The OF Blog: Misplaced righteous anger, or the flip side of the politics of fear

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Misplaced righteous anger, or the flip side of the politics of fear

Last night, I wrote at length about how I felt a "politics of fear" could be seen in the responses of a handful of people in regards to a sensitive topic. At the time, I made the decision to focus entirely on the reactions to events by two apparently bigoted individuals while giving the appearance of glossing over this, which sparked much of the outrage (misplaced, ridiculous outrage in my opinion, but still it was the response to the stimulus).

I have been familiar with K. Tempest Bradford's posts for quite some time, especially for her blog The Angry Black Woman. As is typical with many people who share some beliefs in common, I sometimes agree with her comments, sometimes I disagree or at least feel that it could have been stated in a different fashion. I do believe she has a right to express her opinion, strong as it may be for others, in regards to injustices she sees, but when it comes to committing what appears to be a faux pas at best and making an unfounded comment at worst, she does deserve to have it singled out as much as others who make baseless, ungrounded comments that incite others. Otherwise, keeping silent on such matters only serves to give fuel to those who want to use their fears as the basis for maintaining bigoted attitudes. Now to look at the post that set a few at edge, including those who support her comments in regards to the original event. As I did last night, excerpts, followed by brief commentary:

The only reason this is upsetting to Sanders and, I assume, certain other editors, is because that letter revealed bigotry. Bigotry that Sanders assumed Luke shared with him (and he might have) and thus he felt safe expressing it. It seems to me that the only reason this would worry any other editor is if they realized that rejections they’d sent out might reveal their own bigotry in some way. That would scare the shit out of me, too. Know what? I can’t feel sympathy for you over it, though.
While I suspect she is speaking from the vantage point of someone who has endured quite a few real (and imagined) slights due to gender/ethnicity, the very first paragraph likely set many on edge because it seemed that she was coming out with fists swinging and not taking any prisoners.

We can spend the next week quibbling over whether or not rejections are private correspondence and whether it’s unprofessional to post one to public or private spaces. (I don’t believe it is based on the fact that, since I’ve been a writer, writers have shared rejections, either in whole or in part, in forums relating to writing. Also, I agree with those who’ve said that once a person says truly despicable, racist things in letter form, professionalism is already off the table.) It may very well be true that, from a legal standpoint, Luke didn’t have the right to do what he did. But, again, would anyone care if it hadn’t revealed what it did?
She does make a good point here, one that I do believe was taken a bit too far with what follows.

The fact that Gardner Dozois brought up the specter of a lawsuit makes me wonder what’s hiding in his rejection letters. Why else try to scare Luke in that way? Maybe it’s just general fear on the Internet that people of his ilk seem to have. Either way, it makes me extremely dubious about Gardner and anyone else who focuses solely on the whole private/public correspondence bit and not the raging bigotry. As Celia said elsewhere, this is similar to what got David Moles in trouble with SFWA. The people in question couldn’t defend their (terribly disappointing and, in some cases, disgusting) words and opinions, so they fell back on whining about privacy.

I’ve made a man of straw, would someone like to use it?

Yes indeed, the straw man was made. For what purpose? Was it just to make people to stop and consider what might lurk behind many people's rationales for acting the ways they do? Perhaps, perhaps not Bradford goes beyond this supposition, however, when she quite directly ponders, "what's hiding in his rejection letters?" If I castigated Murphy and Kratman for their questions that raised spectres that stirred up fear and hate instead of leading to greater awareness of others, I have to do the same here. It's what has many people stirred up and not listening to her other points, some of which have a sound basis. Singling out a very well-known and respected editor perhaps was done with the intent of making others question their own knee-jerk reactions in regards to matters of racism (presuming of course that each has his/her own personal threshold in regards to what will and will not consider to be racism). However, its presentation leaves most viewing this (including myself) as being the tarring of someone with an overly broad brushstroke.

ETA: It’s been brought to my attention in comments that Sheila Williams was the first to bring up lawsuits. I mistakenly thought it was Gardner mainly because Luke mentioned him, not Sheila. That still makes me sad, because I am still annoyed with all this focus on whether it was okay for Luke to post the rejection instead of the important issue: Sanders’ bigotry.

I also hear that people are mad because I’ve cast aspersions at (on?) Gardner Dozois. I elaborated in the comments, but basically I stand by my assertion that I am extremely wary of people who jump to “How horrible of Luke to post that letter” and not “How horrible of Sanders to say such things!” Those who do not speak out against bigotry usually do so because they are afraid/intimidated into not doing so by their peers or because they just don’t see the bigotry as being all that bad. (There are other reasons, too, these are just the ones I come across most of the time.) I have some sympathy for people who fall into the first category and absolutely none for people who fall into the second.

I can understand her frustrations to an extent. Sometimes, people just don't "see" what others "see" within an issue. Not saying it's right or wrong, but it is understandable. I personally, along with many others, did see the racist elements first and went "WTF?" Others, however, likely noted it in passing, but were thinking of possible ramifications that doing what is considered to be a breach of professional ethics (especially when it draws attention to the tenor of the note; it is difficult to be direct when there is the fear that the other party might post editorial comments that have nothing to do with racial/gender prejudices but everything to do with other sensitive issues such as how religion was presented in a story, or politics, etc.). It is a valid point, but when one is frustrated by more than a single incident, things can be interpreted in a different fashion, often leading to a "with us or perhaps against us" attitude that can be incomprehensible for many and downright off-putting for others.

Daughter of ETA: This very thoughtful comment explains how, in the context of the community and rules of the Asimov’s board, this particular annoyance began. Unless someone who actually hangs over there wishes to contradict this, I’m going to choose to believe this is how things work there. Which means that everything is Stephen Francis Murphy’s fault. And I have no trouble believing that. Above when I said there might be other reasons for reacting to the “oh, ethics and copyright!” and not “arg, bigotry!”? This appears to be one of those other reasons. I’ll amend my opinions accordingly.
While by this final edit, done sometime Friday, Bradford has throttled back the emotional reaction, she still hasn't given an indication that her views vis-à-vis Dozois have changed, other than to say that hey, ya know, I have a reason for being mistrustful. Sadly, the spectre of that charge is still lurking here, a very serious one which still has no proof at all. Many read that as being an utterly groundless and spite-filled attack on someone they respect highly. Certain others read it as a justification for their own stupid-filled diatribes on women, people of color, liberals/leftists, and "PC" people. The politics of fear doesn't need this sort of ammunition, as it makes it harder the next time that a William Sanders states something that is unequivocaly racist for others to take righteous anger as being anything but misplaced, due to baseless accusations such as this.

But what a microcosm of world politics in the past few days, huh?

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