Previously: I posted some links about the hurtful things that have been said during Cultural Appropriation of DOOM part II, which has since been more accurately re-named Race Fail 2009.
Dear my fellow white people in sf/f fandom, of the bookish or media type:
We have a problem. That problem is racism. That problem is that the vast majority of [everything in the genre and the fandom is by or about white people—my summary]. Attempts to discuss race, cultural appropriation, racism, or racially inflected power disparities, whether American or global, invariably end up discussions of the hurt feelings of white people.
[ . . . ] Most fans of color end up abandoning the genre or the public conversation for semi-private safe spaces, because the public spaces are simply too hostile to sustain conversation. Several of the most articulate and activist white fans, writers, and editors in our field can engage in a discussion of racism and come out of it feeling like the most significant problem in the discussion is that someone criticized a white person's action as racist.
[ . . . ]
Racism is an institutional system of prejudice enforced by political and social power, custom, media, and personal interaction. When I say that you have said or done something that was racist, I do NOT necessarily mean that:
- You intended to do or say something racist
- [ . . . ]
- You have said or done something that reinforces systemic oppression based on race
- You have said or done something that reveals racist assumptions you may not consciously subscribe to
[ . . . ]
The fact that people can repeatedly explain this and that every single discussion of racism in sf/f bogs down in whether the white person who said or wrote something racist is or is not a good person -- that is a problem. We have a problem. Can we at least stop trying to pretend that racism is something that's about other people?
Here is my own open letter in resonse, a modified version of a comment I left there.
Dear white people in SFF fandom,
I love fandom. rec.arts.sf.* was my first adult fannish space, and it has been hugely influential on my life. My home cons are Boskone and Readercon, and not only have I had wonderful times there, but I've tried to contribute to the subsequent community discussions by doing link roundups at boskone and readercon. I had to skip Readercon last year because I was enormously pregnant and I really missed it. I had been very much looking forward to those cons and to Worldcon this year. Especially recently: Boskone is coming up, and even though I am likely to be absent at night because of SteelyKid, still—conversations with multiple adults who are not Chad or my co-workers! Intense discussion of books, and perusing the dealers' room and art show, and catching up with people I haven't seen in person for far too long!
I had been looking forward to these cons. Because the absolutely toxic nature of Race Fail 2009 has put a serious damper on my enthusiasm. (Online interactions are by their nature easier to protect oneself in.)
What coffeeandink said above? That is really, truly how this non-white fan feels, and why. coffeeandink's not making it up. The hostility that I have seen in watching these debates—not even participating except very gingerly and glancingly, because thanks to sleep-deprivation I haven't felt able to deal—means that I look at SFF fandom now as a thing that has actively caused me pain, not just a source of joy and comraderie.
(And that's nothing compared to what must be felt by those who have been on the direct receiving end of the many hurtful comments.)
If you value my participation in SFF fandom, or the participation of any of the non-white people who have expressed hurt during this discussion, please listen.
Here are some things to start listening to, from fans and writers of color from Britain, India, and America:
- shewhohashope, Cultural Appropriation and SF/F: brief responses to common comments about cultural appropriation.
- (Links updated): deepad, I Didn't Dream of Dragons: what it feels like to grow up reading books set in an alien culture, and responses to the cultural appropriation discussion; and White people, it's not all about you, but for this post it is: more responses to white writers' comments, including lists of things to do to help.
- nojojojo discusses her own writing process: "This is what I mean when I say that all of us have absorbed the messages and biases of racism; even after ranting about this exact thing, I did it myself without thinking. And didn't I feel like shit when I realized it. . . . We know how hard it is. And we do it anyway. All we ask is that you do the same."
- ciderpress has a long analysis of the Fail and a description of how it's made her feel: "As more of these discussions keep happening, I am weary and am wondering if it will ever end. I find myself pulling further away from fandom and am much more wary of people."
- vito_excalibur hypothesizes about the flawed thought process behind "talking about race = racism".
- sparkymonster's delicious bookmarks for clueless white people.
I hope you find something educational and enlightening in these links; I did. Thank you for listening.
Anonymous and non-friend comments are not automatically screened, for reasons I hope are obvious, but if gross incivility breaks out I will take what steps I deem necessary and appropriate, including screening comments and reposting their contents under ROT13, freezing threads, or asking people to leave the conversation.