Sunday, February 19, 2017

An apology for Julia Sparkymonster, Micole Coffeeandink, and Mary Dell

April 2015/February 2017

Dear Julia, Micole, and Mary,

Like most artists, I try to keep track of online mentions of my name. Often the results are nice. Perhaps the nicest was when I saw someone praising my brother. I learned about two interesting people who are undoubtedly distant relatives that way, Margot Lee Shetterly and Robert Shetterly. But in 2015, I saw this tweet from Julia:

I wrote a first draft of this letter then, but decided sharing it wouldn't help anyone, so I left it sitting in Blogger's draft folder.

Friday I learned about these tweets:

Julia, my first reaction to your 2015 tweet was to be amused by your use of "harass"—if writing publicly about things someone has said is harassing, you have been harassing me since you showed up on my LiveJournal ten years ago to insist class does not matter when discussing racism.

But then I thought a little more about our history, which reminded me of this part of a post I made in 2014, How I Became A Misogynist White Supremacist Doxxing Troll, or Things about me that SJWs cannot understand, or Fisking a Mixoning, A response to SciFi Fandom's most self-righteous warriors:
Sparky says, "Once I sat down once & compiled documents details his harassment of a particular person for a potential restraining order. The stack of paper was several inches thick (double sided) and fucking appalling. WS also specializes in deleting posts, comments, entire journals, etc. He deleted posts and complains that people aren't reading his words in context. We can't because he deleted them."

I'm assuming she didn't try for a restraining order because she couldn't find a lawyer who thought public posts on the internet were harassment. As for deleting posts, guilty, but this community has been obsessive about screen caps for ages, at least since they doxxed and terrorized Zathlazip. If I'd said or done something extreme, they would have dozens of copies to show it, and the first copy would probably be Sparky's.

Sparky says, "About 2 years ago I ended up sitting down with HR because of concerns that either WS or one of his comment buddies was going to start calling my workplace. In order for me to do my job, my work number must be public. My office location also public. The building I work in is open to the public. I am the only black staff member in the building. I'm the only WOC staff member in the building. It was, and is, fucking terrifying."

Two points: 1. Obviously, I never did what she feared. 2. What she feared is exactly what her friends did to Zathlazip. Sparky was afraid of getting what she had condoned and may have participated in.
Writing that in 2014, I experienced something I've despised since I learned the word: schadenfreude. Rereading my post after seeing your April 2015 tweet, I was sorry I had been amused rather than sympathetic when you were afraid I would treat you the same way your community treats others.

But after I wrote the first draft of this letter, I decided it would help no one and left it unfinished.

Your recent tweet convinced me something must be done. Now you say I threatened you as well as harassed you. When and where did this happen? I'm not aware of anything I've done that I considered a threat, but you have a long history of misunderstanding me. Most of those misunderstandings can never be cleared up because our understandings of the world are so different, but I will gladly do anything I can to clear up this one. No one should live in fear.

Micole and Mary, I'm including you in this letter because Julia helped you compile things I'd said for your "Will Shetterly: Do Not Engage" post. For years, I was frustrated that you'd cherrypicked items to make it look like I believe something I do not, but I eventually made peace with the fact you hear as you do because your belief in intersectionality disconnects class and race, so you see two unique things that only occasionally intersect while I agree with Eric Williams that “Slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery,” and therefore see that race and class in North America have been intimately entangled since the first laws were passed after Bacon's Rebellion to treat African slaves and European indentured servants differently.

Adolph Reed helped me understand how hard it is for identitarians to hear nuance. In The limits of anti-racism, he wrote something I completely agree with:
Yes, racism exists, as a conceptual condensation of practices and ideas that reproduce, or seek to reproduce, hierarchy along lines defined by race. Apostles of antiracism frequently can’t hear this sort of statement, because in their exceedingly simplistic version of the nexus of race and injustice there can be only the Manichean dichotomy of those who admit racism’s existence and those who deny it. There can be only Todd Gitlin (the sociologist and former SDS leader who has become, both fairly and as caricature, the symbol of a “class-first” line) and their own heroic, truth-telling selves, and whoever is not the latter must be the former. Thus the logic of straining to assign guilt by association substitutes for argument.

My position is—and I can’t count the number of times I’ve said this bluntly, yet to no avail, in response to those in blissful thrall of the comforting Manicheanism—that of course racism persists, in all the disparate, often unrelated kinds of social relations and “attitudes” that are characteristically lumped together under that rubric, but from the standpoint of trying to figure out how to combat even what most of us would agree is racial inequality and injustice, that acknowledgement and $2.25 will get me a ride on the subway. It doesn’t lend itself to any particular action except more taxonomic argument about what counts as racism.
When I say your neoliberal understanding of race, gender, and class and my socialist understanding are fundamentally different, I do not mean to imply you are bad people. I only mean to stress that what you believe shapes your ability to understand others, so when I say, "Class matters most under capitalism," you hear me say, "Race doesn't matter; only class does."

Since I'm quoting things, here's what Malcolm X said after he rejected the Nation of Islam's identitarian ways:
My dearest friends have come to include all kinds—some Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and even atheists! I have friends who are called capitalists, Socialists, and Communists! Some of my friends are moderates, conservatives, extremists—some are even Uncle Toms! My friends today are black, brown, red, yellow, and white!
My range of friends has always been that broad. I was raised to believe in live and let live, and in agreeing to disagree. I realize your community rejects those principles and that in your eyes my criticism of Derrick Bell and KimberlĂ© Crenshaw makes me a heretic, but being treated as a heretic never made me hate any of you or want to see any harm come to any of you. When my family was a small part of the civil rights struggle, I was bullied in school for being a "nigger lover", but my parents taught me to pity my haters for the limits of their vision. My spirituality has taken several forms, but two bits I learned in Sunday School will always stay with me: the story of the Good Samaritan and Jesus's teaching to love your enemy.

Which is the long way of saying I have no bad feelings for you now and never wanted you to suffer, and I am appalled by the idea that any of you think I would ever use the tactics you endorse.

Julia, I don't know how to assure you that even when I was most frustrated with your attacks, I never would've tolerated anything like what you feared—all I can do is stress that you now know I never did what you feared, so I hope you can believe I never will. I'm very sorry that when I first learned you were frightened, I didn't try harder to find a way reassure you.

Mary, I know less about your situation than I know about Julia's, but if you've been afraid of me, I'm as sorry as anyone can be. I remember you saying something once about Emma that I answered by joking that you should be careful because she's a better shot than I am. I thought that was hilarious because it's both true she's a better shot and it's ludicrous to think anyone in fandom would shoot anyone over a feud about ideology, but I've accepted that Poe's Law is the only law online, so if that joke gave you a moment's discomfort, I regret it deeply.

Micole, you are not last because you are least. If I ever met Julia offline, it was only briefly, and I have only the vaguest memories of meeting Mary, but I remember meeting you at Tor and being pleased you were starting your career as I had started mine. When I learned you wanted to write, I hoped you would do well. But in 2007 it became clear your belief in the principles of Critical Race Theory did not allow for tolerating disagreement. I knew then we would never be friends, but I am used to being friendly with people who do not share my beliefs, so I didn't realize we had become enemies.

That finally became clear to me in 2009 when you and Julia and Mary made your post about me, and when you insisted you had been pseudonymous and I had outed you. I understand how you think your post did not misrepresent me. I will never understand how you can believe you were pseudonymous while using your very rare first name as your LJ handle and using your full name on public LJ posts about what you had written and where to find you at conventions. For at least two years, Google tracked your LJ so anyone who could type your name into a search engine would find your LJ among the very first hits. It still seems the height of hypocrisy to me that in the weeks after you declared you had been outed, you changed your LJ handle, you changed your LJ settings to "no robots" to erase your online history, and you made private the posts in which you had been publicly sharing your full name, yet you left public the posts accusing me of outing you. If sincerely you thought you had been behaving pseudonymously, why did you change anything to become pseudonymous?

Still, I don't blame you. Humans are rationalizing animals—the only people who think they're never inconsistent are people who do not know themselves at all. I don't pretend to know myself well, but I know myself well enough to only blame myself for what happened during Racefail 09.

To be clear, I am not sorry I entered that flamewar when I saw you and your friends attacking good people. I am sorry I couldn't find a kinder and more convincing way to respond, and I'm sorry I didn't drop out much sooner. When you insisted your legal identity should be kept out of the histories of Racefail because you were pseudonymous, I should have accepted that as another of your quirks. I certainly never should've made a post ironically declaring that I was outing you. I didn't know about Poe's Law then.

As a result, I learned the hardest way about the psychological consequences of mobbing. I would never wish them on anyone, but I only blame myself for being mobbed. That seems to be what people who have been mobbed do—in my reading about the effects, I've found people who killed themselves, but I haven't found anyone who hurt anyone else. Julia seems to think I have not been punished enough for what I did. Perhaps you will all take some satisfaction in knowing I avoid conventions now because I'm constantly aware someone from your community might attack me in one of the ways that were promised and called for during that time. Well, except for the death threat—perhaps the only advantage of having the KKK threaten to burn down my home when I was a boy was learning at a young age that most death threats are only meant to terrify.

Your editing of your online past frustrated me enormously for several years, but I finally accepted that what I did was my responsibility and what you did was yours. We all have our burdens, and yours may be far heavier than mine. I am sorry I added to them. If there's anything I can do to lighten them, I'll do it gladly.

Julia, Mary, and Micole, I do not expect any of you to reply. I simply want you to know that you have nothing to fear from me. The world has enough suffering. Why add to it? If there's anything you would like to ask of me, ask it, directly or through an intermediary if you wish, and I will try to provide it. If not, go in peace.




I would like to turn the comments off on this post, but I want to know what made Julia think I threatened her. Leaving the comments on makes it possible for her or a friend of hers to answer—pseudonymously if they're afraid of me or of having their community turn on them. So if you're tempted to comment here, I ask the following:

1. No one can lay a hand on you online, so follow Malcolm X's advice to respect everyone.

2. Don't use this post to criticize identitarianism or neoliberalism. My rejection of what Micole, Mary, and Julia believe is unchanged.

3. Don't use this post to criticize other identitarians. If I don't owe them an apology, they're irrelevant.

4. Don't tell me I don't need to apologize. Whether I should've entered the Racefail flamewar is, to my mind, debatable; that I should've been kinder and dropped out sooner is not. As a result, at least one person says she has been afraid for years. That alone is sufficient reason to apologize.