Confessions and a Quandry

Almost a month has passed since WisCon, but I still can’t write a review. Those four days were too full, too intense and too personal to reduce to a travelogue. I’m not ready to frame the experience in the forms and structure of an objective analysis.

That said, and to preface my point, I would summarize WisCon like this: a small convention full of big ideas. It has deep roots in the traditions of prose science-fiction fandom, but it has grown and stretched to great heights since its founding in the 70’s. The atmosphere was intimate, but every circle in the intricate overlapping Venn diagram of modern SFF/graphic novel/manga/TV/Movie fandom was well represented.

Representation was a recurring theme, in fact. Representation, inclusion, diversity, privilege & power, acceptance, alliance, breaking barriers, giving voice to the voiceless, questioning authority, and challenging the status quo. Those concepts are the shining stars of WisCon. They sparkled.

That brings me to the point I want to explore: my deep discomfort with social justice topics. (If anyone actually read this blog, I would worry about the sticky swamp I’m wading into, but most of my pageviews come from referral bots, so I think I’m covered.)

 I am a bad ally. In an army of progressive warriors, I am a sniveling coward. There. I’ve said it. My experiences at WisCon reinforced this shame even while it inspired me to stretch and improve myself.

When I read essays about or listen to discussions of oppression and discrimination,  I end up feeling frustrated and guilty more than anything else.The negativity arises from a deep divide between my visceral defensive reactions and my intellectual agreement. The outrage of the dispossessed and discounted is justified, and it enrages me to learn of it. Personal accounts of mistreatment and violence horrify me, and they stoke my determination to make the world a better place for everyone in it.

But.

I don’t get a voice. I’m hardly oppressed at all. (cue audio clip from Monty Python & The Holy Grail)  The burden of my ancestors’ advantages outweighs my personal history, and my cultural privilege is written all over my white skin and on my marriage certificate. I can never have the same exclusionary experiences as those who have been erased and silenced by society, so I can never truly understand.  I don’t get to stand on the stage when the oppressed are speaking. I can only contribute to the cause with my support from the sidelines.

I agree with those statements, without reservation, without hesitation. It’s true. I know it. I accept it with every working cell of my forebrain.

But. Oh but.

Emotions rise from a darker, deeper, less logical part of the mind, and that part of me writhes in pain when my race, my class, my relationship choice–my very existence–is demonstrated to be the root of so many evils, when I am lumped into The Problem Population due to attributes that I cannot change.

 No one is deliberately invalidating my life, my pains, my wounds. These are not personal attacks. It isn’t about me.  (See the above paragraph regarding who gets to speak.)  I know all this, but knowing and feeling are not the same. Damage can be inflicted without intent. Broad sweeping assaults can hit more than the expected target.

I see myself reflected in the crimes of others. The anguish and guilt I feel is as reflexive as the lurch of panic when I see flashing lights in my rearview mirror. Even when I know I’m not speeding, I get that rush of fear. Even when I  try my best to be inclusive–and to learn from my failures– but I end up second-guessing my every word and action, and I am paralyzed by fear of being revealed as just another bigoted, insensitive, disgusting object of loathing.

Worse: I know in my heart of hearts that however hard I try, I am doomed to fail in my efforts.

If I were to express this pain, if I were to say, “Please, am I really so bad? Are all people like me awful?”  then I would be told to check my privilege, as if my slip was showing or my fly was open. I would be dismissed as a derailer. I’m not so daring, but others have been, and the responses terrify me.

 It isn’t about you, defensive souls are told. Don’t take it personally. Don’t expect a cookie for being decent. It’s not your turn to speak. You are part of the power structure. When you talk about your feelings, it’s turning the discussion about us into one about you. Sit down and shut up.

You know,  I’ve heard all that before, from men who didn’t like hearing from a mouthy female. Odd, that silencing sounds like same regardless of whether its done by the oppressed or the oppressive. I can nod my head and accept that all those points make perfect sense–not to mention the karmic aspect of balancing centuries of abuse against these few, modern attempts at balance–but it still hurts.
 (I know, I know. Whiny, privileged crybaby. Suck it up. Blah, blah, blah.) 
People who face a universe of injustice have a right to anger, and more than a right to call out bigotry at every turn.  I want to hear that anger expressed, and I want to do everything I can to right the terrible wrongs I see and hear about every day. I want those things. When I hear a call to action, I want to raise my hand and shout, “Yes!” And I do.  I stand, and I clap, and I feel inspired.
When the moment passes, though, when the bloody doubts start to seep up again, what I mostly do is huddle silent in the shadows and and hang my head, because I am hurting and too shamed to even speak of it.
Thus do allies become bystanders. Thus does bitterness breed silence.  
I started writing a speculative fiction piece with plot elements that evoke comparison to the Holocaust.  It’s some of the strongest writing I’ve ever done, from a craft perspective, but my muse decided that the narrator needed to be an old black woman. (Black? African-American? There’s the first bear trap, right there.  I’m sure I’ll be insulting someone either way. Which is right? Who do I even ask? Whose judgment do I trust?  Arrrrgggghh.) 
I started it, but I’m not black. I’m not a grandmother,  and now doubt has me stalled. I don’t know that I can ever finish. Should I even be trying, or is it arrogance? How do I evaluate its authenticity without raising the subject of how few people I know who could evaluate those aspects?  I have no way to ask if it reads as racist or ignorant without being an ignorant racist. You know, “I need a black friend to look over this.” Really?  Arrrrrrrgggghhh. Again.
Here are the first two paragraphs: 
The proud ones died first. They died in the exam rooms, when they refused to disrobe, they died on the train platform behind the intake offices, because they ignored the orders of their captors. They died standing in line in the hot sun as they waited for their ride to oblivion, when they begged for water and mercy. Pride was a sin, and they paid for it with their lives.

Ruth was humble, when the government thugs came for her. They came with their uniforms, and their legal papers, and their red, sweaty faces. She bowed her head and opened the door. She hugged her grandchildren, she kissed her daughter’s salt-wet cheek, and she packed the one bag the law allowed her to bring. The thugs drank sweet iced tea while they waited, while they mocked her dusty bare floors, her crooked shelves, and her small cheap treasures. When they grew impatient with the farewells, they pulled Ruth from her daughter’s arms and called her an old nigger bitch.
 This picture sums up how I feel right now. Thoughts, anyone?

4 thoughts on “Confessions and a Quandry

  1. Emily Harkins says:

    My thought-keep writing, my friend. The second-guessing is going to drive you bonkers (I am a professional second-guesser myself, so I know what I'm talking about). Men write as women, women write as men, straight people write as gay people, modern people write as historical people, etc. and I'm sure they all have their detractors. All you have to do is go to Goodreads and look up a title you thought was the best thing in the world to see that every piece of writing is going to have critics and judges who may or may not have a leg to stand on. I say you should write what your brain is driving you to write. 🙂

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  2. Anonymous says:

    the black guy in the room no one is talking to
    I am a standard deviation
    I am a Christian, a born again, and not part of the evangelical or wwjd movement two deviations from normal.
    I am black, coffee and cream black not Hershey special dark black two deviation from the norm
    I am tall not basketball player tall just taller than normal possibly two standard deviations
    I am big not as ponderous as some but not dainty three deviations
    I am better looking than most one deviation(actually its two, but I am modest by one deviation, self aware by two)
    there is a legacy we all share from Adam by God. the gift of discernment. his job was to name all the animals. To do this he had to tell them apart. this is different than that because blah blah blah blah.
    the arrogance and bigotry is not found in seeing another person and judging that they are “other”. The arrogance and bigotry is found in not realizing the you are “other” too. I am not a member of any of my deviations. I am a member of the sample. my deviations are so many and so complex that I cant be anything but unique. I don't belong exclusively to any box I might put my self in. all black, not the same, and tall, not the, same all beautiful, not the same. but are all different unique. I am not a them I am a me.
    I find it offending when asked when asked “how do black people feel about this” I assure you there are no meetings. We don't all know each other, neither do we share a hive mentality. but I would not fell offended if asked “how do you feel about this” I am greater and less that the sum total of my boxes.
    the wonder of reading is such that I don't have to be me for a little while. I have been a prince a pauper a poet a profit and a little girl. I have read Don Quixote and found my self the hero.
    dear author you have spoken for aliens and survivalists men and women with super powers.
    Cyrano's words flowed more freely when he donned a pretty faced mascarade.
    you can speak for an old black woman.
    you opinions are valid. you are the only one who can share them, cause you are the only you. you are not white, you are not little, you do not have purple hair no matter how many times you color it. you a only or if you prefer wonderfully K.M.
    don't put your self in a box. don't silence your self.

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  3. K.M. Herkes says:

    Wow. And uh, hang on, I gotta get this twig outta here, it's making me all teary-eyed and sniffly.

    Thank you, Anonymous Standard Deviation of Varying Degrees, for adding your perspective and your glorious voice to this. Thank you from the bottom of this little white currenty-copper-haired woman's heart. I will take your good advice and put it to work.

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  4. K.M. Herkes says:

    Thanks, Em. A wise author always listens to her muse. I will be brave about this. The doubts were choking off my voice. Votes of confidence help me clear them out. (Not to mention that I've never been good about *staying* silent. Not for long.)

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