Naomi Novik (naominovik) wrote,
Naomi Novik

what ought to go without saying but doesn't

I don't do well with heated online discussions myself, and so I want to say up front that I don't want this post to be taken as pressure on anyone else to participate. I am only ever for people engaging online how they choose and however works for them at any given moment.

That said, I do want to say in the context of what feels like an unending stream of awful (link to rydra_wong's summary of the situation), that this makes me all the more painfully aware (if I wasn't already) why many fans of color don't feel happy and welcome in sff fandom, and I am really sorry that is the case. I have often been uncomfortable with the lack of diversity I see on the bookshelf, at cons, and in this industry (and not at all unrelatedly, in the tech & gaming industries), and in a vicious circle, I think this is at once the result and the cause. I am glad that there are more fans of color speaking up, because that is the only way stuff will ever change, and I wish that there was less fail in the responses. :(

In particular there is IMO never an excuse when anyone takes an online disagreement, from which they can disengage at any time, and escalates to real-world harm against the people they are disagreeing with. And I include outing in that as well as physical violence. To me, that's Godwin's law raised to the power of a million -- you have lost not only that argument but also any other argument you might ever have, because you are preemptively silencing any disagreeing voices who happen to be vulnerable in the real world, who now know they cannot risk engaging with you. Which is even more problematic in discussions where the whole point is a highly privileged group being criticized by a less privileged group, because people in the latter group are a lot more likely to be vulnerable.

And just to forestall -- sorry, but if you deliberately use your real name online and connect your blog/lj to your professional works, as most pro writers do for the marketing benefit, then participating in an online disagreement in a way that turns some people off your work rather than inducing them to buy is not real world harm inflicted by your opponent.

I also hope that my own works don't make anyone want to beat their head against a wall, for this or for that matter any other reason. But if they do and you feel like saying so or why, here or elsewhere, while I can't promise to respond because that's dependent on the limitations of my time & energy, I do promise to treat you and your opinion with respect, and if it's in a space I control, not to let people jump on you for having criticism to offer. And while I don't actually think critique has any obligation to be a service to the author, for whatever it's worth to you, I do find critique valuable, and try to listen to it with an open mind and without defensiveness.

I will add that to me, including characters of color, writing about cultures other than my own and being inspired by them, is the furthest from a no-win situation that I can imagine. It's not some obligation -- it makes my work better, and I don't mean morally, I mean more fun. It is hard to build characters and worlds and make them come alive and be vivid and distinct. It gets easier the more diversity and the more real elements we draw on, and as an author, I "win" the second that I broaden the scope and interest of my work by doing so. I don't get how trying to make my work better is doing people of color a noble favor.

And if someone criticizes me for how I do it, okay. PoC are not scary, and someone saying "I don't want you messing up my culture" is not less reasonable than someone saying "I don't want you messing up the names of the sails on a ship" just because it requires more work on the author's part to do a decent job.

Anyway, as the subject says, I am mostly posting because I wish all of this went without saying, but it clearly doesn't yet. I can't promise to respond to comments here any more reliably than I usually do, sorry, although I will monitor them in case of more fail, but in any case I would really like to direct discussion back to the blogs and journals of people who are talking about race in sff (and other) literature and fandom in ways beyond what should go without saying -- to name a few, deepad, zvi_likes_tv, ciderpress, bravecows, ktempest are all people whose posts I both enjoy and find illuminating (some lately discovered, some for a long while).
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