Friday, March 29, 2019

I Think I Stepped in the Racism.


Jeffe’s post this week gave you the low down on the latest upheaval to hit Romance Writers of America. It’s been on my mind this week, so here’s more. It isn’t likely to be pretty.

In among this difficult and deeply necessary conversation about how marginalized our AOC and LGBTQA authors are, there are people knee-jerk protesting that they aren’t racist! They CAN’T be racist or biased, even though (or maybe especially when) AOC and LGBTQA authors point out racist and biased language and behavior. So let’s do a little clarification. Starting with the hard stuff.

Hi. I’m Marcella and I’m a racist. I don’t want to be a racist, but I was reared in a society STEEPED in racism. Predicated on it. It’s woven through every aspect of US culture to the point that  the US Government just sued Facebook for housing discrimination because FB’s adverts allowed someone to specifically include or exclude certain demographic groups. Basically, you could target your ads to be seen only by people of a specific ethnic background. And no one stood up in that massive tech company to suggest that was maybe a really bad (possibly prosecutable) idea.

I get that when someone says ‘racist’, we all immediately think of the people who mean it. They’re the people who willfully hold specific, hateful views about anyone who doesn’t look like they do. Surely, if we don’t mean to be racist, we aren’t, right? Right? We’re absolved? If only it worked that way. Our culture made it impossible for us to be anything other than racist. Before you lose heart and click away, I actually do have some positives here. Starting with: There’s basis for this stuff in evolutionary biology, which means there’s also something we can do about it.

Humans are wired for tribalism. Us versus them. It was a resources game. It was an issue of who was going to get that last apple off the tree before the blizzard hit. Who ate, survived. Who survived, passed on genes. Grouping up with a tribe of ‘us’ made fighting the tribe of ‘them’ easier and assured greater access to resources. As the human animal evolved, the definition of tribe evolved and broadened a little. We never lost that Us vs Them wiring. It’s still there nestled in the oldest parts of our brains. It’s at the root of racist, biased behaviors. (You can look this stuff up, but be warned. Most of the research is around issues of genocide. It is not light reading which is why I am not linking it in.) BUT. Somewhere in there, we gained a prefrontal cortex and the ability to analyze ourselves, our surroundings and our behaviors. It’s also the part that allows us to identify opportunities for growth and change. It allows us to detach from ego, take a step back and examine our own emotions and actions. That’s incredibly powerful when it’s applied. The trick is to apply it. To think.

When someone says ‘hey, what you said is racist’ your primitive brain is hearing a threat to your survival. That’s primitive brain registering that you had been an ‘us’ and with this call out, you’ve just been made ‘them’. It’s firing off all these DANGERDANGER signals. It takes the modern brain a second longer to process the information, put the brakes on the emotions, and parse through the examination. ‘Really? Was what I said racist? Oh crap, maybe . . .’

So before I go on when I should be finishing and delivering an edit, here’s the summary. The primitive part of your brain is wired to be a racist asshole. Our culture played on that and indoctrinated all of us in racist structures. The newer part of your brain, y'know, the part you're supposed to think with and evaluate your own behavior with, that’s wired to gate the primitive brain. Let it. Quit saying 'I'm not a racist!' The minute you say that you’re operating from that primitive brain. Nice way of saying you're only semi-conscious. Of course you’re a racist. So am I. Welcome to the stinky, awful club. None of us can help ourselves get or do better until we admit and examine our own behavior. This includes listening to people when they speak of the hurt they’re suffering. It’s a simple thing to buy, read, and review books by AOC and LGBTQA authors. Guys, the last book by a woman of color that I read on purpose was in college. That’s crap. I want to do better than that. I want the playing field leveled for authors who have marginalized for too long. And I can start with me.

There are so many experiences in the world. So many voices. We’re authors. We specialize in voice and in creating experiences for our readers. There’s no good reason to shy away from broadening our own experiences as readers. You have the power to decide who and what you want to be – someone mired in the past or someone agitating for fairness by boosting our romance-writing siblings of every color and identity. Choice. Adaptation. Those are the gifts of thinking.  

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