taking up room in con spaces



Today we’re talking about cons, whiteness, racism in fandom, and that time a white American splained at Steph about colonialism in South East Asia, a place she is actually from.

Contains lots of swears because it’s that kind of topic and day.

Quokkas, some years ago at an Australian con, a white, American Guest of Honour explained to me what colonialism in South East Asia looked like. She was the Guest of Honour, so I didn’t know how to tell her to fuck off.

Over the years I’ve become more comfortable with yelling at strangers and acquaintances at cons. I’ve removed people for wearing that goddamn ‘Joss Whedon is my Master Now’ tee, because he is not your goddamn master and if you think he is then I’ve got some questions about the erasure of Chinese people from your bloody amazing Chinoiserie future, the fact that Mal allegedly respects Inara at the same time as calling her a wh*re and disrespecting her place of business, and the use of Book as a magical black man in space. I’ve run panels on appropriation and racism, and talked until I can’t talk anymore about the whiteness of cons in Australia.

(And if you don’t think Liz and I have had conversations about how she got nominated for a Ditmar and I didn’t, and the whiteness of the Ditmar and Aurealis short lists, well, do I have some news for you.)

But never have I experienced what Mark Oshiro did as Fan Guest of Honour at ConQuesT 46, and holy poo do I hope I never do.

Mark has written about it in full on his facie, and it is worth a horrifying, mouth-open-in-shock read. As an Azn, as a queer, as a fucking con runner, his whole tale is one of awfulness and terribleness, and I feel for him and I hate everyone.

That’s why I’m talking. I did what I was supposed to. I kept quiet, I trusted the system in place, and it completely failed me. I will not be attending ConQuesT this year or for the foreseeable future. (I’m going to WisCon for the first time instead!) I don’t feel safe there, and ultimately, that’s why this bothers me so much. There are people who are part of that community who were actively hostile to me, and when I reported them, the message was sent loud and clear:

We don’t care about you. At all.

I have never had a con experience this massive, this all-encompassingly horrifying, but this is the fear we always have as queers, as brown people, as outspoken angry people outside the white mainstream, and Mark mentions it in his post: that we might be imagining a slight because we’re so used to it, even as we’re waiting for the papercut.  It puts us constantly on our toes, and it hurts to be perched up there.

On Sunday afternoon, I was the moderator on a panel titled, “Erasure is Not Equality.” This panel was specifically about the erasure of people of color in historical fiction, fantasy, and other genres. I was the only person on the panel who was not white. Furthermore, not one person on the panel seemed to understand the point of the panel, which was to talk about erasure. Instead, the conversation teetered between self-righteous back-patting and flat-out racism. Within the first five minutes of the start of the panel, I brought up a topic for us to discuss: how “historical accuracy” is often poorly used as a defense of the erasure of people of color. One panelist, Chris Gerrib, then began to talk about how people misunderstood history. The “Indian” people in Central America were already busy “killing each other” by the time the Spaniards arrived. When I asked for clarification, Gerrib confirmed that he believed that the Spaniards were “unfairly blamed” for the genocide of the indigenous cultures in Central America. I was so horrified by his continued talk of this ahistorical point that, after very little conversation, I asked that we change topic.

I want to say, as a con runner at Australian cons, there are people working so hard to make con spaces as safe and harassment free as possible, especially in terms of racial papercuts (and outright racial bullshit). Sometimes we’ve been successful, institutionally; and sometimes we’ve only been successful through being individuals who are willing to be loud. If anything like this happens to you at a con I’m at, please come to me and I will be your angry Asian voice, your unrelenting queer foot in the butt. Or I can put you in touch with other angry voices. Even if it’s someone you think is my friend. (Especially – I call Liz out on shit, even. NOT THAT SHE OFTEN NEEDS IT.)

This is in no way a commentary on how Mark’s situation was handled; I merely bring it into context for us, in Australia, where our con scene is just as white, and just as problematic.

Don’t think for even a second, for even half a heartbeat, that this bullshit doesn’t happen for a variety of indignities and injuries papercut through to axe across the neck, at cons across Australia. It does, and they hurt every day, as they wrap around our souls and our hearts and the words we want to say and the discomfort in our guts.

Ambelin Kwaymullina, amazing author and excellent GoH of Continuum 10, Aboriginal woman from the Palyku people, on a panel on her first day at C10, was subjected to all sorts of bull, like turning up for a panel on time, saying ‘oh, I thought I was going to be late,’ and another panelist said ‘yeah, you wouldn’t want anybody to say ‘bloody aboriginals”, like that’s an OKAY THING TO SAY and not TOTALLY FUCKING RACIST. And also we were both on a panel about stolen languages and the panelists who weren’t us (ie, the white ones) definitely didn’t want to talk about cultural appropriation of languages in genre, what a fucking surprise. (The ConCom for this con were very excellent at addressing these complaints when made, please don’t think they weren’t.)

I presented on Chinese mythology and worldbuilding at the same con; after, someone came up to me and we had the following conversation:

her: i wish i had a culture
me: you do
her: yeah, i know, but i wish it was historical and deep and connected

Spoilers, you have a culture. It’s deep and connected and based on colonialism, but it’s there. But I digress.

[Drive-by interjection from Liz: “Why isn’t there a day for celebrating white culture?”  Uh, we have St Patrick’s Day, Oktoberfest, my boss totally just had a Burns Night party, not to mention all the Christian holidays that are regarded as totes white even though Christianity has its origins in the Middle East, and there’s Gregorian New Years, the Queen’s Birthday for those five monarchists who celebrate it, and what exactly do you think Australia Day is? Setting aside for the moment what we think it should be.]

Zen Cho, excellent SEAzn author, made some comments which have been storified in full, and they are worth the read.

If you can’t treat us like the fucking amazing people we are, don’t fucking invite us or include us anywhere. Just fuck off.

Further links:

Expect more from your regional con-com.

ConComs are not gods, but they sure as hell can vet moderators and can put systems in place to up the chances that panelists are qualified to be on the panels they’re assigned to. I speak from experience as a programming volunteer myself.


3 thoughts on “taking up room in con spaces

  1. As one of the panelists in question on the Language panel… I am distressed that I caused you pain, so much so that you remember it years later. I am sorry. If it makes any difference, part of it was a misunderstanding on my part on what the panel was supposed to be about; I had expected the discussion to be about constructed languages in SFF (which I am interested in from a linguistic point of view) and the focus on cultural appropriation took me completely by surprise. I was a terrible panelist in regard to cultural appropriation, because I was bloody ignorant about it! I learned a LOT in that hour. I learned a lot at that entire convention. Consider it a case of scales falling from my eyes.

    Not that I can really make up for it. I tried calling out my brother on cultural appropriation (he works with tribal cultures as a linguist) and I couldn’t make him understand. I feel helpless about that. If I can’t make even my brother understand, what good am I?

    1. in asking ‘what use am I’, you’re asking others to take on your feelings as their burden. i’m glad you learnt during our panel, but by asking these questions and making this comment you’ve made it clear that you’ve completely missed the point of this post. please have a real think about how centring the conversation on you is really thoughtless and the opposite of helping those of us who have to deal with these injuries.

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