03 January 2020

Bad Character

I think perhaps — just perhaps — the best rejoinder to the RWA foofery of late is some good writing and rhetoric from half a century ago. Beginning in Medea res (all puns intended… and, sadly, relevant; one of the benefits of a classical education):

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating for whites only. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

*  *  *  *

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream (post-speech transcript, 28 Aug 1963) (audience interjections omitted, some typography corrected). Ms Tisdale et al., this is historically authentic use of, and source material for, now-disfavored language and concepts — not unguided "research" into tertiary-at-best, undocumented, noncontemporaneous source material (that may not even be in the target language).

Application to each of the following is left as an exercise for the student… or the writer:

  • The struggle of other ethnic groups than that referred to by a member thereof as "Negroes" fifty-odd years ago for recognition and appropriate treatment in contemporary rhetoric, not limited to category fiction
  • The struggle of disfavored groups other than those defined purely by ethnicity, such as LGBTQ and Jews and Muslims, for recognition and appropriate treatment in contemporary rhetoric, not limited to category fiction
  • The struggle of not-currently-recognized/defined but nonetheless disfavored groups, such as "real science nerds" and "social justice warriors," for recognition and appropriate treatment in contemporary rhetoric, not limited to category fiction
  • Outliers within disfavored groups and individuals at the intersection of multiple disfavored groups, such as mixed-race Chinese-American female lawyers who no longer practice law because they were disenchanted by a hostile work environment
  • The struggle of category romance qua a category against New York commercial-publishing-and-distribution preconceptions (established almost entirely by trust-fund and upper- and upper-middle-class white folk… in the 1960s)
  • The struggle of other disfavored forms/categories of writing against those same preconceptions
  • #MeToo

Dr King's point was that eliminating one form of bullying isn't enough if it's replaced by other bullying; that judgment is about individuals and not lazily/easily defined groups that perhaps share a characteristic (voluntary or otherwise) but are inherently diverse within themselves. In a more-abstract sense, having been a victim of bigotry on axis x does not excuse acting as a bigot (or even just a jerk advancing one's own commercial self-interest) on axis y, no matter what those axes are. And that Dr King was himself fallible and imperfect provides no excuse either.

Or, I suppose, the purported "leadership" in the romance community (not limited to RWA staff and board members!) could just continue to prove that writing and/or publishing romance fiction — overwhelmingly, at present, read by women — doesn't keep one from acting like a dick.