Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chapter 115: In Which I Discuss the Myth of White Male Meritocracy

I just got back from AWP in Minneapolis. Had an amazing time, as usual. It's funny about AWP. Every year I do the same thing. Go to readings, speeches, panels, old friends, new friends, drink. This might have been the best year because I had a hotel and got to fully experience the conference. But no year feels any better or worse than another. It is all a blur of activity that's over too fast. I'm starting to think AWP exists outside of time, like a perpetual conference that takes place over an endless weekend in a pocket universe into which I periodically materialize.

Mark-out moment: getting a hug from Pulitzer nominee/dragon highlord Karen Russell.  "Keep writing weird," she told me. Yes, Karen. I will do that.

So, onto less fun topics. Puppygate. Black Gate Magazine has a pretty nice writeup of the controversy.

http://www.blackgate.com/2015/04/07/sad-puppies-and-super-puppies-the-2015-hugo-train-wreck/

Basically, a cabal of straight white male Republican writers decided the Hugo Awards have been hijacked by a leftwing conspiracy. According to them, this is the cause for stories with progressive topics winning Hugos over the last few years, as opposed to changing readership. As a response, they hijacked the Hugo nominations and filled it with candidates of their choosing.

Writers far more eloquent and experienced with the Hugos than I have debunked their conspiracy theories. http://grrm.livejournal.com/418285.html. Not like it matters, because talk of making the Hugos more "diverse" and fighting a "leftist" agenda is all poppycock. Simply put, some people who weren't supposed to get through the gate got through anyway, so the gatekeepers are closing it again.

The rhetoric of straight white males is strangely steeped in victimhood and this weird idea of them being the little guy. The dialogue from the Puppies side certainly reminds me of the Tea Party rhetoric from a few years ago. A lot of whining about big government coming to oppress them. The Tea Party was a scam, a Republican get-out-the-vote campaign disguised as grassroots organizing, appealing to those whites who think they are "losing everything."

As Chris Rock said, if they're losing everything, then who has it? 'Cause it sure ain't us.

What we have here are straight white males, a.k.a. the people who run the publishing industry, asserting their dominance over the marginalized. It all comes down to fear. In a way, they are the little guy. In the acronym SWM, the S is the only letter connotating a majority. So much of white supremacy stems from them knowing they're surrounded and acting out of fear.

In reading the Black Gate article, I was struck by the language of the Sad Puppies side. I am not going to quote because I don't want to read that shit again. One was the SWM language of false equality. At the suggestion that Hugo voters will No Award their nominations and nullify the entire ballot, Vox Day claims this is an extremist thing, and it is up to the "other side" to "negotiate."

Like Israelis killing thousands of Palestinian children while getting double digit casualties is a "war." Like a photo of a black boy hugging a cop means there is hope for reconciliation between our two sides. Like everybody is on the same footing. Painting the oppressed as a rival power instead of the underdog is a key trick of the oppressor. And Day's insistence that his side is winning smacked of demagoguery.

What I found most interesting was the notion of "deserving." Did Resdshirts "deserve" best novel? Did Rachel Swirsky's  dinosaur story (which conservatives hate) "deserve" best story. He's talking issues of meritocracy in a fan-based scifi/fantasy award.

That Rachel Swirsky, man. If only she'd pull her pants up and start speaking correct English, maybe she'd get somewhere in life. But you had to give her a Hugo handout and now she'll never go away.

America is based around the notion of meritocracy and it's a complete myth. It's easier for a SWM to succeed when the whole system is made for him to do so. Ironically, meritocracy becomes real when applied to the marginalized. To get a dark-skinned man in the Oval Office required him being the most amazing negro who ever lived. His predecessor was actually sold as "the guy you want to have a beer with." Mediocrity was his marketing point. Bush had everything handed to him from the moment he was born but in the eyes of his supporters he's a bootstraps story.

Their ancestors created a world in which they can coast. I am assuming that most white male writers, no matter how bad their elementary school, were not criminalized from a young age. I would wager they were given the tools for success and had a support network on their way to publishing. I'm guessing they never had to worry about police gunning them down in their own neighborhood. But so many are told from the beginning that they are a badass who can do anything and internalize the myth of work and reward. Really, their forefather who shot that Native American is the one with claim to badassery. What we call merit in America is actually inheritance.

And it isn't just related to POC. Gamergate was structured around slut-shaming a female journalist for who she slept with. You now what? I don't care. Plenty of people move up in their industry because of who their friends are (again ,the myth of meritocracy). Mark Zuckerberg is an industrious dude, but he had the right friends. Being rich, white, and going to Harvard also helped. Whether or not he slept with the Winklevoss twins is irrelevant to the fact he had them in his corner in order to start Facebook. But with a woman, all of a sudden her sex life is the biggest part of the argument against her.

I went to Day's website once and had to leave quickly at the echo chamber of mouth-breathing and hatemongering. This is the troll who called N.K. Jemisin a "savage." Her response was far nicer than mine would have been. The Hugos are officially about straight white men versus everybody else. But they always have been. When it was only SWM on the ballot (plus or minus a lightskinned black man or a woman writing under a male pseudonym), science fiction imprints like Ace and Ballantine were highly exclusionary as to who they published. The war was going on, just not out in the open. Puppygate is not an uprising but the status quo trying to protect its spot.

And I wish I could say it's not important, but it is. Look at South Carolina. If you remove the voices of marginalized people, it is easier to dehumanize them. Shoot them down in the woods like deer. If we don't express our truth, someone else with no emotional investment will do it for us. Literary awards factor into this. Toni Morrison's Pulitzer. Jhumpa Lahiri's Pultizer. Their stories are part of the global consciousness.

Even in defending their position, people like the Sad Puppies can't set it outside of political arguments. This is about diversity in the Hugos. The storm of misogynist rape and death threats last year was (in)famously softpedaled as being about "ethics in game journalism." None of this has to do with life and death matters. These trolls could walk away form the internet and their lives would go on as before. They could simply read the books they like and not care about awards and they'd be fine.

But for POC, visibility is about life. Things suck, but not as much as when we had no voice. The blues happened, then rock'n'roll, and all of a sudden black people had access they never had before. In the long run, whites benefited more from the music. But what we were doing was expressing our humanity, reacting to oppression. And doors opened. For artists of color, the political is entirely personal.

Of course, there are those who want to close the doors. As the saying goes, that seat on the front of the bus was leading us straight to a prison cell. It will be interesting to see how Worldcon voters react, and what the atmosphere at the con is like. I often debate how much I want to engage in scifi fandom. Sometimes I go to cons and do panels, but the idea of struggling against men like the Sad Puppies for a spot in their world sounds stupid. Better to just write stories and get them out to my audience, while staying away from places like Worldcon. Better to burn it down and make something new.

What's a nerd to do? I find my joy in anime fandom. This weekend, I'm doing four panels at Tekkoshocon in Pittsburgh. Anime is a truly international art form that people around the globe  celebrate. It is a youth-oriented fandom, with few of the intergenerational battles you see in scifi/fantasy spaces. Anime has always been a friendly space to females and LGBT. Yes, the art form itself comes from a culture that racially oppressed most of Asia, and there are problematic elements. But the moment a cartoon leaves Japan, it becomes part of the world, loved by people of all colors. Anime fandom is far from perfect, but it sure as hell ain't the shitstorm of this Sad Puppies thing.

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