Friday, April 25, 2014

The Hugo Awards, Vox Day and Apologetics for Bigotry

This year the Hugo nominations had many wonderful and talented authors on the slate, including a few who have included marginalised people in their work or are marginalised themselves.

And it also included a novelette by Vox Day.

For those who don’t know, Vox Day is a bigot. It’s not really worth parsing down what kind of bigot he is, because the answer is “yes”. If someone is not straight, cis, white and male, Vox Day will spew his venom on them. He thinks gay people are a “birth defect.” He thinks Black people are inherently less intelligent (and called N. K. Jemisin not fully civilised for “historical reasons”) and, of course, that he thinks there’s no such thing as marital rape. This isn’t an exhaustive list, not even close, but there’s a limit to how nauseous we’re willing to get to write this post and googling Vox Day is going to give us heartburn. Honestly, there are no words to accurately sum up what a terrible human being this man is.

A lot of people have spoken about this and, to a degree, we felt there was no need to add to the discussion - but then the reaction itself, the commentary we’ve seen, including in several social-justice spaces have added to our already churning stomachs. So let’s tackle this.

First of all, why is Vox Day getting this nomination a problem? Ultimately, not everyone can be nominated for a Hugo. It takes a level of support - I know there have been a lot of allegations of vote rigging, internet campaigns et al on behalf of Vox Day and others - but none of these would have worked if there weren’t a sufficient number of people who decided to champion Vox Day. In fact, gaming the system would require active champions of Vox Day and his hateful campaigns because the merely indifferent would not help him get a nomination.

Him being nominated at all sends the message that there is a not-insignificant number of people in the SFF “community” who support the hatred he espouses - and many more who are indifferent or do not consider it important.

That is a toxic message - and a message we have seen reinforced by some of the commentary - even supposedly supportive commentary - on the issue. The amount of dismissal or insulting priorities we’ve seen really add to the message that there are a whole lot of those indifferent people.

Predictably, as we’ve seen with previous bigots on parade, there has been a vocal demand to focus on the quality of the work an author produces. We’ve heard the same for Orson Scott Card, Frank Herbert - in fact, just about any vile person out there. We’re supposed to ignore the author, consider the author’s actions irrelevant and take their work in a vacuum.

Jim C Hines, who is usually much better on these issues, has written a post on the subject that included a section on “separating the authors from their work” and these lines:

Some authors are assholes. That doesn’t mean they don’t have fans who genuinely like their stuff.”
and he has tweeted:

John Scalzi has also written two blog posts where he, among other things, wants Vox Day’s work to be judged on the writing, not the bigotry of the author.

Instead, take a look at the work, read the work, and if you like the work, place it appropriately on your ballot. Because why shouldn’t you? Regardless of how a work got on the ballot (or more accurately in this case, how you think it got onto the ballot), it’s there now. Read the books and stories. If you like them, great. If you don’t, there’s plenty of other excellent work on the ballot for your consideration.”

By urging us to focus on the quality of his work, you are asking us to discard his bigotry. You are telling us that his bigotry is less important than his work. You are telling us to ignore the fact he has deeply dehumanised marginalised people - adding to a society of dehumanisation that continues to cost us in every way.

You are telling us the stories he writes are more important than our status as full people. You are not only ignoring the loud message that we are not welcome in the SFF community, you are adding to it. You add your voice to the chorus saying “we are indifferent to the awful treatment of marginalised people” and that this genre is not a place where we belong and that it is a place where abusing us is acceptable.

Stories are important, but we are worth more than stories.

And this applies regardless of the quality of Vox Day’s work.

We do not care whether Vox Day has the scintillating talent of a reincarnated Shakespeare. We do not care if reading his novelette is the literary equivalent to coming home and finding Alexander Skarsgarde and Ian Somerhalder waiting for you, naked in your bed (or Nina Dobrev and Lana Parilla). We are angry because he is a bigot. Whether he is a talented bigot or a talentless bigot is irrelevant - the man is a bigot. That is his defining characteristic, that is why we are hurt by his presence on this ballot

Many commenters on his nomination have taken to sporking, snarking, mocking or otherwise criticising Vox Day’s story. I gather that it is far from the greatest work out there, to say the least. But this is not why his nomination is a problem! We see this every time! During the boycott of Paula Dean, people mocked how unhealthy her food is - but whether her food is healthy or not is not the issue, the fact she’s a racist is. People laughingly sneered at the quality of Chick-fil-a’s chicken, but how tasty the chicken is is not the issue; the fact they support homophobic bigotry is what is important.

When you engage in mocking Vox Day’s work, Paula Dean’s butter or Chick-fil-a’s fast food as a way of criticising them when we’re talking about bigotry, you are telling us that the quality of their product is the issue. Which implies that if Vox Day wrote well, you would support him. It tells us that the quality of their product is MORE IMPORTANT to you than the harm they are doing to marginalised people. It is sending a message that we, our lives, are a lower priority to you than whether you enjoy a book or not (which is, again, a message that tells us we’re not welcome in the genre).

The bigotry of these people is damaging regardless of their skills. Their public profiles, supported by their indifferent and/or actively bigoted fanbase gives them the money and the standing to dehumanise marginalised people. These vocal bigots cause real harm to the lives of marginalised people and shape a hostile society; that is true whether Dean is deep frying butter or pickling vegetables, that is true whether Vox Day is a brilliant writer or a stain on literature.

Speaking of priorities - if we’re criticising the vicious bigotry of Vox Day, it is not really an ideal response to talk about whether the nomination process of the Hugos is fair, balanced or the best system. Again, that’s not really the issue, unless you are claiming the whole nomination was manufactured by Vox without a substantial following. Bigotry against marginalised people should really be a higher priority than whether the Hugo Awards have had their integrity tarnished or can be improved in the future

Again, it’s a matter of priorities. When marginalised people complain about bigotry and you decide to talk about something else, you are revealing your priorities - and how low we stand in them.

It’s also worth nothing that those urging us to discard the bigotry of Vox Day are, themselves, straight, cis White men. And though they have shown strong indications of ally-dom in the past, it is still not them who are being attacked (quite the opposite, as people with such privileges, the bigoted systems that Vox Day champions elevate them above marginalised people. That doesn’t make it an overt motive on their part, not at all, but it does make the bigotry something that doesn’t have to be a priority to them) - and they can afford to dismiss this as “Politics” as both mentioned in their posts. To them it is politics. To us it is life.

We said above that the problem with the Vox Day nomination is the message it sends that marginalised people are not welcome in the SFF genre. That his nomination - and the defence and dismissals even of allies - have reminded us, again, that the bigotry we face is not considered important in this “community”. But the true problem is that this isn’t an isolated incident - this is but one more voice in the loud chorus of the SFF community telling us that we do not belong here, that this is not our genre and that we do not get to be part of these stories, these imaginings that shape society, brighten lives and awaken the mind.

This is but another incident that follows Racefail ‘09, the SFWA sexism debacle(s) and the fierce community defence and apologetics of Orson Scott Card. This is another message that joins the bombardment brought by non-inclusive conventions, an incredibly, extremely, horrendously,  erased genre; scattered, hollow tokens; repeated appropriation and fan hostility towards any attempts at inclusion and any criticism of these problems.

Vox Day’s nomination isn’t an isolated message - it’s yet another voice in a deafening chorus that is unrelentingly hostile to marginalised people. This chorus will only get louder the more we dismiss it, ignore it or pretend it is not important - the more we reinforce the message that marginalised people do not matter which is what we say every time we decide bigotry does not matter.

Some other good posts on this debacle: