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.
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?