writing rengeek magpie mind

July 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

First of all, as I've said twice already in responses: Of course I'd want it pointed out to me. Please read my above responses to other comments, I don't want to repeat myself again.

"The way I'm reading your comment is that you're afraid ... that people would unjustly accuse you of doing it badly even if it isn't so."

That's... not exactly right. I mean I'm sure that probably happens occasionally, but that's not really a fear of mine. If someone accused me of something like that without a solid argument to back it up, I'd just ignore it - I've got thick skin, I can handle it.

I'm trying to figure out a way to phrase it that I haven't already tried.

When I read Willow's post, it was obvious that she was angry/frustrated at the cultural/institutional racism that creeps into books and film and tv (and the larger problems those represent). But in comparing matociquala's writing to the worst of those examples; by calling her "clueless and ill worded and more than a touch thoughtless"; by dismissing any effort she actually did make with this:

"Your ability to think about things, sometimes, does not erase my pain or lack. And only thinking of how things come across, sometimes, is not enough to make me like you. In fact, I don't think there's anything that could make me like you, other than you somehow earning my respect. And that's never going to happen if you keep checking in with me (metaphorical me, the larger culture and audience of PoC me) to see how you're going. Cause then it looks like so much brownie points, so much patting yourself on the back, so much excuses and dissembling; so much pride."

...Willow stopped criticizing the writing and began criticizing the writer - unfairly. matociquala was not trying to be racist when she wrote Blood & Iron. Anything in there that could be perceived as racist is not there because it can be perceived that way. And while calling it into question is great, making condescending and personal attacks against someone who didn't even know they'd done it is not great, is not productive, and will not help bring about the changes necessary to end the problem - if anything will make things worse.

In truth, I'm not even really concerned about this as it pertains to me. I know how I feel about it, and if someone ever wrote something like that about my writing, I would read it for any actually useful feedback and then probably only respond to any specific points I thought actually had some merit - including specific examples of things I wrote that could be perceived as racist, but not including direct or indirect accusations of me being racist.

My concern is that people don't differentiate between bringing unintentional things to light (and racism is just one example), and accusing the writer of being racist/sexist/homophobic/ willfully ignorant because it's easier than addressing how the particular example relates to the bigger problem.

This may not make complete sense; it's after midnight here and I'm damn tired. Please bear that in mind when responding, and if soethign didn't make sense tell me and I'll try to clarify.
I apologize for making you feel as if you're needing to repeat yourself. I guess the problem that I'm having is that you seem to be putting words into Willow's mouth that she didn't use, and then going on from there to generalize that if you write about PoC characters, you will also come in for the kind of criticism that you're attributing to Avalon's Willow. ("No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, if I write a non-white character someone will think I'm being racist.")

But she's not saying that. The whole quote that you took of hers begins, "I'm not calling you a monster. I'm not calling you a racist. But I am calling you clueless and ill worded and more than a touch thoughtless...."

And, a little earlier in her post:

"Have you noticed yet that I'm listing? That I can list? That it's not impractical for me to list? And in my listing there's heartache and anger and depression and disgust?"

It's not that she's trotting out these examples to castigate matociquala, to imply that Bear's a horrible person and a hack writer. Her other examples are there to point out that this is the umpty-gazillionth example she's encountered of a particular, insulting stereotype, and it hurts her. If she wasn't able to read through to the end of the book, it's because she's already seen this story a hundred times and it always has the same depressing, gut-twisting ending, so why go ahead and push through just on the remote chance that Bear, a writer she doesn't know, has given this heartbreaking, hope-destroying narrative a different ending this time? It seems to me that you're dismissing the pain and hurt and anger that she expressed in her post, and accusing her of making an accusation against matociquala ("...accusing the writer of being racist/sexist/homophobic/ willfully ignorant") that requires reading her post through a fairly specific lens.

matociquala was not trying to be racist when she wrote Blood & Iron.

But ... that matters how in this context? I'm not trying to put down matociquala, either as a person or as a writer. I've read several of her books and really liked them; I don't know her as a person at all, except through her LJ, but I've generally been impressed with how she's handling this discussion. But that is not really at all pertinent to Avalon's Willow's post, which was about the way that Bear's book hurt her, dismissed her; the way it brought up a very old, very deep wound. The important thing is not the intent, but the result; worrying about intent is a luxury reserved for the perpetrator of an injury, not the victim. If you run over my dog with your car, it doesn't matter if you did it on purpose or if you lost control on a patch of ice; my dog is just as dead either way, and knowing that you didn't mean to do it doesn't make my pain less.

My concern is that people don't differentiate between bringing unintentional things to light (and racism is just one example), and accusing the writer of being racist/sexist/homophobic/ willfully ignorant because it's easier than addressing how the particular example relates to the bigger problem.

And my point is that Avalon's Willow does exactly that -- if she makes any accusation towards the writer rather than the work, it's that the writer is thoughtless, not racist or ignorant or anything else -- but you're not giving her credit for that, or for pointing out racism in the media; instead, you're taking her to task for making an accusation that she never made, and calling her remarks "condescending" and "personal" when, for the most part, all her comments were focused on her own reactions, her own anger and disappointment and hurt and the way that she feels towards Bear because of that book. The implication in your original comment ("There is nothing I can do to prevent people from perceiving racism if they want to...") is that her pain is invalid, that it matters less than Bear's intentions, that the offense she feels is imaginary.
Yes. This.