The J2 Haiti Fic

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Event
Event: Haiti!Fail, That J2 Haiti Fic, SPN Race!Fail
Participants:
Date(s): June 14, 2010
Type: Imbroglio
Fandom: J2, Supernatural RPF
URL: (unavailable)
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On June 14, 2010, gatorgrrrl posted a story called Caught Between the Earth and Sky to the Supernatural and J-Squared Big Bang Challenge! Livejournal community. The fanfic quickly became notorious as "The J2 Haiti Fic" because it used the real world event of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and its aftermath as a premise. The story is an Alternate Universe fanfiction centering on J2, the popular real-person slash pairing of actors Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki from the show Supernatural.

As is the practice for the challenge, the community post linked to a story Master Post on the author's Livejournal, and to an art post on the artist's journal. The art manips for the story were created by mementis.

Original Summary:

The setting is Haiti, post-earthquake. Jensen Ackles is an American doctor who's running from his past, trying to make up for his mistakes in this broken place and live up to the promise he made to his brother half a lifetime ago. Jared Padalecki is a naive photojournalist who's hiding from himself, hoping to find one more story in a place already forgotten by the rest of the world. When he learns about all the good things Jensen and his friend, Haitian nurse Abraham Joseph, are doing around the ravaged country, he thinks he's found his story. Jensen, of course, thinks otherwise. But Jared is nothing if not persistent, and when circumstances work to throw them together, he quickly learns that Dr. Jensen Ackles is more than just a story and that sometimes, stories can become personal.[1]

Discussion about the story quickly spread in fandom beyond the community and J2/Supernatural RPF spaces. It received strong and widespread criticism for racism based on its characterizations and use of Haiti as a backdrop for a romance between white men, and ignited discussions around topics including white privilege, racial stereotyping and the portrayal of POC in fanworks, fandom racism, dogpiling and abuse, and whether intent matters when discussing the harmful impact of a fanwork.

Immediate Response

The early response to the story occurred on the community post, which does not allow anonymous comments[2], in gatorgrrrl's journal posts, where anonymous commenting was allowed[3], and at spnpermanon, both in the fic discussion post thread for the story and in threads on the main discussion post. All of those posts are now deleted or no longer public.

Some of the first commenters on the story posts were making generally supportive comments of the sort fest fans and participants often leave on each other's posts, and were interested due to having read gatorgrrrl's previous J2 fic, In Harm's Way. Some very few of them were complimentary comments from people who had read the story. The very first responses in the spnpermanon discussion thread were also fairly positive about the story.[3]

The Art Post

The early comments on the art post are also complimentary of the art and of the artist as well as the story.[4]

Within a very short time however, fans began to leave comments in all of these places expressing criticism of the story, the setting, various plot points, and also of the art which originally included a photo of an unnamed Haitian woman, a survivor of the quake, and other photos of the aftermath. The very first negative comment to the art post suggested that a warning for the use of the photo of a survivor was appropriate.[5] Shortly thereafter, the photo of the Haitian woman was removed from the art and an edited version was substituted.

By June 16, the art post had been changed to only link to the now-modified pieces and the artist had added an apology to the post:

I deeply regret my actions with respect to this story. I should not have chosen this story to illustrate. I should not have produced these graphics. I should not have chosen actual photographs of the earthquake's aftermath as elements in the graphics I produced. I should not have published the graphics without appropriate warnings. I knew better at each step, and the fact that I went ahead and did these things represents a shameful and complete failure of judgment on my part. There are reasons and circumstances and backgrounds, but those reasons have no place in an apology.

I deeply regret having done these things, and I am sorry for the hurt, offense and pain I have caused even one of you, even indirectly.

Under the cut is the original art post, including my notes and acknowledgments, after the alterations described above and the earlier added warning and altered graphic. I've struggled with the thought of re-linking the original header before the alteration. I'm not trying to hide it, but I also don't want to cause additional pain by making it directly available all over again.

Thank you for reading this, and for your time, and for the guidance I've been able to find in your discussions.[4]

As of February 2012, the art is no longer available at the artist's website although her master art post remains. The first chapter header below is the altered version of the original, with the "silhouette of a pregnant woman against the backdrop of a ruined cathedral in Port-au-Prince" removed.

The Story Posts

Some hours after the story was posted and after many comments, both anonymous and by logged-in users, expressed extremely high levels of criticism of the story, gatorgrrrl edited the master post in her own journal to include an apology. At, or shortly after that time, she set the comments to the post to disabled, which on Livejournal at the time, had the effect of hiding all comments from view. The story was still available to readers.[1]

On July 14th, gatorgrrrl apologized in the comments:

I am very sorry to hear that my choice of setting offended you. It was not my intention in the least to treat the Haiti earthquake lightly or to diminish the devastation of it. I tried my best to treat the topic with respect and frankly, I think I did a decent job of it. Using the setting of a disaster or an epidemic or a war as a backdrop to a 'romance' isn't really that unusual in fiction, based on many of the novels and movies I have read and seen, but obviously it isn't your cup of tea. I agree; these types of fics aren't for everyone.[6]

At some time on the 15th of July, gatorgrrrl added the following note to the post on the Big Bang community, "A/N: Please note that some readers have found offense in both the setting and characterizations in this story."[1]

On the 16th of July, gatorgrrrl removed the post from the Big Bang community, removed the story from public view and issued a second apology, which said in part:[note 1]

My Big Bang fic, "Caught Between the Earth and Sky," has been removed from public viewing. I have also removed the entry from the SPN-J2 Big Bang community. I love the writing challenge, love reading so many great fics and having the opportunity to participate, and I would hate for the controversy to taint the community or the mods.

This situation has reached a level that I would never have believed if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. It was never my intention to write a story that so many people found offensive. I have already acknowledged my mistake and severe lack of good judgment in choosing the setting for my story. As for the treatment of the characters in the story, especially the people of color, I can see now how some of the portrayals can be seen as unflattering, though as I was writing, I did my best to avoid this. I also admit to falling into the trap of stereotypes, though again, I did not see this until after the fact. Hindsight can definitely be clearer, but unfortunately, by the time it kicks in, it is usually too late to correct.[1]

To those of you who have sent me PMs regarding this, thank you. I definitely appreciate you taking the time to leave me your thoughts and to share your views. I will respond to each individually as time permits. To those of you who have friended me despite the controversy, I also thank you. That means a lot to me. If anyone has defriended me, I am sorry you felt the need to do so, though I can completely understand the motivation.

This is the last thing I will be saying about this situation.

At this point, there is nothing else I can do. I have acknowledged my mistakes and apologized for the offense and outrage my story caused. I acknowledge that my actions in posting the story have hurt a lot of people. I see now that I failed in so many ways.

The fact that this has snowballed in many instances into a free-for-all of hatred is very sad. I regret that so many hurtful things have been said to and about people who had nothing to do with the fic besides reading it.

Going beyond the fic to bash me personally and calling me names is expected, if unnecessary, but attacking people just because they happened to like something you didn't is not fair.

I hope that removing this fic from public consumption will help stem the tide of hate and will, in time, alleviate some of the hurt feelings and outrage that have occurred because of this. I know this will take time and that there are still copies of the fic out there. There is nothing I can about that; it is up to those in possession of those copies to make a decision about what to do with them.

Thank you to everyone who has offered their support to me. To those of you who said not to give in to the pressure to take the fic down, this may seem like I'm caving. And I hope you don't think any less of me for locking it. But I don't see it as caving; I see it as doing what I can to help the fandom move on.[7]

The apology post is no longer public. The author made no further public comment about the story directly.

Wider Fandom Discussion

Branching Off The Anon Meme

One of the earliest posts about the story was by fan author-critic schmevil, expressing concern about the story based on the summary and author's notes alone, saying, "Anyone read the story? This strikes me as an intensely problematic and unwise premise."[8]

Not long after, Indo-Trinidadian blogger bossymarmalade posted a set of excerpts from the story with very little commentary.[9] This post, one of the most widely read and cited posts in the ensuing discussion, attracted over 400 comments. The livejournal posts of the original story were removed from public access approximately 48 hours after posting, and although a full PDF of the story remained in circulation afterward, many of the people involved in discussing it only ever read these excerpts.

The excerpts focused on the portion of the story that took place in Haiti as well as some of the later scenes set in the US. The bulk of them are descriptions of Haitian characters and their dialogue, with a particular focus on the character of Abraham Joseph, an Original Character who is a black Haitian man who works with Jensen in Haiti.

There are also excerpts that show the way the story looked at Haiti and Haitian people through the eyes of the white characters.

The final segment is a scene where Jared and Jensen discuss the large black cat that they have named after Abraham Joseph.

Virality on Livejournal & Dreamwidth

Afro-American blogger amazonziti began a list of links to posts about the story on June 14. It became the central resource for people tracking the conversation, trying to explain it to new people just encountering the discussion and also a discussion of some of the issues around the story and the behaviour of various posters and commenters.

The posts are:

Criticism of the Fic Content

Setting

A great deal of the criticism from the moment the story was posted and on through to the discussion moving into the collective fannish mythos has focused almost exclusively on the setting of the story. The story takes place initially in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake which struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. The story was posted only six months later.

For many fans, the most immediately obvious issue with the story is a moral argument against setting fanfic, and in particular sexually explicit fanfic with white protagonists, against a backdrop of a real-world tragedy, especially one which mostly affected black people.

Afro-American blogger amazonziti (formerly Kendra A.), in what would become the first post of the links list, said:

Right. So. Never mind the actual tragedy that devastated an entire country less than six months ago; never mind the hundreds of thousands of black people -- black children -- that died or were hurt or who lost people they loved or who lost their homes or who had their entire lives torn apart. No, what's REALLY important is the romance between two beautiful white men, and how they learn and grow and become better people because of their condescending to help these noble, gentle black folk.

Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth a little.[1]

The first two comments to bossymarmalade's post of excerpts compared the story to a J2 story from 2007, Nisay,[14] that was set in Cambodia, albeit well after the genocide of the Khmer Rouge.[15][16]

Many people zeroed in on a sentence in gatorgrrrl's notes about how she came to write the story. Solvent quotes the notes, "The Haiti earthquake was still in the news and the more I saw about it, the more I wanted to use it until it seemed like the best idea ever."[17]

A great many fans saw this as an inability to recognize the seriousness or even the reality of the setting and its appropriate use. Many people commented about how poor was the depiction of Haiti, its culture and its people in the story.

An anonymous commenter to the post of excerpts said:

I somehow completely missed that this was happening until a friend just mentioned it to me and I'm glad I did because I don't know what I would have said to the author. Haiti is my country, it's where my family here in the US is from and where the rest of my family still lives. Port au Prince is very dear to us because everyone grew up there, went to school there, our family house is there and everyone is buried there. So to think during a time when we were struggling to find out who was still alive and what was still standing, wondering if one of those unidentified bodies being dumped into landfills was a cousin or uncle, and living with the guilt at not being able to do enough someone out there was watching the same coverage to fuel their fic is something I can't grasp.

And she got everything so bloody wrong. I can't even articulate how insulted and angry I feel that this is what she is describing the city as-some backwater town without doctors or even people who have seen friggin' cameras before. She has no idea who these people are or how that city could be so beautiful or so vibrant before the earthquake. That yes, there was cell phone coverage and internet and movie and music scenes. That a lot of people speak fucking English in addition to french and creole and are in contact with a large diaspora spread across the world. That these are not the stereotypical jungle people of racist hollywood films.

There was no effort made to understand the country, its problems or its culture. Instead it was used as a shallow backdrop for her love story as she willfully ignored how it could affect people.[18]

And july_july_july wrote, quoting some more of the author's notes:

I find this fic extremely offensive. In March I spent a week in Haiti doing relief work, up north and also in Port au Prince. (Not that this makes me an expert by any stretch, but I did put eyes on the city and I saw things that have radically re-shaped my opinions about the developing world.)

This is not any setting that you have chosen. This is not a WWII AU or a fic about doctors trying to eliminate polio in the 1950's or even the Good Friday Quake. The Haitian earthquake just happened. It JUST happened. There are still bodies in the rubble, limbs trimmed off so they don't dangle out in front of pedestrian traffic. They're never going to find all the bodies. And the ones they did find? They're in a mass grave outside the city that you can smell when you drive past it.

[from the A/N]I have taken a few liberties with some of the facts in order to make them fit into the story the way I needed. For example, Haiti's daytime temperatures in February/March, when the majority of this fic takes place, tend to be in the 70s-80s F; I made it seem much hotter. The country's rainy season doesn't really begin until early April; I pushed it up a few weeks. And the Port-au-Prince General Hospital was severely damaged in the earthquake and since then, its emergency room has been housed in a tent. In the fic, the building is fairly undamaged and even has electricity.

And this, in all honesty, is what I find most repellent. These are not dry facts that you can take liberties with. These are death and life circumstances for living people. The building was damaged. There was not electricity. And people died because of that. Pretending otherwise is malicious fantasy.[19]

Another story that was brought up often in the discussion was tevere's Generation Kill story set in East Timor, Sixteen Days in September[20]. Unlike the story set in Cambodia, this story was often used as an example of how fanfic, even slash fanfic can be set in these kinds of times and places without the problematic results of the Haiti fic.

Tevere posted Fanfic as a Vehicle[21] to discuss her story, the Haiti story and the "interesting part of the discussion around this story is the ongoing conversation on whether or not fanfiction -- as opposed to original fiction -- is ever an appropriate vehicle for the exploration of real-life natural or man-made tragedies, particularly in non-white and post-colonial settings."

Racist Depictions of Haiti and Haitian people

While discussing the setting of the story and its appropriateness and acuracy, fans were also talking about particulars of the way the setting and Haitian characters were depicted. Bossymarmalade focused on the physical descriptions of Abraham Joseph and the forms and content of the dialogue by multiple Haitian characters who appeared in the story.[9]

However, many fans responded that they could not see the racism in these depictions, and required further explanation. Several fans have commented that they read the story or the excerpts and didn't see anything wrong with the depictions of Haiti or of the Haitian characters until they found posts or comments drawing arrows at the offensive content.[3]

Poisontaster, in responding to the general tenor of the discussion wrote, "Racism is not just using the N-bomb or thinking that interracial marriage is unnatural. Sometimes it's taking the stories of brown people (and their history and culture and tragedies) and putting it on like a shiny necklace. Sometimes it's envisioning or re-envisioning a world that has no brown people in it, or where they can only occupy subservient, unimportant roles (you know, like those pesky women). It's the ability to not think in terms of color and to not see it when you just 'accidentally' or 'coincidentally' co-opt, erase or otherwise keep the brown people to the back. "[22]

Haitian Languages As "Gibber/Jabber"

Two of the excerpts in bossymarmalade's post referred to Haitian characters as gibbering or jabbering in Creole. Many of the commenters discussed this as offensive terminology as well as the problematic references in the story to Jensen's scholastic French being of no use to him in Haiti.[9]

Jazzypom took the topic a lot farther in an essay about the colonialist and imperialist history of language in places like Haiti and tied these ideas into how the story handled language:

Which brings me back to the SPN writer, and when I read an excerpt from the fic with the notion of dismissing Haiti's nation language as gibberish, it hit me hard, because of the reasons detailed above. For most colonised areas, you didn't learn English, or Spanish or French because it pleased you, but to survive and get ahead, especially if you weren't white. Language, as detailed in the essay so far, comes with its own history, be it of economics, or society. In the SPN fic, one of the characters learns French, and it is presented as a choice, and the right choice, whereas in the colonies, it's not an option, but a forcible legacy of their history. [23][note 2].

Comparison Of Abraham To An Animal

Another flashpoint for many critics of the story is near the end, when Jared adopts a black cat that they name after Abraham, the Haitian nurse in the story:

"But why did you have to name him Abraham?” “Do you really have to ask?” he said, looking over at the cat. “I mean, look at him.”

Jared studied the cat again. It was the largest black cat he’d ever seen outside of Animal Planet, with paws bigger than those old Eisenhower silver dollars Jared used to collect when he was a kid. And he did always look like he was just on the verge of smiling.

It was uncanny, really.[24]

In the opening paragraphs of the story, Abraham is described as follows: "It was hard to believe sometimes that Abraham was a nurse. Six foot five if an inch. Nearly 300 pounds. Hands the size of Frisbees. Amazingly calm under pressure, though if pushed, had a temper like a solar flare."

Further down the page Jensen muses: "Abraham’s exposure to American culture consisted mainly of VHS tapes of old westerns, which he kept in a locked trunk in his tent back at the camp for safekeeping. He’d shown them all to Jensen that first day, grinning like he was a cat and all that was left of the canary was the aftertaste."

The physical similarity between the cat and Abraham, the naming of a cat after Abraham, along with the fact that Abraham's English was broken, [note 3] left some fans feeling that the character was being treated with a fundamental lack of respect.

Let's go back to the J2 Haiti fic for a second. The author made a lot of choices with that one, but I don't think she asked herself for a moment if they were necessary to the story. There is, for example, the idea that Abraham is a big big guy with big big hands. Was it necessary to the story? Did his size play a role in affecting the plot? Bear in mind that this was, apparently, heavily referenced during the course of the story. Did all the mentions of his size have to be there? Does it even make sense for certain characters to notice it more than once, or at all?....I'm sure there are big big guys with big big hands in Haiti. There's guys of all different sizes in Haiti. The author could have made Abraham small, or medium-sized, or tall and very thin, or maybe just a little out-of-shape but otherwise pretty normal. She could have made him fluent in English -- that is also something that happens in real life, after all. She could have made him anything. She chose to make him what he was -- big, black, speaking in Ye Olde Brokene Englishe...I have a hard time seeing how these choices were dramatically necessary, what purpose they served to the story, apart from, perhaps, burnishing Jensen's Noble Doctor cred."[25]

"Why didn't anyone stop her?"

Several critics wondered why none of the author's or artist's beta readers or friends stopped her.

And consider- it's a BB. It's taken months to write, maybe a month to beta, plenty of time for the artist as well. She's acknowledged a wide circle of friends as being cheerleaders. And yet in all that time, no one sounded the alarm."[26]

[...] statistically, I'm kind of amazed if none of the people who set eyes on this story or summary along the line said, hold up, folks, could this maybe be a terrible idea. It's a big fandom, you expect there are going to be people who love and defend the story and people who find it incredibly repellent based on subject matter alone, and that's a whole issue in itself, but this seems like it would've set off somebody's alarm bells before now.[27]

I know it's unpopular, but I actually feel kinda sad for the writer. She wrote this humongous story, she thought she was doing it so well, and like a kitten who's hiding from making a terrible mess didn't realize her ass was hanging out from under the bed. She was probably thinking about shows like The English Patient or Casablanca and if she had set it during a war, or even during a made-up tragedy, it would have been okay. But not Haiti.

And then she had to compound her error by using blatant stereotypes. If only she had had someone on her editing team who had said "stop. Think for a minute."[28]

The wondering extended also to the Big Bang moderators, even though few Big Bang Challenges vet or moderate the fan fiction or artwork content:

And I have to wonder about the BB mods, too.[29]

Further on down the thread someone suggested that future Big Bangs change their rules to say: "Don't appropriate modern disasters for your backdrop." [30]

Other fans began discussing ways in which challenge communities could adopt anti-oppression policies which would allow moderators and betas to call out work, force the author to remove or modify their work to be less offensive, and ban repeat offenders. And while there might be drawbacks to having a more restrictive set of rules for challenges, the tradeoffs would be worth it.

This [method] is looser, and would leave room for oppressive material to get through before the mods spotted it. It would also, I hope allow for a somewhat safer space, without burning everyone out. It might also raise awareness of the anti-oppression movement in general, and perhaps introduce something more of a brain-post button filter.

It would still be a fair bit of work. It would still be more restrictive than a most comms and challenges currently are. There is a trade off.

But then there's always a trade off. I'm hearing a lot of PoC posting about how they are tired of having to count spoons [stop to evaluate one's personal, physical and emotional energy] before clicking links because of the potential fail therein. I wouldn't mind trying to trade that one for something nicer, personally."[31]

Other Perspectives & Related Discussions

Dogpiling Or Abuse

Many fans, during the various conversations in June 2010 and since that time, have made the argument that the criticisms levelled at the story and the author and artist amounted to dogpiling or bullying. One anonymous commenter on amazonziti's list of meta posts took her to task for compiling the list and as they saw it:

But seriously, when people make a mistake, making irrational assumptions and verbally abusing the author does not help anyone except the abusers. I do not agree with the author (of this post)'s intention to keep this abuse going. The author of this post asks for further posts about people being hurtful about the author of the fic in question. How is this different from bullying? I will repeat myself. I understand how people will rise up to what they believe... but I do not think it justifies abusing the author verbally and thus emotionally, disregarding her work. The story was taken down. It cannot offend any more people... unless people keep on talking about it, or as the author of this post says, "NOT BE SILENT". The more people make a big deal out of this, continue the abuse, the more it hurts people, especially the author. [32]

Some felt that the critical posts were going way beyond dogpiling. When people began claiming that the author had received death threats,[note 4] many critics distanced themselves, saying they were not responsible for other people's misbehavior and that they did not condone death threats to the author.[33] In response, some fans claimed that even if the alleged death threats were coming from only a small minority, when those threats were combined with the unrelenting torrent of criticism, it formed a pattern of abuse: "Now imagine receiving literally thousands of angry comments, some telling you to commit suicide, some threatening you. I think the sheer numbers, born of the the me-too-ism that led to the current unpleasant situation, has now passed into abuse. Cyberbullying someone for a mistake (as opposed to ill-intent) is NOT the way to go."[34]

However, other fans argued that spreading the word about the incident was not about dogpiling or even about the author of the fic in question - it was about ensuring that something similar didn't happen again and making fandom well aware of why this kind of fanwork was not okay, something that remarkably few fans who came into contact with the J2 Haiti Fic seemed to have realised.

But this isn't a problem that's restricted to Supernatural RPF, it's endemic. It's not even restricted to fandom, but that doesn't mean that fandom should throw their hands up and say "pro-fic/movies do it, why can't we?"

IA. That's why the whole "Stop talking about it! She's deleted the fic! Isn't that enough for you monsters?" thing makes me so angry. Because in the end, it's not about her.

And although she's argued that we shouldn't be angry at her commenters for just liking a story, I do think that everyone who read her fic and gave her gushing praise over it should take a step back and ask themselves why they were so comfortable with it, and maybe examine their privileges. Because it's not cool. It's really not.[35]

I'm trying to put togther a pass-it-on post at the moment, more condensed than this, that I can whack a repost button on the bottom of. There's some rumbling among the disabled fen about not being able to do much due to spoon shortages and I just think that spreading the word that this is not okay as far and as wide as possible is something that we can do. Not in the interests of shaming those responsible more (I'm not particularly bothered about their feelings, but they are no longer the focus of this discussion) but because if it happens twice in the same fandom then obviously not enough people heard about it. (and then I'm getting massive performance anxiety because do I have what it takes to make something suitable for reposting? argh.)

I do think that everyone who read her fic and gave her gushing praise over it should take a step back and ask themselves why they were so comfortable with it, and maybe examine their privileges.

I agree.[36]

See also: the related debate around personal attacks on the author.

Misogynistic Insults Toward Author & The Tone Argument

In addition to the characterization by some fans of the criticisms of the story in general as dogpiling or bullying, several fans were particularly disturbed by misogynistic insults made in some of the original comments on the story posts and in other places.

Some of these comments being referred to contained gendered slurs and a general misogynistic tone. Bossymarmalade posted a screenshot[37] of one such comment that included an immediate rebuke from another commenter.

Bossymarmalade went on to discuss the general nature of the conversations fans were having that focused on these insults and why it was unhelpful:

What's aggravating is seeing so many iterations -- yet again! -- of the tone argument coming up, where people whine that if those hurt by the story were just *nicer* about telling gatorgrrrl where she went wrong (since all of us are a monolith and got the same marching orders and are able to police each other, of course), everything would have been resolved in a lovely Teaching Moment for those hurt and a valuable Learning Experience for those not.[37]

The attention focused on the gendered insults is contrasted with a second screencapped comment thread from the early discussion that begins with one anonymous fan's angry comment containing a gendered insult that includes the line, "...you're a thoughtless piece of garbage that thinks dead PoC make for a good white boy sexytiems backdrop...". The anonymous response is, "Well they do."

Bossymarmalade discussed the contrasting tones in the exchange: "Perfectly calm. No explicit gendered insult or wish of violence. Offhand, cool, innocuous even. I wince a bit when I read the angry first example, but it's this second polite one that hits me deep inside."

The comments to the post contained a discussion about balancing the need to "call out" misogyny and sexism without derailing the original conversation. Onelittlesleep said, in referring to a locked post of her own on the topic:

[...] its NOT actually that misogynistic language doesn't MATTER, it's that it is NOT OK for one slur to take up SO MUCH screentime and so much discussion when there is a LARGER issue at hand. That is derailing! The fact that there is NO LONGER DISCUSSION THREAD on my lj post (which covers a myriad of issues related to this racefail) than the one on the 'cunt' comment is proof, to me, of exactly what I'm saying.[38]

In amazonziti's second roundup post, they addressed the fact that misogynistic comments had sparked off a debate about tone, derailing the discussion, and the fact that many commenters were linking to the vid 'How To Tell Someone They Sound Racist' by New York hip-hop blogger Jay Smooth as a response.

Right. So I recently came across yet another post pointing to the few people at the beginning of all this who commented on the fic master post with misogynistic slurs. That post was focused on those comments to the exclusion of everything else everyone has said, and used this video as a prop to criticize the whole fandom protest.

This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. The last time it came up (here) (broken link), this is what I said:

It is a tone argument, but it's more infuriating than your basic tone argument, because it has the added bonus of appropriating something a PoC said and then misusing it. I like Jay Smooth, and the vid itself is cool (if optimistic), but that? Is certainly not how he intended for the vid to be used.
(Also, the sheer ridiculousness of a white person using one black person to educate another black person on how to speak to white people is SO RIDICULOUS there are no words that can do it justice.)


Jay Smooth (illdoc) replied to my comment, and this is what he said:

I feel awfully pretentious declaring "how my video should be used" (I never imagined at the time that it'd be "used" or become this sort of reference point in any context), but yes, what you describe here is certainly not what I had in mind.
The whole point of the video is trying to *keep the focus on* what [___] said ..so if you jump into a conversation where a POC is calling out what [___] said, and use that video to quibble with the POC's tone, thus diverting the focus *away* from what [___] said, you're basically using the video for the exact opposite of what the video advocates. :)
Also, I mos def didn't mean to suggest the video's approach is guaranteed to (or even likely to) bring mutual understanding between you and your antagonist, or bring about some epiphany in them. I'd expect the odds against this to be astronomical no matter what approach you use. If I knew this video was destined to have such a long shelf life I'd have added a disclaimer to that effect.


If we could please stop using this video to silence people of color, that would be AWESOME.

Obviously those few anon comments at the beginning of all this were abusive. (We have been through this.) But again -- four or five comments out of thousands? It is utterly derailing to keep focusing on them.[39]

Personal Attacks

Other fans expressed concern over the debate's shift from the merits (or lack of) of the story into discussion of the merits of the author and artist.

The fact that this was still a fairly recent event I'm sure had an enormous part to do with why people fell so strongly. I can respect that view. And I can respect many of the arguments that the author had not exercised proper consideration for her subject matter. But when they attacks on this author become personal, where she is accused not merely of being a poor writer, but of being a horrible person... those comments step over the line.[40]

In counterargument, one anon at spnpermanon summed up the reasons why fans who were calling out the racism of the fic (and by extension, the author's racist actions) were uninterested in discussing or worrying about the author's possible hurt feelings.

You know who I never, ever feel sorry for? People who whine about how hurtful it is when they get called on their shady privileged bullshit.

"Hey brown people, when you call me a racist it hurts my feelings! You can't possibly know how awful it feels to be called a racist! Pity me! Take it back!"

No. No, no, no. No.

Schooled the hard way is what this situation calls for.[41]

amazonziti responded to this sentiment in their first roundup post with wholehearted agreement:

I HEARTILY AGREE. I see a lot of this in fandom -- white fen who are called out on their racism are very good at refocusing the attention on their victimization and their pain. REALLY NOT WHAT WE SHOULD BE WORRYING ABOUT THIS TIME OKAY?

I do not care whether or not an author has a sterling reputation or whether or not they have written excellent fic in the past. Actually I think that tends to make it all worse because people love to use that as an excuse to smooth things over, and I am really tired of the idea that a story's being technically well-written makes its being racist and exploitative and braised in privilege okay. Okay?

Okay.[1]

When amazonziti created their second roundup post, they added an "addendum" that an anon they had been debating with requested, reading, I do not support personal attacks on the author of the fic. However, they followed this up with a caveat that discussed the absence of any evidence of supposed dogpiling on the author.

THAT BEING SAID, here is my addendum to that addendum: I have seen absolutely no proof of any personal attacks on the author since, oh, the first several hours of the community's reaction to her fic.

[...]

All I know of any possible harrassment is people saying "I heard" without a source, anon or named, and without an attacker, anon or named, and using this hypothetical harassment by individuals to call everybody else bullies or a mob. If anyone is harassing the author, they are doing it by PM. If the author were getting threats and/or abuse (as opposed to messages that say "I feel hurt/angry when you write racist stories"), THAT WOULD NOT BE OKAY. As much as I do not want to participate in a racist fandom, so do I not want to participate in a fandom that operates on shady threats, and I don't want people who would resort to shady threats doing it in the name of my anti-racist cause.

But I have seen no evidence of any of that.[39]

Opinions on the Story's Removal

A few fans felt uncomfortable with the removal of the story on the grounds that removing a controversial work from public view often hampers the ability to debate the issues.

I feel like a lot of people are talking about it without having read it and now the author has taken it down. I'm not 100% good on sharing a fic that the author has removed, but I think if people are going to be discussing it, they should at least have the option of reading it.[42].
Look, I realize that deleting the fic is effective in making sure that more people aren't hurt by this, but the idea that incriminating evidence should be removed in order to "help the fandom move on" is completely repellent to me. Number one? There are people who were affected who won't be able to "move on" just because the story is gone. Number two? I'm guessing "move on" in this case means "stop arguing about it" which I don't actually want to do. THIS NEEDS TO BE TALKED ABOUT. Unfortunately, that also means that the racist bullshit needs to stay visible, perhaps with massive warnings edited in at the beginning for the protection of new readers, in order to have a discussion about it.[43]

Others pointed out that even flawed works have merit:

It's never easy when you write to find out that people don't like your work. It's another thing altogether when people are calling for your work to be taken down because they don't agree with it. The writer admitted to the mistakes that she made, that she hadn't been thoughtful enough when picking the setting of her story and for the other characters aside from the two mains that were not written as well as they could have been. But that does not mean that her story is of no value or that she should be forced to remove it. I've read numerous fanfictions based in the aftermath (or during) some of the worst events of human history. If I got bent out of joint over every fanfiction set during the Holocaust, I'd never get anything done. Or stories that took place during the American civil war. Or in Japan after the dropping of the atomic bombs. Or the Pacific tsunami. These are all events that have been used as backdrops, not only in fanfiction, but many respected published works as well.[44]

Discouraging People From Writing About POC

A frequent argument against calling out racially problematic writing is that is creates a climate of fear, a desire to avoid being seen as "failing" and it runs the risk of reducing the overall amount of literature and art that includes people of color. (See also Race and Fandom for more detailed discussion.)

In counterpoint, one fan did not shy away from this possibility. Nigerian blogger 2-perseph ended her "Open Letter To Gatorgrrrl" with:

Your story, dear gatorgrrrl, is a perfect tribute to pure racial ideals. Almost pathologically so. The only advise I can give you or anyone who feels that in writing people from "another race" they have to go do research, is don't. Don't write it. I'm not talking about researching culture or language. I mean that if you have to imagine "how they must think" or "what it feels like to be them," you're already being weird.

So the purpose of my writing this essay is twofold: One, to show by example what racist ideals look like in application; and two, to disgrace you so badly that the next time you so much as think about another human being whose hair, nose, mouth, "almond eyes" or color of skin is not like yours, you'll hesitate to touch that keyboard.

Because if you end up hesitating, it'll mean, at the very least, that those people are no longer invisible to you. And when they're no longer invisible, it will be very difficult for you to cut and paste whatever caricatures you find in your wanderings and believe that they are beautiful, perfect, and more than enough for the Black, Asian, Latin or any other "non-white" people in your stories. In the meantime, fuck you.[45]

"Unintentional" Racism?

Similar counter-arguments and concerns were raised in the J2 Haiti debate as with other Racefail debates. One of the more contested issues was whether the author's intent to insult/harm mattered, or whether it only mattered that the outcome was harmful - regardless of intent.

Another expressed worry that the rhetoric of some of the critics held even unintentional acts of racism equal with the worst hate crimes:

Suddenly all forms of racism have been put on the same level here--writing an offensive story is just as bad as committing a hate crime? Writing an offensive story is the same thing as colonizing a country? I'm sorry, but this logic is all fucked up. I understand that gatorgrrrl's racism is indicative of a larger institutional problem, and I understand that small incidents of racism and larger cultural oppression are all interrelated, and that you can't necessarily tease all of this out and call any one incident "isolated" ... but come on! Yes. Intention matters. If someone accidentally elbowed me, I'm going to forgive them a lot faster than if they came up and deliberately punched me in the face because I'm [insert my race/ethnicity/gender here]. We have a judicial system that believes that intention matters ... thank God. Thank God! that vehicular homicide isn't the same thing as plotting a murder weeks in advance. If someone calls me a [insert choice of racial slur] and attempts to assault me because I am _____, I'm not going to be so forgiving. I'm going to have them arrested. If someone sees me and assumes that I make less than $30k a year because of my appearance, I'm not going to be thrilled about it, but if they sheepishly aplogize when I correct their assumptions, get all flustered and embarrassed, and look like they want to die a slow white death ... I'm not going to press the matter further--even if the incident is an indicator that, yes, said person has unexamined racist assumptions. Yes, intention matters. Yes, there are degrees of racism. No, no incident of racism, however small, is excusable. But let's not conflate all incidents of racism as equally malicious and hurtful.[46]

However, in their first round-up post about the discussion, amazonziti outlined in no uncertain terms why they didn't care to discuss whether or not the author "meant" to cause hurt with her fanwork:

Here is the thing, if you will allow me, just for a change of pace, to be totally frank with you. I DO NOT CARE WHAT THE AUTHOR'S/ARTIST'S INTENTIONS WERE. Here (broken link) is the first direct comment objecting to the author's post; as so many people who do racist things like to do, the author falls back on what she meant. Here is me taking a stand and saying I DON'T CARE. I mean, I guess it's nice that she didn't think, "Oh, yes, I think I'll write eighty thousand words taking advantage of the pain of people of color today!" But I don't think that deserves a reward and I don't think it deserves sympathy.[1]

A Final Quote

This story doesn't actually deserve that bitter, tongue in cheek trademarked name I gave it up above ["That J2 Haiti Fic®"], because it's not unique. It is not unique to J2 fandom, slash fandom, SPN fandom or to fandom in general. It is not an artifact just of fandom, but of the world at large. I don't think it's even a uniquely bad example of the genre it makes up a part of. I do think it is a foreseeable outcome of what happens when white people in wealthy nations choose to selfishly indulge their privilege and passively consume the reality of the rest of humanity as entertainment.[47]

Meta/Further Reading

Notes

  1. Note that this quote is copied from secondary sources and may have minor differences in punctuation from the original
  2. Kreyòl or Haitian Creole is a language spoken by over twelve million people. Haitian children are routinely taught in Kreyòl and French in schools. Until recently, Kreyòl was officially regarded as a "dialect", and only French was used in schools. Kreyòl-speaking children had to learn to speak, read and write French from a standing start. The fight to allow Kreyòl in schools was a long and arduous one, involving educators of all races. Anyone interested in learning more about Kreyòl and its linguistics may visit Indiana University's Haitian Creole Institute
  3. "Abraham looked back and forth between them, a quizzical look on his face. “What you talking about?”....Abraham laughed. “You two funny.” Page 84.
  4. Some critics believed that there were no death threats, quoting the Internet adage "Screencaps or it didn't happen." See july_july-july's and lookninjas' comments in *deep breath* post dated June 19, 2010. See also amazonziti's and muccamukk's discussion in The J2 Fail post, cont dated June 21, 2010; WebCite.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 amazonziti, June 14, 2010 *deep breath*, accessed August 9, 2011; WebCite
  2. wendy, June 2, 2010, a word about anonymous comments, accessed August 9, 2010
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 This is my personal recollection of how now-deleted posts appeared on June 14, and shortly after. facetofcathy
  4. 4.0 4.1 mementis, June 14, 2010 spn_j2_bigbang art post: Caught Between the Earth and Sky | gatorgrrrl, accessed August 9, 2011
  5. brihana24, June 14, 2010 Comment on the art post in mementis' journal, accessed August 9, 2011
  6. (deleted)
  7. (no subject) by nestra, Jun. 16th, 2010 - gatorgrrrl has removed her offensive J2 Big Bang story (good) and posted another fauxpology (bad). Here, let me translate.
  8. schmevil, June 14, 2011, J2 story set in post-earthquake Haiti, accessed August 9, 2011; WebCite.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 bossymarmalade, June 14, 2011 i thought you were some kind of outer-space potato man, accessed August 9, 2011
  10. WebCite for *deep breath* on Livejournal.
  11. WebCite for The J2 Fail Post, cont'd on Livejournal.
  12. WebCite for *deep breath* on Dreamwidth
  13. WebCite for The J2 Fail Post, cont'd on Dreamwidth.
  14. WebCite for the story Nisay.
  15. la_vie_noire, June 14, 2010 comment in bossymarmalade's journal, accessed August 9, 2011
  16. skywardprodigal, June 14, 2010 comment in bossymarmalade's journal, accessed August 9, 2011
  17. solvent, June 15, 2010 perhaps the most depressing sentence I've read in years, accessed August 9, 2011
  18. anonymous, June 27, 2010 comment on bossymarmalade's journal, accessed August 9, 2011
  19. july_july_july, June 14, 2010 here's the story, morning glory, accessed August 9, 2011; WebCite.
  20. Sixteen Days in September, accessed August 9, 2011; webCite
  21. WebCite for Fanfic as a Vehicle post.
  22. poisontaster, June 15, 2010 But Trust Me On the Sunscreen, accessed August 9, 2011; WebCite.
  23. jazzypom, June 16, 2010 On Nation Language, Gibberish and Why Both Aren't The Same., accessed August 9, 2011' WebCite
  24. penguinparity's comment in schmevil's post J2 story set in post-earthquake Haiti, dated June 15, 2010.
  25. I Love You, but I'm Sad About the Choices You've Made by lookninjas, dated June 23, 2010.
  26. schmevil's J2 story set in post-earthquake Haiti post dated June 14, 2010.
  27. tripoli8's comment july-july-july's here's the story, morning glory post dated June 15, 2010.
  28. Comment by mrshamill, Livejournal, June 16, 2010 (Accessed January 25, 2020).
  29. july-july-july commenting in her here's the story, morning glory post dated June 15, 2010.]
  30. minim_calibre's comment in july-july-july's here's the story, morning glory post dated June 15, 2010.]
  31. Some Thoughts on Comm and Challenge Rules by muccamukk, dated June 20, 2010; WebCite.
  32. anonymous, June 19, 2010 Comment on amazonziti's journal, accessed August 25, 2011
  33. See bl_nt's and hackthis' comments in in hackthis' post Goddamm that was racist, dated June 16, 2010; WebCite.
  34. shezam's comment in hackthis' post Goddamm that was racist, dated June 16, 2010; WebCite.
  35. [https://theo-harrison.livejournal.com/30191.html?thread=312815#t312815 Comment by lookninjas, Livejournal, June 17, 2010 (Accessed January 25, 2020).
  36. [https://theo-harrison.livejournal.com/30191.html?thread=314095#t314095 Comment by theo_harrison, Livejournal, June 17, 2010 (Accessed January 25, 2020).
  37. 37.0 37.1 past instances in which I professed to like you were fraudulent. Posted 18 Jun 2010. Accessed 8 Jan 2020.
  38. onelittlesleep, June 18, 2010 Comment on bossymarmalade's journal, accessed August 25, 2011
  39. 39.0 39.1 amazonziti, June 20, 2010 The J2 Fail Post, cont'd, accessed August 25, 2011
  40. Don't get people sometimes (in defence of gatorgrrl) by ravanne dated June 15, 2010; WebCite.
  41. Original thread that this discussion took place in appears to be lost, but amazonziti quotes the post in their first roundup.
  42. 13chapters comment in *Deep Breath* dated June 17, 2010;WebCite
  43. and the taste of dried up hopes in my mouth by fiercynn dated June 16, 2010; WebCite.
  44. 'Don't get people sometimes (in defence of gatorgrrl) by ravanne dated June 15, 2010; WebCite.
  45. Open Letter To Gatorgrrrl by 2-perseph, dated June 16, 2010; 2-perseph WebCite.
  46. Anonymous comment in *deep breath* dated June 20, 2010; WebCite
  47. facetofcathy's post How could they? How could anyone? dated June 15, 2010; reference link.
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