So. RaceFail 09.
I've been reading, reading, and reading some more for nearly the entire duration (rydra_wong
's collection of links is an amazing resource for folks wondering what I'm talking about) but I haven't said much of anything online about it because it seemed to me that I needed to listen and educate myself--I also have a pretty strong preference to not engage in internet arguments.
I am a white woman and I live in a society that privileges whiteness. I know that I have said and done racist things in my life and that is a shameful thing. I am trying to do better. It is a hard thing to admit, but it is the only thing to do. It should go without saying, but I'm going to say it anyhow: I do not deserve praise for admitting this. It is my hope that people will call me on any stupid shit that comes out of my mouth in the future and that I am in a place where I can accept the criticism with grace and without becoming defensive (like us white people are so good at doing).
In terms of the current debate, I am in a weird position. As the senior SF/F reviewer for Romantic Times, I feel as if I am caught in a nebulous area between fan and pro. Most of the people who write for RT are, like myself, fans who really love the genre(s) we review, but at the same time, we are part of the publicity machine. I have to make a lot of judgement calls around what to include in the section--I don't have a whole lot of space. At most, I can pick about 15 books per month to include.
Generally, my criteria are a combination of, "Does this look interesting?" and "Is this by someone we have covered in the past?". I think I've been leaning a bit too hard on the "Is this by someone we have covered in the past?" and not enough on "Does this look interesting?". I am going to try to shft that paradigm and see if I can include more new or lesser-known writers, as well as be more proactive in searching out interesting titles from small presses (which I kinda sorta suck at right now).
As a reviewer, I know that sometimes authors believe I'm interrogating the text from the wrong perspective. The thing is, I'm not reviewing the book for the benefit of the author--they have betas and critique groups and editors for that; I'm doing it for the readers. I try to be aware of where I am likely to react badly are and to account for them when reviewing. I am not always able to set aside a book because I find one or more aspects of it problematic or offensive*, but I do my best to call out those aspects so other readers will be aware and make their reading decisions accordingly. Generally, those warnings concern sexual violence more often than racism, but that could be my privilege showing. In fact, it probably is. So: something else of which to be mindful.
Separately but related:
I categorically reject the idea that people operating under pseudonyms are not real people or should have their online identities linked to their offline identities. I operate under quasi-pseudonymity on LJ--it is a trivial task to link my legal name to this LJ should anyone desire to do so. I use a pseudonym not because I am ashamed of my online activities but because I do not want potential employers to find this LJ--unlike most of the people talking about how real names trump pseudonyms (at least in what I've read), I have actually been harassed out of a job because of my online life. And when I complained about the harassment to the executive director of the agency for which I worked, I was told that it was my fault for having a website and that if I didn't want my co-worker to harass me (and spread rumors around the office and encourage others to harass me as well), I should take the site down. I bear some culpability for my former co-worker being able to find me online--at that point, I did have my full name on my site--but she was the one who made the decision to search for and then to use that information in the workplace**.
I've been working on this post for several days now. I don't know what else there is to say that hasn't been said a million times better by other people. I don't want my public silence to be interpreted as agreement. Because it isn't.
*I have, however, refused to review one book on the grounds that I found it to be profoundly racist: Peter David's Tigerheart
. He has a Native American character named "Dog Licking Self" and refers to the Native American characters as "redskins" throughout. Yes, the book is based on a text that itself uses that term (Barrie's Peter Pan
), but that's quite honestly no excuse especially since they're not really Native Americans to begin with--I think it was wyvernfree
who suggested at the time that "barbarians" would be a better term since that's essentially what they are.
**The information she found? I'm queer and I'm non-monogamous and I'd made an off-hand comment about how I wasn't sure about something she'd asked me to do (I didn't specify what or who, just that it seemed weird) and that I was going to talk to our mutual supervisor about it when her got back in the office. Yes, she was mentally unstable. She was also in a position that was much more difficult to fill than mine so when push came to shove, out I went.