I've been maintaining that web rather well until last week, when the influx of posts caused my mental matrix to collapse. The sad result is that I'm having a harder time remembering who said what where, which can be critical when participating.
I was thinking about that, about how RaceFail is a hypertext, while also thinking about ithiliana's post about why face-to-face communication isn't always better. In many ways, the limitations placed on face-to-face communication, such as time, work toward any discussion maintaining the status quo, and a decentralized discussion like this one is better at presenting reasons for change without becoming quickly marginalized. As vito_excalibur reminds us, "the whole reason the [Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM] started was because oyceter was at a Wiscon panel, and wasn't happy about the way it went, but did not feel she could speak up about it at the time. So she came home and wrote about it." Still, if you're not used to reading something as interconnected as RaceFail, it's easy to get lost.
Since a lot of people on my friends list have expressed a desire to read or learn about RaceFail, but have been confused when trying to break into rydra_wong's links (which are now so numerous that new entries must be placed in a second post because of LJ's post-length limits), I've been trying to put down some notes to make reading it easier.
Like I said, my matrix has collapsed. Lots of what I say in this post has been said elsewhere, probably more eloquently, I just can't, at the moment, remember who said it or where. I've decided to start writing things up and add links later as I go back through posts. Your own additions, corrections, revisions, and links are very much welcome.
This Is the Thing We're Talking About
RaceFail is a discussion about science fiction, fantasy, fandom, publishing, race, racism, power, and many other things. But in many ways, it is also, in great part, a discussion about itself. Much of what happens in RaceFail occurs while participants are discussing other parts of RaceFail. Be prepared for that. It looks circular, but it's not; each time one person reads and characterizes another post, that's the brunt of what's going on. There are some notable exceptions—professional threats and revealing of personal information stand out—but even they are dealt with by deconstructing and reconstructing those actions themselves.
At one of its many cores, RaceFail is simultaneously an argument about race and an argument about how to have an argument about race.
Everything Is Decentralized
If there were a room, a panel, a moderator, and a transcript, then things would be easier to read. But nobody can exert direct controlling pressure on this discussion because it is decentralized and on the internet. There is no time limit, which means there's no way to cut things of with a status-quo-affirming "I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree." There's nobody to pass the microphone around, and there are no people sitting on a riser that get to talk more than others. In short, there is no moderator.
[Note: tahnan rightly pointed out that there are many serious flaws in the metaphor I just used.
The decentralized nature means that it's harder for people with power to shut down or control the discussion (not that they don't necessarily try, see Guests of Honor below). On the other hand, when reading, you have to be prepared to jump from one set of contexts to another. Expect references to books, TV shows, comic books, and historical events that you've never heard of, and that aren't central to RaceFail as a whole, but that are shared by individual posters and their commenters. If it's important to you, look it up. If it's not, let it go and see whether you need it later. As for context relating to RaceFail itself . . .
Open Every Link
I know it seems like a rookie thing to do, but opening every link and looking at the resulting page, even if you've already read it, is important to getting through something this big. Reopening links helps you strengthen the connections between the discussion in your mind and also gives you a sense of which posts and participants are critical to the discussion. What's more, the perception of posts can change over time with other references, so it can be helpful to reread posts that you've seen referenced a number of times after you've read what others have had to say about it.
If This Is Wank, Then Everything Is Wank
Emotions are high in RaceFail, and it may remind you of other internet discussions where emotions run high that we generally refer to as "wank." Don't let the similarity lead you to dismiss RaceFail as wank.
Wank happens when fans discuss things that are trivial, or opinions which are purely subjective, relating to a fantasy world with the passion and emotion of something that has dire, wide-ranging consequences in the real world.
An example of something with dire, wide-ranging consequences in the real world? Racism.
So yes, in many ways, the passion and emotion shown during RaceFail looks similar to the passion and emotion shown during wank. But it is not wank because it is about racism. This is how we are supposed to act when we deal with something as serious as racism.
Our perception of wank must be calculated with regard to these serious situations that wank inappropriately mimics. If we do the opposite, if we measure serious situations using the standard of how much they look like wank, then nothing can be taken seriously, and all efforts at change can be trivialized by calling it "wank."
Which is, in fact, what some commenters are doing or trying to do.
What's Happening Here All Happened Before
As a discussion of race and racism, RaceFail shares patterns with other discussions of race and racism, in that predictable patterns of argument are used to shut down, deflect, or trivialize the issues involved. Common tactics include "derailing" which seeks to turn the discussion into something else (like, say, the merits of anonymity and pseudonymity in fandom and the internet in general). Many of these tactics are described in coffeeandink's "How to Suppress Discussions of Racism" and yeloson's "The Art of Defending Racism."
If you're not familiar with these issues, you'll find that a number of those involved will make a point of asking you to learn them for yourself instead of requiring that the information be provided or tailored to you. A good list of resources can be found by looking for the phrase "Racism 101" or checking out sparkymonster's Delicious Links for Clueless White People.
(Added 3/10) inalasahl's post "Because There Aren't Enough Spoons on the Planet addresses one specific derailing tactic known as the tone argument. It also does a good job demonstrating how one particular argument is used consistently through a number of discussions of racism and cultural appropriation in fandom going back several years.
Let's Graciously Welcome Our Guests of Honor
An important part of understanding the power dynamics in RaceFail is seeing that a number of participants are coming from positions of relative power in SFF publishing and fandom. As oyceter noted:
RaceFail has, from the very beginning, had authors and editors on one side and readers and consumers on another. Although authors and editors and readers and consumers are not and never will be mutually exclusive categories, it is fair to say that those who have more power in the SF/F publishing world (Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, the Nielsen Haydens, Emma Bull, W*ll Sh*tt*rly, Kathryn Cramer) were arguing against people who did not have power in that world (Willow, Deepa, Mely [Footnote: "No, I don't think having worked nine months for an SF/F publishing house thirteen years ago is the same as being an editor or an author right now."]), with the exception of some SF/F authors and editors such as Nora Jemisin, K. Tempest Bradford, and Liz Henry (eta: Nora and Tempest and Liz are also arguing against that power, as they are not as firmly established and are therefore risking more).In fact, many of those most active in bad behavior have the distinction of visiting fandom conventions as respected and esteemed Guests of Honor.
- Elizabeth Bear (matociquala) has won the 2005 John W. Campbell Award for best new writer and the 2008 Hugo Award for best short story, and has been the Guest of Honor at SFF conventions such as Penguicon and Fourth Street Fantasy Convention. Bear's journal has been a focal point for RaceFail. Her January post "Whatever You're Doing, You're Probably Wrong" inspired the Avalon Williow's scathing critique of Iron and Blood, which prompted an apology. That apology sparked a wave of defenders; initially this seemed odd, but she later revealed that the apology was given disingenuously. In the same post, Bear stated that the comments were to be a "safe space" for people of color, but then failed to moderate accordingly. Bear has been consistently involved with the debate and later made an ill-received attempt to silence the conversation by calling for a temporary moratorium of all SFF race discussions.
- Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Haden (pnh and tnh, respectively) are notable editors. Patrick is currently "a Senior Editor and the Manager of Science Fiction at Tor Books." Teresa is currently the comment moderator at Boing Boing, among other things. Their website gives extensive examples of their influence in the field. Together, they have been Guests of Honor at several cons, many enumerated here.
Patrick initially made comments with very disturbing connotations given that the discussion was focused on racism. After the wider context of ths situation was brought up, he did not apologize or retract them. Some time after, he deleted his Livejournal, at which point Teresa wrote a post on her journal about the situation. This post, now locked, accused bloggers who use pseudonyms of dealing in bad faith, and made threats of retaliation. Her posts and comments continued to use problematic language.
- Will Shetterly )willshetterly) has published several novels and with his wife Emma Bull (coffeeem) has been a Guest of Honor at DFWCon and is scheduled to be a Guest of Honor at DarkoverCon this year. He was also involved in publicly revealing personal information about coffeeandink. He also made troubling comments on his blog (including equating the use of pseudonymity of coffeeandink, a Jewish woman, to the use of anonymity by a Klansman [the direct quotation is discussed in comments).
I personally think that it's important to note that early in RaceFail, Shetterly was spoofed by someone posting inflammatory comments under a similarly named journal. That journal, willlshetterly with three consecutive Ls, has been suspended, but comments may still remain in earlier posts, I don't know. On the other hand, the inflammatory comments and revealing of personal information made in his own blog are definitely not a spoof.
[In addition, sparkymonster's comment addressing Monette (see below) touches on Bull's involvement.]
- Kathryn Cramer co-founded the perennially Hugo-nominated New York Review of Science Fiction, with which she is still affiliated and edited or co-edited several anthologies including Year's Best SF. She was a Guest of Honor at last year's Confluence. She was also involved in publicly revealing personal information about coffeeandink. When her posts were linked to, she began moving them and, in many cases, redirecting incoming readers to ad and spam sites.
- Charles Stross (autopope) has been nominated for several Hugo, Nebula, and other awards. He has been the Guest of Honor at PenguiCon and ArmadilloCon, and is scheduled to be a Guest of Honor at this year's BaltiCon. His involvement has mostly been in comments to posts, many of which are no longer available. An example can be seen in this thread where he attempts (and fails) to deny attacking Avalon's Willow.
The fact that much of the most vicious attempts at marginalization and silencing have come from these people whom we had regarded as Guests of Honor is what makes much of RaceFail so galling. As nojojojo said, "That's what makes this RaceFail, IMO, even though I think a number of people have taken away good things from this discussion."
These Are Not the Posts You Are Looking For
As mentioned a few times while discussing the Guests of Honor, a number of comments, posts, and journals have been moved, edited, screened, and deleted after the fact. This has occurred particularly after the post or comments have become the focus of attention, that is, after they have become a critical part of the debate. In my reading, I have found those deceptive and disingenuous revisions to be a trait of the Guests of Honor and those aligning themselves with them. The readers, perhaps more familiar with this sort of debate, have tended toward using strikethrough to indicate revisions, rather than outright deletions. In reading RaceFail, be prepared to see a number of posts missing or in a different form than when other posts refer to them. Similarly, expect to find participants talking about a post being screened even though it is currently available to you, as the post may have been unscreened since that time.
The Sounds of Silence
"Sounds" because in this debate there are many different types of silence, and it's difficult to be silent in the way you want to, or to discover how others are being silent.
Because this is a decentralized Internet discussion, it's hard to demonstrate that you are offering your support by listening, even if that's what you're doing. You can't just sit next to someone you support. You can't applaud, exactly, because everyone's talking at once; and leaving comments to a post doesn't always say anything to the other friends whom you want to get involved.
What's also complicated is that, on our journals and blogs, we all have our own standards for how and when we speak, in the posts we write and in comments to others'. A number of people have occasionally felt trapped between wanting to speak to show support, but being bound by their own opinions of how they should speak.
sparkymonster has posted what looks like a definitive essay on these issues, "RaceFail, Silence and Words."
My impression is that many of the calls for vocal support have been based on the allegations, often by the Guests of Honor, that those offering criticism were a small group that could be safely marginalized, or even a facade of sockpuppets directed by a few people with personal grudges. That perception appears to be fading, which lessens some of the urgency to make a statement of support in that manner for that specific reason.
On the other hand, because the Guests of Honor have been so public and active in silencing the discussion of race from a position of respect and power, that the silence of others in that same position has been particlarly noted. It's what leads to the realization, again quoting nojojojo, "that the absence of writers, editors, and characters of color in this genre is not benign neglect. It is a purposeful and very malignant thing." In that respect, many are looking to hear more active public statements of condemnation from other SFF guests of honor. As I noted yesterday, those statements seem to be slowly showing up too.
So What Should I Do?
You should listen and care. No matter who you are, or how you relate to SFF and fandom, you should listen and care because racism is important and hurts everyone.
OK, But What Else Should I Do?
That depends. I mean, when I'm told about issues of racism in fashion, I listen and care, but I don't do much else because I have so little interest or knowledge in fashion. If that's you when it comes to SFF and fandom, then that's where you are.
But even still, there's a lot you can do. vito_excalibur has a list of some good things that have dome out of or become more widely known because of RaceFail. sparkymonster includes a number of things you can do instead of or in addition to speaking in RaceFail in "RaceFail, Silence and Words."
(Added 3/10) has another list of places to go and things to do. She also notes synecdochic's list of "What I Have Learned Through These Conversations About Race."
As a reader, I intend to support verb_noire, which I've mentioned before, morally and fiscally. I'm also, like many others, joining 50books_poc, a challenge to change one's reading habits by reading fifty books by non-white authors. (I'd previously been avoiding this on the mistaken belief that it included a challenge to do so within a single year, which is a difficult rate for me to keep up with.)
And if nothing else, you can use RaceFail (or previous iterations of International Blog Against Racism Week or a number of other earlier discussions helpfully catalogued, again, by rydra_wong) to learn or hone your skills in dealing with presentations of race in books, media, and fandom, and with discussions of race on the internet and off.
There Are No Neutral Summaries
A little while ago, tahnan said he was looking for a neutral summary of what's been happening. But really no summary of events is neutral, certainly not this one. And even though rydra_wong is usually cited as the closest thing to a neutral definitive archivist, she has her own bias, which she recently discussed. Still, here are some, and I'll try to add some more.
- I've seen many people recommend popelizbet's summary as a good overview.
- rydra_wong also has a summary, which is largely focused on the revealing of coffeeandink's personal information.
- Avalon's Willow has a timeline of early events (i.e., it was written at the end of January).
- The Feminist SF Wiki also has a summary that does not yet reflect recent events.
- (added 3/10) wistfuljane has another good list of summaries.
- (added 3/10) This summary was written by white_serpent and annotated by dmarley
Like I said, this is a work in progress, and I'll try to fill in some more links soon. Hopefully all of this is of some use.