At my kid’s school, there’s an assembly every Monday morning. A student is given the honor of reading the school expectations, which are posted conspicuously:
I use respectful language. I am in the right place at the right time. I keep my body in my personal space. I move safely on school grounds. I care for school property in a responsible way. I am considerate and respectful of others.
And there’s a sign (from the Safe Schools Coalition) that I see when I walk in the door of the school. It says,
“Degrading racial, ethnic, sexist or homophobic remarks not welcome here. RESPECT the differences.”
The message simple and clear. Our community tries hard to follow it. The call for consideration and respect protects everybody. The sign on the door makes a call out to groups that are protected from hate speech because of historic and continuing oppression. We don’t do a perfect job, but when something goes awry, we are much better equipped to handle the situation because we are all on the same page.
There is broad-based agreement at our school that these are legitimate social expectations, for practical reasons. None of us want our kids to come in from recess with bloody noses and scraped knees.
Until recently, I would have thought there was broad-based agreement within the science fiction and fantasy community as well. However, recent dramas have shown this is not so. There are a sizable number of people who think it’s perfectly fine to make degrading racial, ethnic, sexist or homophobic remarks — but that it’s not okay for a community to try to stop them. There is also a backlash against people the extreme right wing are calling “Social Justice Warriors.”
This by itself is not so surprising to me. What’s surprising is that middle-of-the-road people seem to be going along with them to some extent. Why?
Well, for one thing, the phrase “political correctness” has made a comeback. That phrase is vague and muddles the conversation about what is okay to say and what isn’t. (In a recent post, I suggested there was a reason for that: the millions of dollars that conservative philanthropies have thrown into think tanks and other propaganda efforts.)
The phrase “political correctness” also hides a critical distinction between the kinds of people who use it and the reasons they use it. Some people use it maliciously and nefariously, to cover up or defend hate speech. Others use it sincerely, out of frustration that they don’t feel free to express opinions that do not rise to the level of harrassing, discriminatory, or hate speech.
There’s a need for the science fiction and fantasy community to come up with clear expectations for speech and fair consequences if they are violated. And these expectations should treat hate speech differently than other kinds. I’m not talking censorship here. I’m talking about a community setting standards for itself.
What happens if we don’t? Well, at the moment, somebody’s job is at stake (Irene Gallo) over some comments that she made. Here are the comments:
There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist, and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.
Her employer, the major SF/F publisher Tor, is being financially threatened by a boycott if she is not fired. The reasoning behind the call for firing is that conservatives have been fired for their public comments, so she should too.
But what’s not mentioned is that some of the firings conservatives are complaining about involved degrading racial, ethnic, sexist or homophobic remarks. If that’s not even mentioned, then as a community how can we possibly set consequences that most people think are fair?
We’re now in a situation that’s bad for everyone, including Tor. If she’s fired, Tor will face a boycott from the left. If she’s not fired, Tor will face a boycott from the extreme right.
Tor’s response was perhaps the best they could do under the circumstances to appease both groups. But there’s something that bugs me. A lot.
In short, we seek out and publish a diverse and wide ranging group of books. We are in the business of finding great stories and promoting literature and are not about promoting a political agenda
There’s that little political correctness complaint again. What political agenda is he talking about? Gallo criticized the Puppies for being openly racist, misogynist, and homophobic. So her political agenda is what?
More important, though, the political agenda of the Puppies is off limits for discussion here. I kind of get that Tor would want to avoid a discussion that would alienate many of its customers. But the discussion needs to happen somewhere, or rather, in as many venues as possible. And it needs to include an acknowledgement that hate speech is not welcome.
As a community, science fiction and fantasy authors, readers, and editors can and should set standards for discourse. The work on that has already begun, but it looks like there’s a long way to go.
For Further Reading
A balanced post about complaints of political correctness by blogger and cartoonist Amptoons, “Chait Criticizes Exactly The Kind Of Speech We Should Want More Of”.) This post also has an excellent list of links at the end.
From blogger Julian Sanchez, a post from a leftist about the mistakes the left is making when it comes to political correctness, “Chait Speech.”
From the ADA Initiative website, a post about anti-harassment speech that is being done, “Conference anti-harassment work in SF&F, 2014 edition: N. K. Jemisin’s speech, Hugo battles, Frenkel saga & more”.
A blog post by Laura “Tegan” Gjovaag about the Puppies, “The ongoing Hugo mess comes to haunt me again. . .” This is coming from a fan perspective and is written in lively prose.
And finally, the Safe Schools Coalition, which created the “Respect the Differences” Sign.