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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

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 :)