Monday, May 4, 2015

Laura Mixon Gets It Right

It was a powerful rumor bomb with a burning fuse. By August 2014, the sparks were coming stronger and faster, with hints of a Campbell nominee being the person responsible for the slash blog Requires Only That You Hate. By September, the names were on the table, for all to see. Even so, the final explosion was held off until October , when author and editor Nick Mamatas confirmed the identity of an online blogger and SFF forum participant. Using a number of screen names, including RequiresHate and Winterfox, this person was known on a number of special interest forums, primarily for posts and Tweets which ferociously attacked both works she did not like, and those who disagreed with her assessment. Mamatas revealed that RH/WF was none other than up-and-coming, 2014 Campbell nominee Benjanun Sriduangkaew .
The reaction was immediate and extreme. In a bizarre deviation from the tone and content of the rest of his blog, , Mamatas wrote on October 9th “Watch Your Mouth,” finishing his blog with this:
“ Certain words and phrases with violence embedded or implicit within them can be much more confrontational than you know them to be in more elevated social circles. But the Internet is the great leveler, and you can still never be quite sure to whom you are speaking. So, if you want to talk tough, be sure you're ready to play tough too.”
On October 13th, he writes:
“Did you know that yesterday was "First violent hyperbolic wish for death free!" day? Sorry you missed it, but it only applied when the person you wanted killed was me. However, it was a never-ending coupon, so if you already made such a comment, you also got to renew it yesterday.”
Closing out the Mamatas connection: when BS/RH posted apologies (October 15 as RH, October 20 as BS), Mamatas posted the links, labeled “One” and Two,” and the simple comment “You're welcome.”
Elsewhere, the discussion raged on. There was so much heat, and so little light generated, that it was nigh impossible to determine what had actually taken place. Even the acknowledgments by BS/RH did little, if anything, to resolve the issue.
At the end, it took two people to clarify the picture: an engineer, to define the problem and gather the data; and a writer, to explain the results. Enter Laura J. Mixon, who is both. She is a chemical and environmental engineer, with boots-on-the-ground experience in Africa, among other places; and she's a writer, with at least six novels and numerous shorter works published since 1987.
Most importantly, she is a brave and resilient human being of integrity, with a demonstrated track record of advocacy for disenfranchised groups. When she first heard of the controversy, she began the process of gathering hard data to determine just what had happened. She did her research, wrote her report, and offered her support. When Tade Thompson created a forum specifically designed for people of color to express themselves about the fallout from RH/BS, she respected that, and got out of the way.
Laura is a long-term member of the progressive community, and therefore found it much easier to win the trust of those who had been targeted by RH/BS. As they began to open up to her, she began the exhaustive four week process of collecting their stories, and formatting the data for analysis. She published her report on November 6.
**LATE EDIT**Since I posted this a few hours ago, something happened with the above link to Laura's blog. HOWEVER!! The report is still available; you can find the PDF version right here.
If you have not read the report, you should. While this particular event primarily hurt women of color who were writers, the methods used by RH/BS could appear in any forum, and it is well to have some idea about what Plan B looks like. Her work speaks for itself, and if you do NOT read her report and examine the graphs which explicitly delineate the damage done by RH/BS, you do not have the complete picture. And if you do not have the complete picture, it would be well for you to refrain from commenting on the subject.
I am not a reviewer of investigative journalism; I review books. When I review books, I try to communicate the 'feel' of the book; I describe main characters, and I give the plot outline, avoiding spoilers. When it's an Amazon review, I also give it a star rating. None of that applies here. Instead, everything I have to say is in the 'spoiler' category, because it is the outcome which is important, rather than plot, pacing, and characterization. I am also not a member of the progressive element in science fiction. In doing this review, I found it necessary to use terminology not familiar to me. I did my best to use it as accurately as possible, and to refrain from terms that others might find offensive. Any failures are my own, and I will accept correction from those who can see places where I wandered from the path. However, it was ESSENTIAL that I write this review; not to do so would be willfully ignoring a great bit of research and writing, simply because it was unfamiliar to me. And that is, I believe, the exact opposite of learning.
So, based on Laura's primary report, her February 14 follow-up, her May 1 reply to criticism, and the evidence and testimony supporting her report, here are my comments:
1. It seems clear to me that prior to October 2014, RH/BS was entirely unknown to the SFF community at large. This is likely due to the fact that she was most active in small settings, and that she had effectively separated her online identities from her real world identity. Laura herself reports being unaware of RH/BS prior to October 2, and of the 462 replies to her November 6 report, the most common was "I didn't know this was going on," or "I didn't realize it was so bad because I only saw a couple of posts." These comments popped up immediately when the report was first published, but they occurred as late as November 10; shortly after that, the comments section was closed.
2. I have heard the criticism that RH/BS behavior was condoned as long as she only attacked white males or conservatives, but that as soon as she began to attack the Social Justice population, she was confronted. The data do not support this conclusion. The majority of her targets have been women, and people of color were attacked at a rate four times that of whites. The earliest attack included as data in Laura's report is from December, 2010; other attacks against her 'own' community resulted in the closure of at least two Live Journal communities, with activities going back AT LEAST as far as four years ago. Hence, the theory that her behavior became problematic only when it targeted 'her own' doesn't match up with the facts.
I am tempted to list more of the conclusions from Laura's exhaustive research, but I will not. I hope that by only revealing a portion of her findings, I will whet your appetite to read her report for yourself. You can even download a PDF of her work here, but do not fail to read her February 14 and May 1 follow-up reports.
Again: if you have not read Laura's report, do so. I do not know whether she will win the Hugo in the "Best Fan Writer" or not; she is competing against four other respected fan writers, three of whom I consider to be personal friends. I plan to vote for Nunaya Bidness, but if I were on the slate against her, I would consider that to be an honor-by-association.

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