Thursday, February 14, 2019

Being an ally isn't easy, and you'll probably screw it up, but you should do it anyway, here's why:

This blog post is probably going to be uncomfortable for some people, but this is where we are.

The year is 2019 and with a very vocal minority in the US reclaiming their white supremacy in a horrifying way, the time has come for the rest of us to really up our game. 

I'm going to work on the assumption that some of you don't know what being an ally is, at least as it's meant outside of military usage. The answer is both simple and complicated. At its root the term fits the dictionary definition: one that is associated with another as a helper : a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle (Merriam-Webster online dictionary) 

However, the term has come to mean more than that, or at least, what it takes to really be an ally versus simply calling yourself one, has gotten more complicated. 

If you have friends who are minorities of any variety, you probably consider yourself an ally, but how much are you actually doing to help their cause?

The thing is, most people think that not actively, intentionally, discriminating against a certain group of people makes them an ally, or at the very least it makes them not part of the problem, and that simply isn't true. Not intentionally harming people isn't the same thing as helping, and I think we all know this on a certain level but tend to forget it on the day to day.

For example, let's say I'm climbing a mountain with some friends.  We're all climbing along, struggling against the altitude, against how steep the incline is, blocking snow from our eyes, and suddenly, the person next to me slips, stumbles, and starts to fall. All I have to do to keep that person from falling to their death (and yes, it's that steep, and there is a cliff ledge waiting not far from the trail) is to reach out a hand to help steady my friend. I've got solid footing, and steadying them is not likely to harm me at all, though the effort might tire me out a bit. So, do I reach out a hand and steady them? Or do I watch them tumble sidelong off the mountain? I mean, I haven't done anything to them. I didn't cause their fall. I didn't push them. If they fall it's their own fault, they should have worn better shoes, really, and their pack seems weirdly overloaded and heavy, and there's always a chance they'll figure out a way to save themselves. Do I watch them fall and die? Or do I help? 

Obviously, I help. I don't know about you, but I would not be able to sleep at night if I didn't at least try to help, and I would feel fully responsible for my friend's death even though I technically didn't DO anything to cause it.

So, of course, this is an extreme example. I used mountain climbing, and life or death for a reason. It makes a really clear cut example of how "not hurting" someone isn't necessarily enough. Letting my friend fall is pretty close to killing them in this context, and that's important to recognize.

But now you might be saying, "Sure Virginia, letting my friend fall off of a mountain when I could have stopped it is bad, but how does that relate to being an ally? I'm not running around on weekends with a hood over my head beating up minorities, what more do you want me to do?" 

Right, so this is my point. Running around with a hood on your head isn't just watching someone fall, that's pushing them. Being a member of a white supremacist group is ACTIVE harm, no matter what you do when you get together with your white supremacist pals. I think most people recognize that much.

However, shouting "Racism is bad!" at people who wear white hoods on the weekend isn't exactly throwing a hand out to your falling friend either. That's more like shouting "look out for those rocks" at your friend who is already falling (or actually, it's more like shouting "Hey rocks, don't kill my friend!" after your friend is already falling). It's useless, and only shows a borderline understanding of the problem. 

The issue comes from the fact that racism in North America (and many other places, but I'm going to stick with what I know) is systemic, and it has been baked into the system since the first colonists arrived on the shores of what they decided to call the New World. A world that was actually already inhabited by many diverse populations spread out across the continent. We can call them indigenous peoples or first nations, but every time we lump them all together we lose a very important truth about the people who were already on this continent before any europeans arrived here; they consisted of multiple, varied cultures spread out across the continent that presented as much diversity those stretched out across Europe. But the Europeans who arrived here mostly viewed them as obstacles rather than people, didn't take the time to learn the differences between the groups of people, and they were systemically eradicated and displaced until they were no longer considered "a nuisance." 

And as if that weren't bad enough, the same europeans then decided that the most efficient way to succeed with their newly stolen land would be to steal a bunch of humans from a different part of the world and force them to work the land for them. 

And THEN the people responsible for all of those things set up a government and judicial system that made it incredibly difficult/impossible for any of the people who had been killed, displaced, and enslaved to ever escape what was done to them. 

Many of you may be saying to your computer screen, "Sure, but then the civil war in the 1800s and then civil rights movement in the 1960s happened and everything was fixed, right?"

Oh, if only that were true. Certainly the civil war put an end to slavery (more or less) and the civil rights movement in the US in the 60s made a lot of progress for minorities in the US. In fact it made so much progress that most white people decided they could safely clap themselves on the back and declare the country, "not racist anymore." But it is in fact, still quite racist despite all the progress that has been made so far, it is only less overt.

I should mention here that I am neither an historian nor a civil rights expert, so if you want to dig deeper into these issues I suggest you do your own research. For now, I am going to focus on the ways in which the US is still racist and what you can do to help.

There are so many ways that the US is still racist that I don't think I could address them all in one blog post, and indeed, I learn about more of them every day, so I wouldn't presume to be able to list them all. So we'll start with the biggest ones. 

The US Justice System is racist. Don't believe me? Please read the following articles written by far more knowledgeable people than me: this one is a report published by the United Nations in April of 2018. Or take a look at this report by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality that addresses incarceration along with MANY other points of discrimination in the US. 

In addition to the Stanford report, Harvard published a report indicating that racism in hiring processes has not decreased in 20 years (and yes, it existed at a detrimental level 20 years ago). 

I mention all of these reports because I often talk to fellow white people who don't believe that systemic racism exists and often ask me for sources. When I try to list all of the people of color that I've talked with (or exchanged text with via the internet) who have told me about their personal experiences with racism, the white people asking for sources often dismiss them stating that just because someone "feels" that they were discriminated against, doesn't mean that they actually were. 

To which I want to reply:

First of all, yes, feeling discriminated against is a huge part of discrimination, and not listening to people's accounts of the times they've been discriminated against just adds to the pain. (And no, it doesn't mean that every time someone was mean to you, you were discriminated against. This seems to be the thing that white people often struggle with the most, because most of us have so little experience actual discrimination. Power dynamic plays a huge role in discrimination. People can be mean to you in any power dynamic and that sucks, but it's not discrimination unless you are in a less powerful position.) This is where your friend on the mountainside starts slipping and instead of a reaching out a hand you say, "I dunno, doesn't look like you're falling to me. Are you sure that you're falling?" Not helpful. In fact, harmful.

Or, I also hear, "Well, I've never seen anyone being discriminated against." Right... so, there are two options here. One, you don't know what to look for because YOU'VE never been discriminated against, or two, you only interact with people who look just like you and so you've never seen racism in action.

And look, it took me a long-assed time to realize what modern, socially acceptable racism (and sexism, ableism, LGBT+ phobias) look like. I did not pop out of the womb woke AF and calling everyone out on their racism, their complicity, and their bullshit. Whooo boy, no I did not. I'm lucky that I wasn't indoctrinated into any hardcore hate groups as a kid (not even the ones masquerading as major religions), but I grew up surrounded by all the socially acceptable forms of racism, sexism, ableism, etc., that saturate our world, and I didn't know how steeped in it I was until I started to crawl my way out. So, if you are just now noticing that all is not as it should be, that the US isn't the land of equality that we've all been lead to believe it was since grade school... Don't feel too bad. History is written by the victor and in our society that meant it was written by old white dudes for a very long time. We are just now starting to change that, and honestly, a huge part of the reason that more of us realize how screwed up everything is, is thanks to the internet. The fact that we don't get all of our information directly from our family, coworkers, neighbors, and the local newspaper, has a huge impact on our worldview. But, if you still don't look farther than cable TV, or websites that you already agree with, for your worldview, then you might be missing something (or everything, YMMV). 

The truth is, it takes a lot of work to see past our own privilege (be that racial privilege, socio-economic privilege, heteronormative-privilege, or any other kind) and it's ok if you're just starting to do that work, or if you didn't realize that you needed to do that work but are planning to start now. The key thing is that you are starting to understand, and you are making an effort. 

Being an ally is hard, and it is constant work. There will almost always be a cultural minority that you don't know about, that our society has likely exploited at one time or another, and which you may be inadvertently harming with your actions or words, that you will need to learn about and try to fix. (For example please see the Romani Genocide and the racism the Romani people still face daily.) Unfortunately, if you are a white person in North America, you likely come from a long line of people who have never had to overcome the same obstacles as the minorities around them, and who may well have directly benefited from (and certainly indirectly benefited from) the oppression of others. Does that mean that your life, or your ancestors' lives weren't hard? Not at all. It just means that whatever made your life, or your ancestors' lives hard, wasn't your physical appearance. Wasn't something you couldn't change or hide in order to be treated the same as everyone else. Wasn't, in short, your race. And look, it's not your fault that the system is unfair, you didn't push your friend off that cliff after all. But once you see them falling, once you know that there IS a cliff and that they might fall over the edge if you don't put out your hand, why wouldn't you put your hand out? 

So, now that you see that the system is flawed, why wouldn't you try to help correct it? 

How, you ask? Well, that's complicated, and a single person can only do so much. You can start by listening to the people already in your life. When someone you know tells you about an experience they have had, listen to them. When your black friend tells you they were harassed by a cop, believe them. When your gay friend tells you they were called names at school or work, believe them. Whe your female coworker tells you she's tired of having her colleagues ignore her contributions, believe her. When your friend in a wheel chair explains that it takes them 10 times as long to get their errands run because of lack of accessible facilities in your town, believe them. And then, if it seems appropriate, ask how you can help. Remember it's not about you. It's not about how you can be a hero, it's about how you can make things a little bit less crappy for the people that the system doesn't support. 

It's also about calling people out on their bullshit when it's safe for you to do so. If you hear someone making a racist, sexist, homophobic, or ableist joke, call them out on it (if you can do so without endangering yourself). Even if there is no one around who finds the joke offensive (aside from you), allowing people to make those comments without repercussions is part of not holding out your hand to your falling friend. It's a small pebble under your friend's foot that might contribute to them slipping later, might twist their ankle as they go down, or might just get inside their boot and cause a blister, but no matter what, it hurts.

You don't have to fix everything (you can't even if you tried) and you don't have to pick your friend up and carry them to the top of the mountain (no one is asking you to do that) but you can and should reach your hand out to keep them from falling, ask them if they are ok, offer them some water, and ask if you can do anything else. Remember it's not about you.

And let's be honest, you might (probably will) slip up now and again. Humans aren't perfect and you're human. Also, it's impossible to learn everything at once. You don't go from "everything is fine" to "I understand every nuance of race and discrimination in the United States" overnight, or even over a decade. It's continual learning, constant discomfort, and yeah, a fair bit of worrying about how much of an asshole you unknowingly used to be. (I lie awake nights thinking about this sometimes.) But ultimately, the best thing you can do (the only thing you can do) is try to do better every day, and above all, be willing to listen. And maybe, if we all work together, we can not only get to the top of this mountain but build a nice wide path that lets everybody come on up and take a good look at the view. 

Notes: If you're wondering why I include so many additional forms of discrimination besides racism in this blog post, it's because I have found that being an ally for one marginalized group tends to lead to being an ally for all of them. The more we open our eyes to one form of injustice the less blind we become to all other forms of injustice. For me it started with sexism (the injustice that affected me most directly) and reached outward to racism, LGBTQIA discrimination, ableism, body type discrimination and... so much more. I should also point out that I haven't touched much on the racism directed at first nations people, especially here in Canada (where I currently reside) but that is only because I felt the scope of this blog was already escaping my abilities to write cohesively. It is a major concern that could easily encompass its own blog post (or a few hundred volumes of text). 

Friday, February 1, 2019

Victoria Marmot Book Four is delayed, but a winner is YOU!

So, some big updates. Victoria Marmot Book Four is delayed. I was half way through the rewrite when I realized that I was going to have to scrap almost 50% of the text to write the book it actually needed to be rather than the book I was forcing it to be. Oh well. It's a bummer to have to do that when I was already so far behind that I had no room left for error, but so be it. I want the book to be the best it can be. This series is supposed to be my fast-paced, whimsical series, but I still want it to be... a high quality version of fast-paced and whimsical. So, here we are. I will try to have the book ready by the middle of the month, but it might be more like the end of February. Le sigh...

Still, it does have a shiny new cover, and I am pleased to share it with you today!

I'm very excited about the cover for Book Four, and I hope you are too. What do you think?

Meanwhile, book four may not be ready yet, but in preparation for its release I have a bunch of fun giveaways for you. Actually, I have SO MANY giveaways set up for this month, that I am going to list them all here so you can find them all in one tidy place.

Where to start? 

1. Well, I suppose we'll start with over 30 fantasy books that you can get FOR FREE! One or two of the titles require you to sign up for the author's e-mail list, but many of them don't (and you get to pick and choose which titles you want). Included in the giveaway is... Victoria Marmot and the Meddling Goddess! So, if you've been tempted to start the series, but are low on cash, or just weren't sure if you would like it, the price of trying it out has never been better. As you can see from the illustration this giveaway lasts ALL MONTH, so you have plenty of time to check it out.

2. From now until February 5th you can enter the contest below for a chance to win over 20 excellent fantasy books (including Blade's Edge) AND a brand new eReader. Just follow some authors on BookBub to gain entries.

4. All February long, you can enter to win a brand new Kindle Paperwhite by signing up to a few authors' newsletters. (I use a kindle paperwhite for all of my ereading needs, it's awesome.)

5. From February 11th to 17th you'll be able to find approximately one hundred FREE fantasy and science fiction titles at this link

I think that's all of them, if I find I've missed any I'll come back and add them. Note that some of these links are time sensitive and they won't work until the dates listed in their images/descriptions, or they will redirect to a placeholder in the meantime. If you like receiving info on these kinds of giveaways you might consider signing up for my mailing list, as I generally share them all there every few weeks, and I don't always remember to cross-post them to the blog. Anyway, I hope you're able to collect a few good reads for February, and don't forget to pick up a copy of Victoria Marmot and the Meddling Goddess, so you can read the first three books before book four comes out by the end of the month! I'm off to go dive back into my book four revisions.

Happy reading!