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Science Fiction, LiveJournal, and "Magical Negros"
January 19, 2009 3:53 PM   Subscribe

A tempest in a Livejournal: It starts with author Elizabeth Bear's post Writing for The Other. Or maybe it started with Jay Lake's Thinking about the Other. It leads to a wide ranging, intense and angry debate on the portrayal of ethnicity in fiction, culture and the media. Avalon's Willow responds with an open letter on the racial content in one of her books, and relates it to media portrayals of ethnic peoples. Deepa D follows up with a post on, cultural appropriation. And then things get intense.

Elizabeth Bear apologizes, and says her intent wasn't racist, while shewhohashope tackles criticisms on cultural appropriation. Things could end quietly, but in defending Bear, truepenny posts about how intent and perception. This ticks people off for some reason. Finally, as it ends with no reconcilliation , some people try to put it all in context.


So with the debate ended, we see that one side is angry and confrontational, the other is apologetic and trying to draw a lesson out of it. The question is, when it's all over, what good has come from this? Is this people calling out white privilege? Is it a case of perpetual victimhood? Should Elizabeth Bear get her works approved by Avalon's Willow and Deepa D from now on? Or is it just yet another LJ controversy?
posted by happyroach (82 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Or is it just yet another LJ controversy?

So, if something controversial is being discussed on Livejournal, it can be dismissed simply because it's being discussed on Livejournal?

And "angry and confrontational"? Do I really need to pull up the racist catchphrase bingo card?
posted by tzikeh at 4:02 PM on January 19, 2009 [15 favorites]


Or is it just yet another LJ controversy?

that one. that one right there.
posted by shmegegge at 4:04 PM on January 19, 2009


Wait, LiveJournal's still around? I thought it got taken over by the Russian mafia. Was that just a Bruce Sterling dream?
posted by jeffkramer at 4:07 PM on January 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Bear:

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.

I'll read on, but this seems to pretty much be an argument-stopper to me. How does not make complete, perfect sense?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:11 PM on January 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Uh...how does that not, even?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:12 PM on January 19, 2009


To those who apologised to me for their actions - I do not accept your apology. I'm grateful you've clothed your psyches, but I do not accept apologies for acts of ugliness. If you weren't so interested in preserving yourselves, your status quo and your self perspective as a liberal understanding academic - you would have never behaved like pantless fools in the first place.

Maybe it's my white privilege that inclines me to dismiss this woman as a self-important asshole - but there you have it.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:17 PM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


If there's one thing this plate needs, it's more beans.
posted by delmoi at 4:18 PM on January 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Hmm. If your’re a writer it strikes me that this is absolutely something owrth thinking about, but absolutely not worth having a conversation about with anyone who is into identity politics, as they’re just going to be pissed off about absolutely everything anyhow. And if you’re already on Livejournal and using terms like “The Other” you’re pretty much fucked from the start.
posted by Artw at 4:21 PM on January 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


> How does not make complete, perfect sense?

You the writer will have to spend so much time and energy defending your first attempt that you'll never get around to a second one, and so the path to saturation becomes a bit problematic. That makes less than complete, perfect sense.
posted by jfuller at 4:22 PM on January 19, 2009


How does not make complete, perfect sense?

Well, define "examined."

Does the author need to stop and explain their personal point of view regarding racism? Does the author need to portray it in such a way that the audience can only draw a single conclusion from it? Does the author need to show multiple sides of an issue?

That said, I suppose the challenge is that excluding all characters from your work that aren't the same race as you are is racist. Including characters in your work that are a different race from you is racist. You're basically going to be racist no matter what choice you make.

Ergo, don't write if you want to avoid being accused of being racist.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:23 PM on January 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


Hmm. I wonder why I'd assumed she was soemthing top do with Greg Bear. Must be the Vinges I was thinking of.
posted by Artw at 4:27 PM on January 19, 2009


with anyone who is into identity politics, as they’re just going to be pissed off about absolutely everything anyhow

Yeah, like how the politics of our cultural identity is foisted upon us by the society in which we live and then we are called whiners because we have issues with it.

The only people who are not into identity politics are those who have the luxury of ignoring them.

To be a person of color is to be a spokesperson for "your people."
To be a person of color is to be constantly reminded that you are "the other."
To be a person of color is to be associated with all of the stereotypes, misconceptions and societal roles that are subsumed within your "identity."
To be a person of color is to feel left out when consuming popular culture as there is no "you" there to identify with (or even worse, the "you" is token, stereotypes or horribly maligned).

The dismissal of identity politics amongst people of color is rather myopic. These issues are very important to people. The struggle to accept and understand your ethnic identity in this society as a non-white person is no small task.
posted by anansi at 4:36 PM on January 19, 2009 [18 favorites]


How does not make complete, perfect sense?

Well, I'd venture to say, because it's usually people who aren't deeply affected by racial issues who bang on about how we should make it just not matter. Most people affected by it know that it matters because you have no choice. It matters the same way rich people will tell you that money isn't everything.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:42 PM on January 19, 2009


Or, what anansi just said better than me.

(I really should use the preview button)
posted by lumpenprole at 4:43 PM on January 19, 2009


Well, good luck with that, but TBH I don’t think whiney pseudo-academic semantic nitpicking on livejournal is the effective tool for the task it’s been sold to us as.
posted by Artw at 4:44 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do I really need to pull up the racist catchphrase bingo card?

There are several tired rhetorical patterns that I wish we would, as an internet, desist from using. One is the arranging of our strawmen into bingo cards; another is the practice of scare quotes; and the third is the word trifecta. You might say that they comprise a triforce.

As for the rest of this, on first impression the arguments seem to run as follows: on one hand, it's the "White author's Burden" to include "People of Color" in their stories, to the exact specifications and dimensions set by "Livejournal writers." On the other, it is impossible and even paternalistic to assume the perspective of "The Other," or to try to weave its conceits into your story. Got all that? Your creative work is beset and circumscribed on both sides by "lunatics" with "electrical pitchforks." Now please adjust your bingo cards in compliance with the Bear-Willow-D trifecta.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:45 PM on January 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


And I would not even comment on the value of taking literary advice from Livejournal, except that I just did.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:46 PM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


/sets up invisible satchel bombs around the perimeter, waits with detonator.
posted by Artw at 4:46 PM on January 19, 2009


That said, I suppose the challenge is that excluding all characters from your work that aren't the same race as you are is racist. Including characters in your work that are a different race from you is racist. You're basically going to be racist no matter what choice you make.

Ergo, don't write if you want to avoid being accused of being racist.


Actually, you...make a good point there. By which I mean to say, some critical schools are obsessed with identity politics, and unless you're on absolutely the same page as whoever's critiquing your work at any given moment, your work may be found wanting. My feeling is: So what? And also: Isn't that pretty much okay? Because look, fiction is written by people, not by omniscient entities, and it tends to be written by people who believe in a commonality of human experience, because if that commonality did not exist then no one would be able to relate to characters who were not exactly like themselves. So you're basically working from an optimistic premise of we're all pretty much the same, but of course if we were all exactly the same, that'd be pretty boring...so then it's something closer to: Who would I be if I were a forest ranger/another ethnicity/another gender/a child/elderly/etc.? As well as: If my entire family were killed before my very eyes/if I were the president of the United States/if I were paranoid schizophrenic/if I were the strongest person in the world? Chances are, someone reading your work has had one or more experiences that you are only imagining. If you were interested enough to write about this subject in the first place, wouldn't you want to know the real deal (at least as filtered through the subjective POV of someone who has actually experienced it, bearing in mind that their experience cannot be that of everyone else in the same boat)? I would; I would find that a very rewarding exchange, and I think most writers would, because most good writers are interested in people's lives.

Why that exchange should become a confrontation I don't really understand. For me, if I write a character unlike myself but like you and you think I've fucked up, then I'd like to know how, and how I could do better, in part because I don't wanna be offensive, but also just because I'd like to know more. I think that's true of everybody: If someone from America writes a novel about Hindu gods, then one way of looking at is they're poaching; maybe they are; but for the sake of argument, let's say the reason they wrote it is that they are passionately interested in the subject. So you think they did it wrong. Fair enough! Which is more constructive: To say they're emissaries of the evil imperialist state, or to point out what they could've done better? I don't think "they could have been Indian" is a very useful answer; they could have, I guess, but they're not.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:49 PM on January 19, 2009 [10 favorites]


To be fair, some of these people are using blogspot or wordpress.
posted by Artw at 4:52 PM on January 19, 2009


And I would not even comment on the value of taking literary advice from Livejournal, except that I just did.

Jesus Christ, why is *where* this discussion is taking place such a fucking problem? Most of the main names involved in it are professional authors, Ph.Ds in Literature, or both. If they were having this discussion in a Starbucks or at a barbecue, would that make it somehow less intelligent or important than if they were having the same exact discussion on a panel at an academic conference?
posted by tzikeh at 4:53 PM on January 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


Livejournal has a house style of bitchiness.
posted by Artw at 4:54 PM on January 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.

posted by dawson at 4:55 PM on January 19, 2009


The expression "people of color" needs to die a horrid, horrid death.
posted by signal at 4:57 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Livejournal has a house style of bitchiness.

In my experience, the LJ house style is a little more pictures-of-my-cat/here-are-some-Tori-Amos-lyrics-that-mean-the-world-to-me/let-me-tell-you-about-my-self-diagnosed-fibromyalgia, but maybe you've just had better luck.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:57 PM on January 19, 2009 [14 favorites]


Oh, that's a house style too, but if they want to have a flap with each other there's a very definate way in which it's done.
posted by Artw at 5:00 PM on January 19, 2009


This is the best of the web in the same way that a plane crashing is the best in aviation.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:04 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it seems like taking it out on LiveJournal is kind of ad hominem (ad webinem?).

Doesn't really add anything to the discussion either way.
posted by lumpenprole at 5:13 PM on January 19, 2009


Smells like you sold your ass to the devil. That came from the pits of hell.

Well how big is it? How long is it?

It's kind of long as my arm.

[laughter]

I don't think this is f… why y'all… this is not funny. I got a damn 2 x 4 in my back seat. Y'know I think this, I think this is some racial shit too. That's what this is.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:28 PM on January 19, 2009


The expression "people of color" needs to die a horrid, horrid death.

personally, I don't like it much either, but as a catch-all term, I prefer it to "minority." Not a lot of terms that denote what it denotes that don't come with their own baggage.
posted by anansi at 5:45 PM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not a lot of terms that denote what it denotes that don't come with their own baggage.

Right, they should come with a lot of baggage because the concept itself has a lot of baggage.
"Non-whites" seems the most honest, direct term. Does it sound racist? Yes, because it's a racist concept.
posted by signal at 5:50 PM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love how the Avalon's Willow lady lists a bunch of sci-fi characters of various ethnicities stereotyped to badass but non-leadership roles.

When was the last time the nerdy white guy was the hero of the series? Where's the love for Wesley Crusher, Seamus Harper, or Dr. McKay?

Does she think we like being stereotyped?

I'm going to start a branch of identity politics devoted to tall and handsome privilege.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 6:13 PM on January 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I know Elizabeth Bear well and I got sucked into this big-ass discussion cum flamewar peripherally through my partner (who was tagged during some of the now-deleted larger discussion that was part of this for doing something mundane that was taken to be more appropriation but I think turned out to be just a silly way of interpreting it).

That I know E. Bear means I know she can take care of herself, and as a longtime veteran of racism and antiracism discussions that get out of hand and end up doing everyone harm, I was strongly impressed by the firm hand she used to moderate discussion on her own LJ post, keeping it on-focus, respectful, worth the time taken to read and write it.

She's a good egg, a strong arm in fights against injustice. I know that when she started the discussion (by responding to Seeking Avalon's open letter), she knew what she was getting into and she knew she could handle it. She moderated that discussion on her journal for 4 days with more patience than I think I would muster. It was really good to see.

I won't say I'm sorry that the discussion happened, nor am I sorry that E. Bear was there to have part of that discussion. I am thankful she was there to do her end of the talking, thinking, changing, learning.

Good words, good effort.

And I say this as a person of color (I do prefer the term for now until something better comes along).

Some of my closest friends are white, and I'm fortunate to be able to be proud of almost all of them and how they comport themselves.
posted by kalessin at 6:13 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


GANDALF WAS A RACIST!
posted by tkchrist at 6:15 PM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


P.S. from what I understand of the discussion, the Seeking Avalon open letter was talking partly/largely about Bear's Blood and Iron, though it's a good point that the cultural appropriation discussion started a long time ago. My first exposure to it in Bear's context was via a panel on cultural appropriation at WisCon 31 (2007), which itself was a followup from 2006's WisCon 30's Cultural Appropriation panel.

So it's a much older discussion than just this year.
posted by kalessin at 6:19 PM on January 19, 2009


kid ichourous, you made me laugh out loud, and for that I say blessings on your day!
posted by jcworth at 6:26 PM on January 19, 2009


Sadly, we consider this an annual blowup of white authors and race issues on LJ:

1. White authors ponder how to write about characters of color
2. People of color try to help/point out where things are wrong, or the basic fact that if you can't identify with your fellow human beings because they look and live different than you, you probably have your own set of issues that need working out
3. White authors, fans, etc. "Why are YOU SO MEAN?!?" and then ask how to not be racist while at the same time shutting off all voices from people of color who don't say nice things to them.
4. ????
5. White authors pat themselves on the back because they're not racist and we can all learn about how Mean and Scary and Irrational (TM) people of color are.

Repeat.
posted by yeloson at 6:40 PM on January 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


People of color try to help/point out where things are wrong, or the basic fact that if you can't identify with your fellow human beings because they look and live different than you, you probably have your own set of issues that need working out

"It's about Mandingos"?
posted by Artw at 6:42 PM on January 19, 2009


Darn. I came to MetaFilter thinking, "At least I can come to a nice, quiet place away from the nonsense at FightJournal."

I do think there's something about LiveJournal's interface and culture that's toxic. Because LJ doesn't have linear threads, people keep having to make the same point over and over again. Yeah, some commenters skip big pieces of the conversation when linear threads get long here, but LiveJournal is just weird. It's the only place I know where people ask if they may friend you, even though your site isn't locked and your RSS feed is out in plain sight.

As for the brouhaha, it really boils down to this advice: Write well.

kid ichorous, I share your distaste for the "bingo" cards. There's something odd about asking for fictional characters who are unique, and then reducing humans to a set of check boxes.
posted by shetterly at 6:53 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


It looks like the invisible knapsack of white privilege does not contain "allowed to write books without invoking a firestorm of racial controversy."
posted by adipocere at 6:58 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was following these discussions as they evolved and found them very interesting. I think talking about race as a writer is an even more problematic issue for science fiction writers, because we will describe really alien races and quite often what you see are aliens who are not-very-subtly-disguised-stereotype Japanese people, or not-very-subtly-disguised-stereotype black people, or whatever, except that they have antennae, and the author of that work often doesn't see that work as in any way talking about race, because they're talking about aliens, see? I'll point to the newer Star Wars trilogy as a particularly annoying and obvious example.

It's getting better, though. This is a discussion it would have been much harder to have twenty years ago (not just because of the absence of the internet). Now we have quite a few accomplished sf/f/h writers who are people of colour, which helps, and white sf/f/h writers are more likely to be at least aware it's an issue, which also helps.
posted by joannemerriam at 6:58 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


It looks like the invisible knapsack of white privilege does not contain "allowed to write books without invoking a firestorm of racial controversy."

It is precisely the fact of white privilege that allows people to act surprised and indignant when they get called on their racist shit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:13 PM on January 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


Pope Guilty, I'm thinking more of Joey Michaels' comment — which boils down to "damned if you do, damned if you don't."
posted by adipocere at 8:13 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


For me, if I write a character unlike myself but like you and you think I've fucked up, then I'd like to know how, and how I could do better, in part because I don't wanna be offensive, but also just because I'd like to know more.

This is totally it. As someone else said above, this happens every so often and it's the same old pattern. The same old crap, and the same writers, hollywood folks and artists just use this stuff as a lame ass excuse to be all whiney ball-taking-and-go-home about their work.

When really it's just a trif...uh...combination of disrespect, laziness and privilege.

Disrespect because excuse me, yes when you depict someone you should damn well know, as Kittensforbreakfast says above, enough to make a good character. And if you don't, then learn some more, ask more questions. And guess what, you're going to have to be humble and silent a lot of that time while you listen and try to understand something you didn't learn in decades and decades of life.

Laziness because a lot of these writers and artists come across this and end up just wanting people of c...nonwhi... um, those folks to just be easy to characterize and put in a box and depicted any old kind of way willy nilly and dog gone it they should just be happy. No time to do any research like I do with other topics to make sure I don't look like a fool who doesn't know what he's talking about because nobody's going to care or notice except those people, and I just don't have the time.

And that's that. And that's the privilege. Because that's how it ends a lot of the time. It's getting better though, in some places. But worse in others.
posted by cashman at 8:27 PM on January 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


This live journal mess is exactly the kind of PC circular firing squad that handed the right overwhelming power for the last 30 years.
posted by wuwei at 8:46 PM on January 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


As for the brouhaha, it really boils down to this advice: Write well.

That is precisely it. Be your characters, or, if you must write out characters whose backgrounds differ from yours (and chances are you will, unless you're David Sedaris*), let different people of similar background read your character. Listen to the feedback, take it to heart. You can't be too thorough, really. And after you've done all that and are satisfied with your MS, expect that people will still be offended.

A lot of this really falls again upon the sagely advice of William S. Burroughs: "If you've just finished writing something and believe it's brilliant, tear it up immediately and throw it into someone else's garbage can."

* I love Sedaris - just sayin', it's one autobio after another, isn't it?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:30 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


This live journal mess is exactly the kind of PC circular firing squad that handed the right overwhelming power for the last 30 years.

You know nothing about politics, and particularly nothing about the political history of the United States.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:33 PM on January 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


As someone who attends city planning and social justice conferences, I now abbreviate "people of color" and "communities of color." The acronyms give new meaning to sentences like "spread opportunities for POCs," "reach out to COCs," and "revitalize COCs."

For more, see my upcoming book, How To Stay Entertained At Long, Boring Conferences.
posted by salvia at 9:44 PM on January 19, 2009


Pronounced "see-oh-sees" I presume.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:51 PM on January 19, 2009


As dem say down yard: who feel it know it!
posted by bonefish at 10:01 PM on January 19, 2009


Two bits of writing which might be useful to some who are thinking about these things more generally, rather than understanding "race" or "culture" to mean "American black/white race relations":

Nadine Gordimer on "Writing and Being."

Coetzee on Giving Offense.
posted by honest knave at 12:11 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


As an addendum, the point needs to be made that everybody, including people of color, can fall prey to the negative stereotypes, even without realizing it at the time. A writer may not be consciously racist, and perpetuate a racist trope.

So as Mrs. Bear said, if there's one thing to be learned from all this, it's to be aware. Be aware of racial tropes, be able to check your own writing to see if your perpetuating one, and do your research if you're writing a character from another culture.
posted by happyroach at 12:22 AM on January 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I share your distaste for the "bingo" cards. There's something odd about asking for fictional characters who are unique, and then reducing humans to a set of check boxes.

Part of the point of the bingo cards that people create is that, as a non-white/straight/cis/western/able person on the internet arguing for your inclusion and against shitty portrayals, you get the same half-thought "common sense" responses all the time. The bingo cards are basically a shorthand that says that we've been here before and your argument is invalid, but we're not going to go over why with you because we did it yesterday and the day before and the day before that, so look it up. The onus is always on the minority to explain themselves, and if, for once, they don't, they unhelpful or angry or whiny.

However, coming into these sorts of ongoing conversations on livejournal after the fact probably doesn't make for a very good FPP. Each link has so much going on in so many threads that the only way you're really going to get the full impression is if you were there at the time.

The hate for livejournal is perplexing. It's a fantastic resource. The threaded structure of conversations also keeps derails self-contained: if you want to carry on fighting with the troll, go ahead, but no-one else has to open your thread. And just for my own little minority, being able to discuss LGBT and feminist issues for a full ten minutes without BUT WHY ARE YOU SO MEAN or BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MEN is useful.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:54 AM on January 20, 2009 [10 favorites]


Part of the point of the bingo cards that people create is that, as a non-white/straight/cis/western/able person on the internet arguing for your inclusion and against shitty portrayals, you get the same half-thought "common sense" responses all the time. The bingo cards are basically a shorthand that says that we've been here before and your argument is invalid, but we're not going to go over why with you because we did it yesterday and the day before and the day before that, so look it up. The onus is always on the minority to explain themselves, and if, for once, they don't, they unhelpful or angry or whiny.

Exactly, and as mentioned above this is not a new debate - it's been done at great length at least twice before, and yet in this debate there are still people out there making the same points, and I don't blame the participants at all for feeling tired of making the same arguments over and over again. I've been following the debates (but staying out of them, as another white person wading in is not what they need), and there are some really interesting, thoughtful, passionate arguments on there, and some derails I would love to see more posts on, and it's a shame that it has ended in anger and hurt feelings rather than getting to a point where maybe we can have the debate next time without going right back to the start.

(And I also don't get the Livejournal hate. I prefer threaded comments, and the way you can freeze a sub-thread of comments which gets out of hand without shutting down the whole discussion is really useful. )
posted by penguinliz at 1:44 AM on January 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Pale white buttcheeks in my face
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:02 AM on January 20, 2009


ArmyOfKittens, I should've been more precise. If you want intimate conversations, threads are the way to go. But when you want to be sure that a group is sharing the same information, they're a mess.

Or maybe it's just personal taste. Binarians could divide the world between people who like linear threads and people who like threaded ones.

Uh, some of my best friends are Thread Heads.
posted by shetterly at 7:02 AM on January 20, 2009


I think both threaded and flat conversations have their advantages. The main reason I've lurked at mefi since 2000 is that the flat threads make it very easy to come to the site once or twice a day for a flick through; and it's easy to get into the conversation if I want to. But the flat nature of the site can mean derails completely destroy whole conversations, at least until a mod comes by, and it sometimes means that subtler points are lost. Threaded communities manage with less moderation because flamewars and the link usually compartmentalise themselves. You can also get really really anal about a particular point in a livejournal community and drill down on it into infinity with one or two other people without having to bore everyone else.

Speaking of which...
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:50 AM on January 20, 2009


The best way around this is to simply not say what the race of the characters even is. That way, everyone will just imagine them as white, but hey, it's not your fault your readers are all racist!
posted by delmoi at 8:34 AM on January 20, 2009


If you're a writer and concerned about portrayal of characters of color, here's a couple of good links:

We worry about it too from the standpoint of a writer of color.

It's an Open Book, a reminder that, as a writer, your words are going into the public and will be analyzed and criticized by many- that's either something you can learn from or something you can freak out about.

Usually, we get several posts like this every time, though, usually not read outside the antiracist circles to begin with, and then it starts all over again. Who's trying to get a lesson out of these things again?
posted by yeloson at 9:13 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeloson, I'm glad you reposted nojojojo's LJ post , because that has some of the most important information in the entire debate; that even someone who is consciously anti-racist can unconsciiously fall into the trap of using racist tropes.

Which leads to a good argument to use when someone says "But I'm not a racist!": to say "Sure, I'll take you at your word. But these stereotypes and tropes are so pernicious and omnipresent that one has to seriously think about what they're doing to avoid them."


ArmyOfKittens, I hate to say it, because I know a large part of the anger in this last debate was due to having to repeat things and the feeling that no progress is being made, but these debates DO need to be repeated over and over again, and the same points and points and responses have to be made over and over again. Because that's how progress is made. The feeling of a lack of progress is partially an illusion; sure some posters were hopeless, but other people learned things. I learned important things about portraying different cultures and ethnicities in this debate. And every time these debates happen, new people will get clues as to how to do things right. Next time I'll be able to post arguments from a more informed perspective, and in the meantime, my work will benefit from this perspective.

I'm not saying that the situation doesn't suck, and that people don't have a right to be frustrated and angry. Just, responses like "figure it out yourself" and the bingo cards may feel good, but aren't all that helpful. I learned more from one post by nojojojo than everything Avalon's Willow.


And finally, if anything in my OP coould be construed as LJ hate, I apologize. I do love LJ with the long-term affection of someone who's seeen the best and worst of it. I may be more than a little sarcastic about it, but I'll be sad when it finally disappears.
posted by happyroach at 9:49 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just, responses like "figure it out yourself" and the bingo cards may feel good, but aren't all that helpful.

The problem is that we live in a white-dominated system, and rather than the obligation being upon white people to stop fucking doing it, the obligation is placed upon non-white people to explain to white people what the problem is, and often to the same white people, over and over and over and over and over. It is not the responsibility of people of colour to stop white supremacy; that obligation falls upon white people.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:25 AM on January 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


Pope Guilty: well yes, ideally. Also, ideally, Martin Luthor King wouldn't have had to make more than one speech before people said "Oh yeah, you're RIGHT!". Ideally it wouldn't have taken more than a hundred years to end segregation, it should have been the responsibiliy of the white people who dominated that system to end it.

The problem is that in this system, "Obligation" and "Responsibility" don't mean much. Especially when it comes to trying to get results.
posted by happyroach at 11:06 AM on January 20, 2009


Martin Luthor King

He fights for equality using his Einsteinian intellect and aptitude for building giant killer robots?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:13 AM on January 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Happyroach, there is also the issue of the difference between seeing if someone will meet you halfway or not.

A major issue that always happens with race discussions in general, is that a lot of the information is commonly available, and, many folks when they say, "look it up yourself" is not just a brush off- it's to see if you will actually do some minimal amount of footwork and actually try to learn something and come back with new, different questions.

Particular to speculative fiction, is that we're dealing with writers who will look up arcane details like 13th century French economics but seem amazed at taking the herculean task of talking to the people just in the neighborhood over.

For the most part, we find folks who swing privilege around either want:

a) attention! And a cookie. And reassurance that they're Good White People (TM)
b) servitude- "Please spend the next 4 days researching and linking answers to all my questions, and satisfy them to my content, without a thank you at the end. I'll be sure NOT to pass along what I've learned to the next person. KTHXBAI!"
c) dominance "YOU SAY THINGS I DON'T WANT TO HEAR! STFU! PERSONAL ATTACKS!"

the amount of people who actually want to learn something, take the "learn you something" and actually do it.

So no. Most of us don't feel we're "losing" any potential allies in doing so. The people with enough sense to listen and overcome their privilege are doing so, and the rest just scream like they always do.
posted by yeloson at 12:14 PM on January 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


It is up to the people who want things to change to actually change things.
Change my opinion. Don't just wait for me to change my opinion automatically because it won't happen unless I get good reasons. I'm happy in my world view. Why would I change a view that seems perfectly fine to me unless I'm presented with arguments that challenge it?
If you come to the debate already convinced that I cannot be changed then why debate at all?

(Substitute 'I' for your future adversary in any debate)

On the internet it is also good to remember that you aren't just working the active participants but also the vast silent readership. Even though you might not 'win' a debate, if your arguments are sound you have a good chance of making someone out there reconsider their view. I know it isn't particularly satisfying since there's rarely any feedback but it's true.
posted by Catfry at 1:06 PM on January 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hmm. If your’re a writer it strikes me that this is absolutely something owrth thinking about, but absolutely not worth having a conversation about with anyone who is into identity politics, as they’re just going to be pissed off about absolutely everything anyhow.

You do get how absolutely priveleged a position this is to take, right? The more priveleged the position you hold in the kyriarchy, the less you are identified by your out-group status by others, expected to explain and/or justify yourself and your identity, expected to act as a representative of your out-group, expected to educate priveleged people regarding the privelege they hold and what they can do to dismantle the system that reifies that privelege, and expected to act as an ambassador of goodwill holding out an olive branch of peace and love rather than expressing the frustration and occasional rage that are part and parcel of being identified by out-group status. It's easy to say, "Damn, those people sure are pissed off a lot," when you're not on the inside of what's pissing them off and have the privelege of disconnecting from it.
posted by notashroom at 1:10 PM on January 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


-Shrugs-

Yes, but you're just going to be pissed off about absolutely everything anyhow.

AFAIC The only person who has responded to this in any sensible way is Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, who pretty much nails it without any reference to bingocards or knapsacks or any of that livejournal bullcrap. I guess Cashman basically says the same thing but it;s buried under all the bingo-rage. Most of the rest is the usual useless noise and grandstanding, and does little to change my general opinion of Identity Politics on the internet and on livejournal in particular (that it’s largely a pissing match between self important types to see who can be the most holier-than-thou, and by now has pretty much divorced itself entirely from the world of everyday things).

Also your favourite manga sucks.
posted by Artw at 1:31 PM on January 20, 2009


-Shrugs-

Yes, but you're just going to be pissed off about absolutely everything anyhow.


Actually, I'm one of the patient explain-everything-repeatedly-in-the-hopes-that-it-makes-a-difference-eventually ones, which is in itself partially due to my own relatively priveleged position in the kyriarchy. But at least I can see that.

AFAIC The only person who has responded to this in any sensible way is Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, who pretty much nails it without any reference to bingocards or knapsacks or any of that livejournal bullcrap. I guess Cashman basically says the same thing but it;s buried under all the bingo-rage. Most of the rest is the usual useless noise and grandstanding, and does little to change my general opinion of Identity Politics on the internet and on livejournal in particular (that it’s largely a pissing match between self important types to see who can be the most holier-than-thou, and by now has pretty much divorced itself entirely from the world of everyday things).

Not to dismiss the value of what MSTPT said, but I respectfully disagree. Yeah, there's definitely a scent of holier-than-thou wafting from some corners of identity politics. I can say exactly the same thing about at least half of Metafilter threads. That doesn't mean they're not worth reading, considering, evaluating, respecting that there is worthwhile content to be found there and almost always something to be learned.

Also your favourite manga sucks.
FTFY.
posted by notashroom at 1:52 PM on January 20, 2009


Man, Livejournal has this fight Every. Single. Year.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:40 PM on January 20, 2009


Signal, the problem IMO with 'non-whites' is that by using it you are defining someone by referring to what they are not.
posted by kumonoi at 3:00 PM on January 20, 2009


Yeloson: Honestly, that sounds like the flip side of the "Whatever I try to do I'll lose" line. The question is , do you want to make people meet you halfway, or do you want to educate the ignorant? Because for every debate, while the deliberately obtuse or defensive get the most attention, there are others who are receptive to actually hearing what you have to say. And every one of these "annual debates" leads to people changing their attitudes.

Having had to explain the same concepts about the ADA over and over again to combative and defensive audiences, I'm sympathetic to frustration. But if I simply told school administrators, counselors, and employers "Go read the goddamn legislation!", I would get nowhere fast. Of course in my case, it would have been only a few clients who paid the price, but I still have to assume that every conversation I get into is a potential teaching opportunity.

One doesn't have to do that of course. One can simply tell everyone to fuck off and die like Avalon's Willow did. But in that case, why bother to do an open letter in the first place? Why even bother to get involved in an open debate? It's easy enough in LJ to restrict oneself to a circle of like-minded friends.
posted by happyroach at 4:21 PM on January 20, 2009


Metafilter: "Some of my closest friends are white, and I'm fortunate to be able to be proud of almost all of them and how they comport themselves."
posted by kid ichorous at 9:34 PM on January 20, 2009


Also your favourite manga sucks.
FTFY.


Hey hey hey! That will do. There's no need to fly off the handle.

*hugs Rozen Maiden Vols. 1-8*
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:13 AM on January 21, 2009


Hey hey hey! That will do. There's no need to fly off the handle.

*hugs Rozen Maiden Vols. 1-8*


Hey, I'm all for hugging maidens! It's just that manga's appeal to me is somewhere between itemizing deductions and having a root canal. My favorite band/blog/author/tv series sucks, etc.
posted by notashroom at 7:20 AM on January 21, 2009


Ah, it's quite alright. I know it's a matter of taste, and there's nothing wrong with that. Anime and manga are media, and there are media I'm not a big fan of, either, like television. So I fully understand.

On a side note, I've learned to be cautious when talking about anime or manga in mixed company. Many people confuse media with genre. Seems that when someone learns you're a fan, more than half the time the assumption comes up that you must have a penchant for giant animated boobies and tentacle rape, and spend your nights crying yourself to sleep as you hug your Sailor Moon pillow.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:48 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


A much more light-hearted look at this topic.
posted by mkb at 11:09 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Heh. That's cute. I hope she uses "Funky house" as a title.
posted by Artw at 12:00 PM on January 21, 2009


mkb, that's an excellent link, but it's got this bit:

'You want to watch it,' a tiny, perfectly groomed girl said to me. 'There's some dodgy men here. I,' she added proudly, 'can take care of myself.'

I looked up. Around the dancefloor, on their own, were a few, older, black men, watchful and slightly disconcerting.


We can assume the people whose background isn't mentioned are white, because a girl is identified as Vietnamese. So that's both a very good article about general research, and a very questionable one about handling race and culture in fiction.

Which is the longwinded version of saying I'd be damn sure to get some other black people on stage to balance the "dodgy" ones, or some "dodgy" whites to get balance that way, because I doubt the only "dodgy" people in the club were all of the black men. In the writer's defense, her editor might've wielded a heavy pen.
posted by shetterly at 12:01 PM on January 21, 2009


She should have added in some old geezers with whippets.
posted by Artw at 12:02 PM on January 21, 2009


The name of the novel is actually Friday Nights, as mentioned in the plug at the very end of the article.
posted by mkb at 12:03 PM on January 21, 2009


Artw, the old geezers could've sicced the whippets on the dodgy black men. Didn't Clint Eastwood just make that movie?
posted by shetterly at 12:07 PM on January 21, 2009


Yeah, sorry, posted that before reading all the way through and noticing that part. I should have known better than to skim through something from the Daily Mail!
posted by mkb at 12:08 PM on January 21, 2009


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