Friday, February 21, 2014

Racefail Burns Out

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.

Racefail Burns Out
• Pseudonymityfail Burns Out
• A Farewell to RaceFail
• The Angry Bourgie Woman vs. Harlan Ellison
• What happened to Verb Noire?
• Mobbing Jay Lake
• Continuing Effects of Violations of Internet Pseudonymity
• Rape and the Righteous Community

Racefail Burns Out

On March 8, Bridget McKennitt shared an Author Shit List that briefly included John Scalzi. When someone tried to “out” Coffeeandink anonymously on his blog, he posted “To the Pathetic Toad of a Person Trying to Use My Site to Settle a LiveJournal Score” and said:

This is of course intimately related to a long and to my mind absolutely goddamn pointless discussion that’s been going on over at LJ for the last several weeks, which was supposed to be about something but in which that something has been primarily used as cover for a bunch of people to spend quite a lot of time being shouty to be shouty and being pissy to be pissy. Since it’s happened to involve people I know one way or another, some other folks have asked me why I hadn’t weighed in on it to this point. The reason I haven’t is for the same reason I don’t regularly stick my head into a bag filled with angry, feral cats. The fact that someone involved in that “discussion” got a nasty itch to use my site to settle a score basically confirms my opinion that any actual value that particular LJ crapfling might have ever had (which given its overall execution, wasn’t much) has long since evaporated. And what we have left is people thinking it’s a swell idea to drag their shit into my house.

He was then attacked for dismissing the importance of Racefail. First he wrote “The Internets Hate Scalzi!”, noting,

The irony in this particular case is that the folks currently flinging spittle in my direction and I are largely in accord: A Very Important Discussion of this particular Very Important Topic in fact needs to be had, and once that discussion is had, I would not be at all surprised to find myself and these spittle flingers almost entirely on the same side of the discussion (this does not always happen). However, to my mind this late discussion has not been that discussion — indeed emphatically not — which is a) why I stayed out of it until I was dragged into it by people pulling discussion-related shenanigans on my site and b) why at the moment I am in need of a virtual umbrella.

Which only made the warriors angrier. When he realized the fury would continue for days, he apologized himself off the shitlists by giving Mary Anne Mohanraj and Tempest Bradford a platform to promote Critical Race Theory at his site.

On March 10, Jeff Vandermeer announced that henceforth as an editor, he would announce that people who aren’t white may submit work to him:

I would love a world in which it didn’t have to be said, “I’m editing an anthology and would love to see fiction by minorities.” Until recently, I didn’t even think to say this because it never entered my mind that anyone would ever not submit to a publication that didn’t explicitly state this.

On March 11, K. Tempest Bradford made a “RaceFail Amnesty Post” in which she suggested Rozk should be granted amnesty for her fails during Racefail 09 and asked readers to propose other candidates. Most of the people considered were deemed insufficiently repentant.

On March 12, Kate Nepveu started Con Or Bust, a fundraiser to bring people of color to WisCon. The program is entirely free of class considerations—one of its first beneficiaries was the self-described upper-class Deepad.

On March 15, Jesurgislac added Dan Savage to a “RaceFail Writers for 2009 Fail” because Savage shared the news reports that a majority of black voters supported Proposition 8, California’s restriction of marriage to heterosexuals. Apparently a non-racist would have suppressed that news.

On March 19, in “Reckless Eyeballing in the 21st Century”, Stewardess compared RaceFail 09 to murdering Emmett Till. I was surprised briefly that no one on her side objected—warriors scream when their opponents use extreme metaphors.

• Pseudonymityfail Burns Out

On March 9, in the comments at Tablesaw’s LJ, Micole acknowledged that she was altering her online history: “I have locked down or edited some posts with identifying information in them.”

She did not explain why, if she truly believed she had been pseudonymous, she was changing anything she had happily shared for years.

When she changed her LJ user profile to “Mely” and removed her last name from her public pages, she asked her readers to alter their blogs to help her hide her past. Because I wanted to make peace, I asked mine to do the same. How many posts she changed or made friends-only, only she knows. Whatever the number, it took her several weeks to rewrite her history. Then the connection between “Coffeeandink” and her legal identity slowly sank in the search engines.

But a post I had made and deleted about her many self-outings would not disappear from Google’s cache. I tried deleting it. I tried restoring it and changing it. The damn thing would not go away. I felt I was the Ancient Blogger, and that post was my albatross. Though my main blog was on WordPress then, I had blogged at Blogspot. To nuke the offending post, I deleted my WordPress blog, planning to recreate it on Blogger, but the archive file was unusable. I restored as much of my blog as I could at its old home at Blogger, but some posts were lost and others lost their comments.

Which, I decided, was my karma for getting into a flamewar. At least the offending page was gone.

• A Farewell to RaceFail

To fandom's Critical Race Theorists, Racefail 09 was necessary. And perhaps it was. A year afterward, in "Why I Think RaceFail Was The Bestest Thing Evar for SFF", N. K. Jemison talked as if panels about race in f&sf were a result of Racefail, while in fact frustration with racism in the field was ancient and panels about race had been a staple of convention programming for decades. That frustration had to boil over somewhere. Historically, when angry people can't attack their enemies, they attack their allies—in the Fourth Crusade, the crusaders sacked Christian Constantinople because it was easier than taking Jerusalem from the Muslims. It is hard to think of Racefail 09 without remembering Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the leader of the anti-Roman People’s Front of Judea saying, “The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People's Front"

For me, Occupy Wall Street was the Bestest Thing Evar for SFF. During Racefail 09, fandom's middle-class anti-racists were so reluctant to address class issues that "class issue" was a square on Liz Henry's "racist bingo card". Occupy Wall Street made it acceptable to talk about the US's last taboo. Even a few of fandom’s Critical Race Theorists have begun to discuss it.

• The Angry Bourgie Woman vs. Harlan Ellison

In July of 2009, a Realms of Fantasy cover featured a mermaid with large breasts, which started a kerfuffle about sexist art called Fishboobfail. Tempest Bradford posted a fake Realms of Fantasy cover featuring a nearly naked man with a horse’s tail and a unicorn’s horn. The cover copy consisted of joke titles, including “Harlan Ellison: Senile Meanderings.”

No one said they were clever jokes.

Ellison responded with a post that said Bradford “is apparently a Woman of Color (which REALLY makes me want to bee-atch-slap her, being the guy who discovered and encouraged one of the finest writers and Women of Color who ever lived, my friend, the recently-deceased Octavia Estelle Butler). And she plays that card endlessly, which is supposed to exorcise anyone suggesting she is a badmouth ignoramus, or even a NWA. Ooooh, did I say that?”

He assumed from her handle that the Angry Black Woman had attitude and would have known “NWA” was a compliment, a reference to the band who went by the initials for Niggaz Wit Attitude.

He didn’t know the warriors would react with middle-class horror at hearing taboo words. NWA was a name for black folks who reclaimed “nigga” as a defiant identity. NWAs were concerned with racist cops and poverty and other issues that are usually slighted by middle class folks of all colors.

Ellison’s cred with anti-racist feminists should be solid. He was in Martin Luther King’s March on Selma. He’s been a longtime supporter of women’s rights. In the ‘70s, when Arizona did not endorse the Equal Rights Amendment and he was the  Guest of Honor at the Phoenix WorldCon, he slept in a van rather than the hotel so he would not give a penny more than necessary to the state.

But warriors didn’t like him because of a 2006 incident called Harlangate: On stage at the WorldCon, he pretended to be an infant and touched Connie Willis’s breast. Whether he was being a sexist idiot or thoroughly misjudged his audience and his on-stage partner or both is impossible to say. Willis, whose choice should be respected, has been silent about what happened.

But the warriors have not. Though Ellison apologized and that’s the only incident in his past where he’s been charged with groping, the warriors made him, as one writer suggested, “the poster boy for Science Fiction Sexism.”

Which is why the warriors thought their heavy-handed mockery on the fake Realms cover was fair, but then, like genteel Southern belles, went “Lawdy, my ears!” when he brought up the obvious difference between himself and the Angry Black Woman.

He didn’t know that Bradford and her friends at the Angry Black Woman blog are, to use ancient slang that’s still popular with some urban black folks, Angry Bourgie Women. Their focus on race rather than class is so strong that N. K. Jemisin once wrote “Health care IS an anti-racist issue” even though improving US health care will help far more white folks than black. The 45,000 deaths each year in the US due to lack of health care include people of every hue.

To Bradford’s credit, when Ellison apologized, she accepted his apology. When his supporters continued to discuss the issue at her blog, she said, “Harlan APOLOGIZED. He apologized! It’s over. Go home! I’m not letting your increasingly bizzare attempts to defend/explain/make better what he did and what he said out of moderation because they are not helpful or appreciated. Plus, they are negated by the fact that he apologized. I accepted, I’m moving on. Why can’t you? Seriously.”

But her supporters neither accepted the apology nor moved on. As usual, many of them scrutinized Ellison’s apology to explain why it was insufficient. The Carl Brandon Society issued an “Open Letter to the SF Community” and invited people to sign their speech code. Over two hundred did, proving some people love censorship so much they’ll censor themselves, so long as they’re agreeing not to do things they wouldn’t do anyway. The code boiled down to “Don’t make fun of anyone’s race” and it may’ve been deleted because no one could find any examples of anyone making fun of the race of any person of color.

• What happened to Verb Noire?

During Racefail, Mikki Kendall (aka Karnythia) and Jamie Nesbitt Golden (aka Thewayoftheid) announced they were starting Verb Noire, a small press dedicated to publishing stories by people of color that mainstream publishers had been suppressing. Though their hyperbole was ludicrous, their goal was not. Small publishers have successfully targeted niche markets for centuries.

According to the Verb-noire LJ, they got over $8200 in donations at first. In August, they announced that they needed more money to go to WorldCon and raised an additional $1500. They sold Verb Noire merchandise, but they don’t seem to have shared how much that made.

They produced one ebook with an amateurish cover.

Then, in October of 2009, Kendall announced that Golden was leaving the company after goofing up some contracts.

Since then? Nada.

Whatever their problem was, it wasn’t money. On their web site, they mention these expenses: “Everything we need to get Verb Noire off the ground, ranging from new equipment to safely store the submitted work, to lawyer fees to make sure our contracts are fair, to covering advertising and software costs. We’re also registering copyrights for our authors.”

Getting a lawyer to donate time should’ve been easy. What equipment does an epublisher need? Clearly, they had computers. As for safely storing submitted work, that’s $50 to buy either a dedicated hard drive or a file cabinet.

In the 1980s, Emma and I ran SteelDragon Press. Our start-up expenses were about $5000, and when we began, we knew little more about publishing than Kendall and Golden. We produced four hardcover novels, a trade paperback or two, about twenty comic books, and five music CDs without any of the benefits of the internet: we packaged and mailed books ourselves, and paid for ads in trade mags.

Kendall and Golden had hundreds of people who wanted them to succeed—even the people they attacked as racists wanted them to succeed. Book people are like that.

On the long list of sad things about Racefail is most of the warriors’ targets would’ve been glad to help a publishing outfit that focused on diversity. I certainly would’ve. But Kendall, Golden, and their supporters set out with a slew of false assumptions about publishing and power under capitalism. Their failure was not inevitable—capitalists can have all kinds of bizarre beliefs, so long as their business practices are sound—but their failure shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

After I blogged about Verb Noire’s finances, Golden (thewayoftheid) tweeted: “So a girl decides to do a little vanity googling to discover that Will Fucking Shetterly has her name in his mouth. What to do, what to do.”

I tweeted back, “You might start by making a public post about where the Verb Noire money went.”

She never answered.

I highly recommend her essay at, “My Mother Set Me Up On a Black Friend Date.” Like many black believers in Critical Race Theory, she has an awkward history with black culture. Much of the appeal of CRT seems to be that it lets bourgie black nerds roleplay Spike Lee’s version of Malcolm X.

In December, 2012, defending the practices of social justice warriors at Metafilter’s “privilege-checking and call-out culture”, Martin Wisse cited Verb Noire as a success of Racefail. I laughed in the sudden realization that warriors live in their own reality.

• Mobbing Jay Lake

Jay Lake was the first target in Racefail 09 when Coffeeandink objected to him being a white man who endorsed writing characters of other races, genders, and cultures. In 2010, when Madrobin wrote about her plan to attend Wiscon, Lake commented, “I probably won’t ever be at WisCon again, sadly, as it used to be one of my favorite cons, but RaceFail has made it very unwelcoming and unsafe for me.”

Someone alerted the warriors, who immediately attacked him at Madrobin’s post to prove his concern was justified. When Madrobin saw the attack was underway, she shut down the post, and the kerfuffle moved elsewhere.

Lake wrote in an update on his colon cancer titled “[cancer] Updates, lessons and the nature of anger”:

Fatigue continues its reign of terror. I become slowly harder of thinking, to the point where I let myself get drawn into one of those no-win Internet tempests yesterday. I won’t bother with any linkage, but suffice to say that a statement on my part that I felt unsafe in a certain situation was met with angry jeering, abuse and obscenity. The self-fulfilling irony of this was apparent only to me, it seems.

...At least there’s no debate about cancer, nobody arguing (or pretending that I’m arguing) in favor of it. Issues of social and economic justice, gender and race, family and life are so much more dimensional and complex, and so influenced by the experience and eye of the beholder. But I’m finding more and more that a little compassion and a little peace help me think about this stuff in a much more nuanced way than screaming anger does. And that in turn makes me a lot more patient and accepting of the screaming anger that others direct at me.

Cancer’s an odd teacher, imparting odd lessons. One of which is that life’s too short to be angry all the time. I’d rather communicate. With myself, and with the world.

Yeloson wrote in “Privilege hates, but doesn’t know what hate is” that Lake was enjoying his privilege and his “white man’s burden” and compared Lake’s response to “white women’s tears.” Lake left a comment on Yeloson’s post:

Oddly enough, you bring no attempt to understand my point of view to your analysis of it. That’s a bit of a logic fail, as I am sure you understand. Rhetorical win, yes, as it’s very easy to make a white man look bad in any race/gender discussion, and likely quite satisfying. I grant you the honors for winning a fight I wasn’t participating in.

I have close to a million words in print and that much more in bloggery, and great deal of it would stand counter to your facile analysis of me. Have you read any of what I have to say? Really, if you want to hang me out to dry, learn something besides my gender, skin color, and one or two isolated statements of mine. I’m quite certain you’re opposed to judgment of people based on gender and skin color in other contexts.

Most ironic to me is your summation: “Which is why there’s no point in talking to most of these people - the only value in engaging is to hopefully display to the rest of the world what kind of person this is, and to highlight the behavior as an educational example- much in the same way you might dissect the rantings of Charles Manson or the Timecube author.”

That’s pretty much exactly been my experience of dealing with the anger and frustrations of the RaceFail movement. I wouldn’t have put it that way myself because I place a high value on both politeness, and respect for your point of view, which believe it or not I actually share and have done so for the past 25 years or so, since I first learned about the concept of white privilege and came to understand even a little of it. I’ve had some time to think about this, you see, and raising a daughter who’s a POC has given me a lot more to think about viz race, gender and privilege.

Thank you for your kindness and understanding.

Yeloson responded by banning Lake from his LJ, then raged some more about Lake’s white privilege.

Tempest Bradford’s “Thoughts On Jay Lake’s Continued Ass Showing” includes, “…we have all had that friend who is well meaning and smart, but who says problematic things about race (or gender or religion or whatever) and because they are otherwise awesome you engage with them on a good faith basis and try to get them to understand where they’re mistaken, how their problematic words are hurtful, and how they can possibly do better. When a friend tells you that you’ve got your skirt stuck up in your pantyhose, you might be embarrassed for a bit but you’re grateful a friend was there to tell you, right? Right.”

Among the most frightening aspects of cults is their inability to feel sympathy for those who reject the cult. Though Bradford considers Lake “well meaning and smart”, she can’t imagine that her approach might be flawed. Warriors miss what matters when they attack artists: their work. Is Lake’s writing racist? If so, say so. If not, his concerns about mobbing are irrelevant.

• Continuing Effects of Violations of Internet Pseudonymity

Wherever I wrote about class after Racefail 09, a warrior would show up to claim I outed Coffeeandink or link to her “Do Not Engage” post. This surprised me when it was done by people I had never heard of, but then I checked Sidhedevil’s Metafilter profile and found she acknowledged she was Icecreamempress on LiveJournal. Then I knew there are fewer warriors than it seems. As Kathryn Cramer had suspected, some of them use many pseuds.

The story of Coffeeandink’s pseudonymity was further complicated when someone created an account at Jane Austen’s World that hotlinked Coffeeandink’s name and LJ. She denied that was her doing.

In 2010, in the comments at Charles Tan’s blog, someone repeated the claim I had outed Coffeeandink. A friend’s reply included her name and LJ, which caused Coffeeandink to write “Continuing effects of violations of Internet pseudonymity.” She claimed, “ since Mr. Sh*tt*rl* is publically discussing this issue and ONCE AGAIN linking my name to my blog...”

Tan deleted the post and comments. James Nicoll shared Coffeeandink’s charge at his LJ in a post originally titled something like “Will Shetterly has no class” which amused me because warriors are very quick to scrutinize metaphors about race or gender, yet are oblivious to the implications of words like “classy”. Since I’d been banned from their LJs, I couldn’t ask Coffeeandink or Nicoll to check the facts.

Eventually, others interceded. If you think someone concerned with classy behavior would apologize for his error, you’d be wrong in Nicoll’s case, but he retitled his post. Coffeeandink changed her accusation to “since Mr. Sh*tt*rl* is publically discussing this issue and ONCE AGAIN linking[encouraging other people to link] my name to my blog...” She didn’t cite an example of me encouraging anyone to do that, undoubtedly because I hadn’t.

Sometime after that, I got this anonymous comment: “Coffeeandink should really take the “Do not engage” post down. Because every time someone links to that post and dredges up the issue yet again, her name and identity come up again as well. And if she really wants to remain anonymous (though half the internet knows her name by now), constantly dredging up her “outing” again and again doesn’t help.”

Which was when I realized that by acquiescing to her demands, I was playing her game.

I emailed her to ask if she wanted to take the post down, and she didn’t respond. So, in 2011, I stopped playing by the warriors’ rules and played by my own: I emailed Coffeeandink and said she had a week to choose between restoring her posts that used her legal name or removing her public claims that she had been outed. While I waited for her decision, I amused myself by posting about the situation. Was her charge that I had outed her slander? It had hurt my career, and she could never defend the idea that she had been outed in court: the law does not let us retract anything we’ve made public.

When she didn’t respond after four days, I got bored and posted this:

Dear Micole, go in peace

I’ve restored your name to the posts where I used it before and I added it to my account of Racefail 09. I suggest that you restore the many posts where you used your name in public on your LJ, but that’s entirely your decision, of course.

If you ever truly wish to be pseudonymous, let me know, and I’ll delete your name again. Ain’t no big.

If you’re content with things as they are, go in peace.

Discussing that, Tempest Bradford and one of the Julias claimed I’d shared Coffeeandink’s address and phone number. So I posted this:

One irrelevant point, one lie 

At “Why The Argument That People Using “Real Names” Are Better Behaved Online Rings False”, K. Tempest Bradford makes a true but irrelevant point: using my real name doesn’t stop me from doing what I do. Nor does it stop her from doing what she does: helping in the outing of her opponents, decrying racism while ignoring the possibility that factors like class prejudice might be at work, etc. 

But I do sometimes wonder about the reasoning of Micole [redacted] and Julia Sparkymonster when they decided to make their obsessive page about me. Did Micole honestly believe she was pseudonymous then? Did Julia? Would they have attacked so many people over the years deliberately using their own names? 

I suspect not. It’s easier to attack when you believe you can hide. I suspect that’s why Micole is claiming retroactive pseudonymity and Julia refuses to say whether she’s pseudonymous. 

As for why Bradford’s point is irrelevant, no one’s claimed that using legal names will eliminate disagreement online. We’re only saying that reduces it. 

In the comments there, Julia says, .”..when they do things like post people’s phone number and/or address (which Will Shetterly has done)...” I realize that to failfans, I “outed” Micole by noting that she had not been pseudonymous since at least 2006, but saying I posted her phone number or address is a simple lie.

I left Micole’s last name on a post titled “the Pseudo-Pseudonymity of Coffeeandink” for about a year. But after I’d reclaimed the right to share information she had made public, I found myself pitying her. I still don’t understand how she can think she was pseudonymous, but she’s clung to her story so tenaciously that she may believe it now—anyone can be subject to False Memory Syndrome.

So I deleted her name from my sites and stand by what I said then: Micole, go in peace.

• Rape and the Righteous Community

One of my favorite songs is “’Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do.” It may explain why I have enormous sympathy for trans folk: adults should be free to do anything that hurts no one else.

Scifi fandom’s social justice warriors include several trans women. Perhaps the fiercest was Kynn Bradford, who vowed during Racefail to spit on me. She may’ve been the first warrior to call me “Shitterly”, a name that still makes me laugh—in fifth, grade, the children of the Klan called me that. My sense of humor is embarrassingly juvenile—one time after Kynn referred to me that way, I created a “Shitterly” LJ and said at her site that if she believed in pseudonymity, she wouldn’t out me for commenting under a pseud. Which she immediately did. My inner nine-year-old thought it hilarious.

But I pitied Kynn in July 2011, when she was accused publicly, but not legally, of raping someone at WisCon: apparently Kynn did not hear the other person’s safe word or did not stop when she heard it. Most of my sympathy was with Kynn’s accusers, but a part of me was sorry her friends abandoned her without considering the possibility there might be two sides to a story.

Tempest Bradford separated herself from Kynn with a post called “Community, Trust, Responsibility, Consequences”. She declared no one should think they had ever really been friendly: “I also often felt that Kynn was very eager to have a closer relationship with me than our acquaintance warranted.”

Nick Mamatas took a simpler approach:

New way to be banned from this journal revealed!

Rape somebody.

No context offered, no discussion of the hermeneutics of the presumption of innocence vs “believe the victim” to be hosted here, no other comments on this entry—I’m just doing what I want with my lj.

Julia Sparkymonster tried for a nuanced response. She wrote, “I do believe what Jack says. I also know that Kynn disagrees about what happened. I believe one can support Jack without condemning Kynn.”

But warriors don’t do nuance. Sparkymonster was especially criticized for adding, “More hypothetically, can Jean Doe have raped someone and still be involved with social justice movements? Yes they can as long as they take responsibility for what they did, and have done work to make sure they won’t do it again.”

Faced with the likelihood of ostracism from her beloved community, Sparkymonster caved, saying, “I have been friends with Kynn in the past. After a lot of consideration, I decided to sever that friendship. I sincerely hope that Kynn is able to access the support & assistance she may need. That is not something I am able to do.”

Cultists cannot understand that when a friend does something wrong, you don’t sever the friendship. If you do, you’re engaging in opportunism, not morality, and what you called a friendship was never one. If they thought the charges against Kynn were true, you would expect her former friends to help her through therapy. Instead, if the charges are true, they cast a rapist from their midst to rape again. They chose punishment instead of treatment, ostracism instead of understanding.

Kynn has rarely appeared online since then. She had several pseuds; perhaps Keeva or Caoimhe Ora Snow or another of her identities is continuing Kynn’s warrior ways, or perhaps she’s finally learned a hard lesson about the company of people who mob.

That kerfuffle never acquired a name. I proposed Allyfail, because it was all about denying any association with Kynn once she had been found politically inconvenient. I also suggested Compassionfail ‘11. While all of failfandom’s fails have been cases of compassionfail, this was the first time they turned on one of their own.

Which is to say, they’ve been consistent with their history. Compassion is only offered to the ideologically pure.

Traditionally, a charge of rape is a call for the law or the community to act. Men of all hues have been lynched after being accused of rape. Mention rape in a police station or a lawyer’s office, and everyone will assume you think the offense calls for legal action. The only question is whether the accused can be successfully tried.

Some feminists believe Julian Assange should be prosecuted for rape because he initiated sex in the morning with a partner who has said she did not want sex but “did not bother” to say no. That was the first case I heard of in which extremists argued that a person should be charged with rape even if a partner had consented and then did not withdraw consent.

Kynn’s case was more extreme. Jack said he used their safeword to withdraw consent. I asked, “If the benefit of the doubt should always be with the person who charges rape, under an ideal feminist legal system, what would happen to Kynn now?”

No one answered. Being cast out and forgotten seems to have been the answer.