Thursday, September 9, 2010

Censorship at Racialicious

Or perhaps some on the left have studied the causes of racism and know that racism cannot be understood without an understanding of class:

Thandeka, author of Learning To Be White, wrote, “…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.”

Adolph Reed Jr. wrote in The Limits of Anti-racism, “I’m increasingly convinced that a likely reason is that the race line is itself a class line, one that is entirely consistent with the neoliberal redefinition of equality and democracy. It reflects the social position of those positioned to benefit from the view that the market is a just, effective, or even acceptable system for rewarding talent and virtue and punishing their opposites and that, therefore, removal of “artificial” impediments to its functioning like race and gender will make it even more efficient and just.” (Reed’s essay is especially pertinent here, because he mentions Tim Wise.)
That comment did not make it out of the moderation queue. In its place, the moderator put this note:
Mod Note - No, no, no. Will Shetterly, I cannot deal with you now. I have seen you rolling around LJ and other parts of the fan blogosphere trying to push the idea that class is more of an issue than race, when the two complicate each other, intersect with each other, and inform prejudice in ways it is clear from your comments that you are unwilling to understand.

And as a long time fan of your work, who followed you from the YA section to the adult section, whose first online handle was a character from NeverNever, who could relate to JustRon and Wolfboy, who loved that "Sound and fury signifying life" line so fucking hard - I CANNOT have you coming into my space and shitting on the reason this site exists. And I have put off writing about that conflict of separating the work from the politics of the creator because you are at the nexus of that and I am still sorting out how I feel.

But I've read all your online arguments and seen what you have written to my anti-racist friends and I will tell you that people who seek to minimize the impact that race has on modern life are not welcome here.

And your comment on Tim Wise is following the exact same pattern, so I'm going to pre-emempt the drama and say you are not welcome to comment here.

And I say this, even as the 14 year old version of me can't believe that the first words I am saying to Will Shetterly are not about how much I loved your books, but how you are unwelcome here, a place that is a refuge to fans of color.

Incidentally, no one who points to the importance of class is minimizing the impact of race. That's like saying people who point to the importance of washing your hands are minimizing the impact of having a cold.

Oh, for anyone who is keeping track: the comment I left a few days ago (see previous post) on Tim Wise's blog is still in the moderation queue. Just sayin'.

ETA: The third comment on the post is well worth reading.

ETA 2: Just wanted to add that this is one of the nicer notes I've gotten from a censor.

And I should acknowledge that we all have a right to censor comments on our sites. But censorship is still censorship, and when we do it quickly, we look like we know our claims cannot bear examination.

ETA 3: For socialists who think contemporary anti-racists are right to separate race and class, see Sharon Smith's Race, class, and "whiteness theory".

ETA 4: My comment at Tim Wise's blog is out of moderation, and he has a thoughtful response to me.

Censorship at Racialicious, Part 2: answering commenters

Since I replied to the Racialicious post here, I'm also replying here to some of the folks who commented there:

cathy said, "The vast majority of those who use the label liberal are capitalist."

In my experience, if you speak of liberals, USAns will assume you're a conservative, not a commie. That's why I speak of liberal capitalists. That quibble aside, well said!

Jihad Punk 77 wrote:
by the way, here is a good Marxist smack-down on why racism is not tied to classism:
Since Adolph Reed Jr. doesn't convince you, try Sharon Smith's Race, class, and "whiteness theory".

Winn wrote:
I apologize if this is thread-jacking, but I just wanted to give you a virtual fistbump for your pre-emptive call out to Will Shetterly. I know that had to be extremely difficult and emotionally complicated for you, and I’ve been there, and am there now (the recent Morrissey flap), and navigating between loving an artist’s work and disagreeing with or even actively despising their actions, behaviors, world view, etc. is difficult at the best of times.
Speaking as the artist in question, I don't understand how a fan of my Borderland novels or of Dogland could engage in "pre-emptive" censorship. Those books are, among other things, all about the freedom to speak and disagree. Only the bad guys try to silence anyone.
Shetterly has already posted on his own blog about “Censorship at Racialicious” (please), but its not as if his own display during “Racefail” and since haven’t made his position and motivation perfectly clear. And as posting on Racialicious is hardly a Constitutionally-guaranteed right, I’m not sure how Shetterly is being “censored”, especially as he is…yes, free to post his views on his own blog, or anywhere else with unmoderated forums.
Censorship is always local: Censors can only censor where they have the power to make disagreement disappear, whether that's in a nation or on a blog. I completely agree that we all have the right to censor. But like all rights, it should be used wisely. The concept of "pre-emptive" censorship is as suspect as the pre-emptive strike in warfare.
It would be helpful if Shetterly understood that trotting out some writers of color or selective quotations to buttress the idea that class trumps race neither proves the argument, nor does it address those cases that fall out of the supposed class dynamic, like the racism faced by middle and upper-middle class people of color, irrespective of income or social position.
We could have an interesting discussion about whether the effect of racism on middle and upper-middle (and upper!) class people of color has nothing to do with class. My quick answer? Race affects the US class system, but it does not trump it. That's always been true:

1. Before the Civil War, a black female slaveowner's life was more comfortable than a poor white man's life.

2. A middle-class person of color faces racism because of the historical role of race, which is still a means to divide the working class for the benefit of the ruling class.
Shetterly has a position that he’s clinging to like a barnacle, and despite his recent head nods to POC who agree with him, he’s heretofore been quite dismissive and disrespectful to the fans and fellow writers of color who dared to call out him and his compatriots on their privilege and cluelessness.
Recent? I've been referring to "POC who agree" with me since at least 2005, and maybe earlier. (My oldest blog posts are no longer on the web.)
Thank you for respecting that we need spaces free from the kind of self-satisfied and paternalistic arrogance that has permeated Shetterly’s writings on the subject. A refuge for POC is exactly what Racialicious is, and that concept is something Shetterly could never understand. His response to the fact that his comments were disallowed revealed that he understood very little about your reasons for doing so, despite his magnamity in reposting a portion of your mod note.
Actually, I posted all of her note. I'm obsessed with truth, as you may've noticed by now.

As for her reasons, censorship does not allow others to speak, but it speaks for itself.
The fact that he couldn’t even relate to what was a principled stance of a community moderator mixed with the anguish of a long-time fan…you may not have sorted out your feelings yet, but I certainly have.
I am sorry for any anguish she may feel. But she made her choice, and that choice has nothing to do with my work. Artists have a choice: Do we give people what's comforting or what's challenging? Commercial artists choose the first. Artists who value art for its own sake choose the second.

When I was googling for info about the Basic Income Guarantee, I came across this video of Desmond Tutu, which has this in the comments from bluesunshine:
The philosopher Diogenes was eating bread and lentils for supper. The philosopher Aristippus, who lived comfortably by flattering the king, saw him.

Said Aristippus, If you would learn to be subservient to the king you would not have to live on lentils.

Said Diogenes, Learn to live on lentils and you will not have to cultivate the king.
That's the artist's choice, too. I'm sorry there are people who are not willing to look deeply into the roots of racism, but I can't let their reluctance stop me from speaking out. (Regarding their reluctance to grasp the primacy of class in the USA, here's my favorite Upton Sinclair quote: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!")

Racialicious and the Imaginary Will Shetterly

I was wondering why I hadn't remembered that Racialicious was run by one of scifi fandom's antiracism theorists—I remembered it as being an interesting site about race that I've visited a few times a year for ages—so I did a little googling and found two things:

1. Latoya Peterson took over this year. I'd remembered the previous owner's tenure.

2. My name only turns up there in one post, LINK LOVE: POC IN SF CARNIVAL – INTERNATIONAL BLOG AGAINST RACISM WEEK. It's a roundup of blogs that took part in IBARW in 2007. It includes this, which starts with a link to Vom_marlowe's LJ:

Racism isn’t Classism -
[Latoya's note - My heart clenched a little when I saw this essay because the author of the post refers to a favorite author of mine during adolescence, Will Shetterly. Shetterly argues by the numbers that race only affects a few, but poverty affects the many (white) people who are suffering. Inexplicably, I feel hurt. He never painted himself as a racial activist, but to find out someone who helped paint your formulative years holds views that make you want to vomit...*sigh* Fantasy and reality collide in painful ways...]
I chose this topic because it’s an argument I see a lot, especially on the internet. I think of it as the Will Shetterly argument, but I’ve seen it spoken often by many other people as well. The argument goes thusly: Racism doesn’t exist anymore; racism has been superceded by classism or there was never racism to begin with. Solve classism and ‘apparent racism’ will disappear.
This argument is bullshit.

Amusingly, we agree. That argument is bullshit. I've never made it.

As for "arguing by the numbers," I didn't invent them. There are twice as many white folks living in poverty in the USA as black or non-white Hispanic folks. Martin Luther King noticed that in the '60s.

Incidentally, after the 2007 discussion at vom_marlowe's site, I found Adolph Reed Jr.'s New Orleans - Undone by Neoliberalism. It's highly recommended. He notes:
A critique that focuses just on race misses how the deeper structures of neoliberal practice and ideology underlie the travesty in New Orleans, as well as in the other devastated areas of the Gulf Coast. (Adjacent to the Lower Ninth Ward, St. Bernard Parish, nearly 90 percent white, working class and reliably Republican, was virtually wiped off the face of the earth. Most of the parish's housing was destroyed. No hospitals or public libraries have reopened, and only 20 percent of its schools are operating.)


  1. Reposted because I can't type today.

    Shrug. When what is being "censored" is the a blog response that just gives another retelling of the well-known and easily accessible ideas of someone who has posted the same basic message many times before, I have trouble considering it "censorship."

    To do so seems kind of insulting to those who are actually denied a voice by someone who has the power to suppress their message in a meaningful way.

  2. What I find most interesting is that your comment consists entirely of quotations from people of color. The only words written by Will Shetterly are are citation and a tiny bit of more or less neutral context. The blogger either a) didn't really bother to read your comment or b) actually can't deal with Thandeka and Adolph Reed Jr.

  3. I'd love to watch Tim Wise debate either of them! If anyone knows how to set that up, let me know.

  4. littlebbob, my guess is the willshetterly alarm went off, and they grabbed for the fire hose.

  5. I love the idea of a willshetterly alarm. Now *I* want one, and a big brass pole to slide down whenever Will Shetterly says something I disagree with.

  6. Cora, people certainly have a right to censor comments on their blogs. But they shouldn't pretend what they're doing isn't censorship. Censorship is simply preventing someone else from expressing an opinion. I deleted some comments from a fellow who was being trollish (as in, determinedly and consistently off-topic). Like the mod at Racialicious, I left a link to his blog for anyone who was curious, and I explained why I did what I did.


  8. I think that was the first time I ever tried to post anything at Racialicious. Googling didn't bring up any earlier comments by me, and I can't remember any offhand.

  9. Shrug. OK, then I personally wouldn't have kicked the post. But to me the fact that who you are and what you believe is so widely known and googleable makes calling it "censorship" a stretch and rather insulting to those whose words and ideas are actually suppressed, in my opinion.

  10. I'm so widely known? I doubt the previous owner of Racialicious would have a clue who I am. I'm an extremely minor writer who is recognized by some people who keep up on fantasy literature and Unitarian Universalism. And even in those communities, most f&sf fans and most UUs haven't a clue who I am. It's not like I'm the new Vonnegut. I haven't won any major awards. I'm just a guy who thinks anti-racism theory is wack.

  11. My impression is that people who post about race on the internet know who you are. When I've seen references to racefail made in other places, Teresa Nielsen Hayden gets top billing, but you're usually a close second.

  12. Over 15 years ago, I attended a community forum on racism. During a small-group discussion I mentioned that I knew I wasn't consciously racist, but that I was very definitely culturalist/classist: as an example, I explained that when riding public transit, I would not hesitate at all to sit next to an Afro-American man wearing khakis and a sweater, but that I would probably not sit next to the same man if he were dressed like a gang member. I was essentially ignored.

    Every culture has its positive and negative attributes: I wish that low-income families of all ethnic groups cared more about their children's education. I also wish that more white middle-class (and above) parents showed unconditional love for their children.

  13. Uunderstand, I've got my share of clothes prejudices too.

    But regarding schools, I'm not sure that low-income folks care less about education, but no matter how much they care, I bet if their schools were as good as the ones in wealthier neighborhoods, they would care more.

  14. A lot of low-income people were also badly treated within the educational system when they were kids. It's hard to reengage once you've been marginalized even if you like the idea of education in general.

    That said, my nephew's mama used to throw away his homework before he could turn it in. No matter how good the school system is, that kind of attitude is difficult to counteract. (My side of the family got him into reading for pleasure, at least...)

  15. serial, good on your side of the family!

    Bad parents suck. They may have good reasons to be bad parents, but it still sucks.