Most of You Have No Idea What Martin Luther King Actually Did
Letter From a Birmingham Jail
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If you support or kinda-sorta-support the death penalty, can I please convince you to stop?
This has been on my mind since the Wednesday before last, when the state of Georgia murdered Troy Davis.* I've been against the death penalty for a long while now, but the -- I dunno, the sheer predictability of this incident, combined with some related reading that found me around the same time, has brought some shit into sharper focus for me.
I've stopped believing that the problem is a mainly institutional one, that executions might be justifiable if the judicial system were somehow infallible. I now think the desire to have the state kill a captive is fundamentally corrupt and corrupting.
Anyway, about that related reading. If it hasn't made the rounds to you already, you've really got to read this piece from back in August, about Dr. Martin Luther King and about terror and dread (via nkjemisin). It's very good and very clarifying, and connects some dots that I hadn't seen connected before. It doesn't have anything in particular to do with the penal system. Except then in late September, this research summary about the link between states that lynched and states that execute (via yeloson) started making the rounds again, and I went, "oh." And now I seem to have lost the ability to see wrongful executions as a malfunction of an imperfect system, as some non-racialized tragedy. Now they seem like an intended function of a partially-dismantled but still very active system, one designed to impart a "constant low level dread of atavistic violence."
They're not tragic, they're evil.
And that shift has gotten me even more sketched-out about executions in general, even when we're talking about a target who is verifiably, irredeemably vile. (Because sure: monsters are real, I'm not going to dispute that.) Watching in real time the way these men and women pushed and pushed and kept pushing to kill a man who may very well have been innocent -- who, let's be honest, almost certainly was innocent -- has taken away any remaining faith that that will to cut off a life, that death-lust, can be used for good. I think it's poisoned. I think maybe every time we let it out it corrodes our society, makes it worse.
So, now what? I dunno. To start with, maybe I can get a few people to check out and send a form letter on this Reggie Clemons situation, which is maybe going to sound eerily familiar (via delux_vivens). There's also this list of things we can do in general about wrongful convictions (also via delux_vivens). (That's from the Innocence Project, who you might remember from that TAL episode about exonerations from a while back.) Not all of those suggestions are easy, but, well.
And as for me personally, since I'm kind of a dilettante with a full-time job and a time-consuming avocation to boot and I don't have high hopes about what I can personally do vis-a-vis activism, I reckon it's time I start paying the folk who do fight wickedness full-time, starting with Amnesty and the aforementioned Innocence Project. Maybe a few of you can, too.
* You can probably already guess the rough outline of this one even if you weren't following it: black man accused of killing white cop, no physical evidence, seven of the nine witnesses have since recanted PLUS a different guy has confessed to the crime, very suspicious pattern of abuse and intimidation from cops, and they went and executed him anyway. God dammit.
If your story is not about time travel, but it has time travel in it, then your story sucks.
Dep't of Why This Matters: I highly recommend skimming the thread at wild unicorn herd check in. It is beautiful.
So is everyone clued-in on the current Fail? Here's the ignition (scroll down and read the comments), and here's the tracking archive. Basically, Patricia Wrede's new book Has Problems, and people are talking about it.
Sidenote: ARRRGGGHHHHH. Yes, I really liked the Enchanted Forest Chronicles as a kid (and as a grown-up). It would be really cool if authors I like would stop screwing up this hugely. I can barely even imagine what it must feel like to be a Native American who really liked the Enchanted Forest Chronicles as a kid.
Anyway, I've only been nibbling around the edges of this one; I'll be trying to read more, but we'll see what kind of time I have. For now, I've found at least one thing I want to share: via spiralsheep, we hear from one of the people we're talking about when we ask "why in the hell didn't any of Wrede's friends warn her that completely erasing Native Americans from her
American Columbian frontier story was a bad idea?"
Well, because it's possible (common, even) for good people to carry racist ideas like some kind of social infection, and one of the primary functions of racist ideas is to make problematic and icky stuff seem normal and unremarkable. But check out the follow-up in there: consciousness-raising works.
A couple of weeks, a month? ago "Thirteenth Child" popped into my mind again. Maybe I was looking at her website. And I thought, "Oh, wait a minute. She erased all the Native Americans. That's... not so good...."
...It's even possible for white people to learn how to predict [complaints of race fail]. Now if white people could just learn how to predict them in time to not publish the mistake...
Right now, that's happening somewhere: Someone in a writing group is noticing something racially sketchy that one of their colleagues did by accident, and is quietly pointing it out, and it's getting fixed. I mean, that's always happened, occasionally. But I think one of the permanent effects of the various RaceFail conversations is that it's going to happen a lot more often. If Wrede had started building her book a few years later than she did, someone, maybe zeborahnz, probably would have warned her, and she might have done something about it and we'd have ended up with a drastically different book.
Again: That's why I want these conversations to be as big as possible, to be heard as far and wide as possible. They get shit done.
On his Twitter, producer Frank Marshall continues to deny the production has discriminated by giving opportunities for actors of color to white performers. After a series of twitters back and forth between angry fans and himself, Marshall made his final comment on the subject last week saying, "The casting is complete and we did not discriminate against anyone," defensively adding, "I am done talking about it."
Yyyyyyeah, see, that's not how it works. If you do something racist and then declare it to not be racist, it's, uh, actually still racist. Sorry 'bout that.
(A brief moment of disclosure: I haven't even watched Avatar yet; been meaning to get to it, haven't gotten to it. And I would have been ignoring the movie version, because theatrical live-action adaptations of original animated works almost uniformly wind up as fetid piles of donkey shit. Alas, Paramount is making this particular pile rather impossible to ignore.)
I’m trying to write a post that may or may not be possible to write, or which is at least hovering around the ragged edge of my capabilities. Bear with me, this shit will get a little disjointed. Also, this is all staying above the cut. Sorry.
Over the last two months, I’ve been nursing an obsession with RaceFail 2009, a massive conversation/volcano hybrid going on in online science fiction and fantasy fandom (primarily on LJ).
Last part first:
People of color are being systematically made to feel unwelcome and unsafe in science fiction and fantasy, whether it be as authors, as editors, or as fans. This is a major problem! It is a major problem for me and you. :D
I currently have no less than 83 RaceFail-related tabs open in an attempt to find appropriate introductory links. That’s not a number I chose because it’s funny, I actually stopped to count. So there’s the first thing you need to know about RF09: it is big. (No, please don’t run away.)
Furthermore, it is an honest-to-God hypertext. (Follow that link, please, because it’s actually one of the best primers I’ve seen so far on how to read this thing.) There are a great many conversations happening at once, about such topics as:
…and all of these conversations overlap with each other, comment on each other, and share significant subsets of their participants.
You don’t have to take a week straight to read all these posts. You don’t have to read all of them period. But I think you should take notice, learn about the events that kicked the whole thing off, learn about the simmering discontent and anger that forms the context for everything going on lately (i.e., about racism), and keep track of where it goes from here.
It is almost certain that several people reading this know significantly more about all above than I do, especially about racism in general. Apologies in advance for my missteps.
Every summary has its own bias. Nature of the beast, sorry.
** Actually, I would guess that RaceFail is at least 40% a conversation about itself. Probably because RaceFail itself is a legitimately fascinating topic of conversation.
I’ve been following RaceFail ’09 pretty closely since the start—the whole thing really got rolling in SF/F writer Elizabeth Bear’s LJ, which was on my friendspage at the time—and I’m still incredibly freaked out to be posting about it in a fashion visible to friends who haven’t yet encountered RF09 or one of its sub-conversations in their own online spaces. Hell, I’m freaked out to be talking about it period. I’m not doing this lightly.
When you start reading some of the more recent posts under the RaceFail ’09 umbrella, you’ll see a widespread perception that there’s been a call to choose sides and speak up.* That is not what this is about. Mostly because, who the fuck am I in the first place? I’m not a published author (WORKING ON IT), an editor, or even active in fandom (I read author blogs and review books once a month; seriously, I’ve never even been to a con or anything), so it’s not like me speaking up or not speaking up can be argued to make that much of a difference.
Here’s what me speaking up is about:
RaceFail is fucking important. You should be aware of it, and I encourage you read as much of it as you are able to. It matters.
That’s right: This is the I ♥ RaceFail post. Some of my friends who’re aware of RaceFail ’09 have told me they’re avoiding reading about it, and I think that’s a mistake.
John Scalzi is completely wrong. (EDIT: He's also got friends who help him be less wrong.) Elizabeth Bear was wrong, uh, several times, but especially when she tried to grab the reins and say “whoa.” Because having read this thing somewhat obsessively for the last two months, and having had the top of my head opened up too many times to count, I’m pretty sure that this actually is the conversation that needs to happen about race in SF/F (and, what the hell, everywhere). Yes, it’s messy. There is no moderator. Tensions have been high pretty much nonstop (and my first introductions to a lot of the people I now consider to be brilliant and sensible voices was when I saw them saying something I found (at the time) to be over the top). It’s hard to follow. It’s about several dozen things at once. But I don’t see how we’re supposed to have a more calm and orderly conversation about race without having this one first, anger and all.
* Which is sort of the case, and sort of not; there has been a lot of conversation about types of silence that wreck harm, but I’m not seeing any call-out that isn’t leavened with acknowledgement that not everyone can or should engage in the same ways.
The “Fail” in RaceFail is a synecdoche.
So I told a friend a little while ago that I would try and point them to some posts within RaceFail that inspire hope and/or joy instead of inspiring “HOLY FUCK SHE SAID WHAT as;dfjkakls;fjals;da.” On further consideration, there are a whole raft of reasons why that may have been a problematic thing for me to say, not least of which being that this whole business is really not about white folk and their self-improvement or catharsis in the first place, and certainly “WHITE EDUCATION COMES AT A FIGGING TOO HIGH PRICE.” Even better, as a white boy with very little actual flesh in the game, the accuracy and value of my judgement about which posts and elements are properly inspiring of hope is extremely suspect to begin with.
Nevertheless. I did say I want you to go and read more, and knowing where your carrots are is as important as having a good grip on your stick.
Here are some things which brought me some joy—or some hope—or which just turned my head inside-out in a way I badly needed—in the midst of RaceFail 2009:
The sheer bigness. Okay, that takes some explaining, but…
The reason it’s called RaceFail ’09 is to distinguish it from the one last year, the one in ’06, and the smaller blow-ups that have happened in-between. Something that you’ll see a lot in the earlier posts this go-round is some variation on the Cylon Clause: All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again. All of this will happen again—do please lift a hand if that doesn’t fill you with horror.
If the Fail is happening anyway—if havoc is already being wrecked in the hearts of authors and fans of color, if people who shouldn’t be driven out are already being driven out (or at least too damn close to out)—then I kind of want it to impinge on the space of as many white fans and authors as is humanly possible. Yes, it IS too high a price for mere education, but if the price is being paid regardless, let’s goddamn GET something for it. The more clueless-but-well-meaning white folk (I firmly include myself in this category) see the hurt being caused and start reading, thinking, and trying to understand the things being said by the myriad brilliant fans/authors/theorists of color (and allies!) involved here, the more likely it is that something will have changed by the time the next high-profile racial screw-up rolls ‘round.
(Of course, it’s always possible for the white SF/F fans who’re unwittingly plunged into the conversation to take away entirely the wrong lesson, but maybe that’s where posts like this one come in. If I’m lucky, and if I’m doing my damn job correctly.)
And also… maybe the more unavoidable the conversation becomes, the sooner new fans of color will discover the writings of all these brilliant people and the communities that have built up around challenging racism in entertainment. Maybe the bigness of RaceFail ’09 will help people feel less alone.
And if you’ve read her post, you know why the Devil knows better than to make that offer in the first place—the millions of girls like she once was don’t need just the existing white authors writing “the other” better, they need stories it wouldn’t even occur to a white author to write; they need more and better from everywhere.
verb_noire is a brand new small press imprint. Their mission is “to celebrate the works of talented, underrepresented authors and deliver them to a readership that demands more.” They raised 300% of their modest startup goal in a matter of days. (Again, I believe bigness to be one of RaceFail’s virtues.)
“What are you doing here?!” — “I’ll hold them off! You attack the core!”
Okay, so there’s this recurring theme I’ve seen, related to the Cylon Clause. It’s there in I Am Not the Moderator, in Being an Imaginary Conversation, in the last few paragraphs of this, in other places around and about. It reminds me of nothing so much as that trope in video games and anime where the big bad from the last season jumps in heroically at the last minute to help the heroes fight the current big bad.
The reason this brings me hope is, at least in part, transparently selfish, but man, seriously: there but for the grace of god go any of us, and when the stress of thinking critically about race gets you down, I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that screwing up doesn’t corrupt you for life. We can get better at this, within this lifetime, and people don’t necessarily stay angry forever.
There’s more, but I think I’ve hit my limit for now, so you’ll have to find it the usual way.
I’m going to keep all comments to this post screened—you’re free to post invisibly here; consider it the same as an email. (Unless you have something critical to say and explicitly tell me I can unscreen it!) Properly hosting a public sub-discussion in this particular hyper-conversation requires chops that I don’t think I possess yet, and so it seems polite to play it safe on that score. Go forth and read people who have spent more time and sweat and blood on this than me—and if I’m allowed to make a suggestion about what you do in places other than my own: please consider treading lightly, and maybe even switch into read-only mode. ‘Specially if you’re white. My own mental state regarding race in SF and America and elsewhere has mutated pretty drastically since January; I’m honestly not sure what I would have ended up saying if I had jumped in back then. Probably not this.