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This began with a pattern I saw of white people who’d been accused of racism asking for and getting reassurance from their white friends that they weren’t really racist. It’s not a new phenomenon, but I saw a lot of it earlier in the month, and talked about it on Facebook.

During the ensuing conversation, someone asked how I’d respond if someone accused me of being racist or sexist or bigoted or whatever. Another friend said they’d never seen anyone accuse me of such things, and that I was a feminist and a good person.

I genuinely appreciate this person’s faith in me, but … no. Whether or not they’ve seen such things, I can assure you that I’ve screwed up many times, and that in many of those instances, people called me on it.

  • One of the more memorable examples was a woman who came up to me after a panel to criticize my portrayal of a particular character in the Princess series. (She was right, and her comments led to a small addition in the final book.)
  • Another example that still makes me cringe is from almost twenty years ago, making a joke to my officemate that was so not okay. (I want to go back in time and smack younger Jim upside the head.)
  • Several people called me on a joke about mansplaining a few years back, because the joke erased transgender people.
  • I was asked to do an impromptu talk about men and rape at a Take Back the Night rally in college. A woman came up afterward to thank me, but also to point out that one of the phrases I’d used was sexist.

I could go on, but the point is, it happens. We grow up in a world steeped in systemic inequality, in racism and sexism and discrimination and bigotry. Do you really think it’s possible to grow up in such a world and not have these things affect you? That you’re somehow magically immune to these things?

None of us are perfect. The question is, what do we do about our imperfections? Do we work to be better, or do we lash out against anyone who dares suggest we might be flawed? That we might be … human?

It’s not pleasant. I still tense up when someone confronts me. I feel defensive. My mind runs through the whole, “But I’m a good person!” script.

The thing is, when someone confronts me on this stuff, they’re not saying I’m a horrible person. Those examples I gave earlier? For the most part, I’m friends with the people who called me out. (In one case, it’s so long ago I don’t even remember who it was that came up to me.) These people didn’t write me out of their lives or proclaim me Lord Evil McEvilson of Evil Manor.

And as unpleasant as it is to be confronted about this stuff? It’s usually hard for the person doing the confronting, too. They’re probably tense and anxious and bracing themselves for anger and defensiveness and mockery and attack.

“But I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic/etc!”

It’s not a binary thing. Humanity isn’t split into two groups, one of which is 100% pure and never says or does anything problematic, while the other is all-bigotry, all-the-time.

Foot-stepping is a useful metaphor here. If someone says you stepped on their foot, they’re not accusing you of being an Evil Foot-Stomper. They’re not saying you deliberately tried to break their metatarsals and phalanges and minotaurs and whatever other bones make up the foot. (I’m not a bone specialist.) They’re just pointing out that you stepped on their foot, and asking you to remove your foot and be a little more careful in the future.

It’s not an all-or-nothing thing. (See also, “Only a Sith thinks in absolutes.”)

“But I didn’t step on their foot!”

I hear this one a lot, in comments like, “People play the race card so often it’s lost all meaning!” Often, it’s because people are clinging to that binary all-or-nothing view. Racism has to be full-blown, intentional and deliberate, with KKK robes and nooses and burning crosses. Anything less is just people looking to be offended.

Yeah, no. Maybe I didn’t stomp on your foot while wearing cleats, causing compound fractures and the eventual amputation of your lower leg. Maybe it was just a small bruise, utterly unintentional. Maybe I didn’t even notice when I did it.

But it still hurt. Especially if that foot is tender from being stepped on so often.

That last part is key. People who are constantly being trod on are a lot more aware of when it happens. If someone tells me I stepped on them, I really need to listen.

“But what if they’re wrong?”

All right, sure. There are exceptions. There’s a troll in SF/F and comics who likes to claim everyone’s racist against him. Kicked out of Worldcon? It’s because he’s Hispanic. A big name author doesn’t like him? Accuse that BNA of being racist against Hispanics!  I’m pretty sure we can all recognize this kind of blatant and unimaginative trolling for what it is.

There’s another author who occasionally writes angry blog posts about how I’m a racist because I wouldn’t publish his essay in one of my Invisible anthologies. The fact is, that essay was a one-sided hit piece on an individual editor, and was inappropriate for the anthology. I definitely made mistakes in my handling of the situation. Was I racist in making those mistakes? I don’t believe so, no.

These are outliers. Exceptions.

They’re not an excuse to dismiss any and all accusations anyone might make in my direction.


None of us are perfect. We all screw up. It’s not the end of the world, and nobody’s asking or expecting you to be perfect. Just listen and try to be better.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 13th, 2018 05:22 pm (UTC)
I hesitate to comment. I do. There's something in this that I've been dealing with a lot and I have a real issue with but... It's one of those things we're not at the point of talking about yet.

All of this is true. All of this is valuable. For the times when it's true.

But increasingly on the internet there are spaces where there ARE in fact purity drives.

What bothers me most is not that that happens - it has, it will, it's a thing that seems wired into us. It's that I watch a lot of conversations, debates and such do this. Either or.

Either people are being called out because they should be, here's the tools to deal with that OR they're being abused. There's no middle ground AND there's no understanding that both happen.

I'm (insert list here). In certain circles I couldn't be an ass if I wanted to because I'm inherently seen as incapable. Gay. But move to one side and I'm an oppressor and EVERY opportunity is taken to point out that I'm intentionally intersecting with X group to oppress them. Move one to the other side and I'm a victim and all others in the arena need to sit down, shut up and not talk.

It's layered. It's complicated. It's fluid.

I've done things that as a white male I need to be called on. Sure. But I am hoping at some point it becomes more about needing to be called out as a person and less as a representative token of a swathe of people.

I've been yelled at that I can't use queer. I've been hounded that I am not allowed to use poz as a descriptor. I've had people go looking for me to let me know exactly how the use of poly in my life has never been anything but problematic. And those singular events ARE in fact treated as indicators of sum. That any transgression is all transgression.

And those are the ones I ignore. I marched yelling queer. I fought to be seen as a poz person. I've been poly for decades and am part of a community that has existed for over 50 years. This snatch and grab for who owns what - from protected status to words - is interesting but again... it presupposes there are two sides and they MUST be in opposition with each other. That only one of them can exist at once.

Both do.

I CAN'T call other people queer. I CAN'T refer to other people as poz. And in spaces where I've been requested to, I shift the language away from poly. I need to be called on that and it's good to learn that lesson. But. In each of those examples I've been "called out" as a (and I shit you not) homophobic, racist, misogynistic, ableist, bigot. Because all are one in some spaces/conversations.

I appreciate the work you do, Jim. I do. But sometimes people do in fact demand you be perfect. I'd love to see a conversation done as deftly as you normally do, around that.

Edited at 2018-09-13 05:24 pm (UTC)
Sep. 13th, 2018 07:31 pm (UTC)
I appreciate you commenting. Honestly, I'm not sure I could have the conversation you're asking for here, because what you're describing isn't within my range of experience. I know there are spaces where purity and perfection are demanded, but...maybe I've just avoided those spaces? I don't know.

I was called out for using "queer" in a blog post at one point. But after thinking about it and doing a fair amount of reading and talking and listening, it's still a word I use. I won't use it with that individual, and I know I have to be careful as someone outside of LGBTQ circles looking in, but something's gotten way out of alignment if I'm feeling like I can use that word and you're feeling like you can't.

Some of what you're describing sounds pretty toxic, but again, without any real awareness of the people/situations/etc, it's hard for me to say anything about.

Which is probably not a terribly useful or helpful response to your comment, I'm afraid.
Sep. 13th, 2018 07:13 pm (UTC)
Would this be the appropriate post to ask what the thing is, in English, with using "Mac/Mc" for fun/emphasis and how Scots/Irish people feel about it? I mean - it _would_ be Lord McEvilson, not just Lord Evilson, or Lord deEvil, or Eviler, or Evilinov, or Evilstein... although, now that I think about it, it might be Evilinsky in some cases (which are not clear to me either).
Sep. 13th, 2018 07:20 pm (UTC)
It's an internet thing, riffing off the Boaty McBoatface silliness from 2016.

I'm not aware of anyone of Scottish or Irish backgrounds objecting or finding it offensive, though I could be wrong.
Sep. 13th, 2018 08:20 pm (UTC)
It's the same kind of thing :) One could ask why McBoatface and not O'Boatface, for instance. Personally, my standard is "would I find this off-putting if it was about Jews", so I substituted Baron Katzhenevilborgen and asked.
Deborah Blake
Sep. 13th, 2018 11:58 pm (UTC)
No one is perfect. All we can do is try our best to be fair and inclusive and to listen if someone says that maybe we fell short of the mark.

Jim, you are one of the best examples of this I know.
(no subject) - experimentsnami - Sep. 14th, 2018 04:00 am (UTC) - Expand
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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