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RaceFail

Please note, as a fantasy and science fiction writer, I spend a lot of my time writing things that are really Other--intelligent wolves and giant talking stag-headed ponies, for example. Also angels (fallen and otherwise), hyperintelligent supercolloids, virtual winged dinosaurs, and other stuff. So I keep thinking, well, if I can write something that doesn't even have the same senses I do, how hard can it be to write a Jewish former Army Captain from St. Louis?


--Elizabeth E. Bear.


I've been reading RaceFail '09, the huge, sprawling, occasionally venomous debate on race in speculative fiction. The above quote from author Elizabeth E. Bear is one of my favourites, simply because it manages to be so insulting, and so revealing all at once. There's a few out there, so don't let yourself get limited.

Anyhow, I honestly don't have much to say on the whole thing. Some of it I agree with. Some of it I don't. A lot of it I've seen before, both sadly and positively. Mostly, I just wanted to link these two posts about the subject here and here, which provide a huge amount of links, and which you can follow if you've the time and inclincation. I haven't read everything--it is reportedly two months of blogging on the subject, and it'll take me some time if I persist--but there seems to be a lot on whiteness, and there's some drama from named folk, and a few links that are now protected or deleted, if that kind of thing gets you moving.

I have to admit, though, that I really do wish that it hadn't been called RaceFail. Coming into it late, it gave me the impression of a discussion about race that had failed to get anywhere which, even after all the hurt egos and bumps and slaps and screams, is not the case.

(crossposted)

Comments

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ironed_orchid
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)
I think initially it was refered to as something like "here we go again with the great cultural appropriation debate of doom" but after several white people seemed to be making it ALL ABOUT THEM and their PAIN RaceFail was coined and stuck.
benpeek
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:15 am (UTC)
ah, that's a shame, really.
ironed_orchid
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:21 am (UTC)
In one sense it's a shame that those people felt the need to make it all about them and their pain at all, but on the other hand, it sort of demonstrated in stark relief the way that conversations about inequality and privilege can so easily get derailed by people from the most privileged groups.

Which, in this round gave some of the POC involved the opportunity to say bluntly "See this? This is exactly the kind of crap we have to put up with every day" and a lot of white people who were trying to understand the whole dynamic said "OMFG, that sucks. I'll try to never fail as spectacularly as those guys." And the POC said "Well, you know, that would be a good place to start."
benpeek
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:24 am (UTC)
yeah, that's true, and you can see it in the posts, especially that latter part. that's why i was initally bummed that the whole thing had been called racefail.
ironed_orchid
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:31 am (UTC)
Oh, btw, and slightly off topic, last night I saw a thread in nilhistic_kid's journal in which someone was getting mad at you because you were saying that sometimes things which are important in theory can stifle writers... anyway, I see some people sometimes react to things you say as if you are some sort of bigoted troll, and it's sort of funny to me because the things they are getting upset about, race, cultural identity, gender, seem to be exactly the sort of stuff you engage with in your work and in your blogging... And I think that if they knew this, they would probably read your comments with a more sympathetic ear.
benpeek
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:45 am (UTC)
yeah, i remember that. it was probably my fault for just making a throwaway comment in the comments of a blog, and relating to a vagueness. it was all this stuff back then, i guess, but i wasn't really up to it. anyhow, there was no foul--i'd forgotten all about it till then.

but yeah, it is the stuff i engage with in my work and here. it's actually what i consider the centre of my work and i do pretty well with it, most of the time. but that doesn't mean people got to know me, y'know? and, i must admit, sometimes i just do things cause i think its funny and to get a rise out of folk, and this can be missed sometimes but others ;)
ironed_orchid
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:53 am (UTC)
i must admit, sometimes i just do things cause i think its funny and to get a rise out of folk, and this can be missed sometimes but others ;)

ORLY? I had never noticed :-P

I think that one thing which is inevitable is that when someone posts on these topics of doom with reference to recent debate, the people on their f'list may say something in a "I sort of know you and I can get away with this comment" mode, and then the post gets linked to by others, and people who are participating in the debate but don't have any prior knowledge of the person who wrote the post, let alone their f'list can see things in other ways.

Edited at 2009-03-13 02:53 am (UTC)
benpeek
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:56 am (UTC)
ORLY? I had never noticed :-P

sometimes it's very subtle, i admit ;)

anyhow, yeah, it's entirey true. the response i got in mamatas's blog was pretty much like that. i don't remember it going too badly, even.
angriest
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC)
That is one hell funny quote, for entirely unintentional reasons.
benpeek
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:16 am (UTC)
yeah, i think that's why i like. kind've sums up a whole issue neatly.
fearofemeralds
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:49 am (UTC)
To be fair to Elizabeth Bear, the quote sits alone and out of context here. In the LJ post from which it was taken, she goes on to immediately point out the problems with the attitude apparently expressed in that quote, and the whole post itself is actually a very intelligent mediation on writing The Other, no matter what that Other may be.
benpeek
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:53 am (UTC)
you reckon? i thought the rest of it was just as bad as the quote. each to their own, i suppose.
fearofemeralds
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:58 am (UTC)
Well, it's one of the more intelligent ones. ;-)

But the context issue here is important, I think, because the quote you've grabbed makes it seems as though she is rather simplistically saying that just cause she can write about alien races and mythical creatures, writing about actual human beings from a different cultural sphere should be a doddle. And she's not really saying that at all.
benpeek
Mar. 13th, 2009 03:09 am (UTC)
no, she's not, but i didn't think she was saying that (or the quote suggests it, either, but i'm okay if people want to think that ;)).

anyhow, to me, the quote highlights how ill prepared she is to actually understand 'the other'. The rest of her post, while she occasionally makes a valid point, is written from that position of cultural dominance, where, through your own experiences, you can--and people do--imagine that at the base of it we're all just people. which is all fine and good in a simplistic way: if you cut me, jesus, do i not bleed?

unfortunately, to me, that's not the case. we're not all just people. we're a sum of our experiences, history, environment, past, etc, etc, and this is wildly different from the person to person, and while bear herself does admit that, there's a tone from the start that there's a very simple way of understanding this (which i believe is her point of the post; or it might have been another one i read). the ability to say, i would argue, then, that we're all just people is one that comes from being the dominant racial culture in western society, and is an opinion that is fueled by the fact that when you read, when you flip on the TV, when you go to the movies, when you see your politicians, a lot of them are just 'people', like you, if you follow?

but, y'know, maybe it's just me.
frogworth
Mar. 13th, 2009 03:20 am (UTC)
No, it's not just you. That's a very good way of putting it. Of course many people have been saying it for some time, but I'm glad you did too.

I do think it's not entirely unreasonable that certain people feel they've been demonised, but on the other hand many of those people have been incredibly stupid. I also dislike the name RaceFail, but I guess it's with us now.
frogworth
Mar. 13th, 2009 03:21 am (UTC)
"many" = most? all? Depends who those people are that I'm not naming I guess. I haven't delved deep into it because it's depressing, and frankly I'm just an observer - I'm not even part of fandom at all except by being a reader and occasionally reviewing. Still, ick.
benpeek
Mar. 13th, 2009 10:02 pm (UTC)
yeah, i haven't read enough to see everyone whose been stupid. a few people, by the sounds, and it'll be on both sides, probably. i kind of like the train wreck mentality of it, but then i'm a bit like that...
fearofemeralds
Mar. 13th, 2009 04:12 am (UTC)
No, I follow, I do. And yours is a valid point; the argument that "people are people" does have an air of condescension about it and possibly can really only be made from a position of privilege. Sheesh, I can't believe I've tripped into the whole RaceFail thing, when I was trying so hard to keep out of it. (And in apparent defense of Bear, no less!)

It was actually the contextual thing I was responding to. It's been grating at me these past couple of weeks, people's comments being taken out of context, often to make a case opposite to the author's original intention. But your post isn't even an egregious example, and you at least give the link to the original source.

And, with that, I shall try to stumble out of the RaceFail tarpit.
benpeek
Mar. 13th, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
heh. it is a bit easy to stumble in, huh?

anyhow, ain't no fuss to me. i still say, however, that quote is all kinds of awesome :)
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