Words, words, words, art.

The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

Patricia Briggs, I Am Disapoint.

May10

For those of you unaware, I’m on Good Reads. I enter First Reads contests and was lucky enough to score a copy of Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations, edited by Paula Guran. I’m about 2/3s through and was really enjoying it, my only regret that the Sarah Monette story in it is one I’ve already read, when Patricia Briggs’ “Star Of David” really threw me for a loop. A big old racist loop.

The story is called “Star Of David” even though nobody in the story is, apparently, Jewish. There’s a kid who’s Romany and in the foster care system, and he’s ~~A GYPSY~ and ~~A WIZARD~~ because “Most wizards have at least a little Gypsy blood.” Gypsies: they are magical paranormal creatures, not human beings! Totally fictional fantasy creatures! WITH MAGIC POWERS!!! His great grandmother “survived Dachau because the American troops came just in time — and because she kept her mouth shut when the Nazis wanted information.” Unlike all those dead Romany and Jews who didn’t keep their mouths shut and thus deserved to die or something? I don’t even know. PRO TIP MS BRIGGS: It is Jewish people who were marked with the Star of David, while Romany (and lesbians) were marked with a black triangle.

She also makes a snide comment about how “rich people” don’t foster or adopt kids in the US foster system (which is untrue and a weird thing to say), and that instead they chose babies from China or Romania. Which, ok, the story was first published back in 2008, but Romania outlawed foreign adoption back in 2004 due to concerns about black market babies and ESPECIALLY about babies being stolen (or bought) from impoverished Romany women. Like, the government had straight up concerns that some women were being turned into baby making factories for export and said hey now, enough of that. You haven’t been able to get a Romanian baby for a VERY long time unless you can prove you’re related fairly closely to said baby (or child). Maybe in 2007/2008 babies from Africa and Haiti weren’t a big deal yet so she didn’t mention them? Or maybe she’s buying into the idea that that Romany and Romanian are basically the same thing and just had LOLGYPSIES on the brain?

The main character, Stella, has “milk and coffee skin” and dark kinky hair, but her (werewolf) father who literally tore her mother to shreds, killing her in a domestic dispute, has skin “dark as the night” which keeps him “safely hidden in the shadows where he and people like him belonged.” So you’ve got a dark skinned Black man who literally is a violent animal, who murdered his wife (oops, but it was an accident, he’s really a good guy, HASN’T HE SUFFERED ENOUGH?????), and who needs to stay in the shadows where “people like him” (not WEREWOLVES like him, PEOPLE like him) belong.

This anthology features Jim Butcher, Elizabeth Bear, and Sarah Monette– three authors who’ve had moments of infamy for racism in their work/social media dealings– and WHOMP WHOMP here comes a fourth spouting off about fantasy Gypsies being inherently magical. Good job dehumanizing a group of people already widely dehumanized!

I’m so fucking tired of this. I’m really tired of feeling like I’m walking through a pleasant grassy field studded with daisies and WHOOPS! hidden landmines. Am I going to step on one? Is this the step that’s going to lead me into a racist explosion? How about this one? Whooops, just stepped on a sexist landmine! KABOOM! Consuming media shouldn’t be this fucking stressful. And, you know, I’m a white girl in an acceptably monogamous heterosexual relationship, so racism and homophobia bother me but they don’t get under my skin in a personal way the way they do for other people because they aren’t as personal (duh). But it’s still an issue and it’s an issue I am just so fucking tired of running into. Surely we can do better? It’s the fucking 21st century!

I was really getting into this book, making notes about authors I want to read more of. And now I’m reluctant to read further because if the editor let something like Briggs’ story slip in, what’s to stop there being more of the same?

Briggs also has a fantasy series about a were-coyote who is Native American. I’m sure it’s handled with all the deft grace and sensitivity she’s handled this short story.

That’s just some PC thought police bullshit.

August11

Here’s the thing about “Political Correctness.” It’s not about policing thought or taking away “free speech.” What it’s about is elevating people who aren’t privileged (White Privilege, Male Privilege, Straight Privilege, Cis Privilege, Abled Privilege, and more (sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone)) to the same level of humanity as people who are privileged. It’s about not doing actual harm to a person or group of people.

When people use racist or sexist slurs, or ablist language, or co-opts chunks of someone else’s culture/heritage (hipster eagle headdresses, anyone?), or uses “Jew” as a verb, or claims loudly that the only reason person X got a job was because of X’s race/religion/gender/etc, those people are fostering an atmosphere where the people they slur are treated as Other and Less Than. It’s reinforcing notions that they aren’t good enough, aren’t equal, don’t belong, and don’t deserve respect.

If you are willing to defend to the death your ability to use the phrase “gypped” or “death march”, why is that? What do you gain by causing pain to others, to emphasizing negative racial stereotypes or belittling traumatic (and relatively recent) history? Why does your “right” to express yourself trump the very real pain that other people feel? Why is your ease more important than treating other people– other human beings– like actual human beings?

posted under life, politics, racism, social responsibility | Comments Off on That’s just some PC thought police bullshit.

But where are you FROM? I mean, originally.

July12

Nesko gets asked that a lot.

“But where are you FROM,” people ask, when looking at his ID or debit card (so usually when he’s trying to buy something).

“Evanston,” he answers, which is true!

“Oh, no!” they persist. “I mean, originally.”

“Ahhh!” he answers, like everything is coming clear. “Well, I was born in Chicago.”

Obviously, he’s had lots of opportunities to work out a pat, humorous answer to nosy people. Because, you know, there are certain names that are “American” and certain names that are foreign.

I used to have an “American” name. Sullivan! It’s actually a really awesome name to have when you live in Chicago, because Chicago prides itself on being all “Irish-American” and shit (Irish people! Now they are considered White and not scum!) and has lots of “Irish-American” politicians and chiefs of police etc. I used to bust out my ID or debit card or whatever and people would nod knowingly at my name. It was a correct and proper name. I fit in. Nobody ever suggested I change my name to be more “American,” as Texas state rep Betty Brown (R) suggested that every Asian in the USA do, you know, to FIT IN. And people didn’t really grill me on my name and heritage! It was awesome!

Then I got married to a dude with a silent “J” in his name, changed my name to match his because I am a baaaad feminist who buckles under the Patriarchy’s massive weight, and things changed.

FOR INSTANCE! I once had a temp job at a state agency, and had to call IT to get my email account working. Man, where they glad I could speak English! Because obviously with a name like mine I would be an old fat Russian lady with a hairy chin and a thick accent or maybe poor English skills! Well… I was 30 at the time (almost old), fat, have a hairy chin, and am obviously from the Midwest. I drop my G’s a lot lately. That’s kind of like having an accent! I guess! They were DREADING speaking to me, based SOLELY on my last name, and actually told me (in a relieved voice) all that they had assumed. Stay classy, state departments!

And then yesterday I was headed in to another temp job (more counting passengers on trains, which gave me the ideas for 2 different Secret Chicago pieces… or 1 piece and a longer short story, not sure which) when I stopped into a convenience store in Union Station to get some water as I was going to spend 8 hours locked in a moving metal box in Chicago Summer Heat (90F*+, tons of humidity; I actually started getting sick to my stomach from the heat at one point). I grabbed a magazine and a bottle of water and went to check out. There were two women behind registers. One was, I think, Vietnamese and she had a little accent but nothing unusual for the USA! Many people who live in this country, who work in this country, who study in this country, have accents! For instance: every single person who lives in Maine has an accent! Anyway, the white woman behind the counter said she’d take me (I assumed the other woman didn’t have an active cash register or was in training or something, nothing out of the ordinary). The white woman then started, every time the other woman said something, interrupting her to say “chin chin chonnnnng ching chon chon ching.”

I was… baffled.

If I’d had my wits about me, I would have abandoned water and magazine and gone someplace else. But no! I did not!

She scanned my things and I gave her my debit card. It did not go through! This always twists me into a moebius strip of uncertainty and anxiety. She asked for my card and ran it through again, and I was so upset that I didn’t hear her question at first. She repeated it.

“THAT’s an interesting last name!”

“Uh… thanks.”

“Where are you from?”

“Well, I mean, I’m American. My family’s all been over here forever, so…”

“No, I mean, Originally!”

“Jesus. My ancestors have all been here for over 200 years, ok? I really don’t feel any connection to my European antecedents.”

“I’m just askin’, hon! But what ethnicity is this name?”

“My husband and his family are from Montenegro.”

“Montehuh?”

“The former Yugoslavia.”

“Wow! Your husband and his family, huh. So what was your maiden name?”

I should have just grabbed my stuff and walked off, but I was flustered and she hadn’t handed me back my card yet! I was trapped! She also, I kid you not, GOT OUT A SHEET OF PAPER AND A PEN.

“Sullivan.”

“OH! So you’re IRISH.”

“Well, I mean, no. I’m American. I identify as American.” (I want to note that lots of people identify as Irish-American or Polish-American or Guatemalan-American or whatever and that’s great! That’s part of being a citizen (or resident) of the USA and it’s totally awesome! I’m not trying to present myself as being, like, the Ideal American Citizen because I am All American, I just think it’s ridiculous to lay claim to European Ancestry that has very little impact on my personal life other than, like, going to St. Patrick’s Day parades. But if you feel a strong connection to another country, that is totally entirely 100% awesome.)

She started getting offended at this, called me “hon” again, said she was JUST ASKING, and launched into some convoluted tale about how both her parents are immigrants (Polish, and German). Mine… are not. My grandparents… are not. My most recent immigrant ancestors, as far as I know, came over during the Famine. You know. During the 1850s. That… is not recent. I mean, in the grand scheme of history it’s an eyeblink away, but you know. (Also: they might have come over earlier than then, a lot of my family history has been romanticized in the telling. FOR INSTANCE: there is no actual royalty in my bloodline! ALSO: there is actually a lot of inbreeding! Surprisingly!)

She started pushing, like aggressively, to find out what I “am,” what I “identify” as. Like it’s impossible to not cling to the Immigrant experience. I snapped at her that I had an Irish last name, but genetically, I was more Belgian than anything else– which is true. I have very mixed European ancestry (to a degree) (I mean, Scottish/Irish/Welsh/English is more cultural differences than, like, genetic and then there’s some French and several sources of Belgian and a dollop of German and probably there is some Native American and African blood in me that nobody really talks about at all, and there’s some other stuff I think I’m forgetting, also a lot of my ancestors spent a hundred years or so in Canada before heading south to Wisconsin) and she started rabbiting on about how she knows someone from Belgium and it’s so beautiful and blah blah blah and she called me hon again and I realized I had my debit card and had signed the slip and I left while she was still talking.

I don’t really know anything about Belgium (they make beer? Belgians tend to be blond? They have a mild climate?) other than what I’ve seen on, say, “Rick Steve’s Europe.” In fact, my dad thought we were mostly Dutch until he talked to a cousin who said that no, although there’s a “van” in my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, it’s actually a Belgian name, and he gave some more genealogical info. I really have no interest in Belgium, or at least no more than I have in other countries that sound like vaguely cool places to visit if I can ever go on a Grand Tour Of Europe. Sorry, Belgium, it’s not personal.

I have to go pretty far back to be able to point to an ancestor and say that that ancestor is 100% anything; that that ancestor is 100% Belgian or Irish or German. (And even then, all my gallo-celtic ancestors were born from a series of viking raids and rapes that turned them from a short, dark people to a tall, fair people who fear the sun.) And I like that. As far as I can tell, my ancestors came over here against their will or out of dire necessity for the most part. They were convicts and indentured servants, they were fleeing starvation and oppression. They came to a totally new country and did well for themselves. They trapped animals for fur, farmed, dug ditches, constructed rail roads, founded towns. Some of them became very rich (then lost everything in the Great Depression). Others didn’t. But they helped build this country and make it what it is today, just like my mother- and father-in-law, immigrants, are building and shaping this country. Just like every person who lives here who doesn’t have an “American” name is building and shaping this country. Just like every brown-skinned resident of Arizona is building and shaping this country.

I spent 29 years awash in the privilege of having people assume that I was a citizen of the USA– a “real” citizen; that I belonged here. That I was an integral part of the warp and weft of “American” culture. I didn’t have to explain myself or where I was from. It was super awesome! And now, sometimes, I do have to explain myself and am pressed to answer detailed questions about where I’m from, to prove my… I don’t know what I’m expected to prove, actually. But it’s harassing and unsettling and puts me on edge.

And for a country of immigrants, a country founded on immigration, that’s total bullshit.

Racist actions and words are racist.

June7

Here’s the thing:

If you firmly believe that the recent actions in Arizona (requiring proof of citizenship from all dark skinned people or people who look “foreign” or “exotic” or “weird”, requiring a mural showing actual students be repainted to portray all students as white, removing an expensive banner targeting people who don’t speak English as their primary language for the census) are totally cool and good because “mexicans” don’t belong in the USA and do nothing but steal and rape and murder and cause problems and are all here illegally and should be deported?

You’re racst.

If you think that no money should have been sent to Haiti to literally save the lives of people who had no access to food, shelter, clean water, medical attention, etc because they are black and there are people in the USA who are homeless?

You’re racist.

If you think that no money should have been sent to Haiti because OMG what has Haiti ever done for the USA, you’re an idiot, because the impoverished peoples of Haiti still managed to scrap together a sizeable amount of money to donate to US citizens after 911 and after Katrina.

If you think that it’s racism that prevents public fund-raising for donations to clean up the gigantic oil spill that is spewing across Florida, I really don’t know what to say. But no, it’s not because Florida is entirely white and people don’t give money to white folks. No, it’s not because everyone spent all their money on Haiti on those dirty undeserving Black people who live there. How can you possibly be cool with BP, a company that has more money than God, sitting back and letting the public donate money to clean up its mess? Do you really think that Florida is populated entirely by white people? Seriously? That’s your argument? That’s it’s too white to get money?

Moving to an area that once was part of Mexico, and which also had once upon a time a thriving population of Apache, Cocopa, Hopi, Mojave, Navajo, Paiute, Yuma, and other indigenous folks, and then complaining about all the dirty, thieving, raping, low down, no good, non-White people who live there is just… utterly, utterly baffling. And also racist!

If you are constantly bitching about people who aren’t white getting donations/assistance for things (earthquake or tsunami relief, WIC, whatever) but never ever complain about white people getting donations/assistance take a good long look at that. You are being racist. You are revealing your underlying belief that people who aren’t white don’t deserve help, care, consideration, to be treated as human beings and assisted in their time of need. If you think that people who are not white cannot possibly be– and don’t deserve to be– US Citizens, you are being racist. You are revealing your underlying belief that people who aren’t white don’t deserve to live in a country that was founded on the genocide of people who were the first inhabitants and who weren’t white.

Arguing that you aren’t racist when, in fact, you espouse racist beliefs doesn’t really accomplish anything. Well, it makes you look even more ignorant. But it doesn’t change the fact that you are really racist and insulting and hateful.

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On issues of race, a letter to other Whitey McCrackers

June1

Shut up.

Shut the fuck up.

Seriously.

When someone says something like “I’m disturbed by the fact that IN TEH FUTURE women of color are still portrayed with caucasion-looking hair” or “How can you write an AU book about the discovery of America and not have indigenous people wtf” or “why are non-caucasion characters portrayed as “exotic” or “dangerous” or over sexualized” or “that thing you just said is offensive” or “why are non-white characters turned white when translated from one medium to another” the proper response is not to argue or to turn the conversation onto yourself and what YOU think and what YOU feel and what YOUR experiences are.

The proper response is to shut the fuck up and listen. Pay attention. Put your preconceptions and your self aside and listen to what other people are saying.

I’m getting really tired of people falling all over themselves declaring that stuff that is racist really isn’t! No! You just don’t understand! See, there’s this whole big song and dance explanation and… no. Shut up. Listen to what people are telling you. Then act with respect.

It really shouldn’t be that hard.

Listen.

Act with respect.

Can we at least take two steps forward without a commensurate step back?

posted under racism, social responsibility | Comments Off on On issues of race, a letter to other Whitey McCrackers