Seperis (seperis) wrote,

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more on racefail

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.
Tags: meta: racism
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