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Monday, April 27, 2009

Why I'm Not Going to Talk About RaceFail09 (even though I'm talking about it now)

I know this is a big deal in the blogosphere (or at least it was) and I suspect there are some folks wondering why I haven't chimed in. I have some valid reasons and some not-so-valid ones.

First, I came into the discussion late. It's impossible to keep up with RaceFail. Even though the arguments seem to have died down or shifted to more obscure locales, there is too much to read to get a good idea what has already happened. For a while I had no idea what RaceFail even was because nobody that I saw had put together a logical time line that put into perspective what exactly had occurred.

Second, I'm not interested in being flamed and bashed to death by people who are either understandably passionate about this subject, or illogically consumed by any subject of race. That's partly why I avoid discussing race on this blog, except where it is relevant to something I am interested in (such as the "Other," a subject of academic interest for me). That might seem to be contradictory, but so be it. I suppose what I mean is that I'll discuss the "Other," but I will generally avoid involving myself in those discussions which purposefully try to exclude other people simply because they're not part of a certain group. That's what RaceFail seems to have done, and I think most sides of the argument are at fault.

Third, I think the entire discussion that sprang up in which some people said that other people couldn't write the "Other" properly and yadda yadda is a stupid one. I don't care which side you are on. Why? Because there is no proper way to write the "Other." Period. You can argue against this all you want, but nobody technically writes the "Other" properly, because there is no single unique "Other" experience. Even people who are part of groups identified as the "Other" can only write from their perspective, but not from the perspective of all "Others." A black woman's experience will be different from a black man's1; a Chinese family's experience will be different from a Native American family's. That's just reality. This is like saying that I know what it's like being white because I happen to be white. I know the white experience from my perspective and only that perspective. I am relatively unique in this group of "white people" because I am not part of every different subgroup of white. I do not know what it's like to be Jewish, or a fundamentalist Christian, or even a white man from Iowa. Whatever universal "white" experiences I may have are not really "white" experiences anyway, because much of what I experience is simply part of being human.

So, to reiterate: nobody writes the proper "Other," because no such thing exists. There may be writers who do particularly poorly by inserting stereotypes and claiming to be socially conscious writers, but mostly nobody gets it right.

Having said all this, I think it's clear that I am saying something about RaceFail, which wasn't really my intention. I don't see myself becoming part of the discussion beyond this, though, primarily because I don't think RaceFail has done much good. It got people talking, but from the little I know, it also got people saying things that probably shouldn't have been said. Some folks have been alienated (so much so that they don't feel comfortable in the SF/F genre anymore), and I think that is the most important thing to remember.

And that's pretty much all I've got to say.


1. This difference is something not generally taught in school, but history paints a very disturbing picture of gender and its relationship to race. For example, black women were, for a long time, at the lowest rung of society in America. Since black men were technically subhuman, that made black women practically non-human, and thus relegated to the same status as that of animals. They were slaves on an entirely different level, because they could not legally defend themselves against rape and other horrid acts. For more, I suggest reading Evelyn Higginbotham's essay on race as metalanguage.

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  1. I am so totally out of the loop, this is only the second time I've seen any mention of RaceFail. Though I'm thinking it probably wasn't worth the time anyway I still hate the feeling that there's this huge thing going on and I'm left out. I don't read the right blogs often enough I guess.

  2. It's okay. I felt that way too until I heard about it. It's impossible to catch up on unless you have a week to spare reading everything. There are no good recap posts on RaceFail...

    I think it's best to let it slip back into obscurity, though. The discussion has done too much damage now, I think.