Friday, February 21, 2014

Racefail ’09

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 ’09
• Whose voice counts?
• Comparing mobs to orcs is racist
• White women’s tears
• I fall into a burning ring of fire…
• Trying to reason in a flamewar
• Will Shetterly: Do Not Engage
• Deepad
• Liz Henry, aka Badgerbag
• Julia Sullivan, aka Icecreamempress and Sidhedevil
• Veejane
• I fell down, down, down as the flames burned higher…
• Baffled white writers
• Nithings
• Hate mail and threats
• Vom Marlowe objects

4. Racefail ’09

• Whose voice counts?

On January 8, 2009, author Jay Lake wrote “Another shot at thinking about the Other.” Addressing the idea of “cultural authority”, the idea that only a person from a culture should write about it, he said, “By this logic, the only culture I have ‘standing’ to comment on is middle aged, middle class, WASP male American culture. If I stuck to writing about that, I’d either be John Updike or unpublished. (Which of those possibilities is the more likely I leave as an exercise for the reader.) This line of thinking says I cannot write about female characters because I am not a woman, or Jewish characters because I am a Gentile.”

He concluded, “Whose voice counts? Why or why not? I find these questions distressing and uneasy, which means they’re important questions. The churn they raise drives the boundaries of good fiction, good thought and good citizenship.”

On January 12, Ben Peek wrote “Dear Female Author” to mock the sexism of male editors in fantasy and science fiction. Later that day, Micole Coffeeandink responded to Lake and Peek in the post that set ten thousand fires, “I Blame Tempest”—referring to K. Tempest Bradford, who sent her the links that inspired that post.

Coffeeandink wrote, “From my perspective, Lake and Peek both start from such an unhelpful and ultimately irrelevant place that I can’t even engage with the assertions they make, because the assertions rely on unquestioned assumptions which are themselves the problems. As with a lot of white men of varying political allegiances who try to discuss racism, sexism, and colonialism, they seem to speak with the assurance of people who don’t believe in the subconscious — who don’t believe history affects them, or the people around them, in ways they may not be conscious of, and do not feel compelled to investigate or address.”

Her ad hominem dismissal of “white men” is a favorite tactic of social justice warriors,. She doesn’t need to offer a response to Lake or Peek. She only needs to say they don’t understand because they’re white men.

At the same time she was dismissing Lake’s post, author Elizabeth Bear elaborated on it in “whatever you’re doing, you’re probably doing it wrong.” She agreed with him, saying, “Unless I’m going to write people just like me, I’m going to have to write The Other. And there’s gotta be a limited market for EBear self-insertion novels. Especially if it starts looking like that scene in Being John Malkovitch, where all the Malkovitches are walking around going Malkovitch Malkovitch.”

The next day, Deepad, a self-described upper-class woman from India who attended a US university, criticized Bear in “I Didn’t Dream of Dragons”, saying “this well-intentioned championing of diversity is specific to countries that are trying to celebrate their appropriation of other cultures.”

At the same time, in “Open Letter: To Elizabeth Bear”, a black woman who writes as Avalon’s Willow described Bear’s Blood & Iron as being “about a magical negro who gets bridled by a white woman after trying to kill or eat another white woman and, to my horror, becoming some sort of beast of burden/big buck protector; my horror at watching the humiliation of yet another black man so that a white woman can be empowered in front of her peers.” She concluded “I couldn’t finish reading your book because I threw it across the room in disgust.”

On January 14, Bear responded to Avalon’s Willow with “real magic can never be made by offering up someone else’s liver”, saying, “You’re pretty much right categorically and without exception, and I’m sorry to have mislead you for a moment into believing I think anything different. I will say that the book of mine you threw across the room is, in part, actually intended to address the point you make about it, but I obviously failed for you as a reader in doing so, and I’m sorry.”

On the same day, Coffeeandink blogged that Bear was giving advice that was not “sufficient.” (That post was made “friends-only” sometime after Racefail 09 ended, but like all posts mentioned here, it was public while Racefail burned.)

Author Sarah Monette, one of Bear’s friends, wrote in “Notes from the Labyrinth—race(-class-sex)”:

It matters that Bear’s intention was to present the servitude of a black man to a white woman as a problem, as part of a larger thematic argument, that she was doing it mindfully. It also matters that describing Kelpie as a “black man” is in certain senses wrong. He’s a phouka, and it’s clear throughout that he is a anthropophagous horse-fae first, all other attributes second. If that didn’t matter, Blood & Iron would not be a fantasy. 


It matters that Avalon’s Willow’s experience reading the book does not match up with Bear’s intentions. This is not Bear’s fault. It is also not AW’s fault. It is an unfortunate inevitability of the attempt to communicate. Listing—as I did in the preceding paragraph—all the ways in which AW is “wrong” is a way to shut down the argument, not a way to respond responsibly.

In the comments, the discussion quickly grew heated. In response to people repeatedly insisting Avalon’s Willow’s response was definitive, Emma Bull, who had read Blood & Iron, said, “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.”

Elizabeth Vom Marlowe denounced the idea that some critiques are better than others as “privileged.”

Chickenfried Jo, a white woman who said on her LJ that she had only “recently begun reading writers of color”, implied the criticism was racism: “That to me says that the person reading it was not smart enough, educated enough, white enough...”

K. Tempest Bradford leapt on that: “People of color spend far too much time wading through bullshit squicky race stuff to have to put up with it any longer than necessary.”

And flames raged across the warriorverse. Yeloson, an Asian American named Chris Chinn, framed the disagreement as “So once again, white writers are crying tears and needing hugs and cocoa because they don't know how to write characters of color and they did it wrong and everybody hates them and their fee fees hurt.”

N. K. Jemisin, in a post on her Nojojo LJ titled “We worry about it too” said, “So the great cultural appropriation debate returns, and one thing in particular has been bugging me. A lot of the people talking in all these comment threads—clarification; a lot of the white people talking in these threads—keep complaining that all this scary appropriation stuff means they're damned if they do and damned if they don't, they can never write people of color to the satisfaction of PoC so they're not going to bother, I guess this means white men should only write white men, o woe, o melodrama. That this is a false woe motivated in most cases by narcissism, spite, and no genuine interest in change is a given. But a few of the people voicing this complaint are sincere, because for various reasons they haven't yet realized something very basic: that racism infects the thinking of everyone, in a racist society.”

In that post, Jemisin did two things: she presented the Critical Race Theory take on racism without identifying it by name, and she claimed that only a few of the white people disagreeing with her side were sincere.

So the war escalated under the assumption that the majority of the people who disagreed with the tenets of Critical Race Theory were insincere racists. At the time, few participants in the flamewar knew about Critical Race Theory or that its believers thought criticism of an Identitarian of Color was a criticism of all people of color. That only became clear much later when, referring to several white people’s criticism of Avalon’s Willow’s analytical skill, Julia Sparkymonster said sarcastically, “It’s cool how POC don’t/can’t read critically. And that critical race theory doesn’t exist.”

To fandom’s Critical Race Theorists, Avalon’s Willow represented all People of Color, and Critical Race Theory was unquestionably true, so any white person who disagreed with AW’s take on a book she had not finished reading was being wilfully racist.

Comparing mobs to orcs is racist

Medievalist said Avalon’s Willow was “engaging in orcing, performance art and pretty much blog-whoring.”

“Orcing” had been used to describe online mobbing for years. Kathryn Cramer explained, “I think I was the one who coined the term “orcing” in the context of organized trolling by the Little Green Footballs gang circa 2004. They went after me right after their group attack on the John Kerry campaign caused the Kerry campaign to pull all their ads from Daily Kos. I was the next target because I was anti-Blackwater. In essence it involves the use of online discussion boards and platforms for organized attack on a blogger. . . . The incident in question (LGF vs. KC) was white-on-white politically motivated Internet aggression involving death threats, threats on children, rape threats, a claimed false report to Child Protective Services, etc. It was back before it was easy to turn off comments. It took a few days (maybe as many as 4 or 5) of serious 24 hr. gang abuse before I figured out that I could edit my Moveable Type template to turn comments off.”

Despite the term’s history, Coffeeandink announced “orcing” was racist because Tolkien had not described orcs as looking like Europeans.

Because some women who were not white have been called whores, Avalon’s Willow denounced “blog-whoring” as “ugly racism.”

So far as I know, no one figured out how “performance art” was racist.

White women’s tears

Mac Stone wrote about how being attacked online reminded her of off-line abuse. When she deleted her journal, she was mocked for “white women’s tears.” 

When I was young, crying was a feminist issue. In a time when “real men don’t cry,” feminists supported everyone who expressed their feelings. But either feminism changed or warriors have an anti-feminist streak because they love to mock crying people so much they have a name for it. The Feministsf’s wiki definition of “white women’s tears”:

...a sarcastic / humorous reference to the tendency of race and gender discussions to be derailed by white women into the pain the discussion is causing non-POC. ... During RaceFail ‘09, the phrase was mentioned several times; Badgerbag created an image in Delux_vivens’s journal.

It’s significant that an image of making white women cry was created by a white woman. In groups that bully, members prove their worth by bullying others. The tendency of the bullied to become bullies may be related to capture-bonding, aka Stockholm Syndrome, the tendency of captured people to identify with their captors.

Many warriors know from watching Spike Lee’s version of Malcolm X’s life that Malcolm made a young white woman cry when he rebuffed her. Lee shot the conclusion of that incident, but left it out of the movie. Here’s Malcolm’s take from an interview with Gordon Parks, two days before he was killed:

Brother, remember the time that white college girl came into the restaurant—the one who wanted to help the [Black] Muslims and the whites get together—and I told her there wasn’t a ghost of a chance and she went away crying? Well, I’ve lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I’m sorry for now. I was a zombie then—like all [Black] Muslims—I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man’s entitled to make a fool of himself if he’s ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years.

That was a bad scene, brother. The sickness and madness of those days—I’m glad to be free of them.

I fall into a burning ring of fire…

I missed the first ten days of Racefail 09 because I had no interest in fandom’s social justice warriors after the discussions around my “parallel lives” post. But when Emma said things had gotten so bad she was dropping out, I made the mistake of looking. There were around two dozen blog posts by then with very long comment threads in what was first called the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM.

On January 19, defending his friends, Patrick Nielsen Hayden wrote:

I wouldn’t even split the problem into “authors” and “readers.” Some people are smarter than others, to put it as baldly as possible.

Of course, not-so-bright people are entitled to justice, as are (also) people who don’t express themselves well. As the ghost of John Rawls reminds me, all of us fall into both of those categories at many points in our life, so we should always be suspicious of the temptation to “worship language, and forgive / all of those who by it live.”

This does not, however, amount to an unlimited claim on our time and energy by people who can’t sort out the difference between their inner feelings and the exterior world of discourse. We can try to help them but we cannot be their servants.

Vera Copracat quoted him at her LJ and added, “I almost cannot believe someone just said this in a discussion about racism. Except there it is.”

In the comments, he answered, “It wasn’t even remotely a discussion of racism. It was a discussion of people behaving badly in online arguments.”

Zvi_LikesTV replied, “The discussion in the comments makes it clear that the conversation in which mac_stone felt verbally abused was the recent discussion on racism. The question of sufficient reading, specifically, was one in which racist asshole behavior was demonstrated by coffeeem and medievalist.”

Coffeeem is Emma. I know Patrick and Medievalist well enough to know they are not racists. So I made my first comment in Racefail 09: “Anyone who would say coffeeem or medievalist is exhibiting racist asshole behavior is, in turn, exhibiting racist asshole behavior.”

Because warriors reject dictionary definitions, saying a black person was “exhibiting racist asshole behavior” made me a racist. Or maybe a xylophone.

Trying to reason in a flamewar

On January 20, knowing many of my blog’s readers weren’t aware of the flamewar, I posted this:

Intellectual elitism is not racism. When I say Samuel Delany is smarter and knows more than me, I’m not saying blacks are superior. I’m just saying some people have lived longer and thought harder than others. Now, I’ll never catch up to Delany. But some people whose writing is currently immature will mature greatly, and they will look back on their work, and they’ll think, “Damn. I was young.”

Others will never change. I hate binarianism, but I am comfortable saying the world can be divided between people who keep learning and people who stop.

Okay, this post is prob’ly very strange out of context. Maybe I should leave it that way. I’ll just add this: If you hear something that suggests hierarchy to you and it’s from someone you see in racial terms, remember that there are more hierarchies than race.

Intellectual hierarchies make me uncomfortable. On one side: people can know a great deal about something and still draw the wrong conclusions. On the other: it is good to learn from those who’ve gone before.

Perhaps it’s that tension between old knowledge and new insight that makes intellectual hierarchies valuable. Those who make intellectual hierarchies rigid are fools. (Yeah, Alan Bloom, I’m trash-talking you!) Those who assume the past is irrelevant and only their subjective experience matters are greater fools. Fortunately for fools, they can grow wise.

I thought it was possible for people to disagree in peace. I didn’t understand that when you reject the warriors’ argument, they conclude you are refusing to listen. For warriors, the only proof of listening is joining them.

So, over the next few days, as the warriors began a scorched-Earth policy of attacking everyone who disagreed with them and then attacking their friends for being friends with racists, I tried to be reasonable:

Dear rich and middle-class people of color and their white allies

You may think you speak for everyone you consider people of color, but a Pew Research Poll shows that 37% of people of color believe there are effectively two black races, one poor and one rich. You happily address race and ignore class, but the world will not let you do that forever.

Writing the Same

There’s one kind of writing advice that Emma and I don’t give unless we’re asked for it: How to write the “other.”

The simplest reason is practical: If you can’t write a distinct character in a setting that’s convincingly accurate, you’re not going to do it because we say you should. There are some things that writers either get or they don’t.

But there are other reasons. Writing characters and cultures truthfully falls under other advice we always give:

1. Know what you write. Get an important fact wrong, and the reader won’t trust you about anything else. You don’t get to make up Ojibwa culture any more than you get to decide what color New York taxis are.

2. All of your characters should be individuals, the stars of their own story—even those who make the briefest appearance to deliver a package or sell a cup of coffee. Every aspect of your story should be interesting and convincing, which includes every character.

3. Humans are human. The differences matter when conveying cultures, but ultimately, people laugh and cry and love and hate and share and hoard and do all of the same human things. They just do them in ways that are specific to their culture. When you write someone from another culture, you’re not writing an “other.” You’re writing a fellow member of the human tribe.

Seeing color

Critical Race Theorists hate the metaphor of colorblindness. It took me a while to understand their objection because, during the civil rights era, opponents of racism worked for a colorblind future. When Martin Luther King said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” no one thought we would no longer be able to see the color of someone’s skin. We thought the pseudo-scientific notion of race would disappear.

But when “people of color” was adopted by academics to include all people who are not considered white, “color” gained positive values and “colorblind” acquired negative ones. That blindsided people who had used the colorblind metaphor for decades—the history of race is filled with polite terms replacing each other. Use an older term, and you sound racist to people who don’t know it was a term of respect.

These days, I only use “colorblind” when talking about casting in movies and plays.

But while I’ve surrendered the metaphor, I still want the world Martin and Malcolm worked for.

There is one point I missed then: the metaphor of colorblindness didn’t just apply to judging people by their character. It also referred to the idea that the law should be colorblind.

Is this racist?

Here’s what’s behind my latest round of posts about racism. Emma briefly entered the LiveJournal racism brouhaha with, I think, two comments, then left the internet because she’s trying to finish a novella. In her absence, she was denounced as a racist. So were several other writers who took similar positions.

All of these writers used exactly the same words they would have used had they been disagreeing with writers who identified as “white.” To me, if you treat someone as an equal, you’re not being racist. Equality includes being able to say your equal’s analysis is superficial. If that’s not so, there’s no point in talking about art or science or anything where people might disagree.

To me, assuming someone is racist because you see them as white makes you the racist. Had all the writers been white, would the denounced writers still be racist?

I’ll grant that’s possible. The definitions of both “race” and “racism” have changed enormously since I was young.

Now, if you think I’m a white racist, I’m cool with that: I’ve been beaten by white racists for being a niggerlover. Maybe the two balance out.

And I admit I may just have trouble understanding this. The world changes, and language evolves. Most of us end our lives fighting battles that were won or lost decades ago. Heck, I’m still annoyed “impact” has become a verb.

If I had been wise, I never would have said a word to anyone in that flamewar. If I had been smart, I would have said nothing after that post. But I was neither. The world had gone mad, and I wanted to understand why. Instead, I only grew angrier as the flames in fandom burned hotter, as my next post shows:

Why Im not anyones white ally

I wrote a post last night, then deleted it. It wasn’t helpful. It was written out of fury for the sake of people I love and respect. I can’t say the anger has passed, but writing this may help me deal with it.

For anyone who doesn’t know me: Many of the details in Dogland are autobiographical. My family could not get fire insurance because word was out that the Ku Klux Klan would burn us down, I did see my mother crying because we got death threats in the night, my father did show me where the shotgun was and taught me how to carry it to him if the Klan ever showed up, I did get spat on and hit and called a niggerlover. I know a little about racism. In the ‘80s, when I wrote Captain Confederacy, I was told by a surprising number of people, “Why are you writing about racism? That’s over.” When I created the black female Captain Confederacy, I created one of the first black female superheroes to have her own comic book. I don’t think I’ve ever written a story in which everyone was of the same race. I’ve been concerned about racism all my life.

But I’ve been concerned about racism because I’m concerned about justice. Racism is unjust, but it’s part of a greater injustice, classism. Classism provides the structure for racism. End classism, and there’s no room left for racism to manifest itself.

LiveJournal has an active anti-racist community that consists mostly of middle-class and upper-class folks who are very concerned with the privileges of the privileged: they want the top of the pyramid to be as diverse as the bottom.

But I want to level the pyramid.

So I can’t be their white ally. Someday, they might notice that injustice is greater than they think. If that day comes, we will work together.

Why am I writing this on Martin Luther King Day, on the day before Barack Obama is inaugurated? Last night, I discovered that a number of LJ’s anti-racists were screaming “racist!” at good people as though whenever a “white” and a “person of color” disagree, the white must be acting out of racism, and that any reference to intelligence or education must be a coded assault on all people of a particular race.

That is so profoundly racist that it makes me want to cry. Perhaps it’s good to expose the myth that only whites can be racist, but it’s always sad when the oppressed accept the worldview of their oppressors.

Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.” If you want to end racism, stop seeing people in terms of race.

That post was unhelpful for at least three reasons:

1. To anti-racists, if you’re not a white ally, you’re a white enemy.

2. I failed to see our understandings of race and class were inverted. Soon after Racefail, I stopped using “classism”.

3. Deepad responded to that with “Reappropriating my man”, suggesting I had appropriated Gandhi and rejecting something I didn’t intend to imply. She wrote, “I do want to see race. Dreadlocks and thin straight hair and thick springy hair and silky straight hair and wavy hair, and nappy hair and oily hair and black and brown and reddish-golden and white and gray hair. Hirsute and hairless chests, brown and pink nipples. Noses straight and curved and tilted and flattened and lips broad and narrow and everything in between.”

So do I. People are beautiful in every shape and hue. But to Deepad, “stop seeing people in terms of race” was an appeal for literal colorblindness. Identitarians cannot grasp that seeing color is different than seeing race. Humans have always seen skin color, but only in the last centuries has anyone seen race.

My reference to the Klan provoked my next post:

For those who dont know that whites died in the civil rights struggle

I just got this comment from Sparkymonster: “Will, if you were a black person the Klan wouldn’t have just called your mom. Or yelled an insult. THEY WOULD HAVE KILLED YOU. Being white saved your ass.”

I highly recommend a visit to the Civil Rights Memorial. The names and faces will tell you whites and blacks worked and died together to make a better world for us all.

P.S. The Klan did threaten more than they acted. I strongly suspect that was what happened in our case. Or maybe, when Dad sent the kids away to safety, they decided that was enough of a victory for them.

Will Shetterly: Do Not Engage

Coffeeandink got my full attention on January 23 when she made public a post that had originally been friends-only, “Will Shetterly: Do Not Engage.”

She wrote:

My best advice is to ban him from your LJ and NOT ENGAGE. Seriously, in the first IBARW, he did a post on how his life would not have been any different if he’d been born black, which had comments threads in the hundreds, and included comments from many of his personal friends saying, Will, you don’t get it, you’re being clueless, you’re offending people, SHUT UP, and he would not shut up. (He deleted his LJ before recreating it again, or I’d link you to the post. Sparkymonster has some saved quotes in the link below.) He may be fine off-line—he was, in fact, very kind to me the one time I met him at a con—but online he makes ad hominem attacks, false accusations, straw-man arguments, weird personal assumptions about people who disagree with him, shifts ground when cornered, does not respond to logic, and sounds like a total racist. Logic will not penetrate. He is in his own world. Do not join him there.

Also, for the record, I do think class is a significant axis of oppression separate from but interacting with race and gender. I just don’t think it’s the root oppression that is the basis of all other oppression, or that eliminating class injustice will magically cause other forms of prejudice and injustice to fade away.

Her comment about class is a fine example of the identitarian understanding of class and race. She thinks they’re unrelated, and she doesn’t know that studies of sexism and racism repeatedly show that where people have the opportunity to coexist as equals, “prejudices and injustice” do “fade away”. The end of segregation was the reason support for black politicians and interracial marriage skyrocketed after the 1950s.

Her post includes links compiled by Sparkymonster and Marydell that took things I had written out of context to imply I believe something I do not. They also made a Will Shetterly Bingo Card: each square is labelled “class” except the center, the “class-free space of the communist utopia.” That delighted me—I used it as a LiveJournal icon for a while after that.

But Coffeeandink’s post, the quotes taken out of context, and the comments left me hurt, angry, and baffled. I couldn’t understand why anyone insisted I believe racism no longer exists when I’ve always said I know it does.

I would’ve known the answer if I’d known more about Critical Race Theory then. To its believers, “racism” is shorthand for “institutional racism.” Where Critical Race Theorists see institutional racism, what’s usually at work is class oppression—there’s little class mobility in the US for poor whites or poor blacks.

Trying to understand Coffeeandink’s post, I did what writers do and wrote about it:

Honor requires that I acknowledge this

I’ve had an enormous falling-out at LiveJournal. My first response was enormous shame about how badly I handled things. My second was relief. I’ve spent all my life thinking there must be some way to reason with everyone except Scientologists, Mormons, and Ayn Rand fans. And it just isn’t so. I don’t have to alienate people anymore by trying to convince them of things that they just aren’t going to believe because their worldview doesn’t allow it.

And I should add that I’ve always been able to get along with Scientologists, Mormons, and Ayn Rand fans in person, perhaps because I know it’s impossible to reason with them about their fundamental beliefs. I’ve known lovely folks in all three groups, so if you’re in one, don’t try to convert me, and we’ll get along great.

Still, I can’t decide whether I should withdraw from projects that I’m involved with so I don’t taint them, or I should commit myself with greater force to them, because I have failed so badly.

Well, it is good to fail. Sometimes we learn from failure.

Looking back now, I realize “Will Shetterly: Do Not Engage” was perfect advice. I just wish Micole had taken it.

Wanting to understand my critics’ perspective, I googled what the more prominent ones had said about themselves.


Deepad said in the comments on her post, “I Didn’t Dream of Dragons”, “it is very much a problem of the privileged, but going to an English medium school and being upper class means that I am not fluent enough to be able to write fiction in my mother tongues. I certainly lay firm claim to Indian English, but I struggle with representing the multi-lingual part of my world.”

What she meant by “upper class” isn’t clear. India’s upper class includes the owner of the world’s most expensive home, and Indians have been on Forbes’ list of the ten richest people in the world. Deepad was a student in the US, so she might have meant that she was upper middle class—a news article titled “Upper middle class seceding from India” says India’s upper middle class “have begun to export their children straight from school” to universities abroad.

• Liz Henry, aka Badgerbag

Liz Henry was the first person who outed Zathlazip. Unlike most of fandom’s warriors, she went to a public school, the University of Texas, but she has the resources to fly to science fiction conventions on other continents, so it’s not surprising that she saw the world in terms of social rather than economic privilege.

At “Will Shetterly: Do Not Engage”, she said, “Gotta say... I wonder what he thinks of the families of the 33% of his mom and dad’s county in Florida who were Negroes and could not send their children to Minnesota for the summer so they could avoid the KKK?”

Warriors have trouble imagining that in the 1960s, black Southerners could be middle class or white Southerners could be poor. When word spread that the Ku Klux Klan would burn our home, Mom drove us kids to safety in the middle of the winter in our second-hand station wagon. If Dad had taken us, we would have slept in the car, but since Mom drove, we stayed in cheap motels.

Which is to say that if I’d been black and middle class, one of my parents still would’ve driven us, but if I’d been poor and white, we would’ve been trapped where we lived.

Julia Sullivan, aka Icecreamempress and Sidhedevil

Julia Sullivan describes herself as being from a “very upper-middle-class white WASP family” and calls herself “a rich white WASP woman.” She lives in one of the US’s most expensive communities, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is a Harvard grad.

Her understanding of class is feudal: “My family didn’t have much money growing up, but I was still marinating in upper-middle-class white American privilege, and the fact that we were broke didn’t mitigate that.” What she means by “broke” is hard to say. In the US, if you’re broke, you lose your upper-middle-class white privilege when you move to a working class neighborhood.

At “Will Shetterly: Do Not Engage”, she had trouble understanding my answer in an exchange that Sparkymonster quoted from my “parallel lives” post where I speculated what a change in race but not class would do to my life. I had written, .”..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.”

Sullivan commented:

I can’t believe that W*ll Sh*tt*rly has never actually met Samuel R. Delany. Or that, if he has ever actually met Samuel R. Delany, he thinks that Delany would ever suggest any such thing.

And Jesus Christ, Frank Yerby could hardly be a black writer himself—why would he encourage some random white guy to do it?

What I had meant was that when I was young, unlike many social justice warriors, I read black writers. If I’d been black, their work would’ve told me it was possible to become a writer. Since I wasn’t black, reading them told me it was possible for anyone with luck and skill to become a writer.

I have driven Chip Delany around, by the way. Never met Frank Yerby, alas.


Veejane is a graduate of Choate, the prep school that expelled me. At the Making Light web site, she said, “The trouble with having all the DAR-type research done (by a great-grandfather) for my family is that it brings to light all of the unpleasant stories as well as the funny ones. One branch of the family lived in Maryland for a long, long time, before decamping suddenly to Brazil in the 1860s, and then returned to Maryland in the early 1890s. Officially? Missionaries. Unofficially, in some really obvious ways? Couldn’t bear the idea of Maryland being a free state, and moved to the last country in the New World to outlaw slavery (which Brazil did in 1888).”

The Shetterlys never had “the Daughters of the American Revolution research” done, but internet genealogies are useful. Shetterlys came to the US shortly before the Revolution and fought in that war, so my sister would’ve been eligible for the DAR. But the Shetterlys came to be farmers, and seem to have stayed farmers until my father looked elsewhere for a future.

It’s understandable why Veejane suffers from white guilt—her class privilege comes from slavers. Perhaps I would have more sympathy with Critical Race Theory’s insistence that the sins of the parents are passed onto their children if my great-grandfather and namesake had not fought for the Union to free the slaves.

But I don’t think so. I think people like Veejane interpret class guilt as racial guilt. That lets her avoid dwelling on the idea that her ancestors exploited poor whites, too, and to this day, she benefits from the cheap labor of people of all hues.

At “Will Shetterly: Do Not Engage”, she commented:

...what I remember was how he called himself lower-middle class, and yet had a trust fund and went to Choate.

(My Choatey white butt laughed and laughed at him, but after the first or second try didn’t even bother. If he can’t even speak truthfully about his own personal wank issue, how on earth could he possibly give the time of day to any other issue? It was clearly all about his proving his righteousness, from a very slender body of evidence.)

My class changed enormously when my grandfather’s money became available to me and changed again when it was gone. People like Sullivan and Veejane conveniently misunderstand how class works under capitalism: Gain capital and you become a capitalist. Lose capital and you become working class.

Veejane also said, “I vaguely recall that the same post entailed an in-depth comments-debate about investment portfolios, i.e. he did not believe that having or even seriously thinking about an investment portfolio said something about the social positioning of his parents/family.”

To which I can only say, WTF? Investment portfolio? If you set an investment portfolio in front of me today, I would not know what it was unless it had “investment portfolio” stamped in big letters on it.

• I fell down, down, down as the flames burned higher…

Even after “Will Shetterly: Do Not Engage”, I thought it was possible for people to agree to disagree, so I made the following posts:

Can capitalists and commies be friends?

In the antiracism debacle, a number of people say I don’t hear their side of the discussion and reject it out of hand. What they don’t grasp is that I was a liberal. I know that side of the argument. I rejected it long ago. It’s not that they have failed to convince me, or that I refuse to listen. It’s that our society failed to keep me convinced, and now I hear what conservatives and liberals will only acknowledge with a mutter about “class war.”

Dancing to the jab of the raciststick

I learned something about myself late last night. I hesitate to share it, because I don’t like revealing my weaknesses and stupidities.

Call me or someone I love a racist, and I go into a righteous fury. I never thought it was personal. I thought I was objecting to a lie, an evil meme. More fool me.

When the issue has come up, the script has always gone like this:

Anti-racist: All white people are racist. Whites grew up with power in a racist society. 

Me: Many whites fought racists. My family included.

Anti-racist: Why are you trying to take credit for something your family did forty years ago? 

Me: But people of all colors worked together against racism! It’s racist to assume someone is racist because they’re white. (Argue until banned.)

Until last night, I thought their assumption that all whites are racist prevented them from seeing the truth. Last night, I saw I had failed to see it.

I thought I cited my family as an example, like this:

Proposition: Not all whites are racist.

Example: People like my family worked to end legal racism.

Conclusion: Some whites aren’t racist.

I couldn’t understand why the anti-racists couldn’t add one and one to get two.

But I couldn’t add one and one to get two. It was never dispassionate for me. I was taught from an early age that white racists were the enemy. They hurt me and my family. They forced my parents to send us away for several months where we would be safe. During that time, I didn’t know whether my parents would be killed.

When I hear “racist,” a part of my brain thinks, “Go to the closet quickly, get the shotgun. Carry it with the barrel pointed at the ground. Walk quickly, don’t run, don’t panic. Give it to Dad, then run back to the house. Pray Dad isn’t killed. Pray Mom isn’t killed. Pray Liz isn’t killed. Pray Mike isn’t killed. Pray the dogs aren’t killed. Pray the house doesn’t burn down. Pray your comic books don’t get burnt. Pray that if they kill you, it doesn’t hurt.”

Call people by the name of the childhood enemy they feared, and they get furious. It’s Psychology 101, but I never realized it applied to me, too.

Knowing this doesn’t mean I won’t dance the next time I’m jabbed with the “racist” stick, but I think I’ll be able to say, “No, thank you,” now.

Baffled white writers

On January 26, David Levine wrote a blog post titled “My only statement on the cultural appropriation imbroglio”, which included:

This statement is addressed to those on the “anti-racist” side of the debate who have vehemently accused certain white writers and editors of racism or cultural insensitivity. 

I have sometimes included characters of color, and of races and cultures other than my own, in my writing. I’ve been trying to do it more. I recognize that doing so is fraught with peril and I have done my best, through critique and research and asking questions, to get it right. I also recognize that sometimes I will get it wrong, and if I do so in a published work I will take my lumps and try to do better in the future. 

However. Your reactions to the written works and Internet posts of my friends who are also trying to do the same have made me question even the attempt. The height and breadth of the heap of spleen that I have seen dumped upon my friends is more than just “lumps” — it’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. This slapfight, dogpile, shitstorm, whatever you want to call it, has been so severe that I am wondering if I should even try. I’ve seen those who try, in all good faith, have their heads torn off and thrown back at them, and when they react to this abuse as any normal person would, they are accused of being whiny and oversensitive.

He was then mocked at many sites for being racist—one warrior described his post as “a godawful comments-disabled whiny white person piece of crap”. Perhaps the most amusing attack in retrospect was from Kynn Bartlett, one of the louder voices in Racefail. She is a transwoman who raged about Levine while referring to him as “Whitey”. Kynn, like most of the identitarians in Racefail, is among the whitest of white people.


Teresa Nielsen Hayden defended her husband, saying, “The nithings who’ve hurt him will have moved on to some other inane topic by now.”

Coffeeandink announced in a then-public post that “nithings”, an Old English word for a coward and villain, was a racist insult, apparently because any insult delivered by a white person to a person of color is racist. Or perhaps she and her friends decided that only racists support the people they love.

Hate mail and threats

When Mac Stone mentioned she had gotten hate mail, Coffeeandink said, “If she’s assuming the hate mail was sent by the people who were disagreeing with her in Truepenny’s LJ, I think it’s a mistaken assumption.” Why she thought anyone else would bother to send hate mail, she didn’t say. Perhaps she doesn’t use Occam’s Razor because Occam was a white man.

Medievalist said she was “the indirect recipient of two phone calls to my former school, and employer. Two people contacted my former department and said I should be fired as a homophobic racist (in one case, the caller identified me as male). Throughout the second half of January, and for much of February, I've been receiving a fair amount of hate mail. Some of it was the usual sort of hate mail one gets from people who disagree with you. Some of it was graphic, and used pretty specific threatening language regarding anal rape. The most violent and offensive emails were from ostensibly anonymous email accounts.”

As had happened when the same group outed Zathlazip, who was then terrorized, the warriors denied the possibility that any of their group could have been the culprits. But the simplest explanation continues to be that the same people who targeted Zathlazip in 2007 terrorized Mac Stone and Medievalist in 2009 in the belief they were promoting social justice.

• Vom Marlowe objects

On Feb. 26, Vom Marlowe wrote, “Fucking Will Shetterly Insults Me and My Family”, which inspired me to write this:

Something for my mom and sister

I write about my father more often because he does things that get him in newspapers. My mom and sister are everyday heroes, which means I can’t say why they’re wonderful in a soundbite, but they (and my brother) are at least as heroic as Dad, and probably more. (If we’re the Super Friends, Dad’s Batman, Mike’s Superman, Mom’s Wonder Woman, Liz is Supergirl, and I’m Gleek the Space Monkey.) 

When I think of Mom and Liz, I think of them working. At Dog Land, Mom hosed out dog pens, waited tables, guided tourists, kept the company’s books.... She made it impossible for me to ever think a woman’s place was anywhere other than where she wanted it to be. Mom supported the family as a secretary when Dad went back to college. She worked in the trading post in Ontario. Now she’s living with my sister near Edmonton, and she always apologizes when she doesn’t feel strong enough to help Liz with the flea market. 

My sister combines the best of Mom and Dad. When I think back to all the work she’s done, I know I was the wimp. She’s driven bigger trucks than I have. She’s a better shot. I can remember only one thing I ever did that Liz didn’t that could be called manly. That was something where biology, not sexism, was the determining factor: if she had had the upper-body strength to haul one-hundred-pound bags of wild rice all day, she would’ve. Liz still drives big trucks and moves furniture for her flea market and cares for her dogs. I’ve seen her in a dress a few times, but that’s not my mental image of her: I picture her in a flannel shirt and jeans. The only traditionally girly thing about her is her giggle, which reminds me that she had a Barbie or two back in the day, for all that she would steal my army men and cap guns when I wasn’t looking. 

My mom and sister. They are the awesome.

Two days later, I made another contribution to Racefail 09:

Why dont working class men know their place?

From “The Heart of the Maze—Appreciation 2” by Ithiliana: “willshetterly has posted about why he is not a white ally (class issues). I’m not linking because it’s pretty icky (there’s probably feminist analysis on how working class white men critique middle class white women--although I do not believe all the white allies in this discussion are middle class white women, I am one myself--but I just cannot be bothered with it at this point).”

Her comment amuses me because “why I’m not anyone’s white ally” says nothing about gender roles. Well, it says nothing explicitly, but since anti-racists assume all encounters between people of different races are racial, she may think all encounters between people who accept different sexual identities are sexual.

I ignored that comment until last night, when I came across this comment on Vom Marlowe’s LJ regarding my reference to Vom Marlowe as male when I first mentioned her:

Anonymous wrote:

You know, I think he thinks you’re a guy because in his world, women are probably pretty little things who don’t work and don’t get poor. Because men take care of them, or something.

I wouldn’t be surprised. 

vom_marlowe wrote:

Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised either. That, of he thinks women are always ‘nice’.

I referred to Vom as male out of respect for her icon and handle. For decades, I’ve believed you should respect people’s choice of gender, regardless of their genitals. It’s just being polite. Though Vom’s speculations about my ideas of women are clichéd, I’m grateful to her; she inspired me to write “something for my mother and sister”, which I should’ve done ages ago.

Vom may not know much about working class men because, as she says on her LJ, her upperclass father abandoned their family to extreme hardship. Ithiliana may not know much about working class men because she’s middle class. If they were the only people making assumptions about how working class men see women, I would say nothing.

But upper class and middle class people often assume working class people are just like them in bizarre ways. Perhaps the oddest is their notion that working class men think women should be “nice” and should be cared for. That’s a luxury of wealth. Working class men know women have to work as hard or harder than they do. They expect women to kick ass, to do what needs to be done, whether it’s a traditionally male or female job.

And those men expect to do what needs to be done in turn—in my family, we all washed dishes, swept and mopped, hung clothes on the line, etc. Dad cooked more often than Mom. When I was stupid enough to hit Liz, I expected her to hit back, hard—and I totally knew that if I pissed her off, she would hit me first.

Domestic violence is a problem in all classes, but it takes different forms: abused middle class and upper class women were expected to do nothing, then hide what had been done to them. But working class women have always been more willing to meet violence with violence, to take no shit that they did not absolutely have to take to feed the people they loved.

Like Ithiliana, I don’t have time to address this subject properly, but I didn’t want this bit of sexist classism to go neglected. Someone should write more about the ways upper and middle class women expect working class men to know their place.

On March 1, I shared an XKCD cartoon titled “Dreams” about people who had limited the possibilities of their lives. It concludes, “The solution ... doesn’t involve constantly holding back for fear of shaking things up. This is very important, so I want to say it as clear as I can: FUCK. THAT. SHIT.” I titled the post “my new motto.”

I love that cartoon, but it was terrible advice. For years, I had rejected the warriors’ “tone argument” and tried to be polite. On that day, I decided to play by their rules.

Advice to anyone in a similar situation: Never play by your opponents’ rules, no matter how much fun they appear to be.

The next day, Deepad claimed in “To burn a bridge is sometimes as necessary as to build one” that by quoting her, I was making “erroneous assumptions” about her.

And I posted this:

Righteous anger is good for you!

From “The upside of anger: Researchers study its health advantage over fear”: ”Righteous anger has a place in protecting against stress,’’ said Shelley E. Taylor, a psychology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, one of the study authors.

Righteous anger may be helpful sometimes, but it really doesn’t help in flamewars—as the next part of the story shows.