The first time I heard a white person use the word n****r in the US I explained I was mixed race and found their racism out of line and offensive. They promptly, realizing I wasn’t on their side, started dissembling and explaining that they really didn’t mean it, and I took it ‘out of context.’ (I was supposed to agree that if you called annoying black people n****r it was somehow okay?). They also claimed they weren’t racist.
Then once I rejected the ‘out of context’ argument the party in question got hurt and offended and angry *with me* for bringing up my complaint.
And every single person I’ve confronted about using the word as an epithet has claimed they weren’t a racist. They were good guys, right? In their own minds. Yeah. Being confronted with evidence otherwise upset them.
I’ve since learned the various stages of calling someone with a prejudice or racist belief or action out are very similar to the Kubler-Ross model of catastrophic loss.
- 1. Denial:
* Example – “I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening.”
- 2. Anger:
* Example – “Why me? It’s not fair!” “NO! NO! How can you accept this!”
- 3. Bargaining:
* Example – “Just let me live to see my children graduate.”; “I’ll do anything, can’t you stretch it out? A few more years.”
- 4. Depression:
* Example – “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die . . . What’s the point?”
- 5. Acceptance:
* Example – “It’s going to be OK.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
I hate the words ‘out of context’ in reference to racist terms. Even more so when used by writers to explain away the strength and impact of a word.
So I was disappointed to see this. The editor thought the writer was someone who was ‘on his side’ in regards to certain beliefs because the writer portrayed the mindset of a fundamentalist militant muslim, so sent him a rejection letter that included such phrases as the following:
“most of the SF magazines are very leery of publishing anything that might offend the sheet heads”
and the opening of
“You did a good job of exploring the worm-brained mentality of those people – at the end we still don’t really understand it, but then no one from the civilized world ever can – and I was pleased to see that you didn’t engage in the typical error of trying to make this evil bastard sympathetic, or give him human qualities.”
Thinking he was emailing one sympathetic person to another, this rejection let it all hang out, and it has escaped on to the internet.
So let’s look at the stages of racial slur confrontation.
We have the casual use of classic prejudicial phrases “those people” and “sheet heads” in addition to a host of other things. But these are linguistic markers for certain beliefs, much like a white person well knows the impact of using the word ‘n****r.’
So, step one. Denial.
Of course none of these people have read the story, and so they fail to grasp the context – that I was talking not about Muslims, or Arabs, or Oompa Loompas or any other religious or ethnic group, but about terrorists and violent extremists. (That being, after all, what your story was about.)
Step two. Anger and lashing back at people for daring to say that, ‘hey, that shit’s uncool.’
But I don’t feel any need to defend myself, or Helix, to these people; indeed I doubt that there’s anybody outside their little Mutual Masturbation Society who gives a damn what they think about anything at all.
Of course, said person, who doesn’t feel a need to defend themselves, is spending a lot of time in comments doing just that. Why bother saying anything if they think their comments in the rejection should stand for themselves?
Bargaining, by a close friend of the rejection letter writer, comes in the form of trying to redefine the nature of the act and downplay how horrible it was.
The author who got the rejection is apologizing for posting it. Granted, it’s never a good idea to publish correspondence, and I’ll bet Luke is feeling a bit out of sorts.
Naamen on his blog had this to say:
I do want to work in this industry someday so will my being so vocal hinder my chances. I occasionally have bouts of this and then blow it off because talking about these issues are so important, everywhere in SF and in other spaces. This time however the feeling popped up while I was hanging out with my friend bankuei on Saturday. When I voiced my concerns he said something that crystallized everything for me, paraphrased here:
“Those people who would reject you because of what you say weren’t gonna buy your fiction anyway.”
I think there are far more professional, open minded, and much more savvy editors and markets in the field for us to have to worry about not offending the upset editors of Helix for saying that using the word ‘sheet head’ in a rejection letter is, at the bottom of it all, uncool and as unprofessional as using the word ‘n****r’ in one. Or any other epithet.
If we don’t call this shit out, people will think it’s totally okay to do it, snickering on the down low in emails.
Out of the 600+ rejections I got on the way to breaking into this field, I can’t think of a single one that contained a racial epithet. The kinds of people who’ll get upset over your saying that this is uncool (at least for me), are not really my friends.
I don’t post rejection letters or correspondence, but I think I’d make an exception if a rejection contained a racial epithet (used in a way not referring to a specific use in the story, as the sheet head comment does), because it would just blow my flipping mind if one ever did.