January 18th, 2009

angry, racism

In the middle of the battle

ETA: I'm very sorry to do this but I'm disabling comments for now. turning off email notification on this thread and won't be checking back on it for several days. I meant to disable comments, but then realized that would hide the comments that were already made, which isn't my intent at all.

This is all me and my silly head -- I need to work on a paper and won't if I keep wondering if people have said anything here. So I need to forbid myself lj till the paper's done.

I'm in no-man's-land here. My tribe, as I identify it, is fighting about issues close to my heart. And I realize that stepping into the fray is not gonna leave me unbloodied. But this hurts too much, and when it hurts, I have to try.

From where I am standing it seems that a few people on both sides are pointing fingers too hard, misinterpreting and fanning flames and speaking from too much anger to allow for any possibility of better understanding. This, in effect, forces other people to pick sides, and as far as I can tell these sides are starting to have much more to do with lj friend groups than race.

Which is just, so, ARGGGH. It's school cliques all over again; X hates Y forever not because of anything X or Y did but because X's friend J hates Y's friend S for saying something J interpreted as horrible. And our deep commonalities, as well as our real differences, get completely painted over with bullshit.

So. This is what I think. I think mac_stone and medievalist are not any of the nasty names that have been lobbed their way lately. Do I think they did everything right here? No. But I also think some people came in with a boatload of wrong assumptions about them, read what they had to say with mistaken context, and accused them of being things they're not -- and that's really not going to bring out anyone's best side. Is that a justification? No. Am I saying I think they don't have Any Unseen Privilege At All? Hell no. I think most of us do. I'm just saying I think they did SO MUCH better than I would have in the situation, which brought out the worst in many people. "Better than me" might be a low bar here, given how new I am to all this, but it's the only one I can really talk about.

Meanwhile, I do not feel able or willing to judge anyone who aimed namecalling at them. I have insufficient context; I think it's entirely possible that it all came about because of people really honestly passionately caring about the position of PoC in the field and in the world, and feeling threatened and ignored and condescended to. These feelings are valid even if I disagree with the interpretations that led to them, or lack the context to understand those interpretations.

ETA: It's also entirely possible (likely?) that some people on both sides are just shit-stirring to get a reaction. This is the internet; it's not a safe space. I'm not used to lj enough to really understand that part of it though, so I'm thinking this out in terms of everyone with good intentions on any part of this topic.

Here's the thing, as I see it. If person A thinks person B is the privileged and a speaker for a privilege group, and person B also feels excluded from that privilege group (even with different reasons), and does not share person A's assumptions about the dialogue, things can go really damn haywire really quickly with (initially) good intentions on all sides. Whether A is unaware of B's vulnerable status, or believes it to be irrelevant to the discourse.

And when we're angry we all want to lash out, to the point where even if we don't, even if we only talk about our anger in our own space, we are interpreted as lashing out in part because, well, that's what people do.

If person B angrily claims they are not responding from privilege, there are two options. 1) They are responding from privilege and are blind to it, so being pushed to confront it is deeply frightening to them. 2) They are otherwise vulnerable, and responding from that spot, and being written off as part of a group that also smacks them around is deeply upsetting to them.

Or there could be a combination.
And yeah, I know, one sort of Otherness does not make us experts on other sorts or immune from bigotry. We need to listen even when a group or person is angry. But there's a difference between listening to another person's anger and listening to another person's directed insults, especially for someone who's been abused. We need to listen, but one person being unable to deal any longer because their own issues make it just too hurtful does not mean Total Meltdown Failure.

And. I don't think it works to say "We're dealing with race now, let's hold the heteronormativity discussion till later" any more than it works to say "We're dealing with gender now, let's hold the race discussion till later". Different Othernesses are *different*, and being one does not make us experts in others, but it does give us some shared experience of -- and scars from -- Otherness. If we're all different from the mainstream, that's necessary information for contextualizing the things we say.

So. I wonder whether those of us who have been through this argument too often risk seeing the most common patterns even when there's actually a different and less common pattern there. Because I do know that, in other contexts, that's how human categorization works. We do overgeneralize.

And right now it's heartbreaking.

ETA: These are the thoughts I'm struggling with. I do not claim they are even so right as the stuff above. Please, if you can deal with it, tell me why this is wrong if it is; it's the best I got but I want to do better.

1) I didn't like coffeeem's tone; I think she was wrong to dismiss people who hadn't read all the way through Bear's book. But I don't see how that is racist. What I saw was undoubtedly dismissive, and I think it is missing a point (that people who stopped reading had a valid reaction worth talking about), but as far as I can tell that was on the basis of whether they'd read the damn book not what their race is.

As to the point itself, I wouldn't call the opinions of people who stopped halfway through a book less valid than those of people who read the whole thing. Gah. But I do think they are different. Seems to me people who didn't finish are uniquely qualified to talk about what put them off to the point of no more reading, but I don't see how they are qualified to talk about the ending they didn't read, or about the book overall as opposed to the part of the book they read. Similarly, people who read the whole book can't tell people who stopped "But it's different later so you're wrong". Or... well I mean of course they can, anyone can do all sorts of things I think are wrong and I have no power to stop them, and I'm not telling anyone what to do, but that doesn't stop me thinking it's wrong.

2) I understand the frustration with various people taking overly-academic tones & demanding emotional distance. I am sure my tone often reads as overly academic; when I try to be precise to prevent misunderstandings, that's the voice that offers itself up for me to use. I'm not saying this is a good thing or it makes me superior, just that I realize I'm doing it & apologize to anyone who finds it offputting. But. If we do keep our eyes open as far as possible for inbuilt prejudices, Academia has things to say here. They're not more valid than other people's points, but are they completely invalid? I don't think that refusing to hear something 'cause it's academic is any more helpful to us than refusing to hear it 'cause it's not.

3) I do have to wonder (of course I do!) if I am just blind to my own friends' privilege because they are my friends. And I know I didn't read all the arguments. I couldn't. I have been sick (most recent bout) for six weeks now; I cannot afford to make myself ill all over again crying.

4) But my sense is that they've been somewhat scapegoated. I'm not saying they didn't set off the reaction. I'm just... I think there were enough true ignorant bigots and hostile-supposed-allies to ... I guess dump more anger into the discourse than any of us fully realized, and that had as much to do with the response to Mac and Medievalist as anything they said or did. Meanwhile the perpetrators of "If you want more POC in ficion just write them" and other such things got off with rolled eyes.

I'm not dismissing the anger. I just don't think it all (or even mostly) found the right target. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but what I saw of the conversation reminds me of me, on those days when a dozen people piss me off or drain me and I'm relatively under control, and then a loved one says the wrong thing and I go nuclear on 'em.