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Can someone please tell me what Racefail 2009 is really about?*

I mean, I've read some of the posts, as well as pats_quinade's wonderfully biting write-up. I saw Elizabeth Bear's original response to a critique of her work, which I think was one of the starting points to this whole thing, and I very much respect the way she tried to handle it. I've seen the discussions spread from there, but it seems like it's transformed from a discussion of writing and race into a hatefest of personalities.

I haven't followed every fractal branching of the discussion, so it's very possible my impression is distorted or wrong. But it seems like there are two different conversations going on. One is (or was) a discussion of race. The other is a discussion of my hurt feelings and what I'm going to do to punish you for hurting my feelings (because of course it's all about me). Which leads to other people calling me on my bad behavior, which leads to me escalating and shouting even louder, until the original conversation -- the one that might have had some real value -- has been drowned out.

But maybe that was the goal all along, I don't know.

That comment was probably uncalled for. I don't think most people were deliberately trying to shut down a potentially valuable conversation. But which matters more, intentions or results?

I've also seen writers talking about how they're scared to write about "the other" now, because what if they get this kind of backlash to their own work? On some level, I do understand that fear. Criticism hurts, and few people worry about hurting the author's feelings when they talk about what was wrong with a book. Heck, I'm a little scared just posting this.

With all due love and respect, get over it. You publish your work, you're going to get criticism. Some will be valid. Some won't. Most of it will sting. Don't like it? Stop trying to be a writer.

And as far as I can tell, the only people saying "White authors aren't allowed to write about non-white characters" are the white authors. And most of the time, "not allowed" seems to mean "people might say mean things".

Seriously. Get over it.

I'm struggling with a working definition of privilege, and coming up with something like, "In a discussion of racial stereotypes, appropriation of the 'shiny bits' of other cultures without real respect or understanding of those cultures, the ongoing underrepresentation/misrepresentation of large portions of the population in fiction and other media, and the need to do better, privilege is when the most important piece of the conversation is your hurt feelings."

Thoughts and discussion are very much welcome, but the last time I touched on this topic, I ended up freezing three comment threads. So I'm asking up front that we keep it respectful. Sharing your thoughts is a good thing. Listening to each other is even better. I will try to post a warning if I see threads getting out of hand, but I don't promise to do so. If warnings are ignored, or if something gets nasty faster than I'm comfortable with, I'll stop it.

*Not asking for a literal roundup of posts, here. See merriehaskell's comment below, and I apologize if I wasn't clear. It's been a long week...


Mar. 8th, 2009 09:42 pm (UTC)
//This is a case where I think some textual grounding would help. I suddenly realize I'm not sure what's being referred to here. Are we still talking about Ebear's book?//

See, it is my contention that the discussion was, //from the start//, not about EBear's book. Here is a brief annotated summary that I in essence agree with. To summarize the summary, Bear made a post on the topic of what has become called "The Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of Doom" because it has been rising and sinking with regularity over the course of two years, and her book was brought up as an example of why she should perhaps not speak with authority on how to do it right if she couldn't do it right herself. Her book was not the debate, it was exhibit 76 in the debate.

And I agree too that if certain people had let it lie, they might have spared many people hurt feelings, and retained much of their reputation, although quite possibly we have different people in mind.
Mar. 8th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes, I've seen those summaries of the overall debate. I hope you'll forgive me if I don't have the fortitude to wade through every post, but I've sampled it.

But here specifically Jim made this comment, and you cited it for a specific reason, and in each case I suddenly realize that I'm not sure what each of you specifically means by that. I'm honestly confused. Do you perhaps have a rephrase that could help clarify?
Mar. 8th, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC)
I mean that your suggested alternate forms for the conversation seem to be informed at least in part by trying to minimise the painfulness of the conversation for the offending author. While I do not think giving pain is good, or even necessarily productive, since people in pain are bad at reasoned discourse, (in general,) I do think that that pain should not the largest concern.

To wander into the terrain of metaphor, if someone says "You c___, you're standing on my foot!" I should remove my foot before telling them that their misogynist language is hurtful, and refusing to get off their foot until they apologize is petty and vicious.
Mar. 8th, 2009 11:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the clarification. No, avoiding hurting authors' feelings is not my interest, here. Effective communication is.


Jim C. Hines

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