Monday, April 16, 2012
As a friend of mine would say: "I has a sad." It's nothing serious and nothing personal, so don't worry.
No, it's sort of a "I hate to see two friends fighting" type of thing - mostly having to do with this post, its author's awesome blog (which I link to a lot), and the community he represents (people of color in tabletop gaming); and this guy, his incredible group blog, and the community he represents (speculative fiction writers, editors, and publishers).
Both of these folks and their respective communities are very progressive. They routinely advocate for equality both in their hobbies/industries and in the larger society. By all rights, Deeper in the Game and Making Light should be staunch allies. And yet, the authors and their communities don't get along. This mostly stems from an incident ignominiously dubbed "RaceFail '09".
It started when a couple of published authors blogged about "writing the Other". There was mixed reaction to the posts: some felt that the advice was good; others were concerned about things like cultural appropriation. Several of the authors drew criticism for things they had previously written. People got defensive, there was much piling on, and the ultimate results were lots of hurt feelings and bad blood.
I think both sides acted badly, and I could definitely preach to both, but I'm not going to. No, I'm going to preach to one side only, and it's the side I'm on - the side of the privileged white dude who wants to be an ally. Because it's what I know, and one of the lessons I've learned (and you're about to read) is that you don't presume to tell people the best way to fight their own battles.
- Recognize that you are not part of the community you are advocating for. You do not share their experience. Being Italian or Jewish or Wiccan is not the same as being black or a woman or gay.
- Because you do not share that experience, the only way you can understand is to listen. Don't give advice. Don't assume you know what problems they face or how to solve them. You are not Kevin Costner.
- Learn the language the group uses to describe their struggle. More than anything, this shows that you are listening and trying to understand. Also, you might actually learn something.
- Accept that not everyone in the group will trust you. You're an outsider; they've been hurt by people like you. It's not fair, but you know what? People who have been hurt lash out. You wanna help? Get over it. If you get defensive the second someone challenges you, you're done.
- Know that you will at some point say something ignorant, dumb, or hurtful and you will be called out for it. Think before you speak. Think before you write. And when it does happen, suck it up and apologize. Remember why you're in this fight in the first place.
- Know that at some point you will say or do something entirely reasonable and still be called out for it. The correct response is to ask politely why you offended, listen graciously, and avoid the offending behavior in the future. It's not your place to decide what other people should feel.
- Be proactive in the real world, when you're around people like you. Work to educate them. Take risks. Actively fight discrimination. Often you will be the only voice that your privileged peers hear and heed.
- Remember why you're doing this: not because it makes you some kind of hero, but because there is real injustice in the world that bothers you so much that you are compelled to fight it.2
In the above-mentioned dispute, it's pretty clear the original authors were advocating 1, 2, and 3 - then failed miserably at 4, 5, and 6. And everyone lost sight of 8. Now maybe there was no winning. It was the internet, after all, and it's far too easy to derail a comment thread into a flame war. But sometimes the best approach is to just acknowledge criticism and move on. That's a good general rule to follow on the 'net and in life too.
1 By "allies", I mean people from a more privileged group who advocate for a less-privileged or oppressed group. Male feminists, LGBT allies, and white anti-racists all fall into this category.
2 Incidentally, that's what makes a real hero. If you're just in it for the recognition, there are way better ways to get attention.
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