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O HAI RACEFAILZ: Notes on Reading an Internet Conflict
Virtually Unscathed!
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I've been following RaceFail for a while now, and I'm just now coming to grips with the fact that my personal concept of it has collapsed. RaceFail is a decentralized internet conflict, and thinking about it in terms of sides, timelines, or threads are all (sometimes necessary) simplifications. What it is is a hypertext, wherein everything refers to something or multiple things, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly.

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.
In addition, Sarah Monette (truepenny), is a published fantasy author who has been a "Nifty Guest" at PenguiCon, though not strictly a guest of honor. oyceter mentions her in the quote above, but I am currently hard-pressed to recall what her role was, has been, or is, other than generally aligning herself with the Guests of Honor. [sparkymonster has offered a well-linked summary of Monette's involvement in comments.]

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) zvi_loves_tv 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.

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.

Yes, racism is hugely important. Yes, our method for dealing with it is hugely important. [Edited. I don't want this to be seen as a dismissal of the VERY REAL and VERY TOXIC effect of racism in every area of society that it has touched, including fandom.]

But, with all respect, unless some lasting changes come out of this "discussion," it's wank. Wank isn't (or shouldn't be) judged solely by the emotional shrillness of the participants but by the results of the process.

To the extent that this has raised awareness, it's a good thing. However, that goodness is probably offset and more by the perception of wankery. Frankly, from the outside (where I have been sitting), this looks like a flamewar with some slightly-more-"important"-than-usual participants. It appears to have engendered a lot of bad feeling and a lot of "meta" attempts to understand What, Exactly, Is Going On, but I'm not convinced that synthesizing a lot of bad feeling is going to lead to a positive result.

I would, of course, be happy to be proven wrong. But I am pretty cynical about such things.

Edited at 2009-03-09 06:42 pm (UTC)

To the extent that this has raised awareness, it's a good thing. However, that goodness is probably offset and more by the perception of wankery. Frankly, from the outside (where I have been sitting)

Awareness raising among fans is a change in and of itself. The formation of verb_noire is certainly a change in and of itself. A possibility of shifting some of the power structures of traditional book-based SFF fandom is a change waiting to happen. How is any of that offset by your perception, from -- by your own admission -- the outside of the conversation, that it "looks like a flamewar"? "Sees Fires" is part of a flamewar?

Nobody needs to prove you wrong. From inside, fandom (media and SFF both) already looks like a potentially better place than it was. Shaken, less complacent, plenty stirred up, good people hurt and other good people driven off -- that's a mix of bad and good, terrible and wonderful. But a heck of a lot of goodness and effort is emerging.

truepenny posted this post in which we learned many things http://truepenny.livejournal.com/625351.html

http://truepenny.livejournal.com/625351.html?thread=4925383#t4925383
coffeeem says
"I can't give a lot of weight to a critique of a book and its author that's based on a shallow reading of the book, that doesn't take into account all the text, but substitutes the reader's own expected subtext for what's actually there. I'm pretty sure AW has plenty of cause to be angry. But I have to say that I do think AW objects to this book based on a fundamental, factual misreading. I believe AW's analysis is objectively wrong, in the same way I would say that someone who declares that Lolita is a glorification and justification of pedophilia is wrong.

In other words, I think Bear is a better writer than AW is a reader."

http://truepenny.livejournal.com/625351.html?thread=4947911#t4947911
Monette shares
"I think it's more accurate to say that Emma, and several other people in this discussion, are trying to talk about the book on a literary/analytic level whereas you got short-circuited before you could reach that kind of discussion by a personal/political reaction."

and
http://truepenny.livejournal.com/625351.html?thread=4951239#t4951239
"However, my assumption that AW does not habitually read critically, nor see much value in doing so, has been based on her own comments and self-presentation. From what she has said, she does not read in this fashion, nor does she want to."

It's cool how POC don't/can't read critically. And that critical race theory doesn't exist.

coffeeandink points out Monette is coming off poorly. I whip out my academic phallus and get ignored a bunch
http://truepenny.livejournal.com/625351.html?thread=4952007#t4952007
http://truepenny.livejournal.com/625351.html?thread=4949959#t4949959
http://truepenny.livejournal.com/625351.html?thread=4973767#t4973767
http://truepenny.livejournal.com/625351.html?thread=4974023#t4974023

deepad read all of "Blood and Iron", agrees with Avalons Willow's critiques and is ignored
http://truepenny.livejournal.com/625351.html?thread=4935623#t4935623

(Monette does eventually apologize here http://truepenny.livejournal.com/639443.html)

Links (or rather, links to this comment) added to the post. Thanks.

Your matrix-maintaining power-levels are clearly legendary.

OMG. You are amazing. Thank you. May I link this?

The "Guests of Honor", as you call them, are far from the only ones making content non-public, either by deletion or by locking. It's why I gave up on keeping track of this mess back when it began -- too much of the genesis was gone/hidden.

I will note that, from what Will has said, the only information he posted about coffeeandink was easily available in Google before he posted anything -- that's how he found it to post. Nor, by my reading, did he equate LJ/internet pseudonymity with KKK pseudonymity; he said the former seems like a step down a slope that ends with the latter, and where do you draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable pseudonymity?

The "Guests of Honor", as you call them, are far from the only ones making content non-public, either by deletion or by locking. It's why I gave up on keeping track of this mess back when it began -- too much of the genesis was gone/hidden.

Can you give some examples? Usernames, posts, vague dates?

I will note that, from what Will has said, the only information he posted about [info]coffeeandink was easily available in Google before he posted anything -- that's how he found it to post
http://coffeeandink.livejournal.com/902279.html

I found the Privilege Check (referenced from RaceFail, Silence, and Words) personally valuable in coming to terms with my perspective. And, point about strikethroughs well taken.

Edited at 2009-03-09 07:38 pm (UTC)

Nothing much new to add here, except that I like you treating it as a hypertext. It seems thus to me, too.

It's entirely possible W*ll Sh*tt*rly didn't realize I was Jewish and hit a sore spot by accident. I think my name is obviously Jewish (to Americans), but maybe not.

I wasn't particularly in the mood to give him the benefit of the doubt at that point.

I have locked down or edited some posts with identifying information in them. They all were posted long before RaceFail09, but pertain to it if you think they justify W*ll continuing to post my full name after I had expressly asked him to stop. However, given that identifying them would make it easy to reconstruct my name, I will not be pointing them out.

Edited at 2009-03-09 10:11 pm (UTC)

I think you might have some borked html in your para. about the NHs--is there supposed to be a link to Making Light there?

Also I highly recommend linking to Niall Harrison's post at Torque Control, which provides a great summary of this "decentralized internet conflict" (Perfect terminology!) and some reasons why professional writers might want to care about it.

I'm still absorbing most of this. (Full disclosure: I've spent some perhaps small amount of social time with Will and Emma outside of conventions. I like them as people, based on that time. Theirs is also the only writing I've read, and I like them as writers, as well. I suppose "I'm white and Ivy-League-educated" ought to be part of the disclosure....anyway.)

The one thing I want to pick up on and consider a little more carefully is the idea of ending a real-time discussion with "I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree" as "status-quo-affirming". I think that the extent to which it "affirms the status quo" depends heavily on what one thinks the purpose of such a discussion is. To some extent, after all, every public debate ends with a statement resembling "we'll have to agree to disagree": you don't expect a presidential debate to end with McCain nodding and saying to Obama, "No, you're entirely right. My policies won't work and we do need greater spending."

So there are certainly discussions that I'm not happy to end with "we agree to disagree". My (not-quite-one)-on-(one) discussion with Zundevil in the comments of some earlier posts of yours are a good example of that. My purpose there was to convince ZD that his point of view was wrong, that he needed to change it, or at the very least to force him into a statement so utterly alien to what I consider good and moral that I could recognize that further debate would necessarily be useless.

But I don't think a presidential debate, or a panel discussion at a con, or most other discussions, work that way. The two sides "agree to disagree" simply because it's not practical to continue talking for months in those situations—but also because, at some point, no more can really be said. That's because the discussions aren't happening for the benefit of the conversants. They're happening for the benefit of the audience. When I watch a presidential debate, Obama and McCain are going to personally come out of it pretty much just like they went into it; I, on the other hand, am going to come out of it with a clearer understanding of the issues involved and a better sense of who I think represents my views better.1 When I attend a panel discussion at a convention and I hear some people saying "There are no more superhero stories to tell" and other people saying "Of course there are", I can go in with no real opinion and come out thinking, "Oh, I see now." The panelists haven't convinced each other, but maybe they've convinced me.

Bringing it together: a debate may end with a resigned statement that neither side in the debate is going to convince the other. My point, though, is that that's not necessarily an affirmation of the status quo. In fact, the status quo may have changed considerably, insofar as what's changed is how the world thinks, or at least that chunk of the world that was paying attention.

With that said, then, it's not as clear to me that a hypertextual debate is better than a linear real-time one. A hypertextual debate may indeed be better for the participants, insofar as it's easier for them to keep going, to introduce different angles at once, to bring in more voices. All of those things are better when you're trying to demonstrate to the other side that there's something they're missing, that there's an important point on which they need to change their minds, etc. But I think they may be worse for people like me: people who, coming in late, have no particular opinion on the subject,2 are going to find ourselves overwhelmed by the hypertext. What's useful to us (read: me) is an understanding of what Side A believes and an understanding of what Side B believes, perhaps with replies and rebuttals, so that we can read it and make up our minds about what we believe.

Now, I understand that that's not exactly practical, because there probably aren't two clearly-delineated sides and there really are a lot of different issues. All the same, once again speaking from my perspective, the longer the discussion goes and the more it breaks off in hypertextual ways, the harder it is for someone coming in to comprehend it. And that's not doing either side any good.

Footnotes added in a separate comment due to length:

1Ideally. In practical terms, the debates often don't clarify anything. And of course my views about who represented me didn't change much; but to that extent, I wasn't the intended audience of the debates.
2Well, OK, my opinion is "racism is bad". But I'm not 100% sure I even know what the issues are in this debate beyond that. I'd hate to think that Will, Emma, and the NH's are arguing that racism is good.

This is awesome.

It must have taken a ton of work.

Since I got here through Ryrda, can I assume you don't mind being linked?

No I don't (mind being linked).

And actually, after a number of false starts, this was pretty easy.

I appreciate the effort. I'm not quite in the same position you are regarding fashion, but I'm close; I read very little SF these days, and don't at all move in fan circles. My exposure to this matter has come almost entirely through reading your and vitoexcalibur's blogs, and I have no real intent of trying to work my way further down the rabbit hole.

I do have one suggestion, though. I can't help but wonder whether some synergies could be achieved if people started wearing "You can touch my breasts if you're white" buttons to SF cons. Just a thought.

I do have one suggestion, though. I can't help but wonder whether some synergies could be achieved if people started wearing "You can touch my breasts if you're white" buttons to SF cons. Just a thought.

lol

(no subject) (Anonymous) Expand
This is a really, really useful post. Thank you!

Fabulous post. Bookmarking.

I have been thinking about this through the evening (because it is an interesting post with much to think about). I have *not* been maintaining a clear view of the whole conflict; you got way, way farther than I did. My view is very fragmentary, both from lack of time and personal cowardice.

Nonethless, what I have seen leads me to a different stance on the decentralized nature of It All:

"The decentralized nature means that it's harder for people with power to shut down or control the discussion." That is true. But it's *also* easier for people to marginalize any given *part* of the discussion. Because, at this point (indeed, any time after the first week) you can *always* point to some other part or thread or blog and say "But you said *that* over there, which was complete fail." Or "Person X, defending you, said..." or "You said, attacking the same line of argument as I'm defending..." Or "Look at all those personal attacks!"

The decentralization also means constant, continual derailing. RaceFail hits new eyeballs; presto, the tone argument crops up, or the good-intentions argument, or whichever.

(I'd argue, as a total aside, that this dynamic is exactly what happened to Usenet in the mid-late 1990s. Usenet responded by morphing from a broad community divided into topics, into a set of insular communities. RASFW, as a group, could develop the calluses necessary to keep the arguments with people like Shetterly down to a dull roar in the corner. (WS was there then, yes.) A crosspost between RASFW and some political group would blow fresh oxygen into that corner, and whoomph.)

But it's not *all* new people; it's a mix of new people and people who have seen the same crap over and over for two months now. So people wind up making the same points over and over, or defending the same statements over and over. Exhausting.

Third resultant: "It's a giant shitstorm and I want no part of it." Widely expressed (including, for several hours of any given day, by me.) Because wherever you look, you see... I was going to say "the same crap", but of course there's many different strands. As you said: "science fiction, fantasy, fandom, publishing, race, racism, power, and many other things." It's really *easy* to find a reason to tune out. And then, in the other direction, it's really easy to say "You're tuning out of the problem of racism! Screw you."

You know what, I thought I was talking about decentralization, and I was wrong. It's *decontextualization*. The RaceFail that I'm seeing is marked by massive, multipartisan failure to keep a discussion context stable for two days in a row. Despite every individual person trying to do just that. Thus all the "Read This First" posts, history-tracking, and so on.

Thus, also, the real, serious, *bad* consequences of editing/screening/deleting posts.

(It also occurs to me that if it's hard to keep track of now, it's going to be *impossible* to study in retrospect. As I said about a completely different multi-person Livejournal interaction: too much is being said for RaceFail to be reproduced and experienced later -- *even if* every byte is recorded and made available. We've managed to invent a textual medium which has the real-time characteristics of a performance. Dammit, theory brain, this isn't the time.)

Anyhow. Livejournal discussion dynamics: both good and bad. Behold my central thesis. (Helpless shrug.)

The decentralization/decontextualization then bleeds over into your comments about "guests of honor" and "silence", but this margin^H^H^H^H^Hevening is too short to contain them. More tomorrow, unless I decide what I'm thinking is stupid.

We've managed to invent a textual medium which has the real-time characteristics of a performance.

Well, yes. That's a great positive way to describe the kind of social networking platform that the discussion is taking place on. Particularly if you link it to the idea that performance is about being in the same room with the audience, breathing together. That makes it truly a conversation, one where the audience can chose to join the performers, where the performers may sit it out in the audience. Where the line between performer and audience member is simply what you are doing right now.

Those people who seem most uncomfortable with the location and format of the discussion, with the way the medium undercuts privilege* are perhaps uncomfortable because because no one person or group of people can stop the performance. If you're used to being able to stop the performance, that's - well, we have seen in the links the OP has listed what happens when that privilege is ignored.

he RaceFail that I'm seeing is marked by massive, multipartisan failure to keep a discussion context stable for two days in a row. Despite every individual person trying to do just that. Thus all the "Read This First" posts, history-tracking, and so on.

I see that differently. The summary posts are participants assisting new people to find pathways into the discussion. Those participants already have a handle on how this kind of discussion works and how to manage the evolving and recursive posts and comments. They are maintaining the contexts.

*Or is it better said, allows privilege to be undercut across the whole arena while supporting the authority each individual holds over their own space.


(While I'm here, tablesaw, great post. Thank you.)

Thanks, TS. I keep trying to read through RaceFail and, well, failing. Can't keep up with the posts, and frankly--as a fledgling SFF writer--I rapidly get discouraged from BOTH sides of the argument, which isn't helpful. (I want to help with equality, but I'm seeing posts that yell at authors for not writing any CoC--characters of color!--, for writing them only as minor characters, and for daring to write them as main characters when they don't have that background. Those are, uh, every way you can write a character. And yet I know doing nothing is just as bad.)

Thanks for this, because I can read what's going on without professional defeatism getting in the way. This helps me remember what the goal is--to help lessen racism however I can, and try to do better when someone points it out to me. That, I can manage. *wry smile*

J

Hi JB! You know, I actually do not think I have seen anyone get yelled at for writing characters of colour while white. I have seen writers criticised for doing it *badly* but that's a standard peril of publication. And I have seen many, many people criticised for saying "but it's too hard! i'm damned if i do, damned if i don't!" or "but I *tried*, why don't you love me?" Mostly people are saying: do some research, do some thinking. Don't throw a fit if you screw something up and get called on it.

There have been a bunch of excellent posts with advice on writing in particular (not so much in this discussion, but in previous ones), but I'm at work, so I should probably. do some work.

After next Monday, please poke me. There are questions I have relating to this and things like this, but no time right now to be able to listen to the answers - and I want to be able to listen. I agree with you that this is an important juncture and it links in well with things I'm trying to do in my life and career. You don't have to poke me, of course, but I would love for you to do so so that I remember to come back to this after the current insanity of my life subsides for a little bit.

This is a very useful post, thanks.

For putting this together. I've only very lightly skimmed the surface of this, in part because I know several of the participants on both sides either directly or by one-off friendship and it's sad to see people I like respect behaving badly towards other people I respect and like.

Now off to read some of the links what you linked...

Incredibly useful post; thank you!

(Trivial aside: it was sort of humorous to see "wank" characterized, above, as "producing no result" in light of fandom_wank's weighty (if not yet well defined) influence on fannish discourse.)

another "thank you for this overview". I was hiding from LJ (and related things) for a few months, and ... oy.

Thank you for this awesome post.

And, I never got around to following up. Sorry.

The short form of what I was thinking -- is illustrated by John Scalzi over the past week. He reacted to an incident on his blog, and he wasn't in the same conversation as the people who were (very shortly) reading his post. And that remained true until some people he knew and trusted sat him down and explained the *other* conversation.

Why I am thinking about this: What worries me, long-term for fandom and SF+F writing, is not the angry flare-ups. It's the cases of people who will say "Naturally I am not racist", or "Naturally my friend X is not racist", *or even post statements of explicit support* like you were talking about in your original post. --But from a different conversation. Not knowing about all the context that led here. And then person X or person Y, with that explicit statement of support on record, will turn around and do something hurtful or outraging or unsupportive.

"I do think that the context will restabilize shortly."

Only possible if there's a single context to stabilize to. I don't think that's currently true and I'm not sure we're even heading that way. For example, someone posted about RaceFail to the Usenet group RASFW(*), and that very rapidly came to a concensus description that, well, you wouldn't recognize.

In a sense this is a description of any political argument -- you never convince the other side that your side is right; you convince a majority of people of your framing of where the sides *are*. And I just don't know how that process is going, because so many people, particularly pros, are staying hands-off. (There will always be a couple of die-hards insisting that the conversation *is* about class or it *is* about anonymity, but a couple of Internet obsessives do not a Fail make. As I said, WS has been WS on the Internet for at least a decade.)

(* RASFW is very minor as Internet fan communities go -- notable only in that it's where a whole lot of now-prominent people *used* to be, before LJ and blogs -- but the people who hung on there are decently representative of a certain branch of con-going fandom. I include myself in that description.)

This is amazing.

I would also recommend Ann Somerville's themed summary, which I think is a good overview, before one dives into the hypertext discussion.

Very, very late, but thank you for writing all this up. It's tremendously useful.