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Fighting the Derail Since March 2009
Rudeness at Wiscon 
29th-May-2009 12:30 pm
medusa
karnythia and thewayoftheid and no doubt some other folks are posting about some bad experiences at Wiscon; in particular feeling like they and other POC were in a zoo, with white people coming up and looking at them and not saying anything, and in some cases even going and fetching more white people to come and look at them.  At the Verb Noire party, there were white people coming in and hanging out who didn't talk to their hostesses.  On the flip side of that, a lot of people who go to cons regularly have never thought to introduce themselves to the host of a room party, and some of them don't talk to strangers, period, unless the stranger starts the conversation, and sometimes not even then.

Fandom has a long tradition of wecoming people with poor social skills, and stuff that's considered bad manners in many places seems to be normal at cons.   This year at Wiscon there were a lot more fans of color than in previous years, from what everyone is saying, and many people who were new to cons were there, and some of them are kind of stunned at the rudeness they encountered.

So it seems to me that there are a few things in play, that need to be really picked apart and reconfigured in order for fans of color to have a good time at future cons, and white fans to learn how to behave in a diverse environment.

1. There are a lot of racially prejudiced white people in fandom, as in the world at large, and a lot of people who are prepared to accept them or give them equal time to share their views.  On top of that, SFF fan culture, as it currently exists, is a lot more comfortable for white people than for people of color.  This means that responses to challenges that are based on "but it's always been that way!" or "but you're challenging our precious way of life" are not helpful.  Preserving the status quo can't be the goal.

2. There are cultural differences in manners between ethnic & social groups.  White people in the US have very informal (aka "bad") manners compared to a lot of POC in the US, in my experience, and I've encountered surprising differences in manners between me and my friends from other countries, usually with the non-US person having better manners, but occasionally not.  Stuff like party invitations, RSVP's, thank-you notes, bringing a dish to share when you go to someone's house, introducing a new person to everyone in the room, giving a compliment when you greet someone, children using titles instead of first names when addressing adults, elders preceding younger folk through a door--all of that will seem like just basic decency to one person, and will seem like stuffy overformality to another, and race & culture absolutely have a lot to do with it.  Not to put too fine a point on it, a lot of white people have atrocious manners, and treat each other like crap, and get away with it because of the culture valuing informality & "being yourself."  People who haven't encountered this are going to take it personally, when it's often not personal, but just saying "don't take it personally" isn't helpful.  White people can afford to overlook disrespectful treatment more, because we encounter it a LOT less than POC do.

[ETA: 3:  upon rereading, I discover that I cannot count. There is no 3. Oops.]

4. At the same time, SFF fan culture has been a safe space for a lot of people who are serious social misfits. SFF is, by its nature, escapist, which means it appeals to people who are struggling in their lives or are uncomfortable in society or have damage of one kind or another;  Criticizing people for lacking social skills doesn't seem productive to me, given that it's impossible to know how hard it is for another person to deal with social interaction, or what their training is in formal manners, or what their neurological and psychological challenges might be. Maybe having "Social Skills 101" would help, or even just talking publicly about social skills on the level we talk about other faily things might make a difference.  Handing out a "con ettiquette guide" to attendees?  Buttons that say "shy" or "not shy," "awkward," etc?

5. Social skills might be cultural, too?  I know some parents who react to shyness by protecting the child from interaction, and others who react by coaching the child to interact more, "get out there and play," etc.  I'm trying to think if this is something I see broken down in terms of race or social group.  I know a fair number of Irish-American families that don't like kids to hang out in their rooms alone; they're supposed to be out in the common areas socializing or doing chores if they're not sleeping.  Many non-Irish white folks I know think that's intrusive and overly bossy.  So this is one of those areas where trying to change how people do things is challenging; but not impossible, I hope?

Anyway, I guess what I'm thinking is that maybe we can talk about this manners/ social skills/ racism mix over here in fight_derailing, (in addition to the conversations already happening, not instead of) and start to show how having poor manners and social skills can be really harmful, when you're trying to socialize in a diverse group.  But also find a way to be accepting of the different levels of social ability in fandom, ***where that is all that is going on***,  while putting a stop to racially prejudiced bullshit behavior that's being accepted under the umbrella of geekhood.  And find a way to figure out which is which.

What do you think? 

[June 2 ETA: Because this post is likely to get a lot of fresh traffic after coffeeandink's very cogent post, I just want to re-emphasise point #1 up above. There are a lot of racially prejudiced white people in fandom, as in the world at large, and a lot of people who are prepared to accept them or give them equal time to share their views.  [...]  Preserving the status quo can't be the goal. I put that point as #1 because I believe it's the heart of the problem. ]
Comments 
(Deleted comment)
29th-May-2009 07:50 pm (UTC)
We made a point of greeting the hosts of the other parties we went to that night even if all we managed was a quick drop in before having to run back to our event. Hmm, now I'm wondering what they thought of us...
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(Deleted comment)
29th-May-2009 07:19 pm (UTC)
I will admit that I was raised by an older black woman and so I'll still say ma'am or sir to my elders. So do my kids. Formal manners were a big thing growing up, I even know what all the forks are for in a full place setting.
29th-May-2009 07:44 pm (UTC)
I come from a culture where the informality has been official for forty years. (Informal you replacing the older practise of using titles in third person or polite third person when speaking to someone.) I find this kind of formal manners very odd, as if someone is expecting me to talk to the Royal Family.
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
29th-May-2009 08:45 pm (UTC)
Actually, I don't think a difference in manners ("greet hosts" vs. "don't greet hosts") is the issue; I think rather it's what yeloson was referring to.

If I was at a party that was about something important, and a bunch of my friends came up to me and started chatting and distracting me from the purpose of the party, I think I'd have to politely ask them to stop.

(Incidentally, I'm also a "don't greet hosts" person; I tend to think it's more respectful to let the host initiate conversation with me, and therefore to be available for the host to approach me.)
31st-May-2009 09:17 pm (UTC)
Actually, if you read the link I had in that comment, it's not about being "distracted" from the purpose, it's about living a lifestyle in which you purposefully do not interact with certain other people.

There's a way in which people keep trying to shift this conversation into an "oops", when, as I point out there, it's like "accidentally" stabbing someone 87 times. Managing to live one's adult life without interacting with a certain group that's fairly well spread out in your society is a choice, not an accident.

To be certain, the levels of normalizing this behavior at this point is such that it IS invisible to white people, but that doesn't make it anymore ok than when people thought (and still do think) that beating spouses is just "what you do".
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
29th-May-2009 08:46 pm (UTC)
I think the issue of basic politeness is crucial. A lot of the "be yourself" and "be natural" stuff is an excuse for behaviour that often verges on rude, and is usually insensitive.
29th-May-2009 09:31 pm (UTC) - Congoing manners, race, & culture
User marydell referenced to your post from Congoing manners, race, & culture saying: [...] mean for congoing fandom as we try to become more diverse and more welcoming of fans of color--it's over here at the anti-racism community . Stop on by if you'd like to talk about it! [...]
29th-May-2009 09:34 pm (UTC)
One thing I wondered about was how to balance wanting to make POC feel welcome at the con, with wanting to respect groups that were there to see each other. You know, walking up to a mostly POC group and saying "can I join you" might be seen as welcoming, or might be seen as butting in (or "what you people need is a honky :)

When I see a group of people at a con, I tend to kind of scan them to find someone I know (or whose name I recognize), and if I don't know anyone, I smile and walk away. It turned out not to be a problem at Wiscon because I LJ-knew people in most groups, but if I didn't I'm not sure what I would have done. Probably wandered around introducing myself randomly to individuals, but avoided butting into groups where I didn't know anyone.
29th-May-2009 11:17 pm (UTC)
Re: #2 and #5, there's also that whole thing where Black people are socialized to act that way so they dont get taken for disrespectful or dangerous to white people.

Edited at 2009-05-29 11:17 pm (UTC)
29th-May-2009 11:45 pm (UTC)
Definitely. Being shy or rude or weird without suffering consequences is a privilege. And "consequences" for white people tends to mean "social consequences" whereas for black people in the US it often means "legal consequences."
29th-May-2009 11:30 pm (UTC)
My social radar is not working very well. I often have no idea what is right, what is expected, who to take my clues from; and I frequently get the feeling that everybody else knows.

Introducing myself to the host at con parties is one of those things. I've not been to many of them - I don't go to cons much, I'm not a great party animal, I bail out at the point where everybody around me gets drunk and starts to get loud, and I'm usually in cheap accommodation quite a long trek away from the parties - but I've been to a number at a couple of Worldcons (Glasgow and Yokohama).

If there were tables behind which stood people I'm sure I've said 'thanks' and 'good party' or things to that effect. But if there was no discernible host, just a general 'party to support x bid' (which is all I remember), then it would not have occurred to me to look for any particular individual. And given the sheer numbers of people streaming into rooms and out of them, often going in, looking around, looking for someone in particular, looking for standing room and/or a quiet space - I'm not sure it would have been even feasible to do so.

Once you point out that yes, someone spends money to throw a party and feels more than a little pissed off when people come in, take the goodies, and go off again, it seems like a terribly rude thing to do; but in the context I've experienced room parties, it didn't feel like it.
30th-May-2009 01:21 am (UTC) - Safe Space for POCs
When I saw the "Safe Space" sign (over the doorway to a scheduled party full of white people, as has been discussed some already), I did wonder if it was enough to make white people understand that it means "NO WHITE PEOPLE." I can imagine plenty of white folks thinking "I'm not racist! So I'm 'safe' and can hang out!"

Apparently what happened was that white people wandered in and out of the room during the day if there were only a few POC in there, and if there were a lot of POC then white people would look in, look alarmed, and leave? Yikes.

I wonder if there could be a rules list on the (shut) door next year, that says what the rules are for entering the space? And that anyone who didn't follow the rules would be reported to the concom and have some kind of consequences.
30th-May-2009 01:36 am (UTC) - Re: Safe Space for POCs
I wonder how many people actually know about the "Safe Space" concept? Or perhaps assumed it was a feminist "Safe Space" thing? Perhaps such signs need to be overly explicit: Safe Space for POCs, with a list of behavior rules.

It would be worth a try.
(Deleted comment)
30th-May-2009 01:51 am (UTC)
I'm giving my own impression, which was a little different than yours as you described it on Karnythia's post, but I'm not saying yours is not valid. I had encountered the author in question at a previous con and found her similarly uncommunicative (I'm white). And I sat down with that group for a bit, and there were two women talking quite a lot to each other, and a third who talked some to me, and then two who weren't talking at all, including that author. So I didn't see her as leading the group.

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(Deleted comment)
30th-May-2009 01:24 am (UTC)
Re your point 2: different or less formal manners are not necessarily the same as "bad" manners, though they can be read as such when people don't realize what's going on.

Example 1: You mention bringing a dish to share when you go to a house. In some groups, that's only polite. In others, that can be seen as implying the host is not able to provide for his/her guests, or disrupting a carefully prepared menu. (Caveat: I've never personally encountered or heard of a culture where it wasn't polite to bring *something*, but sometimes flowers or candy to be eaten later are more proper than a dish to share.

Example 2: In the northeast US, polite people hold open doors for anyone closely following them and crowd back in or step out the elevator to let someone else get out on an earlier floor. In the South, men open doors for women (which can involve sort of scurrying to get ahead into position to do so) and men let women out of elevators first. A Northern man expecting a woman walking ahead to open a door for him, can seem rude to a Southern woman; a Southern man rushing to open a door can seem interfering or patronizing to a Northern woman.

Less formal is not necessarily rude. On the other hand, treating people as exhibits is pretty much *always* rude as you say. Making an effort to include new people is polite; not doing so, especially in a situation where you're encountering old friends you don't see often, doesn't strike me as awfully rude. I would sort of expect Wiscon attendees to be more aware than most of recent controversies and why it might be particularly important to welcome new attendees this time, however.
30th-May-2009 01:41 am (UTC)
Less formal is not necessarily rude. On the other hand, treating people as exhibits is pretty much *always* rude as you say. Making an effort to include new people is polite; not doing so, especially in a situation where you're encountering old friends you don't see often, doesn't strike me as awfully rude. I would sort of expect Wiscon attendees to be more aware than most of recent controversies and why it might be particularly important to welcome new attendees this time, however.

Yes. However, to be honest, my experience of overt feminists has not always been the best when it comes to behavior and manners. Sadly, I'm not surprised by some of the reports.

I was not aware that people were using the safe space and POC parties as a staring gallery. That's not right. Period.
30th-May-2009 02:00 am (UTC)

A lot of women in science fiction and fantasy fandom had very rough adolescent and teen years, socially, and a lot of the weird coping mechanisms that we learn at that time can still govern our behavior even decades later. But awkward actions that are understandable and excusable in a shy 15-year-old are inappropriate and even offensive in someone who is operating from a position of power.

30th-May-2009 03:50 am (UTC)
A lot of women in science fiction and fantasy fandom had very rough adolescent and teen years, socially, and a lot of the weird coping mechanisms that we learn at that time can still govern our behavior even decades later.

This could also be reasonably applied to women of color who don't get the same leeway and presumption of innocence.

Edited at 2009-05-30 03:50 am (UTC)
30th-May-2009 02:30 am (UTC)
Speaking as someone who's shy and fairly antisocial, me showing up at that type of gathering would more than likely end up with me zooming in on whoever I know. Even if it was plainly clear who the hosts were, it'll be very unlikely for me to introduce myself(if a mutual friend introduced us that'll be one thing). I just don't go up and introduce myself to strangers.

Sometimes I am able to hit the 'polite business mode' where I'm able to smile, make eye contact, and say polite greeting type stuff. But when I'm doing that, it's..well, business. If the gathering is more relaxed, chances are I'd go into my anti-social scared as fuck mode and either slide into invisibility mode or cling to whoever I know.

So something that seemed very formal would likely work better in getting everyone on the same page.

I have no idea what Wiscon is like though. I'm very much used to large anime conventions, where it's simultaneously impossible to greet anyone but the people you know and easier to get into random conversations with people you don't know.

The impression I got from this situation is more of a smaller, party type thing, in which I would react in the way I mentioned above.

This whole thing gives me a little pause, cause I'm very used to not being noticed, and to be honest I'm a little alarmed at the fact that apparently people do pay attention and I'm probably not as invisible as I thought. Now that I'm aware that, uh, yes, people pay attention, I'd probably go out of my way to be more socially polite.

I probably should have figured this out earlier considering that I'm frequently the only asian in a room full of white people. I think I got so used to it that I forgot I do stand out. Unless I'm hiding behind someone. I am very short. you can't seeee me
30th-May-2009 03:13 am (UTC)
Well, in the particular context of this particular incident, I think awareness was heightened due to outside circumstances and previous interaction.

(Which is to say, generally, I don't think people are Examining Your Every Move.)
30th-May-2009 02:52 am (UTC)
You know, thinking about this more, it was probably very easy for people to fall into the mindset of 'yet another con party' when all they've attended were white dominated con parties. Not one with actual cultural and racial differences. And they reacted accordingly. I'm not sure what is the best way to show people that, hey, you can't react the same way you always have.
30th-May-2009 03:24 am (UTC)
Well, and the awareness that cons themselves have a culture is a useful thing. So less, "Your culture over mine," but, "Awareness of differences."

Which is probably what you said.
3rd-Jun-2009 02:42 am (UTC)
This post makes me profoundly uncomfortable.

I'll start off by saying I'm white and I'm female.

Back in the day, I attended some traditional SFF conventions. I never will, not ever again. Why would I pay good hard money to be ogled, groped, insulted, condescended to, and insulted?

Well, I wouldn't.

At the time, and since, I've heard that SFF is very welcoming to people with poor social skills. I've also heard things like "Criticizing people for lacking social skills doesn't seem productive to me, given that it's impossible to know how hard it is for another person to deal with social interaction, or what their training is in formal manners, or what their neurological and psychological challenges might be."

After a certain point, I think that if someone's lack of social skills hurts me--and the actions I experienced did indeed hurt me--then it is their responsibility to deal with them and if they cannot (for whatever reason) deal with them, then the social pressure of the group or the dominant leadership of the space should step in.

If the social group does not step in, they are choosing not to protect me. They are valuing the experience of the socially unskilled over my safety and well-being.

Certainly, it is the group's right to say: Adult men who experienced tough childhoods and were made fun of are having a rough time, so cut them some slack and ignore the boob grope.

It is also my right to say people who say this are jerks. And to refuse to play along.

When I read your post, all the comments I heard (along with the same kind of comments I heard about the Connie Willis incident and the other similar incidents over the part) echoed through my head.

PoC are saying: We got treated like we were in a zoo. SFF fandom responds, "But criticizing the socially awkward is wrong!"

Seems like exact same dynamic, exact same song and dance.
(Deleted comment)
3rd-Jun-2009 03:48 am (UTC)
Fixed link, thanks. And you're right - I laid my ideas out badly, and lost the key point. I do not think that staring at people or violating safe space is an issue of manners; it's racist and shouldn't be tolerated.

[edited to remove wusstastic passive voice]

Edited at 2009-06-03 03:52 am (UTC)
4th-Jun-2009 01:45 am (UTC)
I think the point is not what everyone who stared thought in their heart of hearts--whether it was "There's a weird POC" or "Is that the person who writes all that cool stuff on LJ?" It's that white people felt comfortable staring at people of color for whatever reason when they probably would have been aware of what they were doing with nonwhite people.

There are fewer true redheads in any large group than there are people of color, but most of the time white people do not stare at other white people with bright red hair.

I know I stared on at least one occasion due to mistaken identity, and got the idea the person was uncomfortable. I don't know if I would have done this if the person had been white, like me, but I think I might have started with more of a sense from the beginning that this wasn't cool rather than suddenly realizing what I was doing, even though I hyperfocus and sometimes find myself staring at all kinds of people.
5th-Jun-2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
look into aversive racism
4th-Jun-2009 02:00 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't even know how to identify the hosts of a party, unless they were wearing special badges or something.
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