Race wank

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Race wank is a fandom kerfuffle about racism, whether occurring in professionally published or aired media or in the works produced in fandom. What can begin as a thoughtful discussion of insidious racism and how to confront it in these works unfortunately can often devolve into wank or kerfluffles.

The most prominent location of race wank in fandom occurs on LiveJournal, on blogspot and when professional science fiction authors and feminist get involved. As of January, 2009, "race" was the fifth most popular tag used by Metafandom, indicating just how heavily the topic had become a matter of discussion among meta-heavy and acafen.[1] As of August 2009, "race" was the fourth most popular tag and "racefail09" was sixth. [2]


There have been a number of huge blow ups involving race. Rather than treat them as a whole, this article breaks them down by race wank event.

Racism in Stargate: Atlantis

One of the most intense bouts of race wank to occur in 2007 began in March, surrounding a Stargate Atlantis AU fanfiction by omglawdork which featured, among other reinterpretations of the characters, Ronon Dex as a barista.[3] Comments on the story quickly turned into accusations of racism against the author, specifically to quote lierdumoa[4]:

Okay, so let me get this straight. Rodney, Cadman and Zelenka are all brilliant scientists, with Weir as their boss, John is a pilot, Parrish is a star hockey player, and Ronon (the only brown person in your entire story) is a waiter. At a coffee shop. Are you fucking kidding me?

Discussion, debate, and wank over the story quickly spread throughout the fandom and ended up on Fandom Wank.[5], [6], [7],[8] omglawdork accepted the criticism raised[9], but the conversation and anger continued, with debate over the comfort of the author vs. the comfort of the readers, whether criticism of a characters' job was more an issue of class than racism, and whether all of this debate was "ruining the fun" of the fandom for some.[10],[11],[12], [13],[14] Wank reached the point of certain fandom members defriending anyone who disagreed with them on the subject[15]--or who simply didn't participate in the discussion.[16],[17],[18]

Racism in Doctor Who

In July of 2007, there was discussion and debate on LiveJournal regarding the treatment of Mickey and Martha on Doctor Who and if that was racist, expanding into the treatment of Toshiko Sato on Torchwood. After thoughtful discussion which spread beyond Doctor Who into metafandom in general, some fans began to complain that the discussion was "aggravating" and ruining the "fun" of fandom.[19], [20],[21],[22],[23]

The Cultural Appropriation Discussion of Doom

For a link list of Race Fail 2009 sorted by date and by author, please see Race Fail 2009
A Race Fail 2009 "Bingo Card" by dysprositos.

A very large race wank exploded in January 2009, bridging science fiction and metafandom and quickly being referred to by the title above by many of those involved in the kerfluffle. It later also became known as "Race Fail 2009".

It began in early 2009 with a round of discussion on metafandom regarding "writing the Other"[24],[25] which pointed out a novel by Elizabeth Bear, Blood and Iron. This novel included the use of a character of color in a way which was critiqued as racist cultural appropriation in an Open letter to Elizabeth Bear in Seeking Avalon's blog.

Elizabeth Bear responded,[26] saying, "the book of mine you threw across the room is, in part, actually intended to address the point you make about it, but I obviously failed for you as a reader in doing so, and I'm sorry." She agreed that there should be some betaing involved to make sure such issues were addressed before publication. Discussion quickly deteriorated as PoC and "White Allies" involved began arguing with Bear's friends over the matter.

Acafen were heavily involved in the discussion, arguing using a partial reading of a story was not a basis for deep or meaningful criticism of a work, some were then criticized by other acafen [27] for what they saw as an attempt to invalidate the feelings and readings of People of Color because they did not have the appropriate background in literary theory.[28]

Much discussion followed about how authors should "write from a human perspective instead of an individual." This was later translated by some people interpreting that message as "oh you mean write from a White" perspective. Things went down even further after that, with metafandom helping the process along by linking to a number of race-wank related posts on January 20, 2009.[29], [30],[31],[32], [33],[34],[35]

Several individuals ended up deleting their LiveJournals as a result of the fallout from this wank, including Patrick Nielsen Hayden, one of the major editors at Tor who had been involved in the discussions as one of Bear's friends and defenders.[36],[37] Others began to wonder how comfortable they would be attending upcoming conventions where this matter could have impact on friendships and interactions within the literary science fiction community.[38]

On the 20th Elizabeth Bear declared the debate over in her journal space, with the threat of banning individuals who continued to comment in it.[39]. Discussion of the matter and criticism of Bear and her defenders continued onward in other LiveJournals.[40], [41],[42], [43],[44], [45],[46], [47],[48], [49],[50], [51],[52], [53],[54], [55],[56], [57],[58], [59],[60], [61]

Patrick Nielsen Hayden's wife, Theresa Nielsen Hayden, stepped into the fray, criticizing those who had engaged her husband in the debate such that he'd eventually deleted his journal.[62] Before friendslocking her post on the subject, comments by many who disagreed with her were screened or deleted, and the discussion then continued in more journals through to the end of January.[63],[64], [65],[66], [67],[68], [69],[70], [71],[72], [73], [74], [75],[76], [77],[78], [79],[80] The use of the words "nithling" by Theresa Nielsen Hayden was pointed out as a particularly nasty slur, although the etymology of the word was argued by some who felt protesters were overreacting in their insult from it.[81],[82] The use of the word "cunt" by a commenter in Teresa Nielsen Hayden's LiveJournal, directed against one of those arguing against her, was also picked up upon and the severity of the insult discussed elsewhere.[83],[84]

Writer David Levine also discussed the matter in his blog[85] and how he felt the current "kerfuffle" might dissuade him from attempting to write Characters of Color in his future work. Reactions to his post elsewhere included calling him a "dickhead", and "angsty whine-hole" and "wanting to punch him in the face".[86],[87]

The wank continued in late February and March of 2009 when the issue of pseudonyms on line continued to be a bone of contention to some of the science fiction authors involved in the debate. Will Shetterly was accused of outing Coffeeandink[88] [citation dead link] [89] after continual aggravated debate and personal attacks between the two of them and other members of LiveJournal fandom. Shetterly and others noted her name was posted publicly on her journal and was linked to her journal from elsewhere, but removed the material when requested. This led to a barrage of metafandom posts of outrage about Shetterly's action and also about author Kathryn Cramer, who decried the use of pseudonyms in on-line discussions and had made it a policy that any comments made on her blog under pseudonym or anonymously would not be posted.[90],[91],[92],[93],[94],[95],[96],[97],[98],[99]

A "secret" posted to fandomsecrets on March 15, 2009, which created more wank on the subject.

On March 5, 2009, Elizabeth Bear broke her relative silence to give one last word on the subject, calling for a cease fire in what had become increasingly partisan and vicious wank [100]. She also recanted her earlier acceptance of the critique, stating:

"...I accepted criticism of my book that I knew to be untrue, that I knew to be based on a shallow and partial reading (a reading of the first chapter of a 160,000-word novel), because I felt it was important to serve as an example of how to engage dialogue on unconscious institutional racism."

Bear was attacked and denounced in response. [101],[102],[103]

On March 5, Will Shetterly deleted the LiveJournal duplicate of his blog. [104] On March 6, it was alleged that Kathryn Cramer had threatened to take legal action against a number of people involved in the situation, as well as written to LiveJournal and various people's ISPs to have their accounts closed and journals deleted due to harassment and defamation.[105][neutrality disputed]

On March 8, 2009, bridgetmkennitt posted an "Author Shit List", naming authors she would boycott for their supposed racism and sexism.[106] The list included the following authors:

Much of the Race Fail 2009 discussion that followed was on the rightness or wrongness of boycotting authors, and whether any would deserve "second chances" or not. The discussions began to slow down by the middle of March, with the occasional post on the subject still appearing through early April.

In the fallout from RaceFail, there were numerous positive efforts made to bring awareness of racism and race issues in science fiction and fantasy fictional works, and in science fiction and fantasy fandoms. fight_derailing was established on March 6, 2009[107] as a community for rounding up "anti-derailing efforts" and continuing discussions.[108] con_or_bust was established on March 11, 2009 as a fandom auction to help bring fans of colour to WisCon.[109]


A new chapter in 2009's RaceFail began to break out in May over Patricia C. Wrede's book The Thirteenth Child. As described in Jo Walton's blog at the Tor website, the book presupposes an alternative universe "which is full of magic, and where America ('Columbia') was discovered empty of people but full of dangerous animals, many of them magical."[110] Commenters on the blog post about the book expressed displeasure over the idea of wiping out the existence of Native Americans from history for the sake of a fantasy novel. Lois McMaster Bujold got into the discussion defending Wrede and the book, angering and disappointing some of the critics who then accused her of RaceFail. Bujold stated in response[111] to one critic who had not read the book:

"You should read the book. It's YA and quite short, and then we could be discussing the real book and not the distorted shadow of it that apparently sprang up in your head from the description.
The book actually began with a contemplation of the what-if question, 'What would happen if the megafauna survived into historic times...?' The theory presently being argued in archeology is that the pre-Columbian settlers wiped out said megafauna, and that's the one Pat chose to follow up; so if one wants mammoths and short-faced bears and terror birds, the Bering land bridge human immigration needed not to have taken place, 13,000 years back. From that, the rest followed, q.s. to the limits of a necessarily slim volume."

Discussion then began to spread about the matter throughout LiveJournal and Dreamwidth Studios metafandom, much as it had earlier in the year.[112],[113],[114],[115],[116],[117],[118],[119],[120],[121],[122],[123] Although many of the same participants had been active in "The Cultural Appropriation Discussion of Doom", this new chapter was eventually dubbed "MammothFail" to differentiate itself from the earlier debate.

Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF

In early August 2009 many of the personalities involved in the Race Wank objected to a new anthology The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF edited by Mike Ashley [124][125][126]. Initial objections centered around the lack of women authors but expanded to include the objection to lack of Persons of Color. Paul Di Filippio responded

You know what: a potato field is not likely to contain corn plants. A pine forest might feature an oak or three, but be 99% pine trees. The Beatles were 4 white guys. Sonic Youth has no people of color! My ream of copy paper is all white, with no sheets of lettuce included!
Variety is great. Heterogeniety is great. Bias and prejudice suck. A genre--VIEWED AS A WHOLE--must feature a million different voices to be accurate and interesting.

and was roundly castigated for calling black people lettuce.

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