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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation


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more on racefail
children of dune - leto 1
seperis
I've found, lost, saved, lost, and finally sat down with this link again, so for full context, Seeking Avalon: Timeline is where it all began with the epic Racefail that began with reaction to criticism of a book by Elizabeth Bear. For anyone who has been MIA to LJ and possibly most of the fandom-related internet for the last two to three months, that was the beginning.

[ETA: Correction: it began with Bear lecturing people on how to write POC. Thank you to cesperanza for the fix.]

Rydra-Wong's massive link list has the posts she's linked.

At some point, I think everyone thought that there would be an end to this particular string of slowly unwinding disasters*, and everyone was wrong. It's March, and this post by Elizabeth Bear thinks it is supposed to be the end.

There is an analogy regarding opening a feather pillow, tossing the feathers to the wind, and then going to find each one to make the pillow whole that I have tried to google, but none of the ones I read quite had the context I remember best. After opening the pillow and tossing the feathers, you do not get to go and snatch them back from everyone they fell on and say, lo, the pillow is fixed, look upon it with awe, and also, forget I tore the fucking pillow up. You see why I wanted the original, because I am butchering what was a really good analogy.

[ETA: The actual feather analogy contributed by kassrachel here who states it's a Hasidic folktale.

A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, "Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds." The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, "Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers you scattered."]

To say, with any kind of assumption of authority, this ends now, isn't simply saying "I am tired of this and wish to forget the entire experience", though honestly, that's irritating in itself. It's an attempt to state "And you shouldn't think of it anymore either," with the idea behind it that at any point, you had control of what you unleashed, and for that matter, should have control of it. This is a common misinterpretation of what language actually does. As it is not feathers, and words never, ever come back the same way.



And here is where I stop.

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.

Two months, a thousand posts, a rise of blatantly racist remarks and imagery, multiple dramatic flounces (some by the same person several times), a range of conversational misdirection that includes the demonization of pseudonymity from people who write for a living, outings of critics, and the end is supposed to be a more intellectual way to say "It was a social experiment."

All of the arguments, flamewars, attacks both in real life and online, all the people who were materially injured, all the people who were forced into trying to explain again and again and again what was wrong with how POC are treated in sci-fi, in fiction, in society, dragged into defending what should be obvious, all the people who have said this so many times in so many ways that they have to have been fucking flinching when they read their flist every day, everyone who thought, okay, this is shitty, but it can't get worse--all of it, every bit of it--was because someone wanted to give an demonstration on how to deal with criticism?

Productive discussion came out of this, I know. Great posts, and for a lot of people, including me, this was an opportunity to understand, very dimly, what it means to people who aren't white and have to deal with a society that is overwhelmingly focused on everything but them, to the point that it's a struggle for many to find themselves. This entire thing--it just made it so easy for white people to really get this you know? Let me tell you how easy it was; all it took was methodical and malicious attacks on POC so they had no choice but to respond. All it took was over two months of watching in interest while they struggled to make a simple concept understood, sometimes in single syllable words because God knew going polysyllable was too emotional or too intellectual or something, and cost me absolutely nothing but some uncomfortable moments and got me a new book list (hey, thanks for that!). I had the marvellous opportunity to sympathize with my flist and show support.

I speak for myself entirely when I say, suddenly becoming the most enlightened person on the fucking planet due to this would not make the escalating nightmare this has been for so many people worth it. Speaking for myself, sitting here in comfortable privilege and mulling how much new material I have to read, I'm ashamed that in this, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain and I've profited immensely by way of clicking links like some progressive online course. And I have to be grateful, and sickened by it.

Somehow, this became about me, about white people, about our need to understand and our need to be explained to and our need to be better because from the start, with that single sentence, everything said and done was, apparently, supposed to be about teaching me to lie to POC who criticize me. Like I haven't had a lifetime to learn how to do that.



An amazing response to Bear's post: Sees Fire by bossymarmalade.


began with reaction to criticism of a book by Elizabeth Bear.

Actually, I think it begins with Bear lecturing people about how to write POC, and assuming--IMO--that there were no people of color listening. Epic fail.

Oh Jesus Christ. This made almost no sense before; with her post, she managed the impossible and made it utterly nonsensical.

Okay, this icon? WAS NOT MEANT TO APPLY TO DISCUSSIONS OF RACE.

I actually was at work saying "This was for the lulz?"

I initially heard the feather metaphor in the form of a Hasidic folktale: A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, "Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds." The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, "Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers you scattered."

That's it. You are marvellous. Thank you.

Speaking for myself, sitting here in comfortable privilege and mulling how much new material I have to read, I'm ashamed that in this, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain and I've profited immensely by way of clicking links like some progressive online course. And I have to be grateful, and sickened by it.

Yup. That pretty much sums it up. It's very humbling.


Edited at 2009-03-06 02:52 am (UTC)

Hello. You are far more articulate than me, and it's such a relief to see that lots of people are Getting It (even if an entire hemisphere is, apparently, not). Would it be okay if I link this?

This, this, THIS. You will be getting a visit from the pingback bot when I link this sucker all over the internet.

Every time I think it couldn't get any more derailed, any more self-centered, any more about white people's pain, it proves me wrong, and people are still claiming that no one did anything wrong. Even if I had it in me to argue on the "side" of people like WS and KC, I would have shut the fuck up when confronted with the long, physically painful to read posts that the PoC in this conversation (ciderpress and bossymarmalade in particular) have made over and over again about how this isn't a fucking joke, this is their life. You know? How could anyone still think this was about being goddamn trolled?

It took me all day to parse it down to the essential "I am using this POC for today's afterschool special" because I seriously, seriously could not imagine anyone, anywhere, thinking at any time that was a noble cause. People gutted themselves for the sake of Bear wanting to have a teaching moment. I can't even think of how to respond to that without getting sick.

Imagining how the POC who have been slogging through this all this time to hear that--if I feel sickened, finding out their lives and experiences and their worlds were held up as special assigned readings in "Dealing With POCs Properly" or something must be gutting as hell.

Shorter Elizabeth Bear: "Hey POC - you've been rickrolled!"

This.

I was so freaking tempted to do a capslock IT WAS FOR THE LULZ because Jesus.

...everything said and done was, apparently, supposed to be about teaching me to lie to POC who criticize me. Like I haven't had a lifetime to learn how to do that.

This.

It's actually fairly frightening to go back, read, and know Iv'e done shit like that, even if I didn't acknowledge it at the time. And by frightening, I mean, shaming.

Ugh. I saw it last night and felt sick, but I hadn't gotten to that realization about it yet. I just knew it was "Surprise, I am Always Right, Yay!"

I saw it this morning and went eww, God, shut up. It was only later it hit me while reading links that we were all apparently participating in an online course.

You know, one of the reasons I don't really involve myself in race discussions is because I'm actually always conscious of the fact that in opening my stupid mouth and saying something idiotic I'm making a PoC have to explain to me why that is wrong. And why should a PoC have to put up with someone coming along and picking up their issue like it is some kind of shiny toy to play with for a while?

I'm not saying I'm not grateful for the many fantastic pieces I've read recently between berserker raging at people in a position of privilege for other reasons. But this stuff is out there if people actually just looked for it instead of making someone repeat the same thing over and over. It's not that hard to educate yourself if you really want to. And what I've got from this whole thing is that there are a lot of people who just want to toy with other people and will go to the most malicious means to get what they want, what they think they are owed.

And while I've been sorting out and getting my head around my own set of social issues and listening to clueless privileged people talk utter shit I've had a few moments where instead of being angry at the person in front of me I've suddenly thought, "I wonder if I've come off like this person is sounding to PoC when talking about racism." And I realised that yes, I probably have made a right fucking idiot of myself on occasion. It wasn't even an -ism comparison, just a thought at how annoying and patronising I find being expected to answer and explain everything anyone asks me, or the fact that someone would sit down and talk to me for ten minutes to ease their conscience and then walk off, because they have the luxury of walking away from that issue. Meanwhile, I have to take that issue home, I can never get away from it even when listening to people makes me cry with anger and frustration. And then I have to put up with people who haven't ever experienced life how I do telling people how to deal with people like me.

I truly admire and respect everyone who's had to put up with this for all this time and I thank every single one of them for their thoughts and teachings though I am also a little ashamed of profiting in knowledge at the pains of others - because none of them should have to have explained this twenty different ways for it to be understood. And in some cases still not understood.

That's beautifully said, I think.

Um, we're not supposed to be talking about this anymore! Elizabeth Bear said we had to be quiet now- I'm totally reporting you. I bet you get a time out.

I guess this is what happens when one side's talking "concepts" and the other side's talking "people."

My first reaction to Bear's post is that, for a writer of sci-fi/fantasy, she doesn't seem to have a lot of imagination. All that anger and pain and frustration and resignation and exhaustion which she claims to be feeling over not being able to get others to understand her, and it's never occured to her to wonder if this isn't the way her critics have been feeling all along.

You've said what I have been groping wordlessly for here - I couldn't seem to put the sentences together to sufficiently articulate the level of wrongness of those lines. That articulates it.

And here is where I stop.

I did, too. Literally. I couldn't stomach the idea of reading more of that post. I don't think I've ever been *so angry* during these two months, and I was angry *a lot*.

I speak for myself entirely when I say, suddenly becoming the most enlightened person on the fucking planet due to this would not make the escalating nightmare this has been for so many people worth it. Speaking for myself, sitting here in comfortable privilege and mulling how much new material I have to read, I'm ashamed that in this, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain and I've profited immensely by way of clicking links like some progressive online course. And I have to be grateful, and sickened by it.

Somehow, this became about me, about white people, about our need to understand and our need to be explained to and our need to be better because from the start, with that single sentence, everything said and done was, apparently, supposed to be about teaching me to lie to POC who criticize me. Like I haven't had a lifetime to learn how to do that.


Jesus, yes. Plus, we get/expect cookies for doing the minimal amount of speaking up.

THIS. Thank you for the post, seperis.