Racism and Sexism

By Robert Silverberg: It’s folly to think that denials can ever catch up with falsehoods and distortions, and so up till now I have refrained from attempting to defend myself against the accusations that have been aimed at me since shortly after the San Jose Worldcon.  But now the situation has reached a new level of unreality that leads me to break my silence.

At San Jose, the Best Novel Hugo went — for the third consecutive year — to a writer who used her acceptance speech to denounce those who had placed obstacles in her path stemming from her race and sex as she built her career, culminating in her brandishing her new Hugo as a weapon aimed at someone who had been particularly egregious in his attacks on her.  Soon after the convention, I commented, in a private chat group, that I felt that her angry acceptance speech had been a graceless one, because I believe that Hugo acceptance speeches should be occasions for gratitude and pleasure, not angry statements that politicize what should be a happy ceremony.  I said nothing about her race, her sex, or the quality of her books.  My comment was aimed entirely at her use of the Hugo stage to launch a statement of anger.

I would not presume to comment on her experience of having had racist and sexist obstacles placed in her career path.  I have no doubt that she did face such challenges, and I’m sure the pain created by them still lingers.  I in no way intended to add to that pain.  However, it seemed to me that this writer, after an unprecedented three-Hugo sweep and considerable career success otherwise, had triumphed over whatever obstacles were placed in her path and need not have used the Hugo platform to protest past mistreatment.

An unscrupulous member of our chat group illicitly posted my comment on the web site of someone who has indeed devoted himself to harsh racist attacks on this and other writers, and from that moment on — guilt by association, I suppose — I was denounced on the Internet as a racist, a sexist, and perhaps a lot of other dire things.  (I do not participate in social media and all I know of what is being said about me has come from third parties.)

I am not a racist.  I am not a sexist.  In a career spanning many decades, I have generally been known among my colleagues and in fandom for my professionalism, my courtesy to people great and small, and my helpfulness.  And, though I hesitate to evoke a version of the old anti-Semitic cliche, “Some of my best friends are Jews,” I have in fact maintained warm friendships with several of the (very few) black science fiction writers of my era, and I have numerous friends of the other sex as well, who can testify that the epithets that have been hurled at me are undeserved.

Now Marta Randall, a friend of many years’ standing, has asserted in File 770** that I have a history of sexism as an editor stretching back over the years, declaring that when she and I were co-editors of the annual anthology NEW DIMENSIONS she had proposed an all-female issue of the book, and I had threatened to remove my name from it if she did.

I have no recollection of this episode.  I think that editors have the privilege of excluding any group they wish from their anthologies — men, women, Jews, Christians, Bulgarians, atheists, whatever.  I don’t think that’s a particularly good idea, though, except where the anthology’s intent is one of special pleading — as, for instance, an anthology intended to demonstrate the excellence of Canadian science fiction and therefore limited only to Canadian writers.  (But Jack Dann’s two WANDERING STARS anthologies, limited to stories on Jewish themes, included four stories by writers who were not themselves Jewish.)

NEW DIMENSIONS, which I edited for ten years, was intended to provide the best in science fiction as I understood “best.”  I had no intention of judging submissions by any standard except literary quality: I paid no attention to the race or color of the authors who sent me stories.  In fact the first issue of NEW DIMENSIONS had four stories by women in it, and most of the others had at least two or three female contributors, with the lone exception of the fourth issue, which had none.  I see no evidence here of systematic editorial discrimination against women.

Eventually I wearied of the work involved in editing NEW DIMENSIONS, and, since Marta Randall had been a frequent contributor (four stories in the ten issues) and her novels then were being published by Pocket Books, which was also the publisher of NEW DIMENSIONS, I suggested to Marta and her Pocket Books editor, David Hartwell, that she take my place as editor of the anthology.  To help maintain the book’s commercial viability, I suggested a three-book transition: the eleventh issue would list Robert Silverberg and Marta Randall as editors, the twelfth would be billed as “Edited by Marta Randall and Robert Silverberg,” and from the thirteenth issue on she would be listed as the sole editor.  This proposal was accepted and Marta was given a three-book contract.  I was not a party to the contract and was co-editor in name only; she picked all the stories and did all the other editorial work.  Issues eleven and twelve duly appeared with the editors’ names listed as agreed.  She had three stories by women in the eleventh issue and three in the twelfth, about the same male/female ratio as I had maintained during my editorial tenure.  I understand that the thirteenth issue was prepared and then canceled before publication, for reasons that I don’t know.

As I said, I have no recollection of Marta’s having suggested an all-female issue.  If she had, I probably would have said that I didn’t think it was a wise thing to do, since NEW DIMENSIONS had established itself over a decade as a generalized anthology without any special agenda other than to publish good science fiction, and this would have broken its continuity of policy.  I would have said the same thing if she had proposed an all-male issue, an all-Uzbek issue, an all-fantasy issue, or any other kind of all-anything issue, because I wanted ND to remain something recognizably like what it had been under my auspices.  I think the book would have died otherwise.  This does not make me a sexist.  I would not in any case have threatened to remove my name from the book — an empty threat, since under the terms of the original arrangement my name was already due to be removed as of the third issue she would edit.

As for my alleged lifetime of sexism, I offer as evidence an anthology I edited called THE CRYSTAL SHIP, published in 1976 by Thomas Nelson.  This was an instance when I chose deliberately to construct a book with all-female contributors, in order to make a specific point about the changing nature of the science-fiction field.  It contains three original novellas, commissioned by me, by Joan D. Vinge, Vonda N. McIntyre, and…Marta Randall.  You will notice that all three are women, and in my introduction to the book I observed that although for a long time there had been only a handful of female science-fiction writers, the 1970s had seen an abundance of them appear. “Which is all to the good,” I wrote. “Men and women are different not merely in physical appearance; they receive different cultural training from earliest childhood, and their ways of interpreting experience, of human situations, of perceiving the universe, often differ in ways growing directly out of those differences….Science fiction is no longer so universally unisexual, for which let us rejoice.  To be female is, I think, neither better nor worse than to be male, but it is different, it is beyond doubt different, and the difference has value for us all.”

These are not, I think, the words of a sexist.  Nor can anyone produce evidence of my alleged racism.  I have lived on into an age where it is terribly easy to offend people, intentionally or accidentally, and the Internet makes it possible for them to register their state of offendedness all over the world.  But I am troubled by the Internet comments of people who do not know me, have misread my statement on the Hugo event, and attribute to me beliefs that I do not hold.


Endnote: ** Silverberg refers to Pixel Scroll 11/17/18 which linked to Adam-Troy Castro’s post on Facebook and also ran a screencap of Marta Randall’s comment on Adam-Troy Castro’s post.


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208 thoughts on “Racism and Sexism

  1. @ Paul Weimar
    @Ctein
    And, yes, it’s much more productive to confront someone with, “That came across as a racist remark,” than “You are a racist,”

    Not really (in many cases, a number of which I observed during Racefail ’09). White fragility guarantees many (#notall) white people in the vicinity of a POC using the r-word whether as a noun or an adjective will flip their shit immediately.

  2. @Paul Weimar: sorry, didn’t read carefully enough (grading most of the past five days). I see you noted that people often conflate the two types of language!

  3. My experience, fwiw, is that if you say “You said/did a racist thing”, people will almost always react with “How dare you call me a racist!” regardless, — BUT it gives you the chance to deescalate by pointing out what you actually said and elaborating on the difference between one action and an innate characteristic.

    Once the person has doubled down, or tripled down, or gone to great lengths to explain why white pride really isn’t bad… well, then, the assessment is in. Silverbob is pretty much there for me, though I am sufficiently unfamiliar with him as a person and willing to reassess if he ever gives me a reason to, because he’;s certainly not the most horrid example (see above about being explained to at length about white pride. My long-distance assessment is that that sort of nonsense is well within the range of stuff he would agree was nonsense.)

    I am generally more careful in my language with people I know and have reason to think are having a moment of bias rather than making a habit of it or having developed a taste for it, but even then, my patience sometimes hits a break point. (And some days, of course, my patience is pre-exhausted for other reasons.)

    Of course here in 0583, the prejudices we fight are even more odd and insular, and we gaze with great longing at this far off concept of equality.

  4. JAA – I’m surprised you suggested I was surprised by it. I didn’t say that nor did I imply it.

    True. And. You are a white person in the United States of America. I couldn’t conceive of any other reason than surprise for you to be hurt by being called a racist.

    If I’m called racist, or a racist, or even called on saying something racist (which I’m convinced is a term only used to deflect nuclear level defensiveness in white people rather than because it’s more correct), my response will range from snarky (Hello, white person here) to engaged (Yes, and how is it coming out right now?), to all in (Yes and after a lifetime of work, I manage to see a tiny fraction of the microaggressions experienced every single day by POC).

    It’s not a term of art, it’s just part of the baggage of being a white person in the USA. I suggest we all own it and stop trying to duck it.

  5. A number of people here (and elsewhere, in linked posts) have noted the different types of racism exist, and so I thought I’d say that there’s been a lot of work in sociology supporting that argument. I started reading some of it when I was trying to figure out how to write about Racefail ’09.

    The most useful book I found was Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. He defined differences between Jim Crow racism (which, when the first edition was published might be said to be suppressed to some extent, but which has since come roaring back with Trump) and unconscious or aversive racism (sometimes called cultural racism, or systemic racism). If anyone is interested, I can dig up some of my notes and post.

    I don’t assume Silverberg or anybody else who truly thinks the worst thing that can happen is for a white person to be told that they/their language/their behavior is racist will be convinced by the scholarship, but for those already interested who understand how there can be multiple forms of racism, it might be a useful read. A lot of the concepts have become generally known (they are not that specialized), and his writing is accessible.

    Review by a social work teacher

    A CNN story covering the main points, including “I have black friends”

    And speaking of that…“Why Every Racist Mentions Their Black Friend

    And I have had students (in my classes) tell me (in my office) that they or their family members belonged to the KKK and how they wanted me to know that all those nasty stereotypes about the Klan being racist and nasty and mean were just liberal lies spread by the carpetbaggers who invaded after the War Between the States (yes, that’s what they call it), and it was just unfair.

    So my response to a white person claiming just how nice they are when they are being called out for racist language and behaviors is now, meh, that’s what you all say.

  6. @ Cheryl S:

    It’s not a term of art, it’s just part of the baggage of being a white person in the USA. I suggest we all own it and stop trying to duck it.

    Yes!

    I’ve seen the phrase “recovering racist” used to acknowledge that all white people in the US are racist but that some are trying to recover (acknowledging it’s a long hard process with lots of screw-ups along the way).

  7. Foz Meadows’s remarks were spot on. Thank you to whomever provided the link (I apologize for not recalling who, but it’s been a long day and I’m tired).

    @robinareid: To any more Rhodes scholar defending the KKK, I would suggest pointing out the following name-Nathan Bedford Forrest. The books on him ought to keep their lips moving for a year. Idiots. Pendejos.

    On second thought, the halfwits might genuflect toward his image. Never mind.

    Here in 2155, our feline overlords have sent us all to our separate rooms-except the misanthropes, who get to operate the can openers and clean litter.

  8. Cheryl S.: “You are a white person in the United States of America. I couldn’t conceive of any other reason than surprise for you to be hurt by being called a racist.”

    Try harder. Maybe one will come to you. Consider it an exercise in imagination. Go ahead and consider all the details of my sixty years of life as you know them. I don’t mind. See if you can come up with maybe just one scenario where that might possibly bruise my feelings a tiny little bit.

  9. @Techgrrl1972:

    Thank you for the link–I had not known of this case.

    The history of racism against Black farmers is horrific (and at least from my perspective, gets little recognition–which is not to say the history of racisms in other fields and situations gets much recognition, much of it being long-buried as part of, duh, systemic racism!):

    USDA racism

    And I’m sure all those white people at the USDA would perceive themselves as nice kind people, some with black friends.

    @Robert Reynolds: Texas is currently trying to change the teaching requirements for the Civil War to acknowledge that DUH slavery was the cause, not *JUST* state’s rights (it was a controversial decision).

    I’ve had students tell me Texas won the Battle of the Alamo. And ask me why, in a novel set in New Mexico, people were speaking Spanish.

    Their ignorance is due in large part to the starving of the educational system in Texas.

    I live in the northeast part of the state which is cotton and dairy country, so we have a larger percentage of African Americans than some parts of Texas. I’ve had two Black students tell me of family members who were murdered in ways that were clearly by white supremacists (and never investigated).

    The Southern Poverty Law center reports at least 20 white supremacist (including but not limited to the Klan) in the region around where I live.

    We’re retiring to Washington state in a few years…..counting the days….

  10. Dear Robin,

    Wishing you a happy and safe retirement move far far north!

    I think you are slipping into a bit of binary thinking. I didn’t say it would work all the time—I mean, my main point was that it wouldn’t. A litmus test that always produces the same answer ain’t much of a litmus test. But are you going to attempt to seriously argue that it is LESS productive than calling someone an outright racist?

    pax / Ctein

  11. @robinareid, Washington is not exactly a beacon of light either. I’ve lived here 24 of the past 30 years and it’s probably better than Texas, but don’t expect Utopia.

    JAA – Try harder. Maybe one will come to you. Consider it an exercise in imagination.

    A pointless one. It would be akin to my being hurt when someone pointed out that I have green eyes. I actually have heterochromia, but “green” is close enough. You’re a white person in the USA. Being racist is part of the package, no matter your age, station, or disinclination to embrace your firm placement on the fishhook of cultural baggage and privilege.

  12. Cheryl S. You’re a white person in the USA. Being racist is part of the package, no matter your age, station, or disinclination to embrace your firm placement on the fishhook of cultural baggage and privilege.

    Well said.

    I’ve spent a lot of years trying to overcome my upbringing in a small-town redneck environment with a parent who is massively racist and sexist. It will — I will — forever be a work in progress. And once in a while I catch myself saying or doing, or most of the time just thinking, something out of unconscious racism or sexism — or someone else points out that I am doing it, and it makes me sad and disappointed in myself. Sometimes I feel that knee-jerk defensiveness, but it certainly doesn’t make me angry at them for calling me out on the bias.

    A white person who believes that they are immune to unconscious racist bias is a person who is severely lacking in self-awareness.

  13. I never like being called racist or sexist, or being charged with having said something racist or sexist. But you know, there is something much worse to me than either of those: discovering that I have done/said something racist or sexist. Because I am both serious about trying to live up to an ideal of equal human dignity and painfully aware of internalized biases that make me – like everyone else – screw it up sometimes.

    And you know what hurts even more than that realization? Realizing that I’ve been giving out not just an instance of prejudicial bias but a whole history of it, that I should have heeded criticism of back when, and now I’ve got to fix it when it’s that much more entrenched and there’s been that much more harm to make amends for. That really sucks, like, a lot. I raised to the dream of diverse societies being able to live harmoniously, and to find yet another way I’ve been part of what makes that not happen is, to give it its proper weight, really fucking awful.

    Really, the only thing worse would be to refuse this opportunity at hand to start sucking less and instead press on, probably getting even worse at it.

  14. Cheryl S.: When I was eleven, when the public schools I went to were desegregated, I had the fortune to do something anti-racist enough to be thanked for it later by a black classmate, and then, moments after he left the room, did something (privately, thank god) racist, with a slight conscious element to it, which hurts me to this day.

    So I don’t really need told about ingrained racism and unconscious bias. I’ve been self-aware of it on an emotional level since before puberty, and intellectually soon after.

    I’ve had three of those racism-with-consciousness moments over the years, and each one is ground into me. It’s helped me take an attitude more like JJ’s “sad and disappointed in myself” when I’ve let the unconscious bias run me. It’s the right way to feel about it, I think, as unwarranted guilt tends to displace taking responsibility.

    But there’s a difference between being made aware of one’s racism and being called a racist. I’ve said the latter can be hurtful. It has been to me, exactly once.

    If you are unwilling to acknowledge that pain as even a possibility, what can I say?

  15. @John A Arkansawyer: People who lead marked and marginalized lives are told all the damn time that our pain is irrelevant, that we need to get a grip on it, and have the example of others who aren’t visibly complaining thrown at us. I don’t see why those of us who are on the privileged side of an exchange should be exempt from that. So being called a racist hurts, whether you think you’ve actually done something racist or not. The next step is…well, so what? People who are statistically going to lead shorter lives with more (frequently avoidable) pain, denial of opportunity, and general injustice really should be telling us to get a grip on it and look at those who deal with it with less complaining.

    It’s not that your pain is irrelevant to you, of course. It’s that I see no reason for it to stop anyone else, and particularly anyone else who’s on the blunt end of something you or I are not, from proceeding with the work of identifying and trying to stamp out behavior that reinforces unjust, immoral social power.

  16. But I am very much trying to say something somewhere on the spectrum from “so what?” to “yes, and?”. OK, so, it’s not fun to be called a racist. But, like…did we actually do something racist? Have we just had an unwelcome opportunity to confront unacknowledged bias shaping our actions in ways far from our best intentions? How does our pain compare to the burden of those injured by our actions? Etc, and etc, and etc.

  17. This will be my first and last post here. When a heard Jemisin’s Hugo ceremony speech I understood perfectly where she was coming from and applauded her. Now accusing someone of racism is serious business. I have published books by Silverberg for many years. This is something I would not have done if I believed him a racist or sexist person. I remember reading SIlverberg’s comment for the first time on the Fictionmag forum and it bothered me, NOT because I construe it as racist, but because I though it tone-deaf. This does not in itself constitute actual racism for me. “That came across as a racist remark” would apply here. I see a lot of this tone-deafness around these days, but people of color care a lot less about this and a lot more about direct racism — You don’t have to empathize with me but don’t insult me or belittle me to my face or consider me a lesser human being and put roadblocks in my way or especially point a gun at me. I’m sure my politics are to the left of Silverberg. I don’t have a problem with what people want to believe, or are outspoken about in private, just as long as it doesn’t impinge on my right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness… No. Sorry, but I don’t consider Silverberg a real racist, which is what matters. I don’t think there is a single adult person in the world that is pure and untouched by prejudices, including myself. The intellectualizing of nuances of racism only distracts from the real problems at large in Trumpland.

  18. Is identifying and treating diseases a form of ableism? Is evaluating strategies for making men less likely to attempt rape a form of sexism? Is studying which approaches to relieving the unhappiness and risk for suicide of trans people work and which don’t a form of transphobia?

    Which is to say, no.

  19. @Lela E. Buis–

    Isn’t defining and discussing people by race a form of racism?

    And there it is.

    The attempt to claim that talking about the realities of race in America is more racist than any actual racist words or actions, things that demean or discriminate against people based on their race or ethnicity.

    No, Lela, it’s not.

  20. @Luis Ortiz: Sartre was right. Existence precedes essence. (That is to say, we have no self that exists apart from what we do, as well as what we consciously think and feel.)

  21. @robinareid War Between the States (yes, that’s what they call it)

    Well, that’s what ignorant people call it.

    Properly, it is referred to as “The Late Unpleasantness”.

  22. “The Slaveholders’ Rebellion” has a certain ring to it.

    @Luis Ortiz: “Sorry, but I don’t consider Silverberg a real racist, which is what matters.”

    One need not be a racist to do or say a racist thing.

    If someone steps on my foot, my nerve endings do not care one whit about whether it was intentional, although that may make a difference in my conscious reaction. Either way, if their response when made aware of the transgression is to say that they didn’t do it (denial), claim that I wasn’t actually injured by it (minimization), and/or lash out at me (deflection, projection), my response will most assuredly be much more negative than if they’d simply acknowledged the misstep and apologized. A basic “sorry, my bad” can go a long way, especially if delivered sincerely and accompanied by some effort to make things right. “I didn’t mean to” can augment an apology, but it is not one in itself.

    None of those positive elements exist in Silverberg’s response to this kerfuffle. His statement here focuses on defending himself as a good person, without accepting even theoretical responsibility for any harm his statement has caused. To the extent that he addresses the statement at all, it is to denounce the person who leaked it (deflection) and to discuss his intent (irrelevant), character (ditto) and history (again, for the hat trick!). It’s all about his feelings of pain and betrayal; he’s the real victim here, dontchaknow.

    And that, in turn, demonstrates that the biases he so fervently denies are indeed a guiding aspect of his character. Someone without them (especially a writer, FFS!) would not be so blind to the effects his words had, and consequently that hypothetical person would have focused on apologizing for the problematic act rather than defending his character.

    “Oh, I stepped on your foot? I’m sorry; I didn’t notice. Are you all right? I’ll try to be more careful in the future.” Much of the time, that’s all it takes. Acknowledge, apologize, explain (optional), take responsibility, try not to repeat the mistake. Done and done.

    Paradoxically, the best way he could have defended his character was to drop his sword, and the worst way was to pick it up. He chose the latter, and he thereby made things worse for himself.

  23. luis ortiz: I have published books by Silverberg for many years. This is something I would not have done if I believed him a racist or sexist person… Sorry, but I don’t consider Silverberg a real racist, which is what matters. The intellectualizing of nuances of racism only distracts from the real problems at large in Trumpland.

    I am sorry for your pain that Silverberg has said numerous racist things. I share that pain. I really enjoyed a number of his books when I was very young, and it hurts to see that he’s not the exemplary person I hoped he would be.

    But I disagree with your disparagement of nuance in discussing racism. Things he’s said here are racist, and they should not be given a pass because you don’t consider Silverberg a racist.

    The “real problems at large in Trumpland” are exacerbated by all instances of racial bias. All of us who engage in subconscious racial bias contribute to the problem of racism. And those who engage in egregious, conscious racism take all of the little unconscious racist things everyone else says or does as confirmation that their racism is acceptable — and as encouragement to be even more racist.

    The other problem with denouncing nuance in discussions of racism is that you are then left with the options of either declaring someone a racist or letting them entirely off the hook for their racist words and actions. People will shut down if you say “You’re a racist”, but if approached instead with “You know, what you said was racist, even if you didn’t intend it that way”, there is some hope of gaining understanding and improvement.

  24. Lela E Buis on November 30, 2018 at 9:31 am said:
    Isn’t defining and discussing people by race a form of racism?

    Ooh! Ooh! I have bingo! *waves card*

  25. @RedWombat

    Ooh! Ooh! I have bingo! *waves card*

    It’s a good thing I’d finished my tea, or my monitor would have been drenched. 😀

  26. @RedWombat: Ooh! Ooh! I have bingo! *waves card*

    Dangit! If I’d just gotten “reverse racism,” I’d have bingo! Well, it’s only a matter of time, I’m sure.

    This thread is making me very happy I have a new killfile/hush program!

    And just dropping this excellent link here:

    Reverse Racism Explained

    Some quotes that seem, erm, relevant:

    Most of the time, when white people lob accusations of racism, they’re deflecting from the original conversation.

    White people may feel aggrieved at the words they read on the internet, but they are not experiencing racism. Racism has nothing to do with feelings. It is a measurable reality that white people are not subject to, regardless of their income or status.

    When I say white people support the police, it’s based on the research showing that 75 percent of white people believe that the police treat every ethnicity the same and use the right amount of force. Despite the evidence, most white people (also 75 percent) don’t believe that blacks are treated less fairly when applying for a bank loan or mortgage. A majority of whites (68 percent) don’t believe that their race gives them an advantage. Most white Americans feel that our country talks about race too much.

    If the weatherman, based on his research, predicted a 75 percent chance of rain tomorrow, they wouldn’t think it was a problem if someone said, “It will rain tomorrow.” But if I said white people don’t want to talk about race and don’t believe in structural inequality, I’d be called a reverse racist.

    They despise the phrase “white people” and any sweeping generalizations relating to them. The privilege of individuality affords them the right to be immune to facts. But even insinuating that white America ignores their privilege is deemed offensive—even though the facts show it to be true.

  27. @robinareid
    Where did you find your new killfile/hush program? I miss the old one (the computer having been replaced a month ago, it now has a version of FF that won’t run the old one.)

  28. JAA – If you are unwilling to acknowledge that pain as even a possibility, what can I say?

    I’m not unwilling to acknowledge it, I merely don’t care. That pain matters to you and maybe, just maybe, it helps you to be more conscious of the ways you benefit from racism, but is it proportional to the ways in which you do benefit? Or is it more a personal shield against charges of racism? See, I can’t be racist, because it is so acutely painful to be called one.

    Maybe consider whether accepting the pain of being and being called racist is a useful spur to change more than you otherwise would.

  29. There is no “reverse racism”. There is only racism. If a person of colour says something denigrating about white people, it is racism. Not reverse racism. And I believe there is racism among everyone, regardless of skin colour. The difference is in impact.

    If 10 person belongs to the majority and 1 person to a minority and everyone utters a racist comment to someone of a different race, the person in the minority gets ten bigotted comments, but only one person out of ten among the majority gets one. This makes a huge difference. Add to this econonic differences, social status and who has access to media and the difference in impact will be even larger.

    And that is why you have to be more careful with words if you belong to a majority or to a privileged group. Or both.

  30. @Hampus

    I’m gonna warn you of a terminology difference you will encounter:

    Many people differentiate between prejudice, which is something white people can experience, for example, and “racism” which requires a structural support from society and amplifies the damage while restricting the possible responses from the person who is experiencing prejudice. Something closer to the amplification effect you are describing. So when someone responds to “reverse racism” by saying you can’t be racist against white people, that’s what they mean, rather than saying there can’t be unfounded prejudice.

  31. Atsiko:

    Thank you for your warning, I have met some of these people and all of them have been from the very far left – saying that as a swedish leftist.

  32. Hampus, in the US, it’s not “the very far left,” which by your standards we don’t even have. It’s most people trying to engage seriously with these issues, because the alternatives are more awkward and less clear about what’s actually being discussed.

  33. As much as I appreciate its value in academic discourse, that definition of racism (prejudice+power) became my least favourite hill-to-die-on a couple of years ago now. Depressingly often, it ends up in a massive derail in which no-one learned anything of value and no-one is talking about the primary topic anymore. It’s one of those terminology definitions that transfers really badly to a lot of conversations which are not entirely made up of either academics or people embedded in internet social justice communities.

    If I have to bring it up in mixed company, I bring up the concepts behind it* rather than insisting on the specific use. Usually goes more smoothly.

    *Which Hampus expressed pretty well anyway.

  34. I’ve started saying as a matter of habit “this is about prejudice by itself versus prejudice backed by institutional power”. Then I can comment that some people use “racism” to refer to one, others to the other, but this way people know the thing I mean.

  35. Pingback: Top 10 Posts for November 2018 | File 770

  36. Cheryl S.:

    “JAA – If you are unwilling to acknowledge that pain as even a possibility, what can I say?”

    I’m not unwilling to acknowledge it, I merely don’t care.

    I wondered if it was more than a simple failure of imagination. I didn’t want to speculate, and now I don’t have to.

    That pain matters to you and maybe, just maybe, it helps you to be more conscious of the ways you benefit from racism, but is it proportional to the ways in which you do benefit? Or is it more a personal shield against charges of racism? See, I can’t be racist, because it is so acutely painful to be called one.

    Maybe consider whether accepting the pain of being and being called racist is a useful spur to change more than you otherwise would.

    You’ve conflated two things twice, in each of the sections I’ve bolded. You’ve conflated being racist with being a racist. When you say to me that I’m racist, you mean I’ve got unconscious biases and I’m a privileged participant in an unjust society. To that I mentally reply, “Well, duh. Welcome to America,” and it rolls right off.

    The one time I was called a racist in the sense of active bigot, it certainly stung. It also wasn’t so. I did spend some time constructing a story to explain why he would make that mistake, and came up with a reasonable justification for him. That exercise in empathy had some personal growth value but no other social utility.

    The three times I’ve seen myself commit racist acts with consciousness attached to them? Oh, yeah. Those hurt like a motherfucker and that hurt has had great value to me. The first time, I let unconscious bias surface into consciousness and direct my actions. As a result, I’ve been working against that for about fifty years now. I’m almost certain no one but myself was aware of it at the time, so I have the relief of knowing the only person I hurt was me. The other times were failures of clever. I’m not sure whether I hurt the guy in the second incident (or if he was even aware of it), but I think I did. In the third, I made a good friend cry. I went to school hard on that one.

    The two prongs of pain from those came from allowing my conscious behavior to fail and from causing direct harm to others, each in different proportions. Whether I got called out on it wasn’t terribly important. Knowing what I’d done? That’s what drives me to do better.

    So the pain of being called a racist, that one time? That did very little, if any, good except maybe for me personally. The times I had my biases surface into action? The times I know I did something racist with consciousness? The pain and shame from that has most certainly shaped me for the better.

    Knowing I’ve done something racist has pushed me to change. Being told I am being racist is often helpful, potentially even from you or someone who shares your confusion over being racist versus being a racist. You or someone with that confusion telling me I am a racist is meaningless to me.

    I think that’s a pity. Careless use of theory has drained what should be a useful spur to change of its possible transformational value.

    So maybe what you get from your loose use of language is worth your consideration.

  37. I’m afraid I haven’t had the same experiences with the alternative method being more successful. People who talk about “reverse racism”, at least in the US, most generally are wanting the rhetorical value of claiming that “racism” with all that the term entails happens against white people, and that restorative justice programs like affirmative action or bringing up the differences in experience between white people and POC such as white privilege is directly equivalent to the kind of racism experience by black people specifically and people of color in general.

    It’s certainly possible that it’s different in other countries, and that I’ve just not encountered very many people in the discussion who didn’t just happen to be from the US.

    But when you consider the two approaches, from a pure descriptive standpoint, the arguments are identical. The hitch with the “reverse racism” folks is entirely about rhetorical grand-standing and has nothing to do with their ability to understand the difference between the prejudice back by the establishment experiences by black people/POC and the purely personal prejudice experienced by white people. No matter how successful you think you may be in explaining the difference between racism experienced by the two sides, when that person leaves your principled discussion and runs back out into the world, they will continue shouting about “racism” against white people (or other majority groups) and they will not be making the distinction in either form to their social media followers or family or whatever.

    You will absolutely lose that distinction in the public shadow of the word “racism” no matter how successful you think you have been explaining to a given individual in private. Whereas when you convince someone to verbally distinguish between racism and prejudice, they are explicitly making clear the difference between “racism” towards the majority group and the minority group.

  38. Excellent point, Meredith – especially derailed by actual white supremacists and those who share their communities and miss out on academic or social justice circles.

  39. @Atsiko

    Generally, I’m having discussions in large, public forums about specific actions or examples. I am not usually discussing terminology itself or broader concepts, and I’m not often doing it one-on-one. It is very rarely worth the derail or having to deal with the accompanying preconceptions to try and get a large group of varying political allegiances and country of origin* to agree on prejudice vs racism when what you’re actually trying to do (for example) is discuss the flawed representation in [insert media here].

    It may very well work better to establish the terminology in different types of discussions.

    *USA social justice terminology is not necessarily the same as social justice terminology elsewhere, and there’s few things that will get up noses faster than insisting that everyone should follow the USA’s lead.

    @Chris McKitterick

    Yes, that’s often a significant factor — someone actively hostile to social justice concepts bringing it up in order to try and twist the conversation and concept around to make it look anti-white, or someone who has been exposed to the hostile ideas as much as or more than they have been exposed to social justice concepts in their original form. The most successful and reliable method of dealing with it that I’ve found (and I’ve tried quite a few, although I’m sure I’ve missed some) is making a brief, polite correction as to how people use the term and then firmly moving the discussion back to the original topic.

  40. @Ctein:

    I think you are slipping into a bit of binary thinking. I didn’t say it would work all the time—I mean, my main point was that it wouldn’t. A litmus test that always produces the same answer ain’t much of a litmus test. But are you going to attempt to seriously argue that it is LESS productive than calling someone an outright racist?

    Eh, my brain was oatmeal due to the “let’s spend all Thanksgiving break catching up on grading” period that had just ended. I meant to say that both ways of framing the problem are non-productive (in many cases). There was a lot of discussion about this during Racefail ’09 (which I’ve been revisiting lately for a book project), and the overall consensus was that white fragility was gonna fragile generally although a number of white fans posted about how long it took for them to realize their aversive racism and the process they had undergone in fandom, including their first rage at the criticism. No single intervention is likely to make a difference; depending on the person, multiple ones might, and it’s key to remember that this sort of commentary is never directed only at the person whose comments started it but to anybody who reads/sees it.

    Both in fandom and in academia (where I’ve had the racism discussion, the sexism discussion, and the homophobia discussionn with colleages and administrators), privileged people tend to flip out and make *their* feelings of hurt, pain, horror, omigawd the PAIN of it all, the center of discussion most of the time no matter how “gently” it’s phrased. It gets really boring/tiring after a while, especially when so much energy goes into denying, downplaying, or mocking the pain experienced by people in marginalized groups.

    @Cheryl S:

    Washington is not exactly a beacon of light either. I’ve lived here 24 of the past 30 years and it’s probably better than Texas, but don’t expect Utopia.

    I don’t. I grew up in Idaho (1955-75), left for Bellingham (where we’re retiring) in 1976, and was there mostly fulltime until I moved to Texas in 1993, so 17 years. I taught three years adjunct in Boise during the 1980s, but I spend the summers those years with my mom on the coast. Plus, my parents came from eastern Washington, so I know just how conservative that part of the state is.

    But if I had energy, I could list a shitload of crap that Texas has pulled off that makes Washington better (esp. western Washington). I admit it’s a low bar. But off the top of my head: Gerrymandering and ongoing attempts to suppress voted in areas with Black and Hispanic majorities. Largest percentage of uninsured children in the US (and apparently 20% of ALL uninsured children in the US are in Texas). One of the highest if not the highest rates of maternity deaths. Ditto for first pregnancy (and SECOND pregnancy) among teenagers. Ongoing attempts to police bathrooms and to criminalize “sodomy” which only the gays do. Fuck, they’re spending money to fight a legal case that says they have the right to deny benefits to same-sex married couples (they cannot make the marriage illegal, but they can try to make things as miserable as possible). Then there’s the TRAP laws shutting down women’s health clinic to cut down access to reproductive health. Abstinent only education. In a huge controversial move this year, the state is finally mandating that schools should teach (GASP) that slavery, not JUST state’s rights, was a cause of the Civil War.

    I’ve been here 26 years. Washington will be better, and better doesn’t mean “utopia.” My partner is from Queens and knows we cannot afford to retire there. I took her for a visit to Bellingham (after she researched information about it along with some other possibilities) and she fell in love with it.

    P J Evans:

    Where did you find your new killfile/hush program? I miss the old one (the computer having been replaced a month ago, it now has a version of FF that won’t run the old one.)

    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/blog-comment-killfile/kpoilnkelonbaapoapibddjaojohnpjf

    My vague memory is I replaced the one that I had which had been rec’d by people at F770 when I read about shenanigans its creators were pulling with data collection. Killfile was recommended in a tech review that was addressing the problems with the original (sorry, cannot remember name). I like it: it’s a lot easier than the other one (install it, and you can “hide” individual comments or “hush” people. You see a white box with “Comment by X blocked,” and if you want you can click on it to see the comment, then hide it again. Easy!

    @bill

    War Between the States (yes, that’s what they call it)
    Well, that’s what ignorant people call it.
    Properly, it is referred to as “The Late Unpleasantness”.

    ROTFLMFAO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  41. @robinreid: I don’t say this to say you shouldn’t move or are wrong to move. But there’s a reason I stay where I’m at (aside from not having the money to move, which renders it moot):

    “But if I had energy, I could list a shitload of crap that Texas has pulled off that makes Washington better (esp. western Washington). I admit it’s a low bar. But off the top of my head: Gerrymandering…”

    By moving to locations that better suit us, especially in larger states (and from smaller states, which is not what you would be doing but would be for me), we are effectively self-gerrymandering ourselves, at least so far as the Senate and gubernatorial races are concerned.

    If you gotta go, you gotta go. If I could, I might, so I don’t blame those who do. But there’d still be regret for me, and a little shame at ducking out, again, for me.

  42. @Meredith
    USA social justice terminology is not necessarily the same as social justice terminology elsewhere, and there’s few things that will get up noses faster than insisting that everyone should follow the USA’s lead.

    OTOH, there are a great number of people for whom “racist” means “prejudice based on race”, not “prejudicial attitudes combined with a power differential” as described here; and it gets up their noses when it is asserted that their usage is wrong.

  43. @bill

    … Yes? I’m not sure how that contradicts anything I’ve said. Quite the opposite, in fact.

  44. Dear Robin,

    As is usually the case, we find ourselves vehemently in agreement.

    I find myself thinking of Doctor Smith — “Oh, the pain. The PAIN.”

    I have seen the PAIN in action. A while back I wrote an obituary for Jim Marshall that included “It drove me crazy that he’d casually throw out epithets like “n—-,” especially because I knew that if there were ever a white man who didn’t have a racist bone in his body (and I’m not convinced there is) it was probably Jim.”

    Turned out there was a good reason for that. But that’s another story.

    Those six parenthetical words aroused an aggrieved response from one reader who wrote, “I honestly take pride in the fact that I can look at my life and know that I have never judged any individual based on race, sex, religion, etc., etc. I think it is highly unfair that suddenly I’ve been lumped together with every other white male on the planet and that therefore I *must* have a racist bone in me.”

    Because, y’know, PAIN!

    Not that any of us like being told we’ve been bad. I know it puts me on the defensive. But it’s not like I’m ever going to learn anything new (about anything) if I can’t listen when someone tells me I’m wrong (even if I decide I’m not).

    But still, the pain, the PAIN! I know I survive it only by dint of superhuman effort. I should get a medal.

    Or something.

    Probably the “something.”

    ~~~~

    I’ve never engaged in an argument about whether there is “reverse racism” because the only times I have heard it invoked have been when it is meant as a “whatabout” or other kind of derailment from what was ACTUALLY being discussed. Which I feel no qualms about calling people on. Should I ever encounter a conversation where it is not being invoked as a transparent gambit to shut down the topic, I will have to handle it differently.

    I am not exactly worrying about that happening.

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
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