One thing that I love about the SFF world is that there are constant fights over the racism and sexism that’ve been imputed to some authors. The anatomy of these fights is weird, because there are some writers you just can’t even get up a good fight about. Like, calling Orson Scott Card a homophobe isn’t going to get you anywhere, fight-wise.
In order to have a good fight, you need people on both sides. And the people on both sides need to be on the internet and willing to engage.
Except this time! Right now the SF world is engaged in the slowest-moving internet flamewar ever, because half of it is being prosecuted on the internet and half of it is being prosecuted in a bimonthly zine. Every other month, the SFWA Bulletin (which is the publication of our professional association: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) is mailed out to all the members. No online copy of it exists.
And for ages, two eminent SF authors, Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, have had a column in it.
They’ve probably been saying off-color things for years, but since no one ever reads the Bulletin (I still haven’t read a single article in it, despite knowing there’s all kinds of juicy controversy in there), it’s managed to stay off peoples’ radar.
However, one day someone read it and found something he/she didn’t like (it was a legitimately offensive thing, I just forget what it was). And ever since that, people’ve been scanning every bulletin to see what craziness will be in it.
So now, every two months, the SFF internet world blows up with angry comments. And then it dies away! Because no one is on the internet to feed the fire! We’re all just being like, “Yep, these writings suck! Boo!”
And then we have to stop talking, because we all agree.
And then two month later, the paper comes out again and there’s another broadside (I think this month it’s about how liberals are fascists who want to shut people up and take away their freedom).
I honestly have very little to say about this or any other controversy. I think racism and sexism and homophobia are terrible, but you know what I find to be even more terrible: People not liking me.
As I noted in my post about Orson Scott Card’s magazine, I don’t want to alienate possible fans who have different opinions than me. Everything I have to say that’s really important is in my work, and if I want people to know my mind, then my job is to make sure as many people as possible are willing to be touched by my work.
Also, I know that some people who read this blog have political opinions that we could fight about, if I wanted to do that, but I don’t. And, honestly, I don’t feel that visceral sense of hurt that fuels these kinds of fight. When I read something conservative in my Facebook feed, I’m just like, “Hmm, that’s interesting to know about that person.” And then I move on. Although I disagree, it doesn’t bother me.
However, I will say that these internet fights have contributed one real, concrete thing to me. Four years ago, we had the internet war to end them all! It was called RaceFail ’09, and the reason it was so protracted and horrible was because it pitted white women against colored people. And the winners got…well…nothing. No one got anything.
But in the midst of all that (which I followed with glee), I did read one comment on one post that touched me really deeply. I went back and tried to find the comment, but I couldn’t. It’s somewhere on this post, though, I think: http://deepad.livejournal.com/29656.html
(The post itself didn’t resonate strongly with me, because that’s not my experience. I am an American, and so there’s far less disjunction, for me, between white American narratives and my own life experience).
Anyway, the comment was from some Indian-American guy who was like, “I don’t know if it’s really a big deal for me to write about Indian people, since I don’t have a huge number of Indian cultural markers. I mean, I can write a story about a guy named Vikram who doesn’t speak Hindi and sometimes makes Indian food at home but is otherwise mostly just like the white people around him.”
And I was like, “Yes. You should write about Vikram. Vikram deserves to have a place in the world! Vikram deserves to have stories written about him.”
And ever since then, I’ve tried to write about Indian-American people. Not the Indian-American people that I read about or see on TV: the ones whose parents won’t let them date and who memorize the dictionary so they can win the National Spelling Bee at age 18. I write about people like me, and people I see and know.
It’s taken years of this, but I feel like in the last year or so, I’ve finally started to work out a bit of what it means to be a mostly-assimilated Indian-American. It’s not at the core of my writing, but it’s definitely there, and it is a little bit more true and honest and good than when I was mostly writing white protagonists.
So there. Controversy is good for something, sometimes.