Hello! You just used the “damned if you do/don’t” fallacy!

Hello! If you’ve been directed to this blog post, it’s because you just said something akin to “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t” (DIYD2) in a discussion about bigotry, misrepresentation, or cultural misappropriation in fiction. I’ve written this blog post to save me time so that in the future I won’t have to write a unique comment on each of the endless occasions that I hear this fallacy repeated. As you can probably guess, it happens a lot. So let’s get started!

Here are some common conversation topics which might spur the DIYD2 response:

  • White writers who write about PoC tend to get more attention than PoC who write about PoC.
  • This story setting should contain a lot more women than it does.
  • This queer character is a stereotype or suffers from overused bigoted tropes (e.g. Bury Your Gays [warning: TV Tropes]).
  • There are some depictions of marginalized groups that readers are simply tired of seeing (e.g. women being sexually assaulted).
  • Out-group writers shouldn’t pretend to be members of marginalized groups, for any reason.

Why is it a fallacy to respond to topics like these with DIYD2?

a. Because it’s not true, for one thing. You aren’t damned if you do; you’re damned if you do badly or in a way that hurts people. You won’t be damned if you don’t think and do research and do all the other things that good writers are supposed to do, but people will probably hesitate to apply the label “good writer” to you. You aren’t even damned — look, I like a hyperbole as much as the next storyteller, but what we’re talking about here is literary criticism, not the Spanish Inquisition. You will not be subjected to eternal hellfire, or even an internet “hate mob,” if you include a stereotype in your fiction. Have you ever really paid attention to how anti-bigotry shitstorms work? They don’t start simply because somebody fucked up; they start because the person who fucked up doubled down on it or got defensive rather than listening to the critique being offered.

b. Because it’s the wrong answer, to questions that haven’t been asked. See, you — the DIYD2-er — are making a number of assumptions that simply aren’t true. Such as:

  • The conversation is about you. It isn’t. It’s really about becoming a better writer, period, by understanding how things like colonialism and representation affect literature as a whole, and gaining knowledge about how the media and unquestioned biases work. These are things that all writers, of whatever background, should understand — but especially re those subjects where you have privilege, because you’re working against societal pressure that discourages thought on these matters. It’s also about raising awareness of issues faced by marginalized groups so that, for half a minute, we can turn our attention toward that group, and bring its issues from the margins to the center for consideration. But if (you’re not part of that group and) your first thought is, “Well, how does this affect me?” then you have missed the point. You have airballed it. You have ridden a supersonic jet away while the point is still slowly proceeding on foot over arid, rocky terrain. Get your head out of your own navel and come back to the actual discussion at hand.
  • This conversation is trying to put restraints on me, I mean, art! I have, very very occasionally, seen someone suggest that members of X group shouldn’t write about Y group, unequivocally and forever. That does happen, but it’s incredibly rare, and statements like that rarely go unchallenged by members of Y group so shouldn’t be taken as definitive or a consensus. That’s beside the point, though. What’s actually being said in these conversations is that art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and good artists need to engage with the context in which their work exists. Are you taking opportunities away from underrepresented people and giving nothing back in return? Then your art is exploitative and probably inauthentic, and the people in question probably won’t think it’s good. Are you adding to a fallacy-laden Zeitgeist that is already harming real people in the real world? Then your art sucks because you’re not saying or doing anything new. (Also you suck at research.) And so on. Nobody’s trying to restrict art as a whole. They’re trying to minimize bad, harmful art. There’s a difference.
  • This isn’t actually a complex topic, it’s just [insert simplistic knee-jerk rhetorical obfuscation of complex topic]. Take “white writers who write about PoC tend to get more attention than PoC who write about PoC.” This is a statement of context. A number of complex issues create this context: colonialism and history, lifelong societal discrimination that makes it harder for writers of color to get that crucial “room of one’s own”, underrepresentation of PoC in the publishing industry and retail, unexamined racial bias on the part of reviewers, fallacies of marketing which suggest that PoC are a greater financial risk when there’s no proof of that, plain old racism. A good way to respond to a statement of context is to acknowledge that context, and to consider ways of changing each part. (Yell at publishers so they’ll know you want fiction with PoC protagonists by PoC authors; ask why they don’t have any editors of color; post your own “best of” lists and reviews featuring PoC to counter all the media that ignores PoC; take the Tempest Challenge or otherwise consciously shake up your own reading habits…) To reduce the topic down to “Well, does that mean white writers should, or shouldn’t, write about PoC? DIYD2!” shows that the person asking that question fundamentally does not understand the issue. And maybe doesn’t want to understand, because it’s a lot easier to toss forth the strawman of “Those People ™ are always making unreasonable demands!” than it is to acknowledge that white writers get extra attention because of white privilege, or to think about the years’ worth of work it will take to fix the problem.

So when should I say DIYD2?

Here is Prince from the afterlife, throwing shade because you obviously haven't been listening to anything I've said.

Here is Prince from the afterlife, throwing shade because you obviously haven’t been listening to anything I’ve said so far.

Whenever you aren’t interested in an actual conversation.

DIYD2 is just a garbage thing to say, really. It’s a bromide tossed forth in response to, often, someone’s expression of real pain or justified anger. It’s the kind of thing you say when you don’t actually give a shit, but you want to sound engaged and worldly-wise. Most people who actually care about these topics will see right through it, and either dismiss you as unworthy of engagement, or be annoyed by your callousness.

Yikes! But that’s not fair. I actually do care; I just can’t think of anything better to say!

Then say nothing. Not like you’re required to offer your $.02 on everything. Listen, and learn, and think. Do that for awhile, and eventually you will have something useful to say.


Okay! This has been a public service message from N. K. Jemisin. Hope it helps!

The More You Know logo from old NBC TV

33 Responses »

  1. I clicked on this post because I’ve definitely thought “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” (or variations on it) & I figured, hey, I guess I’ll find out why that was wrong. And, I guess, a couple things…

    I’ll read this post a few times and probably in a few days something will sink in. That tends to be how these things go.

    But… the points you’ve made here don’t really correspond to the times when I’ve thought ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. I’m more frustrated by stuff like: how do you spend a LOT of time educating yourself/listening/engaging–actively steeping yourself in books and art by POC–without ending up, through you own work, appropriating? Isn’t that how creativity works? You are what you eat, sort of?

    Or, say, what is the right balance of speaking up (I had a transgender friend explain that the role of the ally is to ‘take the bullet’ which is the best rule of thumb I’ve found, though not a fun one) and shutting up to center other voices.

    Maybe this should be obvious to me, but it’s not, and I often feel like every option is a bad option. Not just bad for my ego but bad according to the principles I’m trying to learn/figure out.

    But the other thing that gets me–this is minor but… this bit:

    “Have you ever really paid attention to how anti-bigotry shitstorms work? They don’t start simply because somebody fucked up; they start because the person who fucked up doubled down on it or got defensive rather than listening to the critique being offered.”

    This is the part where I really just… panic. Because a defensive response is, you know, DEFENSIVE. It’s self-protective. A huge part of what ‘checking your privilege’ is about is this constant fight against your own instincts. Not just digging out bias but actively seeking to work against your own self-interest. It’s the right thing to do so it’s worth the effort but it’s intensely unnatural. And these shitstorms–it pits this really focused, rational, passionate response against what is basically automatic, irrational behavior.

    There are lots of justifications and most of them are really good. But it’s hard to hear that ‘failure to adequately battle against your unconscious mind’ is a serious fuck-up.

  2. But it’s hard to hear that ‘failure to adequately battle against your unconscious mind’ is a serious fuck-up.

    Battling against your unconscious mind is also known as being a grownup. Sure, it’s hard sometimes, but so is getting up and going to work when you desperately want to sleep for another hour. If you’re a grownup, you do it anyway.

    We all battle against our baser instincts all the time, there’s nothing special about not freaking out when you get called out. I mean, if your boss calls you into their office to tell you that you screwed something up, do you yell at them and storm out? No? Then you can handle being called out too.

  3. Privileged Whiner:

    While I will let Jemisin answer the question put to her as she sees fit, in the interests of reading comprehension, I would point out this part of the post again:

    “making a number of assumptions that simply aren’t true. Such as:

    The conversation is about you. It isn’t. … It’s also about raising awareness of issues faced by marginalized groups so that, for half a minute, we can turn our attention toward that group, and bring its issues from the margins to the center for consideration. But if (you’re not part of that group and) your first thought is, “Well, how does this affect me?” then you have missed the point. You have airballed it. You have ridden a supersonic jet away while the point is still slowly proceeding on foot over arid, rocky terrain.”

  4. Nice article, and I hope you don’t mind if I bookmark to share when this crops up in discussions and so on.

  5. privileged whiner (really?),

    In answer to your questions of how much speaking up is too much and how much appropriation is too much appropriation — the answer is, “It’s complicated.” See the point about these being complex subjects to which a reductionist response is inappropriate. To put it more bluntly, writing and activism are both skills. There’s a learning process. Some things are right sometimes and wrong at other times. You try stuff, fail, listen to critique, get better, try again. That’s how it goes.

    And checking your privilege is not about fighting your own instincts. For one thing, they’re not instincts; they’re actually learned responses and you can unlearn them. (That is what checking your privilege is about.) Calling them instincts suggests that the inability to listen to criticism is somehow biological or unconscious. If that were true, it would mean that you have no free will and there’s no point in trying to improve yourself as an artist or a human being because you’ll never be able to change.

    Here’s the thing: do you do this in other areas of your life? Allow the fear of making mistakes or criticism to send you into a defensive panic? If you do, and you’re a writer, how can you possibly endure the critiques of your writing group, or editors, or readers? Do you look upon the challenge of becoming a better writer and think, “This is so hard! Some people like first person and some like third! I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t!” and throw up your hands in frustration?

    I suspect you don’t have this problem in other walks of life. So that raises the question of why learning and functioning specifically within an anti-oppressive context causes you such anxiety and difficulty. Something’s causing this resistance within you. See above paragraph about what checking your privilege requires, and think about what your resistance and “instincts” really are.

  6. Erica,

    That’s what it’s for!

  7. Great post.

    @privileged whiner
    “This is the part where I really just… panic. Because a defensive response is, you know, DEFENSIVE. It’s self-protective. A huge part of what ‘checking your privilege’ is about is this constant fight against your own instincts. Not just digging out bias but actively seeking to work against your own self-interest. It’s the right thing to do so it’s worth the effort but it’s intensely unnatural. And these shitstorms–it pits this really focused, rational, passionate response against what is basically automatic, irrational behavior.”

    If you are worried that something you say when/if someone calls you out on accidentally being culturally appropriative will be jumped on as racist and sexist, I suggest making any defensive doubling-down response in the privacy of your own head head and not out loud (or on Twitter, or on Facebook). If you’re upset by people telling you you’ve trampled all over their cultural/religious/etc. tradition, and react to being upset by lashing out, either wait a few days to respond, don’t respond, or just say “thank you for letting me know, and I’m sorry I did that” and move on.

  8. @privileged whiner:

    Thinking about what you say and how it might affect other people is just another part of being an adult. Even without bringing race/gender/sexuality etc into it, the things one says can be hurtful to other people. So, you think before you speak, and in many cases, that will do the trick. In cases where the person/people you’re talking to/about come from a very different background than you do, research is in order, because you can’t have an informed opinion if you don’t, you know, inform yourself. If you’re writing, this is doubly important, because saying something thoughtless can be blamed on a momentary lapse of judgment, but written words really can’t. So, again, think first, and do your research. You might still get things wrong, and people might point it out to you, and when that happens, you can a) lash out, be defensive and dismiss their criticism or b) think about what they’re saying, think about what you said that caused that response, try to see things from their perspective, and then respond accordingly. People are all different, and “the [non-white]/[non-male]/[non-straight] experience” isn’t the same for everyone. There might be issues that you didn’t even realize existed, and it might be frustrating to realize that after all that research you did, you still got some things wrong, and your initial reaction might be “but at least I tried!”. That’s understandable. But taking other people’s criticism to heart will help you do better next time.

    Here’s a real life example to illustrate my point: when I told my best friend that I was suffering from depression since my father’s suicide and that that was making it really difficult to me to maintain my relationships with my friends, she told me to “get over it already, it had been X years since your father died, you need to move on”. She also told me that she had known my father and she wasn’t moping around, so there was no reason for me to be depressed. I assume that she had my best interests in mind and was trying to motivate me to leave the house more and so forth, but I was still hurt. I told her that it wasn’t as easy as that, and she *doubled down on what she had said* and told me to stop being a baby and that it was my own fault if my friends turned away from me if I insisted on being difficult. As a result, our friendship is wrecked, basically. If she had bothered to listen to what I was saying, things could have turned out very differently.

    That’s what some writers are doing to their readers: they write about a group that they are not members of and then refuse to listen when that group speaks up. They repeat harmful things they said/wrote before, and by doing so, they make it an issue because it’s no longer just a (maybe innocent) mistake, but they are actively, knowingly being offensive, and of course people will complain about that and refuse to buy future books by the same author. Saying “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it came across that way” at least lets their readers know that they didn’t mean to misrepresent anyone, and those readers might still buy the author’s future works knowing that the thing that upset them won’t happen again.

  9. Here is Prince from the afterlife, throwing shade because you obviously haven’t been listening to anything I’ve said so far.

    This whole post was great, such a great mix of wit and very serious points, but that was the part I loved. EPIC AFTERLIFE PURPLE SHADE.

    Also bookmarking.

  10. I do believe a lot of behavior is automatic and unconscious, i.e., I believe we have free will but I also believe that we have exaggerated the role free will plays in our lives and choices. I believe this because nobel prize winning psychologists have done a lot of really convincing experiments to prove it.

    Someone who does not know/buy this work will doubtless take a different view. The end result of these experiments, by the way, is not to offer a blanket excuse to everyone for bad behavior–cognitive bias and the ‘representation heuristic’ would be the relevant ones here–but because understanding how the mind works is the first step to figuring out how to change it effectively, or cope (if change isn’t possible).

    I suppose I’m also mixing ‘instincts’ (I think that self-preservation, including protection of one’s own ego, is actually *instinctive*, to the point where learned responses can contain but never erase it) with ‘learned responses’ which would include things like bias, stereotyping, etc.

    Learned responses can be unlearned & the end result is a new way of thinking. The desire to like and think well of oneself, however, is a fundamental part of being a human being.

    A lot of responses to these complaints sort of take it for granted that the the feelings and self-esteem of the person who is complaining/screwing up are irrelevant. This response makes a lot of sense for reasons that have been well explained: (1) no POC has the job of making some rando feel better (2) hurt feelings are part of the process. (3) Doing bad things is wrong.

    But the person who has a bruised ego/compromised sense of self will never, ever feel that way. It is both natural and NECESSARY for people to find some way to live with themselves, to wake up in the morning and think, “I’m okay, I can get through the day.”

    So if the point is: does any POC have to care, listen, respond kindly or sympathetically to a white person’s annoying complaints? Nope, definitely not. But actually getting mad at someone for protecting their ego does, yes, strike me as an inappropriate response.

    The example with the boss is a pretty good comparison, I think. What do you do when your boss yells at you? Throwing a tantrum is, indeed, a bad response. Maybe the answer is to sit down, look at you work, decide your boss was right & try to change. Maybe your boss is a toxic asshole and the correct response is to start looking for a new job.

    I don’t know if you have ever had a boss who has cursed at you daily, insulted you constantly, etc., etc., until you feel like a worm… but I have. I never, ever responded angrily. I swallowed it and told myself I had to do better and if my work was good enough I would be appreciated. I kept that up until I had a complete mental breakdown. A quite serious one and it took me years to recover.

    So… yeah. I guess I think that a constant daily diet of even mild self-hatred can be damaging, probably not in a good way, and that finding a way to protect your ego while also changing for the better for the benefit of others is pretty important.

  11. Privileged whiner:

    “But actually getting mad at someone for protecting their ego does, yes, strike me as an inappropriate response.”

    That’s because you think you’re the employee when you are actually the boss. Or more to the point, you’re in the group legally regarded as human, or more human, trusted and good, (rulers) on one or more axis, than the people in the other marginalized group who are legally treated as less than human, not as trusted and good unless enormous proof otherwise serfs to one degree or another. That’s the systems we live in — criss-crossed sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. — compressing and exploiting those who can be labelled different, inferior, less human. And consequently, we are all unconsciously bigoted because we are raised in those systems.

    It’s identifying that bigotry and trying to change it in ourselves as well as in legal, economic and social systems to improve equality and eliminate discrimination that is the key problem. And when the people in the marginalized groups speak up to do that, they’re usually punished, one way or another. If there’s enough mass to the protest, the oppression gets a little less worse, so it’s often worth the risk, because the status quo is worse and tends to get people killed anyway.

    As the boss/ruler (in the privilege group,) you’re unthinkingly annoyed with your employees/serfs making you feel bad by bringing up that they are serfs and oppressed and in pain. That doesn’t make you feel good and able to go about your day without feeling sick to your stomach. And you not feeling sick to your stomach is more important than their being oppressed because you are in the ruling group (the oppressed group is supposed to have self-hatred and not escape it; the ruling group is not.)

    And so you may consciously oppress them, as opposed to our unconscious oppression which comes from living in an oppressive system and not thinking about it. You may try to shut them up by pointing out to them that it’s unfair that they are making you feel bad about the awful things happening in the society and to them, or you may just resent it. Your image is more important than them being serfs because your image is what affects you. Acknowledging what they say, what they experience, takes away your rewards of being in a ruling group as trusted and good. Doubling down is a learned response too and its purpose is trying to keep public opinion towards oppression and inequality because that’s what we know and are comfortable with (and makes things and us look better.)

    I’m white. I’ve done crap where I’ve messed up. POC are forced to tell me when I’ve done so in order to try to change the system that shouldn’t exist anyway (and wouldn’t exist if white people weren’t so invested in the old system where they are considered automatically trusted and good and in charge for being white.) Unless I’ve done something really serious in the public realm, there aren’t going to be any consequences to me on that besides embarrassment and sadness that I hurt somebody. I don’t even have to apologize, although I should and try to do so and understand what happened. But the POC who speak up to me (or just talk in general about society and their lives, how they are seen,) are taking much more of a risk.

    You’ve grown up, I’ve grown up, they’ve grown up, in a system where they are supposed to hide what’s being done to them, and be subservient and pleasant to white people, pretend that we all don’t live in a society that is still a racist’s paradise. And when they aren’t, when they speak up or just talk among themselves in public — when they seek to change it — the resistance is our learned response not due to self-preservation or even ego, but to keeping POC subservient, quiet and pleasant to us white rulers, who again are automatically trusted, good and in charge for being white. We’re used to the quiet. We’re used to everything being about how it affects us, the rulers. We’re used to getting to talk and so insert ourselves into their discussions instead of listening (listening is a little painful. Rulers don’t like pain.)

    When POC, or gays or women with men, etc. openly don’t play that version of society anymore, state the system is rigged and violent towards them, and demand changes little and large, that’s scary for the rulers. They don’t know what the rules of the new society are then. If the serfs can talk their outrage like rulers, how do rulers operate? If we admit that yes, we’ve made black people live in a police state without doing much about it, or that we’ve kept women out of tech, and start changing it, what happens to us? So they try to assert the old rules that they know — “I’m a ruler so you should consider my feelings while you try to change an entire social system that has oppressed you for thousands of years, and which I’m in a much better position to change by just shutting up for a minute.” They claim that the oppressed people and their allies are getting overly outraged at every little thing, and fret that they have to watch what they say or do.

    The people in the marginalized group always have to watch what they say or do to the people in the ruling group because of the oppressive system. They are always watched to see if they behave “politely” and not too above their role in the old system. They always have to make the rulers on the up axis, allies or no, feel loved, safe, accepted and not judged — superior and fair. (Make them feel like rulers who pretend not to rule.) When they refuse to do that, people in the ruling group, even those sympathetic, feel put upon. The privileged system is changing and is no longer quite as convenient for them, and that becomes the priority out of habit. It’s a learned response. And it gets in the way of the important issue — getting rid of the oppression and the narratives that justify the oppression.

    Or to put it another way, people in privileged groups often look for personal loopholes when the truth comes out. But doing that just keeps the system in place. This is the system we live in. We can’t change it if we keep pretending it’s not there and doesn’t/shouldn’t apply to us, and/or that the people most being hurt by it aren’t allowed to talk about it unless the rulers approve the language in committee.

    Having stuck my long-winded white ass into the conversation, I will shut up now. :)

  12. I think it’s okay to use DIYD^2 if you are explaining why [marginalized person/group] shouldn’t be victim-blamed for having to work their way through lose/lose scenarios that a privileged person/group would never have to face, i.e. in precisely the opposite context.

  13. @N.K.

    Is there room for apathy what about all the apathetic people? I do knowledge the problem challenges faced by the non-whitet non-male non-straight population, but I feel it is inappropriate perhaps even cruel to put the burden of change on everyone else. I do ask that they acknowledge the problems of minority groups however I do not require them to actively participate in change beyond what they feel comfortable doing. Development and growth are a process and it can be as damaging to force it, as to prevent it. Is it really OK to force someone to adhere to social change when they can barely keep up the effort not to shoot themselves? All people are people and thus are subject to their own personal circumstances such things include the aforementioned minorities, as well as empathy and apathy.

    I personally disagree with the unstructured, unplanned attempts at the social change over this century. I believe all major social change should be well structured and well planned so that it does not leave society in the destructive limbo, we currently find ourselves in. To do anything less is to invite division, irrationality, and degradation of society as a whole. This is not to say that it should not happen but rather that it should happen in inefficient effective and predetermined this is not to say exhibit should not happen but rather that it should happen in inefficient effective and predetermined mom manner. It is my current hypothesis that many Internet disputes occur simply because each side is assuming the other side has an agenda which it does not due to the lack of structure with which the social changes occur or have occurred.

  14. Hear hear!

    I would also like to add to this point of Stewart’s:

    > If you are worried that something you say when/if someone calls you out on accidentally
    > being culturally appropriative will be jumped on as racist and sexist, I suggest making any
    > defensive doubling-down response in the privacy of your own head head and not out loud (or
    > on Twitter, or on Facebook). If you’re upset by people telling you you’ve trampled all over their
    > cultural/religious/etc. tradition, and react to being upset by lashing out, either wait a few days
    > to respond, don’t respond, or just say “thank you for letting me know, and I’m sorry I did that”
    > and move on.

    Sometimes this is difficult advice to follow emotionally, because, in the moment our privilege is being confronted, we have this deeply learned irrational reaction we were trained in early, and it does indeed feel like panic and suffocation. This is part of the extreme weirdness of oppression: there is literally nothing dangerous happening to us — we are still hoarding the power, and someone is merely pointing it out — but the emotional experience we have is one of such stress and fear. (That should be a little hint to us about how deep our miseducation goes. We like to make a big deal of the “cultural pathologies” of oppressed groups, but almost by definition these are dwarfed by the cultural pathology of the groups set up to take the oppressor role).

    It actually sucks to be called out, and part of being a responsible adult is to be willing to do emotional self-care around that, so that you can calm down and be the kind of mensch you want to be about it. So it’s perfectly legitimate to vent your fear, worry, frustration, self-pity etc. “out loud”… but “out loud” doesn’t, here, mean to the whole internet where people who are actually targeted by the oppression will have to read it forever. “Out loud” means to some buddy or mentor who’s actually signed up to listen to you, offer you support, but also hold you to the high standard you want to be held to — not collude with oppression by encouraging bullshit like DIYD2.

    I take the liberty of quoting myself (on the related topic of sexism) from the masculinity roundtable Mary Anne Mohanraj organized, which is over at https://medium.com/@maryannemohanraj/navigating-masculinity-a-roundtable-c18999e378eb#.knkz4ba9n:

    “I also want to agree that venting?—?that kind of irrational, needy, steam-blowing-off, maybe-not-everything-I’m-saying-makes sense intimate talking-it-out?—?is crucial, and it’s crucial not only in our roles as targets of oppression but also as oppressors. “Oh god she hates me I fucked up but goddamnit I was trying my best why can’t she see that how the fuck was I supposed to know that…” That shit is going on in your head, and keeping it close to your chest is not helping you think any better about the situation.

    But. There’s a really crucial rule here, which is, *you don’t vent about your oppressor role at someone targeted by it*. You don’t run over a peasant with your carriage and then crouch down and complain to the peasant about how hard it is to be a noble these days and how you only wanted the best for your serfs…

    So who do you vent to? I think the ideal person is a mentor?—?so, for sexism, another guy, but a guy you trust around sexism. The last thing you want is a guy whose own defensiveness gets triggered, who’s going to defend your actions; “she’s just overreacting.” No, you want a guy who’s going to shake his head and say, “whoa dude, you seriously fucked up,” and grin and love you anyway. You want, in other words, someone not targeted by the oppression who sees it as oppression, but sees it also not as a catastrophe but as our ongoing everyday work of mending the world…”

  15. privileged whiner,

    Learned responses can be unlearned & the end result is a new way of thinking. The desire to like and think well of oneself, however, is a fundamental part of being a human being.

    A lot of responses to these complaints sort of take it for granted that the the feelings and self-esteem of the person who is complaining/screwing up are irrelevant.

    Not irrelevant. Just far, far, far less important than the feelings, opportunities, health, safety, and sanity of those who must endure oppression. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to get angry at someone who puts “protecting their ego” ahead of other people’s survival, yes.

  16. Everyone,

    And at this point, I think we’re all spending a little too much time talking about privileged whiner’s feelings, which means we’re putting them at the center of a conversation that — again — should be about the marginalized. Let’s not, okay?

  17. Bri guy,

    Well, you pretty much disagree with history, which is full of unstructured, unplanned social change that has repeatedly forced privileged people to do things they aren’t comfortable with. And generally, that’s worked out well for society as a whole. So, you’re wrong on that account.

    And I already acknowledged that there was room for apathy, in the “So when should I use DIYD2?” section. Apathy is a choice, after all. People who choose to be apathetic about bigotry aren’t neutral; they are choosing not to fight or change the status quo (which is bigotry). They are pro-bigotry. So if you’re apathetic, use DIYD2 in this context all you want; that’ll make your pro-bigotry stance obvious to all.

  18. Everything Ben said. (Hi Ben!)

  19. i usually don’t comment on your blog posts (because i’m shy af) but i just wanted to say this is a great post. i was nodding in agreement the whole way through. diyd2 is such a “well i tried (but not really lol)” logic aka not actually logic but an excuse and a bad one at that! hope all if well with you & sending love.

  20. I’ve been working very hard on not arguing about every single thing under the sun on the internet. I have that problem in real life as well, but on the internet, it’s easier to see what I’m saying and think, “What kind of response do I actually expect to get from this?” and delete either before I post or very shortly afterward once I realize the answer is, “Nothing.”

    This doesn’t just apply to situations where I’m privileged, but situations where, this complaint is not something I want on public record as part of my brand and/or reputation.

    So I go and share it with a close friend who gets it and is willing to listen. My therapist, maybe.

    Sure, it can be hard not to share things I want to share online, but. Even if you’re not capable of thinking about the oppressed people, think about yourself: sometimes, the things you say will do you no favors whatsoever. If you have seen people on the internet turn into “lynch mobs” over someone saying something, don’t say something that sounds exactly the same.

    I admit it’s a poor step, but I like to think it’s /a/ step in the right direction.

  21. Thank you for this post. I feel that I’ve come a long way from pre-RaceFail me because none of this was really revelatory or challenging, but it is excellent to see it laid in an accessible and useable way. (And an unfortunately apt example of derailing in the comments.)

    I would maintain that DIFY^2 is for when legal and moral obligations conflict. Even googling the phrase gets a whole of examples that seem just situations where you have to make a decision, not one with implications on one’s sense of self. So I agree that these are never circumstances where the phrase could apply. (Maybe it’s just obvious to me that one’s obligations lie with diverse and sensitivity instead of reproducing existing marginalisation.)

    You’re mentioning the idea that X group should never write Y group made me think of Amberlin Kwaymullina discussing Indigenous and Indigenous analogue characters. She made the point that non Indigenous people should never write from the point of view of Indigenous people. I think that there is definitely a much higher level of work/investment/understanding (proper word escapes me) to write from the point of view of others, than ‘just’ including characters who do not share one’s own privilege. And, given the secret knowledge that is vital to some cultural groups, there are circumstances where no amount of research and care is going to let one ‘get it right’. Those are also circumstances where no writer is expected by anyone, let alone obliged by circumstances, to try, so DIYD^2 still does not apply.

  22. The problem with being silent when you’ve been called out isn’t that it’s hard ‘in the moment’. It isn’t. That takes a pretty basic level of self-control. “Take a step back and think” is a reasonable expectation for most people most of the time.

    The problem is that the change and self-educate process takes so long. I’ve been at this for years (really, lots of the people scolding me are trying to instruct me about things I already think and believe; and, just FWIW, I did not suggest the boss/employee scenario, I took it from another comment. I am not confused about my relative position in the oppressor/oppressed scenario). Anyhow: the problem is that it takes years, I am not sure how many but apparently more than 3, and being silent for years is not really healthy.

    I think this comment thread is the first place I’ve tried to comment publicly (obviously not openly) on any of these issues since 2014. What Ben wrote really resonates with me but whenever I get into discussions with the people who ought to be my private-time-mentor-coach, I end up with the role instead–they’re a few steps behind (which is not saying much, perhaps, but still true).

    And I’m speaking up here–I suppose because this post does, in particular, seem to be addressed to me, or people like me, i.e., people who are saying ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ so I thought (wrongly? Like I said, I get confused a lot) that there was room to answer or comment or at least flail openly.

    While I’m on the topic, I’ll go ahead and say that it’s a couple of days down the line and (as I predicted) I am now convinced. Bits and pieces of the comments here have helped me figure out what prompted the response–it’s the process of moving from one frustrating moment to another that creates a sense of pressure and being squeezed, so instead of parsing out individual frustrations I let them blur together and it starts to feel like ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’.

    So now I have a coping mechanism, which is to parse better.

    I still do think that a lot of the ‘best practices’ given to allies can be unhealthy and cause psychological harm if adopted uncritically. And none of the responses here have really nudged me at all on that. The question, for example, of why THIS issue would make me panic more or differently than others–the answer is that my engagement with it generates a lot of self-loathing. It seems to me that if a white ally doesn’t hate themselves at least some of the time, they’re not really trying, and encouraging them to suppress natural self-protective instincts is not good for anyone.

  23. I’d been avoiding reading this blog post because I felt embarrassed that I’d used aforementioned fallacy and was (rightly) called out on it.

    But I’m glad I did, because I learned something and will hopefully do better in the future.

    Thank you for writing this and sharing with us. :)

  24. Totally irrelevant, but I can’t wait until you actually post about it to say, “CONGRATULATIONS ON THE HUGO NOMINATION!”

    You can delete this after reading it. :)

  25. Thank you. Thank You. THANK YOU.
    Oh, throwing purple shade…brilliant.
    PS. You could give a master class on world building. when you do, please let me know.

  26. A coworker encouraged me to read your blog when I was discussing trying to break past the taught thought processes of my youth that all heroes are cis, white, het, males.

    Anyway, I’ve been struggling with breaking past this and part of it is fear. Not of the unknown, but doing it wrong. I guess I was trapped in the DIYD mindset and this post helps me so much in that regard. I want to write stories outside of myself. I guess the best thing I can do is research. Talk. Listen. Learn.

    So, babbling aside, thank you for writing this.

  27. Thank you for this article. It will really come in handy!

    “It’s really about becoming a better writer” is the key point for me. I have seen all these tactics used by writers who want to shut down the conversations that I want to learn from.

    It can be scary to take on a while new area of learning, but I’d rather be an innovator than play it safe. It amazes me to see writers who would never skimp on their historical or technical research ignoring the most basic social/cultural research.

    One nice thing about being an indie author is that we can very easily update a book if someone notices a problem. I’d rather admit the error and fix it (or possibly pull the entire book) instead of leaving a bad example out there, or trying to bluff it out.

    We also have much greater control over “who gets paid”. I believe out-group authors should make a commitment to giving back some % of profits to any marginalized communities they have mined for content.