So, if you're not aware that there has been a distressingly large amount of racefail going on in fandom at large lately, I'm going to have to ask what rock you've been living under. I'm not going to address the specific instances (many, many people have done so brilliantly), but I did want to talk a little bit about how recent events have gotten me thinking. Or, really, brought to the forefront some things I've been thinking about for some time.
Briefly, before I get into the main issue here, I did want to address a common kind of rhetoric I've been seeing regarding these instances of fail. It goes something like this: "But [author] was just exercising her divinely ordained to freedom of speech and creative expression! How could you be so cruel as to crush her spirit with your mean and nasty words of criticism?!"
Let me make something painfully clear here. Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom from criticism, and it only works if it runs both ways. You have every right in the world to post your privileged, ignorant, offensive thoughts or stories. Go right ahead. However, I, and anyone else you might have offended, have an equal right to express our opinion of what you've posted. Freedom has to apply to everyone or it's not freedom at all. And if you've managed to post something that has elicited that much negative response, you might consider that some hard self-examination is in order.
Now that I've got that out of the way, what I really want to talk about is my own privilege. Here's what you need to know about me. I am a white girl from a middle-class family masquerading as upper middle-class. I went to a private girls' school and attended church in several mainstream, protestant denominations for most of my life. I was taught to be color-blind, and that all people were equal regardless of the color of their skin, but I wasn't taught to understand that there are institutional and cultural systems of oppression and privilege. My schools, houses of worship, and places of business have been almost entirely populated by white people all my life, and it has only rarely occurred to me to question this. In short, I'm surprised I haven't fallen over with the weight of my knapsack of white privilege.
Why am I telling you this? I want to be better. I know that there are aspects of white privilege that are out of my control. I can't control the way someone may respond to me or form assumptions about me as opposed to a Person of Color. But there are many, many things that are within my control. The dirty secret about privilege is that it's comfortable. And it's understandable to want to stay comfortable rather than makes oneself purposefully uncomfortable. But when my comfort is based on the pain and oppression of my fellow human beings, complacency is absolutely unacceptable. So, I'm taking the first step by trying to be brutally honest with myself and with all of you about this.
Unfortunately, more often than not in my life up to this point I have taken the coward's way out when it comes to conversations about race. I have always felt that it was preferable to stay silent than to risk stepping in it by saying something stupid, ignorant, or unintentionally hurtful. But I'm coming to understand that silence is equivalent to complicity, and I don't want to be complicit in an oppressive system. So, I'm going to try to speak up when there is reason to speak. And, when I inevitably fail horribly and stick my foot in my mouth, I will try to listen to criticism without getting defensive, so that I can hopefully understand what I did wrong and why.
- Some Thoughts on Privilege and Fandom