Category Archives: Fantasy

Farewell to the Bigoted Bust

pooh-balloon“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Me, I’m a Bear of Very Little Brain. Multi-tasking R manifestly NOT Us. I have one track and I can work that track pretty hard, but I can only do one thing at a time. This is my year of recommitting myself to my fiction, after several years away. So I’ve kept my focus there since Sasquan. But I do feel the need to weigh in on the World Fantasy Award administrators’ decision to retire the H. P. Lovecraft bust.

Kudos! Huzzah! Hearts and balloons! With a side of it’s-about-damn-time. Thanks to the WFA administrators for stepping up, and thanks to Nnedi Okorofor, Daniel José Older, Sofia Samatar, and others in the SFF community who have raised awareness on this issue. This has taken a real toll on those who were willing to speak up. The burden of being labeled a troublemaker for bringing important and inconvenient truths to light falls all too often on people who are already marginalized. (In fact, Okorofor is reporting on FaceBook that she’s experienced a sharp uptick in hate mail, since the WFA administrators announced this change.)

Lovecraft’s brand of racism was both virulent and parochial—it was American-style white-supremacist fear-of-the-other at its worst. His elitist, xenophobic attitude made him a terrible symbol to represent the best works in a genre whose roots and branches span history and cultures across the globe. I mean, his attitudes about people other than those of English and Teutonic descent were eye-scorchingly dreadful, even for their time.

Phenderson Djeli Clark’s excellent article, “The ‘N’ Word through the Ages: The ‘Madness’ of HP Lovecraft,” provides sufficient evidence to convince any reasonable person. Here’s an extended quote, but there is plenty more. You should read the whole article (content warning for racism):

During a visit to Chinatown in 1922, Lovecraft declared it a “filthy dump” filled with sub-human ‘swine … a bastard mess of stewing Mongrel flesh without intellect, repellent to the eye, nose and imagination.” He goes on to wish for a “kindly gust of cyanogen [cyanide]” that might “asphyxiate the whole gigantic abortion, end the misery and clean out the place.”

America’s black inhabitants presented Lovecraft with a most peculiar problem — a group too numerous to erase with a genocidal whiff of poison gas, and too entrenched to send packing. He ruminated on this on more than one occasion:

Now the trickiest catch in the negro problem is the fact that it is really twofold. The black is vastly inferior. There can be no question of this among contemporary and unsentimental biologists — eminent Europeans for whom the prejudice-problem does not exist. But, it is also a fact that there would be a very grave and very legitimate problem even if the negro were the white man’s equal. For the simple fact is, that two widely dissimilar races, whether equal or not, cannot peaceably coexist in the same territory until they are either uniformly mongrelised or cast in folkways of permanent and traditional personal aloofness. … Just how the black and his tan penumbra can ultimately be adjusted to the American fabric, yet remains to be seen. … Millions of them would be perfectly content with servile status if good physical treatment and amusement could be assured them, and they may yet form a well-managed agricultural peasantry. The real problem is the quadroon and octoroon—and still lighter shades. Theirs is a sorry tragedy, but they will have to find a special place. What we can do is to discourage the increase of their numbers by placing the highest possible penalties on miscegenation, and arousing as much public sentiment as possible against lax customs and attitudes—especially in the inland South—at present favouring the melancholy and disgusting phenomenon. All told, I think the modern American is pretty well on his guard, at last, against racial and cultural mongrelism. There will be much deterioration, but the Nordic has a fighting chance of coming out on top in the end.

– Letter from Lovecraft to James F. Morton, January 1931.

These are not simply a few hot-headed opinions popping out of the mouth (or the pen) of a young man, whose attitudes mellowed with age. They weren’t ill-considered Thingish thoughts that he reconsidered later. Nope. He remained hostile and entrenched in these views to the end of his life, despite the sustained efforts of his friends and family.

For those who haven’t been targeted by racist hate, the racial overtones might not be obvious in his fiction, and some of my friends in the community of color have said they weren’t bothered by the disturbing undertones in his work, either. But in his large volume of correspondence, he was quite clear on the subject. So yes: even for his time, his opinions were extreme.

And you know? I find the “man of his time” argument troubling on its face. It asks us to put Lovecraft’s views in historical context. But whose context are we talking about? I guarantee you that the people he was referring to in those quotes above didn’t feel the same way he did. This was in the 1920s and 30s—within the lifespan of people still around today. Can anyone argue with a straight face that that attitude did no harm back then? And the people he was maligning: their children and grandchildren are part of our community. Doesn’t their historical context matter, too?

The KKK was in its heyday in those years, committing terrorist acts. While Lovecraft penned his stories, white men in hoods were busy murdering and terrorizing blacks (along with Jews, Catholics, Asians, and their white Anglo-Saxon Protestant supporters) for the unforgiveable crime of (as Nalo Hopkinson once put it) “breathing while black.” Hitler (about whom Lovecraft spoke approvingly) was on the ascent to power. And Lovecraft’s rhetoric provides extremists with ideological cover to this day.

Given all this, most people can see the good sense in the WFA administrators’ decision. We can appreciate the good that has come out of Lovecraft’s contributions to SFF and horror, without needing such a parochial, paranoid, and xenophobic individual held up as an icon of excellence within such a broad and diverse field of endeavor as ours.

Sure. Bigotry and hate speech are not just a white problem. Not just a straight or cisgendered or male problem. People in socially-dominant positions have engaged in hateful, eliminationist rhetoric against those on the margins, across the globe and throughout the ages. It’s Bullying 101. And sure, genocidal rhetoric and actions predate modern civilization. Since when is any of that an excuse for dreadful behavior? Lovecraft’s expressed opinions about people of races and religions other than his own were hate speech, pure and simple. In a modern, tolerant, and multi-cultural world, we can’t sweep intolerance and bigotry under the carpet. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. This change to the award should not be considered even remotely controversial.

One last point. Word has spread that writer S. T. Joshi, a two-time WFA winner and Lovecraft’s biographer, disagrees with the award administrators’ decision, and has returned his awards in protest. I find his reasoning, let’s just say, unpersuasive. This decision does not in any way reflect on him or his H. P. Lovecraft scholarship—or at least, it shouldn’t. I hope that Joshi is able someday to make his peace with the decision of the WFA committee. I feel badly, too, for the artist who created the bust, Gahan Wilson. This decision does not reflect on him or his work, either.

But. Here’s the bottom line. People should not be forced to choose between turning down an award—the highest praise and recognition of their peers—and having the face of their oppressor on their shelf. The moral weight here lies with those who have been forced for centuries to swallow the hatred of the bigoted among us. It’s time to bid farewell to a Thingish thought that once seemed like a good idea but hasn’t held up well. Good riddance to the H. P. Lovecraft bust.

__________________________

Update: Steve (my Steve; Stevie Chuck) just pointed me to this excellent blog post by bestselling writer and this year’s World Fantasy Guest of Honor, Steven Erikson. Well worth a read.

 

 

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Acceptance Speech Online! And Other Post-Hugo Neepery

What a long, strange trip it’s been,my friends.

I’ve spent the past five days in the gorgeous wilderness of southern Oregon with my good friend Chris Crawford and his wife Kathy, catching up on my rest, hiking, and working on the next two books in my WAVE series (as M. J. Locke! Coming soon! Well, OK; in a year or three). Before much more time passed, I wanted to respond to the people who requested the video or a transcript of my speech.

The 2015 Hugo Awards are now online, in four parts. My award and acceptance starts at 2:20:40, near the end of Part 2.

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 11.38.01 AM

Here is the transcript:

Tonight, I honor Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Tricia Sullivan, Athena Andreadis, Rachel Manija Brown, Kari Sperring, Liz Williams, Hesychasm, Cindy Pon, and the many others targeted for abuse, whose experiences I documented in my report last fall. They’re great writers and bloggers—read their works!

Thanks go to those who stood up for them: Tade Thompson, Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Pat Cadigan, Sherwood Smith, and Nalo Hopkinson. Read their works too!

Thanks also to those who helped me with my research behind the scenes. You know who you are, and we wouldn’t be here with you, either. Thanks to George RR Martin, who boosted me for this award, and to all who voted for me.

I wrote my report out of love for this community. Out of a rejection of abusive behavior and the language of hate. There’s room for all of us here. But there is no middle ground between “we belong here” and “no you don’t,” which is what I hear when people disrespect members of our community. I believe we must find non-toxic ways to discuss our conflicting points of view. I plan to keep working toward that, in ways true to my own values and lived experiences. And I hope you all will, too. Science fiction and fantasy literature is our common bond and our common legacy. It belongs to all of us. Those who deny that do great harm.

I see our conflict as a reflection of a much larger societal struggle, as Robert Silverberg referred to, and I stand with people from marginalized groups who seek simply to be seen as fully human. Black lives matter. Thank you.

This past year has been brutal, for so many of us. In a conversation recently, a friend asked me what my primary communities of identity were, and at the question I felt a great upwelling of grief. The two communities I love most have been so fraught. It feels awful to be at odds with those with whom I have so much else in common. My fellow progressives and I have been beleaguered and under assault, simply because we are (as the Puppies’ actions have made very clear) the Wrong Sorts of People, and I put the progressive community under further strain with my report. It was absolutely necessary. But it wasn’t fun.

After such a painful journey, the Hugo awards came as a big validation. SFF fandom Gets It. They delivered a clear message. What the Puppies did was wrong. Their ballot-stuffing effort was an act of contempt, pure and simple. They tried to brand everyone who disagreed with them as this absurd caricature of progressive thought, creating a false binary out of a large, politically and demographically diverse group of people.

Conservatism isn’t intrinsically racist or sexist or other-ist. At its heart, the conservative belief system rests on a desire for stability and the preservation of one’s heritage. And there are many things I want to preserve about our SFF legacy. But when the status quo is infused with unfair power differentials—enforced through unexamined biases, prejudice, and stereotyping of people whose reality they don’t see—then those aspects of the status quo must go.

The science is clear, and it backs up the claims of social-justice advocates. White supremacy, patriarchy, and ableism are real, as are other forms of prejudice, and those attitudes are deeply destructive to equality, democracy, and fair play. The farther away you get on the Venn diagram from the white, male, straight, cis-gendered, slender, and physically or mentally able/ normative identities, the tougher you have it. These cultural biases, burned deep into our psyches, with all their various manifestations across the world, have done great harm to many, many people.

(And if you truly believe you have no biases, and don’t believe all this social-justice crap, then I challenge you to take the Harvard Implicit Association Test for yourself. See how you fare, in association tests of gender, sexuality, race, size, age, and other metrics.)

(Further reading: [1] | [2] | [3] | [4][5] | [6] | [7] | [8] | [9] | [10][11] )

Those who voted for me stood up also against weaponizing social-justice concepts and using them for personal gain. I was deeply grateful—particularly when those votes came from the progressive community, because it came at a personal cost, surrounded as we are by those who deny the truth of our claims of bias that harms us, some of whom have tried to use my report to deny that reality.

And frankly, anger belongs in the cause of social justice; yes: anger is an appropriate response to abuse. Resistance; yes. Civil disobedience. Without these, we wouldn’t live in a world in which women have the vote. I am a feminist out of deep gratitude for the women who fought to enfranchise us. I support Black Lives Matter, because parents shouldn’t have to worry that their kids are going to be killed when they go to the corner store for Skittles, or get slammed to the pavement with a knee in the back for going swimming. People shouldn’t have to worry about being arrested (and later found dead) for changing lanes while black.

Protest has brought important and necessary change around the world. To foster change, we must make people uncomfortable. Confronting one’s biases doesn’t happen without a good, long look in the mirror. And it isn’t fair, because those who enforce the status quo don’t need to make anyone uncomfortable, or challenge their biases—whereas those of us trying to effect change do. And so, simply by trying to point out these biases, we often get cast as bad guys, as caricatures of who we really are. It sucks, to be offered the choice between accepting our chains by pretending they aren’t there, to avoid making others uncomfortable, or to be seen as disruptive—as monstrous—for pointing them out.

A kind of despair can set in. A voice in the back of our minds tells us if we must be cast as monsters, so be it: since we can’t have justice, we might as well tear the walls of the world down. But the price of following that path is too high. At best, we end up simply swapping out the people at the top of the oppression pyramid; at worst, we end up amid smoking ruin. I want to find another path. One in which we tell truths that must be told, with room for people to have a change of heart. To learn and grow.

The fact is, it’s not any one person’s fault that these oppressive structures we inhabit exist, and no one person can solve it alone, no matter how much individual privilege we have. The biases and prejudices we hold and their impacts are a tragedy-of-the-commons problem, and therefore the solution must be a collective one. We must act together. We must build coalitions across our intersectional divides. We must settle on fair community norms. And the global SFF community is well-positioned in this effort. Storytelling—especially science fiction and fantasy literature—is all about imagining the improbable. And studies show that people who read fiction for pleasure have, by and large, higher social intelligence and greater capacity for empathy than others. Reading teaches us to care about others, no matter how different their appearances and customs may be from our own.

I have hope that we can learn to overcome our biases. The Hugo outcomes themselves spoke volumes to me, but there was more. One friend of mine, for instance, attended the Writing Diverse Characters panel. Later she told me that it was standing-room-only. And it was not merely women, people of color, LGBTQI people, and other marginalized groups, who might be expected to attend out of personal interest, but also many, many men, from the young to the old. The room was brimming with nerdy, whiskered white guys who were there not to argue or mansplain or whitesplain, but simply to listen and learn. Some might not understand or agree with all the concepts of social justice; some might not know the language we have developed through years of study and dialogue or know where they’re tripping up when they do… but they’re open-minded. Curious. Willing to explore. Those are my people, too.

In the end, we don’t win this struggle with hate. We win it with curiosity, joy, honesty, persistence, resistance, and love.

#RequiresLove (h/t Nalo)

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