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Caution: Intemperate Language Ahead

Sometime last weekend I clued in to the fact that the big Cultural Appropriation Discussion of DOOM had come around on the ol' guitar again, but I was only catching the edges of it, and I thought, aw man. That again. Do I want to even know? No, I really don't.

And then I realized that, you know: easy for me to say. It's the usual exercise of privilege to be able to say "nah, don't feel like paying attention to the latest racism-in-fandom imbroglio". And thanks to the indefatigable rydra_wong, all the links were there. So I read. And read. And my jaw dropped on the floor. And I kept reading, and OH MY GOD.

I don't want to say a lot, because this is a thing where for me, listening is more important than talking. And Rydra has posted links to a lot of people saying very smart things; a lot of fans of color saying extraordinarily important things, and I shouldn't even attempt to co-opt their voices when it'd be better to go read them saying it.

But I did think of two things I wanted to say.

One is just to point to the lyrics of the They Might Be Giants song "Your Racist Friend". That song absolutely gobsmacked me when I first heard it in 1990. It's not just a song about racism being bad. It's about not being silent and tolerating others spewing racist crap in your hearing, and what it says about you if you do tolerate that. I believed it was a searingly brilliant song then, and I still believe it now.

The other: you know what phrase I really despise right now? "Throwing under the bus". It came up in the fallout of the CADD, very much in a "Your Racist Friend" context -- yeah, my friends might have said racist crap, but I'm not going to *throw them under the bus* by making a statement that condemns the crap (if not the person).

You know why I decided I really despise it? Because it embodies, to me, the last 8... no, maybe make that 16 or more years of American politics. The willful characterization of all criticism -- even necessary, deserved criticism; even LOVING criticism -- as the equivalent of "throwing under the bus", and NO. NO IT IS FUCKING NOT. But I guess that's how it looks to people who practice what they preach, by which I mean -- hate the sin AND hate the sinner, and don't try to tell me they don't.

I'm so fucking tired of that, macro level and micro level. I'm so fucking tired of the idea that it isn't "patriotic" to criticize things that my country does -- NO, it's the MOST PATRIOTIC thing I can do, dammit! I'm tired of the basic notion that if you love someone, you can never, ever criticize what they do, you can never tell them they're fucked up, you can never give a child anything but an A+ or a trophy. NO.

When I post the words, "I love you like a brother, but you're FULL OF SHIT" here, I know that there's a bunch of people reading this journal who are going to nod along and suddenly have a whole bunch of very vivid memories associated with that, and the thing is, YES. Criticizing someone, telling them they're full of shit, telling them that what they just said is racist crap? Or, being gentle about it if you must -- but if you don't do it, who will? That is still being loving. That's being a friend. That is NOT "throwing people under the bus".

Because it's not about making yourself look good by condemning them. It's not about saving yourself by offering them up for sacrifice. That's not why you should do it. It's about YOU knowing what's right, and what's wrong, and about saying something when *even your friends* do something or say something toweringly, gobsmackingly wrong. Doing it *because* you love them, and because they might listen to you when they won't listen to strangers. The time to defend your friends no matter what, right or wrong, is when their lives, their well-being are truly in danger, NOT when the worst that's happening to them is that people are pointing out they're being kind of an asshole.

If you won't even point at something to say "that there is wrong", then how the hell can you ever work to FIX it?



( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 23rd, 2009 01:37 am (UTC)
YES! YES! Sing it! It's far too easy to ignore the stranger who tells you what you're doing is wrong. It's much harder to ignore your friend, your sister, your wife, your cousin.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 02:05 am (UTC)
Or at least, you hope so. As I said to veejane below -- I get that doing it carries risks. But, *dude*.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)
Frankly, I'd rather get it out in the open and have them walk, than have them lurking at my elbow.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 01:46 am (UTC)
Sports fans everywhere object heartily to this unwarranted expansion of "throw under the bus." For one thing, I am pretty sure that the people using the phrase would really rather not have us think that they are [not] badmouthing their friends in order to minimize or obscure their own guilt.

Especially because the people using the phrase are not admitting much to guilt at all.


In other news, yes, what you said. If not for friendly correction, we would all be walking around with our flies down and our skirts tucked into our underpants.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 02:04 am (UTC)
Is that really where it originates? Huh! Didn't know. *wikis* (*notes that 'wiki' makes a lousy verb*) Huh; I had no idea it was so recent, either! I would have thought it dated much further back than 1991.

Hey, whether the people who use it would *rather not* have us *think* that's why they're using it -- I'm pretty sure that's always TOTALLY why they're using it. Or, I mean, I'm pretty sure that's what THEY think it means, too.

Or maybe it's just me conflating the phrase "throw under the bus" with the mental image of throwing someone to the wolves from a heavy sleigh so as to lighten it and make their own getaway more likely.

Anyway... yeah, the other uncomfortable truth is that sometimes, you're going to criticize your nearest and dearest, and they're going to both reject your criticism and reject you for daring to voice it. I get that often, people are afraid of that. And sometimes, you're going to criticize a friend for doing something assholish, and they're make implausible excuses and keep right on doing it, and then you have to figure out what to do (as the song goes: do you leave the party, rather than stay and continue to associate with them?). So I get that it's not EASY and that it carries risks.

But, *damn*. That was some ugly, spectacularly WRONG shit going down in that discussion.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 02:02 am (UTC)
I'm kind of lost! I'm looking at rydra_wong's journal and looking at links, but what started this all? What fandom is this, or just fandom in general?
Jan. 23rd, 2009 02:06 am (UTC)
Ah, wow, I'm reading something about someone reacting to an Elizabeth Bear book (?) and it's triggering all sorts of things I've been meaning to write about in my LJ but haven't yet- not so much about PoC, but about authors and their interactions with their fans. Hmmmm must think on this.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 02:32 am (UTC)
*nods* I think that was a component of it. Initially, EB was doing pretty well at being able to have a reader respond critically to her work, and talk about it. Not everyone is like that. You get an awful lot of writers (*cough*AM*cough*) who kind of writhe and attack any attempt to say anything about their writing that is critical. (Including various other silencing techniques: "if you want to see something different, then you should write it yourself", etc.).

And in the early stages of this thing, there was some of that usual debate going around. Does authorial intent matter? The problem in ANY venue where the writer can interact with the readers of her work is that it's really hard for a writer to GET that their intent doesn't matter. (Interestingly, in her first reply, EB seemed to get it -- she said something along the lines of, "I didn't intend it to come across that way, but if you received it that way, then I did not accomplish what I was trying to do" -- which I think is a fine way of looking at it, since it acknowledges that there's authorial intent and then there's authorial achievement, and they aren't the same thing.)

And that's where some of the ugliness started, the whole -- you're reading too emotionally. (What? Reading emotionally isn't allowed?) We're having trouble communicating because WE prefer detached academic discourse, and that's not what you're doing. (Wow - condescending MUCH?) You don't have the literary-criticism tools to tackle this. (An unfortunate accusation to make when the person you're talking to actually *does* have higher degrees, and you just assumed they didn't... why? Because they were being *passionate* about something rather than detached?) You're not allowed to criticize a work if you didn't finish the book (because the original poster admitted to throwing the book across the room; note: no engagement with another POC poster who DID finish the book and who agreed with the first's reading of it).

Authors interacting with their fans: great, right up until the point where the fans turn out to have a view that the author didn't expect, and then, the knives come out. :P
Jan. 23rd, 2009 02:41 am (UTC)
Interesting, this is going to take me a while to get through, as the links go on and on. :O

And yes, this touches profoundly on something someone on my friends' list wrote recently. I did not respond to her but my thoughts were something like this: If you don't want people to interpret your stories their own way then never publish them and keep them hidden.

Maybe I'll finally write that post, but I need to think some more. I don't think I'm nearly as good as you are at expressing myself.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 01:01 pm (UTC)
Yeah EBear went from responding fairly thoughtfully to criticism to OMG YOU ARE INTERROGATING THE TEXT FROM THE WRONG PERSPECTIVE.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 02:20 am (UTC)
Ugh, how to summarize? It's fandom in general, basically.

* Elizabeth Bear writes an essay about how to write characters of color in SFF novels.

* a POC fan writes an open letter in her own blog that calls EB out on some of the problematic elements of the COCs in EB's own novels (i.e. from that fan's perspective, EB had not done such a great job herself of avoiding problematic racist stereotypes in her attempts to write COCs.)

* EB actually responded at first saying, "You're right", and starting to have a productive discussion of the issue.

* Almost immediately, friends and fans of EB were posting in comments to her journal... well, basically attacking the POC fan for... oh, god, you name it.

The lowlights: "you're being too *emotional* a reader, while we don't feel the need to take seriously anything that isn't couched in detached academic language"; "we don't like your *tone*"; POC fans who insist on trying to talk about what they feel are racism problems in SFF (esp. in particular works) are being *just like child abusers*; "the problem with trying to have discussions about this is that some people are just smarter than others, and some writers produce works that are just too *smart* for the people who read them; the POC fan is attention-seeking, blog-whoring (that's a quote), "orcing" (another quote; because apparently "trolling" wasn't bad enough, so they had to go looking for an expression that referenced racial-othering even *more* problematically); "if you accuse other people of saying racist things, YOU'RE being racist!"; and then, "no, I don't have any responsibility to condemn the way all my friends turned into racism-spewing attack-dogs on my behalf; I'm not going to throw them under the bus" (meaning, not going to tell them that what they've been spewing is racist crap).

Involved (sadly, on the "being idiots", "spewing crap", and sometimes "racist trolling" side: E Bear, Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and others of their circle.

Reading through it is like an entire Armada of FAIL. Also, an object lesson in how white writers will employ every trick in the book to delegitimize and silence attempts by non-white writers/fans/readers to speak. (Criticizing the tone, or trying to define the terms under which criticism will be considered legitimate, being two of the most obvious tactics deployed.) And then there was the FLOUNCING. Because you know -- white writers having their *feelings hurt* by someone suggesting that they examine the possibility of their having written something that was racist is SO MUCH more painful than it is to be non-white and actually *experience* racism. :P
Jan. 23rd, 2009 02:37 am (UTC)
Ugh, you know, this brings up an incident from my past when I was at Smith and I don't even know how to word it correctly.

Anyway, I'm sorry to hear Emma Bull and Will Shetterly were involved, as I've always liked their books. Elizabeth Bear- only read one of her books and was not impressed at all- I wrote about that one last year.

There was another book I wanted to write about but didn't, because I fear it would reveal some racist thoughts from myself. I should probably, just to get some opinions.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 02:50 am (UTC)
Yeah, me too. (I've never read a book by Bear, actually.)

The thing is: I don't really think that maybe finding out that one has racist thoughts kicking around in there is something to be afraid of. I think that in this society, it's almost impossible NOT to. Even if you work at it, it can sneak up on you.

Being willing to TALK about the possibility, and examine one's own racism, is the necessary, important step, right? Can't be fixed if it can't be acknowledged in the first place.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 02:52 am (UTC)
And I should add: I totally include myself in this, too. I don't want to *be* racist; I want to *not be*. But I also know there's stuff I've gotta work on.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 01:04 pm (UTC)
If you want to make your head explode about Shetterly go here and scroll down in comments to where I post some of his greatest hits.

Or check him out here bottom of the page to see why some people premptively banninate him

And it really pains me because I have piles of both of their books and have read them repeatedly. I have been going through my apartment and pulling books whose authors bad touched me. The pile is really a lot larger than I am happy with.

Edited at 2009-01-23 10:17 pm (UTC)
Jan. 24th, 2009 11:13 am (UTC)
Hi, here from Rydra's links.

* Almost immediately, friends and fans of EB were posting in comments to her journal... well, basically attacking the POC fan for... oh, god, you name it.

I have come to think that the only way an author - the only person with the power in their blog - can stop the devolution is to ban comments when she engages with criticism of her work, or screen them, not let the protective friends and fans through AND TELL THEM WHY.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 03:11 am (UTC)
Preach it, sister. I hate to think what kind of person I'd be today if the people I met along the way hadn't -- gently or otherwise -- pried open my mind, rearranged my brains, and invited me to look at myself again. It's when we start thinking that everything is okay with us that we stop thinking about whether we're okay with everyone else.

I have never heard the term "throwing under the bus" in my life. Ever. That's probably because I generally don't watch political debates. ;D (Why are we throwing people and/or concepts under a bus specifically? Is Rosa Parks on the bus or are we having a bus boycott or do we just like bus imagery because we've watched Speed one too many times? Where does that even come from?) But you're terribly right.

The thing for me is, and like you say in your closing there, if you don't ever address those things, then you're never going to talk about them, and if you don't ever talk about things, you're never going to understand each other. As much as I hate to even witness a squabble (I'm not good with argument and confrontation, at all, which is why I usually don't read those inevitable debates), these discussions we keep having about race in fandom and genre and whatever else has given me at least access to different viewpoints that otherwise I never would have heard, because I live in dominantly white communities where the way we display our rack of racism is by pretending we're oblivious to race. (Which then means you act like nobody else is racist either, completely ignoring the original problem of racism, and on and on and suckcakes.) Even when it gets ugly, it's important to have the dialogue. And I hope to god when I'm publishing novels of my own someday (totally will, just you wait) that every last one of my readers will be willing to call bullshit when I've done something wrong, so I can avoid doing it wrong again.

But I guess if you're already the Best Novelist Evar or something that doesn't apply to you, because you don't need to get any better (because you already suck hard, clearly). I'mma go all Bruce Banner on they asses. ;D
Jan. 23rd, 2009 04:36 am (UTC)
Jan. 23rd, 2009 10:27 am (UTC)
Word. Completely. *hugsyou*
Jan. 23rd, 2009 11:49 am (UTC)
stumbled across this in rydra_wong's journal and, yeah. "we must never confuse dissent with disloyalty" obviously applies more to the american politics side of your metaphor, but i think it's relevant here too. and i also agree very much with what you say about listening. i know it's easy to get defensive, but for me, it feels so important to shut up and listen here, since i'm a white woman, and so THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME. anyway. just wanted to say i agree.

Jan. 23rd, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC)
One is just to point to the lyrics of the They Might Be Giants song "Your Racist Friend".

I've been playing it on a loop for the last few days ...
Jan. 23rd, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
I read EB's article when she first posted it and found it most excellent. I was oblivious to the aftermath for a good while, and wish I'd stayed that way. :/
Jan. 23rd, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
The original article wasn't so bad, but it had its flaws, and I thought that Avalon Willow's open-letter addressing those flaws (taking examples from EB's own work as illustration) did a good job of pointing it out. ...And so did EB, in her initial reply to AW's open letter.

From there it didn't so much "go downhill" as "plunge over a cliff, freefall for a while, hit a bunch of jagged rocks on a ledge halfway down, and cause the ledge itself to break off and tumble into the abyss". :P
Jan. 24th, 2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
From there it didn't so much "go downhill" as "plunge over a cliff, freefall for a while, hit a bunch of jagged rocks on a ledge halfway down, and cause the ledge itself to break off and tumble into the abyss". :P

Oh man, yes. Then catch on fire and proceed to burn down the entire mountain.

Also, yes to your entire post while I am here. A good friend will tell you if your skirt is too tight, if you have spinach in your teeth, *and* if you are being a fucking fuckwit.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 07:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, this. This, this, this. *applauds you*
Jan. 25th, 2009 04:50 am (UTC)
of course, I agree entirely (just realized I hadn't said that, but I did see this before.)

Also, your journal art is fucking awesome. Just saw it.
Jan. 26th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
Yes. Exactly.

This is why we call our nearest-and-dearest on their shit. This is why we criticize the politics of our country. This is why we criticize the shows/books we love but which get it wrong.


Because we love/care/give a damn.

(Someone, whose family is just so full of shit sometimes, but I still love them)
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )