writing rengeek magpie mind

December 2014

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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

Re: Seems an overreaction


You're a white writer trying to do the right thing, but no matter what you do, it's wrong. And that's so unfair to you, isn't it?


I'm not going to address whether it is "fair" or not (life's not fair anyway).

However, take out the "writer" bit and that sentence has a lot of general application. And frankly, it's not exactly encouraging for people trying to do the right thing. Because whatever you do, someone is going to find fault and tell you you did it wrong. So why not just go the easy route?

Is "why not just go the easy route" the best choice? No, I don't think so. Racism (and all the other -isms) is something that is going to take vast social change to fix and no one person can fix it single-handedly...at the same time, what is society but a whole lot of individual people. Social change require a whole lot of people making personal changes.

So here is what I see. The "this is what you are doing wrong" certainly has a use, a place, and a validity. But it needs to be paired with some kind of a "this is what you can do to help make it better" for balance. That's how you address and correct problems: you say, "don't do that, try doing this instead." You give something to substitute. Guide future actions. And if someone is doing something *right* you point is out, too--not because they deserve a gold star and a pat on the back, but so that they know and can continue to do that thing.

just my $.019 (adjusted for inflation)

Re: Seems an overreaction

Well.

I think that there's also a need, on the quote unquote other side, to respond to people saying "that action was racist" by stopping, thinking about it, and then asking, if you don't quite get why, "Really? How was it racist?"

You have responsibility, as well as the other people involved, is what I mean.

And I'm not saying this as another "I don't need to educate you" comment. I'm saying this because we, communally, need to educate each other.

Re: Seems an overreaction

"Really? How was it racist?"

Fair enough. But when someone says, "Ok, so how can I change?" or even, "OK, I see this larger problem, what would you suggest I do to help make it better?" If you've (the universal "you") got nothing to say, then you are just as much a part of the problem.

See below.

Re: Seems an overreaction

I tend to consider it part of the overall discussion and relationship.

Because it shouldn't be two ships passing in the night. It should be an ongoing collaboration.

Yeah, that means it takes time and effort. (And friendship and shared stories.)

Mind you, I also think there's a place for isolated instances of, "Hey, random person over there, why was this a racist action?" But you don't have a specific right to an answer. (Although if it's in, say, an LJ comment thread they're on too, I think there's an unspoken compact that /some/ interaction'll go on.)

Re: Seems an overreaction

So here is what I see. The "this is what you are doing wrong" certainly has a use, a place, and a validity. But it needs to be paired with some kind of a "this is what you can do to help make it better" for balance.

Are you really asking the person who has been hurt and is crying out in pain to also be the one providing the solution/encouragement, to give more than that cry of pain pointing out that their foot is being stepped on?

Re: Seems an overreaction

Yes, I am saying that the person pointing out the problem should give some kind of "here's where you went wrong, here's what you can do differently".

Because otherwise we end up with a guessing game.

"You did this wrong."

<does something different>

"No, that's wrong, too"

<does something different>

<does something different>

"No, that's wrong, too"

<gives up trying>

I apply this to myself as well, when I encounter something unintentionally sexist from someone who is trying to be and do otherwise.


Re: Seems an overreaction

If you step on my foot, I'm going to scream "ow!" It's not my job, to tell you how you should get off my foot, or what you should do to make sure you don't step on my foot in the future, how you should make apologies and amends, or even to make you feel better about stepping on my foot while my foot is still hurting. If you're a decent person, it's your job to figure out all those things, not mine. And you actually do have the capability to figure out all those things without my assisting you.

Re: Seems an overreaction

Ok, well for one thing, if you step on *my* foot I'll probably yell "Get off my foot!"

For another thing, that's a pretty concrete example you are talking about, and not the best analogy. It isn't as though it is not generally known that getting your foot stepped on hurts, the foot-stepper has likely had similar experiences, and there is a certain set of things one does to fix this:

1. Get off of other person's foot.

2. Apologize.

But we aren't talking about foot-stepping. We are talking about people doing things that may be hurtful to someone without having any inkling that it is so. Or even someone *trying* to be helpful and failing because they don't know how to help. A better analogy would be in how one teaches children, who don't know any better.

When a young child does or says something rude or hurtful, you correct them by telling them why they shouldn't say or do that thing, and give them examples of what they should say or do instead. Why? Because otherwise they can't learn. And how many parents have come across their young child "helping" by actually making a huge mess and possibly even ruining things? You don't scold them for doing a bad job and withhold guidance on how to do it right. You acknowledge the effort, give them some pointers, and help them practice.

And no , I'm not saying that people who say or do hurtful things under any sort of -ism are children. But they are obviously ignorant or misinformed or inexperienced in some way, and in need of some sort of guidance to get them on the right track. They may figure it out on their own in time, but there are pretty good odds that they will continue to blunder into saying and/or doing thing that are hurtful for much longer if they have to do it all by trial and error.

Re: Seems an overreaction

And I think that is where I'm going to leave my arguement. I've said my piece and said it several ways.

Re: Seems an overreaction

The problem here is that you're asking the people who are the ones who have been on the receiving end of racism to be the ones to do more about it instead of asking the ones who are privileged by it to do more about it. This is a problem, not least of which is that when the privileged ask, it's never just asking; because of the power differential, it is a demand. Especially when so many people of color have authored writings that provide insight into so many of those questions already and keep taking the time to provide info . . . like some crazed link fairies. To ask for a personal guide through the pitfalls of racism is kind of a privileged thing itself, ya know?



Re: Seems an overreaction

This is a very concise summary. Thank you.

Re: Seems an overreaction

I'm just going to jump in your analogy here, and point out that PoC are not the parents of white folk who do racist shit, so it's not PoC who are responsible for guiding white folks to do right. The responsibility lands on the offender to find resources and educate themselves how to walk without stepping on feet.

Re: Seems an overreaction

Whose job is it if the offended party refuses to guide the offending party?

Re: Seems an overreaction

I am no longer hosting this discussion. Please have the courtesy to take it elsewhere.

Re: Seems an overreaction

Apologies. I thought you said you weren't participating, not that it was closed.

Won't happen again.

Re: Seems an overreaction

Totally okay. And thank you for your courtesy.