Sunday, June 1, 2014

From a Facebook discussion with Nick Mamatas and others about respect, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X

I entered the discussion at Andy Duncan - Many friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in the... with:

  • Will Shetterly It's not civility vs diversity. Malcolm X said, "Respect everyone."

Robert J. Howe seems to have deleted his comment, but I answered it:

  • Will Shetterly Robert J. Howe, Malcolm X knew a great deal about discrimination. He still said, "Respect everyone." You might want to do some googling to learn a little more about him.

  • Will Shetterly Or since this started with a reference to King, here's what he said: "No matter how emotional your opponents are, you must be calm."

He responded again, and Liz Argall joined in. I said,

  • Will Shetterly Robert J. Howe, I was rather croggled that you didn't realize that when Malcolm X said "Respect everyone," he knew a great deal about the horrors of racism.

    Liz Argall, you might also wish to read about Malcolm X—not just the Autobiography that was shaped after his death by a man who did not share Malcolm X's opinion of capitalism, but some of his later speeches and interviews. He is a far more complex thinker than the people who rage on the internet in the belief that anger and insults will make a better world. As I said initially, the question is not civility versus diversity, and never has been.

  • Liz Argall Perhaps, W, you should try that respect thing yourself.

  • Will Shetterly Liz Argall, I aspire to it. If you care to quote anything I've said that's not respectful, please do, and I'll gladly apologize. As King and Brother Malcolm knew, being respectful does not mean you may not disagree.

She objected again, and I said,

  • Will Shetterly Liz Argall, I was surprised when Robert J Howe took umbrage, but I really had thought most people knew Malcolm X did not say "respect everyone" with no awareness of the difficulty of doing that. It was entirely my bad for assuming what was common knowledge in my day would still be common knowledge now.

    As for ignorance, there ain't no shame in it. I love the internet because it makes it possible for anyone who wishes to correct their ignorance to do so. But confirmation bias rules, alas.

  • Michael Canfield Why do calls for civility always put the onus on the progressives? When V.D. calls another writer a half-savage, why does the right not call for civility then, rather than post apologetic excuses ("oh, he only meant *her* not her entire race") as if that, which, as his full text shows, is a lie anyway, is somehow any more civil. Pournelle is not civil, he is dismissive and condescending. Resnick and Malzberg are not civil when they cast critique against them as censorship and pc fascism. They are not showing the respect for another point of view that would demonstrate basic civility. (I do miss their columns, though). Or there is the concern troll's old standby: "there's enough blame to go around on both side, guys". Sure, all right, but it's nothing more than a distraction by those who don't want to fight the fight they can't win, because no one really has a persuasive argument in 2014 in favor of racism and misogyny.

  • Will Shetterly People are free to engage in a race to the bottom. But if that's the tactic you think best, you shouldn't quote King.

    And if your argument is that it's okay to respond uncivilly to uncivil behavior, my understanding is Jemisin began the name-calling with V.D. I blogged about that at the time:

  • Liz Argall "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Michael Canfield If this is directed at me, Will Shetterly, I did not quote King, or anyone. I'm giving my opinion. My point (which I think I clearly stated, but oh well,) is not an "argument" that it's "okay to respond uncivilly to uncivil behavior", rather I was questioning why it's only the progressives that are accused of uncivil behavior, and these calls are made instead of arguments against the substantive criticisms put forth by Jemisin and others. I can only conclude that the civility arguments are made by people who do not want to talk about race or gender. As an example, look at another schism in the SF community: the debate between self-published (so called "indie") writers vs. "legacy" (or traditionally) published writers. There is a lot a incivility in that debate, namecalling and ridicule on each side. But what does NOT follow from that is relentless calls for civility for the purposes of derailment. Look, it's obvious that many writers are introverts, and poorly socialized, and rude jerks. Anybody who has been to a couple cons can see that. But while we are all waiting for the everyone else to become saints can we stick to the subject?
  • Nick Mamatas Some context.

    Nick Mamatas's photo.

  • Brian Zottoli In the Autobiography, there is a passage in which "Malcolm" also predicts his imminent assassination that made an impression on me as a teenager. Remember this not Malcolm X but Alex Haley writing in his voice from interview notes after his death:

    re the really sincere white people have got to do their "proving" of themselves is not among the black victims, but out on the battle their own home communities... generally whites' very presence subtly renders the black organization automatically less effective... [But]... We will completely respect our white co-workers. We will meanwhile be working among our own kind, in our own black communities -- showing and teaching black men in ways that only other black men can -- that the black man has got to help himself... Only such real, meaningful actions as those which are sincerely motivated from a deep sense of humanism and moral responsibility can get at the basic causes that produce the racial explosions in America today...The goal has always been the same, with the approaches to it as different as mine and Dr. Martin Luther King's non-violent marching, that dramatizes the brutality and the evil of the white man against defenseless blacks.

  • Will Shetterly Liz Argall, you seem to be under the impression that being respectful does not allow for treating people with respect. Were you around during the civil rights era? I took a very small part in that struggle, and I remember people constantly advising each other to be polite and not to sink to the level of the racists who opposed us. Thoreau, Gandhi, King, and Malcolm X all knew that respect helped their struggle and did not hinder it.

    Michael Canfield, this thread follows a post about King, and it's about dealing with racism, so I think King's approach to dealing with racism is relevant. If you want me to agree that respecting everyone is not everyone's approach, fine; I agree.

    Nick Mamatas, the context does not change the advice: "respect everyone" means "respect everyone". Has anyone laid a hand on anyone in any of the skiffy squabbles?

    "Message to the Grass Roots" was effectively the culmination of Malcolm's thinking as a member of the NOI. He later repudiated much of what he had said and done then, but so far as I know, he never rejected "respect everyone."

    Here's what he said shortly before his death:

    Brian Zottoli, yes. My family was one of a multitude that went out on the battle lines. We could not get fire insurance because word was out that the Klan would burn us down. We may not have been typical, but we were hardly unique—I find it sadly ironic that fandom's anti-racists mock Harlan Ellison, who was among those who risked his life to march with King. Perhaps my greatest frustration with the heirs of Derrick Bell is, like him, they write furiously and bitterly and offer no practical solutions.

    www.malcolm-x.org7 hrs · Like · Remove Preview
  • Will Shetterly Just heard that Jay Lake died. Here's something he said that pertains to this subject: “Any cause that requires mockery and abuse to advance itself isn’t one I need to engage with, regardless of my basic beliefs or agreement with the underlying goals.” I will always be sorry I didn't get a chance to know him offline.

  • Nick Mamatas X is describing the tenets of Islam. As can be seen on p. 13, he calls the white man in America a wolf. There can even be said to be some level of respect there—the respect someone gives a bully. But it's rather different than "civility" (by which people actually just mean collegiality), which was the point instantly grasped by every human being who read my screecap save WS.

  • Will Shetterly Nick Mamatas, I'm surprised that you don't know this: in that speech, he's describing the tenets of the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist group that was not affiliated with mainstream Islam. He said that before he left NOI. And regarding the part about treating people with respect, if you believe he did not mean it, please quote an example of him treating people disrespectfully or advising people to defer to racists rather than stand up to them.

    You might want to do a little googling about NOI. After he left NOI, he described the problem of power in the world very differently. A quote of his that anti-racists never share: "I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice, and equality for everyone, and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe there will be that kind of clash, but I don't think that it will be based on the color of the skin." —Malcolm X / El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz

  • Will Shetterly Nick, I'm especially sorry to haul out a thesaurus with another writer, but civility and respect are so closely linked they're offered as alternatives in some. Dunno how common that is, but this was the first hit:
    Synonyms for civility at with free online thesaurus, antonyms, and definitions. Dictionary and Word of the Day.

  • Will Shetterly Nick, do you still consider yourself a socialist? If so, here's another quote of Malcolm's you might like: "It’s impossible for a white person to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism. You can’t have capitalism without racism. And if you find one and you happen to get that person into conversation and they have a philosophy that makes you sure they don’t have this racism in their outlook, usually they’re socialists or their political philosophy is socialism.”

  • Nick Mamatas Will, I am not in the habit of telling minority sects that they really aren't a part of their broader religion. (I do remember, of course, that you are.) 

    I can only presume you dove for the thesaurus rather than the dictionary because the actual dict
    ionary definitions of the word civility and respect don't actually jibe the way you insist that they do. One is perfectly capable of being respectful without being civil, as X is toward "the white man in America" in the speech you quoted out of in context, and one is perfectly capable of being civil without having any respect for the person one is civil to. For example, I am treating you civilly right now.

    It's trivially easy to find examples of X being disrespectful, since he had a lot of opinions, many of which changed over the years. Here's a standard example: "Women talk too much, and to tell a woman not to talk too much, would be like telling Jesse James not to carry a gun, or telling a hen not to cackle."

    If you want to have a conversation about Malcolm X, I'd suggest that you find someone else, because I know enough about him and have read enough of his stuff to not be impressed with your technique of Googling "Malcolm X quote" and hoping that waving a famous black man at Andy's white audience will humble them.

  • Will Shetterly
     Nick, you may think NOI and Islam are the same, but Malcolm did not, and I'm in the habit of trusting him on his beliefs. Can you cite any greater Islamic organizations that included NOI at the time he was with them?

    I completely agree that "respect e
    veryone" is about words and deeds, not thoughts.

    I don't know whether it's easy to find X being disrespectful before '63, when he began to separate from NOI, but I would characterize that particular example as a generalization that's neither respectful nor disrespectful. X's take on women improved. Here's a quote I like: "It's noticeable that in these type of societies where they put the woman in a closet and discourage her from getting a sufficient education and don't give her the incentive by allowing her maximum participation in whatever area of the society where she's qualified, they kill her incentive. And killing her incentive, she kills the incentive in her children. And the man himself has no competition so he doesn't develop to his fullest potential."

    As for whether you know enough about Malcolm X, that's entirely your call, of course.

  • Nick Mamatas The quote you cited is what X describes as the content of the Koran. He is not making a specific claim about NOI. As far as his comment about women—try it out on your wife and report back to us. Act like you thought it up and agree with it.

  • Liz Argall WS, the manner in which you reference and misrepresent great social activists feels deeply disrespectful and abusive of those people. You also show strong indications that you have not read the full text of Letter to Birmingham which formed a base of this post by that Andy made. Here is another excerpt from the text that may provide a smaller chunk to reference and digest easily.
    "First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"
    When you speak with pride about having involvement with civil rights movements as a moderate, given your actions, there seems to be a certain relationship between you and people who Martin Luther King, Jnr references as some of the most harmful people to the cause. 

    I too have been involved with civil rights movements, however I demand no cookies, it is a duty, part of the fabric of who I am, an ongoing process I am humble to that requires constant learning. Perhaps it is telling that some people reference how they _were_ part of causes as they try to silence or tone down current movements and return the conversation to boring same old discussions of 'civility', when there is so much more work to do and this should be the least part of the conversation. Others continue to be part of causes and do not see it as a static point. People currently doing the work of positive social change seem less inclined to claim station through some historic involvement of unknown value.

  • Will Shetterly Nick, to be more precise, at the time, X was a member of NOI and was reading the Koran. It's analogous, I think, to being a Mormon and reading the Bible. His statements there about the white man were consistent with being in NOI. They changed later. Really, this is Malcolm 101; you can even find it in the Autobiography that Alex Haley edited.I'm not following you on the quote about women. Education and incentive matter. Or if you're thinking of the quote you offered, that was from '63. I prefer both Malcolm and King in the years after that.
  • Will Shetterly Liz Argall, I've never been a moderate. If I had been a moderate in the '60s, I would not have been beaten for being a niggerlover. But since you claim to be doing "the work of positive social change today", do you have any specific solutions? I go with two: the apolitical solution of Basic Income, which has been supported by conservatives, liberals, and socialists, and socialism, which would help everyone, regardless of race or gender.

  • Nick Mamatas If you wish to isolate "respect everybody" from all context, it is only appropriate to allow others to isolate "the white man in America...He's wolf" from all context too. It is inappropriate to do otherwise. You tortured X's claim by leaving out the cemetery bit—incidentally, in X's conception a number of people who are subject to the various controversies in the field should be in the ground now. Harlan Ellison and Rene Walling both come immediately to mind.

  • Will Shetterly Nick, I usually don't leave out the cemetery bit, and I thought I referenced it in this thread. Really, if no one's laid a hand on you, treat everyone with respect.

  • Nick Mamatas So you'll be heading up the legal defense fund when the next touchy-feely harasser gets a bullet in him, yes?

  • Will Shetterly Nick, if someone hits a guy who's touching people who don't want to be touched, I'll probably applaud.

  • Nick Mamatas "cemetery"

  • Liz Argall WS, your actions of the past may be laudable. Your actions of the present seem to fit squarely within the definitions of someone who silences social change.

  • Will Shetterly Liz, you really believe socialists wants to silence social change? David Harvey's written about how identity politics can serve neoliberalism, but I hadn't realized they were that effective.

  • Liz Argall Additionally, I see no respect in the way you reference people, be it radically removing Malcolm X from his context (and when caught saying 'well I like the later Malcolm X better) or while others grieve for Jay Lake you use him for a pull quote.

  • Will Shetterly Nick, at the time when Malcolm was writing, "lay a hand on" was assumed to be "lay a violent hand on". I don't remember anything he said about how women should deal with guys being creepy, so if you've got a quote handy, I'd be grateful.

  • Liz Argall Is socialist the label you use to identify yourself with, WS? I am surprised. My experience of most committed socialists is that they have better things to do with their time than asking people to be quieter.

  • Will Shetterly Liz, I begin to suspect you know nothing about Malcolm, because his life changed radically in '63. And I haven't asked anyone to be quieter. Gandhi, Thoreau, King, Malcolm, and a great many more know that there's no connection between respecting others and being silent.

  • Will Shetterly If you'd like to know how Malcolm's thoughts evolved, my favorite short example is the Pierre Berton interview:
  • Will Shetterly Nick, I just glanced at the Berton interview, which is post-NOI, and noticed X saying this: "the Muslim world rejected the Black Muslim movement as a bona fide Islamic group."

  • Nick Mamatas No, "lay a hand on" means making even the minimal intrusion into contact—the quote gains its power from the juxtaposition of the mild "lay a hand on" leading to the cemetery. X isn't saying "If someone tries to put you in the cemetery, you put him in the cemetery first."

    Nor did I say anything about the larger Muslim world's thoughts about NOI. Given that Islam is fairly decentralized as far as billion-adherent religions go, any such comment would be useless anyway.

    All this demonstrates is that in the 1980s, even the semiliterate could publish novels.

And soon after that, Andy said we'd gone far from the subject, which is certainly true.

I am oddly sorry that I didn't get to address Nick's notion about "Lay a hand on". Google has more pages addressing it than I expected, and, well, the internet has my back. But Nick just likes to troll me, so it's all good.