So I seem to recall hearing some stuff recently about the genre community, unrepentant, vitriolic Islamophobia, bigotry going unpunished by so-called advocates for safe spaces, and–you know, look, if this isn’t ringing a bell, just stop reading, because I’m not going to recap what’s essentially been front page news for weeks in the Genre Writers with Internet Presence Times.
For weeks now I’ve been typing up half-posts, trying to figure out what’s been bothering me about this whole situation, and completely failing. But yesterday I was able to really identify for the first time the source of my discomfort. The smart, savvy Shweta Narayan asked an insightful question about WisCon’s decision to not strip Elizabeth Moon of her Guest of Honor status. She asked: Who do you think will, or should, carry the burden of the Teaching Moments at the con?
OK. Yes. Here is the thing: before posting her hateful screed against Muslims and their allegedly uncitizenlike behavior (you know, like always trying to build community centers and shit), Elizabeth Moon was in a position of power. From reading her bio on her website, we can see that she was a white, Christian American who was college-educated. She actually holds multiple college degrees. She had been taught by the Marines to use computers during the infancy of computer science. She was able to pursue a career in writing that led to her winning multiple high-profile awards.
Now, it does seem like Elizabeth Moon “earned” a lot of this “for herself,” which should be a signifier for every American reading this that she should be awarded the Holy Order of Horatio Alger. And yet, as people who like to critically engage with American notions of meritocracy know, she had herself a pretty hefty invisible knapsack of privilege. While some might describe this as “immaterial” (like, apparently, the fact that Muslims also died in the 9/11 attacks), it isn’t actually immaterial at all. It is essential for those who have benefited from unearned privilege (skin color, social class one was born into, gender, sexuality, whatever) to acknowledge they have benefited from that unearned privilege and and not cultivate a disingenuous “but I did it all by myself!” attitude which elides the very real help they’ve gotten from such. It shouldn’t (for reasonable people) diminish her accomplishments to acknowledge that she benefited from being white, Christian, etc. It does, however, contextualize those accomplishments, and it makes her ignorant ranting against Muslims who don’t “realize how much forbearance they’ve had” all the more upsetting.
So moving on, people feel icky about WisCon’s decision to keep Elizabeth Moon as the Guest of Honor. We should feel icky. Because, like I said in a somewhat roundabout way, Elizabeth Moon was in a position of power before she posted her lecture on “citizenship” (as envisioned by a white Christian ex-Marine), and Muslims in America were having their prayer rugs peed on and their mosques burned and their cemeteries being alleged as illegal and their proposed community centers being treated like. . . you know, I don’t even know what. Now, after posting her lecture on “citizenship,” Elizabeth Moon is still in a position of power, and American Muslims are still. . . I think I’ve made my point. The really shitty status quo goes unchallenged, due to people conflating “not wanting to engage in censorship” or “not wishing to violate someone’s first amendment rights” with the idea that with great power (free speech) comes great responsibility (accepting the consequences of your behavior when those consequences might be. . . saaaaaay. . . getting your Guest of Honor status revoked at a progressive convention).
WisCon, through their refusal to strip her Guest of Honor status, is basically saying “hey, it’s OK that you did this, it’s all a dialogue, right?” I mean, they’re actually saying that Elizabeth Moon “would make a positive contribution to WisCon” and she is “an idol who turns out to be human.” Well, as Saladin Ahmed pointed out, it’s not that “an idol turned out to be human,” it’s that “an idol” turned out to be “hateful and cruel and vicious.”* There’s–there’s a big difference there. And it also unfairly puts the burden of “dialogue” (and “teaching”) on Muslims, as Shweta pointed out.
And then there’s just the fact that the way Moon has behaved throughout this thing demonstrates that she doesn’t want to be taught or learn new stuff. I mean, if you’re going to be a bigot, at least be a brave bigot. Deleting 400+ comments, most of which, from what I saw, were of a “hey, being a jerk to 1 billion+ people makes you a jerk” nature makes you a coward, as does posting a snide note that amounted to “go home, kids,” as does locking the post against further comments but keeping it up. It certainly doesn’t indicate that she’s interested in dialogue or learning or, as WisCon put it so teeth-hurtingly, engaging in “a difficult conversation.” It indicates that she’s the sort of person who is right and everyone else is wrong/just doesn’t understand. And that is total bullshit, and she shouldn’t be rewarded for it.
Elizabeth Moon is a person who deliberately and unrepentantly put unnecessary stress on an already misunderstood and marginalized community. WisCon, by keeping Moon as a Guest of Honor and slapping together some panels and stuff to provide “balance,” is also putting stress on a misunderstood and marginalized community. In the wake of hateful shit being slung about, the people in power are still in power, and the people who are marginalized are still being marginalized. Nothing’s changed. And it just goes to show that when a bigot somewhat spectacularly shows her ass, as long as that ass is white, Christian, and economically successful, it’s totally OK.
*I’d like here to record Saladin’s entire comment, which I found extremely illuminating, but couldn’t find a way to neatly quote in text:
Even though some of them SHOW SIGNS of being civilized, these Muslims are dangerous and ungrateful” is not a position from which to launch reasonable discussion of our current political climate, any more than “Rape is bad, but women who dress that way are asking for it” is a reasonable point to start a discussion about rape. No one’s talking about barring her from the con–they’re talking about, in light of her remarks, an ostensibly progressive con not according her its highest honor.
I, Molly, would like to add: word.