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A themed summary of RaceFail ‘09 in large friendly letters for those who think race discussions are hard

For the benefit of white people only just discovering “Racefail ‘09“, or what was originally called “Writing The Other/Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM ‘09″, I am going to attempt to break it down into small bits for you. First, you need to understand these things are true:

  • A lot of it isn’t about cultural appropriation directly
  • A lot of it isn’t about racism directly
  • There is a lot of it

And these things are not true:

  • It’s about telling white people not to write characters of colour
  • the bad behaviour is evenly split between both ’sides’
  • the whole thing is a screaming match

In the interest of keeping this tight, I am ignoring an awful lot of interesting commentary. There is nothing to stop anyone reading every single post on this subject if they want to. This post is for those trying to make sense of it. (Also note, some of the points are slightly out of time order - I’m trying to keep it thematic as well as linear.)

On track: In the beginning, it was about writing about people who are not like you.

At the beginning of January 2009, Elizabeth Bear made a post about how to write the Other, including characters of colour.

Avalon’s Willow said Bear had ignored her own advice in a book called Blood and Iron. Willow found the book problematic, and explained why. Deepad agreed with her assessment of the book. So did Bear, apparently, though two months later she repudiated that acceptance.

Further Reading

Derail the First: It quickly became about who has the right to offer criticism

(Because so much of the evidence is now either in deleted posts, deleted journals, deleted comments, or screened or locked posts, journals and comments, I rely heavily on Avalon’s Willow’s timeline here)

Commenters on Bear’s post and later ones began to attack Avalon’s Willow and anyone agreeing with her assessment (as she has closed comments, these can no longer be seen but they were widely quoted and discussed at the time.) Sarah Monette made a post about AW’s review, and comments were offered by Emma Bull, Monette, Lisa Spangenberg and Macallister Stone that the problem wasn’t with the book but an insufficiency in those criticising it or their methods, basically agreeing that ‘Bear is a better writer than AW is a reader.’


Why is this about race? Because People of Colour have been historically excluded from many education institutions and academic career paths, and saying black people aren’t smart enough or educated enough to engage in a discussion is a common racist tactic. It is also a racist tactic to pretend that white people are the only ones who should decide who talks about what and when.

Further Reading

Derail the Second: It gets nasty and personal and starts to be all about white people’s hurt feelings.

Lisa Spangenberg calls AW an ‘orc’ and dismisses her.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden (editor, Tor) commiserates with his friend Lisa Spangenberg, saying “Some people are smarter than others, to put it as baldly as possible.” (Comment now deleted, reproduced here)

Mac Stone compares her critics to her real-life abusers. (LJ account now deleted)

David Levine claims that he won’t be able to write characters of colour any more because he will be attacked.

A lawyer, Luke Jackson, using two separate sockpuppets, runs around spamming journals, threatening a transgender blogger and generally being a racist shithead.


Why is this about race? Because calling People of Colour stupid, ignoring their opinions and badmouthing them is a common racist tactic in discussions on race. So is comparing them to non-humans (’orcs’). So is trolling and attacking PoC and their supporters. So is making it all about white people’s feelings.

Further Reading

Derail the Third: The spouses jump in and make it so much worse

Will Shetterly defends his wife Emma Bull from ‘racist’ People of Colour and promotes his well-worn theme of ‘there is no such thing as racism, only classism’. (LJ now deleted and comments apparently lost.)

Teresa Nielsen Hayden (consultant, Tor) leaps to the defence of her husband, Patrick (who had deleted his journal at this point), calling his critics trolls, ‘nithings’, sockpuppets and threatening to maintain a blacklist of all those involved, here and here. She also continues the theme of claiming that there is a useful discussion to be had on race but this isn’t it, and that because the people discussing it are using pseudonyms, their views have no value. Note - this was several weeks after the discussion started.


Why is this about race? Because calling People of Colour stupid, ignoring their opinions and badmouthing them is a common racist tactic in discussions on race. So is making it all about white people’s feelings. And so is telling PoC their own continuing discussions on race have no value. White authors and editors using their own names in blogs for advertisement purposes are not at the same risk as women and People of Colour engaged in discussions which become charged and threatening - so it’s racist to ignore their real and serious reasons for requiring pseudonyms.

Further Reading

Okay, are you with me still? Maybe now is a good time to take a short break, catch up with some good books. This new press looks like it could be terrific too.
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Welcome Back! Notice that the people keeping this boiling are not those originally involved, are not People of Colour, and are not affected by race issues directly. They are all, without exception white authors and editors. This continues to be the case through the rest of Racefail ‘09 to the present time.

Derail the Fourth: It gets even uglier

In March 2009 (two months after the discussion started) Kathryn Cramer and Will Shetterly both outed the real life identity of one white commenter who had been a Tor employee many years ago, and persisted in doing so even when challenged. Shetterly’s reasons seem to be revenge (and now admits it was malicious). Cramer has had a long-standing problem with pseudonyms and online anonymity, and felt coffeeandink was hiding her past behind her LJ handle (although Cramer failed to mention she is married to a Tor editor.)

Three days later, Elizabeth Bear attempts to shut the entire conversation down until she’s ready to deal with it. She also repudiates her earlier agreement with Avalon’s Willow’s original assessment of her book.

Kathryn Cramer threatens legal action against those publicising her outing of coffeeandink.

John Scalzi deletes an attempt to out coffeeandink from his blog, but also takes a swipe at the entire Racefail discussion and LJ in general. He joins a list of prominent SF identities (many linked to Tor) behaving either badly or being dismissive of the matter. (Scalzi later apologises.)


Why is this about race? White authors and editors using their own names in blogs for advertisement purposes are not at the same risk as women and People of Colour engaged in discussions which become charged and threatening - so it’s racist (and sexist) to ignore their real and serious reasons for requiring pseudonyms. It is a racist tactic to pretend that white people are the only ones who should decide who talks about what and when.

Further Reading

And that’s it, essentially. There are dozens and dozens of posts commenting on these events and other related incidents, offering support (or criticism), people giving their own experiences and perspective, offering analysis and suggestions for constructive ways forward. Almost none of it is incoherent or screechy, actually, and the truly appalling behaviour has come from white professional authors and editors.* None of this is hard to understand, though there’s a lot of repetition as people, strangely enough, are largely in agreement over the substantive issues.

Now, was that so bad, really?

*I should point out that Lisa Spangenberg received some nasty real life harassment in the form of anonymous emails and calls to her employer. In the absence of any evidence as to the perpetrator, it is suggested here that it’s Luke Jackson, repeating behaviour already seen from and proved to be by him.

  1. Jamie posted the following on March 11, 2009 at 8:57 pm.

    Ms. Somerville, thank you so much for providing a concise summary of events and actions of the major players here - all in the framework of the conversation and its derails, and exactly how each of them is tied to race. I have been following the conversation from the beginning and I will be sure to pass on the link to your entry to others.

    Reply to Jamie
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 11, 2009 at 9:01 pm.

      Please feel free to pass it on, and thank you. I should point out that the real heroes are Rydra Wong and the many people trying to keep this conversation from being derailed.

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  2. Sparky posted the following on March 11, 2009 at 10:04 pm.

    An admirable summation. Never has so much fail being so concisely put in one place. I feel the need to wash now and pray for humanity

    Reply to Sparky
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 11:56 am.

      I fear humanity is already doomed, but go ahead and pray if you like!

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  3. Pargoletta posted the following on March 11, 2009 at 11:02 pm.

    Would I be correct in guessing that the mildly snide tone of the title of this post has something to do with the comments that have been cropping up on some of your earlier posts about Scalzi?

    For me, it’s been fascinating to watch OtherFail ‘09 (it seems to have moved far beyond simply RaceFail by now, and is much richer for that) progress, because I’ve been having a quarter’s worth of very similar discussions in my applied ethnomusicology seminar on pretty much the same topic starting at almost exactly the same time. There were moments when I almost referenced OtherFail ‘09 in class, but I remembered in time which Othering discussion was which. Whew!

    After reading as many of these posts as I could squeeze in around my homework, I have to say that I am very glad that relatively few of the major published authors involved ever seem to write about Jewish characters. I shudder to think what that might have added to this mix.

    Reply to Pargoletta
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 11:28 am.

      “Would I be correct in guessing that the mildly snide tone of the title of this post has something to do with the comments that have been cropping up on some of your earlier posts about Scalzi?”

      And elsewhere, including Scalzi’s own noble hosting of the conversation he thinks we should be having - i.e. run by white boys and full of congratulatory bullshit and privilege. But it’s so polite!

      Reply to Ann Somerville
      1. Pargoletta posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 12:55 pm.

        Oh. Well. Polite. But of course.

        I don’t really know Scalzi, but I think that perhaps I haven’t missed much.

        And as for polite . . . I finished seminar today (this would be the one so ineptly led by Herr Luftwaffe, a.k.a. The Himbo), and I got special permission to take the course evaluation home so that I could really polish the phrasing when I tear him a new one.

        Reply to Pargoletta
      2. blackmonkeymage posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 1:57 pm.

        I’m here from Scalzi’s blog. Specifically, I followed a link in Mary Anne Mohanraj’s essay, hosted there. I guess that hosting somebody else’s essay does mean that Scalzi is hosting “the conversation he wants to have,” but I seem to have missed the part where he prescribed politesse, congratulatory bullshit, and privilege. Perhaps you can point it out to me?

        Reply to blackmonkeymage
        1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 2:00 pm.

          I think it’s not fruitful to go back over something which is being rectified at the time of writing. If you want a fight over Scalzi’s honour, this is not the place for it.

          Reply to Ann Somerville
          1. blackmonkeymage posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 3:35 pm.

            I don’t believe I asked for a fight over Scalzi’s honor, only for a pointer to what you were accusing him of. But since you feel it’s being rectified, I’m not really concerned.

            Reply to blackmonkeymage
            1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 5:20 pm.

              Well, this post is probably evidence of the problem. But as you’ve come from the latest post, you already know he’s had a change of heart.

              Reply to Ann Somerville
  4. Helen Keeble posted the following on March 11, 2009 at 11:37 pm.

    (here via Ryda)

    Thank you for this really well laid-out summary; I particularly like the division into separate derailings and the simple, bald explanations about why this is about race.

    Yesterday, in the spirit of knowing what people who might disagree with me are talking about, I was reading through the comments on Scalzi’s follow-up post. I came across this summary of events:

    It started as a discussion of how E Bear handled writing the Other in one of her books (after someone posted an open letter of complaint to her after only reading three chapters)

    Various Tor authors and editors weighed in on character creation and writing style but then it quickly evolved into the term racist being slung around at random, with demands that “white writers” learn how to write Other so that PoC could have better heroes. (And telling them to go write their own stuff means you have failed and are a racist.)

    (emphasis mine)

    … which I think lays out the major difference in perspective on events.

    Person A: [says something]
    Person B: That is a common racist tactic used for silencing PoC.
    Person A: Not relevant, because I’m not racist.
    Person B: I can’t tell that from your tactics.
    Internets: *implode*

    Anyway, great post! (and now I’m interested in reading your books… those are some very pretty covers in your sidebar *grin*)

    Reply to Helen Keeble
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 11:29 am.

      I was particularly impressed by the person who thought the entire thing had been about Scalzi failing to comment for six weeks - and Scalzi not correcting him! That’s because Scalzi hasn’t paid the least attention to it and for all he knows, that’s exactly what it was about.

      Please read the novels I have on my site first if you want to try my writing out. That way you can tell if my style suits you - for free!

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  5. Paul Bens posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 1:10 am.

    Wow. Excellent summation.

    Reply to Paul Bens
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 11:30 am.

      sandshoe!

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  6. cofax posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 1:29 am.

    Oh, well done indeed! ::applauds::

    Now, if we’re really really lucky, nobody else will stick their foot in their mouth, thus giving us all time to breathe, digest, and support verb_noire.

    Reply to cofax
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 11:31 am.

      “nobody else will stick their foot in their mouth”

      Uh…too late. I’m still boggling over the ’social experiment’ FAIL - and then there’s the people commenting on Scalzi’s group hug.

      The human race depresses me.

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  7. Gail posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 2:34 am.

    Thank you for the fine and concise summary.

    Reply to Gail
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 11:32 am.

      you’re welcome

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  8. Sus posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 5:00 am.

    Thank you so, so much for this post. A friend directed me here when I admitted today my ignorance of RaceFail and utter bewilderment when I tried to find out more because there’s TOO MUCH linkage out there. Thanks for taking the time to explain.

    Reply to Sus
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 11:33 am.

      I felt the ‘there’s too much to follow’ was a valid reason for people to avoid it, so I wanted to remove that excuse. Of course now people are saying it’s biased. Too bad!

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  9. jennem posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 5:32 am.

    This is an excellent summary. Thanks for providing it!

    Reply to jennem
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 11:34 am.

      You’re welcome :)

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  10. tielan posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 5:56 am.

    This is brilliantly concise. I know a lot of my contacts on LiveJournal and elsewhere have been ignoring the situation because it’s too big for them to encompass.

    The ‘reader’s digest’ version is very much needed.

    Reply to tielan
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 11:36 am.

      I hope it helps, but horses and water and stuff.

      Reply to Ann Somerville
      1. tielan posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 8:49 pm.

        To extend the metaphor, your water is clear, it flows nicely, and the horses are more likely to drink it that way.

        In short: clarity and conciseness helps.

        Reply to tielan
  11. pir anha posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 7:03 am.

    i’ve just plowed through all that’s still available of racefail 2009 and arrived here. darn it; i could have used it as an intro. thank you; i shall be sending other people here. especially useful besides the timeline is the addition of how these events relate to race.

    *gah*, i don’t even know what to say. what horrible, unconscionable fail on the part of people i’ve previously respected (i’m talking about the nielsen haydens and their associates). it’s beyond embarrassing to see people from my “tribe” act this way; it makes me want to DO SOMETHING to counteract it.

    (discovering that you write my favourite kind of smut is my reward for sticking it out even when my gorge was rising.)

    Reply to pir anha
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 11:35 am.

      There’s plenty you can do, even if you only adjust your own attitude. People shouldn’t give up.

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  12. Druidspell posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 7:36 am.

    “Nithings” is a worse insult than putting it in quotations makes it out to be. When TNH called the people who disagreed with her husband’s racist comments nithings, this is what she was really saying:
    (Everything in italics is from Elfwreck’s post on InsaneJournal: “nithing” is not a cute LOLCAT crossover of “nitwit” and “nothing.” It’s an old Norse/Germanic word. Our modern word “nothing” is possibly somewhat derived from it… but it doesn’t mean “you don’t exist to me.” It’s a lot closer to “you are so vile and horrific, the universe should re-arrange itself so you don’t exist.” It means A vile coward; an abject wretch; a villain of the lowest type. It’s used in a nithing pole, a form of curse directed at only the most vile of enemies. (I know of it because it’s used by modern Asatru and other Norse & Germanic Pagans.)

    It doesn’t mean “jerk” or “asshole” or “really annoying nuisance that I wish would just vanish.” Mac_stone’s string of insults has nothing on this. This is the term the Asatru community uses to describe rapists and child molesters. And, occasionally, plagiarists–those who make a living stealing other people’s creativity. But when they use it to describe plagiarists, it’s very clear that they mean to lump them in with rapists–those who take what should be a creative act of joy, and turn it into an expression of personal power and dominance. A nithing has no honor, no humanity, no soul worth acknowledging.

    Reply to Druidspell
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 12:12 pm.

      I’ve read all about ‘nithings’ and just how vile a term she used but in the interest of keeping this tight and simple for people coming to this for the first time, I really had to focus on the very core events. There have been any number of extra issues and events I could have examined, but that would have brought me back to telling people to read everything Rydra links.

      TNH pretty much sucks big hairy donkey balls over this and everything else she did. Not disagreeing at all.

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  13. Kaz Augustin posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 7:50 am.

    Yeah, thanks for the summary, Ann. I came in late to the whole thing (as usual) and, what with all the deletions and sleight of hand, couldn’t figure out FOR AGES what the hell was going on. Well put and thanks again.

    Reply to Kaz Augustin
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 11:35 am.

      Glad it helped!

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  14. Stacia posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 4:51 pm.

    Wow, terrific summary! Thanks for posting this.

    Reply to Stacia
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 6:27 pm.

      No worries

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  15. Victoria Janssen posted the following on March 12, 2009 at 11:30 pm.

    Excellent summary–is it okay to pass on a link?

    Reply to Victoria Janssen
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 2:41 am.

      Of course.

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  16. Ely posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 5:37 am.

    Thank you for this concise and interesting summary of this entire mess. I’ve heard many different people mentioning it, but hadn’t understood how far it reached until I read this post. However, I am still a bit confused; are any of the people involved in this people of color? Are the authors white who write about color characters? A bit more explanation would be very helpful, especially to someone who is reading this with no real understanding of the “Racefail” debacle. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t even appear to be about race so much as it appears to be about people defending their opinions against others to the point of argument. But all the same, thank you for taking the time to post this and collect so many links!

    Reply to Ely
    1. Rose Fox posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 11:40 am.

      are any of the people involved in this people of color?

      Oh yes, many of them. Ann, I was actually just going to comment and say that while your summary is excellent, the only people in it are white! Would you be willing to intersperse information about how people like [LJ usernames] deepad, ktempest, delux_vivens, sparkymonster, vito_excalibur, shewhohashope, spiralsheep, and asim have contributed to the conversation?

      Reply to Rose Fox
      1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 12:01 pm.

        I was trying to focus on the ‘why are people so upset?’ rather than the ‘who is upset’, and you have to admit the melanically challenged have been the ones doing the upsetting.

        If you would like to give me key links - in the form of ‘Further reading’ - for each section - I’ll happy include that. But bear in mind this is supposed to be a jumping off point for clueless white people, not a comprehensive history. Other people have already written those, and better than I could.

        I think people definitely should do more reading on this, and a ‘essential reading list’ about the major events would be good. But I wanted to make sure that people understood the core timeline first. Hope that doesn’t sound patronising.

        Reply to Ann Somerville
      2. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 1:57 pm.

        Okay, I did some ‘further reading’ boxes. I’d really appreciate suggestions or corrections. I focussed on posts which commented on the issues as a whole rather than the response of one individual to a particular event. Please let me know if I’ve left anything essential out.

        Reply to Ann Somerville
        1. Rose Fox posted the following on March 14, 2009 at 8:53 am.

          Oops, guess I missed the “email me with follow-ups” checkbox last time. Glad I thought to look back here.

          Thanks so much for adding those (and including some of my posts! I’m very flattered). The only thing I’d add is wistfuljane’s summary, which itself contains a great many useful links, and the post that yuki_onna (Catherynne M. Valente) just put up today.

          Reply to Rose Fox
          1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 15, 2009 at 7:45 pm.

            Yuki_onna’s post is incredibly powerful. These essays almost belong in a collected anthology, so they aren’t lost.

            Reply to Ann Somerville
            1. Helen Keeble posted the following on March 15, 2009 at 7:55 pm.

              These essays almost belong in a collected anthology, so they aren’t lost.

              Now _there_ is an idea for a first project for Verb Noire! I would certainly buy that.

              Reply to Helen Keeble
  17. visitor posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 6:56 pm.

    I posted this on Scalzi’s Whatever anonymously…

    As a person of colour (yup, from the spelling you probably know I’m from a former Anglo-colony), I found this discussion pretty interesting.

    As someone who is familiar with all the ‘players’ in this ‘internet theatre’, I was left scratching my head over the actions of some of the powerful first responders. Strangely enough, about 18 months ago on an issue / cover-up (not related to race) these first responders have also acted in a manner that is not consistent with previous known reasonable actions.

    1] I agree with a lot of what Mary Anne says above.

    2] I can’t untangle the reasons for the strangely inconsistent actions mentioned above. I suspect it’s SUBTLE racism + UNSUBTLE racism + STANDING BY YOUR friends and COLLEAGUES and CLIENTS (therefore doing the opposite of criticizing them) in varying proportions.

    3] I think people like John and Charles Stross have reacted to the magnitude of the shitstorm instead of the shitstorm itself. That is NOT racist, per se. It happens when you comment on or are dragged into a war that has started months before you stumbled into it. They are asking: “why has the ‘discussion’ or ‘analysis’ gotten so ugly and personal?” This has more to do with the nature of the internet than just racists commenting on blogs. Probably guilty of ignorance of the issue AND not wanting to think the worst of colleagues…

    Reply to visitor
  18. visitor posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 7:56 pm.

    In an attempt to understand these strange events, I’ll regress and use another medium (comics) to illustrate my confusion…

    Racefail ‘09: Marvel Universe
    An alternate universe story based on true events

    Page 1:
    Wasp (a.k.a. Elizabeth Bear) logs onto her blog on the Avengers website and explains what she think should be the protocol for handling mutants when mutant disturbances occur…

    Storm (a mutant member of the X-men a.k.a. Avalon’s Wilow) reads this and comments on how Wasp describes mutants only as bad creatures.

    Wasp, still online, apologises, but in a fit of instant anger changes her mind. In addition, Wasp’s Avenger teammates Black Widow (a.k.a. Sarah Monette), Crystal (a.k.a. Lisa Spangenberg), Miss Marvel (a.k.a. Mac Stone)come to the public conclusion that Storm’s crit is untrue, because she’s just a mutant. Avengers are mostly non-mutants and mutants are generally hated.

    White dude billionnaire Iron Man (a.k.a. coffeandink who has a long hisory of standing up against his fellow Avengers’ and Cap America’s good ol’ Boy “don’t-rock-the-boat” ways) voice his dissent and gets kicked out of the avengers AND worse gets his secret identity outed…Thor (a.k.a. Will Shetterley) and Kathryn Cramer (a.k.a Circe) do the same repeatedly.

    Thor’s main sqeeze She-hulk (Emma Bull) gets som flack over her part in all of this. Thor summons lightning on the heathens

    Crystal (Lisa Spangenberg) calls Storm (Avalon’s Willow) a thinly disguised version of the M-word. The Vision (A.K.A. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the Avengers’ site moderator) says the Crystal was right and that Mutants are NOT very smart.

    The Scarlet Witch (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)now affected by her own probability-altering powers that have evolved into reality-altering powers calls several mutants names and loses her mind.

    Quicksilver (a mutant yet also an unliked member of the avengers) has remained quiet up to this point and decides to follow Exodus (another powerful and politically inclined mutant) to leave the hero biz (a.k.a. genre fiction) to follow a separatist philosophy of Quicksilver’s mutant (therefore EVIL) father, mAGNETO. As Exodus puts it, “I’m just living up to my name…”

    Reply to visitor
  19. Anne Asker posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 8:20 pm.

    I’m a bit confused by most of the conclusions you reach in this summary.

    How does the pnh/tnh issue not boil down to this: If you insult someone you’d better make sure they’re not a PoC before doing so, otherwise you’re insulting all PoC and thus it becomes a racial issue

    I’m active in feminist issues, so I’m pretty good at reading intended sweeping insults into individual arguments. A lot of the things you put forward as “trying to suppress PoC” read to me as simple person to person argument, disagreements, and sometimes insults.

    In my mind, a lot of the “boiling” that you blame on specific people does not seem to be solely caused by the people you want to attribute it to. It’s like teasing a girl on the playground and then yelling at her when she throws a punch - the girl’s responsible for the punch, but the person who called her fat is responsible as well.

    In conclusion, I think this post succeeds in summarizing the fail, though perhaps not in the way you intended. It summarizes what you’re angry about, but your point of view in composing this also pretty well illustrates some of the awfulness on your own side, including the angry jumps to specific conclusions and the cases of reading things into statements that don’t seem to be inherently offensive to an outside observer.

    Reply to Anne Asker
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 8:36 pm.

      Tell me something. Since the Nielsen Haydens have deleted or locked all the evidence of their statements - and Teresa was busily deleting every single critical comment - how are you so sure what the content was?

      Tell me something else. Not only was Teresa doling out abuse right, left and centre on her own behalf, she quite literally said to Charles Stross’ wife, who called one of Teresa’s critics a cunt, that she wanted to heap roses at her feet for it. Are you trying to pretend that Teresa Nielsen Hayden wasn’t being abusive and insulting to people?

      It’s not about the fact she insulted PoC. It’s about a good many things discussed at length, with copious quotes, by people who were involved in the ‘discussion’ with her, dismissed, deleted and derided by her and her friends. One of the things she said, and Cramer repeated, was that there weren’t many different people angry with her and her husband, that it was just many sockpuppets for a handful of trolls. Which is so patently untrue, and so easily disproven, yet it immediately trivialises the objections of those people, including many PoC. Another thing she said was the same as Scalzi’s take - that there was a useful discussion to be had on racism, but this wasn’t it. As if she and her husband only would decide what was a useful discourse, totally ignoring years and years of wide-ranging, in-depth discussions on LJ and in many other venues, by PoC and others, on the subject of race and cultural appropriation.

      if you aren’t going to read the source material, then please don’t comment here again. I have no interest in hosting comments attacking people who have already been well and truly flayed by the ill-mannered and malicious words of those you seem to rate so highly.

      Reply to Ann Somerville
      1. Anne Asker posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 10:18 pm.

        Just to clarify: I read every link you associated with either of the names I’m discussing… including the sublinks to screenshots within the posts you linked to, and most of the “further reading” links. If there’s more out there that no one documented, quoted, or screenshotted in any way, I will have to take your word for it, but for now I’m basing my conclusions based on the screenshots and evidence that has been preserved.

        I’m not saying that neither tnh or pnh were insulting. I’m saying that what you are classifying as a racially based struggle reads to me like a good old fashioned internet drama. A fight between two houses, Montagues and Capulets. The problem is that the Capulets are PoC, so they believe the Montagues are attacking them on racial grounds, whereas the Montagues are simply attacking them because one of the Capulets injured a Montague in a duel, which was started by a boast that a Montague made that that particular Capulet found offensive.

        I’m not trying to imply that tnh doled out no abuse whatsoever, but I am trying to suggest that it was non-racially-motivated anger proportional to the pain caused to her and hers. We all get angry sometimes. If someone hurt my family, I would probably lash out at the person who hurt my family. I might not be calm and reasonable about it. I’ve called people monsters for attacking my friends. We all have tempers.

        (Sorry for the length here, i’m trying to be clearer since I obviously did not express myself well in my last post)

        Reading the link you labeled “Comment now deleted, reproduced here,” which seems from your summary to be the start of pnh’s involvement in this, I read a comment that appears to me to be run of the mill “Friends comforting friends.” I can’t tell you how many times someone has called me a f****** b**** during some bit of drama, and then a friend has said to me “Ignore them. They’re an idiot. There are always going to be idiots. Don’t waste your time with them.”

        spiralsheep says this in a link I followed from your list as well:
        “And, while I understand that at the time Patrick might not have fully known the context in which he was posting his comments he quickly had it pointed out to him (link) and has subsequently had enough time to realise why his behaviour was/is seen as problematic within that context.”

        This is what I have the problem with. The idea that, if your friend is involved in any argument that is even tangentially about race, you have to change how you comfort that friend. You can’t use your normal “These people who are being horribly mean to you are stupid” response, because using this normally perfectly acceptable and understandable response when PoC are involved makes you racist, and not just angry and possibly a bit of a jerk. (we’re all a bit of a jerk from time to time).

        I think there is a difference between a generic insult in a discussion about racism, and a racist insult. Do you disagree?

        I have a great deal more to say, but this post is long enough.

        Reply to Anne Asker
        1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 13, 2009 at 10:43 pm.

          I barely scratched the surface of the posts commenting on the Nielsen Haydens’ behaviour and why it was a problem beyond TNH losing her shit. If you seriously want an answer, you’ll have to read the posts listed here:
          http://rydra-wong.livejournal.com/146697.html

          This is not about PoC being ultra sensitive and falsely making it about race. It’s about people slinging insults which resonate particularly for PoC without realising it. And then repeating the offence when it’s pointed out to them. And adding to the insults. And then not caring how much hurt they cause. At some point, they lose any credit they had for cluelessness, and start looking like intentional racists.

          Patrick NH calling readers stupid was…well, stupid. Having that discussion in public was stupid. Deleting his blog in a melodramatic shit fit because people called him on his stupidity, was stupid. Even if you leave race out of it, as an editor, he knows better. Responding to critics in that way is the kind of thing any writing professional knows to keep private.

          Teresa’s reaction was incredibly over the top, and her deletion of critics, even people being much more polite to her than I was, looked like the kind of whiny bullshit you see all the time from sensitive flowers in the writing game. She chose insults which were sexist, deliberately offensive and painful. Her weaponry for the slight to her husband was like taking an ICBM missile (do we still have them?) to someone who’d brushed against her in the supermarket. They *both* behaved as if the only people in the world who mattered, the only people whose hurt mattered, the only ones who could have a sensible discussion, was them. Coming as it did after a solid month of serious discussion, with a lot of really nasty stuff said to PoC - *aimed* at PoC in a racist manner unequivocally - was inordinately self-centred and arrogant. It also made it all about them, and really, no one considered Patrick’s behaviour central to the discussion at all. Teresa threw a shit bomb at a bunch of people already sensitised and upset, and still, so far as anyone can tell, doesn’t care at all what she did.

          People are now calling for an ‘amnesty’ for the Nielsen Haydens. If either of them were to honestly apologise for their original missteps, and own their behaviour, I have no doubt a lot of people - who were well disposed to them at the start and genuinely shocked by what they said and did - would forgive them. Some will not, because they’ve been fooled over and over by white people in this offering apologies and then retracting them. But they *could* redeem themselves and their previous reputation as fair-minded anti-racists. They’ve chosen not to. It’s not just PoC who are bewildered and hurt by this. It wasn’t just PoC offended. But if you wade into an ongoing conversation about race and cultural appropriation and behave like Teresa did, the racial aspect of it is going to be examined, and harshly, same as if she’d done it to a group of Jews at a conference on anti-semitism.

          Teresa may not have considered the racial aspects of her comments. But her repeated insults of a similar nature, even when friends of hers like K. Tempest Bradford tried to explain the problem, mean she can’t claim cluelessness as an excuse any more. Her silence, the way any conversation about it is eradicated at Making Light now, the behaviour of her friends like Kathryn Cramer, is keeping the offence alive and boiling hot. She hurt people in revenge for her husband’s injured feelings, and seems content at that. She’s a complete cow for that alone.

          Reply to Ann Somerville
  20. Anne Asker posted the following on March 14, 2009 at 1:52 am.

    But you have hurt people in your desire to have an argument occur on your terms… or for whatever reason you’ve made these comments, and these posts. You seem pretty content with that. Does that not make you a cow as well?

    Am I a cow for suggesting that?

    In my eyes two groups of people are hurting each OTHER and they all seem content in their moral victories. You are enraged at someone for striking out at your friends in a time of anger, so you strike out at that person and their friends in a time of anger. What the hell?

    I’m actually interested in the subject being discussed here, and I understand passions being high. I think the conversation currently being led by Mary Anne Mohanraj is very interesting and probably productive. But approaching this late and from the outside, the argument before she steps in looks like it was toxic from the start.

    In these posts I’m writing here, I’m doing almost nothing but editing myself. I’m trying not to make this about white people’s feelings or equate one kind of discrimination to another kind of discrimination. But if I told you that certain insults you used here resonated particularly with a group I belong to, would you automatically apologize and stop using that in any of your arguments against me? Even if the meaning I gleaned from whatever term you used was entirely counter to the meaning you meant to convey?

    The next part is hard to write. I’ve deleted it several times, because I’m not sure if it breaks the rules. If it does, I’ll apologize after and clarify.

    I think the biggest reason RaceFail ‘09 is so upsetting is that it has damaged both sides. I’m trying very hard here not to say or imply in any way that you need to suck up to famous or popular people, or that you need to not talk about your issues. But I know that a lot of people are scared. I’m not going to lie, I’m scared. But I’m not scared of PoC, in any way shape or form. I’ve felt this kind of fear before, when this one guy on the internet was telling everyone that I had done something I hadn’t done, and some of my friends believed him. I nearly left the community I was involved at in that point, and a few well-placed “Those people are dumb, don’t listen to them, you’ll always be better than them” comments were all that saved me.

    Before this I honestly cannot remember any argument about race where I wasn’t on the side I would classify as the most liberal, the most racially tolerant. I’m not saying you have to cater your arguments to me, or risk alienating important white people, or anything like that. I’m saying that somehow people in this argument have managed to make things scary for people who might have been allies in the past, and that’s a pretty big fail. Whether or not it’s as big a fail as exploding on the internet when someone makes your loved one miserable, that’s not for me to judge.

    If I hadn’t learned about RaceFail and someone had come up and presented this scenario: “Author talks about writing PoC. PoC says ‘I actually have problems with that’” my initial reaction would have been “that’s really interesting. I want to learn more so I can avoid similar pitfals in any way possible in the future.” That’s actually how I got involved in reading about Racefail, in a manner of speaking. And now, I don’t know. I don’t know what lesson I’m supposed to take away from this, except to be afraid of ever offending anyone on livejournal.

    I guess it’s just all fail, and there’s no fixing it no matter what. I just think that both sides are left more hurt and angry than when they started, and less likely to be able to have productive discussions in the future, and less likely to trust. I don’t blame either side for this. I don’t blame anyone in particular. But I can see why everyone is talking about the fail, and the pain.

    Reply to Anne Asker
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on March 14, 2009 at 7:39 am.

      I don’t see I’ve hurt anyone. You have to understand, I am not *in* this discussion. Apart from a couple of comments left in LJs, and on Teresa’s post, I’m barely on the very periphery of this. My comments and posts have been in this blog alone, which is a place that normally only my own readers visit. I can’t even post comments on many of the main people’s LJs involved in this, because they’ve banned me due to my own personal RaceFail a couple of years ago. And that’s fine. They’re entitled to be angry. I only wrote this summary because I was so frustrated by reading comment after comment on Scalzi’s blog ‘oh there’s too much and it’s too hard and why can’t anyone just explain it to meee?’ There have been other summaries by the people actually in the heart of this discussion, which I feel offer a more detailed, accurate introduction, and it’s really embarrassing that mine’s been seized on. I’m coming at this from the SF/F angle - I’m a writer in that genre, and too many white writers are making it look bad. I don’t pretend to have some unique vision on what this means to people involved in this fight every day of their lives.

      “I’m saying that somehow people in this argument have managed to make things scary for people who might have been allies in the past, and that’s a pretty big fail.”

      No one seems to care how scary the former allies have made it for PoC. ‘Former’ allies were never allies in the first place - they were only after the cookies. You don’t suddenly became a racist because a black person criticises you. Trust me on this - I know that from my own experience. Those racist feelings and thoughts were already in your - my - heart.

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  21. whetherwoman posted the following on March 14, 2009 at 6:49 am.

    Thank you so, so, so much for this. Oh my goodness, what a relief–I came into this late, and was struggling with figuring out what I needed to say when everyone so clearly needs to say something because I had no clue what had been going on and rydra_wong’s list was really intimidating.

    And, okay, yes, I can see how some people could read this post as biased, but it’s so much less biased than every other summary post I’ve seen, so–thank you for that, too. I really appreciate it.

    Reply to whetherwoman
  22. nell65 posted the following on March 16, 2009 at 2:12 am.

    Thank you so much for this summary. I had followed along through derail 3, then as things seemed to be winding down I wandered away. I’ve spent the morning trying to figure out what on earth had happened to make it all go kaboom! again.

    Reply to nell65
  23. trinity_clare posted the following on March 25, 2009 at 7:09 am.

    Thank you so much for putting this together! I’ve been on LJ hiatus for the past two months, and when I came back there was this mess splashed across my friendslist and I didn’t know where to begin.

    Reply to trinity_clare
  24. Frank Mayhar posted the following on April 1, 2009 at 12:24 am.

    Just one quick note. I’m a middle-aged (sigh, but I guess it’s better than the alternative) white guy. I just want to say: Racism is real, I see it constantly. So-called “white privilege” is real, I’ve benefited from it, not deliberately but entirely due to the color of my skin (not to mention the fact that I’m male). Denying that either is true just reveals ignorance. The conversation needs to exist and the white folks who are in the same or a similar position as myself have no right to try to appropriate the conversation for themselves. I do have some small experience of being the Other, having traveled to places where I am indeed different from everyone (China, for instance), but that still doesn’t give me the right to talk about it in the American context because I simply don’t have to live with that Otherness every single day of my life.

    My son is half Chinese. He will have to live with at least a little bit of Otherness (although I’m raising him in California where that is minimized). Hopefully, the efforts of people like you will make that less so. Thanks.

    And I’ll shut up now.

    Reply to Frank Mayhar
  25. skywardprodigal posted the following on April 7, 2009 at 5:36 am.

    Overall, a good post.

    I think, though, speaking for me. One of the reasons I don’t tend to enter into these discussions or speak much outside of safe spaces is because I’m still offended by having discussions I’ve engaged in outside of safe spaces deleted or made comm-only after they occur.

    Reply to skywardprodigal
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on April 7, 2009 at 5:45 am.

      I’m aware of your legitimate beef with me over my failures in the past, which I have made frank and open reference to many times. I wouldn’t expect you to feel comfortable commenting here. (Though why you felt you had to drop over and tell me what I already knew, I’m not sure.) If you are trying to tell me I shouldn’t have made this post because I suck and have failed so hard in the past…well, I’m not the only white idiot who’s done so in the RaceFail discussions. This post was aimed at other white idiots so they could stop using ignorance of the facts as an excuse. I wouldn’t dream of considering it’s a proper replacement for reading the articles by PoC on the issue.

      If the post has caused you pain, I apologise for that. I fucked up badly over that discussion before, and I don’t expect forgiveness for it. This post isn’t asking for it either. I can’t undo mistakes of the past.

      Reply to Ann Somerville
  26. skywardprodigal posted the following on April 8, 2009 at 3:39 am.

    If you are trying to tell me I shouldn’t have made this post because I suck and have failed so hard in the past…well, I’m not the only white idiot who’s done so in the RaceFail discussions.

    That is not what I’m trying to say at all. To reiterate: good post.

    (Though why you felt you had to drop over and tell me what I already knew, I’m not sure.)

    If the post has caused you pain, I apologise for that.

    It didn’t cause me pain. Thank you for being considerate of my possible feelings in that direction.

    If you are trying to tell me I shouldn’t have made this post because I suck and have failed so hard in the past…

    I’m not. I didn’t even think I was implying it.

    As this was meant for white people, white idiots, I’ll leave you to it.

    Reply to skywardprodigal
  27. skywardprodigal posted the following on April 8, 2009 at 3:40 am.

    Typed to soon: I don’t mean to call you or imply that you are an idiot. My apologies for that possible reading.

    Reply to skywardprodigal
  28. skywardprodigal posted the following on April 8, 2009 at 3:41 am.

    Typed too soon: I don’t mean to call you or imply that you are an idiot. My apologies for that possible reading. That last line is winceworthy. Sorry.

    Reply to skywardprodigal
    1. Ann Somerville posted the following on April 8, 2009 at 10:22 am.

      That’s okay - I know what you mean. And I don’t mean that you aren’t welcome here or that I won’t attempt to make it safe, though I don’t blame you at all if you don’t see it as welcoming or safe space. Thanks for the compliment on the post.

      Reply to Ann Somerville

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