So You’ve Been Called Out for Something Problematic…

This began with a pattern I saw of white people who’d been accused of racism asking for and getting reassurance from their white friends that they weren’t really racist. It’s not a new phenomenon, but I saw a lot of it earlier in the month, and talked about it on Facebook.

During the ensuing conversation, someone asked how I’d respond if someone accused me of being racist or sexist or bigoted or whatever. Another friend said they’d never seen anyone accuse me of such things, and that I was a feminist and a good person.

I genuinely appreciate this person’s faith in me, but … no. Whether or not they’ve seen such things, I can assure you that I’ve screwed up many times, and that in many of those instances, people called me on it.

  • One of the more memorable examples was a woman who came up to me after a panel to criticize my portrayal of a particular character in the Princess series. (She was right, and her comments led to a small addition in the final book.)
  • Another example that still makes me cringe is from almost twenty years ago, making a joke to my officemate that was so not okay. (I want to go back in time and smack younger Jim upside the head.)
  • Several people called me on a joke about mansplaining a few years back, because the joke erased transgender people.
  • I was asked to do an impromptu talk about men and rape at a Take Back the Night rally in college. A woman came up afterward to thank me, but also to point out that one of the phrases I’d used was sexist.

I could go on, but the point is, it happens. We grow up in a world steeped in systemic inequality, in racism and sexism and discrimination and bigotry. Do you really think it’s possible to grow up in such a world and not have these things affect you? That you’re somehow magically immune to these things?

None of us are perfect. The question is, what do we do about our imperfections? Do we work to be better, or do we lash out against anyone who dares suggest we might be flawed? That we might be … human?

It’s not pleasant. I still tense up when someone confronts me. I feel defensive. My mind runs through the whole, “But I’m a good person!” script.

The thing is, when someone confronts me on this stuff, they’re not saying I’m a horrible person. Those examples I gave earlier? For the most part, I’m friends with the people who called me out. (In one case, it’s so long ago I don’t even remember who it was that came up to me.) These people didn’t write me out of their lives or proclaim me Lord Evil McEvilson of Evil Manor.

And as unpleasant as it is to be confronted about this stuff? It’s usually hard for the person doing the confronting, too. They’re probably tense and anxious and bracing themselves for anger and defensiveness and mockery and attack.

“But I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic/etc!”

It’s not a binary thing. Humanity isn’t split into two groups, one of which is 100% pure and never says or does anything problematic, while the other is all-bigotry, all-the-time.

Foot-stepping is a useful metaphor here. If someone says you stepped on their foot, they’re not accusing you of being an Evil Foot-Stomper. They’re not saying you deliberately tried to break their metatarsals and phalanges and minotaurs and whatever other bones make up the foot. (I’m not a bone specialist.) They’re just pointing out that you stepped on their foot, and asking you to remove your foot and be a little more careful in the future.

It’s not an all-or-nothing thing. (See also, “Only a Sith thinks in absolutes.”)

“But I didn’t step on their foot!”

I hear this one a lot, in comments like, “People play the race card so often it’s lost all meaning!” Often, it’s because people are clinging to that binary all-or-nothing view. Racism has to be full-blown, intentional and deliberate, with KKK robes and nooses and burning crosses. Anything less is just people looking to be offended.

Yeah, no. Maybe I didn’t stomp on your foot while wearing cleats, causing compound fractures and the eventual amputation of your lower leg. Maybe it was just a small bruise, utterly unintentional. Maybe I didn’t even notice when I did it.

But it still hurt. Especially if that foot is tender from being stepped on so often.

That last part is key. People who are constantly being trod on are a lot more aware of when it happens. If someone tells me I stepped on them, I really need to listen.

“But what if they’re wrong?”

All right, sure. There are exceptions. There’s a troll in SF/F and comics who likes to claim everyone’s racist against him. Kicked out of Worldcon? It’s because he’s Hispanic. A big name author doesn’t like him? Accuse that BNA of being racist against Hispanics!  I’m pretty sure we can all recognize this kind of blatant and unimaginative trolling for what it is.

There’s another author who occasionally writes angry blog posts about how I’m a racist because I wouldn’t publish his essay in one of my Invisible anthologies. The fact is, that essay was a one-sided hit piece on an individual editor, and was inappropriate for the anthology. I definitely made mistakes in my handling of the situation. Was I racist in making those mistakes? I don’t believe so, no.

These are outliers. Exceptions.

They’re not an excuse to dismiss any and all accusations anyone might make in my direction.

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None of us are perfect. We all screw up. It’s not the end of the world, and nobody’s asking or expecting you to be perfect. Just listen and try to be better.

Stuff I Did or am Doing

Stuff #1: I’m the guest/interviewee person on Kevin Sonney’s latest Productivity Alchemy Podcast. We chat about the struggle to stay productive, useful tools like Habitica, and … I’ll be honest, I don’t remember exactly what else we chatted about. I guess you’ll just have to click and find out!

Stuff #2: Klud the goblin will be sending out my next author newsletter soon, probably by the end of this week. In addition to giving away a free signed book to one subscriber, he might give folks a sneak peak at Terminal Uprising and/or spill the beans about Secret Project K. Or maybe he’ll just grumble about the lack of goblins in The Good Place. Here’s where to subscribe, if you’re interested.

Stuff #3: On Saturday, September 8 at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time, I’ll be part of a Google hangout discussion about “Trashing The Rape Trope: Writing Violence Against Women in Fantasy.” I’ll be joining authors Martha Wells and Kate Elliott. We’ll also have a live Q&A portion. This is hosted by The Pixel Project as part of the Read for Pixels campaign to end violence against women.

Stuff #4: Only two months until Terminal Alliance comes out in paperwork, which should also bring down the price of the e-book. The publisher reworked the title font a bit for the cover, if you want to take a look.

Pro-Life?

I’ve been thinking about the phrase “pro-life” for a while, and what that would really look like in the U.S. The phrase is currently used almost exclusively to mean anti-abortion, but if someone truly cares about protecting and preserving life, shouldn’t they also believe the following?

Abolish the death penalty. I mean, this one is pretty self-explanatory, right? How can you be pro-life and pro-execution at the same time? And that’s before you even get into the research suggesting that as many as 1 in 25 people sentenced to death in the U.S. are actually innocent.

Provide universal health care. Lack of health insurance increases your odds of dying. People argue it’s not the lack of insurance, but other factors causing the different outcomes. But a 2009 study found, “After additional adjustment for race/ethnicity, income, education, self- and physician-rated health status, body mass index, leisure exercise, smoking, and regular alcohol use, the uninsured were more likely to die.” You want to reduce those deaths? Make health care available to everyone.

Improve mental health care. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. We’re talking about 45,000 people who take their own lives every year. How much could we reduce those numbers if we did a better job funding mental health services and providing support to those who need it? Not to mention destigmatizing mental illness to eliminate the shame of asking for help.

Gun regulation/control. According to the FBI, there were more than 11,000 gun-related homicides in 2016. The per-capita rate of gun-related deaths in the U.S. is eight times higher than in Canada, and 27 times higher than in Denmark. There are countries with higher gun violence rates too, of course. But looking at gun death rates in Canada and China and the UK and Germany makes it clear we could greatly reduce those deaths in our own country…if we wanted to.

Reduce poverty. A 2011 study found that 4.5% of U.S. deaths were attributable to poverty. How many lives could we save by increasing the minimum wage, or by focusing tax breaks on the poorest segments of our population instead of the wealthiest?

Diplomacy first. If you’re pro-life, shouldn’t it go without saying that military conflict has to be a last resort?

Maintain and improve environmental standards and regulations. A 2013 study from MIT found that air pollution, primarily from vehicle emissions, causes about 200,000 early deaths each year. The reversal of environmental regulations in the U.S. is projected to cause thousands of unnecessary deaths in the coming years.

As for abortion… Personally, I don’t think it’s my place to tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. But if you really want to reduce abortion rates? Provide free birth control. A 2012 study found that no-cost birth control for women dropped abortion rates between 62 and 78%. Provide comprehensive (not abstinence-only) sex education, which significantly lowers unwanted teen pregnancies. And hey, universal health care can also lower abortion rates.

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There are a lot more “pro-life” issues and positions I could have listed, but hopefully this is enough to make the point. Shouldn’t pro-life mean actually trying to, you know, preserve and protect people’s lives?

Yet, in my experience, most people who claim to be pro-life aren’t terribly interested in most of these issues. Often, their positions are diametrically opposed. It’s almost like the pro-life label, as it’s commonly used, isn’t about being pro-life at all.

Weird…

Blogging Thoughts

I’ve been blogging in one form or another for about 20 years ago. Back in the late 90s/early 2000s, it was LiveJournal and hand-coded a Geocities website, mostly to post my daily wordcount and talk about progress on the novel with a handful of other newbie and wannabe writers. (I even remember my old Geocities website address!)

That’s a lot of blogging. I vented over legal struggles (behind a tight friends-lock) back in the early 2000s. I bemoaned my rejections and celebrated the occasional short fiction sale. I talked about diabetes and depression. As I developed an audience, I also became more aware of fandom and of the larger SF/F scene, and wrote more about that. I argued and vented at folks — often justifiably, but not always. I celebrated stories I enjoyed. I talked about harassment and discrimination and inclusion and the ongoing struggle to make my genre more welcoming to those who have been historically excluded. I posted cat pictures and made memes of book covers.

I haven’t been blogging as frequently this year. Partly, that’s because I’ve had to focus more on the fiction writing — first revising Terminal Uprising, then writing ProjectK in three months before trying to get started on the third Janitors book. I have a few smaller contracts and deadlines coming up as well.

But I also find myself hesitating sometimes because I feel like I’ve already talked about a given topic. Sure, I could write about the underlying racism and hypocrisy of Robert Silverberg’s criticism of N. K. Jemisin’s Hugo win and speech, but do I have anything new to say that I haven’t said a dozen times before? Or I could talk about the frustration that even after 13 published novels, I still get stuck trying to plot out the next one, but I’ve written about my writing and process so many times, aren’t we all tired of it?

And I’m realizing I’m wrong about that. Just because I’ve written about something before doesn’t mean everyone’s read it. (How arrogant would it be to assume everyone’s read the entire archives of my blog?) Hell, some of you people weren’t even alive when I wrote my first LiveJournal post!

I wrote something on Twitter last night about how I wrote and published a lot of books before I even considered quitting my day job. This got a number of responses, which surprised me at first — it’s hardly the first time I’ve talked about that.

Our audience, our community, is constantly changing. And it’s not about always having something new and unique to say. Sometimes it’s about participating in the conversation. Sometimes it’s about trying to offer counterpoints and balance to the nastiness.

I’m still struggling with the planning for book three, so I can’t guarantee a flood of new blog posts. But I’m going to try to stop chucking possible posts and topics just because I might have talked about them before.

Kelly Marie Tran on Marginalization and Online Harassment

“It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them…”

Actress Kelly Marie Tran — the first woman of color to have a leading role in a “Star Wars” movie — wrote a personal essay for the New York Times: “Kelly Marie Tran: I Won’t Be Marginalized by Online Harassment.”

“Because the same society that taught some people they were heroes, saviors, inheritors of the Manifest Destiny ideal, taught me I existed only in the background of their stories, doing their nails, diagnosing their illnesses, supporting their love interests — and perhaps the most damaging — waiting for them to rescue me.”

After The Last Jedi came out, Tran was harassed off of social media by toxic “fans.”

“And that feeling, I realize now, was, and is, shame, a shame for the things that made me different, a shame for the culture from which I came from.”

It’s a powerful essay. I strongly recommend it.

Jim C. Hines