A Few Thoughts About Racism and Defensiveness
As posted on Twitter yesterday, and potentially relevant to certain conversations in fandom this week:
Saying, “But Bob has always been so kind to me” doesn’t mean Bob is incapable of racism.
Saying, “I’ve never felt personally offended by Bob” doesn’t mean Bob has never said or done anything racist.
Saying, “I’ve known real racists and Bob isn’t like that” reveals an overly simplistic & harmful all-or-nothing misunderstanding of racism.
If multiple people are angry because Bob said/did something racist and you call them a “lynch mob” … yeah, just don’t. #Facepalm
Racism is not restricted to sheet-wearing, cross-burning, moustache-twirling villains.
Also, ignorance does not make you a Bad Person. (Being called on ignorantly hurtful actions and refusing to learn, however…)
Basically, if Bob is accused of racism and your defense of Bob consists of, “But I like him so he can’t be racist,” you’re doing it wrong.
May 22, 2014 @ 9:57 am
It is amazing to me how often “lynch mob” is used to describe white people being called out for racism, and how often “witch hunt” is used to describe men being called out for misogyny. Yeah, because a privileged person’s discomfort is TOTALLY the same as the torture and murder of a non-privileged person.
May 22, 2014 @ 10:13 am
It’s related to the idea that there are Good people and Bad people. If someone is Good, then they don’t do bad things; ergo, anything they do must be okay. My experience with that person has been good and positive, so you must be misinterpreting, because they are not a Bad person.
But it’s a subconscious reasoning, so it doesn’t work to try to point that out mid-argument.
What he said | Simon McNeil
May 22, 2014 @ 10:33 am
[…] then I saw this piece from Jim Hines that quite effectively encapsulates everything I really needed to add and hadn’t added in my […]
May 22, 2014 @ 10:56 am
Jim, I’m going to take the wild stab and say this is almost certainly about Archon. You seem to have missed the idea that if you are going to take a big giant steamy poo on someones life and try and crucify, may I use crucify, them you should have a good amount of proof. This was not justice, or right. The evidence was presented to the board and they declined to take action until certain individuals threw a giant fit. What happened was one mob wanted to set a man on fire in the streets and the other mob wanted to stop them. Why not post on your twitter that if your going to call someone something as horrible as racist you should have a damn good amount of evidence? Is that not true?
Jim C. Hines
May 22, 2014 @ 11:02 am
I don’t know the details of the Archon decision, or of the individual in question. Therefore, it didn’t seem like a good idea to weigh in on that.
On the other hand, I saw a number of people — some of whom I like and respect — making the kind of arguments I posted about on Twitter. So I chose to point out that they’re lousy arguments.
And yes, you can use “crucify.” You can use whatever words you like. Yay, free speech! Likewise, others can look at what’s happening and decide whether or not you’re going completely over-the-top with your rhetoric.
Since it’s been brought up, I’ll recommend http://angryastronomer.blogspot.com/2014/05/archon-and-fan-community.html for some of the backstory on this particular incident.
May 22, 2014 @ 12:31 pm
Thanks for the link, Jim. I’d been wondering.
May 22, 2014 @ 1:58 pm
Personally, unless someone was standing there with a hammer and nails, I think ‘crucify’ is inappropriate. Same with ‘set a man on fire in the streets.’ Was someone holding actual matches?
May 22, 2014 @ 5:07 pm
Knowing and having heard nothing about Archon prior to this post of Jim’s, actually, I felt it was applicable to a significant number of situations I’ve read/heard come up. I think he did well in keeping it apropos without context. Until your comment, I wasn’t associating it with any particular person or event. So if anyone is perpetuating the story you seem to think so distasteful, it wasn’t Jim.
May 22, 2014 @ 5:37 pm
Lenora, often times when an event occurs those interested in such events will comment on them. Since the day after this event occurred Mr. Hines commented the way he typically does when such events occur, it was not really a stretch of the imagination to guess he was talking about Archon. I happened to be wrong in that guess. That simply means these sorts of events are happening more rapidly then people can keep up with.
Also how do you come to the conclusion that my problem is Mr. Hines perpetuating a story I find distasteful? My only issue is in finding Mr. Hines conclusion on these sorts of events to be wrongheaded.
May 22, 2014 @ 7:39 pm
Having known a good many racists, many family members I feel the need to add, that racists can be otherwise lovely people that just happen to say really horrible things sometimes. Being a racist does not make someone completely evil or awful, they have friends, family, maybe even do good things. That is what makes it so hard to point out someone said something racist, you say “that’s racist” and they go “you just called them a horrible human being and I like them.”
May 22, 2014 @ 11:49 pm
I didn’t say it wasn’t prompted by it; I said he managed quite successfully to make a post that is clear and relevant and applicable to one’s own life and a great many interactions one might have with people absent any knowledge of it. Where yours dragged it straight into the morass of a current and specific event, and moreover, decided to derail the general points made above by insisting on discussing the specific event in question and only that, rather than looking at the greater life lesson.
(Also, knowing nothing more of the event than your accusations and the article Jim linked after the fact? You were not saying Jim’s conclusions are wrongheaded. You were effectively saying that calling a person out on a racist action, and calling a convention out on the appearance of inaction, are both worse behaviours than actual racism or actual failure to take complaints seriously. If that was not your intent, please do clarify, because from where I sit, it sure looks like it.)
May 23, 2014 @ 12:52 am
I did not seek to drag anything in a direction. I merely underestimated Mr. Hines character. I assumed he was being passive aggressive like a certain author who likes to make snide remarks and pretend to not comment on things that he is commenting on. While Mr. Hines has a similar opinion to a certain author and a certain group of individuals who are often passive aggressive, a trait I find contemptible, he has once again shown me that he is remarkably honest with his words.
I did not say I find Mr. Hines conclusions to be wrongheaded until I posted that I did. I was not effectively saying anything of the sort. I was saying that if your going to hold a trial of public opinion, which in the communication age can be just as damaging as a trial by law, you damn well better have overwhelming proof. I’m saying seeking to ruin a man for something that may not be true is horrific. This man spent decades of his life in fandom creating conventions, nurturing authors, among a whole host of activities. While he still may have supporters a great deal of fandom will now shun him. With so much of his life devoted to this I feel quite confident calling it ruining him.
It would be like….if Mr. Hines was no longer allowed to help rape victims. I understand this is something very important to him and that he has spent years advocating for. If someone were to find something suggesting he had misogynistic thoughts, I would hope they would either silently investigate the matter or deal with it quietly through the proper channels. It would not be worth setting his life on fire to punish him for potential wrongdoing. People should be considered innocent before proven guilty. I find that far more important.
May 23, 2014 @ 4:06 am
Even if Bob is accused of racism, Bob may not be a racist.
It has become very easy to just fling the accusation out and have people start a feeding frenzy based on hearsay.
Jim C. Hines
May 23, 2014 @ 7:26 am
And if Bob did not in fact say or do something racist, maybe that should be the focus of the people trying to defend him, instead of “But he’s such a nice guy!” and over-the-top hyperbole about with hunts and feeding frenzies.
May 23, 2014 @ 7:46 am
If someone found, say, a series of newsletters Mr. Hines had collected and published that included misogynistic jokes and tirades, it would be quite appropriate for that person to bring that to everyone’s attention.
I hesitate to speak for Mr. Hines, but when I imagine his likely response my mental model pops up something along the lines of “Oh shit; I never thought how that would make people feel; I fucked up there. I’m sorry and I will try to do better.”
As opposed to “how dare you call me a sexist; I’m a nice person–why I’m *married* to a woman.” Or “for God’s sake it was just a *joke*; lighten up!” Or “the newsletters have jokes about men too, so it’s okay.”
Jim C. Hines
May 23, 2014 @ 7:59 am
It’s not really a hypothetical situation. I have certainly screwed up before, and people have called me on it publicly.
While I appreciate Cat’s faith in me, I’ll admit that my first response is often a defensive one. That said, I try to keep the defensiveness to myself. I usually end up walking away for a little while to think about what’s being said.
Most of the time, I do come back and recognize that yeah, I screwed up. I’ve done blog posts to that effect in the past. “Hey, I screwed up yesterday, and I’d like to talk about it.” Writing about my screw-ups helps me to sort it out in my own head and figure out how to do better, and I like to think maybe it helps someone avoid my own mistakes.
May 23, 2014 @ 12:17 pm
What if Bob’s reputation does not jive with the accusations of racism? It’s really hard to prove a negative. Unfortunately accusations of racism are often used as debate tactics. If I heard Bob say something racist and still defended him, that would be different, but unless I heard the racism or followed up to read it on Bob’s blog, I would doubt those accusations.
I want to encourage new voices in science fiction and want to make sure I am not excluding others. I certainly don’t want to make jokes at someone else’s expense. Obviously racism has no place at a convention. However racism has to be more blatant than a disagreement over a topic that is controversial.
I was also wondering if the trend of gamers playing Cards Against Humanity at cons might cause problems in this regard. Could we be alienating potential new fans by playing this game?
I hope I added to the discussion rather than caused worse problems. I always thought discussing issues openly was a good way to reevaluate ones own beliefs.
May 23, 2014 @ 12:23 pm
“What if Bob’s reputation does not jive with the accusations of racism?”
This just goes back to “Bob is a good guy, so he can’t do anything wrong” deal.
Pointing out what a swell guy someone is not a defense because it doesn’t address the accusation. It’s entirely possible for someone to be a basically good person but screw up, or for a basically good person to have a deep flaw.
May 23, 2014 @ 8:54 pm
Crikey Charley, no-one’s accusing anyone of CrimeThink here. The chap is being judged in light of things he chose to write and things he chose to publish. As a wise man once said, you will know them by their fruits.
May 24, 2014 @ 12:35 am
Rico: “You’d better have overwhelming proof.” So quotes from his own publications aren’t proof enough?
I really think this is falling into the category of “Being accused of racism is worse than dealing with racism daily” territory.
Orson Scott Card is apparently known for encouragement to new SF authors. He’s also known for some of the worst homophobic screeds out there. Last I checked, his books still sold. Writers of the Future has helped launch the careers of many SF writers, including our own host. It’s also got some skeevy associations with Scientology, in spite of declared efforts to keep the two branches of Hubbardisms apart. And again, it seems to do well. Harlan Ellison can be summed up as 15 different kinds of jerk and groped a Hugo and Nebula winner on stage. He’s also written some classic stories, helped with Babylon 5, supported new writers, and generally done a lot of good for the genre. Joss Whedon has done a lot of good things for feminism and LGBT rights. He’s also put his foot in his mouth badly for feminism and LGBT rights, and seems to be wholly clueless on racism.
In NO case does the one erase the other. In EVERY case, there are people who judge the bad worse than the good, or the good worth more than the bad. In no case was the person wholly thrown under the bus at the mere mention of their failures. if they can survive, than presumably this guy and this convention can both learn from their screw ups, and even if they don’t, they’ll have supporters.
May 24, 2014 @ 2:01 pm
Isn’t talking about fruit homophobic?
May 27, 2014 @ 6:51 am
May 29, 2014 @ 11:48 am
You may be right, but that’s not how large portions of society look at it. Many people see it as an “all or nothing” situation. So pointing out that person X said something racially insensitive can cause person Y overhearing that conversation to retaliate against person X. I’ve known people who said things they didn’t know were racially insensitive lose jobs, lose their homes, and have their family members harassed.
So I feel that distinguishing between being “racially insensitive” and being “racist” is important. And I don’t think that being insensitive is the same as being hateful, but I know some who disagree. If it isn’t an “all or nothing” situation, then I think our terminology needs to reflect that.
May 29, 2014 @ 12:55 pm
That’s a big assumption. You’re pointing to big names who had developed reputations large enough that their support can carry them through accusations of whatever “-ism”. Also, the accusations came after they made it big. For a smaller author, I’ve seen their careers tank where they’ve had to write under pseudonyms and their publishing careers have been delayed years. Some gave up on publishing all together.
Outside of the world of publishing, if one of my employees is accused of being racists or homophobic, their employment with likely be terminated, even if they issue an apology. The public rarely notices apologies. The company I work for is small enough and struggling enough that it can’t afford accusations of bigotry.
When you accuse someone of bigotry, you are saying that you want that person to become unemployed, you want them to lose their home, you want their spouse and children to be bullied, and you want them and all who associate with them shunned from society. If that is not what you intend, then you need to make certain that you make those accusation where only people who care about your intentions can hear it. It also helps to use language that clearly reflects your intentions.
May 29, 2014 @ 1:00 pm
“…you want that person to become unemployed, you want them to lose their home, you want their spouse and children to be bullied, and you want them and all who associate with them shunned from society.”
Wow, speaking of big assumptions…
May 29, 2014 @ 1:24 pm
Yes, it is a big assumption. That’s kind of the point.
Jim C. Hines
May 29, 2014 @ 1:36 pm
I’d love to see data to back up the claim that accusations of bigotry are enough to cost someone their job, their home, their place in society, etc. Because there are an awful lot of people running around saying and doing racist, sexist, and otherwise bigoted things, and they seem to be doing just fine for themselves.
May 29, 2014 @ 2:03 pm
Someone should do a study to get hard data. I know from experience spending years working low-income families, that people do get fired and lose homes because of accusations of bigotry. Some accusations were well founded, others were more vague. But companies frequently have it as part of their anti-discrimination policy. Some managers will check to see if the offending remark merits termination and others will not. This never makes the news. High profile people like Paula Dean, Brendan Eich, etc… are the exception for getting noticed. A lot of people don’t lose their employment, but that doesn’t mean that people who are losing their jobs over accusations doesn’t exist.
Certainly people believe that you can lose your job or home over a misplaced remark. If that is something people believe then it is likely action is being taken on that belief.
Course, getting a study like this through an ethics committee could be difficult.