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August 04, 2007

arg arg arg

Scalzi claims colorblindness. Arg.

Kameron Hurley reams him as he deserves. Argess.

This has been addressed a million times in poc blogs and I don't need to address it again. If you need to hear it though, read the following:

Nisi Shawl "Transracial Writing for the Sincere"

Nisi Shawl "Appropriate Cultural Appropriation"

Angry Black Woman on "How Prejudice and Bias Works"

What I want to add to the debate is a small piece of truth that gets glossed over. In response to the complaint of white writers about writing about people of color: "Damned if you do. Damned if you don't," I want to say: absolutely.

It's absolutely true. You're damned either way. If you don't do it, you're a racist. Yes, you are. Race and racism exist in this society, and if you ignore them, you're expressing a racial privilege that you don't, morally, have any right to. That's a subtle form of racism.

If you do do it and get it "wrong", you'll get reamed, and rightfully so. It's presumptuous of you to think that you have the right to represent a culture you don't belong to if you can't be bothered to properly examine and accurately portray that culture.

Further, if you do it and get it "right", or rather, don't get it wrong, you'll still get reamed by members of that culture you've represented who rightfully resent a white writer's success representing their culture. After all, every American ethnic minority has its writers: good and bad. The good writers are mostly ignored. Inevitably, some white writer will come along and do a bang-up job portraying that culture and will get--in one book, in one section of a book--more attention than the poc writer got over the course of three or five or ten books.

You're a white writer trying to do the right thing, but no matter what you do, it's wrong. And that's so unfair to you, isn't it?

Welcome to a tiny taste of what it's like to be a person of color.

Oh, and quit complaining.

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Comments

I was so depressed by the sheer number of "yeah, you go Scalzi" comments that managed to squeeze in before anybody even mentioned the negative effects of default white assumptions.

(And thanks for covering the "damned if you do; damned if you don't" aspect. As a whitey, I was wondering what to do about that.)

nothing to be done. seriously. just do what you do, do your best, try to stretch yourself and challenge others in good faith, and deal gracefully with the fallout when it comes.

easier said than done, of course.

Yeah, I usually wouldn't take on a blog like Scalzi's because he's got such a huge readership (and who wants to draw from a fanbase of "yeah, go Scalzis!" who don't stop and think about what he just said), but oh God, I was so fucking pissed off at the sheer smugness of it, the total privilege, the "I just don't MENTION race! I'm totally COLORBLIND!"

Wow, you realize you're able to "see" the world that way because you're white, right?

Maybe living in South Africa just gave me a way better idea of just how pervasive "white priviledge" is, because yeah, before SA, I thought a lot like Scalzi I thought, "Oh, well, it just doesn't matter. I don't even see race!"

Well, of course it didn't matter to *me.* I was *white.* I have the priviledge to say "it doesn't matter" to me, just like men have the priviledge to say they don't "see" gender and there's "no such thing" as sexism.

*Just because you can live your life pretending it doesn't exist doesn't mean it doesn't exist for everybody else.* Not recognizing your priviledge doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

And you know? I would rather be damned for doing it, because then everybody'd write to me and tell me how I got it wrong, and I could at least try and learn from it and *listen* to people and attempt to not be a total ass.

Doing this whole, "oh, no, people will call me racist/sexist!" thing in order to skirt responsibility, in order to pretend not to see the rest of the world?

Absolute chickenshit.

Of course we're all sexist and racist. We live in a sexist, racist society. So what are we going to do about it? Just throw up our hands and wave them around?

Arg. Sorry. Still pissed off.

good for you. it's a pisser.

great post. i've been wrestling with these questions for a while now and this is an excellent elucidation! *bookmarking you* thanks :)

After all, every American ethnic minority has its writers: good and bad. The good writers are mostly ignored. Inevitably, some white writer will come along and do a bang-up job portraying that culture and will get--in one book, in one section of a book--more attention than the poc writer got over the course of three or five or ten books.

Actually, I don't think this is true. I see how it could be true, given the levels of racism in our society, but I don't think it is. When I think of the most famous (to the "mainstream, i.e. white, audience) authors of the "ethnic lit" I'm most familiar with--South Asian and African-American--they're all of those ethnicities, and I can't think of a single white writer. Seth, Lahiri, Roy, Angelou, Walker, Hurston, Divakaruni (whose writing I find mediocre, unlike the others, but is nonetheless famous), Wright...all are South Asian or African-American.

If anything, I think the opposite problem is in effect. POC writers get shoved into the ghetto of being "THE representative of this ethnic group," while white writers aren't encouraged to write "ethnic" because their writings are universal and so they can just write about Humanity.

Even if it were the case, though, I don't see any good reason to get mad at the writer in question (since almost ALL of us writers get published in part because of privilege and/or luck, whether it relates to race or class or connections or what) rather than at the publishing industry or the reading public. Especially since the writer in question is probably helping POC more on balance, because she's bringing a well-done portrayal of POC (hate that term myself, esp. abbreviated, but what can you do?) to the public and may also lead readers to other books that have a diverse cast of characters. I'm all for rage, but not misdirected rage.

actually, you're right about the ethnic writing ghetto. when it comes to writing about being poc, only poc writers do it. but when it comes to issues-oriented writing, or certain types of culture-oriented writing, what i outlined above does hold true.

i'm thinking of "snow falling on cedars" for example, where japanese american writers, some good, some not so much, have been churning out books on internment for decades, but some white guy writes a (good) book about it and gets a movie deal with ethan hawke starring.

there are a lot of similar examples which are escaping me right now, because my brain is mush, but you're right about that distinction.

plus, it happens a lot more to asian american than african american writers.

you're right that people shouldn't get mad AT the writer in question. but if you read carefully, you'll notice that i didn't say people SHOULD get mad at the writer in question, but rather that they WILL get mad at the writer in question, and SHOULD get mad about the situation.

i'll grant that i didn't make that distinction clear, but to be honest, i don't really care that much. white writers who write the other need to be prepared for this stuff and they need to know not to complain. if you're getting a lot of attention or even just a book deal because you've done a good job of writing the other, take it and let people work out their issues. seriously.

Hey there,

I wanted to drop you a note to let you know that I quoted this on my tumblr (with a link and citing you as the source), and it seems to have gone a bit viral. Over 350 responses in 2 days. Here is the link:

http://tgstonebutch.tumblr.com/post/35522733155/in-response-to-the-complaint-of-white-writers

Thanks for putting this out there and giving me the heads up, Corey!

I keep hitting on advice that is either seemingly or completely contradictory on this subject. Good to know that actually it really -is- a Catch 22... unless I quit writing and permanently lose the ability to try. There's always that option.

Actually that was one of the bits of advice I've read too. :\

I think Scalzi deleted that post because the link just takes me to his home page.

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