Friday, April 26, 2019

The Privilege of Boycott

By Jay Stringer

Another week, another controversy. Or....the same controversy. Again. On repeat. The same controversy that should have been settled, but isn't. The same controversy that, let's be honest, will roll around for Thrillerfest, then Bouchercon, and many stops in-between. There's a show dropping on Netflix soon, it'll be interesting to see the conversations that surround that in our little part of the world.

And I use the word controversy very begrudgingly. I don't think it should be controversial to say that a racist, misogynist, asshat, who still (publicly) thinks the Central Park Five are guilty, who has said women can't write crime, and who was so proudly and publicly abusive toward women of color in our community, is someone we don’t want to hang out with. I hoped this was a settled issue.

I will never genuflect. I will never endorse. I will never pose for a picture with him. I will never grace him with my presence. I'm not entirely happy with gracing him with the time it takes me to write this. I'm proud to wear a sheep badge if that gets this message across.

But I'm not here to shout at the people who make the other choice. I'm here to talk. We all need to talk. Conversations where we look each other in the eye, ask, talk, listen, share, trust each other to be the best we can be, try and find the way forward. Because, friends, we are exhausting each other. We're throwing punches. We're taking flesh. We're taking each other down. We're aiming shots and snipes at the very people we need to stand by and support.

There is a certain percentage of our small crime fiction population who already know this. And they are doing great work. Believe me, I see you, I thank you, I have your back, you have my support, you have my place on the platform any time I can give it.

But the rest of us.....let's sit round the kitchen table and talk about something.

The word nuance can be loaded at times like this. It becomes a shield. An excuse. "Yes, you've called out a friend of mine for shitty behaviour, and you've pointed out that I'm endorsing that behaviour by standing next to him. But the nuance...." No. Let's not play those games.

But there is a nuance that needs to be talked about here. Privilege. Who gets to make mistakes? Who gets to come back from mistakes? Who gets asked to give up their platform for a higher purpose? What do each of these things cost us in our different positions?

Which is to say: those of you who call for a boycott? I get you. I do. I'm not here to tell you you're wrong. If I place each and every one of my cards on the table here, I agree with you. I will not be putting any money in those pockets, I will not be putting my feet in the room, I will not be endorsing that crap. I. I. I.

That's all about me. What am I? I'm straight. I'm white. I'm male. I'm cis. In the grand scheme of things, it's kinda easy for someone like me to burn a bridge, knowing there will be half a dozen other ways to get across. Not everyone can say the same. A writer from a different background already has fewer viable -and visible- platforms in our community. Is it their job to give up one of them, for the 'higher purpose' of picking a fight that most of the white writers -of all genders- seem to be ducking? If there are so few places they can go to be seen, to be heard, to sell books how can we expect them to lose that?

Here's the thing. I know. I know. All of you, the straight white cis authors I've invited into this kitchen chat, we're all trying. It's tricky. We want to be friends, family, allies. We're trying to figure out the line. When is it our job to speak about #MeToo, when is it out time to shut up? When do we shout over racism, and when do we stand back and hand the mic to people of color. When do our trans friends need us standing beside them, and when they want us to get out of the way. The problem of racism is (broadly speaking) a problem with white people. The problem with misogyny is (broadly speaking) a problem with men. The problem with homophobia....The problem with with transphobia.....etc, and so on. There is a weight we need to be pulling, some deep and honest conversations we need to be having with ourselves. And how do we balance doing all of that, with not talking over the very people we're trying to be allies to? I don't know the answers. Really, I'm not here to pretend otherwise. If you're like me, you're socially conditioned to be the loud voice in the room, you're programmed to think it's your job to rush to the rescue, to speak, to save. You might, for instance, in all good intent, become a white liberal old politician who grabs the mic and ends up sabotaging the campaign of a more qualified woman. (Just an example...)

But I'm trying to learn to think of it in terms of cost. We don't carry the cost equally. I pay less of a cost for speaking out, for punching out, for shouting out. If it turns out to be a mistake, I pay less of a cost for making it.

What am I saying here? I don't know. I'm frustrated as hell. There are fights going on all over the place, and none of them feel like they're moving us anywhere, meanwhile there are people doing serious, hard, progressive work behind closed doors who are being left to do it alone.

The community seems to agree that it's okay for a piece of shit to be a piece of shit, and we'll all forget about it until the next time, then forget about it again straight after. But I can afford to criticise, I can afford to boycott, I can afford to abstain, my career will not take a single hit. It costs me basically nothing to take any of these positions. But there are others who can't say the same. The weight doesn't fall equally, and we need to remember that before we start insisting other people boycott.

I'm not saying we should call for boycotts. I'm not saying we shouldn't. I think it's a conversation we need to have. But we need to keep the idea of all of our own differing privilege levels in mind. People who have the privilege to choose whether to go to those parties need to start being honest with themselves about that choice. I think it's fair to expect that now, in 2019. But I can't call for people who already have so few opportunities to give one up, because I think that would set us all back, rather than moving us forwards.

Let's just talk, everyone. Talk. Like friends do. Like family should.

And as a start, let's build a list of the good places. Of stores we can rely on. Of booksellers to support. Of places writers of color can go for exposure and events. Of other organisations and small business that will join us on the journey we need to take. In particular, let's help our friends in NYC, who are new authors, or career authors, or indie authors. Who are writers of color, or women. Let's build a list of alternative and supportive stores they can use.

(And in the spirit of passing the mic when I get a chance, today's post was partly inspired by this piece by Angel Luis Colón.)


Anonymous said...

I'm not saying Otto is perfect, but he single-handedly saved the mystery genre years ago.
If it weren't for Otto, there would be no Mystery Writers of America anymore. This is a fact and everyone knows it.
Maybe you all should show him the respect he deserves.

Anonymous said...

Since we're going anonymous here... Why don't you tell him the same thing? Why can't he show women, writers of color, women, those who don't agree with his horrible politics, women the respect THEY deserve? He was very anti-Sisters in Crime at the same time he was "saving" the mystery genre and I guess single-handedly creating MWA according to you.

Read this note and tell me (with a straight face) that this is written as someone who deserve respect:

Anonymous said...

Harvey Weinstein produced some great movies, too.

Anonymous said...

He should even get MORE credit for saving publishing, because he did it one-handed.
The other hand was on an unconsenting woman’s ass.

Jay Stringer said...

"Maybe you all should show him the respect he deserves."

I 100% agree. He deserves to be seen as a racist misogynist asshole. When DNA evidence has proven five men of color are innocent, but you still write a public letter that says...hey, they were in the park, they were obviously guilty of something....then my sentiments above are the very least you deserve. When you add in the things he's said -publicly- about women, and recently about those specific women, then frankly my comments about him didn't go far enough.

I should perhaps clarify a point from my post. In asking for us all to sit and talk, I'm asking for decent people to sit and talk about how we make positive change and move forward, I'm not asking for racist sexist apologists to come stink out the room.

But one other clarification, and I can say this as a neutral with no MWA affiliation, the organisation was founded in 1945, and focuses on a genre that has been consistently healthy ever since. Otto played no part in that. Every genre has old white men who want to claim they saved it at some point.