Tag Archives: anti-racism

My path to getting woke

In Seattle, people of color – in particular, indigenous people – LED the march. That’s the way to do it. One of my eye-openers was the bell hooks book From Margin to Center which laid out very clearly and practically why folks on the margins understand the world in ways folks in the center don’t. It’s a matter not only of justice but of practicality that we center the voices of women and color right now.

I posted that comment on a friend’s facebook page and followed it up with another post to mine:

Only a fraction of the people who attended Seattle’s Womxn’s March yesterday would have heard this–the mike only carried so far–but in the opening remarks the speaker gave respect for Judkins Park being on Coast Salish land, and that indigenous people would be leading the march. A HUGE cheer went up at this news. Later, two bald eagles graced the march. I take all this as a sign that the new womxns movement is heading in the right direction.

Until recently, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me that putting women of color first in a march might be a good idea, or that anybody would even understand if I said it. That’s the ignorance of white privilege. But to my surprise and pleasure, a huge number of friends clicked “like.” So I think I am along the path to getting woke, and doing so in community.

I expect some of you readers are looking at me right now like I’m a weirdo.  But if you have some patience, feel free to follow along and see how I got to where I am.

What does “getting woke” mean? Roughly, becoming aware of racial justice issues. There’s an article about it on dailykos, just as a starting point. If you haven’t heard the concept, take a minute to read that before reading the rest of this post.

Okay, done?

So. My steps toward getting woke. Some of it’s reading books, talking to people, listening to speakers, and some of it’s from making mistakes. Altogether it’s a long and ongoing process but I have gratitude to everyone along the way.

The first people who helped me “get woke” were my liberal parents, the conversations we had, the book they got me. And then middle school: the substitute teacher who told us stories of times there were two water fountains, one for “white” and one for “colored” and since he was biracial, he never knew which to use. I remember his kindness to us and the frustration he felt as he spoke, because of the difficulty in communicating what those times were truly like.

There was a sharp division in middle school, which took me a long time to understand. I attended Washington Middle School in Seattle, an almost entirely black school that had implemented busing for desegregation, by which I mean they bused white kids from the north end from the advanced learning program, meaning that the district was less segregated, but the school was more.

By high school my family was living in Salt Lake City, and there was my high school teacher who said Martin Luther King was a “troublemaker.” This woke me to understand not everybody was like my liberal parents, and that history didn’t proceed from race hatred to everybody singing kumbaya.

One time for journalism I distributed a survey asking people two questions: did they think white and black people were equal, and is mixed marriage okay. If I recall correctly, everybody who responded believed in equality, but only half in mixed marriage.

Then there was the time my mom dated a black man, and we lived in a house where the front door was stuck so we only ever used the back door, and my mom’s date explaining to me that he was always afraid a cop would see him sneaking in our back door and arrest him.

That gets me through high school, in bits and pieces. I had no black friends in high school. In fact, my entire high school had no black kids. That’s how it was.  I’ll just go ahead and skip undergraduate school, although some learning took place there, and move forward to graduate school. Because there’s a professor I need to express gratitude to, and that’s Colleen McElroy, who exposed me to some amazing poets and writers of color. I’ll talk about her in my next post.

Six months on a Racial Equity Team

This year I was a parent participant on a Seattle Public Schools Racial Equity Team. What’s a Racial Equity Team? Short answer: it’s a group of people working together to confront racism at a specific school.

Longer answer: the Seattle school district has provided funds and training for a small number of schools to form Racial Equity Teams. (As a side note, during contract negotiations, the Seattle Education Association pushed for every school to have a racial equity team, but the district pushed back and ultimately only 18 schools got them.) You can read more about it on the Seattle Public Schools website, but sadly, they haven’t updated it since last year, so whatever work our schools have done is not reflected there.

At our school, the group of teachers and parents that ultimately became a Racial Equity Team got started partly in response to reports of race-based bullying and the recognition that the adults at the school were not prepared to handle it. There was some talk about starting something called a Restorative Justice Team, in which a group of students, led by parents or teachers, would meet regularly to help settle issues that arose.

Then we found out about the opportunity to get a grant, and we went for it. Our first two meetings ended up being all about filling out the grant application. We got the grant, which meant several of the teachers could attend district trainings and bring back what they learned to our team and to the other teachers at the school. Step one: they learned about bias. That’s a big and important step.

Having the grant happen right at the formation of the group changed its mission, though, in ways I still don’t exactly understand. There’s the big job of changing institutional racism, and the Seattle Public Schools chunk of it seems to be more about advancing academic equity — a smaller, more limited goal.

We spent a lot of time this year absorbing what we learned and trying to decide exactly what to tackle. We’ve had hugely valuable discussion, learning more about the specific needs of students at the school, and the challenges teachers face when trying to meet those needs. We also had conversations about race, gender, and ability.  But the focus is still coming together.

Will the work we do ultimately challenge institutional racism? Will it help students of all kinds feel safer in our halls, on our playgrounds, and on the school bus?

I sure hope so!

This work is necessary. It needs to be done at every single school in the district. And it needs to start now.

To be continued . . . 


Neo-fascism in science fiction, 2013 to 2015


Here’s a bizarre little story. In 2013, ten percent of a major science fiction / fantasy organization votes for a man who later turns out to be organizing neo-fascists and miscellaneous hate groups. The organization later ignores a complaint about the man sending extreme hate speech over an official Twitter feed, and then takes ten weeks of debate before it decides to expel him. In 2014, a publishing company is started by this man — in Finland, of all places. In 2015, a rather surprising number of people are mobilized to take an action that shakes the science fiction / fantasy community — a hijacking of the Hugo Award nominations.

I’m not using the name of the person here partly because everybody’s sick of talking and thinking about it, partly because the person has already too much publicity, and partly because the person appears to be using that publicity to draw fascists to his site. You can certainly google it, but in the words of author Amal El-Mohtar, only do it “if your day is suffering from a surfeit of happiness and sunshine.”

But I will give the context: for the last three years, a group called the “Sad Puppies” have published a slate of candidates to be nominated for the Hugo Awards, in protest against what they see as the “establishment.” This year, though, somebody else jumped on board with a “Rabid Puppies” slate, almost identical to the “Sad Puppies” one and made a call-out to the Gamergate folks. (That somebody is the same one who was expelled for hate speeech.) Now, some of the awards are populated exclusively by Sad Puppy and/or Rabid Puppy nominations.

So I got curious about the Rabid Puppies story. For such an organized action to succeed suggests to me that somebody has money they’re throwing around for some purpose beyond their stated goals.

So that’s how I accidentally started reading a blog I never would otherwise. And oh, my. It’s kind of like somebody went to the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, and decided to see how many varieties of hate speech they could include.

But I let’s go back a minute. I said neo-fascist, and here’s why. It’s an excerpt from the blog, in a section on how to submit to the publishing house.

coded fascism

It doesn’t say, “Hello, fascists, come join our publishing house!” But it’s suspiciously close.

The first full sentence here is a question addressed to the owner of the publishing house, and the second is the answer. With some help from Google Translate and a friend knowledgeable about fascism, I got the general gist. “How do Italians see the core difference between Nazism and Italian Fascism, beyond the added-on race stuff?” “I don’t believe this question is appropriate here, but in any case, I recommend such-and-so book by such-and-so author.”

Such-and-so book explains that the failure of the glorious leadership of Mussolini and co. was caused not only by military defeat but also by the supporters not being wholly committed to the cause.

It would be a bit dodgy to go calling somebody a neo-fascist for a statement like this, so I didn’t. But there’s more. Here’s a secondhand account of some holocaust-denial, ethnic cleansing hate speech that is no longer online.

From http://mediamatters.org/blog/2010/05/11/wnds-vox-day-on-reclaiming-traditional-white-an/164574

From mediamatters.org, 5/11/2010

And here’s some more hate speech commentary on a terrorist attack in which actual children were actually killed. This is from August 10, 2013.

example of hate speech

Other stuff on the blog is calling out to Finnish fascists and other groups, as has been mentioned by authors Charlie Stross and Philip Sandifer.

These other groups, they’re not just mucking around in the field of books. No, they’re trying to ban immigrants of color, they’re hoping for a medical “solution” for homosexuality, they’re beating their wives at home. There are some real-world consequences for these views, which is exactly why hate speech is illegal.

And of course, fascism in its “Golden Age” was all about military and killing and all.

As you might expect, I quite naturally felt a bit alarmed at the thought of organized neo-fascism in the science fiction and fantasy community.

Fortunately, author N.K. Jemison calmed me down somewhat by giving some historical perspective. See, I was thinking of fascism in science fiction as this new thing that’s popping up, but really, it’s just an attempt to return to business as usual, to the “Golden Age of Science Fiction.”

As Jemison explains back in 2013,

“Straight white men have dominated the speculative literary field for the past few decades; their dominance is now going the way of the dinosaur; most are OK with that but a few (and their non-straight-white-guy supporters) are desperately trying to figure out how to bring things back to the way they were.”

So, I was thinking, it’s a garden-variety conservative backlash. But I disagreed, thinking, It’s a neo-fascist backlash, which is different. With all the hate speech going around, someone could get hurt!

But then I kept reading and came across this:

“Which I guess is why I’ve recently had to add some new entries to the file of death and rape threats I’ve already gotten over the years (pretty much since around the time I started publishing professionally, if you’re wondering).”

So I had to smack myself in the head for forgetting all the violence that is routinely being done to people of color, and once again for forgetting it while my Facebook feed is full of stories of people who “just happened” to have their spines break while in police custody.

But then I thought, “That’s racism and violence, not fascism,” because there is a line that divides fascism from other things. So then I had to ask, “What exactly is that line?”

And also, “How do you figure out where a person stands in relation to that line?”

One might wonder, “If somebody ends up accidentally supporting a neo-fascist, what’s their next step? Do they step back carefully, double down, or sit comfortably in a state of denial?” I think it would be fair to ask such a person: “Do you oppose fascism, support fascism, or are you neutral on fascism?”

(And yes, of course nobody can be neutral on fascism.)

Or I could just wait until the next thing happens, whatever this is, because this is an organized attack on feminists of all sorts, and see who sides with whom, and add 2016 to the title of this blog post.

So then the question became, “How do you counter fascism in science fiction and fantasy?”

And that was too big a topic for me to address before lunch, so I’ll just finish up with another couple quotes by N.K. Jemison:

“. . . all this anger and discussion reflects a struggle for the soul of the organization, which is in turn reflective of a greater struggle for the soul of the genre, and that overall struggle taking place globally.”


“SFF is going to become more diverse, with women and people of color taking their place as equals within its hierarchies, whether the scared white manly men want it to or not.** Nothing can stop this now; it’s inevitable.”

Oh yes, and the one action I’m going to take after all this research? Read a good book.  I have three new authors on my “to-read shelf” — N.K. Jemison, Charlie Stross, and  Philip Sandifer.

(Note: I edited this on 5/5/2015 and again on 5/7/2015 to include a little more context & details.)

Desegregation, Segregation, Integration

NPR just did a story on desegregation in Little Rock. (I can’t remember which day, so I’m not sure which one.) I only caught snippets of it, but from what I heard there was some good stuff and some parts that completely missed the boat, in the same way that adults have been missing the boat for a while.

Good stuff first: they made the distinction between desegregation and integration. A school is desegregated if it includes white kids and black kids. But it’s not integrated unless those kids actually hang out together. I went to a desegregated middle school in the 1980s. Kids in the advanced learning program, mostly white, were bused to a school that was mostly black. Today’s name for that would be “magnet school.” Good intentions . . . but most of the classrooms were still segregated, because so many of the kids in the advanced learning program were white. It was kinda half a solution.

Thirty years later, we’re still doing the same thing. The NPR program talked about the way the kids had separate classrooms and sat apart from each other in the lunchroom, and it included some student voices talking about how they could take responsibility for the problem. That’s good.

But what it did wrong, its blind spot, is that it placed the blame for the segregation on the high school kids and not on the adults who set up the classroom situation in the first place. If the classrooms are segregated, is it any wonder the lunchroom would be too? I know it’s a tricky and difficult situation, and the adults are taking steps to change this. But we can’t just let the kids shoulder all the responsibility and blame.

Now, I just heard a snippet. It could well be that NPR covered that ground later in the program. Regardless, this is a huge blind spot that we have. The adults need to be doing our part to make sure that we break down as many barriers as we can to integration.

Instead, sometimes we’re putting more barriers in the way, like when Seattle Public Schools shut down a successfully integrated K-8 program called Summit. Or when it closed down a schools race and justice curriculum last year.

We’ve got to get this right.

And we also need to be explaining to our kids that the work of desegregation is not yet done. Our school is celebrating Martin Luther King right now, and talking about the civil rights movement and the ending of segregation. This is misleading. Our school is 61 percent Caucasian and 7 percent African-American. If my kids grow up thinking segregation is over, they’ll also grow up thinking that our country is populated by 61 percent white people and 7 percent black people. Not true! In our school district, whites are a minority, at 43%. (Full detail: American Indian 1%, Black 19%, Hispanic 12%, Asian/Pacific-Islander 19%, White 43%, Multiracial 6%)

At the same time, while I need to explain that we still have plenty of troubles, I can’t be filling my kids’ heads with doom and gloom. Kids need to know the hard truths, but they also need to have hope.

Enter Ruby Bridges! She was the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school. Last year, my daughter got a book about her from the school library, The Story of Ruby Bridges. So this year, when she was assigned a Great American Leader biography project, she chose Ruby Bridges. Martin Luther King is an inspirational role model, and so is Rosa Parks. Big, important people. But Ruby Bridges is a child. My daughter can identify.

I wasn’t so sure that Ruby Bridges would fit the bill of a Great American Leader, though. It’s not like she had a choice to attend that all-white school. Her parents made that decision, and she had to live with it. It was a long, hard road for a lot of those first kids who attended all-white schools, and nobody came out of it unscathed. (It’s STILL a long, hard road.) So I had to find out what happened to her later in life. Here it is:


To summarize the video . . .

When Ruby Bridges first walked into the school, she was surrounded by an angry mob. Fortunately for her, she didn’t understand at first. “I actually thought it was Mardi Gras. . . . They were throwing things and shouting, and that sort of goes on in New Orleans at Mardi Gras.” All the white parents pulled their kids out, and all the teachers but one left the school. Ruby was all by herself at that school for a whole year. But then one white family broke the boycott, and five-year-old Pam Foreman Testroet became her classmate.

Fast-forward past the consequences Ruby’s family faced for their heroic efforts, and whatever hard and scary things Ruby had to endure, because my daughter is not ready for this yet. Now, as an adult, Ruby is continuing the important work that she began.

She visited her old school, the one she helped desegregate, and was reunited with her classmate Pam. It was a time of celebration, but Ruby also pointed out that the school is now all black. The work of desegregation is not done.

It’s a grand, epic tale about a Great American Leader. But what really touched my daughter? The reunion with her classmate Pam.

That’s where integration happens: in our hearts and in our children’s hearts. If we let it. Image


addressing racism

Going back to a work I studied in college – Yearning: race, gender, and cultural politics by bell hooks – I found this:

Lastly, I gathered this group of essays under the heading Yearning because as I looked for common passions, sentiments shared by folks across race, class, gender, and sexual practice, I was struck by the depths of longing in many of us. Those without money long to find a way to get rid of the endless sense of deprivation. Those with money wonder why so much feels so meaningless and long to find the site of “meaning.” Witnessing the genocidal ravages of drug addiction in black families and communities, I began to hear that longing for a freedom to control one’s destiny. All too often of our political desire for change is seen as separate from longings and passions that consume lots of time and energy in daily life. Particularly the realm of fantasy is often seen as completely separate from politics. Yet I think of all the time black folks (especially the underclass) spend just fantasizing about what our lives would be like if there were no racism, no white supremacy. Surely our desire for radical social change is intimately linked with the desire to experience pleasure, erotic fulfillment, and a host of other passions. Then, on the flip side, there are many individuals with race, gender, and class privilege who are longing to see the kind of revolutionary change that will end domination and oppression even though their lives would be completely and utterly transformed. The shared space and feeling of “yearning” opens up the possibility of common ground where all these differences might meet and engage one another. It seemed appropriate then to speak this yearning.

There’s a ton to pull out of this. The whole concept of yearning and longing resonated with me. And then there’s this: “Particularly the realm of fantasy is often seen as completely separate from politics.” I agree. Since I’m a science fiction / fantasy writer, I especially like the word “fantasy.” Because to me it means, “what if?” Radical politics try to transform society, but without the “what if,” where exactly, do you want society to go? There’s important visioning work to be done, and fantasy and science fiction certainly does it. But my critique of fantasy and science fiction is that it does visioning work and then stops there – there may be no explicit connection between the world a F/SF writer or reader wants to see and the change it takes to actually get there.

This resonated with questions of privilege and oppression. I’m white. I don’t like racial oppression. I don’t want it. Nonetheless, I have white privilege. What can I do, other than wallowing in guilt? So this – “Then, on the flip side, there are many individuals with race, gender, and class privilege who are longing to see the kind of revolutionary change that will end domination and oppression even though their lives would be completely and utterly transformed. The shared space and feeling of ‘yearning’ opens up this possibility of common ground . . .”

I like that possibility. Good. Possibility is better than closed options. But I think that a lot of radical texts point to possibility and stop there. But if we really do want to transform society, we can’t step there. We have to take the next step. Which means, I think, finding out what the next step actually is.