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real magic can never be made by offering up someone else's liver.

Please read this linked post before proceeding. This post has been closed to new comments.

As this is an open letter, I believe it deserves an open response:

You're right.

You're pretty much right categorically and without exception, and I'm sorry to have mislead you for a moment into believing I think anything different. I will say that the book of mine you threw across the room is, in part, actually intended to address the point you make about it, but I obviously failed for you as a reader in doing so, and I'm sorry.

That racism serves a story is never an excuse, especially if the racism is unexamined. There's a fine line to walk, of course, because it's also racist to make people of color sacrosanct in fiction. The only long-term solution I am aware of is saturation: getting enough characters of color out there that each one stops being special by virtue of their color.

When I said that sometimes it helps to write as if somebody "happens to have" a particular background, what I meant was not that anything else is the default. I meant that the character needs to be a person first, rather than being a stereotype or a token. A person, in other words, not an archetype or a stereotype or a role. 

It's a hard thing to talk about, to explain, and we've seen enough evidence already this week that the same words can sound very different to different people.

My intention really is not to earn brownie points. It is, hopefully, to do something about your pain and lack, and my own pain and lack, and the pain and lack of my friends and family and random strangers on the street.

If I check in with friends to see if I'm making mistakes, it's because I would rather be part of the solution than part of the problem, and obviously I'm not doing it well enough yet.

ETA: Think VERY CAREFULLY before you comment on this post. And make damned sure you are being both polite and respectful of others when you do. Or I will close comments.

Oz has spoken.


deepad's essay, here, is also excellent.



(I do wish people would stop assuming I'm straight.)

Comments

Sigh.

So when you say something others think is sexist or racist or whatever, and they call you on it, and you come back with immediate denial

I said: So, all storytellers should shut up because they can never tell everyone's story for them, correctly and exactly as that person would tell it, if they could? And we shouldn't even try, because we'll only Get It Wrong?

Which is not so much denial as Weariness. Stories are escapism. In my humble opinion. People who insist that stories must all be Important, or reflect the real world; or that a particular story in some way deprives them personally of something they hold dear, make me Weary. That includes the people who think that I should be writing Manly Men and Feeble Women because to do otherwise makes them think about things that are outside of their own personal comfort zone.

The only thing that a writer can do is TRY their best to talk about those things they have chosen to discuss. If they've screwed up their topic, or failed to consider certain aspects -- yep, that's a mistake. A mistake; not necessarily a Deliberate Act of Racism.

Criticism doesn't need to assume malice. As has been made abundantly clear in this thread, most mistakes made by writers -- and I'm betting by other humans, too -- are made through ignorance. And I'm betting that most writers -- and other humans, too -- respond more positively to criticism that assumes ignorance rather than malice.


Stories are escapism.

I know I like my escapism to treat me a subhuman.

A mistake; not necessarily a Deliberate Act of Racism.

Racism does not need to be Deliberate. Sometimes writers unintentionally let their unconscious prejudices leak into their writing. They're not Deliberately Hurting anyone, but it hurts just as much as it would otherwise.
I'd go so far as to observe, in my own case at least, that I've discovered a couple of my own unconscious prejudices through my writing—by going back, looking at my draft, and making this face: O_o when I realized what had gotten in there without my intention.
Mmm, yeah; I've had that happen too. Writing is, in part, a process of self-discovery, and what you discover isn't always nice, or pleasant to know about yourself -- but it's better than not knowing.
Yes, but saying, "You're a racist!" does nothing to cure the ignorance. How about saying, "Okay, you made these assumptions, and you shouldn't do that."

Are you just interested in venting frustration, or are you results-oriented? What do you think would work in the world of writing to make fiction less racist/sexist/ageist/whateverist?


Edited at 2009-01-14 09:09 pm (UTC)
Yes, but saying, "You're a racist!" does nothing to cure the ignorance

1) Who is the person who said matociquala was a racist?

2) There are many reasons why one might point out racism in fiction. Not all of them have to do with educating white people.

3) Quotes and links
"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; ... who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"
Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

"In livejournal mediafandom, no one has observed tone successfully used as a mitigating factor, or they have not so far come forward to admit this."
http://zvi-likes-tv.livejournal.com/429727.html

"What these people fail to understand is that if you’ve said something racist and fucked up you’ve already been rude to me. You’ve already offended me and ignorance is no excuse because you are a grown person, you can read, you can research, you can figure out how to treat people with respect and equality."
http://theangryblackwoman.com/2008/02/12/the-privilege-of-politeness/

"It’s true - a lot of white people, hell, most white people turn ten different shades of pissed off and shoot steam out their ears if someone suggests they’ve said something racist. And if you make a point of talking about race and racism, sooner or later someone will accuse you of being racist, fairly or unfairly."
http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2005/12/02/how-not-to-be-insane-when-accused-of-racism/


How to Suppress Discussions of Racism (with pictures!)
http://coffeeandink.livejournal.com/607897.html
My reply was to shewhohashope, who said, "Racism does not need to be Deliberate."

Okay, in my book, people who commit racism are racist. Perhaps you have a different definition, or a different way in which these words go together. Alas, unless you define those for me, I'm kind of stuck with the lexicon I have.

I see a strong difference between the racism of malice, and the racism of ignorance (and several different causes and gradations within the racism of ignorance). No form of racism is good, and all those people need to be shown what they're doing. But lumping them together and treating them identically is like a doctor deciding that all cancer must be treated the same.
shewhohashope was responding directly to rolanni, who had defined racism as malicious, and shewhohashope explicitly stated that racism did not need to be deliberate or malicious to be hurtful. Your response implies that shewhohashope was the person who raised the issue of malice--she was not--and that she has not already spent considerable effort in the comment threads on this post and elsewhere to define clearly what is racist and hurtful in these discussions.

I also note that you're asking for a lexicon in a response to a comment with links to several lexicons.

In general, this strikes me as more of an attempt to avoid learning than to engage in discussion.
The best way to deal with the racism of malice is probably to shut up, get the hell out of there, and hope they die before they teach their hate to their kids--or better yet, without having kids.

The best way to deal with the racism of ignorance is education.

Which method do you see at work here?
Thank you--I was flailing around trying to recall Zvi's FANTASTIC post, so I could link people to it! (Other links are great too!)
Saying "This word is racist" or "that character's portrayal seems racist to me" is not the same thing as calling someone a racist person.

And people who work very hard not to be racist can nonetheless WRITE racist words, sentences, characters, and books.

The answer to "This X seems racist" is never "I'M NOT A RACIST HOW DARE YOU?" but "I'd like to hear more about what you think about this if you'd be willing to share."
There's malice and there's being callous. Callous is its own kind of ugly and it too can stem from racism.

My poor eyes.
Your privilege makes me weary. Escapism is great, but I'd like to not be smacked in the face by the marginalization or misrepresentation of my culture as I seek my own escapism.

If they've screwed up their topic, or failed to consider certain aspects -- yep, that's a mistake. A mistake; not necessarily a Deliberate Act of Racism.

It is a mistake, but intention doesn't really negate the action as racist or offensive. You fuck up, you apologize and you try to do better. You don't blame other people for pointing out how you've fucked up.
People who insist that stories must all be Important, or reflect the real world

Personally, I think stories and story-telling are Important. I'd hate to spend so much of my life involved (in one way or another) with something I thought was meaningless and trivial.

And they can't help but reflect the real world in one way or another, because that's where we live. Stories exist in the real world, even if that's not where they're set. And they have effects in the real world: there are stories I read as a child that still shape how I see things many decades later.

Which is not to say for a second that stories should all be allegories about how Racism Is Bad, Kids! or Serious Social Commentary or, hell, Soviet Socialist Realism.

But stories are important. Why would we, as readers and writers, want to deny that?
Stories ARE escapism (sometimes). And as a person of color, it sure would be nice to be able to settle into some nice escapist reading and not have the few characters who with whom I can identify racially/ethnically/chromatically (coloristically? um, whatever) have to carry the freight of the author's unexamined bigotry/privilege/you-name-it. And that's when they are present at all.

I cannot decide if it is worse when it doesn't come from people who clearly don't care if they track mud all over the carpet of anyone's life experience, but rather when it comes from people who are so thoughtful and careful and precise in their writing and thinking. This kind of apology is unusual, which is a terrible thing, but true nonetheless. Why unusual? Because she doesn't whine and say the sort of dismissive things people of color have come to expect, nor does she throw her hands up and say, I can't ever get it right, it's too hard, forget this. She apologizes and resolves to get back to it keeping in mind her previous mistakes.

I don't believe this was malicious, but intentional or not, it is hurtful, and when people are hurt they have a right to make their feelings known without being taken to task for their tone.
Hmm...alarums and klaxons everywhere. Saying "ow" or pointing out [inadvertent] racism is important. Making the [inadvertent] repeater-of-racist-tropes comfortable with the crit is nice, but should not be the main criterion, eh?

It's still hard to talk about race right now. I think it's getting easier, between IBARW and other efforts to bring it out of the shadows.

I like escapism when it lets me escape. It *really* sucks when the escape vehicle turns out to aim me RIGHT BACK at the stuff I was trying to escape from.
I like escapism when it lets me escape. It *really* sucks when the escape vehicle turns out to aim me RIGHT BACK at the stuff I was trying to escape from.

YES. THIS.
I like escapism when it lets me escape. It *really* sucks when the escape vehicle turns out to aim me RIGHT BACK at the stuff I was trying to escape from.

OH GOD YES

And any white/Anglo woman with any claim to feminism making the "it's just escapism" argument should be doubly embarrassed, because this was the EXACT argument made by sexist writers and editors back in the day.
"Back in the day"?
I think they make different arguments now, like "OMG YOU'RE OVERREACTING" and "SOMETIMES SPACE CAPTAINS ARE MEN, OKAY" and "GET MORE POST-FEMINIST" but maybe the old-school arguments are still out there and I've just missed them.

Belatedly...

I just want to say: THANK YOU.

You have managed to articulate what I wanted to say, but in a more concise manner. Much love your way.