A good summary of the events of RaceFail '09 can be found here.
A theme by theme breakdown of what happened can be found here.
Please start there, and then come back. I'll wait.
Toiya Kristen Finley, one of EH's contributors, has neatly summarized the stages of RaceFail '09 thus:
1) Discussion on cultural appropriation and the problematic representations of PoC in SF
1a) Discussion of Iteration #1 begins to slow towards the end of February
2) The outing of coffeeandink, which branches into discussions about the need for internet pseudonyms/right to use a pseudonym vs. using one's real name online (and the first iteration of the discussion continues)
3) Elizabeth Bear tells everyone to stop talking for a while, which leads to a lot of people exercising their right to *not* be silent (there are white fans and writers who enter the conversation for the first time, a lot of pro editors and writers become aware of RaceFail for the first time; discussion of the first iteration continues)
3a) Discussion begins on whether fans and writers are being forced to make statements about the issues RaceFail has raised
This is an extremely simplified and condensed explanation of events; many diverse issues have been engaged in the past 2.5 months.
Yes, this conversation has been going on for over two months. That's an eternity in Internet time. This conversation has been going on on several different fora (even off LJ), and it has spanned several countries and continents.
We, as a community, have reached a tipping point.
What does it mean when very established editors make threats of retaliation against writers, reviewers and fans for speaking up honestly and boldly about the realities of racism and cultural appropriation in this genre (details here)?
First it means what we all know, namely, there are many white people who cannot separate honest, well-intentioned criticism about their racial blindness for the purpose of helping them move past that blindness for the betterment of the community, from personal, ad hominem attacks on their character and conscious intent. It means that these people feel too personally threatened to listen. It means, as we all know, that they have little to no experience dealing with racial issues in their lives- especially on the personal, visceral, day to day level which people of color experience it. Race is a monster under the bed... when no one can see it everyone is happy, and when it emerges (inexplicably and without warning!) it eats you for lunch.
On the issue of cultural appropriation, where all this discussion started, the central disconnect I am seeing in the genre is between "this is supposed to be fiction" and authentic cultural representation. Over the past few months, I have tried, both in person and in private correspondence, to call several people on misrepresentation of the "other". Speaking generally, when I tell these people that they are deeply misrepresenting certain groups, the reply is often "but it's supposed to be fiction/I'm taking artistic liberties." When I say, "Yes but it should still be thoughtful and authentic," they retaliate with "well if that's the standard that you demand, and we're not allowed to use our imaginations to make it up, how is anyone ever supposed to write anything that's not their own personal direct experience?" at which point it sometimes gets hostile and they tell me I'm "stifling their creativity" and "against creative expression" and "censoring" them.
The impact this misrepresentation has on the misrepresented groups was, of course, ignored, overlooked, negated, and dismissed. Dismissed is often not even a strong enough word, because in those instances, the message was that I had no right to be making such "demands" or criticism of their writing and their ideas, even when I was a member of the misrepresented group myself. The message was one of, "Who are you to tell me what I may or may not write?"
So it gets all derailed and becomes all about them and their right to write (and I guess publish) these stories laden with offensive stereotypes. Let me be clear- people may write whatever they want, in the privacy of their own homes. But publishing this stuff should not be an "entitlement" in the genre- and that's where I think we are. And when you publish it, you need to be held accountable for it. The status quo privileges the author's right to engage in stereotyping, cultural appropriation and misrepresentation over the reader's right to be authentically portrayed in SF/F and the community's right to have authentic diversity in the genre.
How do we begin to approach this?
First, watch this video.
So if you've written stuff like this? It's not about who/what you ARE, it's about what you DID. Remember that. Whatever your intent was, the impact may have in actuality been quite different, and it may be hurting real people (we hope inadvertently).
I believe that we, SF/F Fandom, we as a community, have reached a tipping point. The frustrations about race and racism and cultural appropriation and misrepresentation, that have boiled and boiled under the surface, have emerged into the light and into words and action. Now, we are speaking up and we won't back down.
We are not a "hungry beast" out to tear Fandom apart. We are the voices of people who have been invisible, misrepresented, overlooked, silenced, appropriated, stereotyped and left out of the discussion. You may think you have included us, you may feel you have included us -- but that doesn't mean we felt included or we actually were included.
The strength in Fandom lies in the community as a whole, not in select individuals who may try to silence or derail this discussion, or to intimidate us into invisibility and obscurity. Change is Coming to Fandom. And Fandom belongs to those of us of every color, gender, creed, sexual orientation, ability level... it belongs to everyone, including those whose voices have been silenced and appropriated.
coffeeandink posted the following paragraph on a larger thread here:
Why I'm posting
I have been hesitant to post because this [certain people sleuthing around to out LJers who are speaking out against racism by posting their real names online] is all such an outrageous derailment of the original conversation about race and racism in science fiction. But this ridiculous and painful detour actually brings us right back to the place RaceFail started out from: sf fandom is so insular, so white-focused, and so white-dominated that some of the people involved can ignore the literally dozens of people involved in an argument about race, the literally hundreds of posts made, out of a conviction that race is not the issue when people of color say it is, or out of the conviction that there are no people of color who argue about sf fandom online because people of color generally do not attend sf conventions. There is a reason people of color do not feel comfortable at sf conventions. This refusal to acknowledge that race can even be a real issue: this contributes to the institution of racism and the continuing whiteness of science fiction. This conviction, in the face of public conversation and well-documented timelines, that a discussion about race in science fiction is about the personal grudges of white people -- this inability to recognize, hear, or speak to the people of color involved in the discussion -- this in itself contributes to the institution of racism and the continuing whiteness of science fiction. [emphasis in original]
And I, Dash, I am reposting this because I think this gets right to the heart of what we are dealing with. We shall not be derailed. Change is Coming to Fandom. We shall not be silent.
In other good news, Expanded Horizons seems to have annoyed Dave Truesdale. He did not name us by name or link to us... perhaps so he would not give us any more publicity (gasp!), but I think also so we would not find him.
It starts here and continues.
"There are a few online magazines with an encyclopedia's worth of writer guidelines (as opposed to the usual helpful, shorter guidelines offered by the more professional markets, which are much less restrictive). These more restrictive online markets, through their guidelines, serve to fragment the SF/F field even further. For example, one such startup market, in its guidelines, pronounces that it specifically seeks "Speculative Fiction For The Rest Of Us." Feeling alienated, and finding the web (a new development and avenue in SF history when given the long view of things) a ready place to find their SF/F audience, they reach out in an effort to print stories they feel address under-represented ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities only. (They even refer, through a link, to the online magazine with the encyclopedic writer guidelines, asking writers to read their guidelines thoroughly, while disavowing any official connection to them, for this new magazine's name is quite similar). But let's get real here. No one is fooling anybody. This new magazine is just a more strict, even less-inclusive version of the former-all under the guise of under-represented diversity, and truthful representations thereof . . . or whatever euphemistic phraseology floats your boat. All of which is fine and dandy for their small readership, but does nothing for the vast potential readership they choose to actively ignore. The reverse of which philosophy (any top magazine market actively discouraging tales about ethnic, sexual, or gender minorities), in writer guidelines, I've never seen, ever, in one of the major SF/F markets. To be delightfully politically incorrect, this new magazine's guidelines could easily be spun/interpreted as reverse discrimination when it comes to white heterosexual males. Go on, read their guidelines. But more power to them . . . though their readership votes for the top awards just like anyone else."
Of course, we do publish straight white males. Our first issue has a story by Joe Haldeman and a story by Paul Levinson, just to name a couple of the highly accomplished and well-known straight, white males we've published in our issues.
But of course he made up his mind about us without looking at our author bios.
I think the rest of this speaks for itself.
Thank you again to all of you who are standing up for inclusion and authentic representation in SF/F. We are the Change that is Coming to Fandom.