Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Racism: Not MY Science Fiction!

 
I'm a nerd. Like my earrings?


Some days I have to pinch myself and ask, "What year is this?"

To be clear, I don't drink and I'm not on any medications. It's just that sometimes people and events strike me in such a way that I can't quite believe I'm living in the twenty-first century. For a writer of speculative fiction, it's doubly odd to think that others who love to read, write, and discuss science fiction/fantasy books, TV, and film like I do would hold onto outdated beliefs of racial superiority and want to celebrate these beliefs by honoring a publication that prints such content.

I won't mention the names of the publication,the  sci-fi convention, or the individuals involved because this isn't a rant or tirade to tear down the reputations of these institutions or individuals. (I'm honestly worried about them.) This is just an attempt to come to terms with the horribleness of a situation that fills my heart with fear and dread. And, as a writer, I work through weighty problems in prose.

I think the Twilight Zone moment came for me when I expressed my horror on an online forum at the idea that a beloved sci-fi con would even contemplate honoring  a science fiction-oriented publication that would print racial slurs as "humor". I was told I was on a "witch hunt" and trying to "censor" free speech. When I tried to explain that an editor of an ezine is both legally and morally responsible for the contents of said publication and must take responsibility for the outrage that its content could incur, it seemed to fall on deaf ears. Here's what I said:


A "compiler" (of an ezine) is still considered an "editor"--they are the person or group of persons who put together a magazine or ezine. They put their name(s) on the publication as the person(s) who take responsibility for its contents. If this editor doesn't want to take responsibility for the contents of his ezine, then he should have struck his name off it a while back. I have nothing against the man personally--never met him--but as a professional writer/editor I have to make judgement calls on what is suitable for publication all the time. (I'm paid to do this!) If the writing of a manuscript is substandard--the book doesn't make it out of the slushpile. If the content is offensive to the majority of readers in 2014 (that's 2014 not 1854), I have to tell the publisher that the content is possibly something they wouldn't feel comfortable publishing. It's the way the publishing world works. If you are "self-publishing" you are essentially taking on all the legal responsibility of a publisher upon yourself as "editor/compiler". 

So, once again, does the convention want to "honor" (give credit and glorify) racist jokes? I would think the majority of convention attendees would be adults who wouldn't find racist humor funny. I never said that this editor couldn't attend the con or that he has never helped out at other cons. Good for him! However, if he has taken on the responsibility of publishing racist commentary and his name is on the publication, then he must accept the outrage publishing such racist commentary can incur in the year 2014. 
 That's about it. I grew up loving science fiction in the era of the original series of Star Trek where Mr. Spock talked about "infinite diversity in infinite combinations" and other such nonsense. Thing is, I believed it. Uhuru was an African professional woman who worked alongside an Asian navigator and people from diverse Caucasian backgrounds on the bridge of the starship Enterprise. They didn't make juvenile racist jokes at each other's expense. They reflected Gene Roddenberry's dream that some day soon all of mankind would live in peace and harmony. 

It's a beautiful dream. Why are some folks in the twenty-first century trying to kill it?

Are they afraid it's coming true? You look into any elementary school these days and you won't see what I saw when I entered first grade in the South. You see white kids and black kids and red kids and yellow kids and brown kids and kids who are something altogether unique. We've become a multicultural and diverse society. Star Trek is coming true! My heart soars!

But for others... they're afraid. They don't like change. They want to live in the nineteenth century where slaves and women knew their place and don't speak back to their superiors. And so they lash out through the glorification of demeaning, bigoted humor to put people of color, women, homosexuals, and other minority groups in their place. The worse thing of it for me is that these haters dare to call what they write science fiction.

Oh, Gene! Please come back! We truly need your shining optimism about mankind's diverse and peaceful future!

Do those who espouse racist beliefs have the right to exercise free speech under the U.S. Constitution? Absolutely. Do these same people deserve to have their racist speech honored at a volunteer convention where some of the volunteers aren't white, heterosexual males of a certain age and social status? No, they do not. If the white heterosexual males of a certain age/status can't see why some volunteers might feel nervous and uncomfortable knowing they're not really accepted by the convention's board of directors because of the color of their skin, their gender identity, or other minority protected status, then it might be time to take the board to a first grade class and introduce them to the next generation of science fiction fans.

Because what it comes down to is this: a fan-run sci-fi convention is about the fans. They are a diverse and lively lot, and they live in the year 2014--not 1854. 

Let's not take a step backward. Let's "boldly go where no one has gone before!"

True science fiction fans celebrate diversity. They do not attempt to squash it.

(Feel free to leave a comment below. Please act like adults and use your manners--no profanity,  name-calling, or finger-pointing. In other words, plese refrain from cursing or other nasty words. This is a family-friendly blog. Thank you.)

(P.S. If you like my TARDIS earrings in the photo above, check out my hubby's Etsy store: http://www.etsy.com/shop/TheophilusSaxe )







19 comments :

A J said...

A privately run convention listened to the protest generated by this matter and acted accordingly. Racism has no place in SF unless to highlight the wrongs inherent in the viewpoint. Matter closed. Except some people can't let it go. I now see the less than enlightening attitude of "you'll be sorry for this!" coming from the GoH's family and friends. Why don't we all go back to our corners and try to cool off, huh? I for one WILL be going to Archon, where I expect to have as good a time as I've always done.

Cindy said...

Well said, AJ! Yes, I don't believe that anyone should be scared off from attending a convention by a small group of hate speech fans. Let them spout their hate speech--it shows them for who they really are. They'll learn.

Alexx Momcat said...

Cynthianna, Thank you for your words. As a FAN, of these types of cons, and a SF fan who has raised a SF fan, who I hope will raise more SF fans, It is time to look towards the future. Racism and hatred are not things that I want at a con. Especially in the manner of GoH. Racism should not be celebrated.

Derek Spraker said...

Hi there! I followed over from your link on one of the _many_ threads and just wanted to say that I appreciate your level headed writing in your article, especially considering how inflammatory some of the 'discourse' has been over there.

But also I wanted to say the same thing that I've said over there from the very beginning of the 'controversy', the issue to me is less of the fact of what happened, or really who it happened to (and thank you for your generalities. It is actually a bit refreshing after the 1,000+ comments), but instead the way in which it happened.

The ConCom was totally within their rights to change their minds, but since they didn't either do it initially or at least shut down the person starting the firestorm and talk to him offline, they seem less of a 'listening to the fans' and more of a group that is 'scared of the people yelling'. Not a great precedent for trying to run a convention.

I still believe that if they had deleted the first post, then called to give the poster the attention he desired for his problem they might have come to the same decision. Then things could have been handled privately, and none of this would have happened.

The problem is that they allowed it to fester, and fester, and continue getting worse and worse until they finally did do something and stepped in on a side. Doesn't honestly matter what side, since by then they were doomed in the public view regardless, and the firestorm was already in full swing by then.

I'm again not here to offer any defense of the person in question, all of that has already been done over and over again by quite a few people on the relevant Facebook threads.

I just wanted to come over and quite honestly say thank you for your post. Dissenting opinion from mine, sure. However very respectfully written, which quite frankly is something that's been quite absent in the last 48 hours. :-)

Jon Voisey said...

Just wanting to add my opinions.

Archon and the Fan Community

Cindy said...

You're welcome, Alexx. I think you used a very good verb when you stated, "Racism should not be CELEBRATED." It most certainly should not be celebrated in any way, shape, or form. Racist speech is TOLERATED under the First Amendment, but it doesn't have to CELEBRATED, especially by the wonderfully diverse world of SF fandom. :)

C. said...

Thanks, Derek, for your comments. I respect your opinion and will reiterate for the record that I have nothing personal against the former fan guest and wish him well. The issue for me has always been one of "Is this how we want the rest of the world to view SF fans? Is this the sort of content what we want our friends, families, and neighbors to think we condone?" In my opinion (and many others) I would say, "No, racism proves that our society has not advanced toward a more enlightened view of our fellow human beings. It should not be honored in any way, shape, or form."

Your statement about the ConCom (or board of directors) perplexes me. They do have the right to change their minds at any point in the process of setting up and running the convention. I feel they should have been more open about the REASONS behind why they intially invited the individual in the first place, but perhaps they KNEW FROM THE START HE WOULD BE CONTROVERSIAL AS A GUEST. That then begs the point, "Why invite a controversial guest to begin with?" If he's a personal friend--I can see WHY you would do so, but then does that mean that you as a board member CONDONE his publication of racist material? You can't have it both ways--you can't say, "Let's have him as a guest and forget all about his publication of racist materials." So, I don't believe the ConCom "gave in" to the fans on this point as much as the fact they are now embarrassed that their possible racist leanings have been exposed.

Either way, it made the board members nervous and they changed their minds. I, for one, am glad they did so and hope we can put the matter behind us by presenting a convention full of diverse and lively people who aren't AFRAID that they will be threatened, harmed, shamed, or openly despised because they are members of a minority group.

Cindy said...

Thanks, Jon, for the link to your excellent blog posting. (Please read his blog if you've not done so already.) I think you make vitally important points when you state that when a convention's harassment policy makes potential victims take the brunt of the proof and the con security can blythely say, "They're making it up--they're a troublemaker," it will scare away potential attendees who fear for their safety and in fact their very lives.

It that sad old story of BLAME THE VICTIM NOT THE BULLY. And as we ALL know, rape victims are just "making it up" and because of the way they dress/act/look they DESERVED to be raped. (Even the babies and little old ladies.) That horribly outdated attitude makes me sick to my stomach.

I appreciate your blog about how important it is for any convention to be open and honest and to put forward progressive attitudes that protect EVERYONE from the evils of emotional/physical/psychological abuse, which would include racism.

Jon Voisey said...

C. said:

but perhaps they KNEW FROM THE START HE WOULD BE CONTROVERSIAL AS A GUEST

There is absolutely no for the board to pretend they didn't know about the "Revenge" ezine. The only thing I can imagine is that they failed to understand that it could be offensive which disappointing in its own right because it shows a complete lack of comprehension. Sadly, I think this is the case after seeing the comments of at least one board member.

Cindy said...

I don't even know the names of the board members of this convention... I sort of have a rough idea of the faces, but I don't have names to put to them. So, when I say they feel "embarrassed" because they now see how others see them as possibly having racists leanings, I'm not downing them. It's just how it seems "logical" to me.

I agree with you, Jon--how could any of the board members NOT know about this individual's publication? They are far more involved in SF con fandom than I am as an invited guest. (I've done literary/writing, fan panels and even a science panel.) So, it must be true that they were aware of the publication in contention and they thought it was "okay" to promote.

Yes, I'm very disappointed that they possibly feel that "racism is okay" in the year 2014. I can't say I'm surprised that it still exists... I grew up in the South and so I can remember the "color only" signs on the bathrooms and water fountains. I'd ask my mother what they meant and she didn't know what to tell me but to say that African-Americans were "special" and got their own water fountains/bathrooms. As a young child, I felt that was a "good thing" since I didn't understand how segregation can destroy a human's soul...how it can take away a person's dignity to be told they're not "good enough" to drink from the same water fountain or share the same bathroom.

If anything, I feel PITY for the board members who don't get it--who can't comprehend HOW DESTRUCTIVE RACISM IS. I've seen it up close and personal and experienced it for myself. (I am part Native American.) Do they honestly think someone who has been taunted and teased as a "Pow-Wow" would find racist jokes "humorous" in the least?

And here's something that's not been mentioned: What the heck does an ezine full of nasty humor have to do with SCIENCE FICTION? Shouldn't it be filled with short stories about space travel or articles on the latest break-throughs in technology? What's science fiction got to do with playground humor for ten-year-old white boys circa 1950, huh? Am I missing something here?

Michael Z. Williamson said...

White Americans sounding off on prejudice.

The immigrant disabled veteran with the veteran wife is amused.

What I'm not amused about is that black and Hispanic acquaintances of mine (with actual skin in the game) went to the con's FB wall and got called names.

Why do liberals know all about racism? Because they're experts at it.

http://www.michaelzwilliamson.com/blog/item/archon-and-racism

Oh, and Voisey--your comment proves you've not read the Revenge. It does, in fact, have updates from real NASA scientists and researchers, and some of them...are minorities...as well as updates on books...by authors who are likewise minorities...

You are a vile bunch. Completely vile.

Michael Z. Williamson said...

"Chris Gerrib:
I'll give you the "self-described" and we'll have to agree to disagree on definitions. But if you run around in warpaint with feathers in your hair and carry a tomahawk, don't be surprised if people call you an Indian."

That's from a "liberal," Cindy. Who was libsplaining how racist comments are...racist.

He doesn't seem clear on the concept, however.

Here's another:

hee haw April 27, 2014 2:28 PM
Lol I love this guy's argument. He's not the ugly troll he presents himself to be, he's really a reasonable guy with deep, nuanced thoughts! He's a mystery of his making, waiting for you to find the sweet center.

Of course that in itself is proof of a narcissistic psychopath. Say what you think, bro. No one wants to divine your real meaning, you're not that special. It reminds you of a coy bitch more interested in the foreplay than the action.

"Coy bitch."

"Liberal."

You all keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Michael Z. Williamson said...

And as I asked on the wall...I assume you hate Mel Brooks, too?

Unknown said...

Cynthianna, I'm 100 percent with ya and I'd like to schedule an ARCHON TOWN MEETING, if the powers that be will allow, where anyone in the StL area interested can meet face-to-face, pass the microphone, maybe share some Doritos, and see that we are all good people who mean well, and we have work to do TOGETHER so we can be together. We are nothing more nor less than a microcosm of society at large. Let's meet and talk and celebrate the ways Archon bonds us. To the man who has posted some angry comments on this page, I would say the jokes in the newsletter are not funny to many, many people. Truly, they are not jokes, but racial inventive that is only funny to someone who takes delight in sneering at minorities. It ain't Lenny Bruce. It ain't Richard Pryor. It's just hate. Spread hate, and you might get an ill wind blowing back at ya. But now is the time to seize the moment and see if we can't build bridges.
With the naive belief we can get along,
-Byron Kerman

John said...

I know at least two board members are listed online in several places as friends of the FGoH, and one of them has submitted stuff to the zine. (Most likely for the political and science sections - not the jokes section. I haven't fully investigated, and I am wondering if I really want to.)

Of course, just because someone submits something to the zine, doesn't mean they read it weekly cover to cover.

At least one somewhat big name in fandom posted online that while they are a subscriber, they hadn't read the jokes section before.

John said...

There is a difference between spreading racist jokes so that others who like racist jokes can laugh, and using humor to poke fun at racism.

It's a fine line sometimes, and some of the best comedians trip over it. However, few ever misinterpret the intent of Mel Brooks films, South Park, or Sarah Silverman.

There was no indication in the fanzine issues I read that the racist jokes were being shared in order to combat racism. Intent matters.

Cindy said...

Remember people--my blogs, my rules. No profanity or name-calling. Thank you.

Thank you, Byron, for your wonderful suggestion of an Archon Town Meeting. If I still lived in the immediate STL area, I would gladly attend, but alas I've moved away (and will be having surgery next month), so I won't be able to attend anytime soon. If there's anything I can do to help out (or be there via Skype?), do let me and others know.

I have to agree with John--I do love Mel Brooks' films and occasionally South Park. There is a difference in parody and satire and outright being obnoxious and sneering at people who look/act/are different than yourself. The jokes I read in the ezine in question did not fit under the parameters of satire/parody, as they were printed with the seeming intent to make fun of minority groups and to welcome further hateful commentary. That doesn't qualify as parody/satire under anyone's definition, not even under legal precedents where writers have been sued on a similar offense. Obviously, the ezine in question doesn't have a legal or literary section or an advisor. My suggestion--get a lawyer and a professional editor stat.

To quote your quote Mark: "if you run around in warpaint with feathers in your hair and carry a tomahawk, don't be surprised if people call you an Indian." I would like to inform you that I AM AN INDIAN and that my father's father was a proud Native American of the Blackfoot/Cree tribe. So, please feel free to call me an Indian or a Native American or a Blackfoot. I am okay with that. But have you ever stopped to think how an "off-color" joke sounds to people who aren't from your own ethnic group? It doesn't sound all that funny to us, and we take it to mean that you are sneering at us because you hate us and wish us harm.

Yes, the Blackfoot have survived into this century, but I've been told that some of my grandfather's people did not--they were murdered by the US Army (Remember George Custer?) in their encampment. Women, children, and elderly men--murdered in cold blood under the auspices of the US Army. How would you feel if that were YOUR family members suffering for their skin color, Mark? So, take a word from an old Indian--tread lightly. Walk a mile in another person's moccassins and see the world through his/her eyes. It will look much more hostile to you when you read racist humor and realize that when you teach young people to make fun of other groups of people, you are teaching them to HATE and possible MURDER others in the future without any sense of shame.

And yes, what the US Army did to my grandfather's people was SHAMEFUL. Let's not create a world full of hate and shame--let's follow some of the visionaries of science fiction and create a BETTER WORLD FOR ALL PEOPLES.

Brad Handley said...

Cindy, What I find ironic is that when LGBT, Black and Hispanic authors and fans spoke up on the FGoHs behalf why were they shouted down? They knew the man and the content and said you took it out of context. They got jumped on by liberals and shouted down.
The FGOH is such a racist that when a friend was murdered in a vile way back around 1990, he dedicated the con to his memory and to Robert Adams. They raised money for a scholarship in the man's name and if you did not know he was the son of the first Black Judge in Knoxville, TN you would not know he was an African American. The FGoH was color blind in the praise he gave this man at his con. And he is so intolerant that when I started attending his con, he asked a gay black man to help him out. And since it was his con, he had his friends helping him. This man was the FGoH's friend. But when the Black, LGBT and Hispanic friends said you are taking it out of context, you folks ignored him. You are like blind men inspecting an elephants rectum. You see the crap, but you have no idea what type of being you are talking about.

Cindy said...

I applaud the gentleman's generosity, Brad, but this isn't the issue or the point I'm making in this blog. The issue is about what he has PUBLISHED. When you put out any kind of publication (ezine, book, article, blog) and your name is associated with it, you are RESPONSIBLE for its contents. If the individual in question doesn't exercise proper editorial control over his publication, then what are other people who have never met him in person to think? You are representing yourself in your words alone online. We can't see you or know anything else about you (which is one reason why I caution people not to use vulgarities and profanities in their writings. It doesn't make you appear mature or compassionate in the public's eyes.)

I feel that if your friend had exercised editorial control properly, his ezine might very well be worthy of an honor. As it is currently published, I and others feel that it doesn't. It's that simple. It has nothing to do with him as a person or his friends but everything to do with his publication of an ezine and not taking responsibility for its contents.

If you are truly his friend, can you advise him to become more active in the editorial process in the future? That way he might realize that he has to actively edit material so others don't misinterpret his intentions. Perhaps take a basic journalism class?

Remember, I (and most others reading this) don't know him or you. We can only make a guess at your true characters by what you write. When people call other people they've never met nasty names and use vulgarities it doesn't leave a good impression. Racist jokes don't leave a good first impression of a person, either, sorry to say.

Maybe you're angry and frustrated that your friend didn't understand how to properly edit his own ezine? Help him out--help him edit it. Don't waste energy with name-calling. It makes you and your friend look less than honorable in the eyes of the reading public.

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