Taking a break for Christmas

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bellsI’m gone for a little while. Have a safe and happy holiday, everyone, and a happy New Year!

Tribalism in the SFF community

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In 2015 Brad Torgersen wrote a an interesting piece about tribalism in the SFF community. According to Torgersen, much of what is taken for racism and sexism in the US is actually a form of cultural tribalism, where people from different cultural backgrounds distrust and disrespect one another because of their difference. He lists some fundamentally different groups as examples, including religious groups, regional groups, progressives and conservatives, and notes that even people who think they are the most open-minded often exhibit sharp limits, if not open hostility, which faced with opposing cultural viewpoints.

Torgersen goes on to discuss the current battle over the Hugos, noting that the organizers of WorldCon and the Hugo Awards are a very exclusive group of trufans who consider themselves the in-tribe of science fiction and fantasy. According to him, this explains the small size of the convention and the elitist title, which suggests its members represent all real SFF fans in the world. Torgersen’s explanation of the current situation is that the Sad Puppies represented a different tribal group which was seen as a threat to the convention culture by WorldCon insiders. Of course the situation deteriorated from there. This explanation makes me wonder what the small group of core WorldCon fans thought about opening up the membership to a broad swath of Internet “supporting memberships?” Doesn’t this dilute the trufan blood?

As a side note, Torgersen calls himself a perpetual out-tribe because of never fitting in anywhere. He may have written this blog in response to attacks on Twitter, where one poster called his African American wife and biracial child “racist shields.”

White Tribalism

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Another social trend highlighted by recent politics is the emergence of white tribalism. Here’s an article by David Marcus about how the current social/political climate has increased this development. Normally “whites” come from a polyglot of racial/ethnic backgrounds, from Nordic to Mediterranean to Slavic, all mixed together without maintaining any kind of identity as a single tribal unit. However, this lack of identity has recently shown signs of shifting. The key social trend Marcus identifies as leading to this change is political rhetoric that makes everyone the representative of their race. He thinks progressives are only accelerating this trend with a policy of insisting whites should confess their privilege and otherwise “own it.” According to Marcus, this does nobody any good, and instead leads to solidification of a white racial identity and greater entrenchment of white privilege.

In the run-up to the election, I had thought the extremes weren’t really Clinton vs. Trump, but Sanders vs. Trump. Hillary Clinton looked to be pretty moderate in the beginning, but shifted hard left to pick up Sanders’ supporters. You’d think that white tribalism would be something mostly found on the right, but here’s an article by Barrett Pitner that points to white tribalism among Sanders’ supporters who felt they were entitled to win (and have the benefits Sanders was promising) because of who they were. According to Pitner, both Trump and Sanders were mining white tribalism in their political rhetoric.

On the other side of this vision of whiteness, here’s an article by James Lawrence who thinks this kind of white tribalism is only a “flash in the pan” because people of European descent are basically moral universalists. He’s getting somewhat out of the realm of practicalities and into theology here, but I think he’s right that there has to be new middle ground in the current political split.

Black male privilege

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Here’s an interesting perspective. Since African Americans are one of the minorities that count, who would think any segment of the black population would experience privilege? Here’s the report, though, provided by sociologist L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy (2014) in Brittany C. Slatton & Kamesha Spates (eds) Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine?: Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Black Men (p. 75). According to Lewis-McCoy, black men experience privilege. This seems contrary to common knowledge. Evidence shows that black men in the US typically experience the most discrimination in employment, relations with the police, early death, imprisonment, etc. So where does the privilege come from?

According to Lewis-McCoy, the very fact that there are only 83 men per 100 women in the black community leads to privilege, especially if these men are accomplished. This includes entertainers, sports figures, college graduates of all kinds, writers, doctors, artists and sociologists. Because of their relative rarity, these men experience a strong systemic privilege relative to other minorities, and especially to black women (though not to white men, of course). The obvious example in this case would be in affirmative action. Looking back at the previous blog, if we reserve affirmative action for the most oppressed minority, this is certainly black men, and according to Hugo award finalist David van Dyke’s very insightful comments on the last blog, this translates to advantage.

Additionally, all black men in the US experience privilege, according to Lewis-McCoy, when it comes to accountability. Expectations for black men are low because of high levels of discrimination, so everyone takes it as a matter of course when things go wrong, never looking at the underlying personal deficiencies. Everyone blames oppression instead. This leaves black men with an out as far as personal responsibility goes. Because it’s clear they can’t accomplish anything for themselves, their families or their community, many don’t try. Instead, according to Barbara Reynolds, a certain group engages in acting out as a form of protest, which they mistake for effective activism.

The other big privilege for accomplished black men that Lewis-McCoy identifies is in negotiating sex. You can read his article for more info on that.

Looking again at the SFF community, the conventional wisdom holds—I don’t see much privilege for black men here. Instead, they are hugely under-promoted. Sites like this generally only include black women writers. How did Samuel Delaney ever make it?

Gays no longer a minority?

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Another group that apparently no longer qualifies for the diversity category is ordinary gay men. See one article here that explains how “white” gay men are no longer discriminated against. In this case the UK National Union of Students (NUS) wants to ban gay white men because they’re somehow responsible for discrimination within the organization. Referring back to the last couple of blogs, presumably “white” in this case means Caucasians, plus any other ethnic groups that have also achieved the privilege expected from whiteness. In other words, discrimination based on just gayness is no longer appropriate, and you have to be one of the counted minorities (black or Latino in the US) in addition to being gay, in order to be judged still a great diversity hire.

One clue to what’s going on is in David Kaufman’s article on the same subject here. He suggests that gayness has allowed underqualified white men to be promoted at the expense of women and minorities, and that “…diversity and inclusiveness policies must address the needs of those who’ve been excluded most…” So, looking at it this way, there’s only so much diversity space available and it needs to be reserved for particular, especially oppressed groups–not gay white men.

Considering the SFF community then, there’s only so much space available on those book pages. Does it need to be reserved for those particular minorities who have been most oppressed in the past?

Whiteness vs. Minorities in the SFF Community

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So, I’d guess the previous blog will be interesting reading for those in the SFF community who are calling for increasing diversity. This will also probably be interesting news for editors and publishers who thought they were supplying it.

The invisibility of certain groups who thought they were actually a minority also explains a lot about certain relations in the SFF community. One example of this is Vox Day, of course, who clearly identifies as Native American. As a minority, why doesn’t he receive affirmative action benefits from the SFF community? Answer: Because Native Americans don’t really count toward diversity. Day also extensively publishes and promotes Chinese writers. Sorry, those writers are all invisible, too. In fact, Day is widely criticized for being white-supremacist, racist and anti-diversity instead. Another example is Larry Corriea, who seems to think he belongs to a minority group, but instead doesn’t qualify as Hispanic because he’s from a European heritage and not Latino.

Let’s look at some of the Asian writers who are currently seen as evidence of diversity in the SFF community. Here’s the list of notable Asian-American writers from Wikipedia: Ted Chiang, Wesley Chu, Georgina Kamsika, Ken Liu, Marjorie Liu, Malinda Lo, Marie Lu, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Chris Nakashima-Brown, Cindy Pon, Vandana Singh, Alyssa Wong, Laurence Yep, Charles Yu and Kat Zhang. I suppose we can also add Rajnar Vajra and Hugo winners Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang to this list. Sorry, these people are now all “white” and no longer evidence of diversity in a SFF publication. This also means that magazines like Clarkesworld and Lightspeed that seem to specialize in Arab and Asian SFF aren’t supplying real diversity.

Actually, the SFF community was called on this a while back by Cecily Kane and Weston Allen in a study published by Fireside Magazine. Kane and Allen found that out of 2,039 short stories published in 2015 by 63 industry magazines, only 38 were by black authors. Kane and Weston cited only Terraform Magazine as representing real diversity in the SFF community.

What is Whiteness?

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According to Jamelle Bouie, the recent election is a case of “white won.” If that’s so, maybe this is a good time for another look at what that word “white” means. I’ve already mentioned in a previous blog that white is more a set of power relations than about race. This means that whiteness is about power and privilege and not really about skin color at all.

One of the mistakes that neo-left activists have made, according to David Marcus in a response to Bouie’s article, is that this group has equated privilege with skin color, assuming all white people are privileged and demanding they should admit this and apologize for oppressing people-of-color. According to Marcus, the struggling white working class (along with a big chunk of the middle class) has responded to this demand with a hard swing to the right. He suggests that “whites” will no longer accept that minorities should be allowed to pursue their own interests to the detriment of whites, and that things people-of-color say will no longer be ignored in the political arena.

So given that this is really about power and privilege, who turns out to be white and who turns out to be a minority? This is an interesting topic. First, people of Arab ethnicity are currently making a move to withdraw from the “white” race into a MENA (Middle Eastern/North African) category. Although Arab-Americans have been designated as white for the last 70 years in the US, they increasingly feel they don’t have the privilege that whiteness should confer.

Next, it occurs that Asians are actually “white.” This is a social phenomenon that goes back several decades, when suddenly Asians became invisible in diversity counts (and started to sue about discrimination in university admissions). If you’re interested in further reading on this topic, see an article here by Eugene Volokh written in 1998. Non-Latino Hispanics also turn out to be invisible in diversity counts, and I’d hazard a guess that Native Americans are mostly invisible, too. So that leaves only blacks and Latinos as the minorities who actually count.

Next blog: How does this affect the SFF community?

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