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.
- 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. [↩]
- 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 [↩]
- 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 [↩]
- Not to mention the words of another panelist, a male author of some renown who was unbelievably diplomatic [↩]