American Violence, American Racism

I’d started working on a post about the history of #OwnVoices when I heard about the killing of a 20-year-old black man named Daunte Wright by police in Minnesota. This happened at the same time as the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of another black man, George Floyd. Today also saw another school shooting, this one in Knoxville, that resulted in at least one dead and one injured.

And I thought to myself, “After a year of COVID, I guess things are getting back to normal in America.”

I’m sure we’ll get more of the same old responses. Empty thoughts and prayers for the victims at the school. Excuses for the police, and claims that it’s just “a few bad apples.” (Click the link if you’re unfamiliar with the real history and meaning of that phrase.)

We’ll get the usual defenses and attempts at derailing. One popped up on Twitter earlier today, where Matt Walsh was saying,

Since the beginning of 2020, over 500 white people have been killed by the cops compared to fewer than 300 black people. Yet there hasn’t been a single protest against the white killings. The protesters choose only the black victims to be outraged about. Ask yourself why.

Author N. K. Jemisin responded,

Because Black people are killed *disproportionately,* revealing a racial bias in how how police treat us, and therefore we must protest to protect ourselves. But it’s not a bad question; why don’t white ppl protest how often white ppl are killed by the cops? They should.

Going by Walsh’s numbers, almost twice as many white people were killed by police as black people. But it’s simple to look up the U.S. census numbers, where you’ll find that white people outnumber black people by more than four to one in this country.

For that matter, black people are also disproportionately incarcerated in the U.S.

And people will continue to insist that racism isn’t a thing. I remember a woman saying she’d unfollowed me online because I’d been talking about racism, and she hadn’t seen any of what I was talking about, and she had a black daughter, so she was pretty sure I was wrong.

Here are two of the many research findings people ignore, from The Sentencing Project’s 2018 Report to the UN:

  1. “Prosecutors are more likely to charge people of color with crimes that carry heavier sentences than whites. Federal prosecutors, for example, are twice as likely to charge African Americans with offenses that carry a mandatory minimum sentence than similarly situated whites.”

  2. “State prosecutors are also more likely to charge black rather than similar white defendants under habitual offender laws.”

And then there are the school shootings. Once again, people will link to that article from The Onion. “No Way To Prevent This,” Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

I wonder if we’re ever gonna talk about the fact that 98% of these mass shootings are committed by men? Or that “white men are disproportionately responsible for mass shootings more than any other group”? (Source)

Nah. We’ll just wait 24 hours until the news forgets about Knoxville, and go about our business until the next mass shooting. That’s so much easier than facing our nation’s deep-rooted problems with racism, or the damage caused by toxic masculinity.

I’m so tired of the excuses and the lies. How are we supposed to solve problems when so many people refuse to acknowledge the problems even exist?

  • Police shouldn’t murder people.

  • We shouldn’t punish people more harshly because of their race.

  • Children shouldn’t be gunned down.

None of these statements should be controversial. I suspect most people would agree. But too many would immediately make excuses, too. “The police have a dangerous job, and the victim should have cooperated, and if they weren’t a criminal they’d be safe,” and so on. Or they’ll simply refuse to believe the research and statistics.

And god forbid you restate things a little.

  • We should take steps to stop police from murdering people.

  • We should reform the justice system so people aren’t punished more harshly based on race.

  • We should protect our kids from being gunned down.

Then it’s nothing but “Blue Lives Matter!” and “Well, I guess we’ll just have to run more active shooter drills and sell more bullet-proof backpacks.”

I hope I’m wrong, but I’m afraid America really is getting back to normal.


Identity Policing and "Own Voices"

There’s been a lot of discussion this past week about an April 2020 essay at Dark Matter Zine, “Defining ‘Own Voices’ Authors: you can’t have it both ways”.

Full disclosure: I published an essay by DMZ’s managing editor, Nalini Haynes, in 2014. “Evil Albino Trope is Evil” appeared both on my blog and in Invisible. I asked on Twitter whether DMZ would be responding to the conversation, or if their views had changed at all since 2020. I haven’t gotten a response yet, but will update when and if I do.

The essay at DMZ begins:

“Over the years I’ve had conflict with a number of authors about whether or not they are an “own voices” author and whether or not they’re appropriating (or misappropriating) others’ stories. Many authors claim identities when it’s convenient for them, when they stand to sell books or get a publishing opportunity. These same authors will not, at other times, identify as disabled. They won’t tick the “disabled” box when it might lose them a job. They won’t tick the “disabled” box when they might miss out on opportunities. They see the identity as a “treat” box they can dip in to at will but pass by when it’s inconvenient. And yet they want to use Dark Matter Zine, my platform, to wink at audiences, implying and claiming an identity that they will shed like a coat when the weather is warm.”

Identity isn’t as simple or straightforward as checking a box. If it was, I wouldn’t have struggled with whether or not to start out by saying, “Hey, I’m disabled.” As a type 1 diabetic, I need daily meds to live. I’m protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. I’m pretty sure that puts me in the “disabled” pool. But with my pump and meter, I’ve been able to manage my diabetes for 22 years now. It’s well-controlled, and doesn’t cause me any major problems from day to day.

And that’s part of the problem: thinking I’m not really disabled because I’m not inconvenienced enough. Because I don’t suffer enough as a result of my disease. Because I’m not thinking about it 24/7. I end up policing my own identity, thinking I’m not disabled enough to claim the label. I’ve talked to plenty of other folks who’ve had similar struggles.

The essay continues:

“They want to claim to be an “own voices” author and they want to disavow that identity when owning that identity does not suit them. I use disability as an example, but this equally applies to being LGBTQIA (aka “queer”), Muslim, a person of color, and so on. If you’re “passing” as straight, or areligious or a conforming religion, or white, then you don’t get the full technicolor violent experience of the identity you’re claiming. You are NOT an “own voices” author if you don’t own that identity ALL THE DAMNED TIME.”

Hi, my name is Jim Hines, and I’m diabetic. I’ve had a long day… First, I worked on painting my kitchen, diabetically. Then I had to drive my dog to the vet for her shot, all the while being diabetic. Then I came home and found, to my diabetic dismay, a leak in the basement ceiling beneath the dishwasher. I swore a mighty diabetic curse, then got to work trying to fix the dishwasher with my own two diabetic hands. And so on, and so forth.

I’m pretty open about my disability, but I don’t announce it to everyone I meet. I’m not “out” as a diabetic with every coworker. I’ve been out to meals folks where I deliberately don’t say anything about the diabetes, because I don’t feel like dealing with people trying to police what I can and can’t eat.

But you know what? If I decided to write a story about a diabetic protagonist, it would damn well draw on my own personal experiences. It would be “Own Voices,” in that the story is written by someone with 22 years of dealing with this damn disease. The fact that I’m not actively owning that identity all the time doesn’t make my story any less authentic or real.

That’s a relatively light example. Haynes also claims that if you’re white-passing or straight-passing, you don’t get the “full…violent experience” of the identity you’re claiming.

As if there’s only one universal full experience.

As if persecution and violence are prerequisites for being queer or non-white or disabled.

As if “passing” is a whim, like deciding whether or not to wear a windbreaker when taking the dogs for a walk this afternoon.

People are killed every day for being LGBTQIA. There are places where coming out as queer will get you arrested and killed.

Let’s say someone chooses to keep their sexuality a secret, because they have a personal preference for not being murdered. Let’s say that person writes a book about being queer. They publish under a pseudonym (see: preference for not being murdered). Are you honestly going to tell me that book isn’t “Own Voices” because the author isn’t claiming the identity “all the damned time”?

The DMZ essay talks about authors co-opting the “Own Voices” label to sell books, claiming or implying that they’re disabled in order to get a little extra publicity, or a few more sales. No examples are given, but yeah, it can happen. Author Michael Derrick Hudson used a female-sounding Asian pseudonym to sell his poetry. Marvel Comics’ C. B. Cebulski wrote “Wolverine: Soultaker” and “Kitty Pryde – Shadow & Flame,” both of which are set in Japan, using the name “Akira Yoshida,”

It reminds me of voter fraud. We know there are very few legitimate cases of voter fraud. But the solution to that problem is not to suppress thousands or millions of legitimate voters!

“It’s a con game to make money. Under this banner, any author who’s ever found someone of their gender attractive could claim to be queer while never having had a same sex relationship, never having experienced coming out, never having experienced others’ reactions to being nontraditional, nonconformist. It’s a con.”

Oh, hell, no. This is outside of my personal experience as a straight man, but as far as I know, coming out is not a prerequisite for being queer. Nor is having a same-sex relationship.

If you’re uncertain about this, flip the script. I’ve known I was straight for most of my life. I was straight years before I ever had a girlfriend. What gives you the right to tell 15-year-old me I’m not straight, just because I haven’t dated yet?

I have loved ones who identify as pansexual. Are you going to tell them they’re not — that it’s just a con — unless they can prove they’ve had a relationship with someone of every gender? Do you have a checklist they have to complete? A sexual scavenger hunt to earn their Pansexuality merit badge?

“Far better to acknowledge that you’re writing another’s story than to falsely claim it as your own.”

In and of itself, I agree with this statement. The problem is that the author is making themself the judge of whose identities are true and valid, and whose are false. And they’re trying to dump a hell of a lot of people into the “false” basket. Basically, they’re claiming the role of identity police. They’re laying out The Rules, and claiming, “This applies to all minority identities.”


Look, we already have too many people trying to tell others who they are isn’t real. Saying things like, “Oh, asexuality isn’t a thing” or “You’re just going through a phase” or “You’re not trans; you’re just confused.” They pounce at the chance to prove someone isn’t “really” disabled. “Aha, you walked from the handicap spot to the store, so you’re not really handicapped!” or “You stood up from your wheelchair to get something from the shelf, so you’re not really disabled!” And don’t get me started on mental illness. “Depression isn’t real; you just need exercise/sunshine/yoga/a jade egg/etc…”

And then we wonder why people are hesitant to come out. Why they’re reluctant to identify as disabled.

That essay may represent Dark Matter Zine’s “official position on this matter,” but DMZ is just one magazine. They’re not the world. It’s identity policing without a badge, and without any real authority.

My official position is that DMZ’s essay is misguided, misinformed, and cruel.

I believe who you are is valid and real. It’s enough. You are who you are, regardless of whether you’ve come out publicly, regardless of whether you’ve had all the same experiences as someone else.


Here are some additional links and threads worth reading about this topic:


Shot #1

On Tuesday afternoon, I drove out to the MSU Pavilion in East Lansing to get my first dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine.

I’d registered with several different places. Hospitals, drug stores, grocery stores … but the county health department was the first place where I could go ahead and schedule an appointment.

I’d expected to be in the group for folks under 65 with preexisting conditions, thanks to the diabetes. Michigan hasn’t quite gotten to them yet. But they did open things up for caretakers of children with special needs.

I was torn about this. Technically, there’s no question that I’d qualify. But I second guessed whether I deserved to get in line yet. And I’m still confused why the caretakers for the kids get their shots, but not the kids — even the kids over 16.

But after talking to someone at the health department and reading the advice from professionals (if you qualify, go ahead and get the vaccine), I went ahead and signed up.

I know every state is rolling things out differently, and even within the same state, you may have a very different experience from one place to the next. But I was really impressed with how smoothly everything went.

I got there about ten minutes early, because it’s me. A man in a vest separated the cars into two lines, depending on whether you were there for your first or second shot. As we waited in line, other people checked our IDs and gave us paperwork to fill out.

In less than ten minutes, I was pulling into the pavilion. They had maybe ten lanes set up for us to pull into.

Another person came by, took my paperwork, and wrote a 1 on my windshield with a grease pencil (for First Shot). a few minutes later, I was getting my shot, all without ever leaving the car.

It stung a little more than my flu shot, but much less than the blood draw from a few weeks back. And it only hurt for a half second. Then I got a tiny band aid on my dragon tattoo, and was told to chill for 15 minutes so they could make sure I didn’t have a reaction.

I played a little Pokémon Go. They came by several times to check on me. They also gave me my card and scheduled me for my second shot at the end of the month.

And then our row was starting up our cars and driving away. The whole thing, from arrival to leaving, took well under an hour.

My shoulder was a bit sore the next day. It felt like I had a bruise. Not bad, but definitely noticeable. Today, it’s pretty much back to normal.

I’m told the second shot can hit you harder. I’ll plan on taking it easy after that one. But so far, this has been very mild.


I know a lot of people are justifiably frustrated at the inconsistent rollout of the vaccine. Groups who’ve already been vaccinated in one state are still on the waiting list in another. This is absolutely not meant to be a gloating “I got mine!” post. But I’ve had people ask questions about the experience, so I figured it might help to share exactly what the process was like for me.

I’m still going to be careful. I’m still going to wear masks and avoid social gatherings.

And I’m still incredibly impatient for the day when all of my friends and loved ones are protected from this thing.


Signal-Boosting Some Friends

To start things off, happy book day to Juliette Wade! Today is the release day for her second Broken Trust book, Transgressions of Power. I reviewed both of these back in September.

I was supposed to provide a one-sentence blurb for the books, and I utterly dropped the ball on that. You wouldn’t think it should be hard for a professional writer to come up with one little sentence, but yep, I blew it. So as I’m pulling this blog together, let me just say:

These books are complex, thoughtful science fiction, full of heroism in large moments and small alike.

Sorry it took me so long, Juliette!


Today also marks the release of Deborah Blake‘s Furbidden Fatality, “the first in her new RUNDOWN RESCUE series about a recent lottery winner who decides to spend her unexpected windfall on a defunct shelter, only to quickly find herself the main suspect in the murder of the town’s nasty dog warden.”

I haven’t had the chance to read this yet, but I’ve read and enjoyed several of her other books, and this one sounds like a lot of fun.


Next up, Claire O’Dell/Beth Bernobich has re-released her River of Souls trilogy.

I read and discussed the first of these books with Sherwood Smith back in 2010, but it looks like our post is no longer up. Hmph.

In the author’s words, this is a trilogy “about politics and intrigue, about magic and multiple lives. It’s about confronting hard choices, life after life. It’s about one young woman’s journey toward independence.”

Here’s the summary for book one:

Therez Zhalina is the daughter of one of Melnek’s most prominent merchants. Hers is a life of wealth and privilege, and she knows her duty—to marry well and to the family’s advantage. But when Therez meets the much older man her father chose, she realizes he is far crueler than her father could ever be.

She decides to run. This choice will change her life forever.

Therez changes her name to Ilse and buys passage with a caravan bound for distant cities. Her flight leads her to Lord Raul Kosenmark, once a councilor of the old king and now master of a famous pleasure house. But feasts and courtesans are only the outermost illusion in this house of secrets, and Ilse soon discovers a world of magic and political intrigue beyond anything she had imagined.


I know I’ve missed a lot of new stuff from good authors, so please feel free to chat things up in the comments. What are your thoughts about the ones I mentioned, and what other new books would you recommend?