they write more about people and not about science? Of course not. Stupid people are more likely to whip out, “But their stories are about race and only black people care about race!” Those people are wrong on both counts.

The same mindset is at work in both cases. It’s not “women/POC don’t write the kind of stories I was looking for,” it’s: I only like/read/understand/connect to/care for stories about white, male concerns.

That is a problem. Because SF, be it mammoth or mindblowing or sciencey, is not just about white, male concerns. And any anthology of SF or fantasy or horror that essentially posits the white male concerns as representative, normal, baseline, or default is an anthology made of fail. Because that is not what the genre is right now. Maybe 20 years ago. Hell, maybe 10 years ago. But not now. Not in the future.

As I said at Readercon, the future of this genre is women, people of color, people of different classes, people outside of the default American culture, people outside of America, period. When people ignore or suppress or marginalize this truth, be it intentionally or through laziness of mind, as appears to be the case here, you are In The Wrong in every way imaginable.