It used to be so good. We had a good thing going. We talked. I felt like you really listened. But you've changed. You're not the same.
You've started behaving erratically. I suspected an affair at first, or drugs, but I have to face the facts.
You've gone crazy. And I just can't be with you anymore.
I'm breaking my word.
See, I said I was out of the great pan-fandom fail of 2009. Honestly, you can't call it a racism debate anymore, or a cultural appropriation conversation. It's not.
But it keeps following me home, and I'm really getting sick of it, because it's not about communication. It's about us versus them. And the problem is--the problem I see, and the reason I've been refusing to comment--is that there is no us and there is no them in this fight. It's a false dichotomy, and worse, it's a waste of energy.
I've listened to things I said be falsely reported for two months now. I've listened to people I know and trust--on both sides of the debate, though somehow when anybody mentions "Bear's friends," it's only ever the alleged oppressors--be reviled. I've listened to myself be reviled.
And yes, I said alleged.
I can't stop it. I have no interest in stopping it. I am not about the suppression of free speech.
There are ways to foster courteous debate on the internet. There are ways to have a productive conversation. All-out attack, goalpost-shifting, threats, harassment, "outing" the opposition, and continuing to kick people who have apologized and withdrawn are not those means.
And yes, both sides are guilty of those actions. Equally guilty.
The problems here are manifold. One is that there are a lot of decent people of good conscience on both "sides" of this argument. There are artists who are making a meaningful attempt to present people of colors and creeds and sexualities not their own in their work. There are people who really, really care about social justice, who sit around and try to think up ways to improve access to health care and jobs for everyone, on both sides of this fight.
I know what I said is being misinterpreted and in some cases flat-out misrepresented. I can only assume that others are being similarly misquoted. (And by others, I do not mean Those Harmless White Folks. I mean my fellow human beings, who are being harmed. Some of those fellow human beings have been calling me and people I love pretty nasty names, but I am trying to have compassion.)
And there are human beings on both sides of this fight. Human beings who are hurt and defensive. Human beings who cannot eat, or sleep, or do their work properly because they're so upset about things that have been done to them, or said about them. Human beings who are suffering. Human beings who are being silenced or dealt with cruelly.
There are also, frankly, dickheads on both sides of the argument. And the longer the argument persists, honestly, I think the higher the dickhead-to-person-of-conscience ratio gets. There are people who enjoy fighting. There are people who enjoy the exercise of power they don't often get to wield. There are people who really are just that sadistic.
See, here's the thing. I can't stop the fight. But I can pick up my gonads and say what nobody else is saying, even though I know perfectly well that I'm going to be called a racist for saying this, and I accept that.
I tried in every way I knew how to mediate, to explain, to teach. When that failed, I tried to remove myself as a source of conflict, but when somebody's spoiling for a fight they will go looking.
I'm not a racist. I am a person who has been affected by my society's unconscious attitudes towards race, certainly, who has internalized those--and some funny ones based on my own upbringing. I'm not unconcious of this. It's something I try to be very aware of in my work, because it matters to me.
But you know, at this point, I pretty much can't be called anything worse than I already have been, and since I don't have a job I can be harassed at, I'm not too concerned about anybody calling my boss trying to get me fired. (Yes, that is a specific example from life.)
And I've gotten enough scared, supportive emails and anonymous comments from people who are cowed that I think it's time to put on my big girl pants and stand up.
I'm not cowed. And I'm done with being silenced.
This thing is my fault, but not in the way you probably think.
It's my fault because I accepted criticism of my book that I knew to be untrue, that I knew to be based on a shallow and partial reading (a reading of the first chapter of a 160,000-word novel), because I felt it was important to serve as an example of how to engage dialogue on unconscious institutional racism.
I wanted to be part of the solution, and make it a teaching experience, rather than responding with hurt and defensiveness. I wanted the dialogue to be about racism and how to combat it, rather than about me.
Instead, I served as a bad example, because I did not anticipate the shitstorm that followed. I did not anticipate how many people would feel threatened by that criticism, and I also did not anticipate that what--in my circle of friends (which is, you might be surprised to learn, not made up entirely of academics or of white folks) would have been a courteous debate about the merits of the criticism turned into a debate on whether people who were responding to the critic as they would have any other critic--i.e., by questioning the merits of the criticism--were doing so out of racism.
This is not necessarily so. Sometimes, people question criticism because they disagree with it. (There are entire threads in this very blog that consist of people questioning my criticism.)
People of color, I fear, are about exactly as likely to engage in flawed criticism as white people are, and when they do, they are just as accountable to other critics.
ETA:This is not to say that people's gut reactions are without merit. But once you have created a climate where it is assumed that the only reason one person can disagree with another is due to racism, you have created a climate in which rational discourse is impossible, and the question being asked is the age-old conundrum, "Have you stopped beating your wife, Senator?" Which is useful for venting justified rage, but not so useful for bringing about social betterment.
The problem arises when people of color are held to a different standard than white folks. Period. Whatever that standard is.
And yes, in the ensuing debate, people said a lot of stupid things, and a lot of things that were patently or unconsciously racist. I don't defend those things.
But here's the thing: cruel, hurtful, needless, even racist and misogynistic things were said on both sides. And yes, despite what one of the friends I have lost over this kerfuffle said to me in email, I do think that a person of color saying something patently racist and misogynist is as offensive as a white person's unexamined privilege.
I also think that a white person saying something patently racist and misogynist is as offensive as a person of color's unexamined privilege, and in internet debates of this sort, at least against well-meaning white folk who really do want to help, the persons of color do have privilege. It is not systemic, like white privilege, and it is not as toxic as white privilege.
But it is perfectly capable of turning any internet debate on race into a slaughterhouse, because the white progressives will generally either back down from or react with defensive panic to any accusation of racism, which makes it a nuclear option and an I Win card.
(Nota Bene: mocking somebody is generally also a bad way to foster understanding. As is projecting and deconstructing rather than active listening. These are really good ways to encourage flame wars, though.)
(Oh, god, I can already hear what you're saying about me. But this is the truth, guys. And it's time somebody said it.)
It's also one of the things that makes these debates particularly pointless, because we spend them kicking people who are fundamentally on our side. Well, those of us who are in arguing in good conscience, anyway.
I'm perfectly aware that this post is going to be deconstructed, picked apart, and used as evidence against me in the court of the Internets, and I expect that for the next six months I will be one of the ones receiving the harassing emails and phone calls (I'm listed) and the threatening comments.
Because that's just the kind of charming people the worst element (not everyone, and again, the bad crazy? not side-limited) involved in this debate is.
But it occurred to me this week that this argument was turning me into a racist. Because I was holding David Anthony Durham's book to a different standard than I would have held a book by a white writer. I was afraid to comment on some colonialist tropes that I saw in it when I read it, because I didn't want to be seen as slyly breaking my silence on the ongoing debate. But yeah, you know something? There is stuff I found troubling in that book. Like how European the society seemed to me, despite its patina of multiculturalism. And like how the plot of the book revolves around the scions of an usurped colonialist slave power working to overthrow their overthrowers and regain power.
And did I mention the inhumanly strong, cannibal ogres with their savage tribal culture? (they're not called ogres in the book, but it's as close as I can get without a page of exposition.)
I adore David, based on a very casual acquaintance. And I really liked a lot about the book. And I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt, that he's going somewhere with this.
But I gotta tell you, the ogres really kind of still bug me.
So I'm holding it to the same standard that I would hold a book by anybody else. And I'm pointing out that, you know? The ogres kind of bug me.
What I should have done is ignored the criticism and refused to engage the critic, which is generally speaking what we do with critics if we are sensible writers.
(If I was going to dignify it with a response, maybe I should have pointed out that the original critic's reading missed several important points. Like the fact that of the two characters she identified as white women, one is described as golden-skinned and I believe the race of the other is never stated in the book. Or the various other things I could have pointed out, like the fact that not all art is a depiction of Utopia. But, you know, I figured it was as pointless as trying to explain to a radical lesbian separatist that yes, Sting probably knows the narrator of "Wrapped Around Your Finger" is kind of creepy. And I shouldn't have engaged. I just shouldn't have.)
And that's what I meant when I said I had taken a hit for the team. I had tried to be a good cooperative white author, and listen to criticism from a person of color with open ears, and try to engage in a helpful dialogue of how to address one's own unconscious racism.
But you know, I was doomed from the moment I decided that I could try to do a little very basic education aimed at people who have never tried to write somebody not exactly like them, and maybe help writers avoid writing a few POC characters who were basically middle class white people with a coat of well-meaning shellac.
I knew I was painting a target on my chest when I did it. I didn't realize quite how big a target at the time.
And I didn't realize how many people would get caught in the wash.
Comments are turned off, and will remain turned off, because I don't have time to moderate you all, and because I have a modest proposal.
My modest proposal is this:
Why don't we all just let it drop for a while? Call a cease-fire. Internet-wide. Starting, oh, Friday at 12:01 am? Let's just all shut up for a little bit and think about what we've learned--those of us of good conscience, anyway, those who really are interested in productive dialogue, those who care about social justice and making sure all voices are heard.
Let's call it a two-month cease fire. If we still want to, we can pick this up again in May, and have plenty of vitriol stored up for WisCon.
...or maybe, we can actually have a conversation then.
Comments on this post are turned off.
I have rescinded this policy, because I have come to realize that it was intemperate and ill-thought-out. I spoke in anger, specifically anger over the unfairnesses being leveled against coffeeandink and coffeeem, and I was wrong.
I still will not respond to comments here, nor will I allow a flamewar to brew, but I will not be banning people, and I've in fact lifted all the bans from the last go-round on this topic.
However, when I set a boundary, I mean it. I'm not going to defend myself, and I'm not going to attack anyone. Those are my limits.
Just for a little while.