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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2009-01-24 07:58
Subject: [personal|writing] On being a public person
Security: Public
Tags:personal, writing
One of my most deeply held beliefs has been severely challenged in the past couple of weeks. As regulars of this blog know, I have a strong conviction that the story belongs to the reader. This statement could be generalized to "the words belong the reader", in the sense of blog posts, articles and any other public statements I make.

The recent cultural appropriation furor in the blogosphere has been identified by some observers as originating with this post of mine: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. Since the discussion started, one of the nicer things I've seen said about myself is that I am a "denier of white privilege." I'm not going to bother to link, they're quite easy to find if you want to read them.

On the face of it, suggestions that I am denying white privilege are directly contrary to my plain reading of my own words, as well as to the intentions behind them. But that doesn't matter. Because my words mean what they mean to the reader, with whatever context the reader brings to them.

This is a difficult post to write. I'm trying not to defend myself, for example, from judgments about at me quite at odds with a lifetime of behavior and a published paper trail running toward a million words. Because the people who read that post don't know me, don't know my fiction, haven't been following my blog for years.

All they can judge me by is the words they see.

And that is the peril of being a public person. My words speak for themselves. If I craft them ineffectively, or they fail in context for a reader, that is the risk the words take, and that is the risk I take through the words.

What I've learned these past two weeks is that I've never much minded being taken to task for my fiction, but being taken to task for my personal beliefs can be very painful indeed. What I've also realized, again, is that such criticism cannot be allowed to stop me.

Originally published at jlake.com.

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Zachary Spector
User: blackmonkeymage
Date: 2009-01-24 16:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Belong" is a pretty clumsy verb to use to describe the reader's relationship to your words. Can you really own electrons in your hard drive, or pixels on your screen? You can own the hard drive and the screen, certainly, but the color that a pixel happens to be at a particular time is not something you can own...

Yes, this is a blatant misreading. I merely intend to point out an ambiguity in this philosophy. What is being owned? Not "the words themselves," I don't think, because words are not things you can own. I think you'd be better off saying that whatever your reader takes away from the experience of reading something you've written, that's theirs, and you-the-author have no power or authority to decide the validity of a particular reading experience.

On the other hand... when someone reads a blog entry of yours that specifically admits that you benefit from white privilege, and then they turn around and accuse you of ignoring white privilege, they are not engaging in communication with you. Conversation goes both ways, and if you (this is the generic "you") want to have a conversation about race in fiction (or whatever), you need to make some kind of attempt at understanding what the other parties meant to say. It helps to read all of the words that your conversant has written on the subject, and not just the words that serve one particular point of view. If you can't be bothered to do that, I for one will not bother to listen to you.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2009-01-24 16:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What I've learned these past two weeks is that I've never much minded being taken to task for my fiction, but being taken to task for my personal beliefs can be very painful indeed. What I've also realized, again, is that such criticism cannot be allowed to stop me.

Good for you.

I have myriad issues with some of those engaged in the discussion, as I have the sense for some that it is not about dialogue but about scoring debate points (already posted that discussion). I also don't necessarily like the "gotcha" moments being sprung, especially when I follow links back and realize that the person doing these things is a white academic making statements that have them appear to be a person of color. That really annoys me for some reason.

I've been contemplating a post about difference and disability, though. Disability is an area of equal opportunity discrimination, especially with regard to retardation and putdowns involving retardation. A post over on another blog triggered another rant of mine, which has to do with the inadequate portrayal of people on the autistic spectrum (I know Autism pretty well and I don't feel able to accurately portray it, most of the highly regarded fictions about it I find inaccurate, condenscending, and shaped by those wanting a cure and seeing it as the worst of all disabilities). The discrimination of the neurotypical toward the non-neurotypical transcends all colors, genders, cultures, and classes. It's a culturally acceptable discrimination and I find it appalling (in part because I am a parent of a non-neurotypical and because I work in the field).

But that's a rant for my own blog.

Anyway, I wish we all could find less acrimonious ways to talk about the issue than what seems to currently exist. But it's hard enough to do that face to face, much less in real life. From my white lady post of privilege, it seems you do a decent job of at least trying to be fair--and that's all we can do, as privileged white people.
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Twilight: Daria
User: twilight2000
Date: 2009-01-24 18:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Daria
The idea that "communication is what the receiver receives" doesn't allow for the receiver *looking* to receive an insult or an offense. That particular theory of communication assumes a relatively neutral intent on the part of the receiver - that the communicator needs to be aware of differences in cultural experiences or language, but not that the communicator should take responsibility for the recipient's desire to make all X (members of a certain category) into punching bags.

That some persons have decided you a) can't write what you didn't live b) must have lived a certain life because you're of a certain category and/or c) are evil (or despicable or vile) simply because you belong to that category* is not only not your fault, it's their particular hang up and they need to own that set of issues.

You can only argue with someone who's willing to be persuaded -- if they come to the debate with no intent to do anything but abuse you, there's no argument, there's only insult hurling.

That you want to take responsibility for you words is a good thing (even admirable) - that you should take responsibility for someone using your words as a pandybat does no one any good. It encourages the "hurler" to hurl more and louder and it injures you to no benefit to anyone.



*Here I'm talking about categories that one can't help being a part of - based on gender, ethnicity, and the like.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-01-24 19:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm not taking responsibility for how others read me. I'm just trying not to engage in a defensive debate. That's a mug's game. Anyone who reads my original post as a denial of white privilege is either cherry picking terribly, not reading the whole thing, or approaching the text with firm prejudgment -- possibly all three. I can't fight any of that.

What I more properly should have said is that it pains me to be taken to task for a grossly erroneous interpretation of my personal beliefs. But again, then I'm defending. The words really do speak for themselves, and I can't be responsible for how people read them, even when people read them with a strong and deliberate misinterpretation.
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Twilight: Daria
User: twilight2000
Date: 2009-01-25 16:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Daria
I agree on all points - and it's this last paragraph that I didn't find in your first post, which is why I responded as I did. I read the rather outlandish response to your original post and while you say it better, it's clear that this person walked in with a chip on their shoulder.

Realize that explaining someone has a chip on their shoulder isn't the same as defending -- that's also their game - "if you argue, you're defending and thereby showing that you have some guilt or you wouldn't argue" (it's the inverse of "if you didn't have anything to hide, you'd let us search" same bad logic) - it's a spurious argument at best, but it works quite well on the average liberal - especially the white liberal - it's been used on me over the years to varying degree of success (less success as I've grown older, I like to think ;>) - in fact - simply explaining that you were taken to task for a grossly erroneous interpretation of my personal beliefs is not arguing - it's explaining that someone got it wrong.

Neither of us has any trouble explaining that Bush or his cronies just "got it wrong" - but it's often much harder to explain that someone *else* got it wrong when attacking oneself - because it feels like "defending" - and that's uncomfortable.
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Ruthanne Reid
User: ruthannereid
Date: 2009-01-24 19:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What I've learned these past two weeks is that I've never much minded being taken to task for my fiction, but being taken to task for my personal beliefs can be very painful indeed. What I've also realized, again, is that such criticism cannot be allowed to stop me.

In that boat with you. Hang in there.
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Susan
User: lil_shepherd
Date: 2009-01-24 19:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I admit I just feel like saying {{{HUGS}}} because what posts as brave as this make me want to do is comfort people like you (and Bear.)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-01-24 19:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I appreciate that, but I also have to say that if the worst I have to endure is being misunderstood by people fighting serious issues in their lives and in the world, I'm still pretty damned lucky.
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User: ktempest
Date: 2009-01-24 21:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
yes, the bravery on display here is stunning. STUNNING. Why don't we, as a genre, give out medals for this? I need to start a committee, excuse me.
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User: elsue
Date: 2009-01-24 20:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Given that you fairly frequently refer to the fact that you KNOW you have white privilege, I'm baffled by this. Nor does the post you linked to indicate otherwise.

In other words, Huh?

Yes, you're denying that white privilege is a reason to refrain from writing the Other--that is, you're denying that white privilege should set limits on what you write. But that's not the same as denying white privilege.

:head spins:
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Rose Fox
User: rosefox
Date: 2009-01-24 21:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Allowed to stop you from what?

I'm also curious to know what you think of this post, since the discussion on your post was very much on my mind as I was writing it.
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User: ktempest
Date: 2009-01-24 21:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
One of the saddest aspects of all this is that criticism isn't allowed to stop people. If more people were stopped by criticism... god, i can't even imagine such a paradise.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-01-24 21:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am thrilled we don't have that world you want- no Martin Luther, no Martin Luther King Jr, no Octavia Butler- by your wish they would all have been silenced.

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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-01-24 21:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That's kind of an odd perspective, given that virtually all social justice has come only in the face of intense criticism.
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User: ktempest
Date: 2009-01-24 21:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was being sarcastic, but this apparently did not come through clearly.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-01-24 21:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sorry, I'm a little humor impaired on this topic right now.
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User: ktempest
Date: 2009-01-24 21:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
well it wasn't necessarily meant to be humorous sarcasm.
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mevennen
User: mevennen
Date: 2009-01-24 22:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
> I am the transparent case of the oppressor class

...I think you wrote. Frankly, Jay, it would be dim in the extreme to deny that you (also myself) are ludicrously privileged in either global or local terms.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-01-24 22:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
it would be dim in the extreme to deny that you (also myself) are ludicrously privileged in either global or local terms.

Which is part of what baffles me about this. I don't deny it, not in the slightest. I grew up in the Third World and was extremely conscious of my privilege long before I had the vocabulary to articulate it.

I can't see a good-faith reading of my words in the post in question, or my writing in general, that would support the claim that I have denied privilege.
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Michael Curry: brutal
User: mcurry
Date: 2009-01-25 06:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:brutal
a good-faith reading

That'd be the key bit, wouldn't it.

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Bibbit: blue bibbit
User: bridget_coila
Date: 2009-01-27 14:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:blue bibbit
There is a difference between having a civil discussion about sensitive issues, talking about how things are portrayed in books and art, and personal attacks.
When it ventured into the "personal attacks" category it pretty much solidified my decision to stay out of it in any public way, despite any opinions I may have (or be developing) on the subject.

I'm sorry you got caught in the personal attacks. People who do/did that are wrong.

{{{hugs}}}

B
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