Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Query Kombat & NoQS Announcement

Hey all! I know it seems a little early, but I've got an announcement for you all about the Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query Street contests. Because of my advocacy for the Write Inclusively campaign, Michelle and Mike have decided to remove me from the position of co-host. I will no longer be co-hosting either of these contests, and any other contest with them.

Let me talk to you about the history of Query Kombat, the contest that sparked our three years of contest hosting.

About three years ago, I ran the "Become an Agent" contest, and it went successfully. Mike, seeing that I had run a contest, then approached me with an amazing idea: Query Kombat. I was on board, and excited, and we thought we needed another person to co-host. I was friends with Michelle before this, and so I invited her to be our third co-host. From this, Michelle has gone on to do truly amazing things as a contest host and has built a huge platform in the online writing world.

I also want to present their reasoning for removing me from the team. It is crucial that we understand why this happened, and also to realize that understanding does not mean acceptance.

In their words, my "passion for the Write Inclusively campaign may be unsettling or uncomfortable for people who don't write from the POV of ethnic characters, or who don't portray ethnic characters as 'honestly' as you would like."

I am furious, upset, hurt...but not surprised. I've been studying the intricacies of racism in an academic setting for a long time, and I quite expected something to happen like this. From my friends, though, maybe not.

I want to pick apart their argument and hopefully turn it into a teaching moment for you, readers and writers in the community.

Was I angry on social media?

By "passion", Mike and Michelle were probably referring to my zeal on Twitter and even on this blog around the issues of police brutality, tokenization within literature and the We Need Diverse Books campaign, cultural appropriation, white supremacy, the difference in reaction between a white terrorist and a brown terrorist, and more.

Yes. I got upset many times at recent events that have taken place. And I was about to apologize, think that, "maybe I could have been more peaceful and calm." It is with further thought that I realized that I have no need to apologize.

As a brown non-black person of color, I am deeply and personally upset with the current state of racism in this country. And I am expected to remain calm.

I have seen authors go in Twitter fury storms over, literally, a night of bad sleep. And I've seen the community support and empathize with them.

I am upset and furious about black and brown deaths. The community's actions have shown that this topic is something the writing community, as a whole, simply does not care about. It is a sick place we as a community have come to where fury over a missed night of sleep gets more support than fury over murders.

It was not a mishap in judgement that I allowed myself to be so upset on Twitter. I decided I would be. There is a long history of people of color, black women especially, expected to be calm and collected and peaceful when fighting for their lives and justice. If they get angry, they become the "angry black women" and their ideas and lives are disqualified. "We're waiting for the people who can talk calmly to us," Whiteness says. To expect people with a boot on their throat to be peaceful and calm is one of the most inhumane and racist things I've ever experienced.

What does this mean for me (me = SC)?

It is upsetting. These have been contests that I have worked hard on and taken part in for many years. I co-created these contests. I have met some of my closest friends through these contests. I have helped writers come together, find agents, and mentored them through these contests. I have also been afforded a larger, more prominent voice through these contests. These contests gave me a solid platform from which I could launch Write Inclusively.

Again, the methods of racism work in many ways. One of them is to remove and chip away at the platform of those who are speaking against it, in an attempt to invalidate the speaker and the message. Portraying me as an angry person of color also seeks to invalidate me and my message, but I push you to find an instance where I spoke an untruth that did not go uncorrected. I have not spoken an untruth even in this blog post (if you find one, please please comment below).

My message is true. Discomfort with a truthful message is a problem for the discomforted. Whether Mike or Michelle seek to destabilize Write Inclusively or not, that is the consequence of their action. I have lost my platform, and so, indirectly, has Write Inclusively. That is something Mike and Michelle must take responsibility for.

Who is this protecting?

My removal is for a purpose. It is to protect feelings. Again, my "passion for the Write Inclusively campaign may be unsettling or uncomfortable for people who don't write from the POV of ethnic characters, or who don't portray ethnic characters as 'honestly' as you would like."

If you were discomforted by the viral post, "Dear Publishing Industry: Fix Your Own Racism Before You Beg For Diverse Books," my removal seeks to protect your comfort, and seeks that you do not feel the necessary racial discomfort.

Please read this article I wrote.

When Mike and Michelle talk about "people who don't write from the POV of ethnic characters, or who don't portray ethnic characters as 'honestly' as you would like," they have used a long euphemistic phrase for white people.

The Write Inclusively campaign is a campaign for, among other marginalized identities, the advancement of writers of color and white writers who do research on race to write about people of color more honestly. The campaign revolves around this post, an idea that writing American people of color in a novel who face no issues of color is simply untrue and a fantasy, and actively hurts people of color. All American people of color face some issues of color, and the tokenizing nature of other diversity campaigns like "We Need Diverse Books" doesn't center issues of marginalized peoples as prominently. It falsely creates a harmful colorblind utopia. That's why Write Inclusively is important. #WeNeedDiverseAuthors #WeNeedDiverseAgents #WeNeedDiverseEditors.

(EDITED TO ADD: I push back on some of my criticism of We Need Diverse Books. Although tokenization is a problem they face and a problem possibly out of their hands, they are truly working on an institutional level, with funding for publishing internships for qualified people of color, and more. These funds are crucial for institutional change, and exactly what we need.)

That's why I created Write Inclusively. It involves all marginalized identities, and focuses on race. To bring back the movement to the writers of color who know most about race, who have lived experience, and to force white writers to listen to them. The campaign also fully embraces white writers who seek to write honestly about race. The campaign does not even involve writers who don't write about race. That's fine!!! Not every book involves race, and Write Inclusively understands this! So, Mike and Michelle only are talking about one demographic they seek to protect: white writers who write characters of color, but do not wish to write honestly about race. They mentioned writers who don't write characters of color, but that is confusing to me - if you don't write characters of color, why should this campaign affect you?

My removal occurred because Write Inclusively is unsettling and uncomfortable for the feelings of Whiteness. Realize this: a discussion on any oppression system is inherently uncomfortable for the people who are afforded privilege by the system. Meaning: race discussion and race campaigns are inherently uncomfortable for white people. That's how it should be.

But my removal has protected them, whether they asked for it or not, whether they want it or not. My removal has protected the feelings of Whiteness. I said a while ago that black lives are more important than white feelings. I would like you to remember that, and also like you to remember how society deems the opposite to be true.

YOU are complicit.

Isn't that scary? You, the white writers in this community, you, the writers of color who have assimilated into Whiteness, you, every single one of you, are complicit. This removal was done for you. To be an ally, you must take personal responsibility for this.



"From a moral standpoint, there may be no such thing as an innocent bystander. If one is present, one is participating." - David Gushe

You are participating.

Even if you voiced your support for Write Inclusively, even if you signed up for my newsletter, even if you are on my Twitter list of super awesome Write Inclusively partners, even if you didn't say anything at all, this removal was done for you, white writers. Whether you like it or not, whether you fight it or not, your feelings have been patronizingly been protected for you. You have been given a hand-out of comfort.

How does that feel?

What can you, as white writers, do now?

Not much, honestly. That's the frustrations about being part of a system - you are afforded privileges and hand-outs whether you like them or not. You can start by voicing your concerns. By fighting against it. (And, plug (!): by submitting to the Write Inclusively contest!! It's a contest for unapologetically diverse novels! You can still submit to Query Kombat and NoQS if you submit to Write Inclusively. This is not a SC vs. Mike & Michelle, "do I have to pick a side?" thing!) You can get more involved in Write Inclusively. Talk about it on Twitter, etc. But there isn't much more you can do. And that's frustrating, and should anger you. Please, turn that anger and use it to fight, but not against Mike and Michelle as individuals: Mike and Michelle are not the only ones who center and protect white feelings at the cost of people of color; the system is designed that way, and Mike and Michelle simply reflect something much larger. We all reflect this to a certain extent, even I. I find myself biting my tongue many times to avoid upsetting a racist white friend.

(Ooo, another plug! Sign up for the Write Inclusively newsletter, please. I don't email much - once a month at most. In the last eight months of the campaign, I've only emailed once.)


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For unapologetic writers of color:

I am so, so sorry. I'm going to keep fighting for us - I'll devote more time to Write Inclusively (maybe this has been a blessing) but these contests were a source of joy and excitement for me, and a supposed racism-free celebration to unite all writers of all races. The contests no longer reflect that racial consciousness, or racial knowledge. I am so, so sorry. I am upset and sad about this, and I'm so sorry I lost an opportunity to fight for us better, that there is now another avenue of Publishing where you must pass the Paper Bag Test.


Since Mike is the original creator of Query Kombat, I accept my removal as co-host from these contests. Thank you for a truly amazing time.

Side note: I can predict the opposition to this post already. It will be that I have played the "race card". I have no energy right now to talk about how problematic that is. Writers of color, allies, please use the comments and take over for me.

Another side note: writers, advocacy for me, or advocacy for Mike and Michelle, is NOT "taking sides"! You don't have to "pick sides". You must simply pick truth.

Update (Aug 28, 2015): 

Wow. Wow wow wow. I never expected to get the amount of support that I did. Twitter was a frenzy for the last two days.

In the beginning, when I first published this post, there were some of us writers who were outraged. And we were outraged together, and sad together, and we were also a little hopeless and angry. Because another gate had closed on us, and I would have to build another platform from scratch, and all I was getting was outrage from other writers, but limited outrage. It was a time of intense pain. Yes, many writers were united in our anger. And unity is powerful. But it is so. damn. exhausting to be unified around oppression. And it is so damn hard knowing that our frustration would get us nowhere. The institutions did not want us, or care.

Or so we thought. But then the outrage got bigger. Larger. From evening to the next afternoon, it had exploded. Some of the biggest agents voiced their opinions. #WriteInclusively trended on Twitter. I gained hundreds of Twitter followers (which included many editors and agents that I've loved/respected for years :O), and it was being discussed all over the online writing community. I got emails from agents, from editors wanting to help in any way they could. So many Twitter DMs, Tweets, caring for me, supporting me. I have so many amazing guest blog posts coming up - guest posts I was literally begging for over the last nine months of this campaign. This event of pain has blossomed into power and love. I am so eternally thankful. THANK YOU for listening! Little has changed about me, about what I write on Twitter. The only difference is that now, people are engaging, people are listening, and that's because agents have extended their support, and #WriteInclusively has gotten some institutional protection. That is so, so powerful. Nine months of Tweeting, of posting, of working and asking and begging for help/support...and it's here. And it feels incredible. (And shocking! It's like...WOAH, this is how it feels like to be heard!)

There are a few things I want to make sure we know: this is not my movement, this is our movement, the movement for all writers with marginalized identities. Take up your space in this movement. It is ours. I am not perfect, I will make mistakes, and I expect you all to call me out on it. I'm working on assembling a team that will help guide #WriteInclusively. It is your task to make sure #WriteInclusively is as amazing, intersectional, wonderful, and powerful as possible. Even if you're unpublished, even if you're young, especially if society has convinced you that your voice is not "worth it". TAKE UP SPACE. Your voice will be heard.

These last few days have been life-changing. Pivotal. Revolutionary, even. Big things are coming. Change is on the horizon. I can feel it :) Thank you, thank you, thank you for that.

[Because people are wondering: no, I have not received an apology from either Michelle or Mike.]

14 comments:

  1. Wow. Well, I had no idea about any of this going on in the Twitter realm. I'm a white, middle-class, suburban housewife...soon to be a published author. First of all, your post, your passion, your message brought me to tears and made me pound my fist at the injustice. (I know that solves nothing. But you spoke to my heart because you spoke from yours. My college degree is in Cross-Cultural Studies and I lived for a year in the Philippines with the Filipinos...) The first time I saw a Twitter blurb for your contest, it made me evaluate my existing manuscripts to see if I had written inclusively and honestly...and if not, how I can do it more and better. I'm heartbroken over racism. Three of the best friends I've ever had in this world are of three different races than my own. But I'm afraid racism is steeped in me. I wish we could truly love one another...which sometimes means NOT protecting one another as you said and, of course, means protecting each other when it counts. Thank you for sharing. I hope your contest goes well! I wish I could enter it this time. I'll make it a goal in my wip to be able to enter it next time!

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  2. I never expected something like this could happen. For me, this is really shocking. As an Indian, I get irritated when I read Indian characters displayed in a stereotyped way, using the "general" perception people have of Indians. I can imagine how much worse this might be for blacks. Reading your articles have taught me something - I cannot write about another race until I feel their issues with the same passion. I used to imagine that being colorblind was the right way to go. Treat everyone the same and the world would just follow. But I'm not the black motorist stopped for changing lanes without signaling, or the kid who happened to enter a white neighborhood to use the communal pool. But I could be the elderly Indian grandfather who had his neck broken for taking a stroll through his own neighborhood. Your articles have taught me honesty, a very hard lesson. With the push for "diverse" books, every writer is trying to incorporate a diverse character in their novel. But many of them are doing so without getting into that character's skin and feeling everything that character goes through. Driving while black is a true thing.
    The issue is most people have their heart in the right place. Most people would step in if they see injustice and racial discrimination going on before their eyes. But most people haven't felt that discrimination themselves, so it's hard for them to relate.

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  3. As someone who has participated in NOQS, Sun vs. Snow and "Become an Agent" I truly appreciate all you, Michelle and Mike have done for the writing community. It is so hard to face the constant rejection from querying and keep writing. These contests have made my queries and first pages stronger, made my writing stronger and helped me to connect with new writing friends. I'm so sad that you all have parted ways.

    I wish I could say that I will be entering Write Inclusively. While I have learned a lot from your tweets and posts about the importance of portraying people of color in a three-dimensional and realistic way through deep research, I'm honestly not there yet. I am including in my manuscripts characters from the racial background I understand best (I lived in China for three years) and am researching how to write other races more genuinely. But I don't think I will have the level and depth of diversity in my my current ms for your contest.

    I want to let you know that I appreciate your thoughts about how white authors can write more diverse characters with thought and care. I wish you the best with both your writing and Write Inclusively.

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  4. I'm shocked. Your work has already changed my perspective. It has made me uncomfortable because I am part of the problem. I have written from ethnic povs without doing the research. And I used to think that was helping. Your campaign has given me a broader view--educated me. I am truly grateful to you for having this pointed out to me. It did make me uncomfortable, but only because it made me realize why and how I was wrong. I needed that. I believe we need more diversity in publishing. I had never even heard of the paper bag test. I asked one of my Indian (american) friends about it, and holy smokes, that was a conversation on race I had never even imagined. Thank you. I signed up for your letter. We need more of this.

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  5. Oh my gosh SC, I'm so sorry to hear this. Do you know the quote by Alexander Graham Bell, "When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us."? While this is a very sad moment (my first contest was NoQs, hosted by you, Michelle, and Mike), this doesn't have to be a bad thing. The separation of friends who are public figures is the first sign that your cause is making waves. With your passion and commitment, the WriteInclusively Campaign will launch to a new level in no time.

    I've talked with you about your hopes and ideals for WriteInclusively and I know your intentions are honorable. You can let your zeal get the better of you sometimes but that's just one of those things that make you, you! It's also one of the things I admire, how fearless you are. There is a long and bumpy road ahead of you, change never comes easy or without sacrifice, but I want to reassure you that this doesn't change any of the previous conversations that we’ve had. You can still count on my support for the WriteInclusively Query Contest and beyond. My promo tweets are already scheduled and I don’t plan on cancelling them. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong (honestly, I can see the reasoning on both sides), it’s about the writers. WriteInclusively can open avenues for underrepresented, often unheard voices and the least I can do is point those writers in your direction.

    So stay strong and keep your head high because based on the comments above mine, you’ve already inspired others.

    Sincerely,
    Jamie

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  6. I'm glad you're sharing your side and speaking out. I will continue to support your contests. I appreciate what you are doing in the writing community.

    I was so pleased to see a shift embracing diversity at this year's RWA conference, only later to hear the stories about people grumbling, whining, or otherwise acting out in fear that minorities want an equal piece of the publishing pie. I recently served on a committee where I brought up how all of our proposed speakers were white, and was told by one organizer, "well we asked X and they aren't available." So myself and another member said we would do the work of asking more authors of color. It matters that those in a position to provide a platform for authors do the work in making those opportunities known.

    RWA also had an uproar this year over an article in our trade journal where a PR guest writer suggested we keep mum on issues like Ferguson and same sex marriage. Maybe easy if you aren't black, from Missouri, or are straight. What's happening in our country politically enrages me. When I see injustice, I don't want to feel like I need to censor my opinions because of my "brand." I consider every single tweet and post I put out there. What I click to publish, I mean it, and I'm going to talk about those things. If I overstep, I am willing to re-evaluate or discuss, but certainly not stay quiet.

    The idea of privilege is really hard for people to get. I've discussed this with intelligent, hard-working friends who just do not get that their life was more advantageous growing up white, in a comfortable suburb (even if working class). What people don't get is you can still be hard working, have trials and setbacks, and still be at an advantage. It doesn't mean you are less, it's that at the same time, someone else has to constantly work harder just to get where you are, even if it's a crap retail job.

    I'm sure this is an emotional time for you. I think this is really important to keep talking about.Saying or implying opinions that make us uncomfortable should stay quiet over there isn't going to move anyone, or our society, forward.

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  7. After everything you and the other commenters have said, this question will come off as seeming trite. I don't mean for it to sound that way, so I apologize if it does. Isn't Mike black?

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    1. Saying someone can't be against diversity just because they are black is the epitome of white ignorance. Now I am not saying that Mike is against diversity, because he is NOT, and I am not saying that you are ignorant because I don't think that you are. It's just a manner of thinking that has been imprinted on us by societal standards. These are the kinds of stereotypes that WriteInclusively is trying to shatter.

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    2. You missed the point of my question. I don't know Mike. I only know SC and Michelle, but I really don't think Mike is against diversity, nor was I implying it, and I know Michelle isn't against diversity.

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  8. WriteInclusively is a fantastic and inspiring campaign, and this post really resonated with me. The strength of the racism-fueled, culturally inscribed NEED to protect white feelings at all costs is completely OFF-THE-CHARTS NUTS. (I am white/ cis/ queer/ temporarily abled/ English-speaking/ educated/ 2nd gen American & college/ privileged... trying to use my power & gifts for good.)

    I am going to be promoting the #WriteInclusively campaign going forward, and holding you in the Light. (It's a Quaker thing.)

    I hope that all the support you will doubtless be receiving translates into forward progress in this vitally important work, and that it helps to speed your healing process. Please look for ways to be kind to yourself, SC, and continue to reach out to let others know how we can support and help.

    in peace,
    Shelley
    (@butwait)

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  9. Just...wow. I'm so sorry you're going through this. I promise to promote the heck out of the hashtags, contest, your newsletter, everything else. I also blog for a couple of kidlit (MG and YA) sites so maybe we could have you talk about your contest sometime soon. Just let me know if you'd be interested.
    @brooksbenjamin

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  10. Hey, it wasn't done for me. I don't consider my white comfort to be a human right. And I applaud your anger. There is no polite way to fight the evils you have chosen to oppose.

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  11. You're too badass for them. Thanks for your work. As as white writer married to a POC, who is also a writer, I am well aware of this kind of resistance to real change and real critique. Making people feel uncomfortable is necessary and part of the process.

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