RaceFail Amnesty Post

RaceFail Amnesty Post

Maybe Amnesty isn’t even the right word, but I can’t think of anything better right at this moment.

The point of this post is: there have been a lot of people involved in RaceFail.  A LOT.  Some of them failed and failed hard, some of them wandered in cluelessly and then proceeded to fail, and some people came in with good intentions but ended up failing for some for a myriad of reasons.  I feel like several people who fit into that last group have probably been lumped in with the first and second.  Not because of the OMG ORC HORDE, but because, in a discussion of this nature where emotions run high and you just don’t know a lot of the people who wade in, it’s easy to peg someone as clueless or harmful when they’re not, or when they’re not trying to be, or when, in a less tension-filled situation, everyone may have been able to communicate better.

I see this happen a lot.  I assign no particular blame to any one group or person, because it’s not anyone’s fault. It is, sadly, natural, given the state of things.

But I think it’s important to speak up when one sees something like this happen. Not to chide others for not knowing a person as you do, but to at least be on record as saying: “I think this person is all right.  When we have distance and have made something good of this situation, please re-evaluate how you feel about them. I think they’re worth it.”

There’s more than one person I need to say this about as regards RaceFail, but right now I can only think of one: rozk.  I haven’t known rozk long, but from our private conversations and her posts, I believe she’s one of the good ones.  I don’t see the problems others have had with her (as in, I don’t interpret what she’s had to say the same way), but I also recognize that, because I have an existing friendship with her, I might not.  Still, as I said above, I hope people who consider her one of the “bad guys” will reconsider later on.

As I said, there are more people.  I will add them in the comments as I think of them.  But I’m inviting anyone who reads this to do so as well.  Name names!  But in service of saying, “This person is worth re-consideration.”


  1. I prefer people use the names most folks know them by when commenting (obviously if people know you by your LJ handle or nickname and you wanna use that, I have no issue).  The whole point of this is you speaking up for people you know, but that’s hard to do when you’re being anonymous.
    • If you really, truly feel like you need to be anonymous to the world, then please put your name or identifying name in the email field (then add @anon.com).  No one sees that but me.  I may nor may not publish your comment, but it has a better chance if there’s some identifier attached.
  2. I’m going to be as agressive about trolls and bullshit as I can on this thread.
  3. If someone mentions a person you really don’t like, I ask that you, just here, refrain from getting into an argument about them. You may still feel the way you feel in a few months, you may feel differently.
  4. When you comment, speak from your heart.  Opinions are welcome.

ETA: I will not post anon comments from people whose IPs match known proxies. Be a troll elsewhere, cowards.

ETA 2: Will also not post comments from a certain branch of the LA public library that is near the office of a certain LA lawyer that I have banned from this blog. Do you not realize that WordPress auto-logs IPs?  Well, you do now.

35 thoughts on “RaceFail Amnesty Post

  1. I’m still too raw to contribute to this fully, and frankly, I don’t think any of the people nominated save for RozK have made any good-faith efforts to apologize/learn. Monette appears to be doing positive things, but they don’t excuse her behavior.

    I am always hopeful that people will learn and continue to grow. I know I did when I first struggled with the recognition that my upbringing was colonized to a large degree. Even if I had grown up on the islands, the colonialist B.S. would have been omnipresent. This is, for a lot of people, an Enlightenment.

    The problem is that as a PoC/non-white, I’m well past Racism 101 now, and I don’t want to handhold any more people who are causing me or other pain. That includes making them feel better about themselves on this thread.

  2. Nalo, I’ll speak up again, to be (I hope) an un-thread-killer in your company. I’m with you on Emma. I’ve seen her do amazing things, things of great courage, in looking at stuff and learning and, most of all, opening herself to work through things in company when it would be easier to ignore it.

    I’ll not give the details of the one we had, years ago, but I will say this: after the blow-up incident, she came over to my house one day with a huge wad of kleenex. She solemnly divided it in two, and handed half to me. “Now,” she told me, “we’re going to go walk around the lake, and we’re going to talk about all of this,” (I had told her I wanted to do so) “and we’re going to cry. So here’s the deal: when I need a kleenex, I have to ask you and you give me one, and when you need a kleenex, you ask me and I give you one.” And we did.

    Some of the things we talked about were probably part of why Bone Dance got dedicated in part to me. I never asked, per se… but there’s stuff in there.

    I’ve seen her come through. I know she has the heart for it. I also know that things are loaded on her pretty heavy right now, and I’m not talking about anything to do with this particular topic — I just mean other life stuff — so I don’t read things into timing that others might.

    But I speak up for her here.

  3. As Bone Dance features the loa, not the orishas.

    Additionally the understanding of the loa, as well as the knowledge that there are the distinct differences between Haitian Vodun and Louisiana VooDoo is lacking. A comprehension of the historical-cultural milieu of who, what and how the loa arrived in the New World is also mia.

    So no one should expect to rely upon Bone Dance for any authentic instruction in African diaspora religions.

  4. For myself, I am grateful to all the people of colour who’ve been brave enough to speak up on this issue. Whether their arguments were temperate or not, it takes courage to speak up in a profoundly racist world in which we are at risk before we even open our mouths. I also liked the comments upthread that asked us to remember that the people involved, of all races, are humans and that many of us are doing our best to deal with a fraught, urgent and toxic issue that is bigger than we are individually. It’s tough to build community with people who are blind to their own privilege. It asks a lot of the victims. Yet my instinct is that racism is a common enemy, and building community might be the strongest way to stand together against it. I don’t know everyone who’s been earmarked for ostracization, and I have no hope of keeping up with all the accusations. But four names come immediately to mind; a few months ago, I attended an anti-racist rally with rozk. She puts herself literally on the line to fight against racism, sexism, and homophobia, and I would trust her with my life. I’ve spoken up elsewhere for Bear, who continues to do her best to be honest with self and others, to listen and to think, and to tackle an issue that many of her colleagues will not. Emma Bull, whose apology seemed brave and on point to me, and whose novel Bone Dance was one of my introductions to the Orisha tradition of my native Caribbean that I now use in so much of my work. Charlie Stross, who in my experience of him so far is a good egg; considerate and thoughtful.

  5. I’ll nominate Bear, for the reasons stated above. I also want to add that it was on her blog that I first encountered the notion of white priviledge. It was something I always knew existed (intuitively) but I never had a name for it and it therefore never solidified in my mind as an actual phenomenon. I don’t live in America and until recently did not read American blogs that discussed racial issues – what I read on Bear’s blog discussing her white priviledge was for me an eye-opening experience. Not everyone chooses to discuss race on their blogs, and not everyone should feel like they have to (IMO) so I feel that anyone who would willingly wade into that hornets’ nest should at least be given some consideration for being willing to make the effort, recent events notwithstanding.

    As for whether or not RaceFail09 was a useful discussion. I certainly agree that it’s a topic that needs to be discussed, but I was not impressed with the way it was handled. A lot of people posted comments based on immediate gut reactions to apparent attacks on their friends. IMO also, a lot of comments were, either deliberately or through careless reading, (mis)interpreted as being more hurtful/damaging/stupid/racist than they might have been intended to be. There was some unnecessarily personal mud-slinging. And a lot of people, it seems, were in such a hurry to hurl accusations at the ‘other’ that they seemed to forget that words, especially in text, are a very weak form of communication and a lot of what we mean and intend can get lost in between the lines. It got to a point I thought I was reading the equivalent of a bar brawl rather than a heated debate on a very important issue.

    That’s just my long-winded way of saying, I think a lot of people were unecessarily hurt and a lot of people unfairly villified in this mess; but the one whose journey I’ve followed the longest is Bear so I’m nominating her.

  6. Oh, and definitely Roz (rozk) for double-damn sure. Sorry, forgot to mention because of obviousity to me.

  7. I’d say PNH, for reasons Nora and others gave, and TNH for reasons Jo gave. Also Bear, and Sarah (Monette), because I know they work at learning stuff, and that this matters a lot to them.

    (Sorry, up too late, incoherent. But had to say something, having finally stumbled across this post by a series of unlikely links.)

    Thank you for this, Tempest. Especially this: “Also, it may also help the people in question to be able to mend their ways if there are people publicly on their side.” May I get the same grace when I need it. Amen.

  8. Sarah Monette (livejournal name truepenny) auctioned one of her ARCs of Corambis to benefit the Carl Brandon Society. (The other two were for John M. Ford Memorial Book Endowment and Scarleteen.)

  9. I’m a little confused re your post. Why would anyone need “amnesty” re what they said during what you call “RaceFail?” I mean, I read a lot on this subject and nobody was saying any crazy KKK or Nazi stuff, just some things that were construed maybe a little too sensitively? And on LJ, things can kind of get out of control with the comment-rage becoming a kind of snowball effect.

    This whole thing has made me rethink a lot of things. I’d always thought that “PC” was a nonsense buzzword invented by the right, but with fellow liberals turning on each other with easy-to-make and impossible-to-rebut accusations of racism, I can see that the buzzword actually carries some weight. It’s made me rethink both politics and my interest in the F/SF field generally.

    1. Daniel, I’ve seen more than one person say, “I’ll never read X’s books again” or “X better not cross my path at a con!” I think amnesty is a great idea, and maybe it will make nervous white people more comfortable about discussing this subject with K Tempest again too if they know she’s so willing to extend a hand like this.

      Take a look at this essay on “PC”, please.

    2. One need not have said any “crazy KKK or Nazi stuff” in order to have said racist or hurtful or harmful things during RaceFail. And that’s not even getting in to actions. Racism does not have to rise to those extreme levels in order to do damage. Any internet debate can get out of control, but it’s been going on for a while, and people have had many, many chances to make mistakes over and over.

      Also, when accused of racism, it’s actually quite easy to rebut, but most of the time people don’t even have to. It’s… well, long and complicated and I’m too tired to get into it. Go to theangryblackwoman.com and click on the required reading.

      1. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

        People say and do racist things, even people who don’t advocate theories of racial supremacy. If we set the bar so low as to say “Anyone who is not a Klan member or a Neo-Nazi is not a racist, and therefore nothing they say or do can be racist” we’re not going, as a society or as a subset of society, to move forward in this regard.

        Or, in my paraphrase of one of the world’s funniest humans: ‘It’s easy to pat yourself on the back for not burning crosses, but as Chris Rock might say, “What do you want, a cookie? You’re not supposed to burn crosses, you low-expectation-having white person.”‘

  10. Thank you for this post. Re pnh: it was horribly clear to me that he hadn’t read back into what was, by then, a 300 comment thread (and LJ’s real flaw is how hard it is to expand threads) and had no idea he had used language that had become by that time astonishingly loaded. I don’t applaud his (or tnh’s) reactions,but I have had one almighty row with pnh many, many years ago, and not only was he not vindictive (and it was a public row, and the context humiliating for him) he went on to show great generosity.

  11. I’ve really got to speak up for Bear. She wasn’t perfect, but she didn’t do anything that a huge number of people much less decent and honorable and yes, honest than she haven’t done or couldn’t do, and she accomplished tremendous good, I’d venture to say, by making us look in the mirror. “If this could happen to Bear” is something one hears around the water cooler. She’s been villified to an insane degree because by now, everyone is so fed up with the whole thing, and so eager to have someone to blame, it’s a big relief to have a big, famous, convenient target who won’t retaliate in mean ways, and who’s sensitive enough to suffer. It’s completely unjust to blame the whole RaceFail on her. Whatever she would have said or not said to Willow, the RaceFail is likely to have happened and to have gone along the lines it did, based on previous experience with RaceFails in ’06 and there on.

    It’s also very unfortunate for her that she wrote her rawest and most subjective post, which I believe was meant as a plea for amnesty and cooling down rather than a call to silence discussion on race (however confusing it may have been on those points), a few days after the outing of Coffeeandink. People were horrified by how far this thing had gone and wanted someone to blame and the rest was “Lord of the Flies,” “The Lottery,” etc. Not that people shouldn’t have had questions for her, but it crossed the line into something scary. Bear did NOT cause the outing of Coffeeandink. It’s unconscionable that anyone should even be suggesting that.

    She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, many times over, and showed inexperience with some of the issues that came up and language that was used. And she got in over her head. If one were judging a class on group moderation that would be one thing, but if one is passing anathema on a real live human being who’s shown her good will and frequent cluefulness on these issues many times over, it’s quite another.

    Thank you so much for putting up this post; you are showing true generosity and perspective by doing that.

  12. I’d just like to say that I am taking criticisms to heart…I am also aware that one or two people who rushed to my defense said things in the heat of the moment which people misunderstood, or at least read harshly. Principal among these is fastfwd, who got some rough handling as a result.

    I’d also like to say that annafdd got treated pretty harshly by some people for reasons that entirely escape me.

  13. I have some people, but the ones in mind are:

    – Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Teresa Nielsen Hayden,

    For the reasons above from Nora and Jo Walton.

    – Elizabeth Bear,

    I came upon her blog while trying to drink down the residual effects of a bad PTSD trip. Instead of continuing with the drink, I read her essays about surviving abuse. Wow. I had never thought of myself as having survived anything; or if I did, it wasn’t a worthwhile thing to have done. But my attitude changes in large part because of her words on her blog.

    Since then I’ve read all her stuff and all her blog, commenting from time to time but definitely on the survivor threads. And from that experience have concluded that while she failed hard in RaceFail multiple times, she was still trying to do good.

    The fallout from her actions hurt me, but before that (and I know after all this as well) she gave me understanding and hope and the knowledge that things can and will get better, but realistic acknowledge the suck that long-gone situations will still echo in your head.

    Not even half of my list. Just still a bit numb here.

  14. I think that your intent is the best possible, and it’s not my place to tell you personally how to feel, but the comments here are truly distressing. While having compassion and reaching out in a spirit of understanding are vital to social change, shouldn’t the FIRST move be on the part of the people who have hurt so many others? That is to say, shouldn’t X person first apologize and appear to be truly contrite and THEN on an individual basis their case be assessed in light of their further actions and words?

    1. here’s the thing. I think that, yes, the person in question should also do what they can personally to work through the stuff that RaceFail brought up. At the same time, there will be people who will see any attempt on the part of these people to do so as just more fail. So there’s that. Also, it may also help the people in question to be able to mend their ways if there are people publicly on their side. Lurkers supporting in email are only so useful. And last, anyone is free to ignore anything anyone says here. I am personally not agreeing with a lot of what people are saying here, but it doesn’t matter if I agree or not. I’m allowed ot make up my own mind same as the people commenting are allowed to :)

  15. I’d like to add my support to the nominations of Patrick and Teresa. I’ve met them both, and I was deeply horrified to see them accused of being racist when it was clear to me from direct experience that they were not.

  16. You are an amazing and lovely person. I’m glad to know you however, uh, I’m not finding a good word here. I know you to recognize and chat with but not well or deeply. But what I do know I’m very glad of.


  17. I think that Kynn person is okay despite being a clueless whitey most of the time (well, all of the time).

  18. I’ve stayed out of this entire situation because, frankly, I’m borderline Aspie and this is not a manner of community change that I am capable of.

    But I’d like to third, fourth, or nth, nomination of Patrick and Teresa. I am of course biased by being their friend, albeit of a very recent vintage. But by that I mean that I am not drawing on years of association with them; I’ve come to like them for who they are right now.

    Thing is, the way to get them to fly right off the handle is to attack not them, but the people they care about. Reading (what I can of) the original documents rather than the commentaries, that’s what I see. The interpretations of what they said that have hardened into doctrine, many of which were also made in the white heat of argument, are much harsher than I think they deserve.

    Me, I’d like to see more emphasis on actions rather than words, going forward. Keeping track of who said what to whom is one thing, but I’m more interested in how the community can improve the situation. I’m not sure blacklisting Patrick and Teresa for losing their tempers on behalf of their friends is really going to do that.

  19. This is your house, and I think this is a very generous-spirited post, so I know I’m being a bit cranky in saying this, but nonetheless:

    Very kind, generous, thoughtful people who are committed to racial equality and who actually work for social justice can nonetheless say or do racist things at times.

    I think it’s wonderful to be reminded of the kindness, generosity, and commitment to social justice of various people who have said or done racist or other -ist things in this whole debate.

    To me, the real hostilities in this started when some people decided that their friends were Good People and therefore started a) frantically retconning the friends’ comments to “prove” that they “weren’t really racist” and b) attacked the people who were critiquing the comments as being “name-callers” and similar.

    I’m willing to give most people a second or third chance after unfortunate behaviors. I’m uncomfortable with attempts to explain the behaviors away, though. That feels like a real mindfucking double-bind.

    Re: rozk, I agree with you that she’s someone who is trying in good faith to understand. I have found some of her statements to be offputting and offensive, but I think she’s genuinely open to hearing feedback, and I admire that.

  20. I second the nomination of Patrick and Teresa. I know them in RL as well as online and they’re very dear to me, and I respect them a lot. I certainly wish they had handled this differently, but I don’t think either of them is a bigot or an asshole, despite having come across that way to many people in the course of this discussion.

  21. As well as Patrick, I want to mention Teresa. She definitely failed — she failed to express herself clearly so it looked as if she was making threats, and she failed to moderate the thread on her LJ. But she’s not clueless or harmful or trying to be, and most people are calmer and make better decisions when not trying to defend their partner from what seems like a huge weird attack coming out of nowhere. She misread the situation and lost control. But I hate to see her being tarred with the same brush as the malicious people in all of this.

  22. I want to second the nomination of Patrick, for the same reasons Nora gave.

    (And thank you for this post, and for all the hard work you’ve done throughout this discussion.)

  23. Hi love

    I had to take you off my to-read list because I had to control in some way the triggers I was facing, but I see I lost more than I gained by this. You are a wonderful generous person and I have a great respect for you. If I had to nominate somebody who got a raw deal and didn’t deserve it, it would be you. I have actually defended you privately to several people and now I am happy I did so. (Of course, you also had the honor of being singled out by the worst troll I’ve seen in a long time as an object of special hatred – something for which I salute you.)
    And honestly – even if now I run like hell when I see some handles in comments, I do profoundly believe that the vast, vast majority of people engaged in this deserve better than what they got.

  24. I’m going to nominate Patrick Nielsen Hayden. I think he genuinely got a raw deal here; he stumbled into a room full of arguing people, said something that turned half of them against him, and then freaked. I might’ve done the same (though I would’ve apologized first, which would’ve made a huge, screaming difference). But he’s said smart things about race in other places and at other times. I wish he’d kept up the trend here, but everybody fucks up sometimes.

  25. I really appreciate you being willing to post this. A couple of people told me K. Tempest was Big Scary Angry Person, but this post shows a huge generosity of heart.

    I’m going to nominate truepenny aka Sarah Monette, even though she did fail so greatly that even this mostly clueless white girl saw it and winced. She was the one who first even alerted me to the existence of IBARW, and she has apologized for her fail.

  26. I paid close attention from the start, but I was not caught up in this mess — that is privilege indeed.

    I want to thank the individuals who were caught up in this mess, who demonstrated unfailing courage, steadfastness, patience and persistence, who defended their community / communities. Almost always your expressions have been in the modes of clarity and reason. That’s really difficult, in the face of so much obfuscation, personal insult, and the preference of some to believe the false rather than the facts (so much like those who to this day, despite all the proof and evidence insist the POTUS is a muslim and is not a citizen).

    You acted with warrior hearts. You considered your community and your points first, and you behaved and spoke that way. That is the true way of the warrior, at least as I’ve been taught about the nature of the warrior, via the orishas.

    Thank you for what you have taught us.

    Love, C.

  27. I’m more tempted than you can imagine to be anonymous, right now. Or just to not post.

    But if I’m going to speak up for anyone, I have to speak up for Bear. Not only because I know her and dearly love her, but in basic simple justice.

    I don’t deny that she’s failed pretty damned hard, more than once, in all this.

    Or that she’s dug herself in deeper than she had to be, several times, through an inability to quit digging.

    I’m not interested in defending her actions. But I do have to speak up for her as a person who is capable of being – and who generally is – far better than her recent actions.

    And – she didn’t fail in any way I couldn’t have failed, given her opportunities. She didn’t even fail in any way I’ve never failed myself.

    Fortunately for my good name, I don’t have quite the same ability to spread the fail I commit across the internet in surround sound with full orchestration and five part harmony.

    She’s committed some serious fail, yeah. She’s also several times made herself look less honest, less decent, and less interested in learning than she actually is.

    And I know her to be an honest and decent person, with a real commitment to justice who is both capable of learning and highly motivated to learn.

    She thought that was enough and she was wrong. This is not a thing of which she is unaware.

    It may be years, not months, before people feel like reevaluating Bear. I get this. But there will be years.

  28. I said this on someone else’s LiveJournal yesterday, but as someone who was sitting on the sidelines and didn’t get caught in the RaceFail ’09 conflagration directly, I found the *entire* discussion worthwhile, and worth thinking seriously about.

    I sincerely wish that it hadn’t gotten personal, that people hadn’t had personal and professional lives damaged, and that everyone had responded to the different viewpoints with the default position of “this is a different person from a different background, but at the core a good person who just sees the world differently” instead of assuming different=bad. There are people on both sides who violated that one. It’s in our nature to be drawn to those like ourselves.

    However, that said, the issues that were raised were, in many cases, issues I had never considered. Points of view were expressed clearly (if angrily) that I had not previously been exposed to, nor had the opportunity to really come to understand. I value the chance to grow as a person, to learn new things, and to broaden my understanding of my fellow humans, and so I thank those who had the courage to speak their mind — even if I ultimately decided I don’t agree with them.

    As writers, we’re supposed to be observers of people. We’re supposed to understand not only ourselves but others. This whole fiasco gave us all a wonderful (if painful) opportunity to do just that.

    So, now I say, “Everyone is worth considering.” Take a deep breath. Remember that with one or two exceptions, everyone involved is, at their core, simply a person like you or me trying to do their best in a world that they’re struggling to understand.

    So instead of looking at the anger and pain, I say look at the issues — especially the outstanding ones — and WRITE about them. Incorporate this into your fiction, your nonfiction, your poetry. Take the dialogue to the people in the way we writers always have. Let it be about more than just us. Let’s get the world thinking about this.

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