facetofcathy: four equal blocks of purple and orange shades with a rusty orange block centred on top (Default)
[personal profile] facetofcathy

That's the question going around about That J2 Haiti Fic®.  I'm taking a stab at answering it. 

A few points first.

1.  The following is my opinion, and I don't think any of this is revelatory or particularly hopeful. I think it needs to be said in plain language, and I'm not pulling any punches here.  I don't think the author's feelings warrant much consideration at this time.

2.  I haven't read all of the fic.  I'm not apologizing for that, nor do I think that fact negates my right to say what follows.  I read the opening scenes, skimmed sections, and I read half of the pull quotes collected by bossymarmalade here.  I cannot be directly hurt by this story.  I am in a position of privilege that allows me to read things this dreadful and not be harmed, and still I could not force myself to read all the pull quotes.  I do not believe that this story is merely a mistake, a poor choice, a bad idea or even a series of bad ideas.  It is offensive in concept and in execution. 

3.  I'm pretty much setting aside the author is dead idea for this post.  I'm not claiming to be able to see inside this particular author's mind, but I am stating bluntly what I believe are the prerequisites for the existence of this story. 

4.  I absolutely believe that the author did not know this story was offensive.  I absolutely believe that the author did not know they wrote racist depictions of Haitian people.  I absolutely believe the artist did not realize that using pictures of Haitian people was offensive.  I absolutely believe that the artist did not know that was a racist act.  I just don't think any of that matters.

How? How could anyone?

First and primarily: in order for this story to exist, a person has to be able to sit down in front of the television, watch graphic depictions of horrific tragedy, destruction, pain and death, and react as if they are watching a drama unfold for their enjoyment.  Like it's a story not very different from the fight against the apocalypse on the next channel over.  Infotainment.  Emoporn.  Nothing more.  There has to be a disconnect between the viewer and the scenes they view, a dulling or total dissolution of empathy for the people harmed in favour of the thrill of watching events unfold in real time.  The viewer has to be self-centred.  The most important element of the event for them is their emotional response to the images they see on the screen, not the event itself. 

There's lots of parts, both within and without an individual, that make up the whole of that initial response to a natural disaster that claims thousands of lives and devastates a nation.  White privilege certainly helps with the lowered empathy and the self-centred thing.  CNN thrives on this response.  Literally.  Their profit depends on large numbers of viewers wanting to view their programming passively and uncritically and see Anderson Cooper as the focus, not the stories he covers.  A cultural devaluation of critical thinking doesn't hurt either.  Racism is key.  Racist images, rhetoric and media that devalues and dehumanizes People of Colour is the crucial thing that lets you look at scenes of devastation and see, not people like you, but some other thing altogether.

Secondly and with roots similar to the primary prerequisite: a place like Haiti has to be unreal to the viewer before the specific images are ever seen.  Racism, ethnocentrism, American imperialism, colonialism--centuries of all of those foundations of white privilege have made much of the world into a vague and ill-defined elsewhere that has no meaning or relevance to the viewer.  In this way, Haiti becomes a stage of conveniently placed, or rearranged, rubble that has no history, no culture, no significance or reality outside the story. 

Thirdly: poor People of Colour  must be seen as noble but foolish, ignorant as well as stoic, simple and lesser but still mysteriously different.  They are--well, them.  Not anything at all like the white protagonists.  They become thin stereotypes who speak some infantalised form of Creole and broken English, but not French. Never French.  And the white characters who dance on their graves find their good white French unusable in this strange other world. 

And finally: in order for that initial response to become part of a story, to become this story, it is necessary for there to be an overwhelming history in literature and film of stories told only from the white point of view.  The people and location make up an exoticized background, plot device, thematic colouring, but are never the focus.  Never the point.  There are rarely stories about Haiti and Haitian heroes out where they can be consumed by the massses.  Even when mass-media stories are not this egregiously formed, they still make up a part of the whole of the single story.  The white story.

It's possible, if you can achieve a little dispassion about this (white privilege helps with that too), to see what a person gains by the above responses to this and similar events.  There's a comfort in simplifying the human suffering from random earthquakes, systemic racism and inequalities, the culpability of the US and the rest of the wealthy, white-dominated nations into nothing more than a stage with players upon it.  There's a relief in giving up the analysis and the history and the critical thinking.  Giving up responsibility.  Focusing on yourself.  And I don't think I'm immune to any of the influences that led to this story.  I don't think I have any purity of heart or mind or thought on this front.

This story doesn't actually deserve that bitter, tongue in cheek trademarked name I gave it up above, because it's not unique.  It is not unique to  J2 fandom, slash fandom, SPN fandom or to fandom in general.  It is not an artifact just of fandom, but of the world at large.  I don't think it's even a uniquely bad example of the genre it makes up a part of.  I do think it is a foreseeable outcome of what happens when white people in wealthy nations choose to selfishly indulge their privilege and passively consume the reality of the rest of humanity as entertainment.

That's how I think they could.  That's how I think anyone could.

Here via the network.

Date: 2010-06-15 06:45 pm (UTC)
devilc: Jupiter in her wedding tiara with the word "imagine" (Default)
From: [personal profile] devilc
That's how I think they could. That's how I think anyone could.

"You've got to be carefully taught."

Thank you for spelling out all the ways that white Americans are carefully taught what I call "everyday racism".

Date: 2010-06-15 08:21 pm (UTC)
devohoneybee: (blue dragon closer up)
From: [personal profile] devohoneybee
I contrast this event with what was then a discussion in Highlander fandom (I was aware of it on the ROG-L, a Methos-centric listserv)about setting stories in New York after 9/11. I recall a general hesitancy about it, that was well appreciated by people like myself who were living there at the time. I also recall the New York times doing a short biography on EVERY SINGLE PERSON who died in the World Trade Towers. There was a profound sense of the individuality of each person's story, and tragedy. Where are the stories from individual Haitians' point of view? Why aren't the newspapers looking for those? I did hear one NPR story about a Haitian woman who sells produce she had been procuring in the Dominican Republic, and how her business was affected, and what interesting things she was doing to cope. I also saw a piece on Haitian children and their kite-making tradition, a comment on resiliency. That's... not very much, though of course there may have been stories I've missed. But yeah, poor Black folks in another part of the world? Not treated the same. I think this attitude affected the response to Katrina, as well...

Date: 2010-06-17 03:24 pm (UTC)
acrimonyastraea: Fang from Final Fantasy 13 (Fang)
From: [personal profile] acrimonyastraea
I've also noticed that when a disaster happens in a majority white (or perceived majority white) area, there is a focus on how the community is rallying to work together to help each other whereas in reas that are majority POC, there is a stronger focus on how the people are relying on outside help, any kind of (again, perceived) chaos or disorder is magnified times a hundred to make it look like the victims are helpless and even contributing to the problem.

I live in a very white town in the US, two years after Katrina we had a major flood. Days into it someone (I think the Governor) made a statement about how it demonstrated what a great community we have that things were handled smoothly without any violence and how people were so willing tho help each other out. It was obviously a comparison with New Orleans, even though our flood was nowhere near that level of disaster.

Date: 2010-06-18 09:00 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
No, that's not racism. That's a reflection of the New York Times believing that everyone in the entire world must worship New York City (they didn't do a piece on only white people who died, did they?). I've never seen them make even a cursory attempt at humanizing any story that happens in another part of the US, regardless of the ethnicity of those affected.

Date: 2010-06-15 09:06 pm (UTC)
nicole_anell: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nicole_anell
Great post. This idea was wandering around half-formed in my head since I saw the fic in question, but you said it so eloquently.

Date: 2010-06-16 01:26 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] tevere
Here via my network.

Thank you for this. I think you're spot on, especially with this:

I do think it is a foreseeable outcome of what happens when white people in wealthy nations choose to selfishly indulge their privilege and passively consume the reality of the rest of humanity as entertainment.

Date: 2010-06-16 05:33 am (UTC)
surpassingly: (scene: the color of dusk)
From: [personal profile] surpassingly
Brilliant post. Thank you for this.

Date: 2010-06-16 06:04 am (UTC)
annakovsky: (Default)
From: [personal profile] annakovsky
This is a fantastic post. Thank you.

[also here via network]

Date: 2010-06-16 06:29 am (UTC)
gelasius: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gelasius
In order for this to exist, there has to be... a lot of these things that do actually exist as a standard in White USA popular culture. Very well said, thank you.

Date: 2010-06-16 07:38 am (UTC)
amazonziti: gina torres looking gorgeous (Default)
From: [personal profile] amazonziti
Hi! I just wanted to let you know I've got a signal-boost/roundup post here and I've linked to this post. If you'd rather I not link just let me know and I'll take it down.

That being said, I found this to be really insightful without... how do I put this?... without wasting empathy on the author. (Her personal feelings about all of this are so far from my first concern! So far!) I found this to be a really refreshing reality check, a reminder that this author didn't emerge fully-grown from anyone's head this way, that this whole thing is not so much about her as about the culture and the mindset she represents, and to focus too much on her specifically is to lose sight of the real issue.

Thanks for this.

Date: 2010-06-16 08:50 am (UTC)
seperis: (Default)
From: [personal profile] seperis
Thank you for the breakdown on exactly what was wrong with how this story was created as well as the story itself. I hadn't gotten far enough to think of it as part of culture and how Haiti is presented in the media in quite these terms.

Date: 2010-06-16 09:58 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
They become thin stereotypes who speak some infantalised form of Creole and broken English, but not French. Never French. And the white characters who dance on their graves find their good white French unusable in this strange other world.

This makes me think the writer doesn't even know French. I'm a white European non-native speaker of French who've lived in three different French speaking African countries and at no time have I ever had a hard time understanding any of the natives. On the contrary, it's easier to understand non-France French because the language rhythm is slower and the tonality is less pronounced. French language snobs considers everything spoken outside of Paris to be patois, but any insight in linguistics at all will reveal that Creole is very much a language unto its own, not some strange gibberish.

When I lived in the US and people heard me speak my native tongue, most of them thought it was French and immediately started fawning all over me. I don't understand the notion that French is some sort of posh white wonder. Then again, I faked my accent (which is a mutt hybrid of everywhere) to a nice RP English accent in half my college classes and guess what? I got a higher grade in those classes than I did in the other half -- apparently speaking British English makes me smahteh.

Date: 2010-06-17 04:52 pm (UTC)
lady_ganesh: A Clue card featuring Miss Scarlett. (Default)
From: [personal profile] lady_ganesh
This is really fascinating. Thanks for your insight.

Date: 2010-06-16 12:04 pm (UTC)
secondsilk: Scott from Strictly Ballroom, caught at the end of the turn, arms raised. (Default)
From: [personal profile] secondsilk
Thank you for this post, for so straightforwardly presenting what works like this come out of.

Date: 2010-06-16 03:50 pm (UTC)
sophinisba: Gwen looking sexy from Merlin season 2 promo pics (gwen by infinitesunrise)
From: [personal profile] sophinisba
Thank you for saying this.

Date: 2010-06-16 07:05 pm (UTC)
rhivolution: David Tennant does the Thinker (Default)
From: [personal profile] rhivolution
I think you're saying some really important things here. Thank you. Will be linking later.

Date: 2010-06-16 07:17 pm (UTC)
ted: (sat)
From: [personal profile] ted
Thank you for this post.

Date: 2010-06-16 08:24 pm (UTC)
coffeeandink: (Default)
From: [personal profile] coffeeandink
I like the way you lay this out.

Date: 2010-06-16 08:59 pm (UTC)
vehemently: (Default)
From: [personal profile] vehemently
Oh, thank you, this is basically what I was mulling over today. Like, there is "don't bother me with facts my mind is made up" and then there is the layers and layers of emotional blunting and avoidance required to get to the final product.

Date: 2010-06-16 10:16 pm (UTC)
tielan: (race)
From: [personal profile] tielan
It is not an artifact just of fandom, but of the world at large.

Thanks for posting this. Some people seem to be missing the point that the problem isn't just this fan, or her circle of supporters, or SPN J2 fandom, or even SPN fandom. It's them and it's everyone else in fandom who doesn't think about these kinds of things, isn't aware, and doesn't have anyone to slap them out of their insensitivity.

Date: 2010-06-16 11:00 pm (UTC)
evieeros: carebear with hufflepuff symbol on its belly (Default)
From: [personal profile] evieeros
Hey, I just wanted to say THANKS for writing this. I bookmarked it and several of your links under my "white privilege" tab.

I told a therapist years ago that I felt guilty for being white, well-off, stable family and home life, great spouse, smart, excellent private college, private schools, best education, able to do whatever I wanted in life, healthy (at the time)... in the years since I've learned it's not about feeling guilty for those things but about appreciating them and realizing how they affect your worldview and how other's might be different and affect theirs.

Date: 2010-06-16 11:10 pm (UTC)
allchildren: amelie poulain (▭ a few small repairs)
From: [personal profile] allchildren
This is a great post, and I'll be linking.

Date: 2010-06-16 11:10 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Excellent points. Very well said.

Teleen (I know that I have a dreamwidth account, but I can't remember it right now, I apologize.)

Date: 2010-06-16 11:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tanndell.livejournal.com
Fantastic. Just a wonderful reasoned post that spells out everything that's wrong with the way media packages and sells real and terrible tragedies to a distant and privileges populace, and how they respond to it.
As someone in the profession (not in America, but sadly the situation is echoed across the world) the number of times I have been told as a reporter that we need 'human interest pieces'!
Not just racism (of the kind that inspired this piece), but almost every other kind of discrimination is casually doled out in bite size pieces and that will never be ok!

Date: 2010-06-17 12:43 am (UTC)
amonitrate: (Default)
From: [personal profile] amonitrate
here via links and thank you for this post and its clarity and context.

Date: 2010-06-17 03:29 am (UTC)
ext_22293: (flying is like this)
From: [identity profile] anjali-organna.livejournal.com
THANK YOU so much for this post. Will definitely be linking to this.

Date: 2010-06-17 03:53 am (UTC)
tanyad: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tanyad
Thank you so much for this post! Here courtesy of [profile] rhipowered Going to link to this as one of the best dissections of privilege and the ways in which it can horribly awry.

Edited Date: 2010-06-17 11:28 am (UTC)

Date: 2010-06-17 04:04 am (UTC)
oliviacirce: (Default)
From: [personal profile] oliviacirce
Oh god, this is so right. I'm too exhausted to contribute anything of substance, but thank you so much for making this post; it really needed to be said.

Date: 2010-06-17 04:52 am (UTC)
emme: they only want to help (Sikozu)
From: [personal profile] emme
Very well said and thank you.

Date: 2010-06-17 06:41 am (UTC)
minim_calibre: (Default)
From: [personal profile] minim_calibre
Wonderfully stated. It makes clear a lot of things I've been unable to properly articulate about this, but have had bubbling around in my brain.

Date: 2010-06-17 03:03 pm (UTC)
moodswinger: (Default)
From: [personal profile] moodswinger
Very well said, thank you.

Here via Metafandom

Date: 2010-06-17 03:08 pm (UTC)
acrimonyastraea: Fang from Final Fantasy 13 (Fang)
From: [personal profile] acrimonyastraea
Great post, these are all great points. I think that those of us who are white need to acknowledge that we are part of a culture that creates these kinds of stories and as you said, it's not fandom, it's not J2 or SPN. It's not OMG unthinkable! that anyone would write this. Our entertainment is full of similar stuff that doesn't even get this level of outrage in response.

Date: 2010-06-17 03:14 pm (UTC)
berry: (the heart should rule the head)
From: [personal profile] berry
thanks for such an articulate post.

Date: 2010-06-17 03:21 pm (UTC)
meri_oddities: default - Woman looking out a window (Default)
From: [personal profile] meri_oddities
I got here via [livejournal.com profile] metafandom, but really, I should be subscribing to you.

a person has to be able to sit down in front of the television, watch graphic depictions of horrific tragedy, destruction, pain and death, and react as if they are watching a drama unfold for their enjoyment.

I was running this morning, trying to figure this out. I've been playing this scenario over and over in my head: What was she thinking. To me, it just didn't make any sense that she could not know how devastated Hatti is right now and will be for literally years to come. How could she not know that people are still dying?

And of course, you've answered that very well. And I thank you for that because you put it very succinctly, better than I ever could. Well done.

Date: 2010-06-17 04:53 pm (UTC)
lady_ganesh: A Clue card featuring Miss Scarlett. (tea)
From: [personal profile] lady_ganesh
This is a great post. Thanks for laying it all out so clearly.

Date: 2010-06-18 12:37 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I do think it is a foreseeable outcome of what happens when white people in wealthy nations choose to selfishly indulge their privilege and passively consume the reality of the rest of humanity as entertainment.

Yes, this, and that's really elegantly put. I think the question is so very much "how could she" but "how couldn't she," because she's reflecting really ingrained Western views of the world. For me it's the Slumdog Millionaire syndrome, where a happy ending makes all the rest of the suffering of the (ethnically other) millions all right, award-worthy, and without irony "absolutely amazingly wonderful" according to the DVD jacket. Her story (and I did read it all) was a classic Hollywood narrative, not even poorly written by those standards.

And we're all complicit in that. I think we choose to be educated otherwise, but that attitude you describe is very much the default.

Date: 2010-06-18 07:18 pm (UTC)
wembley: Revamped version of my very first LJ icon. It's of Wembley Fraggle. (mohinder bandage)
From: [personal profile] wembley
That's how I think they could. That's how I think anyone could.

Absolutely. Thank you for writing this.

Date: 2010-06-18 11:09 pm (UTC)
vikki: (Default)
From: [personal profile] vikki
This is great, and precisely what I think fandom needs to hear. We're all culpable. Society is culpable. And it is our responsibility to make it safe for anyone to point out where we fall down and operate out of a sense of privileged security.

half_vulcan on Live journal I am not anon

Date: 2010-06-19 03:34 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
After reading your eloquent and well thought out piece on institutionalized racism. I have had to rethink my position on this issue and reevaluate if perhaps I am a racist and I am a person of color. I did not have the knee jerk reaction everyone else did. I thought the author should not have gone for the Patois she was reaching for and perhaps pulled out a French translator but to tell you the truth, I speak French and several other languages and Haitian French is not French from France. It is a slang and difficult for someone who speaks classical French to understand.

My initial response was that the author was uninformed, probably young, and had NO clue what a faux pas she had made. I felt that after she had been informed and apologized the issue should have been laid to rest. At least with her. If people want to continue their discourse on race relations and American Imperialism that is fine but to crucify someone in the forum of public opinion like is being done with this girl was wrong to me. Some of the hateful things and threats being tossed around are just not right. Not for her having written a racially skewed story. And I know it may seem that everyone that comes from a position of privilege abuses it but that is not true either. My family is wealthy and I have never used being Black or being wealthy to hurt anyone.

After having read your comment and the comments of others, I was directed here from LJ. I have come to see that perhaps I am Black but I was raised "White". I have been in a position of entitlement for my whole life. Private schools, all white neighborhoods, best education money could provide and I did not feel anything like what you and many others did when I read that story except that the dialect was killing me.

I have a unique worldview because my mother is White and my father is Black. My parents married when interracial marriage was illegal in most states. I have been put out of "White Only" establishments with my White mother who was dragging around her half breed child.

I have never felt hatred for either race or any race or group of people. I don't know what that must feel like. I cannot even imagine it. It was my experience that I was treated better in the White community because Black people condemned me for having lighter skin and straight hair, speaking English differently and living in a different neighborhood. That is kind of racism and classicism at the same time.

So, knowing that I hope you can see why I felt sympathetic towards this author. I don't know how I feel now. It is difficult because in my head I can see both positions so clearly and I agree with both. Not all of both but a lot of both sides. I think if my discussion and exposure to this issue had started here I might have a stronger leaning but where I started reading things were off the chain ugly. It was a stoning, crucifixion and a witch hunt, a crusade if you will and I felt compelled to defend the author in that situation.

Here I have seen and been educated to why people feel the way they do and why perhaps their reaction was so violent. Perhaps I am cut off from feeling racism as much because of my financial situation or I am jaded and accepting of the status quo. Or perhaps I am just accustomed to racism so I don't even react when I see it. I don't know. I do know that I learned a lot here and I am grateful for that. I will have to continue to seek answers and ask myself why I feel or don't feel the way I do. Thank you for contributing to my knowledge base. feel free to PM me on live journal to respond.

Re: half_vulcan on Live journal I am not anon

Date: 2010-06-22 11:45 pm (UTC)
skywardprodigal: Beautiful seated woman, laughing, in Vlisco. (Default)
From: [personal profile] skywardprodigal
if perhaps I am a racist and I am a person of color.

White supremacy isn't just for white people. It's a jealous and demanding god if you will, and it takes its worshippers by stealth.

Creoles are languages. Haitian Creole is a language. I won't go into it with you now, to any detail, but you may wish to look at Bastard Tongues for a rough overview.

If you are not already familiar with the terms 'internalized racism' and micro-assaults, you may wish to look into them. They may be helpful. They may not.

Many people are the children of people for whom it was illegal to marry. Even so, they managed. You're probably not the first person whose family/ies' wealth cushioned them from dealing with racism. Money can help. Money can be very useful.

Long life and good health to you.


Date: 2010-06-20 08:27 am (UTC)
fakeplasticsnow: (Default)
From: [personal profile] fakeplasticsnow
Very true, and well-said.

Date: 2010-06-21 06:56 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] teleen_fiction
I just wanted to let you know that I linked this post here:


If that's not okay, please let me know and I'll remove it immediately.

Thanks for your thoughts on this - they really made me think.

Date: 2012-08-21 05:44 am (UTC)
night_reveals: (Default)
From: [personal profile] night_reveals
I've never read the fic in question, nor am I in SPN J2. I trawled FandomLore and randomly found this issue. And here I am.

I'm so grateful that you (and other commentators) have left these posts up, because they've really drawn my attention to potentially problematic things that *I'm* writing or have written.

It makes me so sad and angry at myself to realize that I am a racist, too. That at the end of the day I'm indelibly a product of my middle-class, white-passing American upbringing, much as this author is a product of her (presumably similar) upbringing.

However, I hope I can be better, in both my writing, my fandom interactions, and my life choices. So thanks, again, for leaving this up for me to learn from. I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.



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