Wednesday, October 20, 2010

the dangerous intolerance of intolerance

I just left this comment at Jesse Bullington's Tolerance, Bigotry, and Tolerating Bigotry. It covers some old ground, but I think there's enough new in it to justify posting it here:
Jesse, the whiteness of prominent (and very well paid) neoliberal anti-racism theorists like Tim Wise, Judith Katz, and Peggy McIntosh has troubled a number of black folks.

Layo, I've never said classism is "The problem." I've been beaten by racists; I'll never deny racism exists.

The idea that race and class are tangled is fairly new to scifi fandom's anti-racists; it's hard to find any of them acknowledging it before 2009. I'm delighted that class is finally being recognized, though I wish it wasn't recognized in order to be dismissed. When the elephant is in the intersection, you need to do more than say, "Yes, I agree there's an elephant at the intersection of First and Main, but I want to talk about First Street as if Main Street isn't there, so let's ignore the elephant now."

Now, this is an extremely flawed metaphor, I grant, because I'm using the anti-racist assumption that race and class are only intersecting. But as Thandeka notes in "The Whiting of Euro-Americans: A Divide and Conquer Strategy", "we must not forget that white racism was from the start a vehicle for classism; its primary goal was not to elevate a race but to denigrate a class. White racism was thus a means to an end, and the end was the defense of Virginia’s class structure and the further subjugation of the poor of all "racial" colors."

As for me stomping into discussions, I've been an active part of the f&sf community since the early 1980s. My first Wiscon was ages ago--before Emma was a GoH. When I see my community becoming intolerant of disagreement, when I see banning and censoring and calls for blacklists and anonymous death threats, I become very, very troubled.

Elizabeth Moon's comments were seriously misguided, as I told her at length. (That was lost when she deleted the comments, but there's a copy of my part of the discussion with her here.)

But much of the reaction to her is very misguided. The free debate of ideas matters. The power to silence others is seductive, and few who have a devout faith in the rightness of their cause can resist it, but it gives rise to Jacobins and Maoists and witch-hunters and crusaders, and ultimately hurts the cause it springs from. If you have faith that anti-racism theory is right, trust that it can survive being tested by those who doubt it.
ETA: The discussion there continued, and I added this:
Saying that canceling a speaker is only "a repercussion for choosing to exercise her free speech" suggests your definition of free speech and mine cannot be reconciled: either speakers are allowed to speak, or they are not. Under Joe McCarthy, people suspected of being communists were equally free to exercise their free speech and accept repercussions that included banning and blacklisting.

Moon is a religious bigot, but the work that she did has not changed: If it deserved to be honored, it still deserves to be honored.

Something you and I share: "desiring equal rights for all human beings is such a simple premise that when confronted with people who think otherwise I sometimes lose my shit." Classist assholes can make me go ballistic, but even so, my definition of "all" includes people I disagree with, and my definition of "rights" includes the right to say things I disagree with.