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July 10, 2008

Darn, these gnats are hard to swallow. Please pass the camels.
Posted by Patrick at 12:32 AM *

Speaking as an editor, if I ever reject a submission by means of a spluttering fulmination about the depravity of the Belgians, the imminent need to combat fluoridation, and my belief that ancient astronauts built the Pyramids, I will not be amazed if my letter winds up being shared with other writers. Or, even, reproduced on somebody’s blog.

Yes, despite the fact that the contents of such a letter would be covered by my copyright. The plain fact is that rejection letters are business communications, and there are many valid reasons for people to discuss and compare notes on communications from enterprises with whom they may wind up doing business. Without a commonsensical recognition of this fact, worthwhile consumer-rights activism such as that practiced by, for instance, this blog would be impossible. Yes, occasionally, enterprises attempt to use copyright law as a stick with which to suppress discussion of their actions. We tend to refer to such enterprises as “thugs.” It’s startling to see that for some senior people in the SF field, explaining that a letter-writer holds copyright in their missive takes priority over noting that a belief that ancient astronauts built the pyramids is crazy. And depraved. And stupid.

Comments on Darn, these gnats are hard to swallow. Please pass the camels.:
#2 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:31 AM:

Also, even though the letter is covered by copyright, the Doctrine of Fair Use still applies. If just a short excerpt of the letter is reproduced, for purposes of criticism, in a non-profit context, for example.

#3 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:39 AM:

I suppose this is about William Sanders' rejection letter.

As the managing editor of Helix, I'm the designated Speaker to Blogs at the moment, since William is traveling -- by motorcycle, so he has no computer along and has no net access. He left me in charge during his absence; this brouhaha had just begun to develop when he left.

So far I'm afraid I've made a mess or two, but let's see if I can clean up a bit.

The law says that letters, whether personal or business, cannot legally be published without the author's permission, though they can be shown around. The law, however, is really pretty irrelevant in this case. Nobody's invoking it. We do think it was bad form to post the letter in full without any explanation of the context, i.e., the story it refers to and previous correspondence, but nothing more than bad form, and the author who received it has indeed apologized, and the apology was accepted. No one asked for the letter to be taken down, nor will such a request be forthcoming, since it would be completely pointless.

Several people do seem to have misinterpreted it; the references in the letter to "those people" are indeed specifically directed at terrorists, not Muslims in general, since the story in question is about terrorists. I'm fairly sure the story's author understood that; I certainly hope he did.

The only possible ethnic slur is the term "sheet heads." Once again, that was intended to refer to radical Islam, rather than Muslims in general, but I acknowledge it may be an unfortunate choice of words.

But then, it wasn't intended for publication.

Beyond that, not having read the story and not being William Sanders, I am not equipped to say much. There will be no official response from William to the furor until he returns home, if then. That may be in a week or so. I would hope most of this will have blown over by then.


#5 ::: JamesP ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:53 AM:

@3 Wow, that's some pretty pathetic apologism, right there.

I suppose if the editor had lived in Harlem for a couple of years and used a different racial epithet, you would be explaining that he was only refering to *criminal* negroes.

#6 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:59 AM:

Lawrence, I recognize that you're in a difficult position here, but Sanders' claim that he was just talking about terrorists? I don't believe him. Nick Mamatas does a good job of demolishing those claims in the comment thread on Tobias Buckell's blog.

#7 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:03 AM:

It's pathetic apologism because I'm not trying to apologize. I'm explaining why William Sanders isn't speaking for himself -- he has no net access, and won't for several days. I can't speak for him beyond a few things he mentioned before his departure.

#8 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:05 AM:

Anyone who's coming in blind and wants to know about this brouhaha, Google "Sanders rejection letter."

#9 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:09 AM:

Whereas I do believe him, Avram, because I've known him online for about ten years, and while William's a cantankerous old bastard, I have never seen any sign he's any sort of racist. I know his style, and his words in that rejection letter are very much in line with his comments about terrorists elsewhere. He's taken pride in publishing several authors of color in Helix, and has tried to make the SF field a little less whitebread.

He and Nick Mamatas have disliked each other for years; I would look at anything Nick said about him with a jaundiced eye.

#10 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:26 AM:

Lawrence, you know I like you, but no one with any sense buys the idea that when Sanders raved about "the worm-brained mentality of those people" and claimed that "most of the SF magazines are very leery of publishing anything that might offend the sheet heads", he was making a careful distinction between "Muslims in general" and "terrorists." Because, you know, nobody thinks that even William Sanders is crazy enough to assert that "most of the SF magazines" are afraid to publish anything that would offend terrorists. Obviously he meant Muslims in general. He knows it, everyone with any sense knows it, and you know it, and I don't know why you're retailing defenses of this obvious nonsense.

Say what you will about Nick Mamatas; try to brush him aside because he and Sanders dislike each other--I'm not close to either of them, and I don't care about that. What I know is that Mamatas absolutely has the drop on Sanders' claims that he was only referring to "terrorists." As Mamatas points out, if this is true, what does it do to Sanders' claim of familiarity with the people under discussion? Sanders can't have it both ways; if his splenetic comments were meant to refer only to "terrorists," then he was claiming to have spent his time in the Middle East hanging out with terrorists. You can't brush off an observation of this caliber by noting that Mamatas and Sanders don't like each other.

Yes, yes, William Sanders is a brave truthteller and we're all PC police determined to silence him. Also, he's part Cherokee! This proves it!

#11 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:37 AM:

Wow. When he says nobody in the "civilized world" can understand the wormy mentality of those people, even if he meant terrorists, he still says people in the uncivilized world are capable of understanding them.

You know what really ticks me off? When Americans say they don't understand terrorists. I just can't get over that. Like Americans (or any Homo sapiens) can't comprehend the basic deep desire to kill enemies even if you die yourself. Even the Dukes of Hazzard used IEDs. You can't tell me shooting dynamite arrows at local law enforcement isn't equivalent to terrorism. And that was on prime-time television! In the "civilized world"!

I don't blame him for trying to back and fill, though. And I really don't blame him for unplugging and hightailing it on his bike until the heat dissipates. That's pretty smart, actually -- keeps him from putting his foot further into his mouth, for one thing.

#12 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:52 AM:

Actually, knowing William's style and the context, I find it easy to believe that "the worm-brained mentality of those people" refers only to terrorists. He claimed to be familiar with Islam from his time in Turkey, yes, and complimented the author on getting it right. He then shifted gears to discussing the story's central character, who is a terrorist.

The other quote is obviously another matter.

Whether William Sanders is a brave truthteller, I wouldn't know; mostly I know he's a grouchy old man who didn't intend this letter to be published, who therefore wrote it carelessly, and who isn't around to defend himself because he's gone to see his hospitalized wife, who is a couple of hundred miles from home because there's nowhere closer that can handle her case.

#13 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:56 AM:

Oh, William understands the desire to kill enemies just fine. It's indiscriminately killing people he doesn't get.

Nor does saying no one in the civilized world can understand such a mindset imply that everyone in the uncivilized world can. "No A is B" does not imply "Not-A is B."

As for his departure, he'd been planning this trip for some time. There's no connection with the current furor; it's just unfortunate timing.

#14 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:01 AM:

I'm not sure how it's releant to his bigotry that his wife is ill. Was there a reason you shared personal details about his life here on the internet other than to illicit sympathy? Because I can't imagine that he took the time to email you and tell you that was okay.

#15 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:04 AM:

and while William's a cantankerous old bastard, I have never seen any sign he's any sort of racist.

"Who are you going to believe: me, or your own lying eyes?"

#16 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:14 AM:

His wife's illness has nothing to do with the letter in question, no. It is why he's away, though, as he has said publicly in his newsgroup on SFF Net; I'm hardly revealing any personal secrets.

I'm not so much fishing for sympathy there as losing my temper. I like William, and I resent that he's going to have the knowledge niggling at him while he's gone that he's the subject of a great deal of nasty, ill-informed commentary, and that he's going to come home from an emotionally-draining trip to a mountain of accumulated hassle.

(BTW, it's "elicit," not "illicit.")

#17 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:21 AM:

Word of advice: If you're losing your temper, go for a walk or something. It's the internet. It will stil be here when you get back, and if you're getting angry you're probably not sounding like you mean to when defending someone.

You've said your piece. People will accept it or not according to their way. You don't need to repeat it, and you're going to make yourself ill trying to keep up with it.

#18 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:23 AM:

I like William

Then one would think you'd feel he ought to KNOW just how far out of line he was, so he can correct it and be better appreciated for his fine qualities. Which I believe you that he has.

I can think of a few reasons for someone who is not racist or bigoted to write something like that, but none of them are compatible with being fluent in English and literate enough to edit a magazine.

Not that you're going to listen to me, but 1) The man is BUSTED LIKE A CHEAP WATCH, and 2) You're making the fallout worse.

#19 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:26 AM:

He's a cranky old curmudgeon
and his words are like a bludgeon
and he's cycled off in dudgeon
and that's... actually not at all good enough for me.

This has been all over my LJ-Friendslist this morning, and as I've been reading about it my jaw has been dropping further and further, so maybe I really could swallow a camel at this point.

It seems to me that there comes a point where one has a private communication that one would normally keep private but in this especial instance making public what it says is more important than that normal expectation. This is whistleblowing, and this is important, and it's an important precedent that this is OK.

#20 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:37 AM:

I probably am making the fallout worse, and intellectually I know that. I've stayed quiet in most venues, and generally resisted the temptation to stuff my foot farther down my throat, but it's hard. I'm trying to only address specific details and reply to specific questions.

Alas, that often doesn't help, as then I get accused of dodging the bigger issues.

The timing on this sucks, it really does.

As for whether William's literate enough to edit a magazine, you could always go read the magazine in question -- it's free, after all, and up for a Hugo. I admit to being biased, but I think we've published some very fine work. You can also get a look at some of William's own commentary on the SF field by reading the editorials. (All the old issues are available in the archives.)

#21 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:46 AM:

I think there's a checklist someplace on the internet that you must be following.

1. He can't be racist, I know him, and he's a great guy!

2. He can't be racist, because he does really good work, so even if he is, it doesn't count!

3. He can't be racist, and let me tell you how he's stressed out now because of how he's being called out for this! Because it's everyone else's job to ignore it, not his job to have not said something racist in the first place!

Take a break. You are following a well-worn path that others before you have, and it is making you sound very foolish.

#22 ::: Ian Sales ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:57 AM:

There's one telling point no one has yet to mention. The term "sheet head" is clearly a reference to Arab headdress - aqul and guthra. First, not all Muslims wear such headdress (and it's certainly not common in Turkey). Second, not all Arabs who wear aqul and guthra are Muslim.

#23 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:05 AM:

I am not following that checklist.

If you look back at my very first post here, you'll see that I most definitely did not say it's everyone else's job to ignore it. We know perfectly well that it's going to be discussed at absurd length and that any attempt to prevent that would only make matters worse.

I commented here in the first place to reiterate that we did not try to suppress the letter once it was posted. The staff of Helix is not among those trying to "use copyright law as a stick" or "suppress discussion of their actions," nor were we amazed to see the letter posted.

Dismayed, perhaps, but not amazed.

And with that said again, I'm going to bed. I expect there will be a zillion more comments waiting for me in the morning.

#24 ::: JamesP ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:30 AM:

Well, yes. The comments might *just* be defensible on their own - at a stretch - a Plastic Man stretch - if it wasn't for, y'know, the racist epithet.

#25 ::: skzb ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:36 AM:

I think Nick nailed it.

But, just as a gedanken experiment, what if he didn't? What if Mr. Sanders is, as some claim, saying that "terrorists" are subhuman, and incapable of thought, and lacking in "human qualities."

Well, now where are we? A lot closer to understanding how American soldiers can be brainwashed into torturing prisoners and murdering civilians; and we're still confronting an attitude that would make any civilized human being blush with shame.

No, I think Nick is right. But even if he's wrong it doesn't gain a whole lot for Mr. Sanders.

#26 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:40 AM:

As for whether William's literate enough to edit a magazine, you could always go read the magazine in question -- it's free, after all, and up for a Hugo.

That was my point. Kind of raises the bar for selling "he expressed himself badly" as an explanation, you know?

#27 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:43 AM:

Lawrence, I know you have an LJ, and there's probably lots of comments there waiting for you.

But honestly, everyplace else that this is being discussed? Let it go. You aren't doing yourself or your friend any good. I know it sucks. I really do. But you've already admitted that in defending him you're digging a big hole. Stop. You can't do anything more at this point, and arguing about it here or elsewhere will not win friends and influence people. It will make you look foolish, like every other person who makes excuses for someone's racist behaviour.

You don't have a responsibility here. I know it feels like it, but you really don't. The only person who can do anything about what Mr Sanders wrote is Mr Sanders. And that will have to wait till he is able to do something, which obviously is not now, and may not be for some time due to his trip.

I hope you get lots of rest, and please consider what I've written.

#28 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:44 AM:

Just to forestall some wasted effort:

When William is available to post again, if he chooses to respond, he will say that "racist" is an entirely inappropriate charge, since Islam is not an ethnicity but a religion. You will not win an argument on this point, either - William is nothing if not persistent. :) Furthermore, as a point of technicality, he's right. William is not in fact criticizing non-Muslims of Arab, Persian, Turkish, or any other ethnic background; he is criticizing adherents of Islam, which he regards as a particularly dangerous set of superstitions. If you want to argue that he's being bigoted toward a religion, carry on, but make sure you know what you're aiming at, as William is fierce in pouncing on misdirected attacks. (Some of the back-and-forths I've had with him on various subjects have really done me good in sharpening my rhetoric and reading, and continue to influence my style.)

Also, as others have noted, William isn't white. He's Cherokee. Knowing this will save some wasted effort on insults or arguments based on the whiteness of an anti-Muslim claim's maker.

I offer these in hopes of more useful and less pointless exchanges, if and when the opportunity arises.

#29 ::: Tracey S. Rosenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:48 AM:

Linkmeister@8: I googled 'Sanders rejection letter' and the first hit was...this page. So I came back! Whee, better than the carousel! :D

The second link on Google was William Preston's LJ, which is where it seems to have kicked off, but I'm momentarily distracted by unfond memories of spending an entire Christmas plowing through Middlemarch. Also, he removed the text of the letter, so I'm still not sure what it said, apart from snippets elsewhere.

*reads snippets*

Okay, so one of those snippets says: '...and I was pleased to see that you didn’t engage in the typical error of trying to make this evil bastard sympathetic, or give him human qualities.'

Hmmm. As someone currently writing about Nazis - who are, I must tell you, Very Very Bad - I disagree with him and quote Chekhov:

'You abuse me for objectivity, calling it indifference to good and evil, lack of ideas and ideals, and so on. You would have me, when I describe horse thieves, say: "Stealing horses is an evil." But that has been known for ages without my saying so. Let the jury judge them; it's my job simply to show what sort of people they are.'

#30 ::: Ian Sales ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:52 AM:

When William is available to post again, if he chooses to respond, he will say that "racist" is an entirely inappropriate charge, since Islam is not an ethnicity but a religion.

Nope, won't wash. See my earlier comment. The term "sheet head" is a reference to Arabs, not Muslims.

#31 ::: JamesP ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:57 AM:

Bruce @28 - if we lived in a world in which there was not a strong cultural association between Arabs and Islam, then maybe. But 'sheet-heads'? 'The civilized world?'

If I were to talk about Jews and describe them as 'manipulative,' 'deceitful,' and contrast them with 'settled peoples', and talk about, say, 'Yiddish jabber' nobody would believe my claim that I just held Judaism to be a particularly harmful set of superstitions, and I had nothing against non-religious Jews. There's clearly a racial element here. It doesn't mean the writer is a broad-spectrum racist, of course, but race, culture, and religion are very tightly tied together when it comes to the fashionable bigotry of our day.

#32 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 05:11 AM:

JamesP, I'm not attempting to defend William's usage. (My own take is that there are times it just doesn't matter what's technically correct when popular usage is sufficiently other. William's response has in the past included the idea that he's not about to take a burden of collective guilt for other people's sloppiness.) I'm just pointing out foreseeable pitfalls.

#33 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 05:27 AM:

The Cherokee do have a problem with racism. They were slave traders. A Cherokee chief, Stand Watie, was the last Confederate general to surrender. More recently, the Cherokee voted to exclude the descendants of their black slaves from the tribe (and the tribe's gambling wealth), even though many of those people were culturally Cherokee, living the life and speaking the language.

On the other hand, Sanders is just a racist.*

* In the modern sense that race equals ethnicity.

#34 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 05:43 AM:

Ah, the "it's not racism if it's not about *race*" thing.

Problem is, THERE ARE NO HUMAN RACES. The fact itself that you establish a distinction between "racims" and "other stuff" sorta proves that you are a racist.

Because, well, how do you say that somebody is, say, an Arab? Is a half-British person whose mother is Egyptian Arab? Well, that's hard isn't it? There have been people in Egypt long before the tribes from the Arabian Peninsula swept there, and who is to say what part of her genes is "Arab"? And frankly, y'know, it's not as if people aren't mixed up plenty. Time it was when a geneticist did a DNA examination of the people residing in Italy and found that there were only two groups genetically diverse enough to be told apart - in Tuscany and in Sardenia.

There are no human races. The "race" idea in America mostly applies to descendant of African slaves; but Africa is such a genetically diverse mix that the only thing that distinguish these people is the color of their skin, a very superficial characteristic, and one, as we know, that is not "really" important because there are black people who can "pass" and they are certainly still considered black or mixed "race" at best.

There are no human races. Not only we are all, of course, capable of producing offsprings, we are all made up of far more diverse genes than people believe - including African genes in James Watson.

I have pale skin but very, very curly hair, which nobody in my family has. And I was born in one of those crucibles of the human race, the bit were Italy joins up with the East. My curly hair could come from stray genes from Carthaginians, from Romans, from Spaniards, from Lybian, yeah verily, even from Lebanese merchants who had some desert tribe blood in them, from Celts, from a visiting freaking Bushman for all I know.

And you Anglo-Saxons? Is the name a hint? Just because you (I don't mean any particuar you) are ginger-haired do you think no Roman general descendant from Nubian warriors contributes to your makeup?

As for "he's not white he's Cherokee", give me a break. What does that have anything to do with anything else? When I was in America I kept insisting that I wasn't white, I was Italian. And you know what, there was a time when being Irish or Italian was, if not as bad as being black, certainly pretty close to it. But right now? I am white, whether I like it or not.

Because race, my friend, is in the eye of the beholder. Race is the square hole bigoted people push you in, no matter how round you are.

And if you hate and despise people based on one fact you know about them, their faith or lack of it, their skin color, their class, their gender, their lack of gender, the way the choose to entertain themselves in the privacy of their own bedrooms or out there in the public square - then, my friend, you are the same sort of shit whatever you choose to call your bigotry and if you keep wasting your breath by tracing lines in the sand, then it's your own humanity that you are condemning.

Sorry, rant over.

BTW, I had met William Sanders long before this incident, and had formed a pretty strong opinion of him as definitely sexist and all-round unpleasant. My own reaction to this latest incident was "It's William Saunders we're talking about. Why is everybody acting all surprised?"

Somebody please remind me of what he said back in the days of Ellisongate?

#35 ::: J.K.Richard ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 06:06 AM:

What was this about again? Ah yes, Patrick's belief that ancient astronauts built the pyramids. I remember now.
Unfortunately, Xenu has sent an angry missive requesting that we remove all images of the secret decoder device from our interwebs. In his letter (which he has told me that I cannot repost because he's enacting Section 5 a.1.42 of the Interspace Binary Information Protection Act) her does however refer to the entire human race as barely evolved but hyper-caffeinated apes.
We are ignoring his slanderous comment because he is you know, good ol' Xenu.

#36 ::: Fred A Levy Haskell ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 06:41 AM:

"The fact itself that you establish a distinction between 'racims' and 'other stuff' sorta proves that you are a racist." Um. Really? But if "THERE ARE NO HUMAN RACES" how can somebody be "racist"? I mean, on the one hand you seem to be saying that "racism" =cannot= be a meaningful label because there ain't no such thing as "race"; you then use the term "racist" in a way that causes me to suspect that you believe it to be meaningful after all.

Me, I rather thought the point the writer was making (or trying to make, in any event) was about =terms=, not about substance. As in, "better to choose a more accurate/better/real term to talk about the matter at hand, because 'racism' doesn't apply." As in: pretty much the same point that you appear to me to be making here with a different set of supporting details.

But I'm feeling stupid about my ability to put words together this morning. So I hope you understand my discomfort with your opening paragraphs (but not the rest of your post, which seems accurate and unobjectionable to me). If not, this forum is full of smart people who are good with words--perhaps one of them will be able to ferret out what I'm trying to say and do a better job of saying it. (This here paragraph is not, what?, "sarcastic"? "Clever"? It's straight truth of how I feel/think at the moment, but, again, probably not stated well enough nor to be easily misunderstood.)

#37 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 07:06 AM:

'He claimed to be familiar with Islam from his time in Turkey.'

Then he's a fool, on top of everything else.

Turkey's really a very atypical place, in all sorts of ways, and Turkish Islam isn't all that representative of anything except...well, Turkish Islam. (The bars in Istanbul do very well in Ramadan, for example...I doubt that's true in Riyadh)

#38 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 07:08 AM:

Lawrence Watt-Evans -

So far I'm afraid I've made a mess or two, but let's see if I can clean up a bit.

I think you failed, you shoulda known better than to have made the attempt you're making. You're not doing any good for Helix here from my perspective. You're making more of a mess.

And it looks like there more mess from Sanders too - he's alleged to have baned people who complained about his words in a public forum from submitting to Helix.

(When I saw him in that thread defending those views, rather than apologizing for them, I knew I had to speak out, even though it meant (as he informed me privately afterward) that I’d never be pub’d in Helix again. ::shrug:: So be it.) - From Nora over at Tobias Buckell's blog

I wonder - is he keeping a private list of everyone who's taken a side against him on this issue? Is Nora lying? Or was he once again 'misinterpreted'?

#39 ::: Jan Vaněk jr. ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 07:11 AM:

LWE #13: Without wanting to fan the flames too much (I can agree with #12 that the subjects of vague references can shift even between consecutive sentences, though people's reading of that will vary), I'd like to say that no, "No A is B" does in fact rather strongly imply "(At least) some not-A is B", certainly in the fuzzy logic of natural language with its four maxims of relevance etc (I'm never able to find them on Wikipedia when I need them) and for most ordinary values of B; both generally and in this particular example and context. Otherwise there's no reason to connect the two at all and not to say just "there is no B".

And back to on-topic, PNH's (original) links: It is well known that Google is a service provider directory that links users to an online location. - actually, I had no idea!

#40 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 08:18 AM:

Reading John W. Campbell's correspondence would be more entertaining if I hadn't spent a couple of decades reading half-baked rants on Usenet and in the blogosphere.

#41 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 08:33 AM:

Just another little snapshot:

Sanders writes an unprofessional and racist* rejection letter to some guy.

Guy posts it.

Lots of people link to it and complain.


A few other people whine that copyright is being violated.

A few others also complain that posters such as Tempest Bradford and Toby Buckell are a "lynch mob". (Oh those black people and their lynch mobs! Will they ever learn?)

This becomes, through the agency of Sanders's running buddy, a moral referendum...on me? (One that I'm winning, but still.)

*And yes, despite not being a "race", clearly Islam has been nearly as racialized as Judaism. Plenty of people on the trains to nowhere a few decades ago were utterly indifferent to the religion of their ancestors and many practiced other religions.

#42 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 08:36 AM:

@36 Words sometimes are substance. When you huff and puff so much to distinguish between "racism" and "other bigotry", trying to obfuscate the fact that "other bigotry" is not better, you are ALSO implying that you believe that race is indeed a concept that has any validity. That is what being a racist means: believing that races exist, that a hierarchy can be established between them, and that people can be assigned to one or the other on the basis of, well, how dark their skin is, mostly, historically.

People who say "no no I am not a racist I just can't stand Belgians, but hey, you are born black but nobody stops you from emigrating out of Belgium and giving up your citizenship so if you remain Belgian it's a choice" are trying to imply that racism is more hideous because it classifies people on the basis of things they can't help, while their particular kind of bigotry classified people on the basis of some other characteristic that they perceive as a personal choice.

But it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if homosexual are born that way or choose to be. It doesn't matter if people convert to Islam (btw, apparently the fastest-growing religion in the USA right now) or just have Muslim gene. It still comes down to spitting insults to a whole bunch of people who are not one uniform mass, are not robots, are not subhumans.

Incidentally - not even terrorists are subhuman. But of course, if I were to go on in this vein I would have to start talking about "no, Our People who did that stuff were not REAL terrorists, because they didn't kill civilians/only killed civilians by mistake / killed cvilians but couldn't really help it / did it for a right cause / only killed a few people / had to defend themselves / were real soldiers with a real uniform / the other guys were worse /in the end saved more people than they killed / were really kind to kittens and puppies / oh look a butterfly! / etc, etc, etc."

#43 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 08:45 AM:

One point that I've only seen mentioned indirectly is that the message involved was not a personal communication; it was a business letter sent in the name of Helix, and therefore can be considered to represent the editorial position of the magazine. Even if Mr. Sanders sincerely believes that his words were in no way offensive to anyone other than a terrorist, was writing that letter, no matter how private it may have remained in the event, a professionally justifiable act? The only way I can think that it would be is if Sanders is absolute ruler of the magazine, and no one else at Helix has any input on its policies or public image. This may in fact be true, but it certainly doesn't make me feel any better about the qualities and professionalism of Helix.

And what Bill Higgins said.

#44 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 09:00 AM:

"Oh, you have a Scottie dog! A friend of mine has a few Scottie dogs, so I know what they're like. *pause, cough, pause* Those dogs should all be shot and incinerated." Some words require clear antecedents. Anything else is poor communication.

I said it on the comment thread originally, and I may just keep repeating it. If what you say isn't what you mean, then you are not saying it right.

#45 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 09:04 AM:

As a person of colour who is regularly taken for a Muslim and an Arab, though I am neither (having brown skin and a beard does the job), I assure you that I find the term 'sheet head' to be racist. To say that it applies to 'terrorists' and not to 'Muslims' is as obfuscatory and as stupid as saying that 'nigger' doesn't mean 'all black people', just the 'lazy and shiftless ones'.

To use such phrasing in a business communication is to put the full weight and authority of the organisation behind it, to implicate the organisation in the bigotry, the racism, the xenophobia, the religious hostility, and the stupidity of its agent. There's no way around that.

#46 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 09:36 AM:

Anna @34, well-said.

As a token recovering anthropologist, let me agree that it is perfectly possible to have racism when there are, objectively speaking, no human "races." Because as Anna says, race is in the eye of the beholder. It's whatever criteria you use to establish an Us vs. Them mentality.

Yer average modern pale-skinned American might assume that a Pequot and a Mohawk were the same "race," but the Pequot and the Mohawk would beg to differ. Likewise, your white northern European might think everybody in all the nations of subSaharan Africa is the same "race," but again, if you were to ask a primary source, you'd get a very different answer. (Incidentally, some ridiculously high percentage of all human variation is present in the indigenous populations of Africa; the fact that most Africans have dark skin adapted to a massive UV exposure does not make them genetically any more alike than, say, those Mohawks and the English settlers in Massachusetts.)

"Race" does not exist as an objective quality. It is assigned from the outside, by the observer.

I could arbitrarily say that all blue-eyed people are one race and all brown-eyed people are another, that hazel-eyed people are the result of miscegenation and to be shunned, that gray-eyed people are assigned to the blue-eyed group, and that green-eyed people will be shot as witches, and it would make about as much sense as our cultural preconceptions about race.

In my opinion, it's much more productive to talk about culture, religion, and ethnicity, which is often what we really mean when we say "race," but to handle the conversation that way requires that we pause for a moment and think with nuance rather than reacting on a gut level.

But when we call somebody on racism, what we are reacting to is their othering (assigning of "race") to another group of human beings. "Racism" occurs when some person(s) wishes to be able to say "those people, not like us people" as a categorical statement and have it go unchallenged.

(Like William Sanders, I'm part Cherokee too. You sure wouldn't know it to look at me, and culturally, that influence is all gone from my family. If it ever had much of a foothold to begin with. Does that mean I can't be a racist? Does my understanding of the fact that race as we use the term does not objectively exist, and that it's a holdover from some rather obscene Victorian and pre-Victorian ideas about God's intentions for the human species mean that I can't be a racist? Well, alas. No. Because the English language mocks prescriptivists, and words mean what people use them to mean, and the fact that "corn" originated as a catchall term for grains does not make it any less plain what an Indianan means when he says "sweet corn.")

#47 ::: Tim May ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 09:42 AM:

Jan Vaněk jr. @ #39

four maxims of relevance etc (I'm never able to find them on Wikipedia when I need them)
Gricean maxims.
#48 ::: JimR ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 09:43 AM:

Oh my. How anyone can possibly think that the issue here is copyright or whether or not the author should have posted the letter is beyond me.
I can't imagine any person of good conscience, receiving a business communication of any kind containing such bigotry, not trying to expose the author for the bigot he or she is.
Honestly, there is no defense for this. The fact that the author removed the posting--and apologized for it--makes me sad. The fact that he then defended the letter makes me plain old angry.

Ugh, what a world.

Also--I think a couple of people (#30, #31 #34), maybe misread Bruce Baugh's post at #28. Or did I? It sounded like he was preparing people to confront Sanders by describing his favored rhetorical strategies (semantic pirouettes rather than honest discussion); I didn't take it to mean that he subscribed to the same ideas.
Did I miss something?

#49 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 09:49 AM:

As a white guy with privilege in most situations, I try hard not to lecture anyone about race issues in the US. But I will say that, living outside and watching non-white on non-white bigotry has been an eye opener. Watching how progressives other cultures actually deal with condemning racism, and how hard it is for them to get anywhere in that argument has been eye opening.

White culture, in the US, Europe, and Australia has race problems. But we're pretty damn vocal about it. it's something I'm proud of - that we can be, and we're not shamed into silence because "one does not speak of such things" rules.

I'm glad that we're having this conversation today.

#50 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 10:13 AM:

Anna:

To put it another way, a race like "black" or "Arab" exists just as much as, say, a literary genre like "science fiction" exists. In both cases, it's something assigned by a significant number of people, simply because it means something to them.

There isn't necessarily any objective rhyme or reason as to why one book is considered SF and another isn't, but I'd imagine anyone working in SF publishing had better have a good working model of the concept, so they can market effectively. (They may well choose to ignore or break down the boundaries of the genre, and that can often be a good thing. But they also need to know what the genre is considered to be. Of course, our gracious hosts have long personal experience in this field that I don't; so believe them over me if they say I'm all wet here.)

Similarly, "race" is essentially a social construct, one that varies by society. (As I've said before, I often think it most useful to think of "race" as "ethnicity with persistent, pervasive caste issues"; and different societies have different ideas of what their castes are.)

I think you'd find nearly everyone here in favor of breaking down ethnic caste hierarchies. But that doesn't mean they have to pretend they don't exist in society, much less be considered a racist if they decline to play that game.

"But what about other bigotry?" you might ask. Well, that's bad too, but the case in front of us happens to involve racism, among other things. Insisting that one cannot talk about a specific case at hand, but only in more general, abstract terms, can be a way of distracting from (and thereby diminishing) the immediate problem. Done deliberately or to an extreme (though I don't think you intended it this way yourself) it can end up functioning as apology for bigotry.

(You see this not infrequently in sexism threads: e.g. the argument that, because sexism exists to some extent against men as well as women, any women complaining about a specific sexist incident against her should stop her whining because other people get mistreated too. I'm pretty sure this is on Flamer Bingo cards somewhere; I see it often enough...)

#51 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 10:14 AM:

Anna #42: As a nitpick, there is a fuzzy biological definition for race, in the sense that it's apparently pretty easy to classify most people as belonging mostly to one identifiable race based only on their genes. To the extent that race is taken to mean "continent from which most of your ancestors came," it's got a biological meaning. (It also has a cultural meaning, which is somewhat related to the biological meaning.) Here is a link to a paper describing this. (It's not real surprising though, as you can see by imagining drawing out a family tree for different people, and seeing how many people they had in common, say, 20 generations back.)

But as you pointed out in #42, this isn't too important. In terms of morality, there's not too much difference between "I hate you for having black skin" and "I hate you for being steeped in American black culture," say. (That's distinct from hating some aspects of American black culture, naturally.)

More generally, there are a whole bunch of ways to invoke the "us/them" circuitry in peoples' minds. That circuitry is dangerous to invoke, since it lets people justify almost limitless nastiness to "them" on behalf of "us," so it's important to minimize the use of that circuitry. Invoking it with respect to race and religion has such a bad history among people that we've broadly agreed to try to minimize it. (Unfortunately, there's still plenty of us/them circuitry invoked on racial grounds explicitly among black political leaders and thinkers. This strikes me as wrong and destructive, FWIW.)

#52 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 10:31 AM:

KimR, #48: I think you read Bruce Baugh's #28 exactly right; he was cataloguing Sanders' various rhetorical strategies in arguments of this sort. I've been reading Bruce online for years and I wouldn't for a moment believe he was endorsing any of those strategies.

It's also worth noting that the flap over this isn't a case of hypervigilant people jumping down a guy's throat over one ill-considered remark. Sanders has years of history impressing people in the SF field with his temperament. I'm sure he has many virtues, and I've read at least a couple of very good short stories under his byline, but fairly or not, when his name comes up in conversation, his virtues often aren't what's being discussed.

#53 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 10:47 AM:

Race is a social construct. It's one matter whether race qua social construct "exists" in any meaningful sense. But in the here-and-now race is meaningful and it has real power, even if we insist otherwise. Treating race as real does not necessarily make you a racist any more than treating gender as real makes you a sexist. It makes you a pragmatist.

To reduce racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc., down to a basic human "us vs. them" impulse sweeps aside a lot of important details, and misses the point.

But this is all getting away from the real topic, which is how hopelessly racist William Sanders is. Complaining about the letter being put online clearly didn't work. It is also not a good strategy to go running around the Internet saying "No he's not, racists kick puppies and William Sanders loves puppies!". He drops ethnic slurs in business correspondence. He thinks MUSLIMS = ARABS = TERRORISTS = EEEEBIL. He's a bloody racist.

My [cynical] bet is that his response will be "I'm sorry if you were offended", focusing on those oversensitive, touchy, wimpy people in the audience, and not on whatever mysterious force did the offending. AFAIK that's the usual procedure in these cases.

#54 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 10:48 AM:

Ian Sales @ 22 and 30:
There's one telling point no one has yet to mention. The term "sheet head" is clearly a reference to Arab headdress - aqul and guthra.

I'm not sure what point you're trying to make, but claiming this term is "clearly" directed against a specific form of Arab headgear, and must therefore only be referring to Arabs, is highly dubious; from the quoted statements, I doubt Sanders was being that hairsplittingly precise and narrow about the target of his bigotry.

And as a matter of (unpleasant) fact, people use "sheet head" and the obvious parallel terms ("towel-", "rag-", etc.) to refer to headdress/turban-wearing Muslims in general, including Iranians and Afghans.

(This doesn't stop it also being a racist/ethnic slur, most often directed against Arabs and no doubt originating in that sense. But claiming that it is only used that one way isn't correct.)

#55 ::: Trevin Matlock ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 10:54 AM:

#48 Re your comment about Bruce Baugh's post at #28. Your reading is the same as mine.

I think some people have not been reading carefully. But, except for feeling bad that he (Bruce Baugh) may feel under attack himself, I have enjoyed the posts responding to him.

#56 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:15 AM:

Lawrence, I hope you don't know what I'm talking about, because the last couple of weeks at Boing Boing have been damned unedifying; but trust me, this situation could get a lot worse.

There's no use arguing about how to read the letter. The facts (whatever they are) aren't the point. Sanders wrote in pithy demotic English, and you're not going to convince anyone that they couldn't tell what he meant by it. Arguing copyright will just get you into endless fair use arguments, and then people will start digging up all those many instances where no one objected to writers quoting editorial letters. In your position, I'd put down the shovel and wait out the fuss. Time, short memories and the natural desire to be published will do more to repair this than words ever could.

By the way, the William Sanders I'm seeing quoted sounds just like the one I've encountered online; but if it really doesn't match your experience of him, you should encourage him to see a doctor.

Bruce Baugh (28):

"William is nothing if not persistent. :)"
He has a decent amount of stamina, gets heavy-handed and turns up the volume on small provocation, and is fond of believing that his victories owe nothing to his opponents' exhaustion.

I have seen him surprised on that score.

Anna (34), well said.

Nick Mamatas (41): Somebody referred to Toby Buckell and Tempest Bradford as a lynch mob? That makes my brain hurt.

Fragano (45), it's a pleasure to see you get out the howitzer.

Bear (46): My working theory is that Americans have a thing about blacks being a completely separate race because slavery is much easier to administer if you've got an automatic visual cue that tells you whether someone is slave or free. Blacks were visually distinctive; initially, there wasn't an established population of free blacks to confuse the issue; and they were easily purchased. I believe our European ancestors would just as readily have taken ethnic Chinese, if they'd been available for sale at one corner of the Triangle Trade; and that if they had, they'd have told themselves that there were profound and ineradicable differences between whites and orientals.

John Mark Ockerbloom (50): Book categories aren't that arbitrary. What they actually mean is that if you like one book that's labeled science fiction, you'll probably like other books that have that label. Granted, this breaks down at the edges; but it's what the center is about.

Tlonista (53): He's a racist; he doesn't have the sense to be decently hypocritical about it; and few people who hear the story are moved to protest that it's just not like him to do that. All kinds of bad judgement are present in this situation. Meanwhile, a flock of chickens appears on the horizon, homeward bound with roosting on their minds.

#57 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:36 AM:

Wow.

Patrick posts links about how Google fellated the Scientologists, and all anyone wants to discuss is William Sanders's, uh, hyperactive use of the English language. (Grass is green, sky is blue.)

#58 ::: Christopher Turkel ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:36 AM:

It's unfortunate this is happening because Helix is a fine online magazine and this will only hurt.

I think Sanders was a dunderhead for writing such a rejection letter. I don't know what he was thinking but clearly it wasn't very clearly.

It's very sad.

#59 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:40 AM:

My first thought was: "Was William Sanders drunk when he wrote that letter?"

Sanders is an alcoholic. At the 1998 Nebulas, after losing a Nebula to another writer, he drowned his sorrows at the bottom of a bottle of Scotch. His subsequent behavior was such that several people seriously proposed that he should be banned from SFWA functions thereafter.

As I recall, after that debacle, Sanders admitted his problem with alcohol and, iirc, began attending AA.

Even if he's stayed dry since, there is the phenomenon of "dry drunk" behavior, where even if one is sober, the behavioral patterns of those alcoholic years continue to resurface.

That was my thought.

#60 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:44 AM:

I wrote this awhile back in responce to someone using the term "towel-head" and then saying he hadn't meant it in a racist way. I thought about updating it (or starting anew) to make it applicable to "sheet-head", but I'm lazy. I think its relevant enough as it is, despite line 5...

On the Possible Meanings of Towel-Head

We might all be way off base
We could've missed his meaning
It might be a sunbather with a burnt face
And not at all demeaning

A sheetless child playing ghost
Would also fit his image
No need here for the whipping post
No reason for a scrimmage

And what about those newly showered?
Would they not fit his words?
No, it's less of a stretch to think he's soured
On the Turks, Arabs, and Kurds

#61 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:45 AM:

(Oh, and for the record, I really thought Sanders should have won that Nebula in 1998.)

#62 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:49 AM:

I was amused to see Sanders retaliating by banning people from his magazine. Of course he banned the person who posted the rejection letter; no surprise, and many would do the same. But he also banned a writer who'd published a couple stories in Helix for criticizing him in this kerfuffle, and that's just pathetic.

I hope that the publicity from this results in a noticeable drop in good submissions. I've never seen any evidence online that Sanders is capable of learning anything from anyone, and I'm sure any lessons he chose to learn from the decline of his magazine would have more to do with the perfidy of others than his own foolishness, but it would still be satisfying to observe.

#63 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:52 AM:

Fragano, #45: Hear, hear! Bad enough that he said it at all, but that he said it on company letterhead, in his Official Voice as company representative? No excuses need apply.

JimR, #48: That was my reading as well -- Bruce was warning people about Sanders' common troll-tropes, and offering tips on how to avoid giving them purchase.

And a general question concerning the "copyright" red herring: would it have made any difference if, instead of quoting the text of the letter, Mamatas had simply scanned it and posted the image? Because honestly, if I had received something like that and wanted to hold it up to the court of public ridicule, that would be the way I'd go. It removes any possibility of accusations that I might have shaded the text or removed context, and gives people the opportunity to draw their own fully-informed conclusions.

#64 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:02 PM:

As far as copyright goes... it's irrelevant. Even if the presumably injured person were to take the presumed injurer to court, the contents of the letter would become the de facto focus of the matter; and even if winning his case, the plaintiff would find out he had lost the most in the wider court of public opinion. Which, of course, may not mean a hell of a lot to someone whose habits of mind seem so...imprecise (anyone who thinks Turkey is a good template for an Arab country is...imprecise to say the least).

#65 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:04 PM:

if "THERE ARE NO HUMAN RACES" how can somebody be "racist"?

If the earth is not flat, can there be flatearthers?

If you don't believe in Buddha, should you deny the existance of Buddhists?

I plan to vote for Obama--ought I to dispute the existance of Republicans?

#66 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:07 PM:

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan, 34,
You wrote a great many things in that entry which are wonderful, and I agree with wholly, but I wanted to point to the literate excellence of this fragment:
if you keep wasting your breath by tracing lines in the sand, then it's your own humanity that you are condemning.
The phrase "wasting your breath" isn't just a mixed metaphor for speech, but evokes the idea of wasting the very breath of life bestowed by the Almighty in pursuit of a vain and futile goal.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of other people wrote a great many other brilliant things, too many to list here, but not too many for me to bookmark for later reference! Talk about making Light!

#67 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:08 PM:

#56: I deliberately avoided the recent BoingBoing flap. Alas, I didn't feel I could ignore something involving Helix.

And again, we aren't arguing copyright, and really wish people would stop implying we are. There are people who are arguing it, but they do not include William and are not acting on his behalf. That's what prompted me to post here.

#43: Helix is the creation of William Sanders, and the rest of the staff has very little input on policy. Certainly none of us read the story in question, or read the rejection letter before it was posted publicly.

#27: Actually, nobody's said a word about it on my own LJ. I hope that continues.

Rest assured, I'm not chasing this all over the net; I've responded a total of three places, and have no intention of returning to the other two. Making Light, though, has been on my regular daily reading list for years.

#68 ::: Ny Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:12 PM:

Albatross, #51:

When one defines a set of genetic markers or DNA sequences as belonging to a certain 'race', then finds a group of people who all have those markers, that is simply circular reasoning. I wish I had my copy of The Great Human Diasporas at hand, to better refer to Professor Luca Cavalli-Sforza's reasoning when he states that "there is no genetic basis for racial classification" (as stated in a review of his Genes, Peoples, and Languages here.

"Unfortunately, there's still plenty of us/them circuitry invoked on racial grounds explicitly among black political leaders and thinkers. This strikes me as wrong and destructive, FWIW."

People often characterize discussions of experiencing racism, especially expressing anger in those discussions, as such things as 'invoking us/them' circuitry. This is mostly done as a tactic, conscious or otherwise, to shut down those discussions or at least disregard them.

#69 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:20 PM:

Mamatas had simply scanned it and posted the image?

The recipient of the letter was a fellow named Luke Jackson, who posted it for reasons unrelated to the "sheethead" commentary. (Which makes the whole thing even funnier.) All I did was make a couple jokes. It's very important to Sanders that as many incidents as possible be about me, so that he can discuss the size of my penis on his personal newsgroup though.

He clearly hungers for me.

#70 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:23 PM:

additionally off topic, re:
re, 65,

I plan to vote for Obama--ought I to dispute the existence of Republicans?
I would have to say empirical evidence indicates that Republicans don't exist.

We've all been drummed out of the party that bears our name due to our cowardice (against the war), our lack of faith (against gov't intervention in religion), our lack of confidence in free markets (against corporate welfare), our desire to raise taxes (by, you know, opposing tax rebates in preference to deficit reduction), and our lack of patriotism (we thought the 4th amendment, habeas corpus, limits on cruel and unusual punishment, and trial by jury, were good ideas.)

All those other funny ideas those durn lib'r'ls have been spouting off about seem more plausible now - even unions!

#71 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:23 PM:

And of course, while I was composing #67, others were posted I feel a need to respond to.

#59: William used to drink heavily, yes, but he never joined AA, and as he puts it, he wasn't an alcoholic, he was a drunk. He stopped drinking a year or two back, though, on doctor's orders, and to his own surprise didn't have any serious problem quitting.

#62: Helix has always been invitation-only. I doubt the present controversy is going to have much effect on the quality of submissions; I know what we have in inventory, and we're pretty much set for awhile.

#72 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:26 PM:

Fred @36, check the OED. I think it's kind of charming that "race" is returning to its original meaning, a group of living things.

#73 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:31 PM:

Wait, we're discussing the size of someone's penis?

*reads whole thread*

Oh. Not nearly so interesting. :-)

Actually I already read some of the other commentary and commented myself elsewhere, but I just couldn't pass up that joke. I did pass up saying (crudity ROT13'd; decode at your own risk) "Jryy, Avpx, ubj ovt VF lbhe cravf? Vs lbh'q whfg znxr n sbeguevtug fgngrzrag nobhg vg, naq pbasebag nal vffhrf gung zvtug nevfr, vg jbhyq ernyyl gnxr gur jvaq bhg bs uvf fnvyf!"—because that's a) too crude to say to someone I don't know well (Hi, Nick!), b) a gag* on the recent VB shitstorm on BB, and c) really wayyy off-topic here.

*No pun intended.**
**But I did leave it unfixed once I noticed it. Does that make me a bad person?

#74 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:38 PM:
Helix has always been invitation-only. I doubt the present controversy is going to have much effect on the quality of submissions

I certainly hope that some of the people on Helix's invite list will now decline the invitation. I think it may have more effect than you think.

#75 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:44 PM:

Ny #68:

Well, the paper in question is looking at self-reported racial categories vs things found in the genetic samples, so it's not automatic that they get the structure they get. For example, if you used categories based on the first letter of the peoples' last names, you'd almost certainly not find any useful correlations between what's in the genetic samples and the categories. By contrast, I believe that using Cavalli-Sforza's statistical techniques, it's inevitable that you'd get a tree structure sort of like he gets, no matter what you found genetically. (But the specific tree structure is determined by the data, and the fact that the specific structure he gets is broadly consistent with archeology and language data suggests that he's done something interesting.)

As an aside, if you look at the trees that come out of his work, you will indeed see some relationship between those trees and common racial categories. The relationship isn't all that great, because racial categories are broadly based on stuff that could be casually observed, and you often get stuff where two groups look rather similar (some Africans and Australian Aboriginees) but have very little in common genetically. But you'll notice that, for example, the broad category of American Indian really is separate from the broad category of Australian, African, European, and (to a lesser extent) Asian.

This tracks approximately with what you see in American racial categories, despite the fact that American racial categories are a weird mix of biological observation and political/social coalition building (whites vs blacks rather than rich vs poor, for example), and feature goofy stuff like the daughter of a medium-brown man and a pale white woman being socially black (unless she can pass).

#76 ::: Mari ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:44 PM:

Are you not linking the subject matter of your post because you're afraid of rather action, or because you assume we've all already heard?

#77 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:47 PM:

Warning: something of a tangent, but I don't think I have anything to add to the thorough discussion of the content of Sanders' letter, and I think ML's conversation protocols will not take this as an attempt to derail the discussion of racism.

As Patrick points out, "rejection letters are business communications." Much of the criticism I'm seeing about posting Sanders' letter seems to be based on the assumption that it was _personal_ correspondence, which it's rude to post without permission.

Combined with my personal experience of SFF fandom, which often has an IMO admirable tendency to play down distinctions between pros and fans--

How likely is it that a category error is contributing to the reaction of Dozois and Williams, for instance, that the letter should not have been posted at all? Is there some problematic conflation or confusion here over business and social boundaries? Or is the more likely explanation--as a general matter, and not specifically about Williams and Dozois, who I don't know other than those posts--a variant of the stages of denial when racist behavior is pointed out?

#78 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:50 PM:

But speaking of dicks, Sanders really sounds like a prime example. I'm sorry his wife is ill, really. But when someone says other SF magazines are leery of offending "the sheet heads" he eez be-eeng a beet of a sheethead heemself, eef you know what I mean.

Honestly, this sort of thing makes me sick. My emotional collapse after 9/11 (I became a robot, basically, which is my pattern rather than just lying in bed like some of my friends) had more to do with the fact that America turned, before my eyes, into a morass of racism, religious bigotry, and apology for truly grotesque abuses of civil liberties than it did with my colleagues who died or my own narrow* escape.

The America I love proved to be an ideal held by a dwindling number of dedicated patriots, while America-in-fact was going back to McCarthyism, the internment of Japanese-Americans, and NINA signs.**

Letters like this Sanders one, however he or his friends try to explain it away, contribute to America's slide (maybe 'power dive' would be more accurate) away from its idealistic pinnacle (which it really never reached except in the minds of the overtrusting). Yes, I'm saying that people like William Sanders (and unfortunately his name is legion, William "Legion" Sanders) are unAmerican, unpatriotic, and the shame of our great nation.

He disgusts me.

Heavens, now I'll never ever get published in Helix! I'm just crushed. Bet he hates faggots too though, so probably nothing lost.

*Philosophically narrow, not physically. Had I made one different decision I would have been on the 96th floor of One WTC when the plane hit; no one who was got out alive. As it was I was miles away.

**I mean attitudes no better than these, not the things themselves...though distinguishing our current era from the McCarthy era requires careful examination of the excuses used by the godsdamned fascists.

#79 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:59 PM:

ebear #46: your white northern European might think everybody in all the nations of subSaharan Africa is the same "race," but again, if you were to ask a primary source, you'd get a very different answer.

And if you talk to those kind-of-white northern Europeans, they will gladly tell you that people in the next village over are Not Like Us: They drive badly, their beer is inferiour, their children are noisy and they speak strangely.

#80 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:02 PM:

Just for the record, William Sanders does not hate faggots, or we wouldn't have included Rick Bowes' "City of Chimeras" in our first issue.

(There are probably other relevant stories, but that was the first that came to mind and most of the others I see at a quick glance involve dykes rather than faggots.)

#81 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:08 PM:

Bigot is as bigot does*. If you don't want people to think you are a bigoted cracker, then you probably shouldn't act like one. Here's another hint: If you have these thoughts and believe them, but don't want the public finding out about them, what does that tell you??

This is hardly the first editor/publisher to display a social viewpoint that some might find disturbing. I actually think it's healthy for us to know up front what an editor/publisher's biases are, because the idea that they are "neutral" is just as full of crap as it is for journalists and authors.

The real potential for harm here is to anyone who has been previously published in Helix, because they didn't know about this racial bias up front. I can see a scenario happening where Helix stories are going to be over-analyzed for any hint of racially prejudiced bias and innocent authors** get caught up in a mess not of their making.

-----------
*After all, bigot is just a narrow-minded subset of stupid.

**I can't believe I just wrote that. I might as well go look for virgins in Vegas after this.

#82 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:11 PM:

Mr. Watt-Evans:

You do not benefit, and may possibly harm, either your own reputation or Mr. Sanders', by continuing to engage on this.

What Mr. Sanders said was reprehensible and the best way to handle it would have been to apologize immediately and promise not to do it again. And then to shut up about it.

Continuing to engage here and elsewhere is giving you more opportunities to dig yourself into the ground, and is keeping the issue at the front of people's minds.

A number of talented writers have, as a result of this imbroglio, stated publicly their intention to strike Helix from their list of possible markets, and at least one will be asking the magazine to take her work down. The more you talk, the more people will talk, and the more readers and writers you will lose.

Stop talking. You're only making matters worse.

#83 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:15 PM:

He's not a cracker; he's a hillbilly. He's from the Arkansas Ozarks, not Georgia.

Get your slurs right, please.

As far as anti-Muslim bias in Helix goes, that was already thrashed out some after we ran Janis Ian's "Mahmoud's Wives" in our first issue.

#84 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:16 PM:

Lawrence 80: Imagine my relief.

#85 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:16 PM:

80: Just for the record, William Sanders does not hate faggots, or we wouldn't have included Rick Bowes' "City of Chimeras" in our first issue.

Not really. I have no idea whether or not Sanders is a homophobe, but of course he is constantly going on about cocks and homosex in denigrating ways.

But your little blather ain't proof of anything; it could simply mean that he liked the story -- or needed to fill virtual pages, or that he wanted work from someone who wasn't just handing him an obviously moldly trunk story, or that he wanted some prominent bylines in the first ish -- more than he hates faggots.

#86 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:21 PM:

Perhaps I'm splitting hairs here, but the question of whether the rejection letter could be posted online, legally, seems much less clear to me than to some.

I think we all agree that if I send you a paper letter, you can let your friends read it. You can read it out loud to them, too. I think you can read it out loud into a microphone in Yankee Stadium, if you want to. But you definitely can't charge people to hear it.

If I send you an electronic letter, can you still let your friends read it? Do those friends have to be in the same physical space as you are? Or can you show them the letter in the same medium in which you received it, i.e., electronically.

It seems to me that posting an electronic communication on a Live Journal isn't a whole lot different from passing a paper letter around a party. I don't see it as 'publishing'. I don't see it as a copyright violation.

I don't expect my business letters to be held in confidence unless they were written regarding matters held in confidence by the company. And then I'd have been damn careful about what I said.

#87 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:21 PM:

Lawrence Watt-Evans @ #62 - Helix has always been invitation-only. I doubt the present controversy is going to have much effect on the quality of submissions; I know what we have in inventory, and we're pretty much set for awhile.

Sure. It's his magazine, like you said. But banning people who tick him off seems like it's going to limit his future contributors. He sort of invites it, it seems. And it's not going to do well by Helix if this goes on. This is all getting very public, and I'm not seeing Helix coming out of this looking at all well.

In fact, this is the first impression I've ever had of Helix. It's not good.

You're a great writer, and I love your work. But I'd never hire you as a PR adviser. The one person who claims she was banned from future submissions is actually doing a better job of keeping my opinion of Helix positive.

#88 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:22 PM:

Another thing I noticed about the Sanders letter -- and it's a thing I've noticed in several right-wing SF fans over the years -- is that even though he reads (and maybe writes) science fiction, and no doubt considers himself to be better-than-average at understanding the world because of it, and perhaps even flatters himself as capable of being able to understand alien viewpoints because of it, he nonetheless writes off a big section of humanity as incomprehensible.

#89 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:29 PM:

I wouldn't hire me as a PR adviser, either. I'm frequently annoyed when publishers ask me to help publicize my books; I know that's not where my talents lie.


#90 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:31 PM:

Beth #86: It seems to me that posting an electronic communication on a Live Journal isn't a whole lot different from passing a paper letter around a party. I don't see it as 'publishing'. I don't see it as a copyright violation.

If it's not friends-locked, I don't see how it isn't publishing. It's a public display, which counts as copyright violation.

#91 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:31 PM:

Lawrence Watt-Evans: Get your slurs right, please.

My deepest apologies, I have to admit I am relatively inexperienced in the proper use of racial epithets and must bow to your expertise in the matter.

I try not to cross swords with amateurs anymore, but I am feeling rather out of practice. Care to try two out of three? There's a slight chance you might yet score a point.

#92 ::: Betty ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:32 PM:

Mr. Watt-Evans

If Cofax's logically reasoned argument does not move you, I would personally implore you: stop digging. It is physically painful for me to watch.

Dear Making Light Denizens:

The words of Sanders and his defenders have been repulsive, but your reactions have been a tonic skillfully administered. Thank you.

#93 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:35 PM:

peter,

And as a matter of (unpleasant) fact, people use "sheet head" and the obvious parallel terms ("towel-", "rag-", etc.) to refer to headdress/turban-wearing Muslims in general, including Iranians and Afghans.

indeed. & wasn't there a wave of assaults (& possibly worse) against sikhs(!) after 9.11? specifically because of that epithet, i would guess.

so yes, my assumption about anyone using that term is that they are thunderously ignorant, like most racists, as well as full of hate. there's no reason to believe otherwise in this case.

#94 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:37 PM:

The unsettling impression I'm getting from all these threads is, "Oh, that William Sanders, what a racist jerk." But there's no impression of "William Sanders is dead to us, he will never work in the industry again."

Why is are people talking about this guy like he's going to be a concern in the future, too? Why is the impression, "Oh, well, I guess fandom has some real sh!ts in it"? There's no reason fandom should have racist sh!ts in it. We're not right-wing talk radio. Hell, come to talk about right-wing talk radio, even Imus got fired.

Seems to me that a more healthy response would be, "So long as Helix is associated with Sanders, it is dead to us. Any con that has him as a panelist, likewise. Any forum he shows his face at should meet him with nothing but the disgust he has earned."

Why does it always have to be decades of people wearing buttons like "I survived an elevator ride with Harlan Ellison" before we get around to cutting out the cancers that make us such an unfriendly place?

#95 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:40 PM:

I wish people -- a few people -- would stop being rude to Lawrence. I think he's as wrong as the rest of you do, but he's being relentlessly polite -- and when I say "polite", I don't just mean abstaining from insult, I mean that he's doing his best to engage with the things people are saying honestly and straightforwardly -- in the face of a fair amount of condescension. It's also no one's business to tell him to shut up, under the circumstances.

#96 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:40 PM:

Thanks, Madeline--that was the phrase I was looking for.

William Sanders is dead to me.

#97 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:42 PM:
Why does it always have to be decades of people wearing buttons like "I survived an elevator ride with Harlan Ellison" before we get around to cutting out the cancers that make us such an unfriendly place?

Because people are complicated, and reducing people to one trait and ostracizing them doesn't always (to say the least) lead to healthy social organizations.

#98 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:43 PM:

Peter Erwin @ 54

"And as a matter of (unpleasant) fact, people use "sheet head" and the obvious parallel terms ("towel-", "rag-", etc.) to refer to headdress/turban-wearing Muslims in general, including Iranians and Afghans."

To further your point, that pejorative is also applied to non-Arab non-Muslims such as Sikhs. I remember reports of attacks on innocent Sikhs who only made the mistake of appearing on an American street post-911.

#99 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:46 PM:

Scraps @ 95: I wish people -- a few people -- would stop being rude to Lawrence...he's being relentlessly polite

Really? I found his reply to my post to be openly combative, and far from telling him to shut up, I offered him a venue in which to relieve his frustrations. Just how many McCain Helix Points did you earn for this post??

#100 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:49 PM:

Lawrence Watt-Evans @ # 80

Just for the record, William Sanders does not hate faggots, or we wouldn't have included Rick Bowes' "City of Chimeras" in our first issue.

Oh bushwah. It's not proof of anything. I've not seen much of what he has to say on the subject, but just publishing a story with queer content by a gay man does not prove much about the editors attitudes on queer folks. Just that he was once willing to publish a story by Rick Bowes.

I've heard the "some of my best friends are queers" line from people I'd be willing to submit are pretty damn bigoted against us queers.

I'm guessing you're probably straight, or you'd have had that line used on you before by an anti-gay bigot. Well, you just used it's near cousin.

*sigh*

Please try and learn something from this mess.

#101 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:03 PM:

Beth @86, I'm with Avram @2 on this: fair use applies. The letter illustrates many things that are necessary for the sake of discussion. Using it does not hurt anyone's ability to sell it later.

Yeah, people can and will argue that fair use is more complicated than that. It shouldn't be, so I'm still with Avram.

#102 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:12 PM:

Avram at #90 -- You have a point, but I'm not so certain.

I go to a convention, and agree to be on the "readings from the slush pile" panel. I take dreadful cover letters and first chapters, and read them out loud to general hilarity.

There is no restriction on who can come in and listen.

Is that publishing?

(for the record, I always decline to participate in that, not because I think it's a copyright violation, but because I don't like ridiculing people in public, and you never know if the writer might be in the audience.)

My point is that it isn't as cut and dried as all that.

It's very clear when money changes hands. Not nearly so clear when the person making the letter public is the recipient of the letter.


#103 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:19 PM:

Agreeing with #50 and others:

Race is a social construct indeed.

I have many times received the comment, "But you don't look Jewish" and equivalents. I'm afraid this always leaves me wondering what the speaker thinks a Jewish person looks like, and if she or she has ever met a black Jew, an Asian Jew, or any of the other varieties that exist.

To these people, "Jewish" is a race, regardless of level of observance, practice, or belief.

Similarly, people who see a male Orthodox Jew and say/think, "rabbi," are making assumptions based on social constructs. While many rabbis are Orthodox Jews, not all male Orthodox Jews (even the ones who dress "like that") are rabbis.

I'm not denying that some Jewish people promote this idea--that "Jewish" is a race--themselves; I disagree with them too.

Also, regarding towel-heads: when I was growing up, that was a pejorative aimed at Palestinians. Religion was not the primary determining factor; people who used that term did not think of Yasir Arafat as Muslim.

#104 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:20 PM:

Lance Weber, you don't know me, but you could at least read my comments earlier in the thread before jumping to offensive conclusions about me.

I read his reply to you as a humorous poke, for what it's worth.

#105 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:22 PM:

Teresa @56: > My working theory is that Americans have a thing about blacks being a completely separate race because slavery is much easier to administer if you've got an automatic visual cue that tells you whether someone is slave or free. If my family didn't come here until about 1906, does this theory still apply?

(Just saying that generalizing about "Americans" in this thread may not effectively make the point.)

#106 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:22 PM:

will shetterly @101, beth meacham @86
I would argue that the letter is covered by both the news and criticism criteria of fair use.

Let me put it this way: would the NY Times be violating copyright if it published this letter as part of a news article discussing racial bias on the internet? I think their lawyers would argue that the letter was newsworthy.

Another thing to keep in mind - copyright has no bearing on confidentiality, and using copyright to try and maintain confidentiality would probably not get too far in a legal test.

#107 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:28 PM:

I have had my own arguments with Lawrence about the Sanders issue, but Scraps is right. Showing up to present facts about a friend who is being extensively criticized is not in itself an ignoble thing, and Lawrence has been remarkably even-tempered about it.

The idea, ventured by Lance Weber in #99, that Scraps was trying to "earn Helix points" would be offensive if it weren't so hilarious. Dude. Take a pill.

#108 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:31 PM:

Melissa @ 105: my family only got here in 1888, but I think for the purposes of Teresa's working theory, they arrived after the memes about race mapping to skin color were already well established, and, in the process of assimilating into existing American culture, adopted those memes at least to some extent. (Many Jewish civil rights advocates, existing side by side with those who made disparaging comments about "schvartzes.")

#109 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:34 PM:

Scraps at 95:
It's also no one's business to tell him to shut up, under the circumstances.

Point taken: I am not the Jello Sheriff of the Internets. I am also not the blog-owner here, and if Mr. Watt-Evans wishes to continue digging that hole, I guess he's welcome to.

I just think it's supremely unwise and unhelpful to his apparent goals.

#110 ::: K.C. Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:35 PM:

Patrick @ 107: I can't be the only one with the TMBG song "Your Racist Friend" stuck in my head right now.

I'd never heard of Helix until this kerfuffle. Not the best of ways to advertise, I suspect.

#111 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:37 PM:
would the NY Times be violating copyright if it published this letter as part of a news article discussing racial bias on the internet?

The fellow didn't post it as news, though. He didn't post it to call attention to the bigotry. Others took it up as news -- which of course it is -- but I don't know if that can be used in his defense on the copyright issue.

The copyright issue is just a distraction anyway, especially since Sanders isn't arguing copyright (according to Lawrence).

#112 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:41 PM:

rikibeth @108: I wouldn't disagree (my paternal grandparents' rabbi once preached against sending aid to Africa, at which point my parents, brother, and I stood up and left the sanctuary), but feel that such generalizations are out of place in this thread. "Many Americans" would not have rankled.

#113 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:44 PM:

Scraps @104: Lance Weber, you don't know me, but you could at least read my comments earlier in the thread before jumping to offensive conclusions about me.

You've made a grand total of three (well four now) posts on ML, all today, all in this thread. Forgive me if I jumped to the conclusion that you're just doing a fly-by for this particular issue and we'll never see you here again - thus deserving a McCain Point snark. Feel free to remind me of this conversation some time down the road should you decide to become a regular here and I'll raise a celebratory toast to you and fully refund any accrued points. (Dang, I just can't seem to help myself today).

I'd also note that one of the reasons Lawrence Watt-Evans gets *zero* slack for his floundering is because a longtime member of this community should frakking know enough to listen when told he's gone off the deep end on an issue and take some time to back off and cool down.

#114 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:46 PM:

Beth #102 -- Are convention slush-pile readings publishing? Well, they're arguably public performance, which is also a violation of copyright. If, some day, some offended slush-pile contributor with enough money to hire a lawyer to pursue a grudge (or who is a lawyer himself) decides to prosecute you, he might win.

Or he might not. I'm not a lawyer. But I know that "We've been doing this for years and nobody complained before" isn't a particularly strong legal defense.

#115 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:47 PM:

Maybe something is amiss with the "View all by," or maybe Scraps has changed email addresses recently, but I could swear I've seen that handle here before.

#116 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:47 PM:

"The copyright issue is just a distraction anyway"

Well, cough cough, in fact it was the central point of my post, which wasn't so much about Sanders as it was about the fact that the main reaction of a few of the field's elders was to deplore the violation of Sanders' copyright.

I found that kind of remarkable, not because it implies any sympathy on their part for Sanders' views about, ah, Belgians, but because it really does leave younger writers, and the aspiring, with a sense that the SF editorial world will defend its own no matter what. Which doesn't seem to me an altogether desirable impression to create.

#117 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:47 PM:

ebear @46 - what an Indianan means when he says "sweet corn."... Wait. Is that a Hoosier-specific term? What do you all call sweet corn?

#118 ::: Joe McMahon ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:52 PM:

Xopher@78: I have never before seen a Jagermonster accent being used as a means of clearer communication. Bravo!

#119 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:52 PM:

Lance #113 -- Scraps has made dozens, maybe hundreds, of comments on ML, going back at least to 2006. He's also a friend of Patrick's and Teresa's of decades' standing, and of mine for over a decade.

(However, I see that he's recently changed his email address, and only made three or four comments under the new one.)

#120 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:53 PM:

#115
You're not the only one. It's been a while since we've heard from Scraps. (Welcome home. Or something resembling a welcome. Lot of new people here since the last time we heard from you. Have you checked out the cold beef salad?)

#121 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:54 PM:

Lance: I'm sorry that the technical limitations of our "view all by" link have misled you. Scraps is one of our oldest friends, and has posted on Making Light hundreds of times.

The problem is that it keys everything to the user's email address, so if a user shifts to a new one, older messages don't get listed.

Really, I think a few people could stand to take a deep breath or two.

#122 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:54 PM:

# 113 -Lance Weber - ...a longtime member of this community should frakking know enough to listen when told he's gone off the deep end on an issue and take some time to back off and cool down.

I think that's an overly generous estimate of most members of this community, myself included in come cases.

#123 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:57 PM:

#95 & #104: Thank you. Though I acknowledge that my response to Xopher was not particularly polite.

But then, I didn't think his post was, either. I realize replying in kind is often unwise, but it's also hard to resist.

The assumption that if William is a bigot of any sort he's also a homophobe and a right-winger is unjustified and offensive -- much the same sort of stereotyping he's being accused of, in fact, though of a lesser degree.

Josh Jasper, you're probably right that the Rick Bowes story isn't evidence of anything much. However, as I said on LJ, for as long as I've known him William has been vigorously opposed to sexism, homophobia, and antisemitism.

As for the implication (only an implication, I concede) that he's a right-winger, this is a man who campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, and who wrote a satirical story that presented George W. Bush as the literal Antichrist.

He is not a cracker, nor a homophobe, nor a right-winger. Whatever his many flaws, those are not among them.

#124 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:58 PM:

Lance Weber @ 113: "I'd also note that one of the reasons Lawrence Watt-Evans gets *zero* slack for his floundering is because a longtime member of this community should frakking know enough to listen when told he's gone off the deep end on an issue and take some time to back off and cool down."

This might be a good time to start thinking about how that expectation might apply to you.

#125 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 02:59 PM:

Lance@113: Allow me to suggest, gently, that this would be a really good place to stop digging. The fact that you don't know Scraps doesn't mean he's not well-known around here.

#126 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:01 PM:

This whole thread is making me extremely uncomfortable. No, I'm not defending racism: it's not defensible. But it's not obvious to me what good is being pursued by making William Sanders' letter the focus of so much energetic commentary. Helix (which I had never heard of prior to reading this thread) is a by-invitation only magazine. Presumably the people whom he invites to contribute to it either know Sanders, or know the magazine, and find something of value in either/both. Do folks here wish to destroy (as Madeline F. recommends) Helix as a market? Well, okay, if that's what you want, then please be crystal clear about it. Down with racist editors! Carthago delenda est! Because to me, without a clear purpose, this whole discussion looks like the Internet version of putting someone in the stocks and throwing rotten vegetables at his head.

#127 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:01 PM:

Lance #113 -- Scraps has made dozens, maybe hundreds, of comments on ML, going back at least to 2006. He's also a friend of Patrick's and Teresa's of decades' standing, and of mine for over a decade.

Geez. Scraps, I'm a mis-informed dork and totally apologize for assuming you were new here. If you're coming to Worldcon I really will buy you that drink. We'll wash down some Rocky Mtn Oysters - I'm a native, I know where the good ones are :)

But there's no way I'm taking back the Helix Point crack. No Frakking Way. Come on dude, like Patrick said, it was pretty funny :)

#128 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:07 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 56: "I believe our European ancestors would just as readily have taken ethnic Chinese, if they'd been available for sale at one corner of the Triangle Trade; and that if they had, they'd have told themselves that there were profound and ineradicable differences between whites and orientals."

Oh, they did that too, once large numbers of Chinese immigrants showed up and started taking low-wage jobs in large numbers.

#129 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:08 PM:

Me@125: Sorry. When I wrote the comment, it wasn't piling-on yet.

#130 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:09 PM:

Okay okay guys mea culpa already!

I only saw Avram's post before I posted mine. But I'd like to point out for the record that I am no mere hole-digger or deep-end jumper. No sireee, when I step in it, it's a complete crash and burn accompanied by loud explosions, flaming wreckage and rubber dogshit from Hong Kong.

#131 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:09 PM:

I find it dismaying that a webzine now in its third year, which is nominated for the semiprozine Hugo, and which has published stories that made the Nebula final ballot, not to mention publishing Rhysling-winning poetry, seems to have received so little notice heretofore.

I really hope that people will judge the magazine on its content, rather than the perceived attitudes of its senior editor. Many fine authors have been published in Helix.

#132 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:10 PM:

Well, Lizzy, if he'd (and /or LWE) had just said "Oh crap, I'm sorry, that was racist. Shit. What was I (or Sanders) thinking?" this would have vanished without a trace. It's the fact that anyone is defending it that helps create the dogpile.

#133 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:15 PM:

I dunno, Lizzy; as far as the survival of Helix goes, I think Teresa nailed it in #56 when she observed that "time, short memories and the natural desire to be published will do more to repair this than words ever could."

I don't think it's an entirely bad thing that when one of our field's editors announces his belief that Belgians eat babies at the full moon, people pass the news around and marvel at it. More to the point, I don't think it's a preventable thing, which was the point of my post. Not "let's all beat up on William Sanders," but rather, "this is how the world works now."

#134 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:15 PM:

(following on #128)

Thomas Nast, the famed political cartoonist, was one of the few champions of the "Mongolian race" at the time. The "Irish race," however, was not so lucky.

#135 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:16 PM:

Many fine authors have been published in Helix.

And I'm sorry to say that many (or at least several) fine writers will in future have nothing to do with Helix.

They say all publicity is good publicity; I beg leave to doubt it.

#136 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:16 PM:
perceived attitudes of its senior editor

I'm not judging Helix based on its senior editor; but I am judging its senior editor based on his expressed attitudes.

Lance, no big deal. (I accidentally changed my ML email address after accidentally hitting the Clear Personal Information button.)

#137 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:17 PM:

Michael Roberts @117: In context, I took 'Indianan' to be an instance of synecdoche, and that 'sweet corn' means about the same in Indiana as it does in Saskatchewan -- i.e., not even slightly a generic catch-all term for grains.

#138 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:24 PM:

In fact, my first comment to this thread was still under the old email address, so you won't have seen that one either, Lance, which is too bad, because it kind of ruins the Helix Points joke.

#139 ::: Luke Jackson ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:26 PM:

This discussion has been very interesting for me. As the recipient of the letter, I am concerned about the legal and ethical implications of my posting the letter. I am too much of a rookie to really know the propriety of my posting the letter, and there seems to be a complete split down the middle as to whether it was OK.. I can't have been the first person in the history of the internet to have done it? But as for the legal issues, I have posted what I think about it on my blog, and I welcome people to tell me if I am wrong or misinformed on the legal aspect.

#140 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:35 PM:

Lawrence 123: I acknowledge that my response to Xopher was not particularly polite...I didn't think his post was, either.

You're right. It wasn't. It was inappropriate to assume that his expression of anti-Moslem prejudice means he's also a homophobe, and I apologize.

#141 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:37 PM:

Lance @106, I like that. So long as we're stuck with copyright law, we need to interpret it as liberally as we possibly can.

Heresiarch @134, good one. Whenever people start pointing to WWII cartoons of the Japanese as examples of how racism works, I like to point at cartoons of Germans from the same time to note that's how cartooning and tribalism work. (Uh, totally comfortable with the idea that the modern definitions of tribalism and racism are the same, of course.)

#142 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:37 PM:

Patrick @ 133... Belgians eat babies at the full moon

"Mais non!"

#143 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:38 PM:

You don't need to worry about anything legally in this case; as far as William's concerned it was an impolite thing to do, but you apologized for it, he accepted your apology, and that's the end of it.

In the more general case it's a violation of copyright to publish private correspondence without the author's permission, but the definitions of "publish" and "private" get tricky. I don't know what the current case law about posting e-mail on LJ, if there is any, might say.

Ethically, it's my understanding that taking e-mail public is considered poor netiquette, but there may be extenuating circumstances.

#144 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:39 PM:

Thank you, Xopher.

#145 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:41 PM:

Luke Jackson's thanks for showing up. You make some extremely interesting comments on your blog about your own story and about William Sanders. I hope you do not mind my reproducing some of them here. (I don't see how you could object, actually...)

There is a truly despicable Muslim character in my story. Sorry, world. Maybe I was playing into prejudices. Sanders was talking about that character, so it wasn't an out-of-the-blue rant, it was targeted to the content of my story. In context, his comments were directed at MY character and those types of extremists. People are taking it out of context and interpreting it too broadly if they think that Sanders was referring to all Arabs or all Muslims. I'm sure that if my character was a Timothy McVeigh-like extremist, Sanders would have used different but equally scornful language. The extremism of MY character is what drew his ire, and so if there is any blame it's MY blame.

Sanders was doing me a favor when he looked at my story. Helix is closed to submissions except from professional SFWA guys, and I'm not a professional. I really appreciate the encouraging feedback he gave me on this story. Helix is a great market and I don't want to trounce it in the dirt when really I should bear the blame. I don't want Sanders to regret giving me the benefit of the doubt, but he probably does by now.

It was dick-ish of me to post an email on a livejournal without prior consent, and that's why I deleted it as soon as I figured out how to do so. I really had absolutely no idea that so many eyes would see it, but I guess that's part of living in the internet age. I posted it in a low-traffic area on someone's livejournal meant to be a one-on-one conversation with Mr. Preston and really don't know how it came to be seen by so many eyes so quickly.

I know from the context that Mr. Sanders did not intend the language to apply to all Arabs or Muslims, but just the specific types of individuals that appeared in MY story. I'm sure if everyone knew the full context of our exchange, which was missing from the post, they would understand what Mr. Sanders actually meant.

#146 ::: Luke Jackson ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:42 PM:

Thank you, Lawrence.

#147 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:44 PM:

From the Law.com legal dictionary:

publication

n. 1) anything made public by print (as in a news- paper, magazine, pamphlet, letter, telegram, computer modem or program, poster, brochure or pamphlet), orally, or by broadcast (radio, television) . . .

3) in the law of defamation (libel and slander) publication of an untruth about another to at least one single person. Thus one letter can be the basis of a suit for libel, and telling one person is sufficient to show publication of slander.

So, yes, a public reading of a letter definitely constitutes "publication".

#148 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:46 PM:

Didn't anybody ever tell Sanders not to write anything in business that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the newspaper the next day? Did he not listen? Did he figure that because he's effectively the owner of one of a very small number of stores, he can do whatever he wants?

Very strange.

#149 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:54 PM:

Doug@148: "Was it appropriate to publish this?" need not imply "Is there anything here I'm ashamed of and think shouldn't see the light of day?"

#150 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 03:58 PM:

miriam @ 93 [and Ambar @ 98]:
indeed. & wasn't there a wave of assaults (& possibly worse) against sikhs(!) after 9.11? specifically because of that epithet, i would guess.

Yes; four days after Sept. 11, a Sikh gas station owner named Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered in Arizona, apparently because his beard and turban made the attacker think he was Muslim/Arab. (The attacker also fired shots at a gas station where a Lebanese-American man worked, and at an Afghan family's house.)

#151 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:02 PM:

TNH @ 56: I believe our European ancestors would just as readily have taken ethnic Chinese, if they'd been available for sale at one corner of the Triangle Trade; and that if they had, they'd have told themselves that there were profound and ineradicable differences between whites and orientals.

Actually, after the African slave trade was banned, much of the resulting labor shortage in Central/South America and the Caribbean was then filled by Chinese coolies.

The book Sons of the Yellow Emperor: a History of the Chinese Diaspora, has a heartbreaking quote which I can't find at the mo and will have to paraphrase; iirc it was left scrawled on the wall of a laborers' shack on a Caribbean sugar plantation: "I am dying here and can never return home; even my bones will be burned to charcoal and my family will never know where I have gone." (Bone charcoal was routinely used to purify raw sugar.)

Also, a few years into the Meiji Restoration in Japan, the mass liberation of prostitutes from slave status in 1872 was triggered by the case of the Maria Luz, a ship docked in Yokohama with 200+ coolies who'd been bought in Macao for transport to Peru.

#152 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:03 PM:

I, personally (and somewhat professionally - like the delightful ebear, I am also falling back into anthropology) find it interesting, if not fascinating that the various sub-threads on this topic should dovetail so neatly.

This thread started, at least in part, as a discussion of "Bill Sanders is a nitwit" and quickly (as things happen here) mutated into a discussion on racism, the definition of race, and various fine points of the publishing industry.

It divided, as things always do among humans (and possibly other sapients - I'm waiting to meet other species and find out how universal it is) into various groups with fuzzy edges 'circling the wagons' to protect their ideas and mind-sets againt 'the other'.

And ain't that what "race" and "ethnicity" and "you're either with us or you're against us" is all about?

For a group that prides itself (sometimes aggressively so) about being open-minded, we're getting pretty insular about some things.

Yep - I'm several minorities, and have been bashed (in various ways) for those associations. But I have tried (and often failed, alas) to not let that get the better of me and make me a bitter, self-indulgent, nasty believer that only I and those who agree with me are really *people* (AKA: A Loyal Bushie).

I'll get down off of my soap box now and watch and see if any of you can read this without your biases/filters running overtime.

#153 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:15 PM:

William Sanders does not go by "Bill." He doesn't mind "Will," but "Bill" really grates. (And he prefers "William," which is why I've been using it.)

I'm the same way about "Larry," and I suspect Patrick might similarly balk at "Pat."

#154 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:17 PM:

It's a fair cop.

#155 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:19 PM:

I'm the same way about 'Chris', which is why I spell my name the way I do on here.

#156 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:26 PM:

Bruce@149: I've apparently been dealing with too many screaming children today to see the connection you're drawing. Would you kindly rephrase for my slightly addled wits?

(For my part, I was expressing my astonishment that anyone would write such a letter in any sort of business context, even an artistic one. Though this astonishment may just show I'm still learning that it takes all kinds, just like momma always said.)

#157 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:50 PM:
see if any of you can read this without your biases/filters running overtime.

I make it a policy never to argue with posts that have an automatic refutation built in.

#158 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 04:52 PM:

#97 Scraps: Because people are complicated, and reducing people to one trait and ostracizing them doesn't always (to say the least) lead to healthy social organizations.

What I'm saying is that ostracizing a few people because of their one trait "refuses to apologize for being a bigot" is a damn sight more healthy than ostracizing a great many people because of their one trait "brown", which is what we have otherwise.

The other thing I oughtta say is that this thread is great, Patrick. To come out with all your cred and social power and say, "It’s startling to see that for some senior people in the SF field, explaining that a letter-writer holds copyright in their missive takes priority over noting that a belief that ancient astronauts built the pyramids is crazy. And depraved. And stupid.", that's enormously valuable.

But doesn't seem to me that it is startling. Old hands don't speak up against outrage perpetrated by in-group guy because that's just the way he is/it has always been? That's why fandom is such a snow globe.

Is there a link somewhere to Dozois and Williams pointing out that racism like Sanders' is in fact BS?

I'd like to see actual consequences for people like Sanders who drive people away from SF with their bigotry, and the only way that happens is if there's a consensus among the powerful in SF that bigotry is BS. And hell, all of us who are less powerful can help with that kind of consensus-building.

It's goddamned annoying that this is still an open question.

#159 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 05:18 PM:
What I'm saying is that ostracizing a few people because of their one trait "refuses to apologize for being a bigot" is a damn sight more healthy than ostracizing a great many people because of their one trait "brown", which is what we have otherwise.

That's a false equivalency. Failing to ostracize bigots does not mean we are ostracizing brown people. It is not "what we have otherwise."

Old hands don't speak up against outrage perpetrated by in-group guy because that's just the way he is/it has always been? That's why fandom is such a snow globe.

Except plenty of people are speaking up against it.

I'd like to see actual consequences for people like Sanders who drive people away from SF with their bigotry

As I said, I hope that writers shun Helix. I hope it is remembered that Sanders said what he did, and that it redounds to his continuing shame, in the (extremely likely) event that he doesn't apologize.

But I feel that ostracism is the irrevocable bomb of social groups. I think it should be reserved for individuals who engage in irredeemable patterns of destruction. I don't expect you to agree, obviously. But if you believe that anything short of ostracism amounts to implicit support of Sanders or lack of support for brown folks in the science fiction community, well, we won't have much further to talk about, and I'll endure the weight of your disapproval.

#160 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 05:24 PM:

Xopher @155: How do you feel about Xopher being pronounced "Zopher"? I can't think of it any other way, and hadn't realized until your post just now that it was supposed to be half-acronym.

#161 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 05:26 PM:

Me @160: "Acronym", of course, being not at all the word I was looking for there. Abbreviation is, while accurate, not it either on account of being too general. I'm not sure what is.

#162 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 05:33 PM:

Brooks 160: "Zopher (rhymes with gopher)" is how my parents pronounced it (from when I first came up with it), and how everyone I know who ever says it says it. That's my personal preference. So you have it right!

I do accept "Ecks-a-fur" without complaint. "Chris" is right out.

#163 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 05:49 PM:

Julie L #151: For 'much' read 'some' and for 'coolies' (which is a pejorative, and, in the Anglophone Caribbean a highly racist term directed by persons of African descent at persons of South Asian descent, I'd avoid it if I were you) read 'labourers'. Some Chinese labour was imported into the Caribbean after slavery. Far more was imported from South Asia and even from Southeast Asia. The Chinese constitute small minorities in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Surinam, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Martinique and Guadeloupe, and a few other places. Far larger numbers of Indian indentured workers arrived in Trinidad, what was then British Guiana, Surinam, and Martinique. Largish numbers of Javanese labourers were imported into Surinam.

#164 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 06:00 PM:

heresiarch@128: Thank you for mentioning this. I was going to, if no one else had by the time I'd finished reading the thread.

Sadly, the situation improved for the Chinese living in the US at the expense of the Japanese living in the US. i.e., as we entered WWII, it became more popular to hate the Japanese instead. That isn't the way things should work.

#165 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 06:03 PM:

Lawrence @13 - It took me a while to realize the intellectual bankruptcy of your defense:

Oh, William understands the desire to kill enemies just fine. It's indiscriminately killing people he doesn't get.

Ah. I see. So models of discriminate precision perpetrated here in the "civilized world", such as the Oklahoma City bombing or Iraqi Shock and Awe, clearly illustrate the difference between us and those sheetheads over there. Yeah.

Nor does saying no one in the civilized world can understand such a mindset imply that everyone in the uncivilized world can. "No A is B" does not imply "Not-A is B."

Well, this is just so incredibly disingenuous that I had to take a good long walk on the beach before deciding to respond.

When one selects a word, one implies a whole raft of things which are customarily excluded in the translation into prepositional calculus. You're correct, in terms of the narrowly defined logical usage of the word "implied", in saying that "no A is B" does not "imply" that "not-A is B".

But the word "imply" has a meaning in English which does indeed allow me to say that "the civilized world cannot comprehend B" implies that "the not-civilized world can comprehend B". If you deny that, then I'm forced to say that you're defending the indefensible with what are really pretty shoddy tactics, because I seriously doubt that you understand the usage of English words.

#166 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 06:06 PM:

Xopher: And here all the time I thought it was Cross + opher = Crossover! (I kid, I kid...)

#167 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 06:11 PM:

Fragano: thank you for the explanation. I know I'd learned some of the statistics before, but I just had a "click" moment: "Aha, THAT explains curried goat!"

#168 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 06:20 PM:
Oh, William understands the desire to kill enemies just fine. It's indiscriminately killing people he doesn't get.
Ah. I see. So models of discriminate precision perpetrated here in the "civilized world", such as the Oklahoma City bombing or Iraqi Shock and Awe, clearly illustrate the difference between us and those sheetheads over there. Yeah.

Not to mention the fact that modern warfare is full of indiscriminate killing, of which the U.S. has done plenty. The civilian death toll in Iraq is one result.

#169 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 06:23 PM:

*crosses over to Lance*

*slap slap*

*crosses over to the other side*

#170 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 06:45 PM:

Chinese Slaves (de facto if not de jure) built the western railroads. San Francisco's old Chinatown (which burned) was well-known for its slave brothels.

Teresa's working theory @56 is, from my memory, considered to be the accepted theory for the origin of American racism, in many ways a far more virulent racism than in the Old World.

#171 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 06:56 PM:

Rikibeth #167: For some reason I left Jamaica out, though there are East Indian communities in south central and western Jamaica descended from indentured labourers who arrived in the nineteenth century. It also explains 'ganja', which is a Hindi word. The plant itself arrived with the Indians, since the variant cultivated in Jamaica is indica, rather than sativa. It may even, according to one Jamaican scholar of Indian descent, explain dreadlocks, which were worn by Indian sadhus and may have been adopted by the Rastafarians in imitation of them. Certainly Leonard Howell, the founder of Rastafarianism, wrote one of the central texts of the religion, The Promised Key, under the pseudonym 'G.G. Maragh' an Indian name.

#172 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 07:05 PM:

Xopher @ 162: "Zopher (rhymes with gopher)" is how my parents pronounced it (from when I first came up with it), and how everyone I know who ever says it says it. That's my personal preference.

I'd been hearing it in my mind as "Christopher," since that's how the only other Xopher I know pronounces it, so thanks for the heads-up!

#173 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 07:18 PM:

Fragano @163:

An e-friend of mine who is a Trinidadian of Indian descent says that at home (she currently lives in Canada) she unselfconsciously describes her ethnicity as "coolie", while the other main ethnic group on the island are called "Negroes". She shocked people in Canada at first until she learned to alter her terminology.

#174 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 07:20 PM:

#159 Scraps: That's a false equivalency. Failing to ostracize bigots does not mean we are ostracizing brown people. It is not "what we have otherwise."

You don't feel that fandom's continuing, if grudging, acceptance of bigots is a significant factor in our lack of demographic balance?

#175 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 07:26 PM:

Tim 172: Feel free to call me Christopher in person, too. It IS my name, unlike Chris.

#176 ::: skzb ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 07:30 PM:

It would seem that attacking the bigotry is the first step; attacking the bigot would come later.

Hmmm.

Looking at that again, it's probably too simplistic to have any actual value.

#177 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 07:34 PM:

Doctor Science #173: I, on the other hand, would be most hesitant to call someone a 'coolie', unless I knew them very well. Especially not in Jamaica.

In Surinam, one of the complaints of the Indian community was about being called 'coeli' (coolie) by Creoles.

Current usage in Trinidad, btw, is to use the terms 'Indian' and 'African' for the main ethnoracial groups. At least it was when I was last there, which was in 2006.

#178 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 07:47 PM:
#159 Scraps: That's a false equivalency. Failing to ostracize bigots does not mean we are ostracizing brown people. It is not "what we have otherwise."
You don't feel that fandom's continuing, if grudging, acceptance of bigots is a significant factor in our lack of demographic balance?

Well, that's not what you said. You said:


What I'm saying is that ostracizing a few people because of their one trait "refuses to apologize for being a bigot" is a damn sight more healthy than ostracizing a great many people because of their one trait "brown", which is what we have otherwise.

A "grudging acceptance of bigots" is a far cry from ostracizing brown people. Ostracizing means conspiring to drive people away; it is not something that is done passively.

I don't feel that I am "accepting" Sanders, grudgingly or otherwise. I do not, personally, want anything to do with him, and I hope others in the community feel the same way on their own. But I am not going to try to drive him out.

But to answer the question you're now asking: my impression has been that fandom has historically been a more welcoming and less bigoted place than society as a whole, and so far as I know this is still true. We have our bigots and always have; but we have fewer of them, and they've never passed without objection, not even in the 1940s. So while I don't doubt that the presence of any bigots is bad for diversity, it doesn't seem to me that it can account for the community's historical demographic imbalance. So far as I know, we are driving away few people by being insufficiently welcoming of diversity or exceedingly tolerant of bigotry, relative, at least, to the rest of society.

In short, we have our problems, and share many of the casual and semi-conscious bigotries of the society that surrounds us, but I very much doubt that the crux of the problem is an inadequate enthusiasm for casting people out.

#179 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 08:19 PM:

So glad to have "Zopher" approved as a proper pronunciation. Ever since I decoded it (and it took longer than I would have liked) I've been bouncing back and forth: "What does he really like? Which is correct??"

#180 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 08:43 PM:

Fragano @163: For 'much' read 'some' and for 'coolies' (which is a pejorative, and, in the Anglophone Caribbean a highly racist term directed by persons of African descent at persons of South Asian descent, I'd avoid it if I were you) read 'labourers'.

I bow to your superior knowledge. WRT numerical proportion, my impression was probably shaped by the book's topical focus on the Chinese diaspora, which would've minimized the discussion of other ethnicities in the Caribbean; it's also been several years since I read it (out of interest in my own family history via the Philippines). Nor had I previously known the present regional connotation of "coolies"; I'd merely considered the term to be descriptive of their economic situation along the lines of the many white "indentured servants" who came to the North American colonies from Great Britain. Live and learn.

Xopher @162: Oh dear. Now I'll have to reprogram my mental pronunciation from "Ksopher".

#181 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 09:02 PM:

When I first ran into this controversy over on LJ, it came in a disconnected piece, the only bit of which came clear was that an editor had written a rejection letter saying that other editors cared about not getting up the noses of "sheet heads." I had no idea what a sheet head was, and found myself with the rather strange theory that he was talking about Klansman. It seemed good that there was such an outcry against bigotry of such terrible bigots, but a bit odd. Then I found Making Light and all was revealed. But it was a rather pleasant quarter hour of confusion.

#182 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 09:04 PM:

I'm observing this situation as an outsider to the professional SF world and fandom--I first heard about it from Tobias Bucknell's blog--so I hope it doesn't seem presumptuous of me to comment on it. I do have a sort of secondhand fear of anti-Arab racism. I'm of European descent, but my last name sounds very Middle-Eastern, and I've been nervous every anniversary of 9/11 since the year I received a rock through my window from some anonymous stranger who must have picked my name out of the phone book.

#174: You don't feel that fandom's continuing, if grudging, acceptance of bigots is a significant factor in our lack of demographic balance?

I've seen Orcinus argue that politely failing to confront racism creates an environment in which racists assume their views are "normal," and feel more and more comfortable acting out. At its most extreme this can lead to members of the out-group being openly driven out of the community. I was disappointed to hear that a few people in the SF world (my impression is very few, although if I'm wrong please don't shatter my illusions) tried to close ranks around the editor. This is how bigots get the idea that a community might be a comfortable place for bigotry.

(Of course, that doesn't mean every bigot needs to be permanently ostracized. Hell, an unexpectedly hostile reaction might even make them rethink their bigotry and join the rest of us in the 21st century. Optimistic, I know, but I'm never quite as cynically misanthropic as I feel I ought to be.)

#88: Another thing I noticed about the Sanders letter -- and it's a thing I've noticed in several right-wing SF fans over the years -- is that even though he reads (and maybe writes) science fiction, and no doubt considers himself to be better-than-average at understanding the world because of it, and perhaps even flatters himself as capable of being able to understand alien viewpoints because of it, he nonetheless writes off a big section of humanity as incomprehensible.

This is the thing that drives me crazy.

SF, for me, is all about broadening the definition of "human." This genre asks its readers to empathize with aliens, androids, AIs, cyborgs, and an infinite variety of assorted posthumans--and that's before taking fantasy into account. I grew up in what was at the time a subculture-free and somewhat insufficiently diverse midwestern college town (my impression is that it's still behind where I'm living now, actually), and with a practically Lovecraftian degree of social awkwardness, and I think SF helped me develop an open mind. So it's always struck me as perverse that some SF fans don't have the imagination to transfer their acceptance of fictional Others to real people. I hope they find it sometime.

#183 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 09:07 PM:

#178 Scraps: BTW, is there a reason you're not quoting me by name and number? Seems to me it makes discussions easier to track.

Ostracizing means conspiring to drive people away; it is not something that is done passively.

Ah, that may be the problem. I'm using the less technical term, as google defines ostracism here. Let's swap out for a term you may find less loaded which has the exact same meaning to me: What I'm saying is that excluding a few people because of their one trait "refuses to apologize for being a bigot" is a damn sight more healthy than excluding a great many people because of their one trait "brown", which is what we have otherwise.

My arguments are two, and for the last couple exchanges we've been dealing only with #1. Practical. I argue that, by continuing to accept bigots as part of the community, we are making a hostile environment for the groups they are bigoted against. The bigots will act in hostile ways, and as accepted members of the in-group the bigots make the rest of us appear supportive of their actions. I suggest that people like A Reader over at Tobias Buckell's place are just the tip of an iceberg of minorities who don't even bother to try to break into an environment that appears crummy to them; and that, if it appeared less crummy here in fandom, we'd get far more cool people to replace the few lame people we'd be throwing out.

But you say that so far as you know it's not a significant factor, so I hear you there and that aspect of the conversation is played out between us.

Argument #2 which has been quietly lying under my comments all along is Moral. Some things are very wrong, and people shouldn't have any truck with the people that do them. I put bigotry like Sanders' there. To me, it seems like if I wouldn't touch the guy with a dead skunk, I should strongly suggest to my associates that that they also steer clear of the guy. Why would it be moral to keep silent?

#184 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 09:14 PM:

Julie L #180: Chinese communities in the Caribbean are quite small, though very successful as middleman entrepreneurs (in the main*). There are a few well-known Chinese figures in modern Caribbean history, the most famous of whom were Eugene Chen a Trinidadian of mixed Chinese-European-African ancestry who became foreign minister of China under Sun Yat-sen and Wilfredo Lam a Cuban of similar ancestry, who was a major artist of the early twentieth century. Surinam had a Chinese prime minister, Henk Chin-a-Sen, in the 1980s during the Bouterse dictatorship.

* By pure coincidence, I happen to have re-established contact with an old college friend of mine in Jamaica, a businessman of Chinese ancestry, this week.

#185 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 09:19 PM:

#162 - Besides, Xopher is sooooo much cooler than "Kris-2-4"...

#186 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 09:46 PM:

Julie 180: I won't object too strenuously to 'Ksopher'. There's something delightfully Slavic about that!

#187 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 10:02 PM:

Madeline F #183 -- Allow me to direct your attention to your comment #94, in which you asked:

The unsettling impression I'm getting from all these threads is, "Oh, that William Sanders, what a racist jerk." But there's no impression of "William Sanders is dead to us, he will never work in the industry again."
That sounds a whole lot like the old, formal definition of ostracism. Do you really think there's no acceptable penalty for Sanders's behavior short of "he's dead to us" and conspiring to end his career?
#188 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 10:13 PM:

K.C. Shaw @ 110: I can't be the only one with the TMBG song "Your Racist Friend" stuck in my head right now.

Well, you sure aren't now.

#189 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 10:31 PM:

Avram, I would think unprofessional behaviour like that would be on the career ending side of the scale, in most professions that take themselves at all seriously.

Imagine an accountant writing that ``this company is run by sheet-heads, and so I can't understand their books'' in business correspondence.

A public figure would probably be expected to at least formally apologise.

Problem is that editing isn't a profession, and there's no professional standards, so you can't really go from one to the other as an idea of this stuff works. However, if SF publishing/fandom wants to have an communal image of moral probity, some sort of sanction is almost certainly in order.

I don't have a clue about what form that sanction should take, or anything, but if SF publishing/fandom wants to be accepted as a grown up set of institutions, using racial slurs in business correspondence is something that shouldn't happen. Apart from anything else, it's hilariously amateur, in the worst sense of the word.

#190 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 10:55 PM:

Keir @ 189: The first guy to ever fire me from a job, way back in pre-history, later got fired himself. He'd written code (I'm told) to report on affirmative action statistics at the university where I'd been working, and in the comments had left helpful remarks like "number of n****rs in the administration". Helpful, in the sense of helping to get his ass fired when his code got audited.

#191 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 10:57 PM:

Madeline, I always quote because post numbers can change. Not using your name was just random, not personal.

#192 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:19 PM:

What I don't think Madeline F gets is the SF community's well-earned horror of letting itself get organized into any kind of unitary crusade.

I'm not kidding. This disinclination is the glue that holds SF fandom together across the decades. See also Cosmic Circle, NFFF, WSFS Inc.

We never all agree on anything, and that's what holds us together.

#193 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:26 PM:

John A Arkansawyer, that is so perfect, in its own little cluster of bigoted fail.

#194 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:27 PM:

Carl @ 152: "For a group that prides itself (sometimes aggressively so) about being open-minded, we're getting pretty insular about some things."

There's nothing open-minded about being tolerant of bigotry. It's true that unfriending people on moral grounds also relies on the "us v. them" mentality to some degree, but in this case it's a meaningful "us," and a meaningful "them." "Us v. them" distinctions based moral judgments of individuals' behavior are a lot more valid than similar distinctions based on arbitrary categories like skin color or religion. The problem with racism, sexism, and other bigotries isnt' that they draw distinctions, it's that they draw stupid, useless ones.

I eagerly await your feedback as to whether my biases/filters are running overtime.

John Chu @ 164: "Sadly, the situation improved for the Chinese living in the US at the expense of the Japanese living in the US. i.e., as we entered WWII, it became more popular to hate the Japanese instead. That isn't the way things should work."

It isn't the way it should work, but yet it so often is, demonstrating racism's arbitrary nature. To know the history of racism is to refute it--it’s simply too fluid, too dependent on the economic particularities of the time to reflect anything real.

Scraps @ 168: "Not to mention the fact that modern warfare is full of indiscriminate killing, of which the U.S. has done plenty. The civilian death toll in Iraq is one result."

Also not to mention that targeting the World Trade Center was very, very discriminating. There's a reason they tried to blow it up twice, and never went after the Statue of Liberty.

#195 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:34 PM:

Oh, and by the way, if anyone wants to convince me that they have nothing to offer except complete bullshit, ending their comment with "I'll get down off of my soap box now and watch and see if any of you can read this without your biases/filters running overtime" is pretty much a bulletproof way of doing it.

See also: self-congratulation, inept, don't-sprain-your-shoulder-patting-yourself-on-the-back.

#197 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:40 PM:

John #190:

Clearly, this was a programmer who knew that nobody ever really reads the comments....

#198 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:49 PM:

Patrick, surely Ms. LeGuin has sort of an ambience of perpetual noobness? It keeps her vital!

#199 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 11:55 PM:

Uh, not for nothing, but "indiscriminate killing" is a horseshit phrase.

The Iraqi civilian death toll in Iraq is one million from 1990 to 2003 due to sanctions. Sanctions which killed a couple hundred thousand children because we wanted to instigate a coup in Iraq and get someone in there to kill Saddam for us. Bush Sr pushed for them. Clinton enforced them. Both were aware of the death toll. And even though the UN resolution said sanctions were tied to Iraqi disarmament, Bush Sr and Clinton both said they were tied to regime change.

If that is "discriminate" killing, then it is discriminating nothing other than "them, not us". Iraqi's, not Americans. And if that is our version of discriminating killing, then terrorists do the exact same thing, cause they're looking to kill "Us, not them".

The Iraq war since 2003 has killed probably at least a hundred thousand civilians, possibly two or three hundred thousand Iraqi civilians.

I haven't gone through the body counts of the number of Iraqi civilians that Saddam killed that got us to label him a terrible tyrant (He gassed his own people! Gasp!), but he's got a lot of competition from the US as far as killing Iraqi civlians goes.

#200 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 12:08 AM:

Fragano @177:I, on the other hand, would be most hesitant to call someone a 'coolie', unless I knew them very well.

No kidding. I tried imaging calling her a "coolie" *even if she said that's how she thought of herself* and my mind just ... balked. And not just in Jamaica -- I don't think the term would go down well in any Chinatown in North America.

#201 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 12:10 AM:

Keir@189: If I saw that comment by an accountant, I would totally read it as "This company is run by sh*theads and they have not been keeping proper records; I can't help you with it. Also, a profanity filter is in effect here."

PNH@192: Even if it were, is the industry even small enough that "he'll never work in this industry again" is a remotely credible threat? I'd think it would be extremely hard to remove someone from a profession without having a guild with total control, and outside of doctors and lawyers, I can't think of any. Publishing sure doesn't. (A conspiracy of publishers can blackball an author - unless they miss one, or new ones spring up. How do you stop a publisher from recruiting authors that have never heard of them?)

#202 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 12:56 AM:

Michael, one common definition of a profession is that it has a body with total control over who practices and who doesn't. See: chartered accountants, actuaries, etc.

That's why SFWA isn't a professional body -- it has no power to sanction.

I suspect that `you'll never work again' would be reasonably credible coming from a industry standards body -- after all, if you could do it in comics in the '50s, I can't see why not in SF publishing now.

I don't think that such an industry standards body would needfully be a good thing, but it would be possible if the fan groups, SFWA, the big magazines, and the publishing houses were all in on it. There are probably ethical arguments against*, and they're quite probably right, but practically speaking, I don't think it's impossible.

*Like, restraint of trade, who died and made you king, too much like WSFS Inc., do I really want Andrew Burt anywhere near such a thing, etc.

#203 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 12:58 AM:

Actually, `total control' is laying it on a bit thick, but you know what I mean.

#204 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:23 AM:

PNH @192:We never all agree on anything, and that's what holds us together.

That's just not true at all...

#205 ::: distraxi ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:28 AM:

albatross @ 197:

It's possible if not probable that I saw it here originally, but it seems apposite:

Codeulate: F*cking programming

#206 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:46 AM:

Keir #202:

I'm trying to think of a worse idea than having an organization that could suppress writers and editors (and thus magazines and books) for having or expressing the wrong political ideas, but nothing is coming to mind.

More generally, even given the power, it sure seems like refusal to do business with or associate with someone, ever again, is a pretty large step. I could maybe see taking it for, say, someone who was a member of Klan. But I can't even imagine taking such a step on the basis of a single asinine, bigoted comment in a letter. I have some pretty big doubts about how much that really tells me about someone's deeply-held internal beliefs. And, to be honest, a lot of famous writers have been (and are) also famous a--holes in person.

#207 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:55 AM:

distraxi: That's awesome.

#208 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:59 AM:

Josh #100:

Just as an aside, what actions or statements would constitute a defense against this accusation? (I mean in general, not just this case.) Because as far as I can tell, none are sufficient. Pointing out a multitude of gay friends, coworkers, employees, students, etc., is all easily brushed aside with the "some of my best friends are gay" line. Previous non-homophobic statements can be brushed aside as trying to hide your true feelings. Short of coming out yourself (at which point I guess you'd just be a self-hating homophobe), what would be a reasonable defense?

#209 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 02:08 AM:

Albatross #208: Well, how about this: Whatever actions have led people to suspect that the person in question is a homophobe? Maybe the person could try to avoid doing those things.

Like, fer instance, Nick Mamatas points out above in ct #85 that Sanders apparently "is constantly going on about cocks and homosex in denigrating ways". There's a thing to not do.

#210 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 02:11 AM:

distraxi: Wow, glad I'm two floors away from the rest of my family, or I'd have woken them up with all the laughing.

#211 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 02:23 AM:

Went over to Asimovs and read the thread linked to in #77. Post #1: "lynching". Classy. Further on: The Angry Black Woman unironically stereotyped as an angry black woman. Obligatory mention of "PC". Need unicorn chaser.

Echoing Madeline F at #158: have Dozois and Williams or any other editors elsewhere aside from pnh supported calling out such bigotry? In my imaginary utopia, being discovered to have such attitudes would be an automatic career-ender. But here and now, I would be very happy with SF bigwigs coming together to state unequivocally that this shit is not cool and if you get this kind of reception from someone in the SF community/industry you need to call them on it.

#212 ::: tobias s. buckell ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 02:40 AM:

Albatross #208: not using hate-oriented language is a good first step to avoiding 'misunderstandings.'

Next up, it's amazing how quick something like this evaporates when the accused, instead of going bats**t crazy and defending themselves at-all-costs, they just say 'I'm sorry' and move on.

I talk about the 'cost' of just changing the behavior that leads to such misunderstandings here , as I've been called out for dumb stuff.

But if people don't want to give up that behavior and language... well then... something is going on there. Not sure what, always, but something.

This is why Jonathan Strahan is a gentleman who everyone is curious to see what he'll bring to the table in his next anthology after it was pointed out he had almost no women in his latest. He wrote a blog apologizing after thinking about the points brought up in arguments, and he sounded genuine.

And this is why the people going crazy and trying to defend the use of sheet head are dedicated to holding the line.

There's a blog post I like called how not go insane when accused of racism. It's an awesome blog post, and it's totally right on about how to recover from this.

#213 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:04 AM:

Point of information: "sheetheads" has been, for some years, Gene Lyons's derogatory term for segregation-leaning voters, a reference to the sheet-like garb of the Ku Klux Klan.

#214 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:10 AM:

@155 Xopher (and ceterae): I've been mostly-lurking for several months, and have been mentally pronouncing it "Zoh-fur" the whole time. This thread was the first clue I'd had that you were actually an Xmas X-man.

Dave "and now I know" DeLaney

#215 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:13 AM:

I'm trying to think of a worse idea than having an organization that could suppress writers and editors (and thus magazines and books) for having or expressing the wrong political ideas, but nothing is coming to mind.

Slavery seems to be much worse to me, to be honest...

Seriously, I never said it was a good idea, just that it was feasible. After all, there's a lot of people over the years who've developed some very effective censorship techniques.

However, there are good arguments for the idea that, in general, if SF wants to be treated as a respectable grown up genre, it needs to recognise that racism (and bigotry in general) is ridiculously unprofessional, and actively turns people off, and that it may be necessary to have a collective `using ethnic slurs is not OK' position.

Even if it is just general expressions of disapproval or whatever.

(ObSF -- Terry Pratchett mocks `towel-head' etc very nicely in Jingo.)

#216 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:13 AM:

Indirect documentation, December 17, 2002: segregationist sheetheads.

(via Interesting Times)

#217 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:28 AM:

Gene Lyons's 1997 book review of The Runaway, a novel set in post-WWII rural Georgia:

... follows two boys -- one black, one white -- who stumble across a terrible secret. Could it be that a mythical white killer whom black folks call Pegleg actually exists? It's a mystery most white citizens would like to keep hidden. Everybody, that is, but Sheriff Frank Rucker. Not one but two Harvard lawyers help the sheriff make his stand against the local sheetheads.
I have not read the book, but I doubt that "local" Muslims, Arabs, or other Middle Easterners are featured in it.

#218 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:48 AM:

One common definition of a profession is that it has a body with total control over who practices and who doesn't. See: chartered accountants, actuaries, etc

Is that a common definition? It seems to rule out both academia and school-teaching as professions.

#219 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:49 AM:

Keir @ 215: "However, there are good arguments for the idea that, in general, if SF wants to be treated as a respectable grown up genre, it needs to recognise that racism (and bigotry in general) is ridiculously unprofessional, and actively turns people off, and that it may be necessary to have a collective `using ethnic slurs is not OK' position."

This sounds a bit hoop-jumpy to me. There are plenty of racists, sexists, and other sorts of bigots in literary genres considered perfectly adult and respectable--it's a bit ridiculous to require sf to purge itself of racism before it can be taken seriously. And really, is anyone in the sf community saying, "Yeah, he was being racist, and I'm okay with that?" The arguments I've been hearing are either "He didn't really mean it like that" or "How dare you publish someone's copyrighted work without permission?" I think the general principle that racism isn't okay is pretty well established here.

#220 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:54 AM:

--which is to say, if we're going to be purging sf of bigotry, we should do it because we want to have a bigotry-free community, not to impress all them folks over at the grown-up table.

#221 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 05:08 AM:

I see how that does sound a bit hoop jumpy, and it's that other genres are probably just as bad.

There's an argument that saying `I'm not going to discuss if sheethead's a slur, cause that's politics' is a way of making racism OK by moving it to the legitimate political debate column -- i.e it makes it something which people of goodwill can disagree about. It's the `equal time' principle.

Of course, that relies on the presumption that `sheethead' etc. is a racist slur, and obviously so.

#222 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 06:02 AM:

David DeLaney @ 214... This thread was the first clue I'd had that you were actually an Xmas X-man

Didn't you know that Xopher in fact is the kid brother of Professor Xavier? Here is the photo that proves it.

#223 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 09:23 AM:

Jesus God, Distraxi! I've been laughing hard for an hour (and sending it on to all my IT friends).

#224 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 09:54 AM:

Madeleine F. #94: There's no reason fandom should have racist sh!ts in it. We're not right-wing talk radio. Hell, come to talk about right-wing talk radio, even Imus got fired.

Is is possible to throw someone out of fandom? It's not like they're getting paid to be in, or that there's a limited number of places available.

Amber #98: Have to say, the first image that came to my mind as a "sheethead" was, eh, white all over. But I'm not American.

#225 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 09:57 AM:

The chatter about Sanders and the potential destruction of his career assumes that he has one. His books were mostly hack stuff -- not a slam, he annotates his bibliography with references to hackery and market-chasing on his own website -- and one can follow the downward spiral of his career from hardcovers to PBOs to Wildside pubs during their bad ol' POD days when Betancourt would let little children choose the covers, to even vanity publisher XLibris.

With the new masthead at Asimov's, he's not been getting any action on the short fiction front, and indeed has declared himself retired. All that's left is Helix, which is a tribute to the web design fashions of 1996, comes out quarterly (woo, they must be exhausted!), doesn't pay pro rates, doesn't have regular funding sources or a business model more complex than rattling a paper cup full of pennies, and which has managed a couple award nominations thanks largely to tireless wheedling and begging on the part of the principles.

LWE was surprised to discover that despite the Hugo nom (in the Locus category), and the Rhysling win (an exceedingly minor award for SF poetry), and the Neb nom (bad year for the Nebs, to say the least) it seems that some people had not previously heard of Helix.

Didn't surprise me at all.

#226 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 10:16 AM:

Nick Mamatas @225: ...doesn't pay pro rates, doesn't have regular funding sources or a business model more complex than rattling a paper cup full of pennies, and which has managed a couple award nominations thanks largely to tireless wheedling and begging on the part of the principles.

The website may be from 1996, but the rest of the description sounds like every other Web 2.0 startup I've seen. Maybe they should spin Helix as a New Media SF site :)

#227 ::: dichroic ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 10:30 AM:

Tangential question: If "coolie" is pejorative, is there a proper word for the sort of broad conical hat that people still wear in part of Asia when working outside in hot weather? This is actually something I need to know, not just idle curiosity.

#228 ::: pixelfish ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 10:45 AM:

dichroic @ #227 : I got in trouble for the hat thing once as well. I didn't realize that it meant something perjorative and got some lifted eyebrows. So I'm curious too.

#229 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 10:45 AM:

dichroic @ 227: "This is actually something I need to know, not just idle curiosity."

In that case, you might want to try googling it.

#230 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 10:59 AM:

Doctor Science #200: True. I doubt, somehow, that in continental North America you'd get killed. You might in Vere or Little London. And these days you might get badly hurt in Sando or Chaguanas.

#232 ::: Luke Jackson ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 12:20 PM:

OK, since Mamatas has stood up for our right to post rejection letters, I posted one from him to the same story Sanders rejected. Thanks for the solidarity.

#233 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 12:20 PM:

Serge 222: You have to tell everything, don't you? Honestly. And what makes you think I can't kill you with my brain? Perhaps I'll just convince you that you have to wear eyeshadow from now on.

Somewhat more seriously, it drove me cwazy that they called him "Eck-save-ee-er" in the movie. He should be either Zave-ee-er or Hah-vi-yay IMNAAHO.

inge 224: Is it possible to throw someone out of fandom?

No, it really isn't. It's been tried. It has always failed. The closest I know of was the case of Robert I-forget-his-last-name, a NY fan who was ostracized after an incident too ugly to relate, and that after years of being barely tolerated. He kept going to conventions, but no NY area fan would speak to him. He's since died, as far as I know of unrelated causes, and I don't think he ever understood why so many people hated/were angry at him. He was completely impervious to all feedback. Sad in a way, but he was so annoying and mean-spirited that it was hard to have any sympathy.

#234 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 12:21 PM:

Luke 232: Link, please?

#235 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 12:47 PM:

Xopher @ 233... Hmmm. The movie's pronounciation of 'Xavier' was rather close to the French, which would be 'ksah-vee-ay'.

#236 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 12:50 PM:

Serge: They put the "eh" in front of it! Ick! And they ended with a consonantal 'r'.

#237 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:03 PM:

Xopher @ 236... Is that how Patrick Stewart pronounced it? I expect that, with his training in the Classics, he made sure to say it the correct way.

#238 ::: Luke Jackson ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:10 PM:

Xopher 234: Either click my name or
http://solipcyst.blogspot.com/2008/07/story-sanders-rejected-some-at-asimovs.html

#239 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:27 PM:

Luke 238: There's nothing in Nick's rejection that strikes me as racist (or bigoted in any way).

And if anyone's accusing YOU of being racist I haven't seen that. Obviously I haven't read your story, but neither has anyone other than the editors to whom you've submitted it (and perhaps a few friends of yours). Are you being tarred with the same brush as Sanders? That seems deeply unfair, if so.

#240 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:29 PM:

Historical note: XLibris did not start out as a vanity press, and was not one at the time William Sanders sold them (not paid them to publish, but sold them) a novel.

#241 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:41 PM:

Nick 225: This comment seems to really gloat over the downward spiral of Sanders' career. I don't have a lot of sympathy for him, but that really kind of skeeved me. We all know you hate him. The more you trash him for things that are perhaps foolish, maybe pathetic, but not actually evil, the more credibility you lose, because you become a biased source.

Besides, you're arguing against any attempt to make life in the SF world more difficult for him. Is that really what you want to do? I do think "let's all conspire to ruin his career" is a bad move, but I'm surprised you do.

Lawrence 240: I wouldn't worry too much about that. If William sold Xlibris a book, or had one vanity published, the first doesn't excuse the bigotry of the note nor the second exacerbate it. I think it's kind of a red herring, really (see my comments to Nick above).

#242 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:42 PM:

I think we should get back to discussing the depravity of the Belgians, which was the real topic of this post.

What? It wasn't?

Never mind.

#243 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:54 PM:

heresiarch, #194: It also sounds to me as though Carl is arguing the "tolerance isn't tolerance unless it includes tolerance for intolerance" catch-22, which I reject utterly. If I am required, on soi-disant "moral" grounds, not to object to those who call for my relegation to second-class citizenship... well, that puts all the power in their hands and none in mine, doesn't it? How useful for the bigots.

Keir, #202: I think another part of that definition is that a profession requires a licence to practice, and that said license can be revoked for cause by the governing body.

#244 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 02:01 PM:

Xopher @ 242... we should get back to discussing the depravity of the Belgians

"I am not Belgian, I am a French-Canadian."
Darn. I can't do David Suchet accents.

#245 ::: Nora ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:14 PM:

heresiarch @ 219:

And really, is anyone in the sf community saying, "Yeah, he was being racist, and I'm okay with that?" The arguments I've been hearing are either "He didn't really mean it like that" or "How dare you publish someone's copyrighted work without permission?"

I think I might prefer it if people *did* say they're OK with these kinds of racist comments. I find blatant racism less rage-inducing than the rationalizations/BS excuses you've cited above. At least you can dismiss a blatant racist and move on; with the rationalizations you have to waste time pointing out the flaws in their logic and trying to reason with them.

Though it does help that the more common rationalizations are becoming so well-known that we can now point to resources like this and this as a shortcut.

I think the general principle that racism isn't okay is pretty well established here.

Where on earth did you get that idea?

As Madeline pointed out at #183, we do occasionally hear anecdotes from writers of color who take one look at places like the Asimov's forum -- where it seems pretty well established that racism, sexism, etc. *is* okay -- and flee screaming, having concluded that SF is a genre where racists are not only comfortable, but supported and tolerated.

#246 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:19 PM:

#187 Avram: Well, I don't care so much about penalizing Sanders as about fixing the environment that we share, but I can think of various other ways to penalize Sanders. They just don't seem useful or worthwhile. I'm open to ideas, though: you're a much older hand at all this, what do you suggest?

#191 Scraps: Cool, NP.

#192 Patrick Nielsen Hayden: Lord knows I don't expect everyone to agree... People in general are contrary and individualistic. If fandom is moreso, I wouldn't be enormously surprised, given founder effects and societal pressures. But we have seen with bigots like Vox Dei that a strong lobby for equality can make a jerk into a laughingstock who doesn't get to hang around cool places, so I was hoping there was a chance of the same working against Sanders, even though he's one step higher on the cred ladder (editor vs author) and went after a group with fewer fandom representatives (racist vs sexist). I may be wrong about how much of a laughingstock Vox Dei is, though.

#241 Xopher: I do think "let's all conspire to ruin his career" is a bad move What does it profit us to have Sanders around? And on a different note, what would your reaction be if a mid-level manager at frex Honda of America had sent a supplier a letter like Sanders'?

It seems weird to me that suggesting that we speak against and actively avoid jerks is something one conspires to do. Conspire, man, sounds like that's suggesting something bad.

#247 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:22 PM:

Madeline F @ 246... People in general are contrary and individualistic

We agree with you.

#248 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:32 PM:

Historical note: XLibris did not start out as a vanity press, and was not one at the time William Sanders sold them (not paid them to publish, but sold them) a novel.

False. Xlibris did start out as a vanity press; it simply didn't have the author pay up front for its least expensive package. It was a back-end payment given the short discounts for even the authors and the inability of the books to make it into stores. Further, XLibris wasn't simply a printer -- the authors didn't own the books that were spit out of the POD machine, Xlibris did. (That's a better distinction between self- and vanity-publishing.) It's the same ol' vanity system, at a discount. Actually, at the time Xlibris's model wasn't too dissimilar from that of PublishAmerica, except of course that Xlibris didn't make claims about being a "traditional publisher." (By the by, I was working for Silicon Alley Reporter as a freelancer when the POD sector started making inroads and wrote on the topic, and have also published articles on PODs of that era, including XLibris, for the Village Voice. I remember the various business models of the firms extremely well.)

Again, Sanders's own recollection makes my point, and demonstrates that Lawrence is wrong. From his bibliography page: "I found the manuscript. Xlibris had a short-lived program by which they would publish your book at no charge, so I figured why not?"


"publish your book at no charge" is a peculiar definition of the word "sold" (especially "sold" repeated twice) at the very least.


Xopher: I do not hate Sanders; I find him annoying. He clearly thinks about, and spends more time talking about, me than I do him. I appeared on this thread because I was mentioned on this thread. At any rate, as I said, anyone can go to Sanders's own webpage and will see from his own bibliography that my sketch of his trajectory is accurate, and that he did indeed retire (his own word) as a writer. If you, like Lawrence, want to ignore facts because of what you see as some sort of emotional involvement, that is 100% on you and has nothing to do with me.

I'm only interested in facts, and indeed didn't take opportunities to swipe at Sanders on topics on which I don't have the facts (e.g., the suggestion that he may be a homophobe). I'd appreciate it if you didn't ascribe some universal knowledge ("We all know you hate him") to something that isn't even true.

#249 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:44 PM:

Thanks @8 for a quick catch up.


if I ever reject a submission by means of a spluttering fulmination about the depravity of the Belgians

I don't think I'd mind getting rejections like this.

#250 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 03:48 PM:

Sorry to make two comments about one, but anyway:

Besides, you're arguing against any attempt to make life in the SF world more difficult for him. Is that really what you want to do? I do think "let's all conspire to ruin his career" is a bad move, but I'm surprised you do.

Well, perhaps you are surprised because your knowledge of me is incomplete. Rather than suggesting some kind of odd contradiction, I'd recommend revisiting your insistence that I hate Sanders. I do not. Yes, I am explicitly arguing against any attempt to make life in the SF world more difficult for him.

For one thing, he is clearly rather very good at doing that himself. I see no reason to drive him out of SF, to conspire against him, or to do anything but let social nature take its course.

The last thing SF -- or any social endeavor that benefits from a diversity of opinion -- needs is a star chamber based on ideological means-testing, if only because the worm always turns. Not that anyone is seriously suggesting a star chamber, but at the same time there is really no mechanism other than a star chamber that could drive anyone out of anything in the online era.

I find pointing and saying "HA-HA!" when Sanders poops himself publicly and howls about the smell sufficient punishment for the crime of being Sandersesque.

#251 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 04:23 PM:

I have to chime in with Madeline here. A really nasty piece of racism was met, among a notable segment of the great and mighty of SF, with a fine concern for Sanders' feelings; great (and entirely newfound) passion about the vileness of posting rejection letters; logic chopping to 'explain' how it wasn't racist at all... and a great echoing silence when it came to denouncing the racism.

This doesn't entirely surprise me from LWE, from memories of rasff, but from people like Gardner Dozois I find it very, very disappointing, and yeah, it does make the field a more hostile place.

#252 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 04:43 PM:

Madeline 246: To Avram:I don't care so much about penalizing Sanders as about fixing the environment that we share and later, to me: What does it profit us to have Sanders around?

I'm asking a different question. Will systematically ostracizing Sanders be a net win to the environment we share? Remember, you have to count the cost of systematizing ostracism in the first place. If that mechanism can be used for a good reason (presuming this is one), it can also be used for a bad reason.

I don't think it will work anyway. Too many people will disagree with it on principle, even if they have no use for Sanders as an individual. The likely outcome of the attempt is All Fandom Plunged Into War more fannish feuding, Sanders getting more attention and support than he deserves, and someone getting carried away and doing something...intemperate.

It does not condone racism to say that going after Sanders is not worthwhile, any more than my opposition to the Iraq war condoned the behavior of Saddam Hussein.

Nick 248, 250: OK, I stand corrected. My apologies. However, you might want to examine, in your turn, what led me to the conclusion that you hate Sanders. The tone of your posts here is what gave me that impression.

You can conclude I'm reading-in, if you like. I'm just telling you how you've been coming across to me. And you came across so strongly that way that I was convinced it must be obvious to everyone; now that you've denied it, I no longer have such certainty.

And your penultimate paragraph in 250 means I needn't have written my reply to Madeline, above, though I guess I went into more detail. Madeline: read that paragraph.

Nick, I'm glad we're on the same side on this. Please don't think I bear you any ill will, and I hope you bear me none.

#253 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 04:54 PM:

Xopher: You can conclude I'm reading-in, if you like. I'm just telling you how you've been coming across to me. And you came across so strongly that way that I was convinced it must be obvious to everyone; now that you've denied it, I no longer have such certainty.

Well, that's good. I think my comments here have been brief, sarcastic, and generally on point. Hate is rather stronger on all that. (For an example, one might check out that Murphy guy on the Asimov's board, who proudly proclaims his hatred for this or that person.)


Nick, I'm glad we're on the same side on this. Please don't think I bear you any ill will, and I hope you bear me none.

It's all good.

#254 ::: Paul M ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 05:51 PM:

Toby@212: Thanks very much for that "not going insane" link and for the rational viewpoint you've been bringing to this tempest.

#255 ::: tobias s buckell ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 06:03 PM:

Thanks Paul. The not going insane link is a fave, because even allies or people conducting anti-racism or anti-sexist work will either unintentionally slip up or will occasionally get misunderstood. I've gotten hit with the racist brush because I look white and write about people who speak with Caribbean dialects, and I use that guide myself. Apologies or just swallowing and realizing it's not about me has been a good life lesson, and made me a lot of friends to boot. John Strahan has become one of my biggest heros of late because of his actions, the apology post. What a class act.

So again, yeah, thanks.

#256 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 06:34 PM:

Madeline F #246: But we have seen with bigots like Vox Dei that a strong lobby for equality can make a jerk into a laughingstock who doesn't get to hang around cool places, so I was hoping there was a chance of the same working against Sanders

Isn't that already happening? What cool places is Sanders hanging out in?

#257 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 08:19 PM:

Xopher @ 233: According to the Social Security Administration, well over 1000 sets of parents in the USA have named their sons Xzavier. And I'm afraid I know how they pronounce it.

Xopher @ 242: But which Belgians? -- the Wallonians or the Flemish?

#258 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 12:12 AM:

Oh, please, that's a standard racist cop-out and Nick Mamatas nails Sanders on it.

I gotta ask though--is that the typical prose of an editor?

Sanders' initial letter is nothing like the editorial letters I see in in the academy. I'd expect better prose even from a racist.

I’m impressed by your knowledge of the Q’uran and Islamic traditions. (Having spent a couple of years in the Middle East, I know something about these things.) You did a good job of exploring the worm-brained mentality of those people - at the end we still don’t really understand it, but then no one from the civilized world ever can - and I was pleased to see that you didn’t engage in the typical error of trying to make this evil bastard sympathetic, or give him human qualities.

Let's just ignore the racist marker of "those people" and follow it in terms of syntax . . . There's no way to read "those people" other than as people who have "knowledge of the Q’uran and Islamic traditions."


#259 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 12:54 AM:

All of this could have been avoided if William Sanders had remembered the essential rule of e-mail, which is never send anything in e-mail that you don't want spread out all over the Internet. Because everything gets out on the Internet. We've all had the Internet for a decade and a half now (and some folks even longer); this shouldn't be news.

Also, I solve the e-mail copyright issue by asserting that every e-mail sent to me personally, and all the content therein, become my property upon receipt. Easy.

#260 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 01:43 AM:

Xopher @ 233

He's since died, as far as I know of unrelated causes

and still no one will talk to him!

#261 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 05:09 AM:

Lee @ 243: "It also sounds to me as though Carl is arguing the "tolerance isn't tolerance unless it includes tolerance for intolerance" catch-22, which I reject utterly."

Yep, that's it exactly. A succinct way of putting it.

Nora @ 245: "I think I might prefer it if people *did* say they're OK with these kinds of racist comments."

As irritating as it is (and I agree), it does mean that we've won the first battle: making racism such a toxic idea that not even people who are racist can admit it and expect to be listened to. It's frustrating trying to get racists to fess up, and then to get their supporters to admit it, and so on, but that's just how it works. People will stop owning an idea before they stop expressing it, and they'll stop expressing it before they stop believing it. So it goes.

"Where on earth did you get that idea? As Madeline pointed out at #183, we do occasionally hear anecdotes from writers of color who take one look at places like the Asimov's forum -- where it seems pretty well established that racism, sexism, etc. *is* okay -- and flee screaming, having concluded that SF is a genre where racists are not only comfortable, but supported and tolerated."

When I said "here," I didn't mean fandom as a whole--I'm not nearly fannish enough to have any idea whether or not that's true. No, I was talking specifically about the argument being discussed on this thread, and I haven't heard of anyone saying, "But, those sheet-heads really are incomprehensible to civilized people! What's everyone so upset about?" They may be thinking it, but they're clearly aware that saying it isn't a winning argument.

#262 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 06:36 AM:

Xopher @ #155:

And here I've been pronouncing it "<achlaut>opher", thinking the name started with a Ksi.

#263 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 06:39 AM:

Fragano Ledgister #163:
I was not aware that 'coolie' is considered so racist in the Caribbean. My encounters with the word (as a child) was in its more benign meaning of 'unskilled labourer'.

John Chu #164:
That isn't the way things should work.
But sadly, we humans are very good at using minority groups as scapegoats on which to lay blame for our own failures. "I can't get work because INSERT_MINORITY_GROUP have taken all the jobs."

Tlönista #211:
That post#1 guy at Asimov's? He went septic a while back & has been lobbing great gobs of vile brown stuff at all and sundry ever since. Unfortunately, Asimov's isn't moderated (or the moderation is so light as to be non-existent). A small number of us have been fighting a rearguard action for a while but it's rough.

Things improved (or at least, the slide was arrested or slowed) when an area was set aside for the more contentious topics (religion & politics). For a while it was possible to avoid the worst of it. If you want to get into a shit-kicking contest, take it there. Elsewhere, relatively interesting & civil discourse could still be had.

In June, new forum software was introduced, which though an improvement in many ways, does not compartmentalise the sections anywhere as well as the previous software. Readers clicking on 'Recent posts' now get sewage too.

#264 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 09:29 AM:

Madeleine @246: What does it profit us to have Sanders around?

It profits us as much as his work is worth to us.

#265 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 09:31 AM:

#258: Is he claiming to be aware of all Islamic traditions?

Also, I found this sentence particularly striking:

I was pleased to see that you didn’t engage in the typical error of trying to make this evil bastard sympathetic, or give him human qualities.

It would, of course, be an error to give your villain human qualities if he's not human. In SF, sometimes your villain literally isn't human. (Nonhuman villains are sometimes a metaphor for a particular segment of humanity which the writer despises, but for the sake of argument let's assume that isn't *always* the case.) But "those people" actually are human and have human qualities... except to a racist.

#266 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 10:12 AM:

Chris 265: And you remind me of another (relatively minor) point: since when is it an error to give a villain human qualities? I'd call it good writing. And making him in some ways sympathetic is good writing too: it's realistic.

Remember that the capacity for rage, anger, prejudice, tribalism and hate are all human qualities. Too often we want to section ourselves off and say that such people (as real terrorists, I mean) are monsters. This allows us the false comfort of ignoring the fact that humans are capable of the most monstrous things.

Giving a villain human traits or even sympathetic ones is a good way to give your reader that icky shiver that comes about when s/he realizes that s/he does have something in common with this "monster" after all. That's not only good writing: it's important, because the illusion that monstrous people have no redeeming qualities is a tool used by those very people to seduce others into complicity in their monstrousness.

Remember the nice liberal blogger who said that William F. Buckley Jr. was "a good and decent man"? He was wrong. Buckley may have been good and decent to his friends, but overall was an evil person. The idea that no true villain has sympathetic characteristics leads to the notion that anyone who does cannot really be a villain. And that's a really dangerous idea that has led to a lot of horrendous crime.

I guess that even without this flap I could discount Helix as a possible market. In my writing the most awful human villains are not without redeeming characteristics. And when I have beings who are purely evil, I tend to write them in the first person, in the most lyrical language I can muster. I guess the seductive nature of evil is not a theme that will play in the stories Sanders buys.

#267 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 11:16 AM:

Dammit. You people woke me up at 3:47am this morning wondering exactly what racial pejoratives do Belgians find offensive. I'm off to the Farmers Market and there will be no artisan cheeses, fresh tomatoes and herbs or homemade tamales for any of you until I get some answers.

#268 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 11:39 AM:

Chris, #265: If your villain doesn't have sympathetic or human qualities, you're not writing science fiction -- you're writing sci-fi B-movie melodrama, in the pejorative sense. (This is true even if your villain is literally non-human; if there isn't something there that the readers can wrap their human brains around, your story is going to fail. But I'm talking more at a metalevel, as a reader who despises one-dimensional characters.) I want to be able to understand why the villain does what he does, even if I still hate him to the depths of my being. And that means making him human, and perhaps even giving him some sympathetic qualities. No real live person is as one-dimensionally evil as Sanders wants his Muslims to be.

#269 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 11:43 AM:

Celia #231: Thank you for pointing that out; as with any Internet slapfight there are so many links and posts it's hard to get through them all!

Nora #245: Ditto that. It is just infinitely easier dealing with people who will say things like "Unfortunately that neighbourhood is full of those people". However, even they will immediately follow it up with "But I'm not a racist".

heresiarch #261: The flip side of that is that Racist has become such a shocking label, the accused will never, ever admit to it. They almost never say "I guess that was pretty racist" and apologise. They just keep on saying "How dare you accuse me of racism!" and convincing themselves that everyone else is being oversensitive.

Soon Lee #263: Ugh, sorry to hear about that. A few foul (and active) people can poison an entire forum so quickly! I once belonged to a forum with designated long-drawn-out-debate and flame/rant sections and that seemed to work quite well; too bad the Asimovs software doesn't permit it.

265, 266: Being able to do monstrous characters who are still sympathetic is a mark of good writing, isn't it? It's even more relevant in SF, I think, because you often have to try to describe the unimaginable or completely alien while keeping people's attention.

Hopefully relevant: Re-reading Blindsight at the moment, which was a bit hard to get into at first because the only human characters are ships-of-Theseus, so augmented that it's in question whether they're still human. In my view Watts manages to create sympathetic characters whose motives and perceptions your average twenty-first century pre-Singularity person can't hope to understand. That is good writing.

Humanizing a monstrous character makes the difference between a slasher movie and Macbeth.

#270 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 11:51 AM:

Xopher @ 266: I want to write a story with a villian who is really nice to his dog, just to mess with all the people brought up on the "have them kick a dog to show they're evil" trick.

#271 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 12:22 PM:

Lance Weber @267 -- it very much depends on which part of Belgium you're talking about, the Flemish north or the French south. The two halves....tend not to like each other, so any sort of French or Flemish slur (sorry, nothing specific here) would be offensive. This site will probably get you further.

I can has artisan cheese?

#272 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 12:26 PM:

Nick Mamatas writes, in comment #250:

The last thing SF -- or any social endeavor that benefits from a diversity of opinion -- needs is a star chamber based on ideological means-testing, if only because the worm always turns. Not that anyone is seriously suggesting a star chamber, but at the same time there is really no mechanism other than a star chamber that could drive anyone out of anything in the online era.
Exactly right.


#273 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 12:28 PM:

Tlönista @ 269: "The flip side of that is that Racist has become such a shocking label, the accused will never, ever admit to it. They almost never say "I guess that was pretty racist" and apologise. They just keep on saying "How dare you accuse me of racism!" and convincing themselves that everyone else is being oversensitive."

There is that.

#274 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 01:34 PM:

I think you can have a suceesful film in which the antagonist has no human qualities.

"The Blob" springs immediately to mind, as does "Them". Mind you the story then becomes about how people react it, since the motives of the antagonist are not relevant to the story.

#275 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 01:40 PM:

Debbie @271:
That was hilarious! Thanks for the laugh...

Today's selection of cheeses comes from Windsor Dairy, located just outside of Ft. Collins, Colorado.

First is the always splendid Glendevey aged in a natural rind and notable for it's deep buttery, nutty flavor and superb finish. Perfect for snacks, melted on a grilled chicken breast or added to a cheese sauce and drizzled over asparagus or broccoli.

Second is the Colona Reserve which is their popular Colona Emmenthaler that has been aged for six months. This is a new selection for me, but the nibble I had at the market was fantastic. I'm going to have a little more in a few minutes and decide how best to use it. It's so good, it may have to be a stand-alone, served in slices with some melon, fresh basil and flat bread drizzled with the some olive oil from the top shelf.

#276 ::: Brian ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 01:46 PM:

Lee @ 268: Not so. There are lots of science fiction stories where inhumanity is the purpose: The Terminator, The Humanoids, The Cold Equations, to name just a few.

#277 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 02:15 PM:

Lance @ #275: Oh god, you're killing me here. Must have cheese!

In recompense, I believe there was a Monty Python sketch about what to call the Belgians... ah yes, thank you Google - Episode 37:

"Good evening and welcome to another edition of 'Prejudice' - the show that gives you a chance to have a go at Wops, Krauts, Nigs, Eyeties, Gippos, Bubbles, Froggies, Chinks, Yidds, Jocks, Polacks, Paddies and Dagoes. ...

"Well now, the result of last week's competition when we asked you to find a derogatory term for the Belgians. Well, the response was enormous and we took quite a long time sorting out the winners. There were some very clever entries. Mrs Hatred of Leicester said 'let's not call them anything, let's just ignore them' ... (applause starts vigorously, but he holds his hands up for silence) ... and a Mr St John of Huntingdon said he couldn't think of anything more derogatory than Belgians. (cheers and applause; a girl in showgirl costume comes on and holds up placards through next bit) But in the end we settled on three choices: number three ... the Sprouts (placard 'The Sprouts'), sent in by Mrs Vicious of Hastings... very nice ; number two..... the Phlegms (placard) ... from Mrs Childmolester of Worthing; but the winner was undoubtedly from Mrs No-Supper-For-You from Norwood in Lancashire... Miserable Fat Belgian Bastards."

Well OK then.

I prefer Lyle Zapato's bold stance: Belgium doesn't exist! It's a conspiracy by the New World Order! The Truth About Belgium

#278 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 02:45 PM:

Terry Karney @ 274... I think you can have a suceesful film in which the antagonist has no human qualities

"An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles."
(later)
"Here's the sixty-four dollar question - what do you do with a vegetable?"
"Boil it."
"What did you say?"
"Boil it... bake it... stew it... fry it?"

(from 1951's The Thing)

#279 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 02:47 PM:

"No one would have believed in the middle of the 20th Century that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than Man's. Yet, across the gulf of space on the planet Mars, intellects vast and cool and unsypathetic regarded our Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely joined their plans against us."

#280 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 02:52 PM:

heresiarch @270: if you have the hero kick the dog, I'd read it. :)

#281 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 02:52 PM:

Brian, #276: I can't comment about the other two examples you cite, but The Cold Equations doesn't have a "villain" in any traditional sense of the word. Anyone who tried to say it did would be engaging in anthropomorphization.

#282 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 02:53 PM:

Sheila Williams says her bit. Select morsels:

Tempest, for close to twenty years, Gardner Dozois periodically handed me stacks and stacks of rejection letters to read through and organize so that I could field queries and be aware of what his editorial decisions were. While the letters were filled with good humor, encouragement, and insightful suggestions, never once did I come across one that I perceived to have a hint of bias against anyone’s race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

[...]


Gardner and I, however, have never been supportive of intolerance, either. While we’ve run stories that may have depicted difficult, unsympathetic, and sometimes vile characters, our stories have not advocated racism, sexism, homophobia, or cultural and religious intolerance. I don’t engage in that sort of language or hold to those viewpoints in my personal or my professional life and they certainly don’t show up in my rejection letters.

[...]


After too many years of figuring out whether I can run letters, song lyrics, poetry, and homages in Asimov’s, I’ve become more of an expert on the subject than I ever set out to be. I’ve deeply admired a number of people who have engaged in civil disobedience, but I considered those people brave because they knew they were breaking a law and were prepared to deal with the consequences...
#283 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 03:20 PM:

Lance @275 -- Yum. Sounds like you scored well. Thank you for 'sharing'.

#284 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 03:41 PM:

Lee @281: I can't comment about the other two examples you cite, but "The Cold Equations" doesn't have a "villain" in any traditional sense of the word.

Not even the unspoken idiots in the backstory who approved such bad engineering or created those fatal corporate rules?

I watched maybe the first half of Pan's Labyrinth last week until the DVD (borrowed from the local library) hit a rough patch and became unplayable. Based on what I saw, although the movie has brilliantly imagined visuals overlaying stark political parables, IMHO it suffered a great deal from presenting the antagonist so viciously, without any redeeming human qualities unless you count the drive to create and maintain strict order in the world. (He's very tidy and meticulous.)

#285 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 03:58 PM:

Julie L @ 284:

I slightly know an older guy here - "Arco", a very unusual character - whose family were Spanish Fascists. From what he's occasionally said about them and why he stopped associating with them, that character might have been a fairly accurate portrait of that kind of person. He mentioned, for instance, they used to celebrate the bombing of Guernica as a family holiday. Try to wrap your mind around that.

#286 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 04:13 PM:

#245 Nora: Thanks for the links: I clicked to see what the inimitable coffeeandink was doing at present, and found that she's said everything I'm trying to say, but more gracefully.

#256 Avram: What cool places is Sanders hanging out in?

The top spot at a Hugo-nominated webzine? ;)

#252 Xopher: I'm sorry that I've been so unclear as to make it possible to mix up what I'm suggesting with Mamatas's dramatic Star Chamber suggestion. I don't think there's anything "systematic" about suggesting that fen abjure unapologetic bigots and lean on their associates to do likewise.

Your query about whether this would result in a net win to the environment we share I answered in 183 (and for that matter, 94): by continuing to accept bigots as part of the community, we are making a hostile environment for the groups they are bigoted against, and there are more cool people classed as minorities than there are cool bigots.

It's not different from moderating a forum to keep out trolls, except there is no forum owner. For it to work, there have to be a large number of people who think that harboring unapologetic bigots is worse than putting their cred behind suggesting people cut them out of fandom.

The likely outcome of the attempt is All Fandom Plunged Into War more fannish feuding, Sanders getting more attention and support than he deserves, and someone getting carried away and doing something...intemperate.

You've seen the attempt right in this thread before your eyes, and so likely results can collapse into actual results: even in a liberal feminist place like Making Light, that large number of people does not exist.

#287 ::: Kynn ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 04:31 PM:

Way back in the 60s, Watt-Evans wrote:

#43: Helix is the creation of William Sanders, and the rest of the staff has very little input on policy. Certainly none of us read the story in question, or read the rejection letter before it was posted publicly.

Honestly? If I were the staff and I read that letter, my first response wouldn't be to go out and defend the guy, it would be to resign.

I think you've chosen poorly, LWE.

#288 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 04:37 PM:

The top spot at a Hugo-nominated webzine? ;)

Eh, the Hugo Award for Best Locus Magazine is the least cool of the categories.

#289 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 06:22 PM:

re: #270
Discworld'd Lord Veternari dotes on his dog.

#290 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 06:33 PM:

Melissa #289:

Yes, but is Vetinari a villain? Sure, he's a ruthless assassin and dictator of the most Machiavellian sort, but he also seems to be the best kind of leader Ankh-Morpork could have.

#291 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 07:55 PM:

#290: I get the feeling that Vetinari is a Lex Luthoresque evil mastermind who, having schemed his way into control of Ankh-Morpork, has realized that the best way to keep his job (and not get beheaded by some hero) is to run the place like a benevolent humanitarian. (Or with benevolent outcomes, at any rate... though he gets to them via Machiavellian paths.)

#292 ::: Nick Kiddle ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 08:11 PM:

#290: He does throw mime artists in the scorpion pit.

#293 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 09:03 PM:

But Nick @292, that makes him a *public benefactor*!

There is no question in my mind that Vetinari is *not* a villain -- the only running villain in the Discworld novels is (are?) the Auditors. Or possibly the Universe.

#294 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 10:00 PM:

Would the Auditors understand villainy? They have no "ill intent," just a really, really intense sense of order.

#295 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 10:35 PM:

Jules @ 280: "if you have the hero kick the dog, I'd read it. :)"

Ooh--now that'd be a hard sell.

Melissa Mead @ 289: "Discworld'd Lord Veternari dotes on his dog."

Vetinari isn't a villian at all--have you read Night Watch? The insights into the personality and motivations of a young Vetinari are quite revealing.

@ 294: "Would the Auditors understand villainy? They have no "ill intent," just a really, really intense sense of order."

Putting the question of intent aside, anyone who tries to destroy all life in the universe on a regular basis is definitially a villian.

#296 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 11:14 PM:

Putting the question of intent aside, anyone who tries to destroy all life in the universe on a regular basis is definitially a villain.

I want that on a button. And as a t-shirt. Possibly also a coffee cup, a really big one. Although I might change definitially to definitively, because the world isn't ready for so useful a word.

Also, Vetinari seems to me to be a Machiavellian hero. Machiavelli seems to me to say that private morality in a leader can imperil the public good, and Vetinari will not allow concepts of right and wrong to impede what he sees as the best course for the city. He risks everything for the greater good as he defines it.

#297 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2008, 11:36 PM:

Should we add 'villain' to the spelling reference? It really has the words 'villa' and 'lain' in it.

#298 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 12:41 AM:

Brian @ #276:

(I can't speak to your other two examples, not having read them myself, but)

The villain of The Terminator - stipulating that SkyNet, not its tool, is the real villain of the piece - has comprehensible motives; it's not just going around killing people for the heck of it. A large part of its motivation is a desire to ensure its own survival, which I think is a motivation we can empathise with. (Empathising with the motive is not sympathising with the motive's holder, I admit, but it's a big step forward from cardboard villainy.)

#299 ::: Paul. A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 12:53 AM:

Julie L. @ #284:

I don't recall how far into the movie it really becomes clear, but the antagonist of Pan's Labyrinth does have at least one human hope, and I actually felt a bit sorry for him when it got crushed at the end.

(I still didn't like him at all, mind you.)

#300 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 01:19 AM:

Serge #279:

"No one would have believed in the middle of the 20th Century that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than Man's. Yet, across the gulf of space on the planet Mars, intellects vast and cool and unsypathetic regarded our Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely joined their plans against us."

"Middle of the 20th Century?" That's not how it goes.

#301 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 01:49 AM:

Hopefully my local library system will disgorge another available (and less scratched) DVD of Pan's Labyrinth at some point so I can finish watching the movie-- there are lots of them out there, but they're in constant circulation; every time I've gone to a branch that claims to have a copy on the shelf, either someone got to it just before me or it's just plain gone missing.

I really, really hope that no one took small children to see it... and it's certainly making me (in an unsettling yet hopeful way) wonder how Del Toro is going to handle the The Hobbit.

#302 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 01:54 AM:

Nora #245:
As Madeline pointed out at #183, we do occasionally hear anecdotes from writers of color who take one look at places like the Asimov's forum -- where it seems pretty well established that racism, sexism, etc. *is* okay -- and flee screaming, having concluded that SF is a genre where racists are not only comfortable, but supported and tolerated.

Asimov's Forum is unmoderated. Because of that, it is the small vocal minority of haters that get the attention, and without the strong medicine of moderation and banning, there's not much the rest can do.

#303 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 04:43 AM:

vian @ 296: "I want that on a button. And as a t-shirt. Possibly also a coffee cup, a really big one. Although I might change definitially to definitively, because the world isn't ready for so useful a word."

Glad you like it! Also, I see you are a proofreader of skill and discretion.

Xopher @ 297: "Should we add 'villain' to the spelling reference? It really has the words 'villa' and 'lain' in it."

Alternatively, you could just brand a "V" on the hands of those of us who can't get it right. Clearly we are such. *shamefaced foot-shuffle*

#304 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 06:58 AM:

heresiarch @ 270

I'd sympathize more if the dog kicked the hero.*

vian @ 296

He's your standard Lawful Neutral ruler: ya do what ys gotta do. Or as a different source would have it:

Marian: Why did you follow him to war all those years?
Robin: (somewhat quizzically): He was my king.


* Anyone remember a short story in which Lassie takes revenge for being forced to play a girl?

#305 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 07:13 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 304...

Little John: Where do we go? Which way?
Robin Hood: North.
Little John: Why north?
Robin Hood: England's there. Let's go home, John.

And later, when Marian accuses Little John of seeing her as an intruder in his friendship with Robin, he just looks at her and says that if she had been his, he'd never have left.

God, I love that movie.

#306 ::: Nora ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 08:53 AM:

Soon Lee #302,

I disagree; I think there's a lot that can be done. Moderate the damn forum, for one; why don't they? Do they want people to think their magazine's readership consists of a bunch of loudmouthed thugs and the handful of sane people who try to talk them down from the trees? I can understand not wanting to support censorship, but what the heck is wrong with enforcing a code of simple civility?

Beyond that, I think all the major editors of all the major magazines can take a simple step, like putting a statement on their websites or in their submissions guidelines making it clear that they welcome a diverse audience. And yes, they need to say so. It isn't clear, given the stuff that gets said in these forums, and the fact that people like Dave Truesdale have a column on the F&SF website. A statement like that won't do much on its own, because actions speak louder than words -- but since there have been so many questionable actions throughout the genre, I think the words are a start towards helping. We see our most prominent corporations -- especially the ones with a history of various "isms" -- making public statements about their commitment to diversity; why not a few magazines and/or publishers?

I'd love to see something like that from SFWA too, but I've already been around that particular mulberry bush.

#307 ::: Nick Mamatas ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 09:09 AM:

I've known a couple of unmoderated forums that worked quite well; it just depends on the mix of personalities, and which posters emerge as opinion leaders.

#308 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 09:48 AM:

Soon Lee, #302: Yeah, unmoderated forums are an entirely different kettle of fish. No matter how hard the community tries to establish a standard, the trolls will come in and shit all over the place, and you can't get rid of them sans the ability to ban. Eventually people decide that even trying to rebut them is "feeding the troll", and then you get what looks, to a newcomer, like a community where shitting all over the place is acceptable behavior. It's not, but there's no way to stop it.

#309 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 09:58 AM:

Lee #308:

Trolls, spammers, and astroturfers, for different reasons, seek attention. ISTM that, as more and more widely-read sites become moderated, the unmoderated widely-read sites become bigger targets.

#310 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 10:28 AM:

Avram #209/ tobias #212:

That's good advice for trying to avoid that kind of accusation, but not as a defense once it's made. The accusation is ultimately about alleged hidden beliefs or thoughts. It's pretty much impossible to disprove the claim that you harbor some set of evil hidden beliefs. That's made worse by the fact that overt behaviors that contradict the alleged belief are pretty much excluded a priori as evidence against them. You can see the seeds of this in the discussion of Saunders, before Xopher withdrew[1] the accusation of homophobia. Things like having gay friends or priminently publishing gay writers is easily brushed aside as evidence. ("Some of my best friends....")

If you accused me of homophobia, I can't see how I'd refute the claim. And I'm as sure as I can be that I'm not homophobic.

The main problem here is the accusation of guilt by hidden beliefs or ideas, which cannot be refuted. This is very different from an accusation of actions (you fire people when they come out, you write screeds about how all gays are going to burn in hell, etc.), which can actually be pointed out and discussed. But the accusation in public life seems always to move from the specific things said or done (which are usually more ambiguous than talking about "sheet-heads") to an argument about hidden beliefs.

I recommend looking at public discourse about race, to see why that's a bad thing. Some topics are minefields, including stuff that would be really good to discuss openly. Have a real discussion about affirmative action or immigration policy, and, as the night follows the day, some participants will be accused of racism. (And some will be racists, most likely. But the accusation may or may not track well with who really is a racist.) One result of this is that those discussions tend to be very constrained, and a lot of people silently hold beliefs (right and wrong) that they will never say openly except around close friends. Who wants to be smeared as a racist for disagreeing with affirmative action in public, and failing to hedge and weasel-word every comment?

And this applies, I think, to any discussion in which accusations of some hidden evil belief are an effective attack. It works with shutting up some criticism of US government policies, because who wants to be smeared as a traitor or not a patriot. (Again, this is an internal mental state which is inferred. Remember the unintentionally hilarious debate question to Barrack Obama about why he didn't wear a flag pin? It's the same damned phenomenon.) In my high school, it was a very effective way to smear someone about homosexuality--if you could put some guy on the defensive about his sexuality, you could make him do just about anything to prove his straightness. I expect it's effective in religious societies, when you smear someone as a closet atheist.

I am not sure whether there's a cure for any of this. But it's nasty, and it has ugly consequences.

[1] The other defense is, of course, having fair-minded people in the discussion, who will withdraw unfair accusations.

#311 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 10:59 AM:

Lee 308: This is why I avoid unmoderated forums entirely. Trolls seem to have nothing but time to make everyone else miserable. Some, of course, are actually griefers (that is, they aren't about the fights as such but just about making discussion impossible).

albatross 310: If I'd had control of my fairmindedness I'd never have made the accusation in the first place.

#312 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 11:16 AM:

Bill Higgins @ #300: That's not how it goes.

You're thinking of the wrong 'it'.

#313 ::: nezua ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 11:28 AM:
And this applies, I think, to any discussion in which accusations of some hidden evil belief are an effective attack. It works with shutting up some criticism of US government policies, because who wants to be smeared as a traitor or not a patriot. (Again, this is an internal mental state which is inferred. Remember the unintentionally hilarious debate question to Barrack Obama about why he didn't wear a flag pin? It's the same damned phenomenon.) In my high school, it was a very effective way to smear someone about homosexuality--if you could put some guy on the defensive about his sexuality, you could make him do just about anything to prove his straightness. I expect it's effective in religious societies, when you smear someone as a closet atheist.

I am not sure whether there's a cure for any of this. But it's nasty, and it has ugly consequences.

Well, I think it's safe to say that in a culture that was built on and in many cases still thrives on institutionalized racism and misogyny, we have all been programmed with these "hidden evil belief"s. It is our job to reeducate ourselves when necessary. We can begin with the understanding that this is what the culture teaches all children who are not taught otherwise.

For a further discussion on whether the issue/problem with racial discussions, is as albatross claims, the fear of being smeared or rather, internal views we hold, see this post.

#314 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 12:24 PM:

nezua 313: I agree. Everyone's A Little Bit Racist. That song has humorous intent, but it's really true that racism is pandemic in society.

I know that I'm more afraid of a group of African-American teenagers than of a similar group of European-American ones. This is racism on my part.

The thing to do is keep it from affecting our actions as best we can, and try to raise the next generation so they won't have to deal with such feelings. I know that my parents succeeded in raising me to be less racist than they were raised themselves (I know from personal experience that my father's mother was and older sister is jawdroppingly racist by my standards); I recognize racist feelings when they arise in me and deal with them accordingly.

This, btw, is one way I know that attempts to control thoughts and feelings are less effective than trying to control actions. When I was young and foolish I went through a brief period where I avoided having racist feelings—by avoiding people of color! Once I realized that that was racist behavior (duh), I stopped doing it, and have had much less problem with racist feelings since then (aside from a spike in the early 90s after I and my then-boyfriend were beaten up on the street by a group of Hispanic teenagers...my fear of both Hispanics AND teenagers rose dramatically for several months, but I got over it).

#315 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 12:45 PM:

Xopher @314, and thank you for it. There's not a bright line with those bad racists over there and us good people on the other side, and white privilege is not limited to those who were slaveholders, or had slaveholder ancestors. Speaking as if racist attitudes are the mark of the bad guys actually makes the kind of trolling in the Asimov's thread easier to develop, and the "but he's Cherokee!" defense superficially credible.

Sometimes all racism is is being unwilling to get on the bus with a bunch of teenagers-of-color because the last time a sililarly dressed group was loud and rude; often, all privilege entails is the flavor of rudeness to which one is subjected (for instance, as I child I was "lazy" but not "you dirty papoose" in the get-off-my-lawn tirades of our unfavorite neighbor).


#316 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 12:52 PM:

#311: Being fairminded after you stop to think about it is still a heck of a lot better than never being fairminded at all. To err is human, to recognize and correct your own errors unfortunately rare.

I'm trying to find a less patronizing-sounding way to express that (and failing, otherwise I'd say that instead). I am not the judge of you. But I do think you may be judging yourself overharshly.


I think #310 points to an important problem, which I have not the slightest idea how to solve - other than stop trying to judge people on their thoughts, which is difficult enough to apply to one's own impulses toward righteous wrath, let alone convince others to adopt the same standard.

#317 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 12:52 PM:

JESR 315: Wow, if I'd heard a neighbor call someone "you dirty papoose" when I was a kid, their lawn would have ceased to be an issue, and possibly to be a lawn.

#318 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 01:34 PM:

Chris 316: I can't think of a better way either, so thanks. But I went overboard in my initial statement, and my later retraction, while clearly better-than-not as you suggest, doesn't actually excuse the initial unfair accusation.

#319 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 02:25 PM:

Bruce Cohen @304: Well, if you're referring to Martha Soukup's
"Good Girl, Bad Dog," I remember it . . . I think it's in her collection, The Arbitrary Placement of Walls.

#320 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 05:22 PM:

Nora, #306: Moderate the damn forum, for one; why don't they?

That question deserves an answer; I'm not as qualified to provide one as our Esteemed Hosts, but I'll take first crack. As I understand it:

An unmoderated forum requires very little in the way of resources; you set it up, and it more or less runs itself. However, adding moderation requires a significant allocation of resources (time and/or money), and the more active the forum is, the more resources it will take. If Asimov's wants to moderate the forum, they either have to assign someone the official position of moderator and carve out the time required to do that from that person's other duties, or they have to hire someone specifically to do moderation on the forum, and pay that person a decent wage for the amount of time it takes. Obviously, there's a tradeoff involved here, and I have no idea how much time/money would be involved for the Asimov's forum specifically, in part because I don't hang out there.

Beyond that, successful moderation is a specific skill, and one which is as yet in rather short supply. It's very easy to fall into either the Scylla of suppressing too much dissent on one side, or the Charybdis of having a de facto double standard for regulars vs. newbies on the other. There's been fairly extensive discussion of the tactics of successful moderation in various threads here -- perhaps someone who has them bookmarked can provide a link or three?

So yes, it's a valid question, but the answer isn't as easy as it might initially appear. Correction/elaboration on my response welcomed.

#321 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 05:36 PM:

Albatross #310: If you accused me of homophobia, I can't see how I'd refute the claim. And I'm as sure as I can be that I'm not homophobic.

If you accused me of homophobia, I'd just refute the claim by asking you to back it up with facts, and demolishing those facts, or mocking you if you were unable to produce any. And I'm not entirely sure I'm not homophobic. (By which I mean: I'm a heterosexual male raised in a homophobic society, and have soaked up all sorts of subtle homophobic beliefs and assumptions by osmosis. Unsubtle ones too, but those are easier to notice and deal with.)

#322 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 06:19 PM:

#280: Yeah, for some reason, how a character treats the dog is supposed to tell you who to root for. e.g., in the movie of THE EIGER SANCTION, (is it a spoiler to reveal what happens in a movie over 30 years old?) you know the main character is the Good Guy because while he kills the villain in a cold hearted way, he saves the villain's dog. (Need I mention that the guy killed is a wretched gay villain stereotype? Clearly, we were meant to think he had it coming.)

Coincidentally, I noticed something odd at my improv class today. The rest of my classmates were using "Chinese" to indicate that something obscure, inscrutable, or the result of a laundry service. (The last one was actually kind of funny because he looked so guilty after he said it.) I kept waiting for someone of them to do this in a scene with me so that I could call them on it during the scene. They never did that though.

At the time, part of me thought, "That stereotype is still alive?" Are there even any laundry workers left in the US? Dry cleaners, maybe?

#323 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 06:22 PM:

Nora #306:
Dell Magazines, which owns Asimov's don't appear to have any willingness or desire to moderate their own forum.

#324 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 07:05 PM:

nezua #313:

I read your post, but I strongly disagree.

When I hear from a black person that some situation (say, getting stopped by a cop) is very different for him than for me, I assume he probably knows what he's talking about. If several different black guys say "I'm almost as scared of the cops as of the criminals," responding that they're just feeling guilty about their own hidden criminal tendencies or some such thing is frankly pretty idiotic. Probably, they're worried that the cops seem kinda willing to beat the crap out of black men they arrest, and sometimes willing to shoot them for holding a wallet.

Similarly, if a whole lot of apparently decent and well-intentioned whites say that every time they have a public discussion about race, they feel like they're walking through a minefield, they probably really mean that. Perhaps, just like me with police stops (the cops have always been formally polite with me), you're just not seeing the same stuff we are.

The least plausible explanation, to me, is that you, from your armchair, have better understood all those peoples' inner psychological drives than they have themselves. This seems about as likely as the parallel suggestion that I've really understood more about casual prejudice in daily like than all those black people who routinely notice it and occasionally comment on it, and they're just imagining it all.

#325 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 07:06 PM:

John Chu @ 322... I thought that the inscrutable Oriental had been retired by the likes of very scrutable George Takei.

#326 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 08:20 PM:

Albatross, that's a dodgy analogy, because we know that blacks get disproportionately screwed over by the police from multiple sources, which is why statements about feeling more scared of cops than criminals are treated respectfully.

There's no corresponding evidence for your case of well-meaning whites.

#327 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 08:58 PM:

Keir #326: No evidence of what, exactly? No evidence that public discussions of race in the US are minefields? Where the hell have you been living these past few decades?

#328 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 09:08 PM:

John@322: And yet no James Bond villain ever gets any credit for their affection for their cats...

#329 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 09:28 PM:

No evidence that public discussions of race involve significant false accusations of racism against well meaning white people.

Of course public discussion of racism is a minefield if you're a racist, and, to be blunt, that's why it's a minefield for lots of white Americans.

#330 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 09:39 PM:

Keir, it's a minefield even if you're not. If you don't use exactly the right terms all the time, and even if you do, you're constantly under suspicion. Well, most people are pretty racist (regardless of their own race). But for obvious reasons white people are under more suspicion than people of color.

#331 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 10:37 PM:

Julie L., #301, does your library have holds/requests? I just request what I want online and they let me know when the library closest to me has it. They'll hold it for me for 10 days for a new book/CD/DVD and three weeks for older ones.

#332 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 11:57 PM:

albatross @ 310: "It's pretty much impossible to disprove the claim that you harbor some set of evil hidden beliefs. That's made worse by the fact that overt behaviors that contradict the alleged belief are pretty much excluded a priori as evidence against them. ... Things like having gay friends or priminently publishing gay writers is easily brushed aside as evidence. ("Some of my best friends....")"

“I have gay friends!” isn’t much of a defense because having gay friends is irrelevant to whether or not a particular comment one just made was homophobic. Bigotry isn’t an average over time: being really nice to some gay people the day before yesterday doesn’t cancel out calling someone a fag today. If you want to prove how the comment you just made wasn’t bigoted, then you’ve pretty much got to prove how the comment wasn’t bigoted, not your general moral rectitude.

Here I'm focusing specifically on the comment itself, and I think that that's exactly what one should do if accused of racism on the basis of one comment. You're right: it's impossible to prove the state of one's hidden beliefs--they're hidden, after all--but you can discuss the comment. Either the comment was racist or it was not. If it was, denying it just tends to indicate that the denier, in addition to making racist comments, can't tell the difference between racism and not-racism--which is itself another marker of racism.* If it wasn't a racist comment, then your defense would best be made by pointing that out, as Avram suggests @ 321.

I think a lot of people get into this thought-pattern: "I am a good person. Therefore, I am not a bigot. Therefore, nothing I say can be bigoted." I don't think either of those propositions follow: you can be an essentially decent, well-meaning person and still harbor bigoted thoughts, and you can say bigoted things even if you're not a bigot. And because in our society "being a good person" has such a strong relationship with "not being a bigot," people tend to see accusations of "You're being bigoted" as being attacks on their good character. This is what keeps people from engaging in good-faith discussions of issues of bigotry in our society, not baseless accusations of racism.

"And this applies, I think, to any discussion in which accusations of some hidden evil belief are an effective attack."

The difference being that there are very few Americans who secretly want to destroy America, where there are a great number of unconscious bigots.

*"It's not racism, it's just the truth--black people are just plain better at basketball!"

#333 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 12:15 AM:

To amplify Xopher@330

The minefield is absolutely real, and I would trace the proof of its existence to the presence of dog-whistle racism or other forms of code words. Let's keep it on race for now, and continue with the convenient fiction of there only being two races. In this situation, there will be two groups who know the code words: the blacks, who work out the code by seeing what's used as an excuse to discriminate against them; and the racist whites, who use them to act racist in public without the non- or anti-racist whites calling them out on it.

The codes will also change as they get better-known, so they'll change regularly as well, and by region.

The upshot of this is that when in any conversation about race - or about minorities - the white participants have to wonder if they just asked someone to pass the salt or if they just said slavery was awesome.

For a specific example...

Early on in the primaries, Obama made a very good speech, and some blogger whose name escapes me at the moment praised it and promptly got flamed to a crisp by about half the Internet. This was, of course, because amongst the laudatory adjectives he used was "articulate", which is apparently a heavily loaded racist codeword. I was baffled by the reaction until I checked with people older than I was; I'd managed to live for nearly 30 years without learning that referring to a black as "articulate" means that one believes that blacks are all illiterate and can't speak English right. I don't think I was alone in my ignorance.

For added fun, in the "accidental dog-whistle" situation, the "how to not go insane when accused of racism" hints we've seen effectively all require lying. Even the best possible honest response - which, if I read these right, would be "You know, I've never heard of that before. I'll keep that in mind in the future." - boils down to "why must you overreact so much?" and the ever-popular "I'm sorry you were offended by my harmless statement."

#334 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 12:22 AM:

#333
I suspect that the less racist a person is, the less likely they are to even know what the code words are, because they're likely to meet them only when other people use them in a context where that other meaning is clear.

(Hmm, maybe next time I run into Richard in the lobby, I should ask him to read this thread.)

#335 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 12:43 AM:

#334

That's what makes it a minefield instead of, say, an obstacle course, right?

#336 ::: Lisa Harney ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 01:17 AM:

Hey, Nezua!

Albatross, discussions of race are minefields, but not because white people are beholden to invisible rules they only learn about after violating them. What makes a discussion of race a minefield is how the topic becomes policed once it comes up - complaints about political correctness, for example, or attempts to make the two sides of the discussion rhetorically equal, even though they are not. Accusations of being oversensitive, or that your tone is wrong and you should try to be nicer, and so on.

There's also the fact that many people, when told they just said or did something racist, take that as a direct accusation that they're racist, and racist is evil, and therefore you're calling them the devil. So once that happens, the discussion becomes a mess as people try to defend their "I'm not a racist" status after saying or doing something that was by itself racist.

So yeah, race discussion is a minefield, for exactly the opposite reason from what you claim. It's not people of color who make it an issue.

#337 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 01:25 AM:

Early on in the primaries, Obama made a very good speech, and some blogger whose name escapes me at the moment praised it and promptly got flamed to a crisp by about half the Internet.

It was Sen. Biden, who called Obama ``the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.'' (CNN)

From memory, there were people for and against regarding that as a racist statement. The TAPPED archives for the period would be a good source for pro/con arguments.

Now, Biden's a politician, and he should know what words mean, so he can't escape on the ignorance claim. Neither Obama, nor the Rev. Jesse Jackson, both quoted in that story, called it racist -- ok, Obama can't call much racist, but I can't see Jackson soft-pedalling -- and I doubt that Biden's political career took much of a hit from that particular episode, given he's still seen as a serious VP or Sec'y of State candidate.

He said something dumb, he apologised, everybody moved on, and half a year later, people can't even reliably associate him with the gaffe. It actually seemed like an example of the system working, to be honest.

#338 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 01:41 AM:

#333 Michael Martin: the "how to not go insane when accused of racism" hints we've seen effectively all require lying

Why would it be lying to apologize for not knowing something important to the people you're talking to?

#339 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 02:30 AM:

nezua: O HAI

Xopher #330:

If you don't use exactly the right terms all the time, and even if you do, you're constantly under suspicion.

So apologise, and move on. Being accused of racist speech is, in fact, not worse than being subjected to racist speech. Which is why conversations about race with white people are minefields. They're so...sensitive.

Although you undoubtedly did not intend it, that has the same overtones as "you can't even ask a woman out nowadays without being slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit", a statement I have heard from many an old codger.

#340 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 02:44 AM:

One of the many useful things a TG friend taught me is that there's a difference in range of implications between "I didn't mean to give offense" and "I didn't realize that was offensive".

The first one doesn't have to slide into "...and therefore it's all your silly fault for finding offense", but it easily can.

The second one makes it much easier to follow with "...and so now I've learned something important, and will try not to do that again, thanks".

#341 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 05:51 AM:

Michael Martin @ 333:
... Even the best possible honest response - which, if I read these right, would be "You know, I've never heard of that before. I'll keep that in mind in the future." - boils down to "why must you overreact so much?" and the ever-popular "I'm sorry you were offended by my harmless statement."

I don't really see how the first statement is equivalent to either of the following ones.

If you casually brush by or bump into someone, and they yell out in pain, and you accuse them of overreacting, and they tell you that (for example) they were injured yesterday right where you hit them -- then saying, "Oh, I didn't realize that was the case; I'm sorry" seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and does not boil down to saying, "Well, still, why did you overreact so much?"

#342 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 08:27 AM:

Paul A. at #312:

If Serge prefers the infusoria-free Hollywood rewrite of Mr. Wells's majestic opening, I can't stop him.

#343 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 11:54 AM:

Peter Erwin@ 341 sets up the hypothetical If you casually brush by or bump into someone, and they yell out in pain, and you accuse them of overreacting, and they tell you that (for example) they were injured yesterday right where you hit them -- then saying, "Oh, I didn't realize that was the case; I'm sorry" as a parallel to racism. As Tionista already said at 339, So apologise, and move on. Being accused of racist speech is, in fact, not worse than being subjected to racist speech. Which is why conversations about race with white people are minefields. They're so...sensitive..

What has happened to our society where an involuntairy cry of pain (physical or otherwise) is taken, not as a prompt for an immediate and shame-faced apology, but as a new and worse offense than the thoughtless action that caused it?

#344 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 12:41 PM:

JESR @343:
*sigh* That's the problem with you bleeding heart types - logical reasoning escapes you, so let me spell it out:

1. A cry of pain is clearly a cry for help.
2. Anyone who asks for help is demonstrably not self-reliant.
3. Those who are not self-reliant support big government, socialist states.
4. Anyone who would divert government funds from the War on Terror to throw money away on useless parasites is no true patriot.
5. True patriots never have to apologize to the unpatriotic; attempting to coerce an unneeded apology from a patriot is offensive to all patriots.

#345 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 01:23 PM:

PJ Evans @334:
I suspect that the less racist a person is, the less likely they are to even know what the code words are, because they're likely to meet them only when other people use them in a context where that other meaning is clear.

Not my experience at all. My experience is that the less racist a person is, the more self-aware they are, because to be un-racist in a racist society requires active work.

Part of the reason the discussion is a minefield is because of what is technically called "privilege". The core of privilege is not having to notice or deal with things that other people do have to deal with -- especially when a lot of their problems are caused by you not noticing.

Consider the problem of DWB, or "Driving While Black". Many (most?) white Americans don't know what DWB means, or how widespread it is, or how much it constrains the lives of black men in particular.

If you aren't aware of DWB, does that make you a racist? I don't see how it could, but it doesn't make you non-racist, either. It makes you *privileged*, unthinking.

I think part of the reason for the "minefield" is that a lot of white Americans think they deserve a cookie for *not* noticing racial divisions in America -- that not noticing means they are not racist. But unfortunately it doesn't work that way: not noticing the structures of the society you're in doesn't mean you're above or outside them, it just means they work for you.

It's like shopping without checking prices. If you do that, you *could* say it's because "I don't think money should be important". But what is really going on is that you're rich.

#346 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 04:42 PM:

This thread strongly reminds me of the first time I got hit with the "you're so intolerant of intolerance!" canard.

I was, maybe, 15, and I'd just come inside angry and frustrated and appalled because my neighbor was making terrible racist comments in front of his 3-year-old son and the rest of us kids: "I don't know why my wife's so late getting home. I guess some black kids downtown must be having fun."

He repeated this several times, as though he thought it was very funny.

(I'm guessing that the repetition also stemmed from a very real worry that his wife was, at this moment, being gangraped by black teenagers. But there's only so far my sympathy goes when the fear is based on a racist assumption that all black men just live to rape them white wimmins.)

So, anyway, I start griping to my mom about this, and she favors me with a smug smile that I can see in my mind to this day as she says, "Niki, why are you so intolerant?"

Me: "What?!"

Her: [shakes head, keeps smiling.] "You're just so intolerant."

Now, Mom's not by any stretch of the imagination racist, at least no more so than a great many people I respect, which is to say, not deliberately racist but at times inadvertently prone to evincing the attitudes upon which they were raised. In any case, looking back on some of our interactions then and now, I am convinced that for her, it is sometimes more important to take her self-righteous daughter down a peg than to address whether the self-righteousness is perhaps based on a valid argument. This especially comes up when racism is in the conversation, because racism makes me spittin' mad and, well, yes, somewhat self-righteous.

Anyway, I walked away from that interaction with two conclusions:

1) I have got to come up with a better response to this bullshit than just dropping my jaw and screeching "What?!"

2) Apparently it's considered more impolite to notice racist sentiments than it is to actually express and support them. Huh.

It's amazing how people who proudly "call a spade a spade" only see such plain talk as a virtue when "spade" is a euphemism for "n****r". When the garden implement in question is racist speech, why, being all mealy-mouthed and "tolerant" is suddenly the next thing to Godliness.


I have to agree with Madeline F that if a community wants to be a welcoming one, its members need to call out its members' bigotry. Defending it in the name of Geek Fallacy #1 is a mistake. Because when bigotry raises its ugly head, ostracizing will happen. No exceptions, no escape. If censuring bigotry results in ostracizing the bigots, that's sad, but failure to censure bigotry creates an atmosphere in which bigotry is tolerated, which results in ostracizing those whom the bigots don't like. Since it's going to be one or the other, I'd choose the ostracizing that's based on harmful behavior rather than harmless personal traits.

(Really, it's jackasses in the unmoderated public sphere all over again.)

Which isn't to support the concept of the "star chamber" and the thought police. No, I'm more about informed choice. Information: Sanders is a bigot. Choice: Will not do business with. As it is everyone's right to make fully informed choices, I see no reason why anyone should keep the information on the down-low.

Well. No good reason. I'm sure one might argue that we shouldn't mention Sander's bigotry, because criticizing Sander's bigotry might hurt Sander's feelings. But, y'know, hearing someone rip off a prime exhibit of bigotry has the strange effect of diminishing my concern for their feelings by about, on average, 97%.

#347 ::: A.J.Hall ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 05:35 PM:

This seems to be the next stage: what happens when an author wishes to withdraw from being associated with Helix. "And I'd have rejected you if it hadn't been for your pesky positive discrimination".

#348 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 05:51 PM:

Doctor Science, #345: I think part of the reason for the "minefield" is that a lot of white Americans think they deserve a cookie for *not* noticing racial divisions in America -- that not noticing means they are not racist. But unfortunately it doesn't work that way: not noticing the structures of the society you're in doesn't mean you're above or outside them, it just means they work for you.

Very well put! And then you get the (less common, but occasionally encountered) type who insists that NOTICING racial or cultural differences at all makes you racist -- that to be "color-blind" requires being literally unaware of whether a person is white, black, brown, Asian, or whatever. (Needless to say, every person I've ever heard express this argument has been white.) I've gone rounds more than once with one of these, who also insists that noticing differences at all means you are automatically assigning rank to said differences. Oy.

#349 ::: eyelessgame ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 06:36 PM:

Re Anna way back on #14 - I think "to illicit sympathy" is one of the most malaproppriate phrases I've ever read, and I think it deserves to become an idiom. "To illicit" is to elicit illicitly.

#350 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 06:40 PM:

Lee, the idea that any difference must be ranked is also an epidemic in our society. People who are infected by this particular mental virus think everyone else is, too: They're the people who think Pagans want to convert Christians, who think gays want to "convert" straights, etc.

They want everyone to be like them—and they regard that as a generous impulse, since of course they're the best. So they think everyone else is the same way, but that can't be tolerated, because that means "they" want the best to become lessened.

#351 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 07:14 PM:

Off the subject, but:

Lance Weber @ 267 and 275! Which farmer's market you at? I thought you sounded local when you mentioned tamales, but then you followed up with a post about Windsor's Glendevey (mmm, Glendevey) and I knew for sure. Is there any chance I might have already stood in line behind you at A-MAIZE-ING's booth in Boulder one of these past Saturdays?

#352 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 07:19 PM:

Aw, damn, eyelessgame (nice moniker - anagram for Mongo?) ... I was gonna post pretty much exactly that right after my #346 ("Yes, LWE, true, but... no, no, I think Anna has the right of it"), but then I thought, "Nah, it was two days ago, the moment is past." Curses! But yes, it's rare to see such an apt homophone mistake as "illicit sympathy" in this context.

#353 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 07:53 PM:

John Chu @ 322, there was still an existing Chinese laundry in Waltham, MA -- thirty-five years ago. My mother used to take her sheets there, until we got a washer large enough to handle king-size linens. Some of her oldest bed sheets still bear a laundry mark - our number was 59.

I have no idea how long it lasted past 1973. I suspect if it weren't for the recalled Abercrombie t-shirt, the meme would be nearly dead.

#354 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 09:50 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @351:

Yes you probably have! I live in Longmont, so I rotate between the Longmont and Boulder markets. We should do a ML Breakfast at the Farmer's Market meetup!

Miller farms had their first harvest sweet corn in last weekend and oh nom nom nom nom nom...my youngest spawn ate 4 ears tonight despite having that whole "missing half her front teeth" thing going.

#355 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 09:54 PM:

Until a few years ago, one of the more popular late-night social spots in Kingston, Ontario, was the Chinese Laundry Café. At the time I was going to university in that city, a small group of activists -- the "South East Asian Womyn's Collective" -- protested the place "on behalf of" their fellow students, on the grounds that it was promoting stereotypes. Mr. Lee, former owner of Lee's Chinese Laundry (which had occupied the site previously), had been quite pleased to have his business commemorated by the name and Chinese-themed decor of the restaurant. The Womyn's Collective went so far as to send a letter to the café's owners, demanding that they change their name and sign, calling them "white penis-heads". The owners, a lesbian couple, were amused enough to have the letter photoenlarged so they could post it in the café's window. Most of the other asian students didn't seem to be happy about the Collective's claim to be speaking for them. The whole brouhaha faded away after a year or so, as the Collective found a variety of other things to object to.

#356 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 10:41 PM:

I think it's important to celebrate differences, not magnify them into barriers. I like knowing about different cultures, families, storytales, foods, country views -- the more I travel, the more I've marveled at how much the earth looks the same everywhere. Of course, there are dramatic differences in the notable places, and that's what makes them so interesting. One grandmother came from Transcarpathian Rus, the other came from mid-Ireland; they both liked the mid-Hudson Valley of NY because it looked like their childhood homes -- and this same view reminded my "Chinese grandmother"* of the area around where she grew up on Mainland China. All three women had different ways of cooking chicken, all of which I find tasty. All three had different ways of drinking tea, and all three spoke more than one language, which allowed me to build a comparison dictionary for my 9th grade anthropology class that literally spanned the globe.

So it makes me sad and angry to see close-minded people who reject "others", no matter what kind of "other" they may be.

*A very good friend of my parents, she was self-described as our Chinese grandmother.

#357 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 10:54 PM:

John Chu #322: Are there even any laundry workers left in the US? Dry cleaners, maybe?

Yes! Most of the dry cleaners and laundromats near my home in Brooklyn are Chinese-owned.

#358 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 11:39 PM:

P J Evans, #334, there's an Ellison story that has lists of racist slurs. When I first read it, I only knew a couple. The next time (as an adult), I knew 10 or so. The last time, it was about half. I'm afraid to read it again and find out I know more.

#359 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2008, 11:40 PM:

OK, Stephen Colbert pretending to be drunk, ranting about the Belgians taking over Anhuyser-Busch (which I can't be bothered spelling right).

He called them "waffle-humpers."

I can't imagine doing better than that.

#360 ::: eyelessgame ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 12:02 AM:

> anagram for Mongo?

Why, yes. I have gone by "Image" (or, where the pretension is properly recognized as ironic, "iMage") in some online fora, but this common name tends already to be taken in most mature environs. But yes, Peart proved they're equivalent.

And since I don't game nearly as much as I'd like, it's appropriate on another level.

ObTopic: when you were called "intolerant", it seems like it is more rudeness that was being objected to than intolerance. Consider the genesis of this thread, where Sanders was intolerant, but the person who posted excerpts of his letter was (by some social yardsticks) rude, and all sorts of people are hiding behind their objections to the latter in order to avoid confronting the former.

(It's safe to shun rude people. It's not safe to shun racists; racists are typically armed, crazy, and stupid: a bad combination to piss off.)

Having been in enough situations where I alienated people who agreed with me by being too strident, I've started to recognize the virtue of finding ways to express displeasure with another's values politely. Not terribly good at it yet, though.

#361 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 12:48 AM:

Eyelessmongo #360: It's not safe to shun racists; racists are typically armed, crazy, and stupid

In my experience, racists are typically just like other people. The most outspoken ones are generally elderly; not much of a physical danger to anyone but themselves.

#362 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 01:14 AM:

Yes, do let's be careful of stereotyping racists here.

Respectfully yours,

The Armed & Crazy Value of Stupid

#363 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 01:19 AM:

I had a dream the other night. Not a good dream. I dreamed I was being carjacked.

Being carjacked by a Young Black Male.

This was one of those Two-Second Dreams, where the content is disturbing enough you barely get into it before you wake up to find your heart thunping and muscles tensed and your wife saying "What the...? Why did you just kick me?"

After those first few seconds of alarm and panic, until you realize you're safe in your home, comes the more thoughtful reaction:

"A Young Black Male carjacker? I'm dreaming in stereotypes?! Damn it!!"

#364 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 01:57 AM:

Bruce, @ 363 "A Young Black Male carjacker? I'm dreaming in stereotypes?! Damn it!!"

That or your brain was borrowing a convenient and common image from the media [1] to try and illuminate some aspect of your day.

Alas that there is some aspect of your current circs which makes you feel all put-upon and run-away with like that. May whatever it is resolve itself.


[1] Evil types they are. May all of their children have extremely small members. Including the girls.

#365 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 02:00 AM:

Lee and Doctor Science: I find the best response is:

"You don't see colour?"

*slowly looking the person up and down critically*

"Explains that outfit, then."

#366 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 02:04 AM:

Erwin@341

The original statement includes an explicit disavowal that you've done anything wrong - there's a definite claim that your statement was intended to be harmless. You really do only regret the fact that you inadvertently caused offense, and you cannot honestly apologize for the failing that their reading of your statement implies you had. To use my original example again, Dodd, if he was not intending to be racist, cannot honestly apologize for implicitly impugning the eloquence of all black people, because he didn't - his intent was merely raising up one specific person. (If I have misunderstood this mess, and it is actually the case that calling a black person well-spoken in any terms whatsoever cannot be done without being "racist", then something is seriously broken and I refuse to have anything to do with this protocol. I refuse to accept that one can't compliment a person without simultaneously tearing down an entire class of people who vaguely resemble them. If this sparks fights, I will simply have to turn them to breaking this toxic idea.)

The key difference, I think, is that bumping into someone is universally recognized as a slight in the first place - you'd ordinarily apologize for bumping into somebody anyway. Also, there isn't the "you said something racist, therefore you are racist, and no decent person should ever deal with you ever again" overtone - which a quick scan of this very thread will make clear exists. In order to make it match the first statement, the person you bumped into would also have to either imply or directly state that, say, you should have your driver's license revoked because you are clearly too clumsy to operate heavy machinery. It's still not a good match because any equivalent here is overreacting. And I think this is because there's no equivalent to privilege here. Which brings us to...

Doctor Science@345

We're talking about slightly different things here, and as my initial take at my first post used privilege as its touchstone, so...

The core of privilege is not having to notice or deal with things that other people do have to deal with -- especially when a lot of their problems are caused by you not noticing.

The essence of the dog whistle is that the privileged are divided. There's one group actively dedicated to causing problems for the non-privileged, and also actively dedicated to hiding it from non-like-minded members of the privileged group.

So, let's say we want a fruitful dialogue between the privileged and the non-privileged. There are four groups:

A: Privileged, malevolent. Members of Group A are reviled by public consensus, and have to at least give the veneer of respectability. In this case, people that are actively part of a racist society and who care deeply about keeping the race power structure static (or rolling it back).

B: Privileged, naive. The ones that are primarily complaining about minefields.

C: Privileged, informed. Members of group B with enough information about group A that they can deliberately and conscientiously not look like a member of A. You can start as a C by being raised in a deeply A environment and then explicitly rejecting it.

D: Unprivileged.

(There is also E: Privileged, malevolent, but unaware of the fact that they are malevolent. I bring this up only to note that this group is not the same as B. I'm not using it in this example because as far as D is concerned, this group is just a subset of A, and this post is long enough already.)

If you're trying to have a conversation about privilege, only Cs and Ds can talk. As can't talk because they are, in effect, the problem that we're trying to remove.

Bs can't talk because they can't become Cs in a manner that will make them acceptable to Ds. Their options are:
- to accidentally cause a lot of offense and learn by trial and error, which is a major imposition on the Ds (see below), or
- explicitly seek out every major group A environment and then don't do any of that. At this point, the B is now a Known Associate of As and thus an unacceptable risk.

This situation is particularly aggravating for the unprivileged because Group A is rigging the game to make groups A and B look as similar as possible. So, when somebody says something objectionable, the D needs to make a snap decision:

- Treat it as if it were in good faith and risk continuing abuse if this was in fact an A, or
- Treat it as evidence that the speaker is A and effectively end or derail the conversation immediately.

(Or suffer silently, but we will take it as read that this is an unacceptable option.)

Part of B's privilege is that they don't have to deal with this, either. All they notice is people suddenly accusing them of enormous levels of malevolence. Furthermore, anything they could do to try to prove that they're working in good faith can be replicated by A to confuse the issue.

I don't see a way around this. If B and D are trying to have a civil discussion about privilege, B has to say first, either directly or as part of the context, "I'm here in good faith. I am not just setting you up for a massive parade of denigration, and if it looks like I am, these are innocent errors." Saying that directly forces D to make the call of "is this an A or a B" right there, without waiting for B to misstep first.

#367 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 02:11 AM:

Following up A. J. Hall at #347: Sanders continues to be super classy to authors who now want their stories off the site.

#368 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 06:38 AM:

Xopher #359: InBev is a Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate. It is waxing great.

#369 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 08:01 AM:

Sanders Classiness Watch: Now with more extortion.

I'd heard of Helix before this, through mentions in anthologies and the like, and knew only that it was a small SF magazine that published some decent stuff. Opinion: innocuous. Not anymore...

#370 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 08:20 AM:

Michael Martin @ 366:
To use my original example again, Dodd, if he was not intending to be racist, cannot honestly apologize for implicitly impugning the eloquence of all black people, because he didn't - his intent was merely raising up one specific person. (If I have misunderstood this mess, and it is actually the case that calling a black person well-spoken in any terms whatsoever cannot be done without being "racist", then something is seriously broken and I refuse to have anything to do with this protocol. I refuse to accept that one can't compliment a person without simultaneously tearing down an entire class of people who vaguely resemble them. If this sparks fights, I will simply have to turn them to breaking this toxic idea.)

You're misremembering what happened. What Senator Biden [not Dodd] was quoted[*] as saying was this: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” That statement does not just say that Obama is articulate; it implicitly but very directly implies that Obama is unusual and amazing because he's all those things that other African-Americans are not -- that he's the first to be articulate (and bright and clean and nice-looking).

That's a pretty blatantly racist thing to say, even without a pre-existing context where people (almost always white) have traditionally stereotyped blacks as being "inarticulate", where in contrast "articulate" may have been used as condescending term ("Gosh, he's awfully articulate for an X").


[*] I say "quoted as" because if you go back and analyze what Biden actually said (that is, the audio recording of the interview), as linguist Mark Liberman of Language Log did, then it's possible (though not necessarily obvious) to argue that the original reporter made things worse with how they transcribed and punctuated Biden's words. It may have been the case that what Biden was intending to say was something like [and here I am deliberately paraphrasing and adding charitable interpretations]: "He's the first mainstream African-American [candidate]. And he's also articulate, bright, etc. [unlike many candidates of whatever race]."

Even if we give Biden the benefit of the doubt[**], however, the reaction of many people to the published statement -- their perception that it reflected a racist attitude -- was, I think, justified.


[**] In which case he was merely being patronizing towards Obama as a person and being massively careless with his speech (especially for a politician being interviewed).

#371 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 08:32 AM:

Tlönista @365: You win an internet, in a set of rainbow colors.

#372 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 08:47 AM:

I'd say that his response to Yoon Ha Lee, and his later extortion attempt needs a new thread. This guy has certainly responded over and beyond my expectations.

Why such a nutjob deserved someone with as much class as Lawrence Watt Evans defending his actions and acting as a friend is beyond me.

I'm sure he'll be a popular topic of discussion at Readercon though.

#373 ::: JimR ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 08:50 AM:

So, now that Sanders is extorting money from the writers who are abandoning the sinking ship of Helix (I assume that they are legion...), isn't his career effectively over? Could this go on the "Writer Beware" blog on the SFWA website? Cause the new writers who come into the field maybe aren't as connected--they might oughta know about the escalating craziness...

And, I know this is WAY off topic...but can someone explain this: eyelessgame (nice moniker - anagram for Mongo?) from Nicole la Bouef's post at #352? It is Driving Me Batsh1t. Google has failed me utterly. Is it something to do with Blazing Saddles?

#374 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 09:15 AM:

JimR @73:
can someone explain this: eyelessgame (nice moniker - anagram for Mongo?)

The lyrics of the Rush song "Anagram (For Mongo)" include the line "image just an eyeless game".

The song is a compendium of anagrams and near-anagrams. (Image - i = game), for instance.

#375 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 09:43 AM:

I would come up with an insuting name for Belgians, but my British phlegm constrains me.

#376 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 09:47 AM:

Tlonista, #365: ROFL! That one's going into my armory for future use...
(Sorry about the lack of umlaut -- I'm not sure how to make one appear here.)

Peter, #370: That statement does not just say that Obama is articulate; it implicitly but very directly implies that Obama is unusual and amazing because he's all those things that other African-Americans are not -- that he's the first to be articulate (and bright and clean and nice-looking).

Yes, exactly. Now, politicians are like writers in one important way: their careers revolve around the proper use of language (FSVO "proper"). I find it really, really difficult to believe that anyone who's been in politics as long as Biden has could contemplate a statement like that and not notice the incredibly racist implications. Just reading it here rocked me back on my heels -- sort of a "Whoa, shit, he actually SAID that?!" reaction.

#377 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 10:15 AM:

eyelessgame @ 360*

(It's safe to shun rude people. It's not safe to shun racists; racists are typically armed, crazy, and stupid: a bad combination to piss off.)

I've met a lot of racists (hell, I've been one now and then; nobody is immune to the poison), and they've been shockingly average in all respects, very few burning eyes and slimy tentacles. However, I once knew one just like your description: armed, crazy, and stupid. He's the only person about whom I ever thought, "I sure hope he doesn't come back from combat." He was scary and he was disgusting.

* The number resonates nicely with your handle.

#378 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 10:23 AM:

Michael Martin @366:
Shouldn't the unprivileged you've lumped together in D be sub-categorized as well? Perhaps using open-minded vs. close-minded across the board or something...

#379 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 10:39 AM:

Peter #370:

Just out of curiousity, how did the widespread cries of racism in that case make the world a better place? Does anyone really think Biden thought that Obama was the first articulate, clean black man in history? Or that he was trying to imply that? Or that anyone was going to honestly take that message away? Is there anyone who really thinks this comment implied anything except that Biden did a bad job of saying what he was thinking?

As far as I can tell, this fed the weekly outrage machine by which 24 hour news keeps viewers, and got some folks on TV for crying foul or for defending Biden, but probably had no other positive effect. (And keeping 24 hour news stations going is a "positive effect" only in the same sense that keeping crackhouses or spamming rings in business is a positive effect.)

As another question, if you were a prominent white politician, would you like to discuss the amazing phenomenon of the guy who's very likely to be our first black president in an unscripted setting like an interview? Because that does seem like one of the biggest, and most hopeful, things that's happened in US politics in the last 30 years or so. But the Biden quote and media response made a hell of an example for everyone, right? Bill Clinton similarly got accused of racism for comparing Obama's win (largely due to getting the great majority of black voters) in South Carolina with Jesse Jackson's earlier win there.

#380 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 10:55 AM:

Thanks, but I'm pretty sure I swiped it from someone wittier.

#381 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 11:43 AM:

Tlonista #339:

In fact, I'd say that the biggest racial issues in the US (say, the black/white difference in school performance, especially in poor, overwhelmingly black and brown, neighborhoods) are a good 3-4 orders of magnitude more important than the danger of being accused of racism in a political argument.

But the threat of that accusation or implication controls what discussions about those issues take place in public. That threat is an effective way to put someone on the defensive in a political argument, and it absolutely is used that way at times.

More broadly, if you are white and want to take some positions in political arguments, you are very likely to find yourself spending twice as much time and energy writing each post, or choosing your words. This doesn't go into making you a better person, or solving any problems. Some part of that effort serves to minimize the chance of giving offense, but most of it serves the same purpose as the overdetermined language in some legal and standards documents--the goal is to immunize you from certain charges or misinterpretations. One result is that it's easier not to get involved in those discussions in public. It seems to me that many people do exactly this. It's a rational response to the incentives they face.

#382 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 11:45 AM:

I would come up with an insuting name for Belgians, but my British phlegm constrains me.

In today's modern Galaxy there is of course very little still held to be unspeakable. Many words and expressions which only a matter of decades ago were considered so distastefully explicit that, were they merely to be breathed in public, the perpetrator would be shunned, barred from polite society, and in extreme cases shot through the lungs, are now thought to be very healthy and proper, and their use in everyday speech and writing is seen as evidence of a well-adjusted, relaxed and totally un****ed-up personality.

So, for instance, when in a recent national speech the Financial Minister of the Royal World Estate of Quarlvista actually dared to say that due to one thing and another and the fact that no one had made any food for a while and the king seemed to have died and most of the population had been on holiday now for over three years, the economy was now in what he called "one whole joojooflop situation," everyone was so pleased that he felt able to come out and say it that they quite failed to note that their entire five-thousand-year-old civilization had just collapsed overnight.

But even though words like "joojooflop," "swut," and "turlingdrome" are now perfectly acceptable in common usage there is one word that is still beyond the pale. The concept it embodies is so revolting that the publication or broadcast of the word is utterly forbidden in all parts of the Galaxy except for one planet where they didn't know what it meant. That word is "Belgium".

#383 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 12:16 PM:

Josh 372: Yeah, I was still acting like he was out of touch on his long motorcycle ride (and also I was in the grip of Geek Social Fallacy 1—thank you, Nicole 346). I (naïve soul that I am) thought he might yet come back and make some kind of apology. He's clearly a megascumbag.

Consider my ostrakon with his name on it dropped in the jar.

And I sure with Lawrence Watt Evans would stick around here (though give up defending Sanders, who's beyond the pale for real). He sure seems like the kind of guy to have for a friend, and I for one would welcome our new overlords his continued presence in the fluorosphere.

Neil 375: *pounds you on the back to break up the British phlegm* I know you have a bad climate there, but geez.

#384 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 12:26 PM:

Argh. I sure wish (not with) LWE would stick around. Damnation.

#385 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 12:28 PM:

Biden did not utter that line with any racist intention whatsoever. Biden is not my favorite politician -- but, then, I wonder if I have any favorite politicians.

However, Obama himself, and Clinton, and the whole passel of dems running for the dem nomination to be POTUS, at the debate that week, declaimed emphatic and loud declarations that Biden was no racist, when -- russert I believe -- asked Biden to comment on his racist remark. Obama immediately jumped in and stated without any qualification that Biden was no racist and had no racist intent hidden in his choice of words. He said so because he knew Biden, and worked with him, often.

It was one of those moments, early in the primary season, that provided those glimmers of hope, that yes, maybe, that the election of one of these was possible, and with that election some of the terrible developments in this nation in the last 8 + years would be rolled back, and that there might be change. It made one think the dems could have spines, and not go with that pernicious 24-hour cycle garbage gabblefest that passes as news and political commentary in this nation. My hopes were, of course, proven to be false.

I've been away, in one of the great centers of historical and contemporary racism in this nation. Am catching up. This discussion of bigotry is nuanced and enlightening. Thank you all, who are participating.

Love, C.

#386 ::: Darkrose ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 12:51 PM:

Constance@385: Regardless of Biden's intent, or Obama's defense of him, for me as a black woman, "articulate" is one of those code words that usually means, "You're different from the rest of those black people". From the receiving end, the subtext inevitably comes across to me as "Wow--I didn't know you people could speak standard English and sound intelligent."

#387 ::: Zed ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 01:06 PM:

It seems to me that the Obama campaign has very purposefully avoided making any protestation of ill-treatment on account of racism. I think this has been a very canny move -- as soon as they did anything that could be interpreted as playing the race card, that would become the only story being talked about.

Anyway, I don't think Obama's public defense of Biden is all that telling in the question of whether Biden's remarks were racist. Obama had to comment. If he'd said the remark was racist, he'd be accused of playing the race card. Further, he'd seem petulant and rude -- attacking a fellow Democrat, attacking someone who'd been praising him. And a candidate needs to seem relentlessly positive. It would be a huge net loss for Obama to criticize Biden, and Obama is too smart to make that mistake (even if he were inclined to do so.)

(I've left unaddressed here the issue of whether Biden's comments actually were racist, or whether Biden himself is. I'm just saying that I don't think Obama's defense of Biden is terribly conclusive.)

#388 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 01:19 PM:

Albatross @ 381, in fact, those moments- like Biden's speech, like the racism wank which consumed the SGA fandom last year where Darkrose, above, was a particularly helpful and instructive voice- do have utility, to those who shut up and listen for a while and have the guts to confront their own unconscious racial privilege. Such moments are as educational as hell and incrementally they are the way to understand how us well-meaning liberals participate in, reinforce, and perpetuate institutional racism.

If one intends not to be racist, one has to work at it.

#389 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 01:35 PM:

JESR #388:

Assuming Biden wasn't really trying to say that Barrack Obama is the first smart, clean, well-spoken black guy in American politics, what lesson about racism is to be learned from the outcry about his comment?

#390 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 01:37 PM:

"What lesson, etc..." As Darkrose explicitly addressed this issue in #386, I'd recommend you read that post; I am not a person of color, and so my reaction would be mere heresay.

#391 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 02:35 PM:

Re: Sanders' whine about the people asking to have their submissions pulled from the Helix archives -- either only three people have asked to have their stories pulled, or his assistant has "already had a hell of a lot of extra work handed her because of it". He can't have that both ways.

#392 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 02:37 PM:

Darkrose 386: I understand that about 'articulate', but what then can we say about Obama to compare him favorably to McCain in terms of his speaking ability?

My apologies for using the word a lot in the rest of this comment. I'm trying to show how I want to use it, and ask what I can say instead that has the same meaning without the racist connotation.

He IS more articulate than McCain, who as soon as he's off text becomes a burbling inarticulate mess. Our current waste-of-skin POTUS is also inarticulate. Kerry was inarticulate when it mattered most.

It's rare for Presidential candidates to be as articulate as Obama. It's rare for ANYONE (any race, politician or not) to be as articulate as Obama. It will be nice to have a POTUS who can actually talk and make sense and impress us with both language and ideas.

Well, I suppose I can say THAT. But you see why I want one word that says that? I'm not saying "he's better'n them mushmouths" or anything like that, I'm saying he's better than candidates usually are.

#393 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 03:09 PM:

albatross #381:

Although I get a lot of exposure to American politics and media, I’ve never lived in the States (only next door), so please take the following opinions with a grain of salt!

But the threat of that accusation or implication controls what discussions about those issues take place in public.

I honestly do not think that white people, at least in North America, constrain their speech because they are afraid that people of colour and their allies will accuse them of racism. Anti-immigration rhetoric, for example, is heavily steeped in xenophobic if not outright racist sentiment, and this inevitably seeps from the shock jocks into newspaper op-eds and television talk shows. The same goes for discourse on terrorism – have you really not noticed how hateful anti-Muslim sentiment like the kind *ahem* Sanders spouts has become more acceptable and mainstream since September 11? Further, people like Bill O’Reilly, Michelle Malkin* and Rush Limbaugh, who defend racist positions and use harmful, derogatory stereotypes, are somehow still afforded a national audience. I’m not sure such people are intimidated so much as playing martyr.

It is not sensible for a white person to avoid discussing race “in public” – by which, I gather, you mean “where non-white people or allies can hear” – because they’re afraid someone will criticize their language.

I’m sure it seems rational for them. It is simpler to just say what they think, and not have to worry about whether they’re using sloppy phrasing that misrepresents their intentions. It takes up so much valuable time typing “I’m so sorry, I had no idea that was a racist dog-whistle/slur/stereotype. It was wrong to say that. What I meant to say was...” I’m sure they find it easier to stay out of the sorts of discussions where they will be called on any thoughtless gaffes – where people of colour might think badly of them, without considering that what they express may not be at all what they intend!

But while I can see where you’re coming from, I do disagree. Putting energy into confronting your unconscious biases does make you a better person. The time and energy white people spend not saying racist things saves the rest of us all that time and energy we’d have spent trying to get the white people to just friggin’ apologize and move on.

In summary: If white people really are scared to talk about race in front of POC** (and I don't think they are), that's their problem and they are responsible for it. Not POC.

_____
* Malkin is actually Asian, though you wouldn’t think so, considering she wrote a book defending WWII internment camps. There’s some serious identity issues going on there.
** "People of colour".***
*** I'll shut up now.

#394 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 03:19 PM:

Marilee @331: My library system does have holds-- normally there's a small fee, though the branch where one of the Pan's Labyrinth copies had gone missing offered to waive it for me-- but at this point, when I borrow library DVDs, I really want to take a look at the surface first. With holds, yo're stuck with whatever copy is first available.

Xopher @392: : I understand that about 'articulate', but what then can we say about Obama to compare him favorably to McCain in terms of his speaking ability?

I was just thinking about this. "Eloquent" isn't a neutral synonym either; although it sets a higher standard (if you're ineloquent, you can still make yourself understood), it may also carry connotations of artistic obfuscation vs. "plain-spoken" types whose words may thud, but who (as the trope may go) are at least telling the truth.

#395 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 03:34 PM:

#386 ::: Darkrose

Regardless of Biden's intent, or Obama's defense of him, for me as a black woman, "articulate" is one of those code words that usually means, "You're different from the rest of those black people". From the receiving end, the subtext inevitably comes across to me as "Wow--I didn't know you people could speak standard English and sound intelligent."

I comprehend that very well, no doubt!

But what this particular event, in the dem debate, seemed pointed to do, was to claw up ugliness where none was, in order to help the repugs, and hurt all the dem candidates, including Obama. I had no belief whatsoever that Russert actually gave a short damn about racism in Biden at all, or even that he believed it either. It was cheap, and directed to create an ugliness that wasn't there, for the edification of actual racists and rethugs.

Or that's how it seemed to me, considering who was involved.

Change the cast of characters, I very likely could have seen something else.

Love, C.

#396 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 03:36 PM:

Xopher @ 392:
I'm not sure what would really be wrong with what you said at the end. If you said, "Obama is very articulate, especially for a politician", then I think it would be rather harder to take offense -- since what you've done is make explicit that the comparison class is all politicians, not other African-Americans (or even other African-American politicians).

The problem with what Biden said (or seemed to have said) was that he reinforced the "black are not articulate" trope with his words ("... you got the first mainstream African-American [candidate] who is articulate ... that's storybook, man.")

#397 ::: [ asshole deleted ] ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 03:37 PM:

[ assholery deleted ]
[ IP: 206.170.104.3 ]

#399 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 03:44 PM:

Does the disemvoweler have a 'remove shouting' option?

#400 ::: Ginger agrees with Jen ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 03:45 PM:

I mean, what else can you say?

#401 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 03:51 PM:

Ginger... I'm not sure I want to know how one can do that to a sheethead. Is that a blanket statement? Or a pillow too bitter to swallow?

#402 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 03:55 PM:

Maybe what one really has to do is work at not being stupid.

The New Yorker has a lot of work to do in that area.

It seems to have no idea at all how wide spread that meme is, that Obama's a Muslim and a disguised Islamist terrorist, and how deeply it is believed in the middle of the country, by so many.

The farking PUBLISHERS of those community newspapers, owned in bundles by big corps in AZ and so on, who have a political agenda, you bet! publish this meme as fact in their papers. Just like they publish throughout the Midwest the latest vileness that 'we superior -- Name Your State Here -- are so different than Those People down New Orleans way, who just sat around and let themselves get flooded and then waited for rescue, with their hands out -- when they weren't murdering and looting, of course -- wheras We take care of ourselves and our neighbors by ourselves and we don't get any gummit money or help at all

They publish this garbage in those papers as fact.

If you write to these papers, provide the facts, they won't publish those letters.

So many people jumping yo these lies with relieved joy because they WANT to believe them.

Additionally, these same people including very elderly people, know that professing outright dislike of Obama because he is, you know, not white, is not o.k. (though some of them give themselves away, by referring to the 'Japs').

But to be outraged because Obama is a Muslim (usually they use the term, 'Mohammedan' or 'Moslem') terrorist is not only permissible, it proves patriotism.

Funny, the further away from Ground Zero these people live, the more angry they are with the Iraqis, who are also the same as 'Moslem terrorists,' and who they also now believe were responsible for 9/11.

The farkin' New Yorker man. How much can you not spell teh stupid? This played right into the wingers' political playbook. Because the airwaves are again all garbage gabble about, "Is Obama a Muslim?" It's even now, "Are Obama and Michelle Muslim terrorists?" Even on supposedly progressive talk radio -- this is all they are talking about.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Love, C.

#403 ::: Tlönista spotted him chez KTBradford's ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 03:56 PM:

...sullying an excellent post.

#404 ::: Fiendish Writer ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 03:57 PM:

And now there are four who have taken down their stories from the Helix abode. I am thinking more will do the same.

#405 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 04:05 PM:

Xopher @ 392, how about "he's an excellent communicator" or "a fantastic speaker" or "the man can give a hell of a speech" (which are things I've said about Obama)? He's thoughtful, he's inspiring, he's got charisma.

"Articulate" is a particular condescending code word. There's all kinds of ways not to use that word and still compliment Obama's speaking ability.

#406 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 04:30 PM:

Xopher, I rather like calling his speeches "Ciceronian."

#407 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 04:35 PM:

Constance @402: [The New Yorker] seems to have no idea at all how wide spread that meme is, that Obama's a Muslim and a disguised Islamist terrorist, and how deeply it is believed in the middle of the country, by so many.

Sometime last week, NPR interviewed some members of a group identified as "Latinas for McCain" (I think this is the audiofile), and it rubbed me the wrong way in all sorts of directions.

*cautious tiptoeing on the path of good intentions*

As Constance points out, there are all sorts of people who are happy to swallow the lies that Obama is/was Muslim (loaded with the further baggage of the "all Muslims are terrorists" meme), or that he's primarily funded by foreign powers with nefarious intentions. According to the NPR angle, the McCain Latinas are primarily motivated by believing those smears and reacting against them, more so than by seeing much positive merit in McCain per se. Even though the reporter did point out that these things are false *and* widely believed by many groups, it gave me an uncomfortable twinge that the story was generally making these Latinas look obstinately stupid, with a degree of gender/ethnic-specific targeting vs. the larger pool of people who believe those lies.

This was not helped when he tried to gently disillusion them, and received answers which are probably just as widespread through the general population of anti-Obaman lie-believers but which I hadn't previously heard-- e.g., the repudiation of Reverend Wright somehow proves that Obama really was a Muslim in his youth, since his willingness to "abandon his faith" means that he has no moral principles, which somehow further implies that a.) he abandoned Islam for the sake of similar political expediency, b.) is perfectly willing to lie about it, and c.) nevertheless somehow remains Muslim in his heart.

This "logic" made me very depressed, esp. since I bet it was deliberately constructed by Anglo men in a conservative think-tank and astroturfed all over the place.

#408 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 04:42 PM:

Ginger 400: I mean, what else can you say?

"Ban him forever"?

#409 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 04:43 PM:

Tlönista @ 393:
I honestly do not think that white people, at least in North America, constrain their speech because they are afraid that people of colour and their allies will accuse them of racism.

Um... I don't think you have much basis for a blanket statement like that. The argument is not "All white people, at all times constrain their speech." It's more like "Many white people", or perhaps "Most white people trying to be decent", or something of that nature. Being able to cite O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Malkin, etc., merely demonstrates that: a) some people in the media are relatively unconstrained; and b) there is some fraction of the media audience willing to listen to them.

And, as you hint, people like O'Reilly and Limbaugh are not especially interested in avoiding giving offense -- rather, they want to offend.

I don't think plucking examples from the mass media is a very good basis for making comprehensive statements about the mindsets of an entire population, particularly if, as you say, you don't have any direct personal experience of that population.

#410 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 04:53 PM:

391: William Sanders is charging $40 to remove stories from the Helix archives. I suppose this means his assistant will now have less extra work. I'd hate to think that he'll profit financially from his behavior.

Just because he can do this, though, doesn't actually make doing this a good idea. He's not exactly showing anyone that he, in fact, can behave consistently in a professional manner. (Even if this were a reasonable thing to do, the way he announced his new policy was provocative, deliberately, I assume.)

As an aside, that he can do this took me by surprise. Strange Horizons explicitly says that authors have the right to remove their own work from the SH archives at any time. I'll have to check what the other e-zines' policies are.

#411 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 04:59 PM:

Serge @ 401: Personally, I think it's a sham -- a ruffle on the bed rock of lies that has been uncovered by the valance efforts of people who don't rest on their laurels. We should bolster their morale by draping them with accolades.

Xopher @ 408: I knew you'd want to say that, so I left it for you. Really. Look! Isn't that a rare Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker?

#412 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 05:01 PM:

I honestly had no idea that 'articulate' was a code word. I use it _all_ the time, especially when formally evaluating people (recommendations, interviews, reviews, etc). I'd really hate to think someone else might take what is probably a sizable body of evidence at this point in my career the wrong way.

Also, for me there's a clear difference between being articulate and being comprehensible. The latter should be considered a minimum qualification in any public facing profession while the former is something to strive for.

Thanks to Bush's War on Comprehensibility, I probably need to readjust my thinking about that, too.

#413 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 05:06 PM:

Peter Erwin@409: Why is it a bad thing to have to pause and consider whether your words are going to communicate what you want them to communicate before you say them?

#414 ::: Marith ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 05:13 PM:

Ginger @ 411: It's a great comforter to see so many folks going to the mattresses for what they believe in. The high thread count here is further evidence we're thinking along similar linens.

#415 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 05:40 PM:

Tlonista@393

I don't think the claim is that they're "scared to talk about race", it's that they don't want the reputation hit for looking like a racist asshole, and that they believe - with reason - that merely not actually saying racist things isn't good enough. They also need to avoid dropping cultural markers that say to minorities "I despise black people", and those cultural markers have been getting progressively more subtle over time.

I agree entirely that confronting unconscious biases is good. Heresiarch's "But that's just the way it is, black people are better at basketball" sample line at 332 would be an obvious example of that at play.

I don't see that mechanism in play at all with, for instance, Xopher's sample statements at 392. None of the words are intrinsically racially tinged, and dictionaries certainly don't mark the word as offensive. (Darkrose would know better than I, but I get the distinct idea that "articulate" only has racist overtones when applied by whites to blacks. It absolutely does not for white-on-white, where it matches the dictionary definition exactly.) So where's the unconscious bias that needs curing?

#416 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 05:44 PM:

Tlönista 393: I honestly do not think that white people, at least in North America, constrain their speech because they are afraid that people of colour and their allies will accuse them of racism.

You are incorrect. I do, for one. Doesn't all the discussion of 'articulate' mean anything to you? We're trying to avoid being offensive, and that's at least in part because we think it's bad to be racist and don't want to be OR be thought racist.

As for "people of colour and their allies," I count myself in that group. I have worked hard to eradicate racism from my own thoughts, I don't tolerate it in others, and I do guard my speech to avoid saying things that SOUND racist, even—especially—when I'm among racist whites (presumably what you mean to exclude by the phrase "people of colour and their allies"). I collect the eyerolls and the namecalling ("bleeding heart," "political correctness nazi") and go on my merry way.

If your sentence above is anything other than a way of saying "All white people in North America are openly racist," I'm not sure what it does mean. Since that would be a pretty racist statement itself, perhaps you'd better explain.

#417 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 06:37 PM:

Xopher #392: I understand that about 'articulate', but what then can we say about Obama to compare him favorably to McCain in terms of his speaking ability? [...] He IS more articulate than McCain, who as soon as he's off text becomes a burbling inarticulate mess.

Perhaps the word(s) you're looking for include "good extemporaneous speaker"? And maybe even "clear-thinking"?

#418 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 06:54 PM:

OK, I'm answered on 'articulate'. Thanks, everyone!

#419 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 06:56 PM:

Peter Erwin #409: You're right, that bit was a stupid argument to make. The most inflammatory media figures definitely don't represent all Americans. There are plenty other writers, journalists, bloggers, etc., who discuss race more thoughtfully...and for all I know albatross is right, and more people would but for fear of making gaffes.

Still I hope the point still stands that people shouldn't be so overly cautious.

#420 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 07:13 PM:

Xopher (crossposting?): I got unnecessarily fired up. I don't mean that white N. Americans are openly racist. I do mean that white N. Americans, in general, freely discuss racial issues even though they know they might get accused of racism. This goes for well-meaning and malevolent people alike -- admittedly for different reasons!

My (obviously clumsy) point was that even if it was the case, as albatross implied, that POC & allies are very quick to criticise, white people shouldn't be put off from joining the conversation. The "articulate" exchange (which I mostly missed while afk, sorry) is a really good example of that.

Cool?

#421 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 07:20 PM:

Re: 'articulate'.
I've completely missed it, not being American. I've always used it as a compliment, as a positive word. That it is seen as a codeword for racism disturbs me. Are there any other perfectly inocuous words that I should be avoiding because they've been co-opted into 'Secret Racists' Cant'?

#422 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 07:57 PM:

re: calling Obama the first articulate African American.

Perhaps it's the benign tyranny of distance, but when it was reported here (Oz) my first thought was "hell - has anyone told Martin Luther King? James Earl Jones? Maya Angelou? Oprah(YMMV)? Condi Rice (loathe her politics, but she can sling a fair speech)? etc etc"

#423 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 08:30 PM:

I think almost everyone's missing the point on "articulate" here. It can be a perfectly good word, and is a compliment. So are words like "literate", "intelligent" and so on.

But when someone, anyone, says that someone is the first articulate/literate/intelligent African-American... that should indeed lead to cries of "OMGWTFDYJS?!" * When that someone is an allegedly liberal-and-other-good-things Senator, who one would expect to know something about choosing words carefully, the cries of "OMGWTFDYJS!?" should be redoubled. I'm sure it's correct that Russert was just out to stir the pot and make a big stink, but really it was kind of a dumb-founding thing to say.

As to what Darkrose commented above... if I may respectfully differ, I don't think it's the choice of word, I think it's how it's said and the other words that go along with it. I doubt there's a compliment in the world that can't - intentionally or unconsciously - carry the freight of "...not like the rest of Your Kind." ** (Adding a "surprisingly" or "amazingly" could do it, or just voice tone and pacing.)

* ... 'did you just say?'

** "You know what, Stuart, I LIKE YOU. You're not like the other people, here, in the trailer park." - The Dead Milkmen

#424 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 08:58 PM:

When I perceive something as a conversational minefield, and it's a field I want to cross, I find that listening more and talking less works well. And that most of the worst mines are in the directions I'm inclined to flail after I step on the first mine, but that stepping on one mine can usually be recovered from if I get ahold of myself and keep from flailing.

And that people who have to negotiate mine fields with every waking interaction with the world can get understandably testy when they want to talk about it but I want to make sure we talk about my little mine field, too, and that they should be sure to make it safe for me if they want me to listen.

#425 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 09:00 PM:

@albatross 379: When we have an outcry over language which is racist or is perceived as racist even if we "know" that the speaker didn't intend racism and is probably not especially racist him or herself, it focuses our minds on what is offensive -- what of our thoughtless remarks should we be thinking much more carefully about? It also emphatically rejects the negative connotation of the statement. If no one had spoken up about Biden's comment, it would have let stand the comment that Obama is the first articulate black American. The outcry affirms that "articulate" is not limited to whites and Obama.

If I say something racist in a public forum and no one calls me on it, that's equivalent to acceptance of it. The outcry rejects it. I think it's a good thing, even if I think the speaker had no ill intent and even feel badly for them. Heck, friends of mine have called me on racist language that I had never perceived as racist, and wow, I am really glad they did. It'd be tough to hear it from strangers, but I'd rather be told than to blunder on in ignorance tossing offensiveness about willy-nilly.

#426 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 09:03 PM:

Tlönista 420: Cool.

#427 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 09:06 PM:

@Scraps 424 Beautifully and succinctly put. I'm bookmarking that.

Maybe getting it on a t-shirt.

#428 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 09:10 PM:

Soon@421

For another example of self-censorship, I've been deliberately avoiding the word "innocuous" in this thread because insisting that something is "perfectly innocuous" felt to me too much like claiming anyone offended by it was being "oversensitive."

Clifton@423

Read Darkrose's comment again. Using it even as a compliment gives offense, and it does so regardless of intent. The term got hijacked and carries ugly connotations even when the speaker doesn't intend it. That's exactly what makes it a "mine".

Scraps@424

If they want them to talk. Listening is easy, but it's not a dialogue. This is all in the specific context of "We want to have a dialogue", i.e., both people speaking, which is not remotely the entirety of race relations and in fact isn't even demonstrably necessary for the removal of injustice. Examples were demanded for why a white would ever find it necessary to "self-censor" or why the "minefield" was anything other than "worrying about exposing your unconscious racism". That's why there's been this focus.

#429 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 09:28 PM:

#407:

Even though the reporter did point out that these things are false *and* widely believed by many groups, it gave me an uncomfortable twinge that the story was generally making these Latinas look obstinately stupid, with a degree of gender/ethnic-specific targeting vs. the larger pool of people who believe those lies.

Well, obviously, Latinas for McCain are not going to be representative of Latinas. (My first reaction was "Did NPR get both of them to come on the air?")

I would argue it takes a certain amount of stupidity for a woman and a member of an ethnic minority to support a candidate who's hostile to women and ethnic minorities. (And that's assuming that they're *rich, heterosexual* Latinas *born in the U.S.*, otherwise there's even more ways supporting McCain is shooting themselves in the foot.)

IMO, supporters of the modern Republican Party can be divided into a few broad groups:
1. People who genuinely benefit from Republican policies (corporate CEOs, the oil, finance, and prison industries, etc.) I think Republican policies are disastrous except to the corrupt few, so accordingly, I think this group is pretty small - nowhere near enough to keep the party in power, even when you factor in the fact that they literally own the media.
2. People who don't mind their own personal deprivation if the government is implementing an ideology they approve of (Grover Norquist would be here if he weren't in group 1; you might think religious extremists go here, but I think most of them probably belong in the third group.) Principled conservatives used to belong here, but most have left the party as they realized that what it was really up to bore little resemblance to their ideals. It's hard to imagine someone with a genuine ideological commitment to the modern Republican Party's real present-day agenda (people who support what they *think* the party stands for belong in the third group).
3. Dupes (as GWB said in a rare moment of accidental truthfulness, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on).

(Shorter me: crooks, zealots, and dupes.)

The Latinas for McCain (assuming they're not just some kind of astroturf organization) would seem to fall pretty squarely in group 3. You don't get into that group by your incisive critical thinking skills - in fact, that's how you get *out*, if you have any incisive critical thinking skills.

So if Latinas have a wide range of intelligence levels, and only the stupid ones are at risk of becoming McCain supporters (for the reasons outlined above), it follows that Latinas for McCain is made up largely of stupid people. (Reciprocally, the set of all Latinas who *aren't* in Latinas for McCain would have an average intelligence slightly above the overall population average.)

#430 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 09:32 PM:

Michael, I said listening more and talking less, not shutting up.

My wife -- she's black -- has noted many times that conversations with whites about racism almost inevitably turn into people of color being told how they are responsible for carefully getting the message across, being sensitive of the white folks' delicate feelings, etc. You can see this in action in just about any online conversation on the subject. And you can see it in this one.

Of course it's a mine field. People's feelings have been being rubbed raw their whole lives, then they keep having to explain the same basic stuff repeatedly, keep having to reassure people that of course it isn't you personally, keep having to stay even and measured lest they upset someone -- and that's with the people who are sympathetic.

I've stepped on some mines, and maybe I didn't deserve some of them; but I've also been a damned fool, and learned. And I'm never going to complain about it being difficult for me to have a conversation about racism. It's, well, unseemly. IMGDO.

#431 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 09:36 PM:

Latinas drawn to McCain may be attracted by his not-insane attitudes on immigrants. If Nezua's still reading this thread, maybe he can shed some light.

#432 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 09:57 PM:

albatross @381:
More broadly, if you are white and want to take some positions in political arguments, you are very likely to find yourself spending twice as much time and energy writing each post, or choosing your words. This doesn't go into making you a better person, or solving any problems.

No, it does. Having to think carefully about how other people feel is part of becoming a better person.

Look at my shopping example again. White or other privileged people have been buying stuff without needing to look at the price tag -- you pick out what you like, you wave plastic, you leave.

Of *course* having to pay attention to those price tags takes more time. Of *course* it feels like a minefield -- what, pay attention to *every* price?!? *Every* time?!?

But just like when you first learned to shop with a budget, figuring out how your words are going to come across to POC (or women, or whomever) will get easier with time, and you'll develop reflexes that tell you things like: starting a sentence with, "so-and-so is the first [good quality X] member of [any group Y]" *cannot* end well.

#433 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 10:07 PM:

Scraps as 424,

Thank you. I have been trying to figure out how to say that, and hoping that someone else would so that I didn't have to. Thank you.

#434 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 10:16 PM:

Xopher #392, I don't think a sentence like "Obama is more articulate than McCain" is likely to cause trouble, since the speaker is clearly comparing Obama to McCain. The problem comes with statements like "My, that Obama is so articulate", where it seems like there's an implicit comparison being made with other blacks.

If you look at Biden's full statement, as Keir quoted it up in #337, the comparison is explicit: "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy".

Thing is, articulate is actually a pretty weak compliment. It means able to speak clearly. It's a good ability to have, but it's not something to get very excited about. It's like saying someone is good at arithmetic. Yeah, OK, it's nice that he can balance his checkbook, but there are entire realms of number-related endeavor beyond mere arithmetic. This is another reason the word is problematic as a compliment -- it implies that the mere fact that an African-American can speak clearly is surprising.

Looking to describe Obama's speaking ability, articulate falls short, because not only does he speak clearly, he also speaks movingly. I'd say he's a rousing speaker.

#435 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 10:18 PM:

Scraps@430

people of color being told how they are responsible for carefully getting the message across, being sensitive of the white folks' delicate feelings, etc. You can see this in action in just about any online conversation on the subject. And you can see it in this one.

Actually, I can't (or, more precisely, I haven't remembered seeing it, and a quick rescan doesn't bring it up). I see a great many assertions that it happens, which I will easily believe. But I don't see anyone saying it directly. The closest I've seen is in the assertion that not being racist and not appearing racist are two different things, that they're very hard to do simultaneously, and that if the minority doesn't at least pretend that the bumbling white is speaking in good faith[*], a dialogue is impossible.

That means, to pick some apples and oranges out of this thread, reacting more like Darkrose@386 and less like either of the reactions in the first sentence of Madeline@94.

I haven't seen any "I don't want to be criticized for my use of language" in this thread. I have seen a bit of "I don't want to be personally maligned and designated an acceptable target for retaliation unless I consciously do something to deserve it" (Lance@412, Soon@421), but that's not the same thing.

Unless it is. So, where's it happening in this thread?

* This is assuming that comity is a goal. If you have other reasons to believe that they aren't acting in good faith (hi, original topic of this thread), then there's no real reason for it to be so, and none of this applies.

#436 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 10:18 PM:

FWIW, there was more to Biden's comment than just the "articulate" bit. Even more patently racist, to my mind, was the "clean" part. Together, it was pretty unmistakable.

albatross @ 379: "Just out of curiousity, how did the widespread cries of racism in that case make the world a better place?"

Rather than wasting time, I'll just second Rachel's post @ 425; she nails it.

@ 381: "One result is that it's easier not to get involved in those discussions in public. It seems to me that many people do exactly this. It's a rational response to the incentives they face."

Being able to choose not to talk about race in public is another example of white privilege.

Darkrose @ 386: "Regardless of Biden's intent, or Obama's defense of him, for me as a black woman, "articulate" is one of those code words that usually means, "You're different from the rest of those black people". From the receiving end, the subtext inevitably comes across to me as "Wow--I didn't know you people could speak standard English and sound intelligent.""

There's the flipside, too: all the racists who heard Biden's comment probably thought he was being racist too--the difference being they were no doubt quite pleased about it. If no one had been loudly outraged at Biden's comment, they probably would have thought to themselves, "Oh, so I can get away with that kind of thing too."

#437 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 10:26 PM:

Avram@433

Sadly, able to speak clearly is no longer a taken-for-granted trait amongst our candidates, even if you just go for basic comprehensibility.

That said, "articulate" has quite a bit more of a positive connotation as I learned it. It's "clearly" in all senses. Writing clearly is more than just penmanship - it's about being able to pick the words and sentences for maximum informational impact. Speaking clearly is similar, but you have to do it on the fly. It is a genuine talent, and the gap between "articulate" and "inarticulate" is large.

Obama is a rousing speaker, yes, but that's an emotional impact. He can also transmit a good deal of information for effect. That he can do both at once is what makes him a great communicator.

#438 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 10:48 PM:

Michael Martin @ 434: "Actually, I can't (or, more precisely, I haven't remembered seeing it, and a quick rescan doesn't bring it up)."

Really? Isn't that the natural implication of albatross's argument? As I read it, it goes something like this: A lot of well-meaning white people choose not to engage in frank discussions of race for fear of being tarred as racist--i.e., that the PC brigade's ferociousness has actually caused more harm than good by muffling frank discussion of race issues. The natural implication of that, in my mind, is for POC and the PC brigade back off a bit and cut those well-meaning whites some slack. People have responded to this in several ways:

a) Whether or not they have any racist intent, their words can still be unacceptably racist.
b) Believing you are not a racist and not wanting to be a racist isn't the same thing as not being racist.
c) Putting the onus on POC to tolerate the well-meaning flailings of white people discussing race is a bit whack, given that one of the major outcomes of racism is that POC already get more than their fair share of rhetorical (and literal) bruising.

(Did I miss any?)

The overall point is that an important part of being a well-intentioned* white person is accepting that you've got all sorts of privilege and racist indoctrination that you don't know you've got, and that as a result you're going to say stupid things and POC and more-aware whites will call you on it. And you should be grateful for it. I know it's not a particularly attractive scenario for well-meaning whites, but unfortunately it's not possible to deconstruct white privilege without, you know, deconstructing white privilege.

*As opposed to "well-intentioned"--it's very possible for people to deliberately maintain a veil of ignorance about themselves to refuse confronting the nasty facts of racism, and the extent to which they are complicit. In other words, the line between A and B isn't necessarily as clearly defined as you say. (Nor the line between B and C.)

#439 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 10:58 PM:
But I don't see anyone saying it directly.

Not word for word, if that's what you mean by directly; but I'd say it's clearly implicit in the landmine metaphor for whites participating in a racism conversation. Albatross's 310 and 324 are examples of what I'm talking about, and much of the conversation on the same subject since that point. In particular, the attempted parallel between black folks talking about police stops and white folks talking about being disbelieved or misunderstood when they try to talk about race would make me gape in disbelief were I black. Albatross said


Who wants to be smeared as a racist for disagreeing with affirmative action in public, and failing to hedge and weasel-word every comment?

I think that fits my description ("people of color being told how they are responsible for carefully getting the message across, being sensitive of the white folks' delicate feelings") well enough. Note that the alternative to saying things that might get an angry response is to be required to "weasel-word", rather than, say, to speak carefully. And that the likely response to the white person's opinion is to be "smeared" rather than, say, to be vigorously disagreed with. The conversation about racism has been neatly turned into the plight (and fear) of the white person who tries to discuss racism.

He also said


Just out of curiousity, how did the widespread cries of racism in that case make the world a better place? Does anyone really think Biden thought that Obama was the first articulate, clean black man in history? Or that he was trying to imply that? Or that anyone was going to honestly take that message away? Is there anyone who really thinks this comment implied anything except that Biden did a bad job of saying what he was thinking?

Here we have both the "he didn't really mean it so why are you attacking him for it" defense and the accusation that the people making a big deal out of it are the ones who aren't "making the world a better place". And this after a direct statement by Biden -- "trying to imply" indeed -- whose racism is explicit and undeniable, however unconscious it might well have been. But it's more important to understand Joe Biden -- understand the hapless white man -- than to talk about the racist statement.

I'll say again, this is all my opinion; but if you don't see how this is an example of the necessity of black folks being sensitive to the white folks' feelings, I'm not sure how far we're going to understand each other.

#440 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 11:09 PM:

I wonder if this minefield metaphor is overly dramatic. In a real minefield, the mines are deliberately hidden with ill intent to inflict maximum damage. In a conversation about racism, the mines are in plain sight if you know what to look for and take the trouble to look.

#441 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 11:09 PM:

I wonder if this minefield metaphor is overly dramatic. In a real minefield, the mines are deliberately hidden with ill intent to inflict maximum damage. In a conversation about racism, the mines are in plain sight if you know what to look for and take the trouble to look.

#442 ::: vito excalibur ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 11:33 PM:

albatross@381:
More broadly, if you are white and want to take some positions in political arguments, you are very likely to find yourself spending twice as much time and energy writing each post, or choosing your words. This doesn't go into making you a better person, or solving any problems.

Yeah, it does go to solve at least one problem actually. It goes to solve the problem of you accidentally pissing off, hurting, insulting, and making life just a little bit harder for some of the people who are probably going to be hearing you. Some white people do think that is worth putting in the time and energy to double check what it is they're saying.

Remember Wilde: "A true gentlemen is one who is never unintentionally rude."

#443 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2008, 11:35 PM:

Albatross #381: More broadly, if you are white and want to take some positions in political arguments, you are very likely to find yourself spending twice as much time and energy writing each post, or choosing your words.

Because it would be just awful if people actually took a bit of time to choose their words carefully.

#444 ::: Elyse Grasso ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:09 AM:

Lance & Nicole: I work at Jay Hill Farm stand at the Boulder farmer's market on Saturdays. Stop by and say Hi...

I'm just glad Windsor Dairy was at the market for a couple of months before I found out I am allergic to cow's milk: their cheese was wonderful when I could have it.

Last week I finally got the good news that goat milk is OK for me, so I can at least patronize Haystack Dairy again.

#445 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:18 AM:

Heresiarch@438, Scraps@439, Allan@440

Busted - I was kind of skimming albatross's comments all through, since the subthread I was most active in involved what Soon Lee called The Secret Racists' Cant.

a) Whether or not they have any racist intent, their words can still be unacceptably racist.

Indeed.

b) Believing you are not a racist and not wanting to be a racist isn't the same thing as not being racist.

This is true, and generally what I've been talking about with respect to "unconscious bias".

c) Putting the onus on POC to tolerate the well-meaning flailings of white people discussing race is a bit whack, given that one of the major outcomes of racism is that POC already get more than their fair share of rhetorical (and literal) bruising.

This depends crucially on what you mean by "tolerate."

From Lance Weber@412:

I [since I was unaware of the code-word status of "articulate"] use it all the time, especially when formally evaluating people (recommendations, interviews, reviews, etc)

So, suppose someone gets a job recommendation from him that includes it, and decides that this is a racist statement and they won't tolerate it.

Not tolerating it by writing back "dude, that's a code word for racism" is obviously acceptable - that's what I meant by "assumption of good faith".

However, if they failed to tolerate it by posting it on the Internet wondering aloud why this racist thug still had a job, then this would also be, as you say, "a bit whack."

So, to answer whether you missed any, I will add:

(d) It is not socially acceptable to be openly racist anymore; other whites will turn on you if you are. There is thus a group of privately-but-consciously racist whites, and they are the ones who find the codewords necessary.

(e) It is thus entirely possible to make a statement that can be read as racist when there is not even a subconscious bias inclining one to do so.

One of the disagreements in this thread appears to be whether or not situations covered by (e) are, in fact, actually racist.

Scraps:

And this after a direct statement by Biden -- "trying to imply" indeed -- whose racism is explicit and undeniable, however unconscious it might well have been. But it's more important to understand Joe Biden -- understand the hapless white man -- than to talk about the racist statement.

If we accept that it was explicit and undeniable, then there's a point. But then, there isn't a lot to say about the racist statement ("WTF is this?"), and the fact that everyone immediately rushed to his defense is a separate, noteworthy fact.

On the other hand in the "Why should Lance keep his job" example, the "poor, befuddled, white[*] man" would, indeed, be the crux of the question - the only answers end up being "he shouldn't, because he's a racist scumbag" or "he should, because you're reading racism in where it is not." And that's a question, ultimately, that's about him, not the recipient. We already know the recipient thought it was a terrible thing, or the question would never have even been asked.

If you think that it is the recipient's feelings that are more important to this question, then we do, indeed, have a pretty fundamental disagreement, and it's probably somewhere that has nothing to do with race. I'd be happy to explore it.

Allan@440:

In a conversation about racism, the mines are in plain sight if you know what to look for and take the trouble to look.

Yes, but. These are called "racist code words" for a reason. Lance, Xopher, Soon, etc. are exactly the people that the privately-but-consciously-racist designed the code to hide the racism from. The implication that their ignorance of this is thus a sign of their privilege - or worse, evidence of racist indoctrination - is a bit bizarre, and it is not justified by the fact that the privately-but-consciously racist mistreat minorities more.

Similarly, "just think through what you're going to say; it is, after all, just basic courtesy" is not going to save you when you don't have the facts you need in order to get the right answer. I'll reiterate Soon's question: where do I find a copy of the Secret Racists' Cant so I know what not to say? It took me 30 years and a national scandal to learn about this "articulate" thing, and I haven't exactly been living in a monestary. There've gotta be others. If it's obvious to all with eyes to see, point me to the heading.

* I'm assuming here that Lance is white and male. Also, sorry for picking on you in this post.

#446 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:52 AM:

That Biden -- he was on a roll, having declared for the nomination. He'd found a rhythm, and he was going with his flow. You can feel that, even just reading the words as he uttered them in that interview with The New York Observer, at the end of January, 2008, when assessing this particular opponent:

[ "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man." ]

The other side of what happened with Biden's choice of 'first' was Michelle Obama's own use of 'first,' when she said,

"What we have learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback. And let me tell you something -- for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment. I've seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic common issues, and it's made me proud."

Neither of them harbored ill intent, I, at least, am certain. I believe I understood what Michelle Obama was saying, and I felt it, and I agreed with it.

But the press went to town, and the talkshows.

The rightwing shills were the loudest, the longest and the shrillest in condemning both Biden and Michelle Obama in these instances. The hypocrisy, the irrelevance of either facts or information to the rightwing, sees either side of the equation as fodder for their howling -- for getting their memes out there to the public -- the memes their public wants to believe.

The NYer should have thought about that, it seems, but it didn't. That's the drawback of living such a life that is so very comfortable. You are so insulated, so you make errors, very bad ones.

Love, C.

#447 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 02:14 AM:

Michael Martin: You return again and again to the question, "How can I know what is racist?" Again and again the answer comes back, "People tell you when you fuck up."

I'm curious why you're not hearing the answer. I suspect it has something to do with the way you didn't seem to hear the answer, "An apology for not knowing is an honest apology."

#448 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 02:20 AM:

Michael Martin @445:

where do I find a copy of the Secret Racists' Cant so I know what not to say? It took me 30 years and a national scandal to learn about this "articulate" thing

No, you don't need the Sekrit Code Word Book. Biden's problem wasn't really calling Obama "articulate", it was saying (not just imply, *saying*) that no other black man had been articulate (or "clean", fercrissake) before.

Any time you say that "this is the first time a member of group X has shown up with not-all-that-remarkable good quality Y" *you are in trouble*. That's all the Sekrit Decoder Code you need to know.

As for the rest, the Code is called "being American". You might not know what "DWB" stands for, but if you're American you can figure out what "Driving While Black" probably means. My *12-year-old* can figure it out, and we had to explain to her why we talk about "dialing" a phone.

#449 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 02:33 AM:

Of course it's possible to say some hurtful in all innocence, not understanding in any way that's what you did. So? It still hurt someone, and they have the right to say so, and maybe won't be very careful about the feelings of the person they're responding to.* So what should the first person do? Defend his/her innocence? Be hurt in turn and reply in kind? What do you do when you offend someone unintentionally? You apologize. At least that's what we do here at Making Light. Just recently a lot of us were trying to explain that to someone who started an argument with an insult and didn't see that at all. How is this different?

As an analogy, what would you do if you unwittingly said something to a friend that made them recall a very painful and traumatic incident? Say if you knew a woman who had been raped, and you said something that sounded to her like an insensitive comment on it. Would you spend all your time defending your right to say it, or insist she was "too sensitive"? I wouldn't.

Lest you think I'm overdramatizing, let me point out that rape is a horrible experience that can be followed by severe emotional reactions, stress reactions, damage to personal relationships, and a host of other concomitant difficulties. Being pulled over for DWB, or patted down on the street for Breathing While Black, is a horrible experience with subsequent emotional, stress, and personal problems. I'm not trying to compare the two experiences, or quantify them, I'm simply pointing out that they're both painful and leave behind a set of long-lasting negative consequences, and that this should earn some consideration and respect from those who talk about and to those who experience these things. And because we can't always know what might cause hurt, we should, after considering what we say carefully, be willing to apologize and vow not to make that particular mistake again.

If this analogy offends anyone, I apologise. I think that in the discussion of race in the US, at least, we who are not POC very often forget what it is we don't experience because of the color of our skins, and so tend to minimize it. I'm hoping a very dramatic analogy will make it clear that minimizing is one of the problems we face in trying to have an open and honest discussion of race.

* We see that on this blog all the time, and no one seems surprised.

#450 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 03:15 AM:

Madeline@447: Because I've been subdividing things more finely than the rest of them, and so they were listed individually as slightly different things, with different answers. See my many posts in this thread where I agree point-by-point with the various responses.

I was also (possibly mis-) reading Doctor Science and others as claiming that it is possible for any person with a shred of empathy to be able to avoid making the mistakes in the first place, which I doubted, and which your comment to me apparently takes for granted is false. (As far as I was concerned, most of the discussion I was in was around the question "if it *isn't* false, then how do we avoid placing pointless additional burdens on POCs, and if it is, what protocols will minimize them?")

Doctor Science: I'm not talking entirely about Biden here. As I read Darkrose's comment, any use of the word at all carries that connotation, and you'll have to take my word for it that it's entirely possible to be an American for 30 years and never run across this fact until it makes the national news is a more explicit context. (Her comment also, as a data point, matched the responses I got when asking about it at the time.) The people parsing Biden's statement in particular and coming up with "harmless" forms of it I was reading as exactly the "flailing of hapless white people" that was under discussion.

"The first articulate, clean, etc." being bad is indeed deducible from first principles as you say. DWB, once expanded, it deducible from general cultural knowledge, but I'm not sure how the concept applies to not giving offense in a discussion, except as an unrelated example of privilege. "Articulate" being a standalone slur, however, seems no more deducible from first principles than "clean" being a standalone slur would be.

Bruce Cohen: That whole thread may boil down to me thinking "I'm sorry you've been hurt; this was unintentional" isn't an acceptable apology since it makes no admission of actual wrongdoing. I agree that in the situation you describe (and that Madeline describes) it's still the best response, but I continue to also believe that someone who doesn't like you can paint it as a "non-apology apology".

At this point I seem to be producing more heat than light, so I'll shut up unless someone has direct questions to ask.

#451 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 03:39 AM:

I like the way a friend of mine put it:

Being told to stop saying "that's so gay" about something you don't like: not a hardship.

Being fired because your boss saw a picture of you with the person you love and have committed yourself to and said "that's so gay": a hardship.

Being told to stop comparing things you dislike to female genitals: not a hardship.

Being denied a chance to do work you are well qualified for because the boss doesn't care to work with people who have female genitals: a hardship.

And on and on like that. Rephrasing things shouldn't be a hardship, particularly not to people who pride themselves on being literate and rhetorically capable. After all, if you don't have bigoted intent but it turns out that some of your words are conveying bigoted meaning, you didn't do it right and should be appreciative of those who give you the info you need to express your actual thoughts more clearly. And if you did have bigoted intent, then it's well to be called on it so that you have a chance to reflect on what's wrong with your values.

Not one scrap of any of that begins to compare to real discrimination in action.

#452 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 03:47 AM:

Addendum to "Subthread (for eyelessgame)" - yes, the "for Mongo" subtitle on the song "Anagram" is a deliberate Blazing Saddles reference. (The band have confirmed it in interviews! Or at least in one of the ones I have on tape! Of which I have many, because my teenage years were spent in rabid fandom, trading tape recordings of interviews and live shows with people from Prodigy and Usenet! Squee! .../flashback)

Continuation of the Boulder Farmer's Market subthread: OK, here's the plan. [glances conspiratorially over shoulder] So, I'll give Elyse the codeword, which she will indicate to Lance, and then we will have our Sekrit Meetup over there - [draws arrow on chest a la football QB in huddle] - where we will further conspire to -

Or maybe we should just all meet up at The Tea Spot after the market packs up. The ML After-Market Taking Of Tea, With BYOT(amales) Optional!

Obligatory comment on actual topic of actual thread: Scraps, more kudos for your 424. You've put your finger on it with your second para: "Oh, sure, you get passed over for jobs, called you names, treated like a zoo animal, pulled over and ticketed for driving in white neighborhoods... but look at me! I have to be so careful trying to talk to you people!" Cry me a river. It's like when That Guy walks into an internet discussion about issues surrounding male-on-female rape, and blurts out, "But what about all those false accusations of rape that some women make to get men in trouble?"

Re: that categorizing system of people you can and can't talk to: I have friends who fit very firmly into "privileged and naive." They congratulate themselves on their colorblindness, they don't understand why black people don't just "let it go," they think that 98% of the reason for current racial tension is angry black people "not letting it go," and they seem firmly immune to understanding any explanation of white privilege.

"Yes, the reason you just aren't seeing it is you're privileged. The obstacles black people face every damn day are absent for you, because you are white."

"OK, but... why do they have to be so bitter about it?"

Very recently I was made aware of one very petty and obnoxious thing that rude white people do to black people not of their acquaintance: "Ooh can I feel your hair it's so different! [reach-touch-pat-pat-pat]" That made my jaw drop. That made me want to run out and loudly apologize on behalf of all USians who share my lack of melanin. You know that mental conception we all have for the worst possible X that could possibly exist? I had to adjust downward my mental conception of the rudest possible thing anyone could give themselves permission to do in public without actually intending to do anything rude.

So, anyway, I bring this up to one of my "Category B" friends:

"Being treated like an exotic animal in a petting zoo, or like an exception to Default Human (TM), is grossly dehumanizing."

"Well, isn't it better to be treated like something exotic, than it is to be treated like someone ordinary and boring?"

"The word you're overlooking here is animal. Exotic animal. Ergo dehumanizing."

"But, if you look at it this way, humans are animals."

But after awhile of this back-and-forth, I think understanding finally dawned: such behavior is patently offensive, those who are not recipients of such behavior have the privilege to be unaware that it happens, yadda yadda yadda. But my correspondent continued to aver that, rather than be angry and bitter about it, black people should graciously accept the such opportunities to conduct a teaching moment.

So, yes, I am starting to believe that there is no meaningful dialogue to be had there. Still, I can't stop myself from continuing to try. I am ... cough, cough, splutter ... attempting to graciously accept the opportunity to have a teaching moment.

#453 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 04:08 AM:

Nicole, all you can do is remember serendipity and give it a shot, I figure, when it comes to people who aren't getting a clue. Wisdom strikes at the most unlikely of times and places.

Another one of those really useful things friends taught me:

Privilege isn't all about what you do. Rather, it's about what people do because of who they think you are. To take a practical example: I'm a white guy with a checkered credit history. But the best available data say that if I were to go seek a loan, I'd fair better - significantly better - than a randomly selected black, Hispanic, or other non-white guy with about my history but a vastly better credit history. I don't seek this out; I'm not whispering to loan officers, "Just between us whities, can't you cut me a break?" or anything like that. They would be doing it for a whole lot of reasons about cultural and institutional practice completely outside my control, which nonetheless give me an unfair advantage. That's privilege.

That's the hard thing about privilege, in fact. The kind of break routinely given to white seekers of loans, mortgages, and the like is not something they can affect much at all, except perhaps negatively. If I were to make enough fuss necessary to find out whether I was getting treated better than a comparable non-white applicant, they'd most likely toss me out as trouble and keep right on doing whatever it is they're doing when I'm not around. No quantity of individual virtue on my part (and I'm pretty good in most regards when it comes to race) will make my lender treat the next minority applicant one whit better, unless perhaps I inspire some personal virtue in the particular loan officer I'm dealing with it. Change, if it comes, will almost always have to be mandated, and let folks grow into it as best they may.

#454 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 05:18 AM:

I'm sure I'm missing out on all sorts of nuance on account of 'not being American', but this seems to me to be a case of 'covert racism' - spotting it, and calling the people out who practice it.

Earlier, I was more concerned by words shifting meaning from out under my feet.

#455 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 07:13 AM:

Bruce Baugh @ 453: "Privilege isn't all about what you do. Rather, it's about what people do because of who they think you are."

Very true--though I would add an "also" in that second sentence. A fair bit of privilege is about what you do. It's the more noticeable part, though, and therefore much easier to extricate oneself from. A lot of otherwise progressive people miss out on the more subtle, less-voluntary parts of privilege, and it's good to draw attention to them.

#456 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 08:21 AM:

#447: Without intending to speak for Michael Martin, I have to say that being told that you've screwed up is not the most comfortable way of finding things out. It's also a gradual, trial and error process. What I infer is that he wants to learn all of it upfront so that he doesn't ever say anything unintentionally racist in the first place.

Unfortunately, I really can't think of a better way than paying attention to your surroundings, learning from others, and unavoidably, making the occasional mistake. People of good faith will forgive you when you apologize. (Or, at least, that's what I keep telling myself.) This doesn't actually make the mistake less painful or less mortifying, but I have no clue what to do about that.

#450: Anyone who doesn't like you can paint anything you say as a "non-apology apology." I would, however, buttress the "unintentional" with "and I won't ever say that again." Realizing that it was unintentional doesn't really make it hurt less. Being assured that you won't suffer that wound again at least binds the wound up to heal.

(I believe Miss Manners also suggests phrasing along the lines of "I was delirious" or "I had a moment of temporary insanity." A look of mortification also helps, but I find that comes naturally.)

#457 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 08:59 AM:

Nicole @ 452: oh, God, the HAIR thing! THAT was something that, when I learned what a common, everyday hassle it was for women with African hair, REALLY helped me understand the daily level of guarding-against-intrusion they have to face.

I'm pale enough and European-featured enough to benefit from "white privilege" most of the time, and a borderline case where "looks Jewish" is a deciding factor. I also have curly hair. REALLY curly hair. Not nappy, but about one classification short of it. Which means, for a lot of my life, I've had what Ramona Quimby calls "boing-boing curls."

And even white privilege doesn't insulate me 100% from people who failed to learn in KINDERGARTEN that We Don't Boing Other People's Curls, Ramona.

And if I have to put up with it SOMETIMES, and WOC have to put up with it a whole lot more... oh, man, if it happened to me as often as I've heard some women report, I'd have a record for assault by now.

As for "graciously accepting the opportunity to have a teaching moment" -- yeah. I'll join you on the "cough, splutter" there. I got paraded up in front of the class for every Jewish holiday in elementary school to Explain My Different Traditions to the class, or so it felt like, and this in a suburb where we had a large enough Jewish minority that the schools closed for the High Holidays, some years. White privilege is what lets me not have to brace for such "teaching moments" every day and in every interaction, and I'm grateful for it, because being someone's "teaching moment?" Is TIRING.

If I had to face that every single day, every time I stepped out of my door?

My patience and tolerance would be pretty damn thin, all the time.

#458 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 09:15 AM:

452, 457: Wait, the hair thing is supposed to be limited to non-European hair?

I get morons (mostly women, who should know better) touching my hair all the time, just because it's long, and my hair couldn't be more European if it tried--medium brown and very slightly wavy.

Maybe it's "non-typical"* hair, and mine falls into the category by virtue of how long I keep it?

I am already regarding my prospective future pregnancy with dread, because people will touch pregnant bellies without permission and I don't really want to give birth in a jail cell for assault.

* That is to say, non-typical in the opinions of the morons doing the rude touching, not in reality.

#459 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 09:21 AM:

[I'll admit up front, I have nothing like the time needed to address all these comments.]

General nitpick: The issue isn't whites vs POC[1], it's whites who are speaking/writing, and many different people of all colors who respond, and who often respond with charges of racism or cries of outrage about word choices. There are plenty of POC who are very careful to only level a charge of racism at people with a lot of evidence, and there are plenty of whites who pretty gleefully accuse whole groups, movements, sides of a political issue, or even political parties of racism on very thin evidence.

Avram #443 and several others:

Can I take this (let alone the rather long and disspiriting discussion of the evils of the word "articulate" when used by whites to describe blacks) as an acceptance that discussing racial issues is, indeed, a task that requires a bunch of extra care for whites? Is that a statement that you can agree with?

There are some topics where, if you bring them up, you'll have to spend twice as long writing each post, be twice as careful choosing your words, and in which, if you should make some dumb verbal misstep, you will likely be accused of racism. Many of those topics also involve a pretty casual tossing-around of racism allegations at people on one side of the issue.

All else being equal, will you devote most of your time to writing/talking about those topics?

Consider Biden's verbal misstep. Nobody seems to think it was anything else. The claimed racist interpretation is frankly goofy (which is how you can tell it's a misstep, like if a physics teacher told you something that resolved to "force equals mass times velocity."). And yet, he got a certain amount of crap for it, much more than he'd have gotten from an unrelated misstep.

Now, imagine you're another prominent white politician. Are you interested in giving an unscripted interview about Obama's amazing rise? It's twice as hard, and has twice the risk of blowing up in your face.

It's pretty obvious that, all else being equal, sensible white politicians will be super careful about discussing Obama's rise. Will that make the country better off, or worse off? Is the decrease in accidental offense given, the increase in casual unconscious racism coming to the surface and being pointed out, worth the cost that fewer people will honestly examine that rise to power? I don't know how to even begin to answer that question.

It's also pretty obvious that sensible whites with an interest in politics will be pretty reluctant to discuss all kinds of racially-charged issues, because those discussions take way more work and care and carry way more risk of being called nasty names than other discussions. How does that work out, for the nation? It looks to me like one result is a lot fewer people willing to discuss some issues. And while some of those issues (affirmative action, frex) are relatively small things that mostly aren't all that important, others (the black/white performance gap in school, immigration, the awful sinkholes of poverty and crime and hopelessness in some mostly minority urban neighborhoods) are pretty important issues. Issues that are getting fewer ideas, fewer honest discussions, less thought, because getting involved in those discussions is more-or-less taxed.

The incentives here are important. The badness of getting called a racist (whether for bad word choices, phrases that some people are offended by for historical reasons, or even because of some subconscious racism on your own part) is nothing like the badness of getting the crap beaten out of you for driving while black. But it's enough to create an incentive to stay out of these discussions, and that's almost certainly a bad thing.

I almost certainly won't have time to come back to this thread today, so I'll try to come back tomorrow or late tonight and see if I can respond to other stuff. In the meantime, is it possible to try parsing my comments in non-offensive ways? Like, if you read my response to nezua, it ought to be absolutely clear that I am not equating black mens' fear of a beating at the hands of the cops with whites' fear of being called a racist in public. I suppose I could have added a disclaimer at the end to make that clearer. And another to make clear that I agreed that there is substantial evidence that blacks get shot and beaten up by cops more than whites. And another to say that.... And that's the problem. I don't think I'm a bad writer, though I don't compare to a lot of the folks here who make their livings with words. But it's quite a strain for me to hedge and footnote and caveat every statement in order to try to close off all possible offensive misinterpretations. That kind of approach to writing will make my writing ugly and convoluted and hard to read, and it's also not fun. This is kind-of what I'm talking about with the incentives.

[1] People Of Color, which I guess is sort of the set of people who aren't white.

#460 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 09:32 AM:

Carrie S, yeah, I'd say any "non-typical" hair attracts the morons. Nappy, boing-boing curls, unusually long, funny colors, Mohawks, dreadlocks... people forget their manners, if they ever learned any.

If you add a studded leather jacket and very stompy boots to the funny-colored or Mohawked hair, that at least serves as a deterrent, sometimes. Maybe it's along the lines of a puffer fish's spikes.

Maybe that's a whole untapped market in maternity clothes! Forget "can't I look professional instead of cutesey or like I'm wearing a giant tent," how about "I would like to look dangerous so people don't TOUCH me."

#461 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 09:35 AM:

AMEN, sister!

#462 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 09:43 AM:

Scraps @#424 and a bunch of other people too: Thank you. I had stopped reading this thread because I did not have the energy or patience to engage with the discussion as it was going, and I am heartened and grateful to see your comments.

(I have some bookmarks on race, rhetoric, and the "tone" question saved on delicious, which may be of interest.)

#463 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 09:53 AM:

John Chu @ 456

This doesn't actually make the mistake less painful or less mortifying, but I have no clue what to do about that.

There's nothing you can do about it. It's a fact of life, as much as DWB is for an African-American, and, IMO, a whole lot easier to live with.

One of the things you learn when you raise kids and/or animals is that you will be stepping in shit. No amount of dancing around and being aware of your surroundings is going to protect you from that moment when your attention is distracted by something vital ("OMG! Does that scream mean the kid just took a header down the stairs?") and you get it all over your shoes. Here's the thing, though: it's not so terrible. Sure, it's embarrassing, it's messy, it's a pain to clean up, and the smell sticks around for longer than seems fair. But life goes on, and after the initial disgust, you start to realize that you're better off just cleaning up and moving on than standing there cursing the universe.

We all of us do dumb things now and again, often without even realizing what it is we're doing until it's done. Embarrasment happens; clean up and move on.

Bruce Baugh @ 453

No quantity of individual virtue on my part (and I'm pretty good in most regards when it comes to race)

I'm really not picking on you or trying to embarrass you, but this phrase reminds me of things I've said that I squirm about when I recall them. It's almost a reflex, when you're talking about acts you consider uncool or socially unacceptable, to put in a phrase that points out how good you usually are about such things. It does make me feel better when I say these things, and that's one reason why I root them out on preview (and sure wish I could do that in RL): they don't make anyone else feel better, they interrupt the flow of what you're trying to say, and they're just so gormless*.

Like I said, not singling you out, just saying how this reminds me of me.

* You know, finding a word that means "silly, usless, and ineffective" that doesn't refer to some characteristic of a particular group of marginalized people is not easy if you've been raised in the US.

#464 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 10:18 AM:

Carrie @458

People who touched my pregnant belly without permission were liable to get a pat on their own belly in return.

I don't know if their shock taught them a lesson or not, but I know it made me feel better.

#465 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 10:31 AM:

Michael Martin:

"I'm not talking entirely about Biden here. As I read Darkrose's comment, any use of the word at all carries that connotation, and you'll have to take my word for it that it's entirely possible to be an American for 30 years and never run across this fact until it makes the national news is a more explicit context."

There is a very simple solution to this sort of ignorance. Do not live a segregated life.

Having friends and relatives from a diversity of backgrounds, localities, etc., tends to living a life filled with more fun, good food, and great music, but a freedom from these bumbles, because you don't have to think about being sensitive -- you are sensitive!

Though there is this -- you know, the guys who insist they are feminists on the solitary criterian, that they are fathers to daughters and 'want them to have everything that their daughters want.'

Love, C.

#466 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 10:43 AM:

Nobody ever touched, or tried to touch, my belly while I was pregnant, unless I invited them to. I do not know why this is.

If it's something I did, I wish I knew what it was so I could give lessons.

#467 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 11:25 AM:

Bruce Cohen@463: Egad, you're right. What I meant to say was that I've gotten more practice at checking myself on race-related prejudice than on some other kinds, so I've internalized more of the process. I didn't mean to sound so self-congratulatory, and am sorry I did. Thanks for the pointer. Must remember to fill in more of the blanks next time.

(By the way, bystanders: Bruce Cohen provides a great example of how to nudge someone and say "You need to do something about this." He was clear, but didn't make it a personal issue, he just showed me where I'd done something that's easy to read in ways that aren't very happy-making. I can make my apology and correction without feeling like I'm surrendering or anything like that, because I get the chance to make more sense and (I hope) avoiding repeating an unintended offense. This is a win-win kind of situation.)

#468 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 11:52 AM:

Constance Ash's answer "Do not live a segregated life" is one to bring home from this thread, along with "Think before you speak" "Listen more than you speak" and now we need someone smarter than me to come up with shorter form for "do not base your self-worth on never being told you've just offended someone."


But, really: why do people feel entitled to say "No, I didn't!" when told "You hurt me-" and I'm including, here, a statement from way upthread about telling someone they're over-reacting to being bumped or jostled. As a person with chronic pain, that may be my closest personal experience to the subject under discussion. What seems like a minor touch to the toucher may have hit the point on my elbow which feels like sticking my index finger in a 220W outlet, and results in my right arm going numb from hand to shoulder. The proper response to OUCH! is, "Oh, sorry, can I pick up the stuff I made you drop?" and not "Jeez! What, you made of glass?"

I stay home a lot because of people who think it's OK to knock into grey-haired crones; the lack of social consideration limits my actions more than the actual pain. There's been a concentration, here, on white people feeling silenced by the demand to confront their own (MY own) racist thought and speech. On the spectrum of silencing, well, I'll take a little social embarrassment over the manifold ways and means (failing to open polls in precincts in minority neighborhoods on time, anyone?) that people of color are silenced.

And oh, goddess the hair thing. I have thick, mid brown, easily sun-bleachable curly brown hair that I used to wear to my waist; I once got off the bus to find that the little old lady behind me had stealthily brushed the bottom six inches into myriad ringlets. The world is full of borderline hair-fetishists, is what I think.

#469 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:26 PM:

Madeline 447: Again and again the answer comes back, "People tell you when you fuck up."

See, that's good, but not really good enough. I want to avoid fucking up in the first place. It's not enough for me to apologize when I hurt my friends' feelings. I want to know how to AVOID hurting my friends' feelings. And also...for every person who says "you know, Xopher, that's a racist codeword" and sees me look shocked and hears me say "o my gods, I didn't know, I'm really sorry, I'll avoid using it from now on" there are probably ten who just decided I was a racist and walked away.

I know that not every instance of this can be avoided, but I share the desire to find out as much as possible in advance.

Nicole 452: I have patted an African-American man's hair, and been told there were people that would offend. I was confused, however, since we were in bed at the time (as in, making love), and he'd certainly been stroking MY (fine, blond) hair. Up until that time I had always touched the hair of everyone I slept with; it's something I like doing. For a long time I was hesitant to do it when my partner was African-American. It never occurred to me that the original guy was reacting to having been sensitized by the unspeakably rude white people you describe, because the existence of such people never occurred to me. I really don't think touching his hair was actually rude in that context, but at the very least it's more friendly to avoid a known sensitivity when possible.

But it makes me sad. I really love to touch men's hair (when we're in a situation where I clearly have permission to touch them just about anywhere), especially if it's very different from mine (which, these days, all hair is, but that's beside the point). Part of the reason to extinguish the rude/racist behavior is so it won't create the sensitivity that colors my innocent affection, and means I have to avoid it. (Yes, I know it means I still have to. No, I don't think my "sad" about this is anywhere NEAR equivalent to the distress of having been sensitized in that way.)

I myself have the following sensitivity: I cannot sit with my back to the door of a restaurant. I no longer really believe someone will come through the door and attack me from behind (as they did when I was a child, which is how I acquired this sensitivity), but in such a position I will continually look nervously over my shoulder, to the point where I cannot enjoy my meal. This is eccentric enough that I don't expect people to know it, or my friends to remember it; I explain every time, and remind people I've explained to previously.

Yet there are some people who insist that there's nothing wrong with sitting with my back to the door, and that they're not going to let me be so silly, and claim all the seats not with their backs to the door to "teach me a lesson" or some other "for your own good" kind of bullshit.

I have eaten with them once each. They are not among my friends.

No, I don't think that's equivalent at all. I'm just imagining what it would be like if virtually everyone insisted on making me sit with my back to the door, and thinking that might give me some pale image of what it's like to put up with this crap on a daily basis.

Bruce 453: Hear, hear. White privilege and male privilege cannot be abdicated. You generally can't even notice getting them. Rare are the instances when I and a WOC walk up to the counter at the same moment, and the server (who may be hirself a POC) automatically turns to me first. When that happens, I say "I think she was first, actually" or nonverbals to that effect. I try to notice such things, but I'm sure I get privileges that I never see, because I never see the people they're being denied to (and I don't mean I don't notice them, I mean they're never in my presence at all).

#470 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:29 PM:

now we need someone smarter than me to come up with shorter form for "do not base your self-worth on never being told you've just offended someone."

I've seen this parsed as "there is no Gold Star" or "no, you don't get a cookie" just for not frelling up.

I've learned enough by watching these discussions (mostly online) over the last few years to know that I have a lot to learn, and I try to participate sometimes, but I am also very careful in my phrasing because I don't want to offend, and I also don't want to be seen to have offended. I don't find this a great burden, frankly, and the world is not really suffering because I'm not pontificating on racism and how to combat it.

The single best lesson I can take away from all this is: listen. It's not about YOU. Just listen.

#471 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:34 PM:

albatross @ 459: "Consider Biden's verbal misstep. Nobody seems to think it was anything else."

No, actually, I'll pick up that gauntlet. I can't imagine anyone saying a black man was "articulate" and "bright" and "clean" (I mean, really) and "good-looking" who wasn't comparing Obama to a checklist of the stereotypical black man (filthy, brute, animal, etc.) and being amazed at how different he is. I don't believe his intention was to make a racist statement or even to perpetuate racist stereotypes--I'd bet his intention was precisely the opposite--but nonetheless, his comment betrays a quite deep and unconscious racial bias.

(Seriously: clean?)

"(which is how you can tell it's a misstep, like if a physics teacher told you something that resolved to "force equals mass times velocity.")"

The equivalent to this statement isn't a white politician calling Obama "articulate and clean." The equivalent statement would be a black African-American Studies professor calling Obama "articulate and clean," and yes, he would get the benefit of assumed temporary insanity (from me at least). Biden gets no more benefit of the doubt for his misstatement than that other idiot Senator (Congressman?) who called the internet "a series of tubes."

"And yet, he got a certain amount of crap for it, much more than he'd have gotten from an unrelated misstep."

"A series of tubes." "Social Security is a disgrace!" "I invented the internet." "Misunderestimate." "We came in under sniper fire." "I don't recall." "It depends what the meaning of 'is' is." "Pee oh tee ay tee oh ee." "Strategery." All of those are easier to bring to mind than Biden's statement. Moral: politicians face substantial public mockery for saying stupid things on any number of topics.

"It's also pretty obvious that sensible whites with an interest in politics will be pretty reluctant to discuss all kinds of racially-charged issues, because those discussions take way more work and care and carry way more risk of being called nasty names than other discussions."

But the question is: do those conversations take more work and care because racially-sensitive people are looking for any excuse to jump down sensible white throats, or do they require that extra work and care because sensible whites are more likely to accidentally say something that deserves some throat-jumping (or at the least gentle criticism) due to their unconscious white privilege? You think the former, and we think the latter.

#472 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:36 PM:

Xopher, about the "back to the door" thing: yup, me too; restaurants with multiple entrances are sufficiently unpleasant that I never eat there more than once, either. And people who take it upon themselves to do shade-tree cognitive therapy for little phobias like that impell me to a bout of rough DSM-IV labelling.

#473 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:39 PM:

Let me narrow the scope of that last sentence to "I think the latter."

#474 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:40 PM:

469, 472: Though Xopher has a coherent reason for his dislike of sitting with his back to a door, I wonder how many of us were permanently warped by reading Dune at young and impressionable ages.

I know I was. That and too much Heinlein.

#475 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:46 PM:

heresiarch 471: I agree with your point here, but I feel obliged to point out that Al Gore never actually said "I invented the internet."

You can take flak for something you didn't say or do, if people tell enough lies about you. Lies like "Black people are dirty and inarticulate," for example.

JESR 472: We'll have to get a four-person table in a restaurant sometime, and both sit on the same side! (During an off-peak hour, of course.)

#476 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:50 PM:

Carrie 474: By the time I read Dune that just seemed like sensible advice.

#477 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:52 PM:

474: Some of us are naturally paranoid, and do not sit with our backs to the door.

Let's all sit together and teach those self-appointed cognitive (non-)therapists a lesson of their own!

#478 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:56 PM:

Bruce Cohen @463

"We all of us do dumb things now and again, often without even realizing what it is we're doing until it's done. Embarrasment happens; clean up and move on.

Thank you. This is another great thing to take away from this discussion.

#479 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 12:57 PM:

Xopher @ 475: True--I should have mentioned that. However, I still think it's an excellent example of a phrase that lacks any racial element that nonetheless haunted someone for years.

#480 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 01:10 PM:

#474, 477
How about if the person(s) facing the door watch out for incoming and warn those not facing the door?

(I don't like sitting with my back to the walking-space. Too easy to have things land on me without warning, like plates.)

#481 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 01:31 PM:

*sticks head in quickly*

Does anyone have a copy of the Sanders rejection letter that started the whole brouhaha, that they could e-mail me? I can't find an actual copy of it online anymore, and Ladislaw took it down from his Livejournal.

#482 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 01:35 PM:

Xopher @ 469: For what it's worth, in the context of being with a lover, particularly one of the first times, I would be surprised if my partner didn't play with my hair (well, back when I wore hair, okay?), in the same way I'd expect them to want to explore other parts of me in friendly ways. It doesn't give you an eternal free pass, but it's not at all like J.Random Stranger walking up to me, or my nephew, or my sister, and patting or tugging on our hair without permission.

(Data point: I am a WOC who shaves her head, so I no longer have J.Random Stranger coming up to me and playing with my hair. Instead, I have J.Random Stranger, whose hands have been the-gods-alone-know-where, coming up to me and patting my naked scalp -- and then being surprised when I respond with less than delight.)

#483 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 01:42 PM:

Velma 482: Wow. That reminds me of the only good scene from a really cheesey horror movie I saw once. The highschool boy (who no one knows is secretly a monster) says to the other guy "People really should learn to keep their hands to themselves. Here's yours." And then, of course, holds out the other guy's (severed) hand.

While I assume your "less than delight" didn't go that far, I would not blame you.

#484 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 02:08 PM:
Consider Biden's verbal misstep. Nobody seems to think it was anything else.

See, that's not true. I agree that it's unlikely that it was consciously racist. But there are likely reasons that it came out that way, beliefs more deeply inculcated in white men than we are consciously aware of. If I said what Biden did and was called on it, sure I'd say -- in horror -- that I didn't mean it that way. But I'd also acknowledge that what I said matters at least as much as what I meant, and I'd take it as a learning opportunity, a chance to think about how my thoughts work when I'm not watching them. Dismissing it as a mere misstep is refusing to look at those things. Why that misstep? Would Biden have said how remarkable it was to see an articulate clean white man? Of course not. Isn't it clear that using that language to describe Obama reflects some racism embedded deep within him? I say this not to condemn him, just to point out that if we're going to talk about racism in our culture, it's just the tip of the iceberg to only want to talk about, say, David Duke: examples we can all agree on, that threaten nobody's conversational comfort.

It's also pretty obvious that sensible whites with an interest in politics will be pretty reluctant to discuss all kinds of racially-charged issues, because those discussions take way more work and care and carry way more risk of being called nasty names than other discussions.

And it's pretty obvious that it's the privilege of these "sensible whites" to avoid the hard work if they want to, while -- as has been pointed out several times -- those whose lives are immersed in these issues don't enjoy that privilege.

As an intermittently sensible white guy, I don't see why it ought to be made easy for me to understand what POC are willing to teach me about racism -- especially since making it easier so often seems to amount to "make sure it's never about me."

#485 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 02:45 PM:

474, 477:

I do not sit with my back to a door or walkway in an office situation if I can avoid it. This led to one boss (who had any number of other unnecessary over-controlling, micro-managing features) to keep complaining about it when I rearranged the furniture in a one-person office.

(Oddly enough, restaurants are ok, mostly, but it may be one reason I don't like sitting at the bar; the other is that bars are designed for taller people.)

And I'd already read Dune.

#486 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 02:51 PM:

joann @#485: I hate sitting so that people regularly walk behind me; this includes my cube at work, which is impossible to set up so that I'm facing the door but at least can be plausibly arranged so I'm side-on.

In more public situations, like restaurants, I can usually manage to keep the discomfort down to a manageable level, especially if I have someone opposite me who I know can be trusted to see the incoming trouble.

#487 ::: Zed ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 03:35 PM:

Another avoid-back-to-the-door person here. It hadn't occurred to me to blame Heinlein, per se, but that might be a fair cop. I'm not looking forward to my group moving to a cube-farm in a few months.

#488 ::: Irene Delse ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 03:45 PM:

Cygnet @#481:
The full text of Sanders's now famous rejection letter can still be read on a few blogs and LJs, for instance here:
http://shemale.livejournal.com/101742.html

#489 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 03:46 PM:

#450 Michael Martin: That whole thread may boil down to me thinking "I'm sorry you've been hurt; this was unintentional" isn't an acceptable apology since it makes no admission of actual wrongdoing. I agree that in the situation you describe (and that Madeline describes) it's still the best response, but I continue to also believe that someone who doesn't like you can paint it as a "non-apology apology".

I'm confused. You see that "I'm sorry you have been hurt" is unacceptable since it places all the blame on the other person and none on you, the hurter. But you still think it's the best response and suggest that it's an apology?

The best response is an actual apology, "I'm sorry that I hurt you." Hopefully a good apology, with recognition of the specific problem and explanation that demonstrates you won't make the mistake again, a la "I'm sorry I was racist, there; I didn't know that foo meant bar, and now that I know I won't do it again."

#490 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 03:51 PM:

Madeline, if you didn't know that foo meant bar, you were NOT being racist! You unintentionally used racist language.

I will go to great lengths to avoid hurting someone's feelings, or adding to their oppression, but I will not confess to a crime I didn't commit!

If nothing short of "I'm sorry I was racist, there" is an acceptable apology for that situation, you will wait a long time for an apology you find acceptable. "I'm sorry, I didn't know that was a racist codeword, and I had no racist intent; I will avoid using it in the future" or words to that effect will have to do.

#491 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 04:39 PM:

I've always said that the reason I won't sit with my back to the door is that, in a previous life I died holding two pair, aces over eights.

I didn't read Dune until long after I wanted to sit where I could see the door.

(And Xopher, I know a place where they make dandy tofu and shitakes with black bean sauce, if you ever get to Oly).

#492 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 05:06 PM:

JESR #491:

It's not that I want to *see* the door, I just don't want it *behind* me. I think there's a difference, but I'm not entirely sure what it might be.

#493 ::: Lisa Harney ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 05:12 PM:

Xopher @490:

Xopher, just apologize for making a misstep and move on. No need to make it about you and whether you were really trying to be racist or not. It's not really any more fraught than accidentally offending people in other ways, and treating it as if it is causes more problems than it solves.

#494 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 05:21 PM:

JESR 491: You're on!

joann 492: I know exactly what you mean. I can't explain it either.

Lisa 493: I'm cool with that. It just sounded like Madeline wanted rather more breast-beating and hair-shirting than I thought was appropriate in that circumstance...and of course the BB and HS are making it about me too.

#495 ::: gramina ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 06:16 PM:

Off topic, but --

Xopher at 469: "I myself have the following sensitivity: I cannot sit with my back to the door of a restaurant. [...]Yet there are some people who insist that there's nothing wrong with sitting with my back to the door, and that they're not going to let me be so silly, and claim all the seats not with their backs to the door to "teach me a lesson" or some other "for your own good" kind of bullshit.

I have eaten with them once each. They are not among my friends."

*croggled*

I would be strongly tempted to move to a different table. Possibly in a different restaurant. That is Just Not OK. It's not ok to be patronizing, it's not ok to be manipulative, it's not ok to be dismissive, and it's not ok to be disrespectful.

...Come to think of it, given that list, perhaps it's not as off-topic as all that.

#496 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 06:18 PM:

#490 Xopher: Racism isn't about intent, it's about what actually happens in the real world. Intent has some bearing, but action (or inaction) is the meat of the matter.

Your sample apology isn't bad; it focuses on what you did, and it throws up a penumbra where the idea "I was racist at that moment" can exist. But it's not a full recognition of the problem, and it would be fair to call you on that. You probably don't think that you're the only person on the planet who is never racist, so why not own your mistakes?

"I didn't see you, I shouldn't have been carrying the knife point-out, I was moving too fast, I'm sorry!" that's fine, but if you're also simultaneously saying, "But I didn't stab you, I'm not a stabber" that's not so great.

#497 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 06:22 PM:

There's something about "I'm not a stabber", and particularly about the italics, that just made me laugh uncontrollably for an embarrassingly long time.

#498 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 06:24 PM:

Madeline F, I feel like I'm moving through an alternate world here. Xopher not only doesn't think he's never racist, he has repeatedly owned up to it, and argued for the necessity of doing so. He's objecting to your specific example in reasoned terms. Whether or not you agree with him on it, he doesn't deserve the last sentence of your second paragraph at all, as rereading his contributions to this thread would demonstrate to you.

#499 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 06:41 PM:

Nicole@452: Eagh. I have happily never run into that kind of cluelessness, and if I did I'm not at all sure I could manage to not make a scene ("Did we not pass THIRD GRADE where we learned about personal space? There are LAMPREYS that are quivering in embarrassment for having to share a PHYLUM with you..."). I considered adding a separate category for "clueless privileged who are in their cluelessness being openly wildly offensive" but decided that complicated things to much.

That might have been a mistake. But from the point of that classification? They are Category As. It falls to those of us who share the privilege to, er, accept that opportunity to have a teaching moment so that with luck it does not also fall on the unprivileged.

If one is unprivileged, I see no need to waste time on the terminally clueless; ostracization or other minimization of contact is perfectly justifiable, as are attempts at social engineering to make this minimization more practical.

(I'm using "privileged" here because I think this generalizes beyond race to gender, class, etc.)

John@456: I meant something more along the lines of what Xopher said later on in #469 - I don't mind being jerked short. But these people are, after all, friends - I don't want to hurt them, and perception and sensitivity will only tell you that you *just did* hurt them, not that you're *about* to if you aren't careful. From a debate standpoint, you also don't want the person you're talking to to decide you're a hopeless case and walk away, leaving you confused.

Constance@465: I don't live a segregated life. I've lived in heavily multiethnic environments all my life, and I cannot offhand recall a time when even a majority of my friends were white[*]. I still never ran into these, because they weren't live in any of my environments. The world isn't monolithic.

In fact, I rather suspect that this is itself a form of privilege because it means the whites I did know were incapable of being as aggressively clueless as they would be otherwise. I'm probably much easier to shock as a result.

[* If Asian-Americans and Asian nationals count as "white" this is no longer true. Regardless, the rules change when the culture or subculture you're dealing with does. None of the specific examples would apply, but the general principles do.]

Madeline@489: Xopher's comment at 490 nails it. "I'm sorry for being racist", "I'm sorry for accidentally acting out an unconscious racist assumption", and "I'm sorry you were hurt due to my unawareness of the hidden meanings of that action in this context" are, if honest, apologies for three entirely different sorts of trangressions.

--

Regarding doors, I tend to like to see the door if I'm at a restaurant eating alone. It seems that I'm going to have to graciously volunteer to take seats facing away from the door if I'm at a ML gathering. The folks facing the door can warn me if someone inimical approaches.

#500 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 07:07 PM:

Madeline 496: If you honestly don't see the difference between running with a knife point out and accidentally using a word that you were unaware was (or had become!) a racist codeword, I really don't know what to say to you.

Suppose you're learning a new language, one in which 'saaffar' means 'shelves'. You try to say 'Saaffar do pirot wobuut te' ("nail your shelves to the wall") but you botch the pronunciation of 'saaffar' and instead say 'safar', which means "hands."

Would you apologize for accidentally saying something you didn't intend, or for being violent? "Nail your hands to the wall" is a pretty violent suggestion, don't you agree? If you would say "Sorry for being a torturer there" in those circumstances, then you'd be consistent with your statements...and I'll stop arguing with you. (I still won't think you're right, just that your worldview is so different from mine as to make argument useless.)

Scraps 498: Thank you.

#501 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 07:12 PM:

Michael 499 ct Madeline: Yeah, that too. What you said there. Better than how I said it.

I'd even take the blame for the hurt. I just don't want to apologize for something I don't feel I've done, because that WOULD be insincere.

#502 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 09:23 PM:

Malcolm Gin has some good links today on the subject of white folks who sincerely want to Get It:

Dear White People

#503 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 10:14 PM:

ethan @ 497: "There's something about "I'm not a stabber", and particularly about the italics, that just made me laugh uncontrollably for an embarrassingly long time."

You're not the only one.

#504 ::: Luke Jackson ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 10:38 PM:

Sanders elucidates his position here:

http://webnews.sff.net/read?cmd=read&group=sff.people.sanders&artnum=84840

#506 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 11:23 PM:

Albatross #459: Can I take this (let alone the rather long and disspiriting discussion of the evils of the word "articulate" when used by whites to describe blacks) as an acceptance that discussing racial issues is, indeed, a task that requires a bunch of extra care for whites? Is that a statement that you can agree with?

Actually, I'd say it requires a bunch of extra care for everybody. Look at the mess Jeremiah White got into when he spoke for a black audience but got seen by a white audience.

It's a complex and sensitive topic. Conversations about it are therefore going to be complex and sensitive. Why does this surprise you?

Consider Biden's verbal misstep. Nobody seems to think it was anything else. The claimed racist interpretation is frankly goofy (which is how you can tell it's a misstep, like if a physics teacher told you something that resolved to "force equals mass times velocity."). And yet, he got a certain amount of crap for it, much more than he'd have gotten from an unrelated misstep.

No. I think it was clearly more than a mere verbal misstep. He deserved to get crap for it, maybe more than he actually got. I think what happened there is people looked to Obama for a lead on how to react, and he let Biden off relatively easy. Presumably Biden will remember this next time Obama needs a favor from him.

#507 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 11:36 PM:

I wasn't consciously aware I had a "back to restaurant door" phobia until I saw it played perfectly in "Grosse Pointe Blank"

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119229/

For the most part, my mental "Mortal Kombat" moments have subsided significantly.

http://www.questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=1172

#508 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 11:50 PM:

In case people don't follow all the links in the blog entry Scraps linked to in #502, I'd like to point everyone who hasn't seen it at Black People Love Us, which I'd forgotten about but which is one of my all-time favorite websites. It's hilarious, and also genuinely useful as a compendium of shitty white behavior. Make sure you look through the whole thing.

#509 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 12:28 AM:

What's dispiriting to me is the persistence with which Albatross (for example) will cling to a defensive reaction, to the point of reducing the discussion of Biden's remarks about the first articulate black politician, and discussion of similar loaded uses of the word "articulate", to "the evils of the word 'articulate' when used by whites to describe blacks". It begins to be difficult, with the best will in the world, to believe protestations of sincerity that are so evidently deaf to explanation.

Can I take this [. . .] as an acceptance that discussing racial issues is, indeed, a task that requires a bunch of extra care for whites? Is that a statement that you can agree with?

Have you seriously not noticed the number of people who have agreed that yes, it takes extra care? Indeed it does. I just don't understand what makes you think it's appropriate to whine about it.

I have tried to avoid that word. But yes, I've lost a bit of patience at this point. I suppose that makes me an exploding mine.

#510 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 12:40 AM:

Scraps@509: Me too. Life is full of things that are trickier than I might wish. I acknowledge this and move on, dealing with them as best I may. It's not like the burden of having to take care with one's language measures up well against the burden of being routinely unfairly targeted by cops, denied hiring and promotion opportunities, evaluated as if one's credit were much worse than it is, exposed to more pollution, or any of the other things that go with being non-white, non-male, etc etc.

There are a lot of people out there, not far from where I'm writing this, who'd really love to have something as straightforward as "well, gosh, I guess I need synonyms for 'articulate'" as something occupying a lot of their attention.

#511 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 12:53 AM:

Stray linguistic thoughts: Something that catalyzes an explosion that puts pieces of angry Scraps all over has to be a fragmentation rhetorical device.

#512 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 04:04 AM:

I've been thinking about why it is that Madeline F's "I'm not a stabber" comment is so funny, and actually I think it demonstrates something really important about how people think about racism and racists.

The very idea of "stabber" as something people are worried of being accused of is inherently ridiculous, isn't? I mean, what sort of person would that be, going around stabbing people hither and yon. It's just silly. The reason it's patently silly is that a "stabber" isn't a psychologically valid natural kind. No one would feel comfortable making general declarations about stabbers as a group such as "stabbers love to shop," or "stabbers dress well," or "stabbers drink cheap beer." Compare this to the ease with which people make equally sweeping claims about women, homosexuals and rednecks. And, of course, racists.

Being a racist is a very sharply defined social category--probably not as essentialized as being gay or straight, but almost. More than being an action one performs, it is a thing that one is. It informs every aspect of one's life. It ranks pretty highly on the following checklist (taken from the link above):

* Discreteness: How clear are the category's boundaries?
* Uniformity: How similar members of the categories are to each other?
* Informativeness: Does knowing that an individual falls into this category tell you a lot about the individual?
* Naturalness: Is the category natural or artificial?
* Immutability: Once a tiger, always a tiger.
* Stability: Do the properties associated with the category change over time, or remain stable?
* Inherence: Do the similarities and differences of a category members "correspond to an underlying reality?"
* Necessity: Are their properties associated with the category that are necessary for category membership?
* Exclusivity: If you belong to the category, can you also be a member of other categories?

I think "immutability" and "informativeness" are the two scariest parts for people who are accused of saying something racist. The first because it means that once marked as a racist they can never escape. The second because they know that people, upon deciding they are a racist, will assume all sorts of terrible things about them. And indeed this does seem like an excessive punishment for one poorly-thought-out sentence.

I think that the people who are advocating fully acknowledging one's own racist actions are operating from a different view of racism. In their minds, racism is understood to be a thing that everyone is capable of, and that anyone can be forgiven for. To them, racism can be just a thing you do, not a thing you are. The essentialized view of racists is reserved for the malicious few who do it actively and unapologetically. It seems to me to be a much healthier and saner view to take.

#513 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 07:20 AM:

Luke Jackson @ #504: Sanders elucidates his position here:

It's also a good idea to read the first response, from Melanie Fletcher, and Sanders' response to that. Doing so will provide context to some things you-all may have already seen quoted piecemeal around the place.

(Whether you then feel any more charitably about those things is, of course, up to you.)

#514 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:23 AM:

Avram #506:

It doesn't surprise me that it takes some extra care. However:

a. The extra care required, and the extra risk incurred, has an impact on the kinds of discussions that happen, and on the number of them. That's almost certainly a bad thing.

b. The amount of extra care is largely a choice on the part of the participants. Most of the participants here, in a pretty contentious discussion, have not accused me or any other participant of any kind of racism other than the assumed "original sin" type of racism that everyone gets by growing up here. That's a choice. A few participants have at least strongly implied that only racists are worried (or need to worry) about the contentiousness of the issues. (But I might be interpreting their points incorrectly.) That's also a choice.

Those choices have a lot to do with what kind of discussions of race and related issues we have. An outcome that convinces lots of whites to avoid those discussions (or avoid them unless they're on the side of the argument associated with the majority of blacks) is almost certainly a bad one.

#515 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:26 AM:

heresiarch@512, from your link:

"Using evidence to overcome beliefs that are based in essentialism, and for which there is little or no evidence in the first place, can be very difficult."

I think that can be generalized into:

"Using evidence to overcome beliefs-based-on-little-evidence can be very difficult."

Which I think is a very short and succinct way of talking about worldviews.

#516 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:57 AM:

Heresiarch, yeah, you're really onto something here. At least the distinction you're drawing is one that reflects my experience - I used to regard racism and other bigotries as more immutable and dreadful than I do now. If anything, I'm now inclined to be stronger about the effects of prejudicial action (including prejudicial talk) precisely because I see it as so widespread but also so amenable to change, given awareness and effort. If I thought it were impossible to do anything significant about and so fundamental that having it in any significant degree just made the bearer an altogether worthless person, I'd be much less inclined to take action. I act because I've been persuaded both that the harm is even more serious than I'd thought and that adjustment is easier than I'd thought.

And yes again when it comes to the distinction between having any significant prejudice and being what I'd call decisively or committedly a racist (or sexist, or homophobe, or whatever). I suspect, though of course I can't prove, that a certain amount of prejudicial tendency is wired into us. At a minimum, I don't think I know anyone altogether free of prejudicial impulses. But I think it's possible and practical to live in ways that make those impulses rare, contained, and obviously not representative of the overall tendency of one's life. I tend to save the identity terms, the -isms, for those much more actively engaged in putting their prejudices into widespread effect, particularly when I know that they've had good opportunities to learn the consequences of what they're doing and see alternatives.

This is good stuff to bring up and talk about explicitly.

#517 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:31 AM:

Greg, drop it.

Bruce Baugh @ 516: "If I thought it were impossible to do anything significant about and so fundamental that having it in any significant degree just made the bearer an altogether worthless person, I'd be much less inclined to take action."

Even more crucially, I think, you'd be even less inclined to admit that there's a problem with your behavior in the first place.

"I suspect, though of course I can't prove, that a certain amount of prejudicial tendency is wired into us."

I think that's absolutely true in the fundamental sense that we are built to make snap decisions on superficial evidence: our mental decision-making processes evolved long before the scientific method came along, and in an environment where stopping to find out if that blur of motion in our peripheral vision was a lion or not before running had decidedly negative consequences. The extent to which those snap prejudgments apply in human interactions is not small, I think. The historical point when "be afraid of anyone who doesn't look like me," stopped being a really ueful survival trait isn't that far in the past.

#518 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:35 AM:

Heresiarch: "Even more crucially, I think, you'd be even less inclined to admit that there's a problem with your behavior in the first place." Ohhhhh yeahhhhhh. Very much so indeed. Feeling that it is something where having a bit of it doesn't mean I'm vile scum, just someone who needs to improve some of my attitudes and actions, is very important.

#519 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 11:47 AM:

albatross: If I read you right, fixing the problem -- that being white people avoiding discussions of race -- is not the responsibility of the white people involved but of POC. Correct me if I'm wrong.

#520 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 12:57 PM:

It's very like that chestnut trotted out by a set anti-feminist men that "Men are genetically wired to spread their seed / fight / not do dishes and take care of children, and women are geneticially wired to nurture / be faithful to just me / take care of me / scrub floors".

This "That's how men are," means "I like things just as I think they are and I ain't going to change a thing. I've got it too good the way it is."

To which many a woman has responded by dumping his stuff on the street and changing the locks and getting a restraining order. Which make him even more angry about the impossible and stupid demands of stupid women who refuse to give him what he's decided are his rights to not have to consider anyone else except himself.

Love, C.

#521 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 01:30 PM:

#497 ethan/#503 heresiarch: Thanks. :) Reminds me that I should mention that I'm still smirking over Mamatas's "Hugo Award for Best Locus Magazine" at 288.

#498 Scraps/#500 Xopher: Oog, "You probably don't think that you're the only person on the planet who is never racist, so why not own your mistakes?" did come off wrong. What I was trying to say was, 1. you admit you've got some racism in you as do we all, 2. I saw you arguing last week that behaviour is what matters, not thoughts, 3. so you must believe you do things which are racist, 4. so why not own to the most innocuous of these, the accidental immediately-apologized-for verbal misstep?

But I think this is a useful test case in the subthread about apologies, which is where I'm at right now. I'm sorry, I should have known to be clearer in a charged argument, I wasn't intending to insult Xopher; I'll try to be less tendentious in the future.

But would that apology work if I was also claiming, "But I'm not a jerk, that wasn't jerkish"? I don't think so. The fact is that whether I planned to be or not, I was a jerk there. Whether I'm a jerk is not something I always get to decide, it's based on what I do.

It's easier for me to accept that I was a jerk there because I accept that I can be a jerk at times, and because I accept that I phrased myself quite poorly, and I accept that I should have known better... But even if I denied all of those, the essential problem still exists.

So I'm saying that, for apologies, edging around the base problem, whether jerkishness or racism, can work; denying the essential problem never works; accepting the essential problem is better.

Sorry I was a jerk there, Xopher.

#499 Michael Martin: Is "I'm sorry you ..." ever an apology? It isn't one in your example.

Having thought about it a bit, sentences like "I'm sorry you lost your cat" or "I'm sorry you didn't see it, it was awesome" are fine. Looks like pushing stuff off onto "you" only works when there is no pain between the people and it's clear to everyone that "you" is blameless for whatever.

#522 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 02:05 PM:

Madeline F: we appear to be getting into Spider Robinson's "everyone's an asshole" territory, huh?

I think heresiarch's points about "immutability" and "informativeness" are really good ones, and go a long way towards explaining the defensiveness.

I don't think Xopher's objecting to apologizing, I think he's objecting to what he sees as an expectation that an apology should include self-labeling as the immutable category "racist."

"I'm sorry! I didn't realize that those were racist code-words. I didn't mean it like that, and I won't use that phrasing again" seems reasonable enough to me... perhaps followed by a rephrasing of the original statement, once I'd had some time to examine WHY the phrasing might have become a racist code-word, and whether what I wanted to say COULD be said without playing into racist assumptions.

#523 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 02:24 PM:

heresiarch #512:

I like the distinction you're making. I think a lot of this discussion has involved hopping between many different definitions of racism. At least three (of many) are:

a. Original sin type racism--this is what you get by growing up in a society that's messed up w.r.t. race. Some people say that this affects only whites, but I expect it affects everyone. However, it's not much of a moral label on a person, because everyone has it, in the same sense that every Christian is a sinner ("all have fallen short of the glory of God").

b. Hidden overt racism--this is where you hold some racist beliefs, more-or-less acknowledge them to yourself, but try to hide them. It seems to me that this is the kind of racism that is often used as an accusation. And that's really hard to handle, because on one hand, I'm pretty sure this is fairly widespread, and on the other hand, there's no evidence or argument that can clear your name, if accused of this. Sometimes the charge sticks, sometimes it doesn't, but no set of evidence offered can, by itself, demonstrate that you're not really secretly an overt racist who won't admit it.

c. Some folks on this thread have used "racism" to include words or actions which you do without ever knowing that they will give offense, but which do give offense. I think this is a horrible term for this phenomenon, as it mixes a moral judgement with honest, well-intentioned error.

There are also a lot of definitions for racism out there which strike me as all wrong or meaningless, but haven't gotten a lot of play in this thread.

Denying racism in the original sin sense is pointless, since it's in everyone by definition. I read many of the comments in this thread as basically concerned with that kind of racism--with saying "yes, you grew up in a society with a messed-up set of ideas about race, you inherited some of those, it's best to own up to that when you run into those ideas and try to get better next time." I agree with this, for what it's worth.

My concern is much more with that second type, with the hidden overt racism. It sure seems to me that this is the kind of racism that people get smeared with, or fear getting smeared with. This is the kind of charge that you can't clear with evidence or argument or any statement you make. And it often seems to me that this and the "original sin" kind get mixed together in both discussions and accusations. And there's a huge difference in implications between the two.

The third definition seems radically different, as it's not really about the speaker's intents or beliefs, so much as about his knowledge.

#524 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 02:32 PM:

Tlonista #519:

No, that's not what I'm saying at all. As a speaker, you should try not to give offense unnecessarily. As a listener, you should try not to take offense unnecessarily. Good communications is the responsibility of both sides, not one. (Also, POC are not remotely the only people who will accuse or imply racism in some other person.)

And, I'm saying that when there is a topic in which many listeners are very inclined to take offense, and to infer the worst about the speaker based on that offense, it will be a damned hard topic to discuss. And that will have consequences, which we can see today in discussions about racial topics.

#525 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 02:37 PM:

Madeline 521: I understand, and no hard feelings, but I don't think you've quite grasped my point. About 25 years ago I remarked, in jest, that "only black women can really sing" (I forget what style of music). Nobody laughed. A friend (white) said "No, your racism isn't amusing." I thought for a while, realized I was actually being racist, and apologized.

That was a case where it was appropriate to apologize for "being racist." I was being racist, saw that, and apologized for it, resolving to avoid that kind of remark (and the thought behind it, which wasn't a true belief that black women were specially gifted in that music style, but which was a belief that such racial stereotypes are funny).

By contrast, accidentally using a racist codeword with no such thought is not "being racist" in the same way. My unawareness of it may be naïve, and such naïveté may be an aspect of privilege, but it's not really "being racist" as such.

I think it's important to make such distinctions, because if they're the same, then my drive to be honest about the first one is lessened. Telling the truth all the time entails denying what you're innocent of, as well as confessing guilt. If 'I was being racist' could just mean I said "safar" when I meant "saaffar," then how do I say "I really was acting on racist assumptions there"? I think this distinction promotes the systematic eradication of racist beliefs.

As for my apology...I'd say something along the lines of "I'm very sorry I used that word. I didn't know it was a racist codeword, and I apologize for causing you pain through my ignorance." (Yeah, I've modified that somewhat to focus on the fact that a. I was at fault and b. my fault caused pain.)

Rikibeth 522: Yeah. Like that.

#526 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 02:49 PM:

heresiarch #517:

ISTR some evolutionary psychology experiments that managed to get that kind of us/them distinction going for completely arbitrary groupings, complete with ingroup loyalty. Which isn't all that weird, when you reflect on the way people will be big fans of their local sports teams, despite having nothing in particular in common with them. I wouldn't be surprised if this was built in, but I suspect it's not built in at the level of racial differences triggering mistrust, but rather a lot of support for whatever us/them split is important in your life.

One reason for thinking that is that there are plenty of examples in which "racial" hatred occurs between all but indistinguishable groups. Serbs and Croats can hate each other as deeply as any black panther and klansman, but they look and sound almost identical to an outsider. Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants don't have a racial division. I don't think Sunni and Shia Muslims do in general, either, though I'll admit I don't know a huge amount about the Middle East.

#527 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 03:50 PM:
I'm saying that when there is a topic in which many listeners are very inclined to take offense

Every person of color I know or that I read who tries to discuss these issues with white folks will start steaming -- and probably just give up -- as soon as they read those words. Before conversation even happens, you are putting the onus on those who take offense, and giving notice in advance that you're not going to take responsibility for the offense you give. I know you don't see it that way. But stop and think for a bit how you would feel on the other side.

Did you read any of the links at Malcolm Gin's page (the one I linked to)? This is one of the most basic issues that gets discussed, if you're interested in hearing what people of color think of it.

You really ought to consider that the people who are offended might not be any more inclined to take offense than anyone else, and that the ones who are bothering to try to talk about this at all with you are the ones who are the least inclined to take offense, who will swallow a lot to try to get a message across to you.

#528 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 06:14 PM:

For instance, here I am, a non-white person who is not bothering to try to talk to albatross! In case albatross doubts Scraps' comment @ #527.

#529 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 06:42 PM:

Kate @ 528, I'm another.

#530 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 07:17 PM:

Albatross #514: The extra care required, and the extra risk incurred, has an impact on the kinds of discussions that happen, and on the number of them. That's almost certainly a bad thing.

Yes. Racism sucks. The fact that discussions of racism are so difficult is just one of the many things that cause racism to suck. It will not stop sucking just because you complain about it.

As I said before, race is a complicated issue. Complicated issues don't get less complicated just because somebody complains about how complicated they are.

And it's a painful issue. Painful issues don't become less painful just because somebody complains that people shouldn't be feeling as much pain as they are.

What I think you're missing here is that there are worse fates in life than being accused of having said something racist or homophobic. You seem to be horrified of it, as if the mere accusation will result in your being left to die alone on an ice floe. Generally, if you screw up without meaning to, you can just say "Oh crap, I didn't know, I'm sorry about that," and get on with your life.

#531 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 07:56 PM:

heresiarch@517: Greg, drop it.

Cripes, is that what I get for vigorously agreeing with you on something?

Was that response because I took the concept of "beliefs that are based in essentialism, and for which there is little or no evidence" and shortened it to "worldview" and you disagree with the shortening?

#532 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 08:07 PM:

Constance Ash @ 520: "It's very like that chestnut trotted out by a set anti-feminist men that "Men are genetically wired to spread their seed / fight / not do dishes and take care of children, and women are geneticially wired to nurture / be faithful to just me / take care of me / scrub floors"."

Evolutionary psychology is certainly a poor basis for profound judgments all by its lonesome, and used to justify all sorts of stupid retrograde behavior. However: as much as philosophers like to pretend otherwise, we aren't pure intelligences perched in our flesh golems, peering out into the world with unbiased perceptions. The way humans evolved affects the way we think in very profound ways.

More generally, notice that I'm not making the claim that due to evolutionary factors we just need to accept that sometimes white people will get to together and string up a black man or three. Rather, I'm saying that recognizing our innate tendencies to pre-judge people and situations is the first step to overcoming that tendency. The great thing about human brains is their ability to hack themselves--innate tendency or not, our conscious brain can usually be trained to do something totally different. Not hating any category of person is probably just as easy as hating someone for something abstract like religion.

albatross @ 523: "It sure seems to me that [hidden overt racism] is the kind of racism that people get smeared with, or fear getting smeared with. This is the kind of charge that you can't clear with evidence or argument or any statement you make."

I'm pretty sure this is not true, and I'm pretty sure Avram, I, and others have already covered why. Allow me to summarize:

1. Not saying racist things is a good start.
2. If that doesn't work out, then an immediate, honest apology tends to get you a long way. (Hidden overt racists generally deny, because they have no idea of what racism is other than a special accusation POC and liberals get to use to shut up people who disagree with them.)
3. This is why the "original sin" view of racism is being championed, because scales accusations of racism down from "Oh god my friends will all disown me" to "Crap, I need to work on that."

@ 524: "And, I'm saying that when there is a topic in which many listeners are very inclined to take offense, and to infer the worst about the speaker based on that offense, it will be a damned hard topic to discuss."

Let me put it this way: if someone is unwilling to put forth extra effort in expressing their opinions on affirmative action, or bussing, or some other racially-contentious issue, then why should I assume that they put any substantial effort into the opinions themselves? Having non-racist opinions on racial issues is hard; racism is easy. If fear of being accused of racism keeps people from staggering into conversations of affirmative action with a "I don't understand why they get special treatment just because their ancestors were slaves" -type comment, then good.

You seem to be operating under the assumption that there's a fairly broad set of statements which can be considered racist, but are not, and that our dialogue on race is lessened by their absence. I disagree--I think that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, when somone says "Wow, that was pretty racist," they are right, and the person shouldn't have said it. And so it's hard for me to feel concerned about the loss of those statements and the people who'd like to make them. The only real loss is that people never own up publicly to thinking them, and therefore, never get publicly shot down.

#533 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 08:56 PM:

I rise to applaud heresiarch: You seem to be operating under the assumption that there's a fairly broad set of statements which can be considered racist, but are not, and that our dialogue on race is lessened by their absence. I disagree--I think that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, when somone says "Wow, that was pretty racist," they are right, and the person shouldn't have said it. And so it's hard for me to feel concerned about the loss of those statements and the people who'd like to make them. The only real loss is that people never own up publicly to thinking them, and therefore, never get publicly shot down.

Yes. This. And a lot of it.

I will also draw on my own experience on the recieving end of discrimination and prejudice to add one more thing.

When you come to a situation as an outsider, someone who's not directly affected by it and doesn't have to live in the midst of the problem, it is easy to see things that look like apparent solutions. You think, hey, folks in the midst of it must have just overlooked it, I'll explain it to them and things can start getting better.

Now, sometimes this is actually the case. People weighed down by grief, anger, frustration, and despair sometimes do miss the obvious. But far, far more often the case is that something not visible on first glance makes the apparent solution not all that actual - doing it leads to something else that either doesn't help or actually adds harm.

And you know what? It's one of the most depressing things in the world to have to tell someone who's there with evident good will exactly why their scheme won't work. Particularly if they make an effort to defend it. Because the explanation is going to involve rehearsing old failures, things I (or anyone else who has to do the explaining) probably would rather not drag up again. In my case it's things like "here exactly are the symptoms that make it impossible for me to ever hold a regular job or complete my college degree, and how they feed into my recurring depression and emotional lability". For someone else it might be "let me review my history of unfair credit handling in enough detail that you believe me when I talk about systematic discrimination" or "yes, these are the wounds I received at the hands of the police while stopped without proper cause" or something else equally physically and mentally painful.

One of the simplest but greatest courtesies any outsider can do is presume that people talking about discrimination involving groups they belong to know what they're talking about and have enough intelligence and good will to have already tried the obvious, and a lot more. Questions like "Who are good sources of information about the state of efforts to improve your problems?" are very good. They let the people inside direct your attention to wise and informed voices without having to rehearse their own pain just to get your attention.

And frankly, having someone start by presuming some cluefulness is a good way to win my sympathy, while the "oh dear Lord not this again, *sigh*, let me see if I can keep from blowing up" interior voice is not one that really helps productive dialogue.

#534 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 08:57 PM:

Avram@530: The fact that discussions of racism are so difficult is just one of the many things that cause racism to suck. It will not stop sucking just because you complain about it.

Nor will biased listeners stop listening with bias just because people shout down someone who points out their existence.

Nor should the existence of biased listeners affect whether or not the speaker is saying something racist or not.

I was reading about a psychological study a few months back about something they called "implicit bias". I don't remember all the particulars, but IIRC, implicit bias exists on a subconscious level of sorts. One example they gave was flashcards with photos of random people on it, showed in just a glimpse to observers. and they'd measure skin reactions and stuff that is physical and below the conscious control of the observer, adn they could observe people exhibiting implicit bias to people based on skin color.

But implicit bias is wrapped up in the subconcious and has to go through some contextual filtering to get to outside actions, speech, whatnot. So, usually, it gets filtered out. The folks doing the study were talking about whether or not something like the job of a police officer where it becomes life and death in the eyes of the police officer that the contextual filtering is mostly bypassed. I can't remember if they had some sort of study for that particular situation or not. I think they had something involving flashcards with faces and split second shoot/no shoot decisions, which showed that more bias came through into actions.

They also had an experiment where they had someone who was white and whose answers to some questionaire indicated he had some racial prejudice, and they put this person in a room with an african american, and made them do some sort of exercise together. I don't think the participants weren't told that the study was about prejudice or racism. Anyway, after the exercise, the participants were interviewed and asked about how they thought they got along with the other person, and the white people generally thought they got along OK and the POC generally said they thought there was tension between them. I believe the experimenters came up with the idea that the white person was less aware of his body language and subconscious cues, and the POC was more aware of the other person's body language and cues, and while the white guy thought he was hiding his racism, the POC was picking up the cues of avoiding eye contact, distancing, whatnot.

Last but not least, they had another experiment where they had a group of asian women. And what they did was give them a bunch of math tests. Before one test, the experimenters would give some sort of speech or explanation that would highlight the fact that the test takers were all women. During another test, the examiners would give some sort of speech that would highlight the fact that all the test takers were Asian.

The average scores of participants was consistently lower when the "you are all women" speech was given versus when the "you are all asian" speech was given. The researchers reported this as showing that implicit bias can affect the person's expectations of themselves to the point that it affects their real world performance, not just their thoughts. That implicit bias affects the target of the bias in measurable, external ways.

What I took from the whole article was that implicit bias is something that everyone has. White people and people of color. ANd it will affect what people say and it will affect how people will listen. And I also took from it that both speakers and listeners can filter their implicit bias through their consciousness before it slips out into actions. The presence of implicit bias doesn't mean bias will occur in action, though it does mean that someone with bias might be letting some bias slip through and not know it.

Pretending that only speakers let their implicit bias slip through and listeners dont, or pretending that only speakers have implicit bias and listeners don't, is about unrealistic as some overt racist making some pseudoscientific argument to support their racism.

The other thing that was really clear reading this article was the noted lack of assignment of guilt or judgement of various participants for having implicit bias, and how it affected them. And what seems strickingly different between that article and this thread is that there's a lot of assignment of blame or assignment of responsibility or assignment of guilt going on in this thread. And how that will automatically trigger standard defenses of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression.

Albatross suggests that when people are inclined to take offense it becomes difficult to have a conversation.

Scraps replies by informing him that every POC trying to address racism will start steaming when they read those words.

Avram refuses to acknowledge the existence of biased listeners and instead says talking about race is "complex" and complaining about how "complex" it is doesn't change anything.

Kate and Velma won't talk to albatross about race.

And I'm not certain what the solution is, but it feels like whereever it is, this thread is moving farther away from it, not closer.

It seems that various experiments show that everyone has implicit bias, so the notion that some people don't have it just seems odd to me. And I understand that some people might use "You're just sensitive" as an excuse to try to hide the fact that they made some racist remark, that doesn't mean you can simply deny the existence of listeners with implicit bias. I mean you can, but it becomes the frame of the conversation, rather than accepting some listeners might be biased, and refocus on actual overt racism.

The other thing seems to be that there ought to be an acknowledgement (on both sides) of the difference between taking an implicit bias and having it inadvertantly slip through the contextual filters, and taking an implicit bias and intentionally trying to enforce it on the world.

A biased listener can be as inadvertant as a biased speaker. Both might be trying to suppress their implicit biases, both might be trying to take actions which reflect equality for all. And both might slip up.

If listeners can acknowledge they might accidently let some implicit bias slip through, they might be more likely to allow for the possibility that some speaker let some implicit bias inadvertantly slip through. If listeners insist they are perfect, unbiased listeners, that tends to rule out accidental implicit biased slip ups. The implication is that if I can be perfect and unbiased as a listener, why can't you be perfect and unbiased as a speaker, therefore if you let bias slip through your speech, it must ahve been intentional. Which then triggers the defense mechanisms of the accused.

Yes, it is a complex issue. But there are some ways to talk about it that make it a lot more difficult than it needs to be.

#535 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:18 PM:

All:

I suspect that I've passed the optimal heat/light tradeoff point about ten posts ago. I'll come back and reread this thread when I'm out of the heat of the argument; the feeling I'm having right now ("I'm so obviously right, why can't anyone see") pretty much never leads to anything good. I'm done.

BTW, I know this is a hard topic. One of the things I appreciate about this place is that these topics don't usually devolve to flamewars, even when people (aka me, apparently) are saying stuff that really p-sses a lot of other folks off.

#536 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:21 PM:

Greg, it's very simple. Being told "your usage perpetuates bigoted ideas; change it to something that doesn't" is not a hardship comparable to living with systematic injustice, pain, and cruelty. And when conversation after conversation becomes about the hardship of usage change, while the brutal realities of life under real discrimination are pushed aside while we coddle the poor offended person who's having such a hard time changing their usage, it makes many of those actually being discriminated against angry. There are some things that people of good will should in fact just shut up and suck up and deal with, in the realization that they are getting it a whole lot easier than the people they say they'd like to help.

Most of us, for instance, would not be impressed by someone who stops to help someone bleeding from major wounds, only to stop helping until they can be reassured that everyone appreciates how hard this is for someone with sensitive skin to use the coarse cloth of these bandages and how they normally would never make contact with this blood type but are willing to do it in this case, if everyone cheers them on, while the victim keeps bleeding. Same kind of deal. People who actually want to help can start by, you know, helping - in both this example and in the matter of usage, by changing the thing that needs to change to keep from making matters worse for the people with the need. Then see where to go.

#537 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:22 PM:

heresiarch: The only real loss is that people never own up publicly to thinking them, and therefore, never get publicly shot down.

That's the important thing, is it? Not being able to shoot people down for thinking certain thoughts because they kept them to themselves?

Didn't we just have the thought-control thread last week, about whether or not people should have fantasies about someone else without their permission?

#538 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:31 PM:

I am preemptively bowing out, as I've had Greg explain it all to me before, and feel I can skip it this time.

#539 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:48 PM:

Scraps@

It begins to be difficult, with the best will in the world, to believe protestations of sincerity that are so evidently deaf to explanation.

On the off chance that this is targeting me, I agreed with it and moved on (most explicitly in #450, more in passing earlier). Accidentally hitting covert racist code words is a separate and (to some of us) at least as important topic, because it's a situation we personally are more likely to actually be in. The fact that this conversation continued is not ignorance of the result of the previous one.

Also, that wasn't, at least, how I was using "mine". The mines were the code words, accidentally using one and thus hurting a friend was the explosion.

Madeline@521: Is "I'm sorry you ..." ever an apology?

There is, as you note, a distinction between "I'm sorry" as "I take responsibility for harming you" and "I'm sorry" as in "this causes me distress."

(1) "I'm sorry I rear-ended you." There was an accident and it's your fault. This is an apology where you take responsibility.

(2) "I'm sorry my car went runaway and rammed your car; I should have set the parking brake parking on that hill." This is still your fault, but for negligence this time instead of direct agency. This is an apology taking responsibility for a more indirect failing.

(3) "I'm sorry my car went runaway and rammed your car; I can't believe the parking brake failed." This is a statement of regret at an unfortunate turn of events, not an apology. There seems to be a point of disagreement between us as to whether this situation deserves a responsibility-taking apology; I read you as saying it does, while I do not believe so. For me, the precautions taken were sufficient that there is no wrongdoer at all, despite the fact that a wrong has clearly been done (the victim's car is totalled).

(4) I've been treating the "stumbling into covert racism" scenario as being like (3), but with a third party who sabotaged the apologizer's parking brake. Chaos ensues: the victim has no reason to believe the brake was ever set in the first place, and the "perpetrator" won't accept that this was due to his being insufficiently diligent about car maintenance. Everybody's going to get angry, but only one person also has a totaled car. Unlike in (3), there's an actual guilty party here, but he isn't on the scene.

In both 3 and 4, it is entirely appropriate for the person whose car caused the crash to still feel regret about the situation, and it's damned near mandatory if the person whose car was totaled was a friend. I'd say it's even appropriate for them to feel more sorrow about it since they were involved, even if their involvement was blameless. But feeling more sorrow about it doesn't mean taking responsibility.

So, I suppose, yes, my sample "honest apologies" for stumbling across a code word really aren't apologies by your lights: I am saying that if someone innocently triggers distress in someone by misspeaking, they should only owe emotional solidarity and a promise to not make the same mistake twice - that's the best they can do without lying about their intent. They cannot honestly apologize in the sense of "taking responsibility for wrongdoing" because there's no decision they could have made that would involve explicitly avoiding it - it was a matter of bad luck, not negligence, and any such apology would be only slightly more sincere than "I'm sorry I lost the lottery; I'm a bad mathematician and will try to pick better numbers in the future."

#540 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:55 PM:

Bruce: And when conversation after conversation becomes about the hardship of usage change, while the brutal realities of life under real discrimination are pushed aside

I don't think albatross was pushing aside real discrimination. The existence of biased listeners does not exclude the existence of biased speakers. The main reaction to albatross seems to be denial, anger, barganing, and depression. There's a motto that I got from my coaching training that really fits here: that which you resist, persists.

Someone brings up biased listeners. Everyone denies it. Guess what the conversation is about?

Someone brings up biased listeners. People acknowledge it, people accept it, and put it into perspective with the whole issue of racism, then the conversation might have a chance of moving on.

Note that heresiarch's "99 out of 100 aren't biased, therefore I don't care about the biased listenerss" is still is the "resist" side of things.

while we coddle the poor offended person who's having such a hard time changing their usage,

albatross wanted you to coddle him?

it makes many of those actually being discriminated against angry.

But your anger isn't a result of albatross, it is a result of a very comlex issue getting misunderstood by some and purposefully misrepresented by others and whatever else over many, many years. But you take that cumulative anger out on albatross.

And at the same time people are yelling at albatross telling him its a complex issue and complaining about how complex it is won't make it any less complex, people are also yelling at him for not just "getting it", why should we have to explain everything to him. Well, if it's complex, that means you're going to have to engage on a complex level. And if someone posits the existence of biased listeners, then responding by trying to grossly oversimplify the situation and shouting them down and denying the existence of biased listeners, well, it oversimplifies a complex situation, and then it doesn't communicate and people who didn't get it, still don't get it.

If it's a complex issue, it needs to be treated as such.

#541 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:08 PM:

Greg London @ 534: Instinctual bias against people due to skin color, religion, etc. is not equivalent to 'instinctual' bias against racism. Racism actually is bad thing that people should be wary of, unlike race, religion, etc. It's the same old "tolerance must include tolerance for intolerance!" canard that Nicole so effectively skewers way up @ 346.

@ 537: "That's the important thing, is it? Not being able to shoot people down for thinking certain thoughts because they kept them to themselves?"

It's a loss because the goal is to eliminate these beliefs. To the extent which they are hidden, it is impossible to do that. If they're hidden because the person thought, "Ugh, there's a racist thought, I should keep that to myself," then all well and good. If they thought, "I'd better not say this patently true and clearsighted thing because SOME PEOPLE will get upset," then that's bad. Read Rachel's comment @ 425: "It also emphatically rejects the negative connotation of the statement. If no one had spoken up about Biden's comment, it would have let stand the comment that Obama is the first articulate black American. The outcry affirms that "articulate" is not limited to whites and Obama." Publicly airing racist beliefs affirm that those beliefs are wrong, and why.

I'm starting to quote more than I write, which is usually a bad sign.

#542 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:13 PM:

Greg London @ 540:

Someone brings up biased listeners. Everyone denies it. Guess what the conversation is about?

Well, duh. Racism, of course.

#543 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:14 PM:

I don't think it actually is very complex. I think the problem of unexamined prejudice is very widespread and deeply ingrained, but I think that this is not a complicated fact, and I think that the treatment - check your assumptions, listen to those in a position to know things you don't, when you find you've been doing harm stop it and make amends and do better - isn't particularly involved either. It takes a lot of effort sometimes, because habits are hard to change under the best of circumstance and recognizing implications of things you've taken for granted can be really uncomfortable.

But, for instance, tying a good tourniquet isn't super complicated in most situations; it's just unpleasant and calls for knowledge and attention. Likewise with rooting out prejudice.

#544 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:22 PM:

Greg, who brought up biased listeners? I just text-searched through Albatross's comments on this thread for "bias", and only found it once, as part of the name "Tobias".

#545 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:28 PM:

Bruce, when I said "complex" I was thinking of the way that subtle manifestations of racism show up in places where I wouldn't expect, but "ingrained" is the better word. The image that comes to my mind is of spilling a nasty fluid on a wooden floor, mopping up the obvious puddle with a sponge, then looking closer and seeing that the stuff has worked its way down between the slats and into the grain.

#546 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:38 PM:

Bruce: I don't think it actually is very complex.

er, but:

It takes a lot of effort

habits are hard to change

can be really uncomfortable.

"calls for knowledge and attention"

Come on, Bruce. You can't have it both ways.

When someone brings up biased listeners, the subject was chagned to "Racism is complex, complainging about the complexity doesn't make complexity go away", which changed the topic and avoided engaging in the possibilty of biased listeners.

And then when I say it's complex, and that means when someone brings up a complex issue it needs to be engaged, not denied and shouted down, you can't change the descriptor and say it'll take a "lot of effort", is "hard to change", and "really uncomfortable", is "unpleasant", and "calls for knowledge and attention", but insist it isn't complex.

Here's the simple question, is the anger directed at albatross based on albatross's actions/speech here? Or is it the cumulation of people's prior experience with other people around prejudices?

If people fighting racism want accidental racists to simply come out and admit they made a mistake, sorry, won't happne again, and that no one will hold their feet to the fire once they admit it, then when people fighting racism end up inflicting some collateral damage, and reacting to someone based not on what they said but on what someone else said, then that would be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate being responsible for verbal accidents, apologizing, and moving on.

Maybe the accidental racist counters by apologizing as well, maybe not. But at least the people asking for verbal resonsibility are demonstrating it themselves. Avoiding acknowledging overzealousness, denying the existence of biased listeners, and trying to maintain the illusion of perfection, while demanding verbal responsibility, just doesnt fly.

#547 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:43 PM:

albatross @ 535: That sounds like a wise choice. (No sarcasm--I sincerely respect your ability to make that decision. Kudos to you.)

Bruce Baugh @ 533: "When you come to a situation as an outsider, someone who's not directly affected by it and doesn't have to live in the midst of the problem, it is easy to see things that look like apparent solutions. You think, hey, folks in the midst of it must have just overlooked it, I'll explain it to them and things can start getting better."

I think this is very true, and a very accurate analysis of the dynamic that kicks in when well-intentioned but inevitably ignorant outsiders privileged people discuss race, gender or class issues.

One of my more embarassing memories from college is from when I went to a student-led forum on class issues within the student body. As people talked about the incredible difficulties they had trying to get their richer dormmates to understand that no, they can't go to the movie/order a pizza/buy alcohol, because they just don't have the money, I kept saying, what? Come on, they can't possibly be that clueless, can they? No way! (Ironically, my refusal to believe the extent of privileged obliviousness to class was a text-book example of privileged obliviousness to class.) Afterwards though, the more I thought about it, about the expressions on their faces, the more I realized that I trolled that forum. Totally unintentionally, but I really truly did.

That experience (and other less dramatic experiences) are why I tend to be humble about my own ability to tell when I'm indulging in my various privileges, especially in the heat of the moment. Evidence suggests I'm not very good at it. On the flip side, it's why I try to explain things to even fairly oblivious border-line trolls, as long as they seem engaged in the conversation. I hope that even if they don't change their minds during the argument, they at least think about it afterwards. It's a lot easier to change one's opinion between arguments than in one, I've found.

anyway, /twocents

(Oh, and thanks for the props!)

#548 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:44 PM:

Avram: who brought up biased listeners?

uh, albatross@524: in which many listeners are very inclined to take offense

I shortened "inclined to take offense" to "biased".

That was also the line that Scraps@527 called out and said a lot of people would be steamed about.

#549 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 11:02 PM:

Greg London @ 546:

Here's the simple question, is the anger

I'm not angry. I'm exasperated (and grateful to have not been very involved in the discussion). But...

And then when I say it's complex, and that means when someone brings up a complex issue it needs to be engaged, not denied and shouted down, you can't change the descriptor and say it'll take a "lot of effort", is "hard to change", and "really uncomfortable", is "unpleasant", and "calls for knowledge and attention", but insist it isn't complex.

What it is, Greg, is hard. Yes, racism is complex. Yes, its causes are complex. Yes, human behavior is complex. Yes, a long-term comprehensive solution for racism is complex.

What isn't complex is the sort of short-term, localized, interpersonal changes in behavior--both speaking behavior and listening behavior--that can save others a world of hurt.

It can be hard, very hard. But not complicated.

People are giving very specific examples of fairly simple introspective techniques for looking at one's own verbal behavior and the responses of other people to it.

It's not complicated to listen, or to pay attention to what you say, or to begin by making an assumption that criticism is honest and unmalicious.

But it's hard. It's very hard.

Look back at that quote you made, Greg. Look at the language: Effort. Uncomfortable. Unpleasant. Attention. None of those things are complicated by nature. But they are difficult. They take work.

But this discussion hasn't made me angry. It's just exasperated me, even watching.

#550 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 11:08 PM:

Greg London @ 546: "When someone brings up biased listeners, the subject was chagned to "Racism is complex, complainging about the complexity doesn't make complexity go away", which changed the topic and avoided engaging in the possibilty of biased listeners."

This conversation about whether people are too agressive in accusing others of racism began with albatross's comment @ 310, if not back @ 208. Possible bias in the accusers was first brought up @ 324. I think you'll find that in the 200+ comments that follow, there are a lot more arguments on display than just "racism is complex."

#551 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 11:32 PM:

Apropos of this discussion... I managed to completely mortify myself today in a manner connected with racism. I quoted an old racist phrase that my mother would have used -- clearly identifying it as hers and not mine -- only to discover, too late, that there was a black person within earshot. Whether that black person thinks that *I* am a racist is irrelevant; the issue, to me, is that hearing me say it was just one more of the multitudinous daily pinpricks black people have to put up with. I added to that person's pain, and that's not something I'm happy about.

The lesson I have taken away from the incident is this: "If you would be embarrassed to find out that a black person heard you say that, then DON'T SAY IT. Period." This is a mistake I won't make again.

#552 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 11:38 PM:

Greg, you seem to me to be saying that if it's hard, it must be complex. I don't think that's true. Many hard things are easy. They're just hard. Conversely, many complex things are easy, even rewarding and fun.

Lifting a very heavy weight, for instance - the actions involved in relatively safe lifting aren't difficult at all to master. But having the strength for the task may be hard, and may well be impossible for some people. But if they get crushed, it's probably not because their response was insufficiently complex. It's just that they didn't have the strength. Likewise, say, not shooting people with any firearms you legally own. If you store, transport, and use the gun for target shooting in accordance with the simple principles of firearm safety, you are very likely not going to accidentally shoot anyone. And the rest is just you deciding not to shoot anyone on purpose. An important, literally vital, task, easy to discharge despite the grave risks.

Understanding the origins, development, and current manifestations of any great social evil is both hard and complex. But actually living so as to minimize the extent to which one reinforces that ill is often pretty simple. And when it comes to channels like this one here, conversing in a way that generally doesn't make things worse and that deals with problems as they come up isn't complex at all.

#553 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 11:42 PM:

Lee: That's a really good rule. (I've actually been working on it myself. I've been noticing just how profane I can get in some arguments when I'm worked up. But now that Mom's online, I'm trying write in ways that make me proud of my own expression and would at least not make her regret ever helping me with computer stuff. :) There are some categories of exceptions, for really personal occasions, but as a general rule, living as though the world were on hand is not a bad one. I find that it encourages me to extra creativity.

#554 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 12:37 AM:

Some years ago we had an opening for shipping clerk, and a fellow who'd been working in building maintenance applied and got the job. I knew him to say hi to, and that was about it. The general feeling when he changed jobs was, so far I as could tell, "Yay! We have a shipping clerk again!" I mean, some jobs need filling, and shipping clerk is one of those. You can go months without a vice president, eh? Not shipping clerk.

So one day he sticks his head in my office, to tell me something I need to know about some shipment worth a packet going out, and he says hi and I say, "Hey, there. What can I do for you, sir?" And he tells me and that's that, and the work day goes on. And then later he comes in looking kinda funny and he says he just wanted to thank me.

No one had ever said 'sir' to him before.

I didn't know what to say. I think I said I was sorry to hear that, cos that's not right. And I was angry, but I didn't want to show it, he might think I was angry at him, and then I was ashamed, because I didn't know what to do, people shouldn't be treated so that when they are treated as people, it's something special.

It's not all just watching for the code words, you know? Sometimes you trip over the racism while just going along and being no more than ordinary awake, and there it is, the foul stinking mess that people not-me have to navigate every day. I can haz a little less white privilege, plz kthnksbai?

#555 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 12:53 AM:

Michael, I did not mean you, and I do not mean you.

Greg, do you think it's reasonable to describe people who potentially disagree with you as being "inclined to take offense"? I want to confirm this before reaching any hasty conclusions about what you're saying, before even beginning to address the way you are using the word "bias".

#556 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:09 AM:

Would it not be just as reasonable to say that some people are inclined to be defensive, and inclined to not listen to anything that might make them think about what they said that angered another person? I'm not saying that, because I don't think it would be helpful. But is there a difference between it and what Albatross said?

Greg, you seem to object to me pointing out that what Albatross said was a classic example of the type of approach to the conversation that angers people of color and makes them want to give up. You seem to object to two people of color verifying that observation. Am I misreading you? Do you think there is no point to this observation? Nothing to be learned by the person giving offense?

#557 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:25 AM:

Eh. Actually, never mind. I'm too frustrated and sad to continue with this, and I'm sorry that I've learned what I have about a couple people here. See you in the next thread.

#558 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:46 AM:

Lee @ 551

It's a lesson that's become a little more obvious on the net, but still hard to learn: people usually don't hear it when we try verbally to put scare quotes around our statements. And if they don't know we're quoting someone else, they can get entirely the wrong idea about us, no?

I say this as if I understood it perfectly, but actually I get this wrong sometimes, and I would get it wrong more often except I've been whacked with a clue stick a couple of times when I did say something that offended someone. Clue stick is one damn fine teacher.

#559 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:48 AM:

Scraps

I'm sorry that this has been so hard on you. Go well.

#560 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:34 AM:

Over the years I've found that Scraps often has better judgment than I do when it comes to knowing when to disengage. I'm gonna take this as a clue.

#561 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 04:35 AM:

Greg,

I think the plain consensus of the thread is that you should just stop. Note how even albatross, whom you're defending, has walked out.

And as someone who has had some fun with unconscious privilege in another context only yesterday, let me say something bluntly.

You must take your conversationalists as you find them. As it happens, the burden of being perceived as other, and lesser, falls disproportionately on the shoulders of some people in this world. And it's exhausting and frustrating, unrelenting and endless. So some of the people you talk to will be exhausted and frustrated.

As someone who doesn't have to carry that burden, your role as a good guy is twofold: first, don't add to it, and second, be undramatic about the much lighter burden you carry in having to apologize when you accidentally violate rule one.

Postulating an ideal world in which your conversationalists are not dealing with their ten thousandth kick in the teeth, and have the emotional energy to care that it was an accident, is irrelevant to the reality of living among humans.

It really is that simple.

(Unfair? You betcha. But that, too, is the reality of living among humans. Note the recipe for mitigating the unfairness is detailed above.)

#562 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 04:39 AM:

And, for the record, everyone in this discussion is a good guy* in my books.

In the heat of an argument, we often paint ourselves into corners, or get painted into them. Anger, frustration, and the simple fact of being disagreed with all manipulate us into situations we did not intend to be in, crossing swords with people we care about.

Just, as they say, sayin'.

-----
* in a strictly gender-neutral sense

#563 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:17 AM:

Scraps: do you think it's reasonable to describe people who potentially disagree with you as being "inclined to take offense"?

No. I don't have a problem with disagreement. I think that some people have taken their history of being discriminated against, and their history of dealing with people who don't "get it", and accumulated some anger, frustration, whatever you want to call it, and then bring that to bear on the next person who doesn't "get it".

That doesn't mean there isn't racism.

Nor does it mean that racism isn't much more terrible than someone with a history of frustration and anger reacting to someone who doesn't "get it" based on that history, rather than based on what that one person said.

you seem to object to me pointing out that what Albatross said was a classic example of the type of approach to the conversation that angers people of color and makes them want to give up.

Do you think everyone here was simply pointing it out, or do you think anyone here brought in some anger or frustration or whatever you call it in their reaction to albatross (and now me) that had less to do with what albatross (or I) said and more to do with that person's history?

You seem to object to two people of color verifying that observation. Am I misreading you? Do you think there is no point to this observation?

"verifying the observation"? The only reason I entered the thread after 500 posts was because folks were starting to react in a manner slightly more angrily than simple "observation". If you think every reaction to albatross (and now me) has been purely a calm, cool, reporting of observations, then I am at a loss.

. I'm too frustrated and sad to continue with this, and I'm sorry that I've learned what I have about a couple people here.

You haven't learned anything about me. I'm neither defending racism nor defending the ways in which racist folks try to downplay racism. But there's "racism" and then there's "people I know", and I finally came into this thread when "people I know" were starting to beat up on other "people I know".

Not just pointing it out, not just observing, but bringing the anger and frustration of dealing with racism their entire lives and letting some of that loose on people here.

And while as I asked several people directly if they thought they were merely observing albatross (or my) statements or if they were reacting based off of a history of racism, the response was, no, we're observing. And yet abi brings up "their ten thousandth kick in the teeth" in trying to explain to me why I shouldn't shout "Unfair!" when people I know start beating each other up over it.

"Unfair. You bet."

If the people reacting to albatross (and now me) could look at themselves that honestly, and observe and report that they are bringing the prior ten thousand kicks to the teeth into their conversation with albatross (and me), then that would be the extent of my part of this conversation. If some of the people I know, know they are being unfair to someone else, and can acknowledge it to the person they're doing it to, then that would be the extent of my involvement.

Because a lot of this thread has been talking about being responsible for what you say, and acknowledging unfair statements is just as valid as acknowledging that something someone said has been used by other people to handwave racism away.

#564 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:31 AM:

Greg, do you calmly, clearly, and patiently explain evolutionary theory every time a young-earth troll pops up? Do you calmly, clearly, and patiently explain your objections when people misuse the language of violence and war? Don't try to answer yes to the second one, because I've seen your capital letters.

Now imagine something like that, except that instead of popping up every few months or so online, the objectionable comments are something you have to deal with every minute of every day in your real life, and they're not just annoying or offensive or potentially dangerous to society, but actually concretely interfere with your ability to live that life, every minute of every day. Would you still be patient when the same old nonsense comes up yet again, and here of all places?

#565 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:40 AM:

abi...

...wow.

If I strive to be as much like you as possible for the rest of my life, I doubt I will be half as good a person (or half as good AT being a good person) as you are now.

Greg: You know I like you, right? Well, I really do. Right now you're trying to put out a fire, and much as I appreciate that, you're trying to do it with gasoline.

The unfairness that you and I as white men (even me, even though I'm gay) have to put up with is to that experienced by POC and women and especially WOC as the Earth to the Sun. If they're being unfair to us (not taking a position on that, just even if), I think the least we can do is refrain from beating them up for it. They're not screaming and calling us names and threatening us, just calling us out on slightly more than we've personally done.

And you know what? If we're being treated unfairly, maybe that's a legitimate pedagogical technique! Give us a little taste of what they experience every day. A VERY little taste.

I don't think that's intentional on their part; it can be valuable nonetheless. But please, please, please stop. There's nothing to be gained, and much to lose. Right now I think most people view you as a good guy with a tendency to Go Off. I like you, I've said that. But AND because I do, I'm telling you this: it's really time to stop. I'm begging you to. Please.

#566 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:57 AM:

Xopher, you've just given me a David Bowie earworm.

Not that I MIND. I'm just saying.

...been so long, so long, so long...

#567 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:03 AM:

Ooh, and that's one of my very favorite Bowie songs, too. Not the album version, the one from the soundtrack, that Giorgio Moroder produced. Coincidentally, I'm listening to Giorgio Moroder right now.

#568 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 12:54 PM:

ethan, the soundtrack version is also the soundtrack for my first real kiss, so it's very sentimental for me.

#569 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:21 PM:

Well...I certainly didn't trigger it intentionally, and in fact have no idea what Bowie song you're talking about.

I do apologize if the ear worm is causing you distress, however. My fault, though unintentional.

But I'm not an ear-wormer.

#570 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:25 PM:

Oh, gods, I crack me up. I'm sitting here laughing at my desk (which is a pretty funny desk, but not THAT funny).

I've got to make myself a button that says "I'm not a stabber."

#571 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:29 PM:

Hee, Xopher. Post 570 makes me laugh more than 569.

#572 ::: Amy Sterling Casil ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:33 PM:

To Anna Dal Dan:

I couldn't read through the whole comment thread, but Mr. Sanders' comments following the Willis/Ellison incident were not favorable to women. When I complained of other incidents of sexual harassment, such as slapping, ass-groping, breast and side massage and super-sexist statements and insults (of a "you wouldn't say that to an orangutan" nature), Mr. Sanders and his friend Bud Webster went out of their way to declare repeatedly that I was lying, and that no such incidents would ever have occurred. I never said "who" but I did say "when and where" and neither one of these individuals was present at any of the events. They just "knew" it wasn't true.

None of this is even vaguely defensible and it's gone on for many years. I'm really sorry that people I care about and respect and have worked with before can't see the difference between the way normal business is conducted and anything about William Sanders' behavior and statements.

#573 ::: Luke Jackson ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:33 PM:

Bloggasm has covered the William Sanders incident:

http://bloggasm.com/the-ethics-of-hate-mail-should-bloggers-post-email-correspondence-without-permission

#574 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:35 PM:

Xopher, it's "Cat People", the theme from the movie of the same name (the one from 1982, not the one from five years before Bowie was born). The movie has one of Moroder's reliably awesome soundtracks, and the song is brilliant--maybe four minutes of creepy creeping followed up by another four of really propulsive, minimal Eurodisco (of the best kind), and one of Bowie's best vocal performances, which is saying a lot. What made Rikibeth think of it was your talking about "putting out fire with gasoline", which is...maybe the chorus? One of the primary lyrical themes, anyway.

Oh, and if you make that button, I'll definitely buy one. Hee!

#575 ::: Amy Sterling Casil ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:36 PM:

You know, I should amend that. I think the main gist of the comments of both Sanders and Webster was that, while they believed I was lying - it didn't matter whether it was true or not. I shouldn't have minded or be complaining even if all were true.

#576 ::: Irene Delse ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:11 PM:

From the Bloggasm post:

"I contacted Sanders to get his thoughts on the matter, but after several exchanges we were unable to agree on interview conditions — he wanted to place restrictions on what subjects we would discuss and how I could incorporate his quotes into my article."

Still digging, deeper and deeper...

#577 ::: Irene Delse ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 04:22 PM:

Oh, and I notice the "pantiwadulous" pages are back today.

http://www.helixsf.com/archives/Jan07/fiction/Q3_jemison_narcomancer.htm

If Sanders's goal is to completely sink his editorial career by insulting authors, he's certainly on the right track...

#578 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 04:51 PM:

ethan@564: every time a young-earth troll pops up?

Not every objection is a troll.

Do you calmly, clearly, and patiently explain your objections when people misuse the language of violence and war?

Of course not. Sometimes I lose it. And sometimes I say things that are unfair. And I apologize a lot on Making light.

what I find hard to reconcile is that when albatross@524 pointed to conversations in which "listeners are very inclined to take offense", Scraps@527 replied by informing him how many people would be steamed about that statement.

If a person can't talk about some being inclined to take offense without someone getting steamed, then that someone is inclined to take offense.

If a person can't talk about the existence of biased listeners without invoking the prior "ten thousand kick in the teeth", then that person is a biased listener.

If a person can't point out the anger that sometimes occurs in these conversations without invoking the anger in someone, then that angry someone is biased.

And if we can't talk about the anger in the space without someone announcing how angry they are, and the ten thousand kicks to the face they've had, and how it impacts every minute of every day of their live, and yes its unfair so what, then if they're too angry to let anyone talk about the anger in the space without being angry now, then when can we address the anger?

Unless you're saying the anger is righteous and always hits the right targets, then when someone gets angry and lashes out and inflicts some collateral damage, you can't shout "look, I'm angry!" when someone says "hey, I'm on your side".

Of course, this is when some might try to strawman this into me asking them to "coddle the poor offended person", and, seriously, if that's the only response, then I'm done. If no one can even acknowledge any bias, inclination to upset, or unfair anger, then I'm really sorry I brought this up.

#579 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 05:30 PM:

Greg, a useful principle might be, when you find yourself typing multi-paragraph posts that make absolutely no sense to people who haven't taken an advanced graduate seminar in the argument...perhaps it's time to take a perspective break.

#580 ::: Bad Horse ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:39 PM:

Dear Mr Sanders:

Bad Horse!
He rides across the nation,
the thoroughbred of sin.
He got the application,
that you just sent in.
It needs evaluation,
so let the games begin:
a racial slur with no morose,
rationalizing would be nice of course.

The Evil League of Evil
is watching so beware.
Treat your authors like dirt
and make them want to swear.
So make the Bad Horse happy
or he'll make you his mare!
You're saddled up, there's no recourse.
It's "Hi Yo Sheethead!"

Signed - Bad Horse

#581 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 02:05 AM:
If a person can't talk about some being inclined to take offense without someone getting steamed, then that someone is inclined to take offense.

I apologize for coming back to look. But this line is transparent bullshit. If I wrote it and looked at it a year later, I would be ashamed.

You might just as well say, Greg, that if I say you can't punch me without my getting mad, then I am clearly inclined to be mad. Can you actually justify telling people they are inclined to take offense? What colossal arrogance. Okay: people who argue as you do are simply inclined to tell other people what's what, and have no interest in anyone's response except to refute it, however irrationally. Now we're having a dialogue!

You are motive-bashing, and then bashing the person who objects to having their motives bashed. It's hard for me to believe -- since I assume that you are after your own fashion sincere -- that you can't stop for a second and see it, unless you are simply decided on the issue and the people who argue it, and deaf to reason.

#582 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 02:29 AM:

Why, Greg, do you think that it is a cliche among people of color that when they object to things white folks say that they will be told they are inclined to take offense? Why, do you suppose, is it a bitter running joke? Why is it that so many people of color seem to be "inclined" to take offense? Why is that seeing that accusation would make them steamed (oh, awful word!)?

Are they genetically inclined to take offense? Have they been coached? Are they insane? Lacking in generosity and understanding?

Is it possible -- just the teensy-weensiest bit possible -- that when people of color take offense at something said by a decent well-meaning white person, that something offensive was actually said?

Malcolm Gin: "Do you want to ask me how many conversations I’ve managed to have with unvetted white people (and even with acquaintance-level friends) about race that have not backfired and ended up with me being called militant, delusional or hostile? Go ahead. Ask me."

But he's probably just inclined to take offense. I'm not, generally, myself; but I admit I may lean a bit in that direction from now on when I see the words "Greg London".

#583 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 02:42 AM:
Over the years I've found that Scraps often has better judgment than I do when it comes to knowing when to disengage. I'm gonna take this as a clue.

You are wiser than I.

#584 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 04:15 AM:

Scraps: Heh. Not wise enough to avoid adding one comment of my own.

Hurt feelings are very often the least of the objection a person in a discriminated-against group has toward comments that unwittingly reinforce prejudicial stereotypes. The usually-unspoken substance of many objections is actually "Stop that, because it reinforces the system of prejudice that makes life unfairly hard for me and everyone else in this group. Don't give even a little more strength to the power of oppression." People's feelings will be what they are, but the critical point isn't their feelings, but the fact of an oppressive system that draws strength from every little bit of repetition and transmission.

This is in fact exactly what separate discrimination from purely personal conflicts. There, hurt, anger, and the like focus on the things that we as individuals do and say. The point with prejudicial words and deeds is that they aren't just individual, they tie into the rest of the society and how it's treating all the members of the affected group. Prejudice brings the public into private life, among other bad things.

#585 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 09:18 AM:

Scraps@581: You might just as well say, Greg, that if I say you can't punch me without my getting mad, then I am clearly inclined to be mad.

Scraps,

A couple generic (independent of whatever issue happens to be the topic at hand) questions:

(1) Are you angry right now?

(2) Who is the recipient of your anger? (who specifically are you directing your anger at?)

(3) What are the fundamental sources of the anger your feeling right now? (where did it come from?)

scenario A: Say that I punch you. And you get angry. I'd be the person you'd direct that anger at. And I'd be the source of that anger. I'm the source and I'm the target.


scenario B: Now, say I call you a "coward", and you get angry. You get furious, and you direct that fury at me. I'm the target. But it turns out the source is that "coward" was something your father would call you when you were a kid and he was trying to get you to overcome your phobia of water. I'm the target. But your father and I are the sources.

Which is to say, some of the anger you're directing at me comes from something your father did to you when you were a kid.

That doesn't mean it's OK for me to call you a coward. It's wrong. But the anger you direct at me isn't in proportion to what I did to you.

Saying "your anger is out of proportion" doesn't mean some anger towards me isn't justified for calling you "coward". Name calling is mean, therefore most people could expect to feel some anger.

But if the anger you direct at people when they call you "coward" always includes the years of anger of being called that name by your father in a very misguided attempt to get you to overcome your water phobia, then you are inclined to direct anger at targets that is not in proportion to what the target person actually did.

And the target of your anger, the guy who called you a coward just now, might rightly react with "wtf?" because it is out of proportion.

if the target is a bit slimier in motivations, he might use the out of proportion reaction to not only say your reaction is out of proportion, but your reaction is entirely unjustified. He might use your reaction to downplay the fact that he called you a coward and that he deserved some anger.


But pointing out the existence of the anger isn't doing that. Pointing out that the anger is out of proportion to what the target did, isn't downplaying what the target did. He still called you a coward and that wasn't right. Pointing out that the anger is sourced by multiple events doesn't downplay the wrongness of those events. Your father calling you a coward was wrong. Some guy calling you a coward now is wrong. It's responding to the guy now with a level of anger equal to the sum total of (what that guy said now) plus (all teh anger around your father) that is the distinction I'm trying to make here.

Can you acknowledge a difference between me punching you and you venting anger at me because I punched you, versus me calling you a coward and you venting anger at me because I called you a coward and because your father called you a coward your entire childhood?

It doesn't mean me calling you a coward was OK. And it doesn't mean that your father calling you a coward was OK. All the bad things that are the source of teh anger are still bad. It's just that the anger you direct at me for calling you a "coward" was sourced by a lot more than just what I did.

#586 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 09:35 AM:

Greg, please step away from the keyboard (for one thing, it doesn't have enough edge to be good as a shovel) ....

#587 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 09:39 AM:

Greg,

When I said that we take our conversationalists as we find them, I was echoing a piece of very old jurispridence.

The principle in law is that a person accused of, say, murder, takes his victim as he finds him. That means that if you stab* a hemophiliac, who bleeds to death, the defense that "I didn't know he was a hemophiliac! I thought I was just wounding him!" has no standing in court.

We take our conversationalists as we find them. There is always the risk that they are pre-sensitised to things that we might say, and the proper response in those circumstances is to apologize. It's part of acknowledging that we are in the wrong universe for fair†, and that other people matter to us more than abstract equity.

The alternative is to get out of the conversation, which I think might be a wise choice at this moment.

-----
* Well, not you, of course, because you're not a stabber. But you know what I mean.
† Most of the world knows this. The fact that you have managed to come to adulthood still thinking otherwise is a strong indicator of unexamined privilege. But we've had this conversation.

#588 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 10:16 AM:

abi: There is always the risk that they are pre-sensitised to things that we might say, and the proper response in those circumstances is to apologize.

Are you saying people here are presensitized and that I should apologize?

Because the only thing I've been trying to say here is that people are, to use your word, presensitized.

This isn't like I'm calling Marty McFly a "chicken" accidentally or on purpose to get his goat. This is like me trying to point out that he is presensitized to that word.

#589 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 10:27 AM:

The advice "You'd be much happier and better off if you reacted more like a healthy, successful, middle-to-upper class straight white man of Christian or benign agnostic inclination" isn't much help to people who can neither be that nor pass as that.

And now I'm done for real. Someone please thwap me if my resolve fails again.

#590 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 11:29 AM:

Greg London #588: abi: "There is always the risk that they are pre-sensitised to things that we might say, and the proper response in those circumstances is to apologize."
Are you saying people here are presensitized and that I should apologize?

Apologizing has actually worked pretty well here for me more than once.

#591 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 12:11 PM:

Greg, I think an unqualified apology from you would go a long way right now.

#592 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 12:12 PM:

Greg @588
the only thing I've been trying to say here is that people are, to use your word, presensitized.

If the entire, full and complete extent of what you're trying to do is to have confirmation that people who have been exposed to racism throughout their lives are pre-sensitised to racism, the answer is


               YES


That's been assumed knowledge throughout the thread. I'm sorry if you somehow missed it. It seemed kind of obvious to the rest of us.

That wasn't the feeling I was getting. The feeling I was getting is that you think that the consequent anger and frustration they feel is their problem to deal with or hide, lest it trouble the people who sparked it.

To that, the answer is, sadly, no. If we as a society are to move to a place where certain people are not repeatedly ill-treated until they develop twitches, and then punished again for flinching when poked, then sometimes people who meant well may have to apologize for accidentally inflicting harm. Even better, they can often learn how not to do so again.

It's part of being a community, the same community that sympathizes with you when you're unwell or troubled, even when that comes out in awkward ways.

#593 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 01:21 PM:

abi #592: It's part of being a community

I'm starting to think this is the part Greg doesn't get.

#594 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 02:41 PM:

abi @592: If we as a society are to move to a place where certain people are not repeatedly ill-treated until they develop twitches, and then punished again for flinching when poked[...]

Ow. Ow. That gives me instant childhood flashbacks to being suddenly smacked, crying in response, then being told to shut up and getting smacked even more because I wouldn't[*] stop crying.

[*: vs. "couldn't"; as far as that parent was concerned, clearly this was my perverse and deliberate ploy at further annoyance, rather than an involuntary feedback loop of pain and terror.]

...have to go lie down now. </TMI>

#595 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 03:08 PM:

Julie 594: Yes, "Stop that or I'll give you something to REALLY cry about!"

Getting hit for crying is a sufficient condition to conclude abuse, IMO.

#596 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 03:27 PM:

ethan @593:
I'm starting to think this is the part Greg doesn't get.

Now, that's not fair. Greg came in here swinging because he felt that albatross wasn't being given a fair shake. He has his jaws locked now, but his reason for coming in was pure defense of the community.

Julie L @594:
I'm sorry to have evoked painful memories with my analogy. I hope that a quick lie-down will help; if not, may I offer you a coffee from my new shiny red espresso maker?

#597 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 03:35 PM:

abi #596: Ack, sorry, that was unclear. I meant that Greg's focus on individual responsibility often gets in the way of seeing that individuals don't exist in a vacuum, and that that partial blindness is what's giving him trouble here.

#598 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 05:14 PM:

Greg, maybe a concrete example would help. I grew up in Greenwich Village, so my ingroup was outsiders. Then, after college, I moved down south.

While I was waiting tables, I was offered the same job at a local country club for a significant increase in pay and benefits, and I took it.

Because it was something that was completely outside of my experience, it took me the best part of a month to realize that the club was racially restricted (I quit, of course).

If I'd said something (and I have no way of knowing that I didn't) which one of my non-white coworkers found racially insensitive and were offended by, they would have heard it in the context that they were in a workplace which was run specifically so the members could avoid any social contact with non-white people, for themselves and their children.

If I did put my foot in something, I never heard about it. But then, I really wouldn't, would I. It seems to me (and I assume it did to them) improbable that management would have been sympathetic if they'd "made trouble"

Within your own experience, a set of words might be uncontroversial, and being offended by something uncontroversial a sign of hypersensitivity (or inclination to offense). The problem is that there are worlds outside our experience, and sometimes we don't recognize that we're in them.

You're assuming that the person taking offense is flawed for not giving you the benefit of the doubt. What benefit are you giving them?

#599 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 06:13 PM:

It's part of acknowledging that we are in the wrong universe for fair† ... The fact that you have managed to come to adulthood still thinking otherwise is a strong indicator of unexamined privilege.

abi, you've done it again, that thing with words that you do so well. Completely independent of the community member you are addressing with this -- I swear I am not intending to join in a dog-pile -- this turn of phrase flipped a switch in my head so as to suddenly make sense of, and understand better how to respond to, one of the major bugs in communication between those with privilege and those without.

For instance, my friend who things that POC shouldn't be so angry and bitter and should just get over it because slavery was more than a century ago - looking at her through the lens of "She doesn't understand that life isn't fair, because, through no fault of her own, she's one of those who are naively benefiting from its unfairness" is like suddenly seeing that blue jigsaw piece and realizing that the white smudge on its edge is part of the cloud on the pieces already in place over there.

What you say a few posts later about people getting punished again for flinching reminds me of arguments I've had in which I'm basically told not to be so mean to people who just made me very angry ("mean" = "not bothering to hide that I'm angry" apparently), and that my anger is out of proportion to the offense. It is very, very easy for the offender to tell the offended person that their reaction is out of proportion, and it is impossible to convince them otherwise. I mean, intensity of offense and response aren't readily quantifiable, and there isn't an objective measure of whether the two are properly balanced. Add to this that the offender has no way of knowing what kind of real pain ("pre-sensitization") the offended was already carrying before the offender caused offense, and things get even more difficult.

Hell, my experience with that argument -- "How dare you act angry when I make you angry? That's rude and mean!" -- is purely interpersonal, just me and someone else arguing over some infelicity in earlier conversation. Take that argument and put in the mouth of a white man telling a black woman how she ought to feel about the unthinkingly racist comment he just made, and the unfairness of it goes off the scale.

None of these are pleasant thoughts, but I feel like abi's just handed me better tools for apprehending them. Thank you, abi.

#600 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 06:15 PM:

"my friend who things that..." should of course be "my friend who thinks that..."

And I should do more thinking than thinging, obviously.

#601 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 08:37 PM:

Something just clicked for me while I was shaving.

An approach or focus which may be helpful to an individual, for changing the effects that past ill-treatment has left on him or her, is often useless or even counter-productive in changing their society to prevent or reduce that kind of ill-treatment.

An approach or focus that may be helpful in changing society to stop people being ill-treated, isn't necessarily helpful to past victims of that same ill-treatment.

To momentarily use Julie L's example, as being a bit less charged than racism and bigotry:

If you have been terrorized as a kid and you spend your life campaigning against family child abuse, strengthening laws, and educating families to do better with their kids, that likely won't help you much with your own personal life and feelings. On the other hand, you may help a hell of a lot of other people (most of whom will never know that they benefited from your work.)

If you instead spend 5 or 10 years in therapy, working through your feelings and learning to cope better, you may become much more competent and confident, better able to form good relationships, and less likely to do the same by our kids. On the other hand, you haven't done a damn thing for other kids in the same boat, and it may if anything hinder you from doing that, because all that energy is going into yourself.

The bearing - if it's not immediately obvious:

Greg London has brought into this discussion, as into many, the +5 Warhammer of "Turn-the-lens-on-your-own-reactions". For an individual who has chosen to focus on self-therapy, on changing hir response to a history of abuse, that's a very useful tool. You can drive some nails life-changingly deep with that tool. For any other purpose? It's a goddamn hammer. You can't do anything with that hammer but drive that one nail - or bludgeon people. It also strikes me that demanding people change themselves, when they aren't violating any norms or behavior standards, is pretty invasive outside the context of a therapeutic or close personal relationship.

And again, to reemphasize what I said a couple paragraphs up - if one's goal is to change society so that fewer people get traumatized in the first place, that hammer's exclusive focus on self may be counter-productive.

A couple obvious ways in which the above re-framing onto the sequelae of abuse doesn't apply to the discussion on racism:

1) Being racially stigmatized doesn't stop when you reach adulthood and leave your family home - it goes on and on.
2) Lots of people get to beat on you psychologically, not just a privileged few.
3) People keep finding ways of publicly justifying it, which very few do for abusing kids.

From that standpoint, putting your efforts into changing society to be less racist could well look like a rationally better investment of effort than just "changing how you feel about it". 'cause, you know, it's still going on.

Greg: Have you thought about adding some other tools to your mental arsenal, which might bear more powerfully on changing society or changing situations, rather than getting people to change themselves? While I believe your intentions are well-meant, I think that's often not an appropriate goal, outside a professional or close personal relationship.

OK all, that's my general white-and-over-privileged take on things. I'm prepared to accept criticism on it.

#602 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 09:17 PM:

Clifton, that's what I meant to say with #s 593 and 597. Thanks.

#603 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 10:25 PM:

Ummm, Ummm, in re # 504

I just went through the posts by Mr Sanders, and it really looks like someone needs to tell him that he might be better off to stop digging the hole.

And I'm afraid that a remark such as his :
"I will, however, say that when you've made a point of trying to publish stories
by non-Caucasian writers, it feels pretty damn funny when they're the ones who
call you a bigot...." at the bottom of his post at http://webnews.sff.net/read?cmd=read&group=sff.people.sanders&artnum=84840
Could easily parsed as "some of my best friends are..." It may not be what he wants to convey, but it could be taken that way...

#604 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 10:51 PM:

And I'm afraid that a remark such as his :
"I will, however, say that when you've made a point of trying to publish stories
by non-Caucasian writers, it feels pretty damn funny when they're the ones who
call you a bigot...." at the bottom of his post at http://webnews.sff.net/read?cmd=read&group=sff.people.sanders&artnum=84840
Could easily parsed as "some of my best friends are..." It may not be what he wants to convey, but it could be taken that way...

Indeed.

"Some of my best friends are" has a multitude of permutations, all of them expressing the speaker's basic idea that Non-Racist or Anti-Racist Action X inoculates the speaker against future accusations of Racist Actions Y and Z, even if actions Y and Z have farther-reaching impact in supporting a culture of racism than action X does in fighting it.

"I published stories by non-white people, so you can't call me a bigot!" is very much a species "I'm not racist; some of my best friends are black," or, the one I got personally slapped with some years ago and still sticks painfully in my underthoughts from time to time, "That man spends hours of his time doing charity work for predominately poor black people, so it's unfair of you to be upset at him encouraging his children to call black people n****rs."

#605 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 01:41 AM:

abi @596: No need to apologize; it was purely unintentional on your part. But I'll have to pass on the caffeine for now, despite speculation about the nature of shiny red espresso.

Clifton @601: Entirely without irony, thank you for salvaging my TMI moment into a potentially useful part of this discussion.

#606 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 01:55 AM:

Julie L: I honestly don't think that was TMI on your part; you're certainly not the only one here still dealing with the aftermath of a f'ed up family. And thank you, in turn, for your generosity in allowing me to borrow your moment and use it in my musing.

#607 ::: Sharon M ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 03:43 AM:

I post here very rarely, but this discussion is an excellent example of why I read here daily. Even the more intemperate posts are civil, and everyone *thinks* - and I get new things to think about, too.

So I hit the bottom of the thread, and thought, I love this place. And then thought that I'd tell you.

Thanks.

#608 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 04:30 AM:

Clifton Royston @601:

The really excellent observations are like semantic knives, which give you another way to slice the same information. They rarely get the attention they deserve, because once one has read them, they become so self-evident that one can't quite remember looking at the world without them.

This is one of those. Thanks for that.

#609 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 04:58 AM:

#603, #604: Upon initially skimming his posts (reading more thoroughly is difficult, I have a terrible problem with grinding my teeth), it sounded less like "Some of my best friends are..." than asking for a cookie.

Oh, no. No cookies for you.

#610 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 05:14 AM:

Clifton, that was excellent.

Julie L, that was definitely not TMI. In the first place, I think that it's good for eclectic audiences to be reminded of the downsides of our various lives from time to time, to anchor our thoughts in human experiences. And in the second place, look what Clifton did with it. :)

#611 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 01:54 PM:

Thank you all. I'm virtually blushing.

#612 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 04:11 PM:

Late to party, and nothing useful add (save to share Xophers impressions of abi's comment... wow) to the main topic, as it played out in the past week.

But a few comments:

How to praise Obama... make it a direct comparison. Then it's not making him one special member of the group, but apples to apples between two people.

Conversely, just make it about McCain. Call him an inarticulate simpleton.

Re doors. I don't, as a rule, sit with my back to them. Like Xopher this goes back to worries about being attacked from behind (and like him, it goes well back to my youth). There are some few people I can trust to sit with when my back is to a door, but they are few; and most are unaware of the trust. I don't mind a place with mulitple entrances (in fact I prefer them). I've been known to check the back to see if the exits are really there (a coffee shop in Menlo Park has a fence around what one would think is the back door).

I do want to see the door/approaches; and have a moderate amount of hyper vigilance (from when I was a child, but more developed now).

Those are more recent habits.

#613 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 06:56 PM:

I think what I want to say is implied by several of the posts above, but needs to be said more explicitly.

Racism is to society as abuse is to a dysfunctional family. It's about the transgression of boundaries ("Your behavior as one of an oppressed class is restricted arbitrarily; mine as one of a privileged class is unrestricted in ways that oppress you, and you have no say in this."), and forcing people into arbitrary roles that are instrumental to a dysfunctional system, but not instrumental for the needs and aspirations of the individual forced into the role.

The uncovering of the dynamics of dysfunction in families has opened the secrets of abuse to public scrutiny, and has resulted in a narrative about dysfunction* that is accepted pretty much by consensus these days**. I think it would help people to think of racism in similar terms; it might short-circuit some of the apologist statements that occur so often because people don't recognize how pernicious the dysfunction is.

Put more concretely, maybe it will help people who question the need for sensitivity in speech and action to think of the victims of racism as having to deal with the same sorts of stress as the victims of abuse, and that they should be afforded the same sort of consideration and sensitivity.

Of course the other problem seems to be a lack of acceptance on the part of some recipients of white privilege (all whites, even thee and me, are rcipients) that all POC should be considered the victims of racism. The only thing I can think of that will help with that problem is a much more honest presentation of history in our schools and our public media.

* In the sense of folk psychology or folk sociology. Not in a pejorative sense, but in the sense that it's a not-untrue description that allows people to discuss and deal with issues that otherwise would be solely in the purview of expert therapists.
** Though there are many people who don't accept that consensus, or refuse to admit it applies to particular cases. And this is analogous to how people often apologize for racism.

#614 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 02:09 AM:

Julie L @605:the nature of shiny red espresso

The Coffee that can be described is not the Coffee.

Therefore, any and all descriptors that we use are by definition inaccurate. Given that, can one not choose any adjectives one wants?

#615 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 02:26 AM:

So, Abi. Did you mean to hang out an invitation for me to describe my preferred coffee as rugose, ecumenical, contrapuntal, and pretribulationist, or did it just happen?

#616 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 03:06 AM:

Bruce @615:
rugose, ecumenical, contrapuntal, and pretribulationist

Sounds good. Do you buy it in the bean and grind it yourself, or does it come like that from the packet?

#617 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 03:12 AM:

It comes like that from the usual nameless sources.

#618 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 03:39 AM:

Nameless eldrich sources, or just ones that prefer to guard their privacy?

#619 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 04:01 AM:

Beats me, coz, you know, they're nameless. I just deposit the required items in the appropriate places, and later I get coffee.

#620 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 04:22 AM:

619: or "cthoffee". It's what you drink to stop yourself falling asleep, because, you know, then the dreams will come again.

#621 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 04:49 AM:

ajay @620:
It's what you drink to stop yourself falling asleep, because, you know, then the dreams will come again.

Yes, the dreams, dear Lord, the dreams...

Where I arise from this frail shell in my true form, tentacled and dreadful to behold, and work my cruel will upon the hapless mortals in my grasp...

Where I draw upon the hidden forces of this world, until the powers course through me like blood in my veins, arousing in me a hunger for all that is beautiful and bright...

Where everything I desire is given to me in fear and trembling, and the taint of that dread becomes sweeter to my tongue than that which I wanted in the first place, until I yearn for it above all, and grind all I love to dust in the quest for it...

Oh, yes, give me coffee, shiny and red or rugose and contrapuntal. Drown my dreams in coffee; saturate my being in its earthy kindness. Else I may sleep, and dream, and all will be horror thereby.

#622 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 05:37 AM:

abi #614: The Coffee that can be described is not the Coffee.

Spoon boy: Do not try and stir the shiny red espresso with the coffee spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no coffee spoon.
Neo: There is no coffee spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you'll see, that it is not the spoon that stirs, it is only yourself.

#623 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 05:40 AM:

But when you grind it, oh! the screams!

#624 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 06:15 AM:

Bruce Cohen (STM) @623:
But when you grind it, oh! the screams!

Sometimes the screams are enough. Like methadone.

Anything to stop me waking with the ruins of my house about me, green slime and unidentifiable gobbets smeared over my rent and ragged pajamas, and a strangely full sensation in my belly. Or worse yet, an intact and quiet house, where everyone speaks softly and flinches when my gaze falls upon them...

#625 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 06:16 AM:

@621: Sounds like someone's got a case of the Mondays!

#626 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 06:20 AM:

Tlönista @625:
Sounds like *someone's* got a case of the Mondays!

Well, yes; they're cheaper if you buy them by the case. I get mine at Costco.

#627 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 07:52 AM:

624: Anything to stop me waking with the ruins of my house about me, green slime and unidentifiable gobbets smeared over my rent and ragged pajamas, and a strangely full sensation in my belly.

That sounded menacing as anything except for the word "pajamas". Nameless horrors from beyond the frontiers of human sanity do not wear pajamas. (Nor slippers, cf. the infamous Balrog debate.)

#628 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 08:03 AM:

ajay @627:
Nameless horrors from beyond the frontiers of human sanity do not wear pajamas.

Trust me, the whole tentacles, dark powers coursing through veins, crushing everything I love for the taste of despair gig is even more horrifying when I sleep naked.

And besides, brevity may be the sole of wit, but at least some of the upper is made from incongruity. That's why "Bob" is the funniest name in the universe.*

----
* Yes, it is. Append it to any list of names and see. "These are my demonic minions: Azareon the Blood-Letter, Ivan of the Iron Hands, Black Jemmy, and Bob."

#629 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 08:15 AM:

ajay @ 627... According to i>HellBoy 2, nameless horrors from beyond the frontiers of human sanity did wear pajamas, at least when they were kids watching Howdy Doody on TV.

#630 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 08:26 AM:

abi @ 628... nameless horrors (...) brevity may be the sole of wit

Shoegoths, anybody?

#631 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 08:34 AM:

Serge @630:

Shoegoths?

#632 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 08:35 AM:

ajay @627: Nameless horrors from beyond the frontiers of human sanity do not wear pajamas.

Possibly they have gone native (as did the British colonialists who got the garb from their Indian subjects).

#633 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 08:46 AM:

abi @ 631... Coming soon to the SciFi Channel, The Foot Insmouth.

#634 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 08:56 AM:

Clifton@601: Greg: Have you thought about adding some other tools to your mental arsenal, which might bear more powerfully on changing society or changing situations, rather than getting people to change themselves?

I didn't get involved in the thread until albatross@524 talked about conversations in which "listeners are very inclined to take offense". at which point, some people got very upset at him.

It wasn't a mutually exclusive choice of "change society" or "change individuals". It was an individual here on this thread trying to point out that in the efforts to change society that some people show up as inclined to take offense, at which point, a number of people right here on this thread took offense. And in trying to point out what was going on, some of those same people took offense at me.

The conversation went from changing society to individual reactions. And it was at the point that the individual reactions were reacting against one another that I piped in. Also, in any fight, even a fight to change society, I think the better your individual fighters are, the better your chances of winning, of changing society, are.

abi@592: The feeling I was getting is that you think that the consequent anger and frustration they feel is their problem to deal with or hide, lest it trouble the people who sparked it.

If I said on this thread that people should hide their anger, please let me know so I can apologize for such a gross mistake.

Marty McFly was presensitized to being called "chicken". It got him into needless trouble on occaission. And yes, I think it would be in Marty's best interest to deal with his presensitization. And I think that the people who actually sparked Marty's anger around being called chicken, for example, Biff, are not interested in helping Marty overcome this sensitization at all. So in that sense, it is really Marty's problem. His great-great-grandfather can try to give him advice, but it's really up to Marty to change himself.

Having taken a little break from the thread, I think instead of the word "chicken", it seems that the fight against racial inequality has become sensitized to being called "sensitive" (or angry or militant or insert synonym here). Which might make dealing with it a bit more difficult. ("You seem somewhat sensitive to being-", "what did you just call me?" "Uh, I was just saying, oh never mind")

Albatross mentioned that some people are inclined to become upset, and some people ended up getting upset at him. Not because albatross said something untrue, but because albatross unknowingly invoked the trigger phrase, and then Scraps quoting Malcolm Gin about "me being called militant".

It was a matter of pointing it out because the very same sensitivity that albatross was trying to point at seems to have gotten triggered in some people and they went and attacked albatross. So, pointing it out is more a matter that Great-great-granddad just told Marty to not be afraid of being called chicken, and Marty suddenly went stiff and said "Are you calling me chicken?"

And it is true that some racists would try to label equalitists as "overly sensitive" or "militant" or whatever, in an attempt to divert the conversation away from the actual racism. But you can't label all attempts at self analysis as diversional, or you would have to label Marty's Great-Great-grandfather as no different than Biff who called Marty a chicken.

And me pointing that sensitivity out doesn't mean I'm saying people should hide it "lest it trouble the people who sparked" the anger in the first place.

First of all, no one hides stuff like that. They may think they are, but they're exhausing a trail of emotional steam wherever they go, leaving a trail of people wondering "what was that about?" Hiding just doesn't work.

Second of all, and more importantly, the point of dealing with it is that it makes you free of the past, more able to see things for what they are, and more able to address the problem that's really there (rather than addressing the problem from your past). Once Marty realized he was sensitive to being called chicken and that fighting Biff was stupid, he then had the idea to put the cast iron door from the pot bellied stove under his shirt. Marty was able to deal with the problem at hand, rather than simply come out angry, guns blazing, and get himself killed.

When Needles challenged Marty to a drag race and called him "chicken", we got to see two different timelines. One with the sensitivity, Marty accepts and gets in an accident and breaks his hand and can never play guitar again. The other, Marty isn't sensitive, sees the drag race challenge for what it is, stupid, and refuses to engage.

So the point of introspection around sensitivies isn't to avoid troubling the racists. The point is to be able to see every issue clearly, without any sensitivities. Then you can engage the real bad guys in an effective way (cast iron door as a bullet blocker) or you can realize that engaging in the first place is just dumb (refuse to drag race). The point of introspection is it makes you a better fighter, a smarter fighter, and to know when not to fight at all.


#635 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 09:55 AM:

Hey, it's okay to pile on for the good things, right? In which case: Cliffton, that was really well done.

And now I return to staring into my chalice, waiting for another glimpse of the unseeable in the swirling, steaming darkness. I slowly add cream, each pure white drop consumed by the abyss and I believe I am watching my soul...

#636 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 10:01 AM:

That's why "Bob" is the funniest name in the universe.
* Yes, it is. Append it to any list of names and see.

Hmm.

...Priam's son, great Hector of the gleaming helmet, commanded the Trojans, and with him were arrayed by far the greater number and most valiant of those who were longing for the fray.

The Dardanians were led by brave Aeneas, whom Venus bore to Anchises, when she, goddess though she was, had lain with him upon the mountain slopes of Ida. He was not alone, for with him were the two sons of Antenor, Archilochus and Acamas, both skilled in all the arts of war.

They that dwelt in Telea under the lowest spurs of Mt. Ida, men of substance, who drink the limpid waters of the Aesepus, and are of Trojan blood- these were led by Pandarus son of Lycaon, whom Apollo had taught to use the bow.

They that held Adresteia and the land of Apaesus, with Pityeia, and the high mountain of Tereia- these were led by Adrestus and Amphius, whose breastplate was of linen. These were the sons of Merops of Percote, who excelled in all kinds of divination. He told them not to take part in the war, but they gave him no heed, for fate lured them to destruction.

Also, there was Bob.

... you're right!

#637 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 10:42 AM:

ajay @620, "cthoffee" -- you will drink, and wake, and your screams will be locked between your stuck teeth.

624: Anything to stop me waking with the ruins of my house about me, green slime and unidentifiable gobbets smeared over my rent and ragged pajamas... House renovations are a b*tch, aren't they?

#638 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 10:51 AM:

abi @#628--That's why "Bob" is the funniest name in the universe.

The young cat at my house, the Dread Pirate Roberts, AKA Bob would like to make his agreement plain. If only we would give him his full title and dignities! If only we would acknowledge the sleek, relentless predator that he is, instead of mocking his adolescent foibles and anxieties with so simple and familiar an appellation! He salutes you whole-heartedly, abi, from where he sits amid the contents of the upset wastepaper basket, as he shreds the fragments of a used kleenex with his fearsome claws and waits for the next growth spurt to hit. "Bob", indeed!

#639 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 11:07 AM:

Greg @634:

There are many sensitivities that POC (and women, in the equivalent discussion on gender) have. One of the biggest and most painful is the perpetual expectation that when a [white/man/both] tells them what to do, they will shut up, listen, and do what they're told. And when he tells them how he feels about a matter, that will be more important than how they feel. This comes up all the time, overtly and covertly, from the playground and the classroom on through a lifetime*.

This is the scar tissue that albatross flicked. It's also the gasoline, to borrow Xopher's metaphor, that you're trying to use to put out this fire. It's not going to work, not even if you bring on the premium unleaded race car fuel.

Analogy:
Suppose I have spent my entire life being given fish to eat (or not, if the giver of fish decides that it's not a fish day). I want to learn to fish, so that I choose what I eat. You support this effort, because you're a good guy. You want to give me a fish to help out. Can you see how I cannot take your fish?

To quote Miles Vorkosigan, by their essential nature triumphs can’t be given. They must be taken, and the worse the odds and the fiercer the resistance, the greater the honor. Victories can’t be gifts. Sometimes the best thing you can do to help is not to explain and advise, but just to listen and let people work things out on their own.

You also really need to understand that your experience of the world is not the universal experience of the world. The tools that work for you to deal with things do not work for everyone. For instance, we are not discussing a past that we can be free of, but a present that we are still enmeshed in. It can take a day and a half worth of energy to get through a day. There is no clear space to deal with the problem (partly because every time a clear space gets made someone comes in, starts giving out fish, and wants to tell everyone what to do next.)

I accept that you're a good person, but the longer you try to hand out fish, the more I'm on my own in that view.

-----
* And, speaking of sensitivities, this has formed your expectations that you will be listened to, because you're right. I never assume that in conversation, because it's proven to be untrue so many times. Note that another aspect of assuming that your experience is the default one is that you don't see your own biases.

#640 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 11:37 AM:

fidelio @638: LOL! That completely resonated with me. We have a 3 month old kitten named Gray Mouser who clearly resents being called "Mousy" by my girls.

#641 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 11:41 AM:

Note: the following contains a LOT of rot13’d profanity.

I think the Marty McFly metaphor compares really poorly to presensitivity about racism. Marty’s is a problem, and his own problem. Learning to ignore is does turn out to be helpful. I don't feel that's representative of most cases. I think people are usually aware of their sensitivities, and keep them around for a reason. In a lot of cases, pointing it out seems to say: “While the original offense is important, it is also important that you are presensitized. Also, I believe you may be unaware of your sensitivity.” The Marty McFly comparison emphasizes this implication, and also makes the whole deal seem very condescending.

Pointing out sensitivity draws attention away from the discussion about what is or isn’t acceptable… which is far more likely to be the conversation that ‘needs to happen, right now.’ Let me give you an example entirely detached from racism.

I am, as I often say, “from the internet.” I’m from the dark, scary corners of it some days. This means that words like fuvg, shpx, and ovgpu etc hold no negative connotation for me anymore. As far as I’m concerned, internally, shpxvat is just a generic adjective… used in place of “very” “really” or “really really very.” Ovgpurf is mostly… to paraphrase Randal Munroe… an expression of triumphant victory or superiority.

At the same time, if I’m in a public place, and I say shpx really loudly in front of children… or even sensitive adults… I will apologize. I won’t say that I’m being constrained because people have been presensitized to outdated social taboos about simple words. If someone gets really angry at me for my mistake, I’ll take it in stride. I think the degree of caution I have to employ when speaking around people who aren’t from the internet is annoying and sometimes makes me feel foolish, but the people I'm speaking with aren't at fault. My adaptation to using those words and their adaptation to being offended by them are merely the products of different cultural indoctrination.

And this is the big difference between accidental racism and accidental cursing. I think that cursing/non-cursing are pretty much morally equal, from an objective standpoint. It’s pretty much morally neutral whichever direction society moves toward. Whereas society moving toward less racism is definitively morally the correct direction.

If I accidentally tell an 8 year old to Shpx off… the only thing for me to do is to apologize immediately to his parents. If I say “I’m sorry I offended you, but you should be aware… such constraints on speech are outdated, and I think you’ve been presensitized to them. Maybe think a bit more about linguistics, and you wouldn’t get so upset when someone makes an innocent mistake.” I'm making the situation infinitely worse.

Someone can be sensitive to something without it being a character flaw or ‘something they need to look at.’ I honestly think being called a ‘whiny’ or ‘defensive’ is a thousand times more offensive than being called an nffubyr or an ovgpu. That’s because those are the words I’m sensitized to. Right now I’m also really sensitized to ‘elitist.’ These make me incredibly angry because they are the code words used forever to demean groups I belong to, especially liberals and women. I’m entirely aware that they make me angry, and why.

It’s a lot similar to the way this entire board is presensitized to trollishness. That means that sometimes a non-troll can screw up, step on the line, and get pounced. I don’t think this means our sensitization to trollishness is bad. Maybe we need to work on the strength of the reaction, but that’s not the same thing. When a non-troll screws up and treads the trollish borderlines, it is infinitely less productive for us to re-evaluate our trolling criteria, and much more productive for us to help him not tread that line in the future. Right now, our troll criteria is more helpful than it’s harmful. Our presensitization is an adaptation, now a flaw.

Everyone in the world is sensitive to something. I’m capable of saying “Shpx lbh, lbh pbpxfhpxvat fba bs n ovgpu.” in a friendly manner – but if I said that to you, you’d probably be offended! I’ve heard sentences ten times as offensive bandied about by best friends. If someone said that to me, I’d likely reply congenially “back atcha, you shpxvat qbhpuront.” If someone called me “another defensive, whiny elitist.” I’d be much more offended. That’s because I’m desensitized to the profanity and sensitized to those terms. That’s not a hindrance, it’s a practical reaction to the world around me, based on long and repeated exposure to the kinds of people who use both phrases.

My current reaction to someone calling me a “defensive, whiny elitist” is to write a lengthy impassioned argument against whatever they’re arguing for… have it start out being really mean, spend several hours paring it back to barely civil, then post it. This reaction could use work, but I don’t think I need to be ‘more aware of my sensitivity’ or ‘work on it.’

Contrary to what my mother told me, ignoring things doesn't seem to make them go away. A lot of the time, asking politely doesn't help either. I'm sad to say that I believe a lot of the nastiest words we have removed from our vernacular in the last few decades were removed because EVERYONE was very sensitized to them, and reaction to them was known to be swift and furious. This isn't the right reaction in every context... to me a sincere request is as good or better than a firm repremand... but it isn't always so.

Now, do I think people need to learn how to suit their reactions to different audiences? Sure. But bad things are not going to disappear from society as a whole without a deeply ingrained "Dude, that's not cool." And that is a 'presensitivity.'

As they say on the internets… tl;dr (too long, didn’t read… usually used to preface a short wrapup of various ideas presented in a longer, wall of text post.)

I think most people are aware of their sensitivity, and pointing it out to them is just drawing attention away from what they see as the real issue. Implying that they need to be more aware of it or work on it is insulting, because often they are aware of it and it has proven quite adaptive. It is possible that working on reactions may be necessary in some cases, but that wasn’t what you were talking about.

#642 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 11:47 AM:

Lance, I am positive they'll both get even with us, eventually.

#643 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 12:16 PM:

Leah @ 641: Well-said. There's been a lot of thoughtful and thought provoking posts on this thread, but this one resonates for me.

It seems to me that "pre-sensitization" is also known as "raising one's consciousness", and the obverse would be "privilege" as an unconscious way of living. Someone who is "pre-sensitized" is someone who's been thinking long and hard about the issue, sometimes without any relief of effort.

#644 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 12:41 PM:

Greg @ 634: Being bullied by a peer for allegedly exhibiting a personality trait (cowardice) which both deplore is not the same thing as being treated as subhuman in all interactions within one's society.

Why you picked an analogy involving two young white males from the same social stratum engaged in ritual dominance behaviours to illustrate your ideas on how POC should handle being the targets of racist attacks is a mystery to me.

Ginger @ 643: Absolutely agree, 'sensitization' == 'consciousness raising'. It's the key to forcing social change in matters of discrimination.

#645 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 01:05 PM:

Leah, #641: Contrary to what my mother told me, ignoring things doesn't seem to make them go away. A lot of the time, asking politely doesn't help either.

Those words deserve to be carved into marble and inlaid with gold.

"Ignore them and they'll stop" is one of those comforting social myths which makes it SO much easier to blame the victim for being victimized. In most cases, "ignore them" is parsed (on the side of the victimizers) as "this is acceptable behavior, and we can keep doing it," or (on the side of witnesses) "well, obviously s/he doesn't mind that, so there's no need for me to say anything about it."

And while asking politely does work often enough to make it worth the effort, my general rule is: I will ask politely ONCE, and if they ignore that request, then I go straight to the tactical nukes.

Ginger, #643: It seems to me that "pre-sensitization" is also known as "raising one's consciousness"

Yes! That's an excellent point. (I would have said, "Bingo!", but that term has acquired a different connotation here which is absolutely not what I meant. *g*)

#646 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 01:36 PM:

Is it sensitization when we the subject doesn't agree or like the topic and consciousness raising when they do?

#647 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 03:02 PM:

A lot of the time, asking politely doesn't help either.

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation…want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
- Frederick Douglass, 1857

#648 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 04:11 PM:

Lance Weber @646 -- Is it sensitization when we the subject doesn't agree or like the topic and consciousness raising when they do?

I do think that for topics like prejudice/racism, raised consciousness is a very, very useful term. But you have an excellent point; we should probably all ask ourselves a version of this question anytime we find ourselves labeling, be it people, interactions, whatever. "Why am I calling this X?"

#649 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 05:06 PM:

Greg: Allow me to chime in, on the subject of "inclination to offense." There are subjects for which the appropriate response is offense. We may disagree as to how that gets expressed, but offense is the right response.

If you doubt it... ponder torture. I am inclined to take offense when someone decides to argue for its usefulness, or need, as a means of getting information.

I didn't use to be so inclined. I used to sort of smile and say; to myself, "Lord, what fools these mortals be," and with as much good humor as possible, explain why it's not. These days... I am pretty much offended, right out of the blocks.

Why? Because for the past four years what should be (hell, so far as I could tell, was) a delusion held by a small portion of the society. But four years of having more and more people buy into that fallacy; to see it spreading, and to have to make the same arguments... again, and again, and again. To be lied about when I am making the arguments in public places.

To be told I am being, "too sensitive" (it's happened), or that I don't know what I'm talking about (or the people who say I must be lying, because if I was who I say I am, I'd know how useful torture is... a different form of catch-22), doesn't wash. It, in fact, serves to move me from offended to offended and pissed off.

Would I like to see those who end up offended and pissed off being cool-headed and reasonable? Yes, for the sake of the arguments they make being better received. But you know what... when they get pissed and lose their tempers... the moron who keeps pushing deserves it.

The poor schlub who walked into the mine-field... well someone else; with ill-intent, laid it. The thing to do when in a minefield... is freeze, look around and, with care, back out.

#650 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 06:40 PM:

The poor schlub who walked into the mine-field... well someone else; with ill-intent, laid it. The thing to do when in a minefield... is freeze, look around and, with care, back out.

And then avoid the area pretty much indefinitely, which is my inclination when I read what happens to white guys who wander into discussions of privilege unprepared.

#651 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 07:18 PM:

Adrian, it's genuinely not hard to be a white guy and contribute meaningfully to a discussion of privilege-related matters. You simply have to be willing to listen and learn, to accept that others less white and/or male than you actually do know more about living with the direct experience of receiving discrimination, and that this is much less about your intentions than about the actual facts of life in a discriminatory society. You have things to bear, particularly about what it's like living inside various socializing structures, it's just that for most of us, we have a lot more listening to do than talking, and most of us don't know a lot of important things and think we know a fair number of things that aren't so.

#652 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 07:31 PM:

Leah@641: It is possible that working on reactions may be necessary in some cases, but that wasn't what you were talking about.

That was exactly what I was talking about. The entire point of my post at 585 was to offer a couple of questions that basically establish whether the target of someone's anger is the source of the anger, or whether it is a reaction that includes other people, other events, other issues. Is the response in proportion to the target's actions or no?

i.e. me@585: Saying "your anger is out of proportion" doesn't mean some anger towards me isn't justified

And I just have to point out the weird, sliding vocabulary going on. albatross used the phrase "inclined to be upset". I shortened that to biased listener. abi used the term "presensitized". You're suggesting that the "reaction" may need some "working on". Several others have come up with their own phrase, as if to say, 'I disagree with what you say, but I'll agree to this'. But we're all talking about the same situation:

A situation where the level of anger a person directs at some target person is sourced by more than just the target, is out of proportion to the actions of the target.

Is there something specific about #585 that you disagree with? Because it seems that we're talking about exactly the same thing, just that everyone insists on using different phrases.

I think most people are aware of their sensitivity

Well, this I have to completely disagree with. read my post #534. Actual studies of implicit bias seem to indicate the complete opposite, that people are almost completely unaware of how much they are biased (or sensitive or need to work on their reaction or whatever you want to call it). The study involving asian women especially, since it shows implicit bias hurting the people who have the bias. It becomes self inflicted damage, and yet they were completely unaware that they were doing it to themselves.

#653 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 07:46 PM:

Is the response in proportion to the target's actions or no?

This equation you've constructed assumes that every incident of racist behaviour, speech, whatever, is experienced separately and discretely by the oppressed person. That is wrong.

If you add on the fatal straw that drops the camel in her tracks, her back broken, should you be surprised at her thrashing? Is she unjustified in her attempts to bite chunks out of your legs?

Did you not see the horrendous load on her back?

#654 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 07:58 PM:

Greg, it seems to me here that the disproportionate reaction is yours. You are writing an amazing quantity of words defending your stance, getting harder and crueler as you go. The alternative, of simply saying, "Oh, you're right, there's more here than I had considered," seems not to be available to you on some basic emotional level, and it's making you look worse and worse.

Why is that, do you think? What is it that makes you rush to tell the victims of discrimination finding their voices that their best bet is resignation and acceptance of their oppression? Do you not feel in the least bothered that you might be reinforcing a whole lot of bad stereotypes about callous whites and callous men bent on keeping everyone else down so that they don't have to be inconvenienced yourself? Are you really that unable to imagine how others are hearing you, or that uninterested in making the slightest change to avoid making a bad life situation worse?

Physician, heal thyself. Right now you're providing the best reason in the world to ignore your advice: you are clearly less interested in paying attention to what others say than in delivering your pet formula again. I think you can do better, but it's not in evidence.

#655 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 08:32 PM:

Terry@649: There are subjects for which the appropriate response is offense.

The subject matter does not override the specific circumstances.

Say you are having a debate with a torture troll. Say a number of anti-torture people come in and help your side of the debate. Say you lose it with the troll. You flip out. Now, say that one of the anti-torture people who has been lending you moral support questions whether your reaction was the best possible response for the situation.

Say he suggests that maybe you're inclined to become upset around the discussion of torture and that your reaction sometimes makes the conversation difficult for him to work with.

Is the appropriate response to be offended at that person?

Would you get steamed at that person? Would you get so upset that you wouldn't even bother trying to talk to that person? Would you tell him that conversations against torture suck and complaining that they suck won't make them stop sucking? Would you say that if this person thinks you overreacted and that keeps this person out of future anti-torture debates, then good? Would you tell them love it or leave it? would you accuse them of demanding you coddle them?

Is that sort of response appropriate for someone who stands with you in your fight against torture, but disagrees with you on the severity of your reaction?

The poor schlub who walked into the mine-field...

Terry, you of all people know the problems with landmines. They cannot adjust their response level to deal with the threat at hand. And they do not discriminate their target. They react with deadly force against anything that sets off their trigger, even if that trigger is touched years after the mine was planted.

Neither albatross nor I are racists, nor have either of us forwarded a racist meme. Yet the response both of us have received from some people is clearly (well, to me at least) out of proportion to anything albatross or I said here.


#656 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 08:36 PM:

Terry@649: There are subjects for which the appropriate response is offense.

The subject matter does not override the specific circumstances.

Say you are having a debate with a torture troll. Say a number of anti-torture people come in and help your side of the debate. Say you lose it with the troll. You flip out. Now, say that one of the anti-torture people who has been lending you moral support questions whether your reaction was the best possible response for the situation.

Say he suggests that maybe you're inclined to become upset around the discussion of torture and that your reaction sometimes makes the conversation difficult for him to work with.

Is the appropriate response to be offended at that person?

Would you get steamed (#527) at that person? Would you get so upset that you wouldn't even bother (#528) trying to talk (#529) to that person? Would you tell him that conversations against torture suck and complaining that they suck won't make them stop sucking (#530)? Would you say that if this person thinks you overreacted and that keeps this person out of future anti-torture debates, then good (#532)? Would you tell them love it or leave it? would you accuse them of demanding you coddle (#536) them?

Is that sort of response appropriate for someone who stands with you in your fight against torture, but disagrees with you on the severity of your reaction?

The poor schlub who walked into the mine-field...

Terry, you of all people know the problems with landmines. They cannot adjust their response level to deal with the threat at hand. And they do not discriminate their target. They react with deadly force against anything that sets off their trigger, even if that trigger is touched years after the mine was planted.

Neither albatross nor I are racists, nor have either of us forwarded a racist meme. Yet the response both of us have received from some people is clearly (well, to me at least) out of proportion to anything albatross or I said here.


#657 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 08:41 PM:

Adrian Smith: You know what you do with a known minefield....? You clear it.

It's not that hard. Maybe I'm more sensitive than most (white kid in a very non-white neighborhood; policed by white cops), with a black stepfather for much of that time.

I have a mother, stepmother and five sisters.

The thing about these metaphoric mines... they don't kill you. Set them off and they may devastate the landscape, but just one is incedental damage.

You can retreat, run away. That just leaves the mines there; which is bad, because what they represent is a whole manner of thinking which hurts other people. It may sting to be told you are engaged in bad/poor/privileged thinking (I know it stings me when I do it; but only if someone else is kind/strong/comfortable enough to point it out) but the pain passes.

The pain such thinking/speaking inflicts is pretty much constant. Because those things are mines because a lot of people actually do think this way. A lot ACT that way.

It's really not too much to ask that we, who have privilege, put up with a little bit of someone being irked. It's a lot better if we can remember why they are irked, and put up with it gracefully.

#658 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 08:48 PM:

Terry, "the pain passes" is so important here. We learn. We can do better than we've done before, and that helps with the pain too. And I continue to think that knowledge beats ignorance, even when a new fact does not itself delight me.

#659 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 08:50 PM:

Greg London @ 655:

Neither albatross nor I are racists, nor have either of us forwarded a racist meme.

I agree that you are not a bigot, Greg. Your incessant pounding on individual responsibility of the victims of social ills is one of the most deeply racist memes in existence. You are the landmine.

#660 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 09:00 PM:

John@658, "individual responsibility" is a racist meme?

#661 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 09:02 PM:

Greg @ 659: It would help if you'd think about what I said rather than your edited version.

#662 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 09:04 PM:

Greg, I think part of your problem is that you're trying to logic-from-first-principles around racism, which is a profoundly illogical subject. Rather than trying to create your theory of racism whole from your own head, do some research. Find out what POC have said about it. Listen to people. Learn what other people's baselines are before you rely so heavily on your own.

And as John points out, you're 100% wrong when you say Neither albatross nor I are racists, nor have either of us forwarded a racist meme. You're racist, albatross is racist, I'm racist, Bruce Baugh is racist, Scraps is racist, Velma's racist, Kate Nepveu's racist*, we're all racist because our brains were formed in a racist society. That you're still claiming that certain individuals are racist and certain individuals aren't, rather than that we're all** somewhere on a spectrum of racism, some of us trying to better ourselves, some not, shows that you haven't been listening to a thing people have said, and also that you haven't bothered to educate yourself before holding forth on the topic.

John's #658 clearly and concisely explains why the other half of your statement is ludicrously incorrect, and if you've only read it once, I'd suggest re-reading it.

*I hope no one will interpret this as me singling them out--the people I named are just the people whose contributions to this thread popped into my head first.
**By "we" I mean everyone, not just the people in this thread.

#663 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 09:06 PM:

Wow, I cross-posted with #659 and then came back and discovered that my ending advice was more needed than I thought it would be.

#664 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 09:06 PM:

well, my version isn't racist, at least not anyways I can see. I'm not sure how you see what I've been saying as racist.

#665 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 09:20 PM:

Greg @ 663: You are a smart guy, as well as a fundamentally good guy, and I would not make such a potentially offensive remark to you that I didn't believe you were capable of interpreting.

Why don't you pretend you are in a debate and are tasked with making an argument for my statement? It isn't a hand grenade tossed into the argument--it's a reasoned opinion. See what you can come up with.

#666 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 09:28 PM:

This is really, really long. I think it needs to be this long, to answer the question, since simpler answers have had loopholes found in them. I want to make this as crystal clear as possible.

I wrote at @641: It is possible that working on reactions may be necessary in some cases, but that wasn't what you were talking about.

Then Greg London wrote @652
That was exactly what I was talking about. The entire point of my post at 585 was to offer a couple of questions that basically establish whether the target of someone's anger is the source of the anger, or whether it is a reaction that includes other people, other events, other issues. Is the response in proportion to the target's actions or no?

Notice that I say “some” cases. I’ll clarify, I mean that in a very very small number of cases, the person is probably overreacting. I was trying to make a concession that yes, not 100% of all reactions ever are in proportion. However, you seem to imply throughout the thread that this is true in a much larger fraction of cases. Perhaps even that the offended person needs to examine their own sensitivity most of the time. I would disagree.

I will answer your other questions as well:

Yes. If you call me “whiny”, you are the source of my anger. If I chew you out, I’m not acting out of proportion with what you said. If I punch you in the face, I probably am. If I run up to you with my hands curled into claws in front of me, breathing audibly, eyes wild… stutter for a bit, let out a small, inarticulate scream, and then walk away for seven minutes… I’m maybe a bit on the border. I’m not overreacting for me, but I’m probably letting myself go a tad more than I should.

The fact that my reaction involves past experiences does not make it in any way unreasonable or inappropriate. It doesn’t make it out of proportion. Here’s a list of things that are influenced by past events: I think the name “Bob” is funny. I think that coffee is often hot. I think that people who call me ‘sweetheart’ are likely to underestimate me. I think that someone who says “LoL there are no girls on the internet” is someone I’m not likely to get along with. I think that someone in an xkcd shirt is likely going to be easy to talk to. Is it ‘unfair’ or ‘out of proportion’ that, when I walk into a con suite, I’m more likely to talk to the guy in the xkcd shirt than the guy in the Jackass shirt? Is it “out of proportion” that I won’t patronize any business that has an impolite receptionist? Is it unreasonable that I won’t join a party in an online game if the person starting it uses the letter ‘u’ instead of the word ‘you’?

Actually, that last one is the best example. There was a period of time in my life when I was forced to suffer poor typing and grammar all day, and I just wanted to escape at night. So I made a rule in the online club I ran – attempt to use proper spelling or grammar. One day we let someone into the club, and he repeatedly used the letter u instead of the word ‘you.’ I asked him to stop, he continued. I removed him from the club.
He then spent weeks trying to spread rumors about what a jerk I was. And yes, it’s true… if that had been the only time in my life I’d seen someone with that particular habit of typing, I probably would have been less annoyed. But I was entirely justified in kicking him from the club, and everyone in the club agreed with me on that.

Every thing in the goddam world has context. Everything I do is based on my past experiences – from what I order at a restaurant to who I group with in a game to what clothes I wear to what clubs I try to join. The human mind is built on learning from past experiences, and putting the world in the context of patterns.

I think that a lot of human interaction is based on trying to predict that person’s behavior based on patterns you’ve noticed in other humans. If the first time I meet someone they call me “doll” and stare at my boobs, am I required to think ‘maybe doll is a term of endearment in his household, and perhaps I have something on my shirt that is visible only to him’ before deciding that he is a creep to be avoided? I say no. Can he redeem himself? Sure. Not letting someone redeem themselves ever is unfair. But I am perfectly within my rights to react to his first impression by avoiding him. That’s not wrong. It’s not out of proportion.

Very few words, terms, expressions, or gestures are offensive without their cultural context. There are a few, very very few, but they are not what we are discussing here. In insisting that people remove the cultural context from an interaction, you are asking them to do something unnatural.

It’s like my horrible, horrible swearing. The word shpxvat actually describes something that’s usually quite fun and pleasant. The definition carries no objective negativity. But it is perfectly reasonable for someone to be offended if you call them a shpxre. They are offended because they know, culturally, that that term is usually used negatively.

I am offended when I’m called “elitist” even though that word also lacks an inherently negative or unpleasant definition, because it is usually used to damage me.

People react to words beyond their dictionary definitions because their everyday use has lent them connotations beyond their dictionary definitions. That’s why ‘shpx’ is a bad word and ‘sex’ isn’t. That’s why calling me a know-it-all is insulting but calling me knowledgeable isn’t. If you call me a know-it-all and I take offense, it’s because I know, from history, what “know-it-all” is usually used to convey.

One of the best examples I can think of here is the word “otaku.” That word has an extremely negative connotation in Japan, despite having a history of being used inoffensively and despite having a non-offensive connotation in the US. However, if you call someone in Japan an otaku and they react based on the fact that that word is usually used by the Japanese media to portray someone who is socially inept and possibly dangerous, they aren’t being unreasonable or overreacting. They are reacting in context, and it’s up to you to learn and adapt, and not be such an idiot next time.

So yes, Greg, I believe someone is justified in reacting based on the cultural and historical use of a word. I don't think it matters a great deal whether they're reacting based in its use against them, or its use in the media. Assigning meaning to a word based on how you've heard it used before is called Language. That's how I remember learning language, anyway.

#667 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 10:00 PM:

I've been following this thread with interest, and realized something. I probably won't express it very coherently, but I'll try and hope that I explain more than I offend.

Humans are wired to look at an unfamiliar being and "pre-judge" it as like or unlike us, friend or foe. It's as basic a reaction as fight or flight.

So there's no point in arguing if someone is or isn't "prejudiced." It's something we do, not the total of who we are. I've judged people unfairly based on superficial traits, and I've been called a "Crippled B***h" and "Retard" myself. It's unfair, animal-level behavior, regardless of who's doing it to whom.

When it comes right down to it, all that really matters is that we can THINK about these snap judgments, realize when they're not accurate, and say "I'm sorry, I was unfair, I didn't mean to offend, and I'll try not to do it again."

And if we're on the other side, we can try to realize an honest mistake and forgive it. (If it wasn't an honest mistake, well, that's where fight or flight comes in.)

But there's no point in trying to label someone as "prejudiced" or "not prejudiced," because there are many ways to pre-judge, we all do it to some extent, and the best we can do as look at each other, be aware of what we're expecting to see, and do our best to see who's really there.

#668 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 10:09 PM:

John@664: Why don't you pretend you are in a debate and are tasked with making an argument for my statement?

I already said @634, "it is true that some racists would try to label equalitists as "overly sensitive" or "militant" or whatever, in an attempt to divert the conversation away from the actual racism. But you can't label all attempts at self analysis as diversional"

I get that some people with money will argue that they got where they are by their own bootstraps, so the poor must be poor by choice, will argue that it's each person's individual responsibility to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, not depend on society, that there is no such thing as society, and are there no prisons? No union workhouses? And that has been easily extended by some to say that blacks are where they are by choice, that everyone has the same opportunities, and all anyone has to do is pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they so choose.

(Is that the sort of argument you were looking for me to create about personal responsibility?)

But the absurdity of complete and total personal responsibility is a strawman to the idea that there must be some personal responsibility for what people do or say. You can't attack teh demand for some personal responsibility as demanding total responsibility.

And I got involved specifically when people here, not some theoretical type persons, but people here I've intereacted with on a regular basis for several years, had a disagreement to the point of shouting one person down, or ostracizing him on some level, or folks telling him its an unfair world and complaining about it won't change that, or if people like this leave conversations then good, and so on.

We're no longer talking about theory of economic justice anymore, or some theory about personal responsibility. We're talking about particular people, in a particular conversation, with particular circumstances, and particular statements and particular responses.

And my question from the beginning has been "Do you say that every person's response here to albatross was in proportion to whatever albatross said? Do you say that every person's response here to me was in proportion to what I said?"

Is it racist simply to state the some people are inclined to upset, or are biased listeners, simply becaues they're on the anti-racist side of the argument? Is everyone's reaction level, no matter how severe, off limits to any criticism as long as they're fighting racism?

You strawmanned my position as my "incessant pounding on individual responsibility of the victims of social ills". Well, I'm not talking about generic victims of social ills. I'm talking about specific people, under specific circumstances, and I'm asking if their reaction is open to criticism without getting accused of racism or not.

I'm asking not for total responsibility of all social victims, but some responsibility of specific people here, and I"m asking if all of their responses were in proportion to what either albatross or I said. It doesn't require that all victims of social injustice and social inequality be made responsible for their positions in life. It requires that people take some responsibility, not for what status they were born into, but what words come out of their mouths.

Was everyone's reaction to albatross and to me all within proportion to what we said?

#669 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 10:12 PM:

Greg: "Was everyone's reaction to albatross and to me all within proportion to what we said?" As a generalization, without re-reading every scrap of the thread...yes. That fact that you not only fail to understand what it is you're doing wrong but that you are apparently not open to the idea that you might be doing anything wrong guarantees that this will continue to be the case.

#670 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 10:23 PM:

And once again, a conversation about discrimination and its effects becomes all about what the white guy is intending and feeling. Let those who have ears to hear, listen and learn.

#671 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 10:26 PM:

Leah: yes, not 100% of all reactions ever are in proportion. However, you seem to imply throughout the thread that this is true in a much larger fraction of cases. Perhaps even that the offended person needs to examine their own sensitivity most of the time.

No hasty generalization was implied by me to be applicable to the whole world for all time. I was talking about this interaction, these particular circumstances.

Assigning meaning to a word based on how you've heard it used before is called Language.

Yes, yes. I wasn't arguing otherwise. Someone calls you "belgium" and it happens to mean something horrendous to the person speaking it, then you are reacting to what he said.

If everyone called you "chicken" when you were a kid, and then someone calls you that in jest as an adult, and you freak out on that person and gouge his eyes out, then your reaction towards the target is sourced by far more than what that person said.

But that doesn't mean that you're always doing that.

#672 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 10:39 PM:

Greg @ 667: I swear, I planned let go so you could wrestle with this yourself, but:

Is it racist simply to state that some people are inclined to upset, or are biased listeners, simply because they're on the anti-racist side of the argument?

Let me ask a different question: Is it useful?

Or is that question of yours the land mine?

#673 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 10:41 PM:

Greg, please stop digging that hole. It isn't doing anyone any good, including you.

#674 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 11:07 PM:

greg: Is it racist simply to state that some people are inclined to upset, or are biased listeners, simply because they're on the anti-racist side of the argument?

John: Let me ask a different question: Is it useful?

Is it true? If it's true, then it's useful, just by virtue of being true.

Would it be useful if Marty knew he was sensitive to being called chicken? I think so. Would it be useful to me? If true, definitely.

#675 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 11:26 PM:

Greg, what if the very thing that causes the upset is having been told over and over that they're overly inclined to getting upset? Then is it useful?

#676 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 11:40 PM:

Greg: If the form of the response furthered my sense of offense... yes.

It might just be a manner of tone. Look at the way you just talked to me..., "You, of all people,", that's a patronizing thing to say.

Not to be mean, but I've seen you do just that (attack someone who was, in essence agreeing with you), and then defend yourself. Why... because the topic was close to your heart.

I accepted minefield as a metaphor because mines don't care who you are; they have no sides. They are neutral.

So you hit one.

If you know you didn't do something wrong, and you are getting caught in the splash zone... suck it up, and leave it lie.

Because the person you are supporting, is a burning mass of dark heat at that point. You can't smother it; there is nothing in the world but fuel, and you can't fan it back to light.

All you can do is get burned.

I am sorry you got hurt. I am sorry you tried to help and it backfired. I don't think the response, really, was all that out of line.

Would I be happier if the people involved hadn't lashed out at you? Yes. Because that would have spared your feelings.

It might also have been better, tactical, argument. But sometimes bottling it in, and sucking it up, to keep up appearances (that one is a calm, rational idividual) is bad for one's emotional health.

So, because you love them, and are supporting them, you just take one for the team (the team being you and they), because derailing the conversation to tell them they ought to be more considerate of your feelings is casting them into a second-class role (see abi about how you, and I, have the privilege to assume people will listen to us). It makes the thing being talked about less important than your feelings.

It's also you (as a person with privilege) telling them to behave.

That will do more damage to the ongoing discussion than small bits of flamage between allies ever will.

#677 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2008, 02:32 AM:

A true comment is not always helpful.

As I said in 639 with the analogy of the fish, sometimes people have to discover things for themselves.

And sometimes the truth is irrelevant.

And sometimes—as in this case—the medium of the message overrides the content of the message.

But Greg is not going to see that in his current mood, no matter how much it's explained in everyone else's current mood.

So: MODERATOR DECLARATION

Comments are hereby closed on this thread for three days (more or less; depends on when I log on on Friday morning my time). This will give everyone a chance to cool down, reread the thread and pick up any missed points, and return to a mindset of peace, justice, and communal fellow feeling.

Overspill into other threads will be moved here.

UPDATE

This thread is closed for good*.

-----
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