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incidents and accidents, hints and allegations

International Blog Against Racism Week
Kate kate_nepveu
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An open letter to white people in SFF fandom

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.

In further response to that, coffeeandink posted The elephant in the room, which is an open letter that I will excerpt for length thusly (my emphasis added):

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
  • [ . . . ]

I mean:

  • 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:

I hope you find something educational and enlightening in these links; I did. Thank you for listening.



P.S.: And because there's always more to learn, I will keep reading, and not just blogs, either; I'm participating in 50books_poc for the reasons rachelmanija gives here.

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.

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You know, I've only been following this mess very very peripherally, but, Jesus, I'm so sorry it's occurred. Although I suppose that's beside the point, in some ways - because as coffeeandink points out, the problem isn't this particular discussion, it's the underlying Total Fucking Cluelessness that leads each reiteration of this discussion into a spiral of "No, but it's all about MY HURT FEELINGS!" from the white fen. This discussion is just symptomatic of the underlying problem. Damn it.

I really hope that perhaps some good can come out of this, with the cluesticking of well meaning but clueless people , but I cannot help feeling that it isn't worth making fandom feel hostile for fans of colour. I'm really sorry that this has hurt you.

Kate, you know me and my own blind spots and inexperience in such matters, from previous discussions and my own occasional posted thoughts. Between that, law school, and having become only peripherally aware of this latest series of events while at Arisia (and therefore not at my computer much), I've had plenty of reason to not want to get involved with this in any substantial way. So I haven't.

But...what pandarus said, I couldn't agree with more: I'm sorry this mess occurred, sorrier still that its not having occurred really wouldn't have changed the underlying problem, and sorriest of all that fandom is feeling hostile for fans of color.

(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-28 04:00 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-28 03:59 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - greyorm, 2009-01-30 01:39 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-30 01:03 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - greyorm, 2009-01-30 08:58 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-30 09:12 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - greyorm, 2009-01-30 10:53 pm (UTC)(Expand)
I am sorry this whole balagan has been so hurtful, for you and for others.

Thank you for the sympathy. I hope the post was and will be useful.

I've found so much worthwhile, heartfelt writing in this, including your letter and the posts you've linked to, but it still makes me angry that the people behind those wonderful posts have been hurt so badly by all this. I'm so sorry that you and others have had to deal with this toxic (what a perfect word) situation.

Thank you for the sympathy, and I'm glad you found the post worthwhile.

I know we haven't met, but I value you and your online presence a great deal, and it saddens me to see how much pain this entire imbroglio has caused you and others.

Thank you for making this statement, and I hope it leads some people to some understanding, if not enlightenment.

::offers cookies::

^^^^ Everything she said.

(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-28 04:04 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-28 04:03 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cofax7, 2009-01-28 04:14 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-28 05:10 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cofax7, 2009-01-28 05:41 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-28 05:53 pm (UTC)(Expand)
We don't know each other directly, but thanks for posting this, and I'm so sorry that the online spaces have been so toxic for you.

Thank you.

I am trying to challenge racist behavior more in real life. I am really sorry that you're having to make the same argument over and over and over again.

I've appreciated lots of your posts, too, if I haven't said so enough on them.

(no subject) - jonquil, 2009-01-28 04:32 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-28 05:11 pm (UTC)(Expand)
I have been following the imbroglio with wide eyes. I haven't said anything, both because discussions of race online are very often within a US context which I don't fully understand and I felt that another clueless white person would only exacerbate the problems, and because I saw another Irish person's essay being conflated with other essays like deepad's and felt troubled by that as - while Ireland was colonised, sure - I can't be identified as Irish when walking down the street. It isn't the same thing, and I was scared of somehow saying that it was while trying to explain my cluelessness.

But while remaining clueless, I would like to say I have been troubled just being a witness to all the pain people have been suffering, and I am truly sorry for yours.

The US-centric nature of these discussions can be tough, and I know that I'm often guilty of not recognizing. So one of the reasons I was particularly glad to link to shewhohashope and ciderpress is that they are British, and as you know deepad is Indian.

Thank you for listening. (But don't remain clueless! Go read! At least, in among your revisions and publication-runup-squee and all that.)

(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-28 08:46 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - coffeeandink, 2009-01-28 09:11 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-29 05:49 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - sarahtales, 2009-01-29 05:55 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-29 03:24 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - copinggoggles, 2009-01-29 02:45 am (UTC)(Expand)
(Deleted comment)

Re: I just want to live in a better land than this.

Listening is appreciated. Thank you.

I've pretty much stayed out of the discussion for a number of reasons, but I'm still listening. I am truly sorry if any thing I've ever said or not said has contributed to your pain.

I value your contributions to any and every discussion they've been in, and hope that this post will open some eyes, ears, and minds...and serve as a reminder to the well-intentioned but imperfect. I just wish you hadn't had to make it.

Me too.

As for things not said: there are only a few very limited circumstances in which I would judge people for not saying things. I mean, I've been not saying things all over the place until just now! And while I've been avoiding many of the comment threads, I don't think you've, for instance, offered to moderate comments and then not done so.

I hope that eventually, I and everyone else will have a solid enough understading of the issues *and* the rhetorical traps to be comfortable speaking and being silent, as appropriate. Listening is the start.

I've been silently reading the disaster as it unfolds (and continues to unfold), and... I have no words. I just have no words that work, no matter how I try to find them.

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.

But I'm listening, and will continue to listen. I'm so sorry you and so many others have been hurt by this.

(Ever since you and I first encountered each other a few years back, and consistently since then, I have been of the opinion that you are a wonderful person to know. You've definitely been an integral part of a positive online fandom experience for me, without question. I hate the thought of you losing any of your joy in fannish gatherings, etc.; it's not right, and it's not fair.

Which I guess isn't news, but I wanted to say it clearly anyway.)

Thank you so much; it means a lot to me, coming from you, since I think you're pretty wonderful yourself. =>

And thank you for listening.

I feel I have been... giving too much attention to one side of the question these last few days. I have seen the anger of PoC but not their hurt. You have given me some needed guilt about that.

I admired very much your speaking to Teresa.

Why would your guilt be what is needed?

(no subject) - annafdd, 2009-01-28 07:03 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - skywardprodigal, 2009-01-30 05:38 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-28 04:15 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - annafdd, 2009-01-28 05:15 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2009-01-28 05:34 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - tacky_tramp, 2009-01-30 05:32 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ungemmed, 2009-03-06 02:38 am (UTC)(Expand)
Thank you for annotating and sharing these links and your open letter.

I (white USian woman of northern european descent) have been reading and learning from some of the discussion, less and less as it fell apart, wishing that more of the upset white folks would try exploring the facets of their pain with the practice of silent meditation.

You're welcome. I hope they are helpful.

excellent post.

Thank you very much.

I'm pleased you posted this. I hope that your conviviality, universal good name, and reputation for delicious brains will carry your message far, to people who need to hear it, and turn the tiny keys behind each ear that open the mind for listening.

Yes, I just make a zombie joke AND a robot joke in response to your heartfelt essay. That's what you keep me around for, right? (OMG zombie robots!)

Oh, not *only* that . . . but it helps. =>

Mmmm, brains. I hope that when Readercon rolls around, we're both there and ready to enjoy each other's delicious brains in person. (I'm assuming you're not going to Boskone, for--I just realized--no specific reason.)

I am so sorry for your pain. I wish I could help. By the time I realized there was a controversy at all, it had blown up to something so big I don't see how anybody finds time to read a significant fraction of it. (Much less read it without burning out, because so much of it is overflowing with anger and pain.) I'm glad you posted this, and I hope it doesn't get lost in the storm.

That's one reason I tried to keep the links list short, so people could find things to think about and to help without wading over-much.

Thanks for the sympathy, and I hope it is useful.

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