Exempting Yourself from the Right to Equality

It’s common for people to believe they’ve fallen into a catch 22 when it comes to freedom of speech and hate speech. If we’re really embracing freedom of expression, doesn’t that mean all expression? Doesn’t that mean that the racists and sexists, the white supremacists and neo-Nazis, have to be afforded the same rights?

Perform a web search and you’ll find that there are actually many forms of expression that are not protected as free speech. The First Amendment doesn’t even protect lying.

People need to stop clinging to the notion of free speech without researching the application of the law and the limits of these freedoms.

I am for equality. And this means equal opportunities for all. However, when a philosophy/belief/religion/ideology opposes extending equality to all persons they should not be supported or endorsed in any way.

Allegations of sexual abuse alone have destroyed careers. When a person takes a position that threatens the rights and safety of other law-abiding persons, then they should not be given the same platforms as others.

In other words, when a person opposes equal rights for others, they have exempted themselves from the right to equal treatment, because they do not support equality.

Tolerance of hate speech leads to Nazis, white supremacists, femicide, genocide. People need to stop with the ‘nice people on both sides’ crap. This person’s hate is a direct threat to the lives of others.

People bend so hard to justify reading racist and sexist stuff. There’s plenty of other insightful, exceptionally written work by people who don’t propagate hate.

Many people haven’t learned, or don’t care. People like that are as much of a threat to some of my family and friends as the people making the hateful statements. They will clutch their pearls when hate crimes are on the rise and brown people are put in cages and illegally detained or Black people gunned down by the police. And they’ll say, Well, I didn’t do that so I’m not responsible. But they are.

If you’re standing by and defending hate speech and feeding those views by supporting the people who propagate hate then you are responsible. And if you’re simply saying nothing and allowing it to continue, you also share responsibility for the consequences of hate speech.

You’re the person hiding behind closed curtains when your neighbors are taken away because of the color of their skin or their gender or their sexual orientation.

There should be zero tolerance for hate. And zero tolerance for people who support those who promote hate.

One of the challenges with this topic is that there are many authors and writers, people who are regarded as the foundation for various genres or held up as a leader in that genre, who are known to have racist and/or sexist or bigoted views.

Some individuals are going to read works by those writers simply because they do not care about the repugnant views the writer held. Others will even agree with the racism and/or sexism and/or bigotry.

What of the rest of us? Where do we draw the line between the creator and the creation?

In almost all cases there are works that are written by people who did not support these harmful views that are equally worthy of recognition and remembrance. In order to truly embrace equality for all we must move beyond excusing all the so-called classics as just being works written by people ‘of their time’. If that was true, all works from that time-period would contain the same views.

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s The Blue Castle did not embrace sexism. There were, in fact, many works written over the centuries by people that did not support racism or sexism. Think Jane Eyre. Think Pride and Prejudice. Some of those works supported the notion of abandoning stations and people marrying for – gasp! – love instead of status.

Perhaps what defines these books as not ‘of their time’ is that they were written by women, who have traditionally been subjugated by men, who had to fight for their rights. However, I can also point to The Chrysalids, which stands up remarkably well as a criticism of societies that persecute those who are different. There were men who defied the thinking ‘of their time’ as well.

In crime fiction it’s easy to point to hardboiled fiction as a problematic area. Some people do not understand how a lot of ‘classic’ hardboiled P.I. fiction promotes sexism. When female characters are tropes — with legs up to here and tits out to there and a short skirt and so much expressed worry for the safety of the big strong man they work for — and this is the default role of the female characters (rivaled only by the mysterious rich woman who hires the P.I. and wants to have sex with him) how can we see those works as anything but? This does not mean that the form itself is flawed, but the narratives must change in order for the form to survive.

(Christa) Faust likes the form, despite how women are treated in them – slapped at the nearest sign of emotion and usually the murder victim. “They’re like a form of time travel,” she says. “But I also like living in an era when I can be taken seriously, don’t need to have children to be considered a ‘real’ woman and can legally marry anyone I love.”
What bothers her is when modern writers use the excuse “that’s just how things were then” to write what she calls “fan fiction that indulges all their own sexist fantasies and juvenile wish fulfilment”. The ol’ broad-slapping archetype is less crucial to the genre than, say, the complexities of a gumshoe’s moral code. “Way too many modern writers and film-makers get hung up on the fedora and forget that real noir is about what’s going on underneath the hats,” says Faust. “Those original novels and movies already exist. Why copy them exactly if you aren’t bringing anything fresh to the table?”

– Dames, Detectives and Dope: Why We Still Love Hardboiled Crime

I do not rigorously investigate every author. I do not run a background check on every writer who’s produced an article I read. However, when it comes to my attention that someone is engaged in racist attacks, when they routinely dispense sexist commentary, when someone is anti-LGBTQ+ rights, then I have a responsibility to verify that information and act accordingly. We all do. This is a process, but it is an important one. For the past four years Americans have watched as the country has become more polarized, as hate crimes have been on the rise, and as racists and sexists have felt empowered to action and speech by the current administration. There are no ‘nice people on both sides’ when one group is actively attacking people and trying to limit their rights or kill them.

When I learn that someone engages in this kind of conduct or dialogue then I will not pursue publication of them. This does not mean I don’t allow people the chance to change — my own political and religious views have changed significantly over the years — but my fundamental responsibility as an editor is to the audience. My intent is to create a safe space for diverse writers. We do not need to publish racists or sexists in order to know their views exist. We do not endorse views that involve the subjugation of others or that regard any group of people as less than equal. I will not publish such material.

Troll submissions contain hate speech in the guise of fiction. Such works will be rejected.

I’m attempting to ensure that what we publish is respectful. This does not mean that a character cannot make a racist or sexist remark to establish the character’s perspective, but it does mean that after the character’s racism or sexism or bigotry is established that the writer should sidestep the use of such language. There is no need to continue using it. And it should have a point relevant to the story. For example, a racist person might be confronted about their views and change their beliefs, or act a certain way because of their beliefs. Racism shouldn’t just be window dressing in a story.

I once rejected a submission that was a tough rejection. While most of my reflections on submissions (eg. ‘follow the guidelines’) refer to so many writers they could never be said to be about any one person, this is a very specific example. I expressed my concerns with the rejection. I will not share the writer’s name here, but I will refer to some of the reasons for the rejection.

  1. The possible subtext of the story suggested they thought Indigenous persons were better off dead.
  2. Another possible inference was that white people could become Indigenous.
  3. There was inaccurate information presented about the buffalo.

There were many things about the story that I actually liked. It was obviously written by someone with storytelling skill. The writing was engaging and technically correct. It was atmospheric; it pulled you right into the time and place.

I referred part of it to an Indigenous author and they raised some automatic red flags.

As I’ve said, I’m not perfect. We are all learning. However, it is not my intent to publish anything that would alienate people based on their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or anything else, and when concerns about such content are raised they will be respected. I’m not going to say, “But this doesn’t happen to me, so …” As a white woman, I know I am privileged. As a straight white woman I have even fewer concerns than some other white women. Gender bias is the main concern I have, but I am aware that other people face discrimination for a number of other reasons. I see the constant harassment on Twitter. And I will not turn away and ignore it just because it isn’t directed at me. Being an ally means standing with people. Heck, 1 John 3:18 says it best: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

In other words, stop just saying you’re for equality. Start showing it in your life. If you say that you want your wife and sister and daughter to have equal rights but then load up your Kindle with books that treat women like objects for sexual gratification, if you spend your money at movies where women are nothing more than pretty dames to violate, what are you really saying? Your daughters are watching, and seeing that your actions do not match your words.

In a recent social media exchange, a person held to grammatical rules as an excuse for refusing to use they/them gender pronouns. They declared that they would call a person by the gender pronoun that they found most suitable for the individual.

Several people pointed out that the history of using they/them in singular form goes back hundreds of years.

I pointed this out. They dodged. And I stated clearly that if they were going to attack a person’s identity, not truly because of grammar (because that argument doesn’t hold) then it could only be because of bias and as someone who has a nibling, I consider that an attack on my family.

My husband also pointed out that this person had used they/them in singular form and screenshot it from their Facebook feed and posted it in the comments.

This man? He unfriended me. He did not unfriend my husband.

What did his actions betray? His own inherent sexism.

Advocating for equality in publishing means using more than words. Our philosophy must inform our actions. I’m always going to self-evaluate and aim to do better.

The future worth fighting for is a future where all people receive the same rights and have the same opportunities. What their skin color is, what their gender is, who they love, who they worship — none of that should matter.

There are choices required on the path to that future. And yes, that may mean that sometimes you stop watching a show you used to like or that you stop reading an author.

We have to stop trying to be Gumby, bending impossibly to justify things we’ve liked before we realize they’re promoting harmful views or come from a dangerous platform. There are plenty of upright, decent people who are producing tremendous art. In supporting a vision for a future where there is true equality, I choose to give my support to those writers.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” If all of the people who say they’re truly for equal rights started implementing this in their purchasing habits the world would be a much better place a lot sooner. Ask yourself, are you making choices that support equality? Or are you promoting the tolerance of intolerance?

And if you’ve been openly supporting those who promote racism, sexism, and bigotry then you aren’t supporting equal rights. And any rhetoric that promotes hatred and discrimination, any speech that leads to lawless actions (such as gunning down protestors), is not protected. There are consequences for our actions. And if you’re supporting proponents of hate speech, you’re just as guilty as they are.

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