This is the almost-final-draft of a section from a book about social justice warriors, identitarianism, and mobbing. For more information and links to other chapters, see How to Make a Social Justice Warrior.
• Race, Class, and Hurricane Katrina
• Parallel Lives
• Is it harder for black people to get a taxi in the US?
• Discussing the taxi test in the comments on my “parallel lives” post
• What fat social justice warriors don’t know about class markers
• Micole “Mely” Coffeeandink
• Elizabeth Vom Marlowe
• N. K. Jemisin
• K. Tempest Bradford
• Diversity In Fantasy And Science Fiction
I made my first online comments about anti-racism in 2005 in a blog post about Unitarian Universalists:
There’s a bit of discussion about UU Youth and antiracism in UU blogdom now. I love UU Youth, but part of me pities anyone with extremely idealistic parents. Parents, like politicians and generals, are always ready to give yesterday’s answers to today’s problems. The entire issue of “antiracism” is one of those.
My quick take on racism in the last few years: The O.J. Simpson trial should’ve told every American that racism was no longer a major problem here. When a black man can murder his white wife and her lover, then hire a great lawyer and escape punishment like any other rich person, the race war has effectively ended. Anyone who failed to notice that should take a good, long look at the skin color of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. The Republicans know that the color that matters is green. Unitarian Universalists tend to be a wealthy denomination. Money is the last UU taboo.
The tragedy of antiracism is that if you accept its terms, you can never win it, because your definitions eternally separate people of different skin tones. Never accept the terms of your opponents. If they say you are black or white, don’t work to resolve the differences of blacks and whites. Work to change a world in which a minority of people of all hues can hoard wealth while a majority of people of all hues are deprived of shelter or food or health care or education.
Names are important. “Feminist” was an unfortunate choice; it eternally divides the world into feminists and masculinists. We egalitarians don’t have to worry about being prisoners of our definitions.
Tobias Buckell, a fellow member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), commented, “Were you being sardonic or sarcastic about racism being gone? ... One of the most horrifying things for me was to move to Midwest Ohio from the Caribbean and learn that all the racism I’d been told was dead by my white American friends was less than maybe in the 60s, but certainly not gone…”
I answered, “I didn’t say racism’s gone. I said it’s not a major problem anymore. The great problem is economic inequality that hurts poor people of all hues. Focusing on racism now will only continue to divide us. Focusing on issues of wealth and poverty will unite us.”
At the time, I was surprised that he interpreted “the race war has effectively ended” as “racism being gone.” But nuance is the first victim of any political discussion on the internet.
In 2007, Buckell wrote a post titled “Diversity in science fiction markets”. He said, “Out of 1500-2000 or so writers who’ve sold at least 3 professional stories by SFWA’s standards (let’s say there are 500 or so not in SFWA who might be eligible) people only can realistically name 2 working current writers of color in the comments section off the top of their head.”
He was referring to Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany. I commented, “Factor in class, and you’ll find that most writers are middle-class and upper-class, regardless of race. Delany certainly came from a background of privilege. But just as there’s a shortage of poor inner-city writers, there’s a shortage of poor rural writers, too. Poverty cuts across race; there are twice as many whites living below the poverty line as blacks or Hispanics. By focusing on race, the problem seems much smaller than it actually is.”
Later in that discussion, we had this interchange:
Me: SFWA and publishing don’t represent the racial or the economic realities in the US. This wasn’t news in the mid ‘80s when I joined with a novel about a dark-skinned woman, and it isn’t news today. Has anyone claimed otherwise?”
I pointed out on the SFWA LJ that any SFWAn who wanted to start a SFWA diversity committee could—I really can’t imagine the Board vetoing it. Committees within SFWA seem to be free to do anything that fits vaguely within SFWA’s agenda. If you (meaning any SFWAn reading this) want to do something about this within SFWA, go to the Board. If there was the slightest resistance, you’d be able to get an enormous petition of support in an instant.
But what do you do? Start having quotas for stories and covers and authors? How many points for a woman? How many for someone with brown skin? Do Asians count the same, or are they worth less ‘cause they’re not as dark? Do you get any points for poor white males, or are all white males the same? Sure, acknowledging the problem is the first step. It’s been acknowledged for most of the twentieth century. What’s step two?
Buckell: With all due respect, Will, WHAT THE FUCK? Who said anything about quotas, are you intentionally trying to derail this conversation. What gives? I’m not sure what you’re trying to do, but it’s not appreciated. You’re putting words that were never in my mouth.
I think it’s remarkably illuminating that all I’ve done was point out that SF has a diversity problem, and everyone is throwing arguments at me and throwing their hands up saying ‘but what can we do’ and running off down paths.
...had it not been a problem, responses to my post would have run more like this:
“Yeah, you’re right, that’s embarrassing. Do you have any thoughts on how we might be able to fix that issue?”
Me: And that’s exactly what I meant to do when I asked, “What’s step two?” We’ve acknowledged it. We’re all frustrated because we don’t know what the next step is. So, very sincerely, what is the next step after acknowledging the problem exists?
Buckell: How do we solve it? Gosh, if I were omnipotent and omniscient I could answer that I’m not. My statement is that just getting everyone to agree first off that there is a problem is the first step, you seem to think that’s been done, and yet whenever I’m on a diversity panel or in a post, I can’t get people to just nod and chorus ‘yes, the field lacks racial diversity.’ Instead I immediately have people explaining why it is so, or pointing out other non-diverse fields, or putting their non-racist credentials forward. I think we still have hangups on step one, because I still can’t state the obvious without hurt feelings, arguments, and people defending the field.
I didn’t reply because he was upset and I didn’t want to keep making an argument he had rejected. But looking at the discussion now, I’m struck by something I fully realized later: Anti-racists do not have solutions. They say they want everyone to acknowledge the problem of racism still exists—but in the examples Buckell gave of people explaining why the problem exists and offering their non-racist credentials, they are acknowledging the problem exists.
They’re just waiting to hear the solution the anti-racists don’t have.
• Race, Class, and Hurricane Katrina
In 2005, when the Bush administration bungled the response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of of New Orleans, identitarian outrage centered on two photos of survivors wading through water carrying things. One caption described a dark person as “looting”. The other described a white and a mixed-race person as “finding”. The photographer for the first said he had seen the looter go into a store and come out with goods. The photographer for the second had not seen where the finders found what they carried. Nonetheless, those captions were offered as proof of media racism.
I wrote this blog post:
Please stop talking about race and Katrina.
Yes, I’ve seen the photos of white scavengers labeled “finding” and black scavengers labeled “looting.” But I haven’t seen anything suggesting that one poor white got a bottle of water or a bus out of town that could’ve gone to a poor black. Yes, New Orleans’ poor are mostly black. They weren’t treated like this because they’re black. They were treated like this because they’re poor, and our administration is incompetent.
Now, an argument could be made that the Bush administration cut support of hurricane defenses in New Orleans because Louisiana has a lot of Democrats. But until Condi and Colin change their skin color, Bush’s war is not on blacks. It’s just on the poor.
Devout Democrats, including Tor Books Senior Editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, saw my post as a denial of their belief that the Republican Party is racist—a position they clung to even though Bush’s administration was more racially diverse than Bill Clinton’s. I did my best to explain that rejecting the racial explanation in this case did not mean I was rejecting it in all cases, but the discussion changed no one’s mind.
If I had a time machine, I would take them some writings by Adolph Reed Jr., a black man from New Orleans who Katha Pollitt called “the smartest person of any race, class, or gender writing on race, class, and gender.”
In “New Orleans—Undone by Neoliberalism”, Reed wrote, “A critique that focuses just on race misses how the deeper structures of neoliberal practice and ideology underlie the travesty in New Orleans, as well as in the other devastated areas of the Gulf Coast. (Adjacent to the Lower Ninth Ward, St. Bernard Parish, nearly 90 percent white, working class and reliably Republican, was virtually wiped off the face of the earth. Most of the parish’s housing was destroyed. No hospitals or public libraries have reopened, and only 20 percent of its schools are operating.)”
And in “Three Tremés”, Reed said, “Blacks were displaced by the flood at only a slightly higher rate than whites. And it was poor people of every race who were disproportionately stranded on overpasses and at the Superdome or convention center and who have had greatest difficulty in returning to the city, restoring losses and reconstructing a normal life. Although news footage of stranded black New Orleanians immediately called forth a familiar narrative of racial injustice, the immediacy and certainty with which perception of those images linked to this narrative contrasted with an utter vagueness concerning causal processes through which the inequalities are reproduced and why, therefore, they are most accurately or effectively characterized as specifically racial. Easy pieties like “black and poor victims of neglect” conveyed a generic sense of injustice but provided no clue as to its nature or sources, much less possible remedies.”
• Parallel Lives
In 2007, many bloggers wrote posts for International Blog Against Racism Week. None mentioned class, which seemed like describing a bicycle as if it only had one pedal, so I wrote this:
parallel lives: a different race, a different class
If you changed my race, but not my class, this would probably be my life:
My parents would not have been from small towns in northern Minnesota. Mom’s parents owned a drugstore, and Dad’s parents owned a small farm. Making them black in that time would probably make me a southerner or a westerner. (The north had middle-class black neighborhoods in its cities then, but few black farm-owners.)
I was born on an army base in 1955. Truman desegregated the army in ‘48, so Dad would’ve still been drafted.
Dad would probably still start Dog Land and get involved in civil rights, but instead of going to an all-white public school from kindergarten to fifth grade, I would have gone to a black one that had far fewer financial resources.
Instead of being called a nigger-lover, I would’ve been called a nigger.
I would’ve been beaten by bigots because of my skin, which I couldn’t have changed, instead of my long hair, which I could have changed, but didn’t.
Life would’ve been harder on me, but my parents would’ve done for me what middle-class black families of the time did for their children, and when the opportunity for me to go to the Choate School came, I would’ve gone.
I would’ve listened to more funk and less rock.
I would’ve still read Malcolm X and protested the Vietnam War.
I would’ve still wanted to become a writer.
I don’t know if I would’ve met and fallen in love with Emma, but I think I would’ve; there were interracial couples at Beloit College.
I don’t know if I would’ve become a fantasy writer, but I think I would’ve; I had Delany for inspiration.
Whether I would be more concerned with race and less concerned with class today, I don’t know.
But I do know this: in the broadest strokes, my life would not have changed greatly if I had been born black instead of white. For someone born a few years earlier, a change of race would’ve made enormous differences, but I was born as the racial realities of the US were changing profoundly.
But what if I’d been born white and poor? My father wouldn’t have had the opportunity to start a new business in a new land.
I would’ve only gone to public schools, and I might not have gone to college.
I might’ve had to join the army to support my family.
I never would’ve met Emma.
I might never have become a writer.
My life would be so different that it’s impossible to imagine it paralleling the one I’ve lived. It’s nice to think that because I’m reasonably bright, I would’ve risen out of my class. But the percentage of people who move outside their class in the US is tiny, smaller even than it is in the UK. To imagine that I would be an exception calls for imagining that I would be one of the very few for whom luck and hard work result in success.
That post got hundreds of comments and dozens of reactions at other blogs. A few days later, I added a postscript:
When I wrote this, I made some assumptions that I didn’t realize—oh, sneaky subconscious!—and some assumptions that I failed to realize other people would miss because I didn’t spell them out. For example, I never meant to suggest that was the only life I could’ve had if you only changed my race. I know something that some fans of alternate history actually call (I blush repeating this) Will Shetterly’s rule: “There are no correct alternate histories; there are only plausible alternate histories.”
Some of you will undoubtedly think the life I posited is implausible. I don’t; I think it’s the most conservative version of my altered life. Here’s where my sneaky subconscious comes in: I do believe that most Americans don’t realize what a great role class plays in their lives. So when I was thinking about an alternate life, I was thinking about the one in which a change of race but not a change of class gave me a life that in its broadest strokes was still remarkably like my life. In the multiverse of “Will grows up black,” that is only one of an infinite number of possible lives.
Many people have pointed to some of the other likely lives that I glossed over when I said simply, “Life would’ve been harder on me.” The latest one came from Nigita, who pointed out a change that I had never considered: “And even if you were somehow able to transcend all these things, odds are good that if you stood out academically, you’d be under enormous pressure to do something with your life so that you could be a credit to your race.” It’s definitely true that in many of my infinite alternate lives, I would’ve become the lawyer that my father had hoped I would be. So, apologies for not realizing that I really needed to say something like the above at the beginning of my thought experiment. Stupid subconscious.
In the comments on that post, Jonquil Serpyllum, a white woman, said, “What happens, among other things, is that you can’t get a taxi in Manhattan in the rain.”
• Is it harder for black people to get a taxi in the US?
In 1994, Michael Moore did the “taxi test” on his show, TV Nation. Yaphet Kotto, a black actor, and Louie Bruno, a white felon, hailed taxis to see who would be picked up. Most cabbies passed Kotto to pick up Bruno.
Kotto is a great actor, but if you watch the episode critically, you’ll notice his taxi technique sucks. If you want a cab, don’t stand near the intersection where it’s hard for a cab to pull over, don’t stay close to the sidewalk where you’re hard to see, and don’t wave timidly. Bruno’s style is much better: Find a spot a little ways back from the intersection, step out into the street as far you dare, and wave boldly.
A better test gave a different result. In 1999, after Kotto filed a complaint with the city of New York, Mayor Giuliani responded with Operation Refusal to catch cabbies who weren’t picking up people of color. The sting was modeled after Moore’s test: a white and a black or Hispanic person tried to flag cabs. If a cab passed the person of color to pick up the white person, the cabbie was booked for discrimination.
Somini Sengupta describes the first results in “Despite Warning, Some Cabdrivers Are Snared”: “During the first 12 hours of the program, called Operation Refusal, teams of undercover police officers and taxi inspectors, black and white, hailed 817 cabs throughout Manhattan. Of those, five passed up customers because of their race or gender, police and taxi commission officials said. Among those cited was a driver on the East Side of Manhattan who refused to pick up a white woman with two children; instead, the cabby picked up an undercover inspector, a white male, nearby.”
Biju Mathew notes in Taxi!: Cabs and Capitalism in New York City that means less than 1% of more than 800 randomly-selected cabbies made race or gender choices that day. But this doesn’t mean only one percent of cabbies in 1999 were racist. The plans for the sting had been publicized, so drivers were more careful that day.
You might think better numbers are in a 2006 article, “An Arm in the Air for That Cab Ride Home”. Calvin Sims wrote, “The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission’s “Operation Refusal” program, in which undercover officers of different races randomly hail taxis, found in its most recent study a 96 percent compliance rate among cabbies. The commission says the compliance rate has grown consistently since the program was instituted in 1997, when it was 88 percent.”
However, that four percent is probably too high. Dan Ackman’s “Giuliani’s sorry crackdown on New York cabbies” tells why:
...his taxi commissioner began to seize cabs, suspend licenses on the spot without any hearing, and revoke the licenses of cabbies found guilty by taxi commission judges. Headlines hailed the mayor for taking on “racist cabbies.”
...there were no public hearings, and the board of the taxi commission was not even consulted. Five hundred drivers had their licenses suspended. Almost 100 had their licenses revoked. Their livelihoods disappeared in a flash.
It took three years from the crackdown for a federal judge to declare the mayor’s suspensions of the cabbies’ licenses without hearings unconstitutional…
“Good Cabbies Are Being Punished by the TLC” includes this example of a driver punished by Operation Refusal:
Howard Green is black. He lives on 132nd St. He’s been driving a yellow for about as long as Padberg. On Dec. 21, he was cruising up the middle of 1st Ave. in Manhattan. At 5th St. he was hailed by Officer Kenneth Padilla, working undercover. Surrounded as he was by traffic, there was no way that Green could have pulled over to make the pickup without causing an accident. He had his license grabbed, four days before Christmas. They set his hearing date in May.
This guy’s been driving for 25 years. It’s all he knows. So the upshot of Danny Glover’s showboating is that a hard-working black man who lives with his mother in Harlem gets thrown out of work four days before Christmas.
Dan Ackman’s “The African, The Journalist, And the TLC” tells of another punished driver, Ebenezer Asamoah, “a native of Ghana, who had been driving a cab in New York for nine years.”
Were cabbies like Green and Asamoah making racist decisions? All studies of Operation Refusal agree that most refusals aren’t about race. Ackman says: “…the evidence showed that just 15 percent of the alleged refusals to pick up passengers involved race. The vast majority were based on destination. The mayor, of course, knew better from the start, or should have known better. The taxi commission’s own studies indicated that most refusals of service were based on destination, not race.”
So, if 4% of cabbies were generally noncompliant in 2006, and only 15% had to do with race rather than destination, cabbies didn’t pick up black people due to their race .6% of the time—which means that when any 200 cabbies were deciding who to pick up, only one would make a racist choice.
Which is one too many. But it’s far from being true that “black people can’t get cabs”, and, as Sims notes, the compliance rate continues to improve.
• Discussing the taxi test in the comments on my “parallel lives” post
In one comment thread, I mentioned OJ Simpson’s wealth had guaranteed him a “not guilty” verdict under circumstances that have resulted in quick convictions for poor white and black men. When someone said OJ was an anomaly, I answered, “Of course OJ is an anomaly in the experience of African Americans. The point is that he’s not an anomaly in the experience of the rich. By becoming rich, he becomes green, not black.”
At the time, I only had a vague memory of the taxi test—I had seen it once on television when it aired thirteen years earlier—but I remembered that neither of the participants looked particularly working class. So I said in another thread: “I wish someone would do a taxi test with a middle class black and a “trailer trash” white. For those who want to play the oppression hierarchy game, the result would be interesting. And while I’m not denying that there are racist taxi drivers, getting a taxi in Manhattan in the rain is an art form for anyone. As a young man, I tended to give up, cover my head with a newspaper if one was handy, and walk. Whether taxi drivers were prejudiced against me because I was a young man, I don’t know, but I do know that I didn’t look like someone who would give them a great tip.”
Which resulted in this thread:
Starkeymonster: Michael Moore did [that test] with Yaphett Kotto and a poor white man who had an extensive criminal record. The result was..the taxi drivers kept on driving past the black man to pick up the white man.
Kotto is a reasonably well off, well known black actor. Someone you feel has become “green” and yet, couldn’t get a taxi. Every few years there is a huge scandal when a rich or well known black person is unable to get a cab in NYC. Their “greenness” has done jack all for them. When I’m in NYC I consistently have to ask my white friends to hail cabs for me. It’s humiliating, degrading and frustrating.
I am curious to see how you will explain these situations are still all about classism. Also, since you’ve also stated that racism does not negatively affect the self-esteem of middle class black people, I’d like you to consider how knowing that any white person is more acceptable than you might affect your self-esteem.
Me: I kind of remember the test, but, much as I love Michael Moore, he’s a rich white liberal who’ll cheat sometimes. I forget the details. Did the guy look like “trailer trash”?
And I don’t mean to suggest it’s all classism, honest. There are racist taxi drivers. No question.
But as for the last, I’ve got a hell of a lot of black friends who reject the idea that “any white person is more acceptable than you.” My favorite one calls it a manifestation of stupidism, which, I think, sums up the feeling of many. Yes, there are racist idiots out there. And sexist ones. And classist ones. And homophobic ones. They’re stupid. That’s the important part of the equation. If Condi Rice and Clarence Thomas can screw up both of our lives, I think there’s a bigger problem than racism we need to deal with.
Another thread sprang from my comment, “By becoming rich, he becomes green, not black.”
Starkeymonster: Actually he doesn’t. Rich black people face a lot of the same racially based discrimination out in the world that non rich black people face. A classic example would be an utter inability to get a cab to stop in the streets of NYC. Or having people assume their car doesn’t belong to them. I’m confident that (pre-murder trial) OJ walking down the street would have been recoil in fear and nervousness.
I’d also point out that class markers on black people are often ignored in favor of the bigger marker of race. Dressed up in my fancy college interview clothes, I had someone mistake me for a homeless person and toss money into the empty cup I was holding in my hand. The person tossing me money ignored the class markers I was displaying and saw “black person with cup” = homeless. This was not an isolated event. I often have people ignoring what I would consider my fairly obvious class markers (in terms of how I talk, how I dress, etc) in favor of what they perceive my class is based on my skin tone.
I’d also remind you that having Delaney as a role model for writing fantasy would do jack all about the institutionalized racism in the publishing industry (and sci-fi fandom). Look at the dearth of writers who are black. Do you think that is just a random coincidence?
Me: “The person tossing me money ignored the class markers I was displaying and saw “black person with cup” = homeless.” Yeah, that’s stupidism at its purest. What did you do with the money?
As for the writers, about the time I began paying attention to their race, I was reading Delany and Frank Yerby. They would’ve told me that I could be a black writer—and they did tell me that I could be a writer.
To another person in another thread, I said: “And I have to admit the taxi test smells of class bigotry to me.” Which produced this thread:
Starkeymonster: Seriously, what the fuck? How can what is a clear cut example of people making racially based decisions to deny someone service actually be about class bigotry?
Me: Racist taxi drivers are racists. But talking as if all taxi drivers are racists is making a class assumption about a specific set of blue collar workers.
Starkeymonster: Here are two thoughts. It’s a lot easier to say “I’m not racist” than “I’m working on my racism.” Also, if I wrote a series of posts which caused large numbers of people to say “holy crap are you being dismissive about racism” to the point where a friend was contacted offline to step in, I would consider that I wasn’t as over racism as I thought.
Me: Could be. But if I’m the face of racism today, folks really can go home and celebrate, ‘cause the race war’s on its last legs. The class war? That’s getting stronger every day.
The friend she referred to called me soon after that to see if the warriors were getting to me. After I assured him they weren’t, we had a long talk about movies, books, mutual friends, and idealism, and someday, I should thank the warrior who called him for nagging him about me.
In the discussion with Sparkymonster, I got one thing very wrong because I hadn’t read her bio on her LJ. She describes herself as “a queer mixed race woman living in the big city with too many books.” She said in 2010, “I went to Harvard-Radcliffe where I earned a degree with honors. Boy do I know about elitism and exclusivity.” She identifies as a “fatshionista” who promotes fat acceptance. When I learned that, I wrote this:
• What fat social justice warriors don’t know about class markers
“The five poorest states are also among the 10 fattest, and eight of the 10 poorest states are also among the 10 with the lowest life expectancy.” —LZ Granderson, “Poor and fat: The real class war”
“The percentage of food shoppers who are obese is almost 10 times higher at low-cost grocery stores compared with upscale markets.” —JoNel Aleccia, “Pricey grocery stores attract skinniest shoppers”
“Overweight and obesity are disproportionately frequent among poorer American populations, including rural whites, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and African Americans (Stearns 134-137, Foreyt 536-40, Stein 1, Paeratakul). In all racial and geographic population groups “women of lower socioeconomic status […] are approximately 50% more likely to be obese” than wealthier women (Surgeon’s Call). Hence there is both a gender and an income bias in the determination of who is seriously overweight in America.” —Greta Olson, “Fat and Class Prejudice: America’s Two-Body Society”
“Gradations in economic hardship matched childhood obesity rates almost precisely.” —Dave Peters, “If you improve your community, do you get healthier?”
Fat is now the most obvious marker of class.
Starkeymonster said, “The person tossing me money ignored the class markers I was displaying and saw “black person with cup” = homeless.”
But what was seen was “fat person with cup.” Skin tone may have been considered as an additional marker, but just as middle-class white people get mistaken for clerks, they get mistaken for beggars. After all, there are twice as many white people in poverty as black—no one assumes all black people are beggars or all white people are not.
But fat person holding an empty cup in front of them? To a well-meaning person in a hurry, that’s a beggar.
• Micole “Mely” Coffeeandink
• Private school: Harvard
• Race: White
Micole “Mely” Coffeeandink deserves a prominent place in any history of fandom’s flamewars because she had many readers when she helped in outing Zathlazip and fired the first shots in Racefail 09. She has a special place in my history because she claimed had been outed by several people, including me.
I met her in the 1990s. She was Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s assistant at Tor Books, where she worked with two more people she attacked during Racefail, Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Kathryn Cramer. Coffeeandink struck me as pleasant, intelligent, and capable. Like all beginners in publishing, she reminded me of myself when I was young and dreaming of a career in the world of books.
There is one detail that I think I remember from our first meeting, but it’s possible the fiction writer in me invented it for dramatic purposes: When we were introduced, to be sure I’d heard correctly, I asked if her name was Nicole. With the proud patience of someone who often has to verify an unusual name that pleases her, she confirmed that it was Micole.
Yes, this is foreshadowing.
During her time at Tor, there was a copyediting problem with Steven Brust and Emma Bull’s Freedom and Necessity. I can’t remember if Coffeeandink was part of the problem or the solution. She’s mentioned on the copyright page, so she may have helped. The fact that I don’t remember shows it was not a big deal. I only mention it as an example of how our professional lives intersected.
She sold short stories to anthology series that had published me, Terri Windling’s Bordertown and Jane Yolen’s Xanadu. I’m always pleased when people who want to write are succeeding. I thought she was on her way to becoming another professional scribbler of improbable tales.
But she left Tor abruptly. She stopped selling stories. Both Xanadu and Bordertown were published by Tor—whether that’s significant, I don’t know. All I know is our careers stopped intersecting.
But because we were both in fandom, our lives did not. In 2007, when I wrote “parallel lives”, Coffeeandink was among the people upset by it. When I tried to address her points, she banned me from her LJ. I was surprised and a little sad because I don’t like hurting anyone’s feelings. That was when I first suspected social justice warriors are a cult:—those they can’t convert are excluded so their ideas won’t corrupt their group.
I forgot about Coffeeandink after she banned me. I didn’t pay attention when she helped in the outing Zathlazip or the mobbing of William Sanders.
But she got my attention during Racefail 09.
• Elizabeth Vom Marlowe
• Private schools: Reed College, Bryn Mawr
• Race: Unknown
In 2007, when I wrote my “parallel lives” post, Vom Marlowe responded on her LJ with “Racism isn’t classism”. She said:
I chose this topic because it’s an argument I see a lot, especially on the internet. I think of it as the Will Shetterly argument, but I’ve seen it spoken often by many other people as well. The argument goes thusly: Racism doesn’t exist anymore; racism has been superceded by classism or there was never racism to begin with. Solve classism and ‘apparent racism’ will disappear.
This argument is bullshit.
I can’t quote my response to her because I deleted my LJ during Racefail, but I suspect it was along the lines of “I agree that’s bullshit. It’s not my argument. My argument is that racism is a subset of the problems created by capitalism.”
Vom Marlowe’s life took an unusual turn for a warrior. She wrote that her father is upperclass and her mother, working class. After they divorced, she and her mother “tumbled down the class ladder to solid lower, working class” while her father’s “disposable play-money income was nine thousand dollars a month.”
Two years later, after Coffeeandink posted “Will Shetterly: Do Not Engage”, I wrote an answer-post titled “looking at a few of my critics”. It included “There’s vom_marlowe , whose grandmother and mine (on my father’s side) could share hardship stories, but whose college cost $30,000, so if that came from family, vom_marlowe is, at least, as privileged as I was.”
She responded with “Fucking Will Shetterly Insults Me and My Family” and gave more details of her life after the divorce:
When I was in college, yes, that super duper expensive college Mr Fucking Will Shetterly, I had one pair of underwear that I washed out every night before I went to bed, and if I forgot, then I wore it anyway. And if it didn’t dry, I wore it wet.
When we lived in the duplex, we had rats. The landlord didn’t care. The city didn’t care. You want to know how to get rid of rats if you have no money? Mix chlorine bleach and ammonia together and pour it down their holes. Of course, it creates a deadly gas, but hey. You do what you gotta do. That’s the kind of life I led.
That’s lower class.
Warriors have a piece of advice that I like so much I wish they would practice it: “Don’t play Oppression Olympics.”
I sympathize with Vom Marlowe because until I was eleven, I shared a cinderblock room in a former motel unit with my brother and sister, and cleaned dog pens before and after school—I still remember the smell and weight of a wheelbarrow full of fresh dog shit, and how my wet hands went numb in the winter cold, and how insects swarmed around me the rest of the year. During junior high school, most of my clothes were second-hand, and I loved public school because the cafeteria served real milk instead of the powdered milk we drank at home.
Then, thanks to money my mother’s father made late in his life, I went to Choate, an elite prep school, and Beloit College, a small liberal arts school. My living expenses for my education were covered so long as I lived and ate on campus, but I had to work for spending money. That was when I added writerly jobs to my resume like washing dishes at Howard Johnson’s.
Vom Marlowe’s idea of “lower-class shit poor” is how you would characterize being poor if you went there from a privileged life and had a father who could’ve helped you, but didn’t. Otherwise, it’s just life for many Americans. I grew up sharing my clothes and a room, like my dad, who grew up on a small farm where he shared his clothes and a room. As for rats and mice, we used cheap wooden traps. The results are ugly, but effective.
Vom Marlowe’s friends empathize with her because they can imagine the horror of falling from privilege. But for the millions of people born into hardship whose circumstances never improved? Well, warriors have a lot to say about race and gender, but they never held an International Blog Against Poverty Week.
That said, I feel very sorry for Vom Marlowe. Moving down the class ladder is especially hard when you’re young, and it sounds like she’s completely justified when she calls her father an asshole.
• N. K. Jemisin
• Private school: Tulane
• Race: Black
William Sanders’ faith in Nora Jemisin’s talent was justified. She’s now a novelist whose works have been finalists for major awards.
Some people overcome the sense of entitlement that elite schools provide, but Jemisin, a New Yorker, is the only person I’ve known who angrily accused people of living in “flyover country.” Afterward, she gave a grudging apology on her LJ acknowledging her “inner snob”, probably because she realized that in the terms of SJ warriors, she was being as classist as classist can be.
I first noticed her around 2007 when, as Nojojo, she argued on the SFWA LiveJournal that SFWA should have a group to promote diversity in f&sf. I pointed out that any member could start a group to promote anything they wished, so long as the officers approved, and there was no way SFWA’s officers would oppose a diversity group. Since then, she has joined SFWA, but she hasn’t tried to create the group she said she wanted. I remember the incident because it’s typical of warriors: they make demands expecting others to do the work.
• K. Tempest Bradford
• Private school: New York University
• Race: Black
I believe I learned about the “tone argument” from Kimberley Tempest Bradford, creator of The Angry Black Woman blog—it would be appropriate, because her blog is accurately named. She and her co-writers are not the Polite Black Women or the Happy Black Women. But for people who remember the anger of working class black women in the ‘60s and ‘70s, her blog’s title is misleading: Bradford graduated from the second most expensive private university in the US, and she said at my LJ in 2007:
I rarely mention class because it’s not an issue I’m particularly familiar with. As I’ve said before, I come from a pretty comfortable middle class upbringing ... I’m not overly familiar with the ways in which being lower class affects anything, including race (though I have some idea). Therefore, I don’t feel qualified to go on about it.
Quoting me, she continued:
“Would you say you’re limited in your awareness of class because of your class privilege?”
Indeed, yes. I’m not completely unaware of class because it is a factor is racial issues, but I do have that privilege.
“My problem is the exclusion of class from the analysis of other isms, as though class is irrelevant to them, when I think it’s central to all of them.”
I don’t agree that it’s *central* to all of them, and I think that’s where we diverge most of all. Maybe I think this way because I see that even lower class whites are still afforded privileges that upper class blacks aren’t. From that perspective, it’s easy to see why many blacks dismiss class issues.
The reason her black peers dismiss class issues is the same reason her white peers dismiss them—they aren’t interested in the lives of the people who serve their meals or drive their cabs.
A few years later, in response to a comment she left at one of my blogs, I said,
For years, I wrestled with whether Malcolm X was right when he said you can’t have capitalism without racism. Clearly, liberals and conservatives are working desperately to create capitalism without racism. But I’ve finally come to see that Malcolm X was right: if you don’t redistribute wealth, the distribution of wealth will be racially disproportionate. If you do redistribute wealth, capitalism ends. It’s a Catch-22 that anti-racists ignore. Do you have an answer?
Sometime after that, I suggested a better name for her blog would be the Angry Bougie Woman. In response, she tweeted sarcastically, “I went to a fancy private school and grew up middle class, so I’m totally bougie.”
To use an expression warriors love, Yep, that’s Class 101.