Thursday, March 12, 2009

Trying to get my thoughts in order about Racefail '09

I typed up one post, then thought it needed another look or two. Now, after reading one more person's posts on it, I feel like I can say a few words, that my thoughts have cemented at least a little more.

How I found out about it:

I saw one post in January, not aware just how big an issue it referred back to. Then a few weeks back, someone on my friends list on LJ posted that they weren't going to read anything by a few specific authors and editors, linking back to another post that led me through the tangled livejournal web of Racefail '09. Since then, I've been trying to keep up-to-date about it and figure out what my thoughts were on the subject before jumping in.

It felt a little bit like double-dutch jumprope--the cords are swinging and I'm rocking back and forth, waiting for the right moment to jump in, but hesitating, because of my own uncertainty, until it's too late.

How did Racefail '09 begin:

As short a description as I can make it--an author wrote a post regarding people of color (POC) in fiction, specifically sci fi/fantasy characters of color. It seems to me, her post basically said 'do your research,' but some of what she said, or how she said it, was problematic and the comment thread was very long, and there were a lot of angry people. It spread to other blogs, and some people in positions of authority (published authors and editors) apparently said some things that created more friction (I didn't see these posts and they are now locked, or the journals themselves deleted). There were issues of race, class, outing people online, and more. Every time I wanted to say something, the comment threads were already very long and I felt overwhelmed by the other opinions already stated, and in some cases, things just dissolved and some of the good, helpful, insightful points people were making fell under the weight of anger and defensiveness.

Where I want to point readers:

Some people seemed angry (I know, I'm using that word a lot, but it is the closest to how the text sounded to me, although I admit a lot of what was going on carried multiple, complex emotions mixed in) about other industry professionals who weren't speaking out. Someone brought up the topic in John Scalzi's blog, and after a few posts, he asked Mary Ann Mohanraj to guest blog. I really like what she said, and how she said it.

I think the basic issue itself of the whole situation, is that writers who aren't POC should write COC, and should do their homework. At the same time, they need to know they will get some things wrong. Mohanraj makes a similar point and breaks down Racefail '09. I encourage people to go here and read what she has to say. And if you comment, please be respectful.

My thoughts on the matter:

I love what Mohanraj says here (in one of her posts which she links to on Scalzi's blog) in relation to white authors writing POCs, "But even a slightly cloudy mirror reflecting reality is better than no mirror at all." 

In my most recently completed novel, this is an issue I'm trying to be consciously aware of. I don't like to think I'm racist, that my parents' prejudices have in any way rubbed off on me, but I worry (perhaps rightly so) that they have in ways that I haven't noticed or felt the effects of. I've grown up in Hawai'i, on an island with a plethora of different ethnicities from across the world. I've known people from Italy, Germany, South Africa, Senegal, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Japan, Korea and probably more that aren't coming to mind, and more that are of those ethnicities but born and raised in the U.S. Although my dad was in the military, at this point, I've spent more years out of the military setting than in. It's easy for me to think, 'I'm not racist, I have nothing against anyone from a particular background.' But that sounds like "I'm not racist, I have a friends who are (insert ethnic background here)." I do not want to be that person.

I'm pretty sure I don't say racist things, and I don't believe that I think anything overtly racist, so lately I've been trying to examine thoughts or behaviors that might not be so overt.

Back to the writing, this current work, my two main characters are white guys, and the protagonist's female friend is also white (tanned, but that's white skin tanning well because of some mediterranean relatives ). At the same time, I have gods based on mesopotamian-region mythologies, a couple of African-American characters, and another dark-skinned character (kind of a gypsy-like character, whose whole background I don't know yet, but I have ideas for developing her in book 2). I know it's not a numbers game, and I know I've probably not given as much attention to some of these characters versus the main two, but they are interesting to me, and I want to hear their stories, and I'm hoping that with more research and more attention to detail, I will find those stories and be able to share them with others.

I still have a lot to learn, I'm sure. But I feel like at least through the opinions and hundreds of comments on dozens of blogs, I've seen new perspectives and am looking at my own writing and behavior with even more forethought. I hope others find similar lessons.

2/5/14 ETA: Fixed some minor typos and grammar mistakes, but the message and ideas are the same.


writtenwyrdd said...

I've decided that the issue of right/wrong and RaceFail 09 is that I plan on becoming a better writer. I have scanned through some of the muck (which is what it feels like emotionally) and decided I'm not going to look for who said what. I'm just going to move ahead.

I have a post coming out on this tonight, on what I think writers might take from this, and what I take from this at this point in time. I'd like to think we can have a dialog about how to write CoC without being inadvertantly racist. :)

Sabrina said...

Same here. I always want to keep improving on my writing.

What I -do- like about all of this--I can do without the back and forth and who was offended about what--is that now people seem to be writing thoughtful posts to address the core/the original intent--writing COC who are three-dimensional, not based on racist stereotypes, or absent period.

I look forward to your post.

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