I will get this wrong.
I know I will.
And to be honest, it scares the hell out of me.
But I've pretty much persuaded myself that to not talk about this is wrong. That putting my fingers in my ears and pretending it's not happening is not a reasonable response. That I can't just back quietly away and ignore it.
I'm lucky. I get to make that choice. I _have_ the privilege to ignore it, because I'm not personally affected by it. As privilege's go it's pretty small-fry. I mean, I'm also lucky enough not to be living in a country where religion and law are the same thing, to not be part of a gender that frequently has to choose between children and workplace success, to not be living in a region where education is nigh-unknown and the only way to earn a living is to recycle the waste of richer countries.
I have a lot of privilege, and I manage to avoid talking, or even thinking, about most of it, most of the time. This one's only getting talked about because it's a topic of conversation "close" to me, insofar as it keeps popping up on my friends list, and a bunch of people took the time and effort to try and educate me over the last 48 hours, so I feel owe them trying to explain some of what I've learned.
I will get this wrong. I know I will. But I feel I have to _try_. And then, when people have pointed out where I've gone wrong, try again. And keep trying.
Waaaaaay back at the dawn of time (start of January, you can find links by clicking on "earlier" three or four times in this list
) there were a couple of posts about Writing The Other. The exact contents of those posts aren't actually that important, in the grand scheme of things*. What was important* was that they kicked off a big discussion about People Of Colour (POC) and the role they play in SF.
And that kicked off a big discussion about the role that POC play in the SF industry.
And that kicked off a big discussion about the role that POC play in SF fandom.
(Those two might have happened the other way round - there's been a lot of parallell discussion going on.)
And the thing is, that the view that POC had was not, in all cases, the same view as the white people had.**
People are raised in a particular situation. They tend not to think about that situation much. They may not be aware that that situation is actually radically different from many of the other situations in the world, that it privileges them in certain ways (while disadvantaging them in others). They may not be aware that the views it leaves them with are not actually objective, but contain all sorts of assumptions, many of which less advantaged people find offensive.
When these things are pointed out, these people (who may be very nice people) tend to get defensive. Because _they_ aren't bigoted. And, of course, many of them aren't. But that doesn't mean they can't do bigoted things, or occasionally do things that offend people, because the very situation in which they are existing is sustained by bigotry. Not major level bigotry, per-se, we're not talking about South Africa in the 80s here, but the low-level type that grinds people down and makes life harder for them.
Anyway - you mention to these (perfectly nice) people that they've done something bigoted and (if they've never encountered this before) they get defensive. They get upset. They assume that because people are saying bad things about them these people must be trolling.
Because, let's face it, we've all encountered people on the internet who delight in causing chaos, eliciting any kind of negative emotional response, and then vanishing into the distance with an evil cackle. After you bump into your 50th you learn to shout "Beware of the troll!" whenever you see one.
What happens when it's not a troll? What happens when it turns out that they're real people, with real hurt, caused by real problems? People who are realising that they are not alone in their anger. People who have been drawn out by others clearly explaining their anger. People who realise that they can voice their anger in public - and are damn well going to do so?
Now, I don't like anger. But I've had to deal with it on a large number of occasions.
I've had friends who didn't know how to let anger out. Who had it poison them from the inside. Who needed help to let it out. Heck, I had to be persuaded that it was ok for _me_ to get angry, because the thought always scared me. And when I was persuaded, I know that I was hell to be around for a while - because there always seemed to be more anger bubbling to the surface, undirected, and likely to hurt people around me. But it's so much better than having it on the inside, turning into misery and depression.
And in the long run it was worth it. I'm much happier now. More tolerant too. Better able to deal with other people's anger.
And then someone yesterday pointed me at this piece about Yelling Class
, which made much the same point.
And I hope that this explosion makes things better in the long run. That it's not a blip, followed by a re-bottling-up of emotion. That it means that voices that were pent up are able to speak. That people will understand more. I do hope that after the echoes of the explosion die down we will hear the sound of less angry debate, of more and more people explaining why there was so much hurt. Of people learning from it, and passing on that learning to the next person.
Three days ago you couldn't have paid me to get involved in RaceFail. I thought I had it pegged. I thought it was a mass of flame and invective. Yesterday and today were spent learning more, partially from the people who came and talked to me, partially from looking at the arguments in more detail and seeing exactly who was being aggressive and why, tracing back the levels of hurt, and not just handwaving it all as a homogenous disaster.
I'm glad I did. I wish I'd done it sooner.
I will get this wrong.
And, to be honest, it scares the hell out of me.
But I think I have to try.
*From my perspective. You are, of course, completely welcome to have your own perspective.
**For some given definition of "white". If you want arguments about the subtleties of that then follow that link .