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I’m about to be a jerk on the Internet or RaceFail Goes To WorldCon

As some of you know I went to Montreal for Verb Noire last week. It was…an experience. See, I don’t really like conventions. They are important and necessary to the success of my business and I get to hang out with some great people. But if it weren’t for the business I probably would not go to them. Aside from not being a big fan of crowds I tend to wind up in at least one discussion of race that leaves me feeling like I need a drink. Maybe three. And that’s just not good for my liver. Case in point, I was on a panel last Sunday entitled “Writing Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Geographic Terms” that went nowhere near a good place. I was a last minute substitute for my business partner (who now owes me a bottle of Riesling and a lifetime supply of chocolate) and I planned to discuss all the reasons why making the bad guys POC in epic fantasies are a terrible idea. Instead we spent the panel dealing with one L. Lamplighter and her insistence on saying awful things about race (highlights include calling someone extraordinarily black right after insisting that she literally does not see color and had to have the race of friends pointed out to her as well as whining about the difficulties of being criticized for writing POC poorly) and derailing the panel from the topic at regular intervals. The moderator and I have since been the focus of a few posts on her LiveJournal. Those posts….well I’ll link to them and you can see for yourself. The first post seemed to be particularly dismissive of Kate Nepveu and I thought “Well there goes a prime example of being a jerk online” ala my panel with John Scalzi on Sunday morning. Then I got to her post about me being called a nigger 1 and I was a little perplexed to see just how wrong she’d gotten the details of that anecdote. Mostly I was offended by her repeated use of the word “girl” since at 32 I’m well past the point of being taken for a small child. But of course there’s a whole lot of history attached to using such language towards POC2 and I’m certain she’s well aware of that history. If she’s not, then she really didn’t belong on that panel or on any programming to do with race. Or anywhere outside her narrow little bubble.

Then again anyone that feels it necessary to make statements like:

My son’s favorite friends from school are a boy the color of pitch whose family is from Africa, a Korean boy, and a Spanish boy whose family hardly speaks English.

as proof of her “colorblindness” is such a mess of aversive racism3 and outright bigotry that I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. She’s dressed it up a little, but her real meaning when she claims to be colorblind is “I can treat you with some semblance of respect as long as I ignore the color of your skin. If you force me to see you as a whole person then you’ve brought my bigotry on yourself and it isn’t my fault. It’s yours for being so extraordinarily of color. Because I can’t handle the possibility that your reality is informed by experiences that I don’t share.”

To be completely honest I am not interested in educating her or changing her mind or even speaking to her again in my life. I am not in the mood for some aversive racist bullshit reframing of my life. I am not in the mood to be patient, kind, gentle or even brutally polite. This is not a teaching moment. She had plenty of those during the panel (so many that we never did get to have the actual discussion because she kept on whipping out the fail every time she came near the microphone and we’d have to stop to correct her so that the audience didn’t get the wrong idea) and all that effort clearly made little or no impression upon her entrenched bigotry. Let us be clear…this conversation started in a room face to face so there can be no question of body language or tone. She had all of that on hand, and she…well let’s just say that she performed mental gymnastics worthy of a Matrix movie to miss the point of the conversation. It was not that she could not hear us, instead she chose to ignore our words4 in favor of hanging onto her prejudices. That’s her choice and she’s welcome to the path that she is on. But, that choice doesn’t come without criticism. She has the right to hold these beliefs and I have the right to call her on them.

So, for the record I am appalled and offended and just plain disgusted by her attitude and her condescension and her racism. Because make no mistake that is *exactly* what she has proven with her own words. No need for slurs or grandiose terrorist gestures when devaluing and disrespect will do. No need to listen to the words of those “girls” that are trying to tell you that your ass is showing. Because clearly we aren’t enlightened enough to know that the best way to approach life is to seek harmony with people who will tolerate our differences by ignoring them. My hair, my skin, my entire life is not something that I can pick or put down at my convenience. And the privileged assumption that the road to harmony is to ignore the parts of my reality that make you uncomfortable? Enough to make any sane person ill. Now, I’m not telling anyone to go over there and beat their head against the brick wall of her racism. Instead I’m encouraging you to hold her up as an example of what not to do and what not to say. Because really that’s the best approach to this kind of willful ignorance. Ignore her and maybe she’ll go away. And even if she doesn’t? Just consider the source the next time you hear someone spouting off about being colorblind.

Footnotes

  1. I was 12. It was a cop who had an established pattern of harassing me and my friends on the way to school. My grandmother’s pastor was affiliated with Operation Push so we had some juice with the city. There was no rallying around by anyone, there was some phone calls and a watch commander who didn’t want the publicity that comes from such an incident. []
  2. aside from being dismissive and disrespectful in general, the use of the word girl has the same connotations as using boy, namely that one thinks an adult is incapable of making their own determinations and they need someone to guide them []
  3. Color Blind or Just Plain Blind? is a great place to read up on what’s wrong with colorblindness and why it is just a new twist on the old standby of racism []
  4. Not to mention the words of another panelist, a male author of some renown who was unbelievably diplomatic []

41 thoughts on “I’m about to be a jerk on the Internet or RaceFail Goes To WorldCon”

  1. Daniel B Holzman-Tweed says:

    Wait, it’s not even her own best friends she’s claiming are people of color to fend of a charge of racism?!?

    1. Julia says:

      In comments to her post she eventually discusses her black friend. He also shows up to defend her and tries to name check Dr. King. Pitifully.

  2. Josh Jasper says:

    You’re not being a jerk as far as I’m concerned.

  3. Sami says:

    Ewwwww. This computer is NEW and that got racism all over my screen. Dammit, I had a computer that had NEVER SEEN RACISM. (Yes, it’s two days old and has barely been used, especially not online… but still.)

    1. Elleesttrois says:

      There’s an app for that. It’ll clean the racism right off like new. Billy Mays sold it to me. ;)

  4. AuntieWend says:

    There’s clueless and then there’s persistently, wilfully and deliberately stupid, and hello! Calling grown up women “girls” has been offensive since, roughly, about the time we reclaimed the word “woman” from being a Bad Word you used about female people who didn’t qualify as “ladies”. (Unless it’s done amongst a small group of female friends, in jest, the way I understand a small group of friends who are all PoC might conceivably use the n-word.)

  5. Lori Devoti says:

    I don’t know enough about what happened to comment on what happened on the panel and afterwards, but did want to say that women calling women “girl” is pretty common in the South and has nothing to do with color.
    Lori

    1. karnythia says:

      Actually it has everything to do with color in the South (and elsewhere), a fact that goes back to before the Civil War. Adult slaves were referred to as boy or girl out of some paternalistic delusion that they were on par with children requiring the leadership of the slave owners. The use of boy with black men got more attention (yay sexism!) but both are offensive.

      1. lori devoti says:

        You are, of course, right, but girl is not a word only used in that context and I think many people do not realize it can be offensive to some. I frequently hear white women using the term referring to other white women or when directly addressing another white woman.
        It’s like honey, or child, or many other words in these cases. And being over 40, I find myself calling someone a girl when describing an encounter, then realizing geez the “girl” in question is in her twenties or even thirties and I am majorly showing my age!
        Lori

    2. Julia says:

      You know who disagrees with you? Dr. King
      your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs. “
      “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

      1. Julia says:

        I actually meant my comment about Dr. King to attach to the comment above where Karnythia also replied.

        ANYWAY. Lori, why is the issue of “girl” what jumped out at you? Why is it important for you to defend it?

  6. Bindicated says:

    I’d like to know where she got the idea that people talk about race in order to “win” (the title of her post that Karnythia linked). I feel really sorry for her that she didn’t learn anything from the panel and from all of your efforts to throw some clues her way. Booooo.
    B.

  7. Heather says:

    The way this woman behaved is incredibly poor. I think that listening is a difficult skill to learn, and it’s apparently not one that she has learned very well.

    The link on aversive racism raised a question for me that I wanted thoughts on. It feels to me that a lot of problems with aversive racism are due to cultural differences where individuals are uncomfortable with a person because of perceived or real differences in reference points of humor, dialect, income, colloquialisms, and so on. If I am not able to easily communicate with someone, conversation is less comfortable, just as certain friends and family are more comfortable because we have common reference points on politics, jokes, and shared history.

    When someone’s skin color is different, this is an instant trigger in many people for wariness because of these perceived differences, however I’ve also witnessed this wariness when someone opens their mouth and has an accent. The question I have is, assuming the perceived or real cultural difference causes discomfort how do individuals become less scared and just accept them? Or what common reference points can people look to to overcome their fears/prejudices/assumptions about another person?

  8. Craig Gidney says:

    She’s as pompous as her husband–“student of pitch.” What is she, Ignatius O’Reilly? Her husband also has some retrograde ideas, vis a vis gay rights, so I’m no surprised that both her tone and behavior are condescending.

  9. Mary Dell says:

    Her posts are so awful and…ugh.

    What planet is she on that she can say, with a straight face, that the entire town of CHICAGO came together to support a black woman? I mean, come on.

  10. lisa says:

    i’m so glad you named her so that i can avoid her books like the plague.

    i went to look at her post and read this:

    “One of the girl’s on the panel had a sad story. She grew up in inner city Chicago. She had a nice life there. Once, someone used a racial slur against her, the whole school and town came to her defense.”

    and my head exploded. chicago? i love chicago–i’ve lived here for more than 30 years, but let’s not kid ourselves.

    i’m reminded of a song that says something about someone hearing what they want to hear and disregarding the rest. what an ugly experience :( .

  11. Brian Dolton says:

    I went to the first link on her lj that you posted and got as far as “Yet, in the days of the Saxons and Normans the rulers were prejudice against blond-haired folk.” and stopped.

    Clearly, anyone who fails to realise that:
    a). by no means all Saxons were blond
    b). by no means all Normans were not blond (Norman comes from Northman/Norseman – the part of France known as Normandy had been conquered and settled by Scandinavians, just as likely to be blond as Saxons).
    c). the main way you could tell Saxon from Norman was by language
    is pretty short on any kind of clue, and not worth arguing with.

    However the later point about children in her corner of VA sitting in mixed-race groups is worth following up on. I see a lot of people who talk about this “my kids have black friends” etc – but what’s telling is that it is ONLY the kids who mix. They are in an environment where they are forced to interact with people of different races, and while it’s good that they DO, it begs the question of how long will it be before their PARENTS mix freely? And so will those kids continue to have multi-racial friendships in their teens and twenties and so on, or will they “gravitate” to “their own kind” as their parents have done?

    1. Angie says:

      The book she mentions someone else on the panel having — Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum (which is very good, by the way) — describes how younger kids tend to sit in mixed race groups, but as they get older, into their teens where they’re looking for an adult identity and examining the larger world around them, they start splitting up in the cafeteria, sitting with other students who are sharing their current experiences and asking some of the same questions. Not a hundred percent, but it’s very noticeable, and Dr. Tatum gives a good analysis of why teenagers do that.

      Ms. Colorblind didn’t say how old her kids are, but if they’re in elementary school or junior high, that might be why she thinks kids in her area are all happily mixing and not even noticing each other’s race. [cough]

      Angie

      1. Persia says:

        My niece started getting ‘you Korean kids should date each other’ in fourth grade. I expect it’s going to get worse quickly. And I suspect her friends’ white parents aren’t even aware of it.

  12. schemingreader says:

    I’m amazed that someone who seems so incoherent and foolish on her journal has had writing published.

    If by “about to be a jerk on the internet” you mean “about to expose someone as an idiot by linking to her writing”–well, I suppose it is unfair to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed woman. (Whoops, I mean “girl,” since she even calls her own mother that.) I’m very sorry you had to listen to any of that stuff in person in public. I don’t want to dismiss the unpleasantness of listening to her racism just because she reads like a blithering idiot, because it still had to be awful to have to sit through. (But goodness, she’s had work published, that’s just astonishing.)

  13. Mike Barber says:

    “a boy the color of pitch” interesting choice of words. And by interesting, I mean WTF. I am reminded of a time I was at a former employer’s house helping him fix his computer as a favour. He brought out a bowl of mixed nuts and while we were casually snacking he picked up a Brazil nut and told me about how “they” used to call them “nigger toes.” In an effort to distance himself from the obvious ugliness of the nickname, he said “of course, it’s not OK to call them that now.” he couldn’t see that the offensiveness of racist crap like that isn’t mitigateted by historical or generational context–that it wasn’t a matter of “racism was ok then, but not ok now.” it was like he believed that it wasn’t racist because that was the social norm in his day; as if it gained racist status only after it became socially objectionable.

  14. Jackie M. says:

    “I have to listen to and converse with stubbornly racist white “allies” regularly” should be a legitimate medical reason for inclusion on liver transplant waiting lists.

    1. brownstocking says:

      <3 this.

      Agreed (this is my day job). Who's pouring?

      LOL

  15. Legible Susan says:

    I was brought up with We’re all just people; prejudice does not compute; take ’em as you find ’em, etc., which I suppose is the sort of liberal attitude that’s called colour-blind nowadays. Then I discovered the internet! & I can read! and possibly learn by other people’s mistakes even. Does that woman ever bother to read anything she didn’t write herself?
    Also, seconding “You’re not being a jerk”. Not that you need my opinion.

  16. Momsomniac says:

    “I planned to discuss all the reasons why making the bad guys POC in epic fantasies are a terrible idea.”

    I would really have loved to have access to that discussion. I’d want to know how it come across if there are MANY POC in a work of fiction – some good guys, some bad guys, etc.

    It’s a shame this got derailed by such…I don’t even have a word for it. I have held fast to my naive desire to judge people only by if they are nice to me or mean to me (my child-hood categories), and I TRY to do that. But I would not be so idiotic as to claim I don’t SEE skin color – and I would not be speaking on this topic in a public forum. This was one of the panelists?

    You are INDEED owed a life-time supply of chocolate!

  17. ripley says:

    I’m sorry you (and everyone there) had to spend so much time being forced by this blinkered twit to cater to her cluelessness. You’re definitely not being a jerk.

  18. HazelStone says:

    @Craig Gidney: LOL! The Confederacy of Dunces reference is perfect.

    OMG this woman is so incredibly obnoxious, oblivious and self-satisfied.

  19. Laurence says:

    I only just realized that I’ve never heard a PoC claim that they “don’t know how to write white characters,” or if they get something wrong they will be criticized. And of course white people say those things all the time.

    And no, you’re not being a jerk.

  20. delagar says:

    My favorite bit of her scrawl was where she claimed her two friends had been married for years, and never noticed, before they moved south, and the kind-hearted thoughtful rednecks pointed it out to them (at a rest-stop, I’m visualizing the scene) that one of them was black and one was white.

    That’s some serious color-blindness there, sis.

  21. Jenny Rae Rappaport says:

    For what it’s worth, not having read Ms. Lamplighter’s posts, I enjoyed the debate on the panel.

    I particularly thought your story was fascinating, and I learned a ton, and I thought a ton, which I think is even more important. Thank you for being on a panel with me.

  22. Juan says:

    Dear sweet whatever holiness is left in this world!

    I can’t stop reading those link threads. The lens of my failsafe goggles have turned to dust. She and her yes-yes crew are desperately steering starship Failtanic into a celestial body of lose. Wow, when some people wanna fail they wanna fail HARD.

    And “The Race Question: Who Is Going To Win?”?! She needs some serious help.

    Karnythia, my immense condolences towards you for ever having met her. And any others like her.

  23. Helen says:

    Just a trivial comment, but that Lamplighter person doesn’t appear to know the difference between a noun and an adjective. No, perhaps not so trivial, she’s supposed to be a writer. Must have a very forgiving publisher with a lot to spend on copy editors.

  24. Kerri-Dojhn says:

    color blind yeah right! Her responses is that of a typical “southern lady”, afraid to admit meanness but mean non the less. Still I hope that the discussion continues so that in the near future we can just pick up a book and not feel left out or underrated as POC and that these authors, black,white or whatever will get over their erronious ideas of other races and cultures. That’s why if you are gonna be good you should take the time to research before puttting pen to paper!

  25. Julie says:

    What happened during the Sunday morning panel with John Scalzi? I’ve tried looking it up online, but haven’t had any success.

    1. karnythia says:

      It was great. If that had been my last panel I would probably be raving about the wonderful WorldCon programming.

  26. Elleesttrois says:

    This person was a panelist? I’m sorry you had to deal w/ that. I periodically run into that carp and it’s just mentally and spiritually draining. Wishing you better times ahead…Elle

  27. Ellid says:

    Both Ms. “I am a spoiled, whiny, entitled white princess and you’re being meeeean to me” Lamplighter* and her husband, Mr. “Buttsex between men is ICKY and against NATURAL LAW and Vulcans would be Catholics if they had a church”* Wright come across as prime examples of Homo Bigotus Americanus. As such, I propose that they be gently studied by kindly scientists as a means to figure out exactly why they are the way they are, and then use their antibodies to inoculate the rest of us.***

    And no, you’re neither a jerk nor a fool. You are a very wise woman with a lot more self-control than I have, since I likely would have started screaming incoherently at this moron and been thrown out of the con after the “pitch black” comment.

    *I refuse, REFUSE to believe that this is her birth name. It is way too close to something a fifteen year old comes up with in a D&D game.

    **This completely ignores the facts that a) Vulcans as portrayed in Star Trek do indeed seem to have a religion that suits them just fine, and b) there are so many inconsistencies in the Bible as a whole and Catholic teaching in specific that Surak would pee himself laughing.

    ***A Star Trek plot that pretty blatantly shat on the Catholic church’s stance on birth control. This relevant solely because I’m so bewildered by the whole “Vulcans would be Catholics if they had a church” nonsense.

  28. rona says:

    This is frickin’ brilliant…especially: “I can treat you with some semblance of respect as long as I ignore the color of your skin. If you force me to see you as a whole person then you’ve brought my bigotry on yourself and it isn’t my fault. It’s yours for being so extraordinarily of color. Because I can’t handle the possibility that your reality is informed by experiences that I don’t share.”

    Kudos to you for being brave and truthful. There’ve been many instances where I could’ve said exactly that quote above and didn’t have the words to do so.

  29. Kat says:

    Just wanted to say that I attended this panel and thought you were right on with the comments. I was a little dismayed that the discussion got derailed into Race 101; wish there were some way of panelists meeting in advance and maybe…ah…talking stuff over with the clueless? Not sure what a better way to handle this would have been, but Kate did a good job with the moderation.

  30. Bart says:

    Like Kat (above), my wife and I were at that panel. We both physically cringed as soon as we heard the words “I don’t see race.” As you said, the panel was not at all what we’d expected or hoped for, although in retrospect it seems like maybe we should have expected it.

  31. Zahra says:

    I’m glad to see that you’re taking the road that’s best for you and your life, but I did want to second Momsomniac above, and say I’d love to see a post on why making PoCs villains in epic fantasies is a bad idea.

    This is one of my personal bugbears, and I’d love to read that piece. And recommend that others do. May you have the energy and the wisdom to take care of yourself first, and write those thoughts up at the right time.

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