RaceFail '09

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Event: RaceFail'09, RaceFail09
Date(s): January - May 2009
Fandom: Science Fiction Fandom
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

RaceFail '09 is one of the names given to a large and tangled snarl of racism, misunderstanding, culture clash, bad behavior, and hurt which consumed several interconnected corners of fandom in early 2009.

While the topics of discussion in RaceFail '09 were long in coming, the first flashpoint was on January 12, 2009: Elizabeth Bear's LiveJournal essay about "writing the Other", Archived version [1].

It was reignited in May 2009 with the publication of Patricia Wrede's The Thirteenth Child which took place in an alternate history United States, one in which Native Americans did not exist. This discussion was often referred to as MammothFail, although it was understood within the context of (and as related to) RaceFail.[2][3][4]

See: Lists of Fans Who Made Posts About RaceFail and Race Fail 2009 - Fan History Wiki: The Fandom History Resource, Archived version.

In the course of RaceFail 2009, I have heard white people in the community who are angry at the anger displayed by people of color in the community; people who say that we don’t deserve to be listened to if we can’t be polite. I couldn’t figure out why this statement felt wrongheaded to me, until I read a post by my colleague, writer Nora Jemisin, on RaceFail. She pointed out that discussions of race in this community have been happening, politely, for decades. And though there has been change, it has been minimal. When we people of color started to blow up, suddenly there were more of you paying attention. That’s the thing. I’ve said that when you step on my foot once or twice, I might politely ask you to get off it. But by the thousandth time you do it, the excuse of “I didn’t see you there” starts to sound a hell of a lot like, “I don’t care enough about you to pay attention.” The vehement response of people of color to RaceFail got more people paying attention, both white and of color. It showed us people of color that we do have a certain strength of numbers, that there are more of us than the one or two visibly of color people you’ll usually see at a con. People of color in this community have started publishing ventures together as a result. Some white people in the community began addressing the issue and began creating forums for discussion. Some of them held fast, even when they came under attack from all sides. A small handful of them had the guts to examine their own statements and actions, perceive where they had been racist, and admit it. Without saying that they were now afraid to go to cons because of angry brown people (in my experience, the wrath of the white majority is much more dangerous), without name-calling, baiting, or (black!)listing, and without deleting their whole blog right after posting an apology on it.

- "A Reluctant Ambassador from the Planet of Midnight" by Nalo Hopkinson - the guest of honor speech at International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts in 2010.

How it began

2009 keyword search stats for RaceFail regarding Fan History Wiki, collected by Laura Hale

There is considerable controversy as to how RaceFail began. Some fans think it originated as a discussion by fans of color about racism in fantasy and SF, which was invaded and appropriated by white fans and authors whose privileged voices were not wanted.[note 1]

Others see it as responses by fans of color to statements by white fans and white writers such as Elizabeth Bear - that is, a dialectic, with white fans and authors included in the discussion.[citation needed]

Roadmaps & Timelines

Several people produced roadmaps to RaceFail '09 to try to sort out the confusion. Some maps were created while the conversations were ongoing, and some were compiled after the fact.

a 2009 RaceFail bingo card, created by dysprositos

An extensive collection of links addressing the imbroglio (mostly links to LiveJournal or blog posts) is documented in Rydra Wong's journal under the "gcadod 09" tag; the links represent a multiplicity of individuals and viewpoints[note 2]. These posts were updated frequently, often containing links that were sometimes only hours or even minutes old, and when considered in conjunction with the comments on each post serve as a contemporaneous documentation of the unfolding conversation. The acronym "gcadod" stands for "Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of Doom." The year is added since 2009 was not the first time massive conversations about Race and Fandom had occurred.[5][6]

Afro-Trinidadian blogger Avalon's Willow posted a timeline of early events on January 29, 2009.

Feminist SF Wiki maintained a quotation-heavy chronology of the early posts which sparked the conversation. (The original post is now offline, as is the entire wiki, but an archived page from February 12, 2009, is available via the Wayback Machine.)

Fan blogger Tablesaw posted an overview on March 9, 2009[7] that characterizes the discussion as a hypertext, in addition to introducing key players and recommending both specific source texts and an approach to following a conversation "wherein everything refers to something or multiple things, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly."

An opposing, and individual, narrative is presented in Will Shetterly's post "Racefail and Coffeeandink"; WebCite.

Key Events

Elizabeth Bear: "They're not Those People"

On January 12, 2009, professional sf/f author Elizabeth Bear posted some writing advice in her LiveJournal entitled "whatever you're doing, you're probably wrong" (accessed 15 May 2009). This was most likely a response to fantasy author Jay Lake's "Another shot at thinking about the Other" (accessed 09 October 2010).

In her post, she provides her formula for "writing The Other without being a dick", a process she defines as "simple but not easy". (Writing the Other is a book by professional SF authors Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, which later became a writing workshop.[8] Neither Bear's nor Lake's posts reference this work directly, although both use the styling of the title within the text.) Briefly, Bear's advice was:

  1. Don't think of "the other" as the other. Begin by seeing people as people, regardless of gender, nationality, color, etc., not shiny exotic cute ethnic people -- just people.
  2. When you write about people who are "other" or different from yourself, consult people you know who live what you are writing about. If you have a Catholic character in your story for instance, learn about Catholicism and talk to Catholic people.[note 3]

Many people on LiveJournal linked to Bear's post, often presenting it as a potentially useful bit of writing meta.[note 4]

Deepa D.: "I grew up with half a tongue"

On 13 January 2009, Deepa D. wrote "I Didn’t Dream of Dragons" (accessed 15 May 2009) on LiveJournal (post previously hosted publicly on Dreamwidth, but requires login as of July 14, 2018). Deepa D. clarified that the essay was not a response to "Writing the Other", but rather it was based on her personal emotional reactions to Bear's words:

The following essay (screed? thingie?) is not a direct continuation of that conversation, nor should it be taken as specific to anything she said. I have used one of her books as an example, because context foregrounded it for me, but this is more my commentary on the Western, White novels and blogs I have been reading recently, and my experience as an Indian reader.

The gist of the essay:

  1. Most "epic fantasy" is set in a standard fantasy setting -- Europe or quasi-European environments.[note 5] Many familiar character types and situations have no equivalents in other cultures. Deepa ran into this problem when she tried to write such a fantasy set in ancient India, which lacked (she thought at the time) European-style roadside taverns and dragons.[note 6]
  2. In colonialized nations such as India, children are thoroughly educated in the dominant culture's language, imagery, and values.[note 7] Even when they are allowed to speak their own languages, their reading is all in the dominant culture's language and portrays dominant cultural values. Their thinking is so informed so early on that it becomes their identity, and they have little or no sense of their own culture.[note 8] Also, colonialized nations lack the resources that are available to the ruling nations. In this situation, "stop complaining and write your own" is meaningless; there may not be paper or pencils available, and only one or two publishing houses which can only afford to publish a limited number of books.[note 9]
  3. There is a disturbing trend in modern Western fantasy literature of appropriating African, Native American, and Asian characters and character types and re-interpreting them through a European fantasy lens. (Deepa covers this in even more detail in her essay "The pernicious hierarchy of privilege," which is hosted on Dreamwidth, but requires login to view.)

Response to Elizabeth Bear

Also on 13 January 2009, the Afro-Trinidadian blogger Avalon's Willow posted an Open Letter: To Elizabeth Bear (accessed 15 May 2009). The post addressed fantasy writers in denial about stereotypes of black and Native American men in their work. Avalon's Willow referred to Bear's Blood and Iron with the following:

It's about my personal confusion that an author so highly spoken of by people I respect, would write about a magical, negro who gets bridled by a white woman after trying to kill or eat another white woman and, to my horror, becoming some sort of beast of burden/big buck protector; my horror at watching the humiliation of yet another black man so that a white woman can be empowered in front of her peers.

The comments to Bear's post soon filled with a great deal of critical response, positive, negative, criticism, anger—every possible tenor and tone was represented. Some of the discussion focused on the content of Bear's post, some on the form and content of those critical of her post, and some then in turn on the form and content of this response. Many of Bear's personal friends, other authors and fans participated. As the post got more widely linked, often critically, more people joined the various threads. Bear added several ETAs that included rebuttals and refinements from the comments. She also deleted certain comments and posts, although she restored them later.[citation needed]

On 21 January, in another post on Bear's journal, sparkymonster calls on Bear to address the way she allowed her friends and supporters to behave in the comments on her journal, asking:

Why haven't you actually called out any of your defenders who were being racist? You name checked nojojojo[9] in the context of her post, and kenscholes as someone who can handle direct criticism. Why not say "hey, medievalist it was awkward how racist you've been in defending me from a criticism I agreed with" or "Hey truepenny and coffeem[10] it sucked how you didn't notice the racism that was happening while discussing reading texts closely." Or how about cdguyhall[11] began comments on this post of yours by saying racist things, and went pretty much unchecked despite you ending that post by saying "And make damned sure you are being both polite and respectful of others when you do. Or I will close comments."[12]

At the same time, the discussion moved off of Bear's journal into the wider realm of LiveJournal fans, writers and bloggers.

{I think there needs to be something here about Bear deleting comments and posts and then re-instating them—and how the conversation changed to the broader experience of POC in fandom. I'm just not sure how to say it.}

Conversation Subject Diverges

Pro-SF authors

N.K. Jemisin offered a critique of some parts of Bear's post in the comments[13], which Bear edited into her post. (Jemisin's LiveJournal account appears to have been deleted at some point in the intervening years, and so the original comment is no longer viewable; the edit in Bear's original post does remain.)

After pro author MacAllister Stone made a post characterizing the conversation and its participants as abusive[14], pro editor and fan critic Patrick Nielsen Hayden became involved: "I wouldn't even split the problem into "authors" and "readers". Some people are smarter than others, to put it as baldly as possible."[15]

Nielsen Hayden subsequently made a post saying:

Evidently, for commiserating with a couple of friends (requires login to access) who've been bruised by a recent widespread LJ argument, I'm a racist. Or some kind of bad guy, at any rate. I'll live. Worse things happen to the victims of actual racism.[16]

When commentary on his post became upsetting to him, Nielsen Hayden deleted his LiveJournal. His wife Teresa Nielsen Hayden became downright abusive, calling his critics trolls, "nithings"[17], and sockpuppets. She threatened to maintain a blacklist of all those involved[18].

Teresa Nielsen Hayden further argued that because many of the people involved in the discussion used pseudonyms, the conversation was meaningless. Many fans were dismayed by her rudeness and lack of respect for the practice of persistent pseudonymity which has been an essential part of online fan culture for years[19].

Will Shetterly and Coffeeandink

Pro author Will Shetterly argued that class prejudice was more significant than racism. When the argument between Shetterly and feminist blogger coffeeandink became heated, he and pro author-critic Kathryn Cramer outed coffeeandink, linking her LiveJournal handle with her legal name.[20][21] Shetterly and Kramer justified their action by pointing out that she had previously used her legal name in public posts on her LiveJournal. A huge argument ensued, threatening to eclipse the original discussion about racism.

Coffeeandink's ultimate response to the outing issue was that it was "... an outrageous derailment of the original conversation about race and racism in science fiction...". She connected the derailment to the very nature of SF fandom as, "...so insular, so white-focused, and so white-dominated that some of the people involved can ignore the literally dozens of people involved in an argument about race, the literally hundreds of posts made, out of a conviction that race is not the issue when people of color say it is ..."[22]

In a separate post she said:

But as reprehensible (and as painful for me, personally) Will and Kathryn's behavior has been, and as deserving of censure, I do not want people to lose sight of the fact that this isn't simply a case of individual people acting poorly, or even individual people performing racist actions. It would be easy for white people to say, "Science fiction isn't racist; a couple of people just overreacted." But this overreaction comes out of and depends on white privilege and racism as a social institution, system of thought, and system of power and oppression. The racism in science fiction -- the ongoing erasure and denial (archived link) of the people of color who are right here and speaking about their representation and misrepresentation -- is not the property of two individuals.[23]

Most of Shetterly's posts, both on his LiveJournal and blog, regarding the "outing" incident have been deleted, edited, replaced and generally obfuscated. But outlines of his and Kramer's actions are still preserved in other bloggers' posts.[24][25][26][22][27][28][29] Shetterly says he moved his blog to help protect Coffeeandink's identity, though he still maintains that he wasn't outing her by using her legal name.

Asian fan blogger Ciderpress discussed the effect of the conversational focus shifting to coffeeandink and issues of pseudonymity, identity and outing. The two main effects they identified were the derailing of the entire conversation by turning it into an argument between a few white people:

That's not all. Racefail '09 has now been completely re-imaged and repackaged by these people as a "flame war", wherein they repeatedly claim there were very few (supposed!) PoC involved and it was all about white people, grudge-wank and pseudonymity. This is what they wanted, after all, to derail and hijack a dialogue, an online discussion about race and the problematic attitudes and issues there are in race representation and even in a dialogue about such issues. They wanted to render non-white people/PoC invisible and turn it into a chance for white "ladies" to clutch their pearls and white men turning up like the knight gallant to protect them from the uncivil hordes. If it didn't make me so angry, I'd laugh at how this is a carbon copy of the behaviour exhibited last year by Amanda Marcotte/Hugo/Seal Press[30]

and an active attempt to silence criticism:

They are attempting to intimidate and silence those who challenged them because they don't like what we have to say and they don't think we have a right to say it. Their actions and behaviour are another sign of their privilege, a method privileged people employ try to perpetuate their privilege, a part of the culture the oppression and silence and struggle non-white people/PoC have and have had throughout the years in white-defined, white dominated spaces to be heard when non-white/PoC views and opinions and actions do not support, reward and reinforce white privilege. This is a pattern of behaviour that is very present in our society, in my life; this is a choice and this is not new. This is not new to me personally, this is not new to us as a community, as communities. This isn't, in any world, civility or politeness or niceness. This is white people working to reinforce and to continue white power structures.[31]

John Scalzi, president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, initially jumped on the bandwagon with angry rhetoric, but then retracted his statements when he realized what was going on. ("All right, here’s the thing: I’m an arrogant schmuck, but I can also listen from time to time. After I went off earlier this week, a number of people I trust came to me and told me I was being unfair to a lot of people, and in varying ways walked me through stuff I missed or lacked context for, and asked me to engage that brain of mine and think about it."[32]) He then invited Sri Lankan professional author Mary Anne Mohanraj to guest-post on his blog.[33]

vito_excalibur read through the first 275 comments to Mary Anne Mohanraj's post, linking and summarizing and concluded that the discussion was a good example of Racism Bingo: "If you've ever wondered what people mean by playing bingo? This is it. You can just check off these squares as you see them, predictably, over and over".[34]


By March of 2009, Elizabeth Bear was suggesting a cease fire (accessed 15 May 2009). She explained that:

See, I said I was out of the great pan-fandom fail of 2009. Honestly, you can't call it a racism debate anymore, or a cultural appropriation conversation. It's not. But it keeps following me home, and I'm really getting sick of it, because it's not about communication. It's about us versus them. And the problem is--the problem I see, and the reason I've been refusing to comment--is that there is no us and there is no them in this fight. It's a false dichotomy, and worse, it's a waste of energy.

Indo-Trini-Canadian[35] blogger Bossymarmalade responded with sees fire (accessed 15 May 2009):

You see, I couldn't just decide not to have a conversation about race anymore, because it follows me home. My race issues ARE my home. Other people can pick them up when they want to look at something shiny, something exotic tasty foreign bright colourful strange exciting; they toss them around, try them on. Start to explain them to me and find different names for them, like classism and learning experience.

Some of the fans and "pro" SF/F authors involved posted public apologies over the course of 2009:

  • Sarah Monette: "For what it's worth, I recognize that I failed, and why, and next time I am determined to fail better."[36]
  • Leah Clarke: "The post that pointed out how egocentric and essentially stupid my post was may well be the most important thing I’ll ever read. I really did think I had a grip on the subject, but I made it about me, and put my foot in my mouth on a massive scale. If I’ve upset or offended anyone, I’m sorry."[37]
  • Emma Bull: "I apologize to Avalon's Willow, Deepad, and everyone I hurt with my remarks in the recent discussion of racism and the reading of text and subtext. My reaction was much too harsh, and harshly worded. I didn't mean to dismiss their responses to what they read, or to suggest that what they felt wasn't appropriate to their experience."[38]
  • aquaeri: "I would like to apologise to sparkymonster and anyone else who was upset or offended or otherwise less than happy about my An Abstract of an Essay. As sparkymonster kindly pointed out to me, the post is not about race or RaceFail, but the way I wrote it makes it look like it ought to be about RaceFail. In fact, it's a post by a white woman from a white perspective, that only addresses a white audience."[39]


Discussions amongst fans, even very serious and difficult ones, are often as much about how we discuss an issue as they are about the issue itself. Eventually, RaceFail evolved into meta-conversation about conversational style, content, form, and language. This was seen by many as a form of derailment.

Derailing and the tone argument

Many posts appeared about white fans' perennial "derailing" - intentional or not - of discussions centered around race. These conversational tactics or choices derail the conversation by moving the focus away from the original topic to focus on a sidetrack. The widespread argument about "outing" coffeeandink was such a derailment.

Instead of the experiences of fans of color, and how (or even if) white fans should speak out against racism in fandom (or rather be quiet and let fans of color speak for themselves), the derailing shifted the subject to issues which may be completely unrelated to race. Derailing is also often a tactic used to devolve a fruitful, productive conversation into endless philosophical discussion on "tone," which further centers the white experience and leaves white people the only ones talking.

"Tone" can refer to the feeling or attitude that comes across in writing or speech. Some people claim that text cannot have tone, except for what readers infer from it. However, word choice and placement can convey a tone. Members of a dominant culture (i.e., people occupying positions of structural privilege) often police the tone of those who are marginalized along an axis of systemic privilege or power (e.g., white people critiquing the way people of color identify issues or racism, or men describing women as hysterical for identifying misogyny). As noted by many people who have experienced it, this "tone argument" sets up a double standard in which they're required to be courteous while the person in a position of privilege can be rude.[40][41][42]

Asian blogger Ciderpress noted:

The discussion that Seeking Avalon's Willow and Deepa D. started and many other PoC participated in and the points they made regarding cultural appropriation, different PoC experiences with life in general, the media and the effect that cultural appropriation has on our emotions, our narratives and our ideologies was derailed. Instead, the discussion became focused on accusations of reverse-racism, racism against white people!, classism, anti-intellectualism, jealousy and grandstanding etc and the arguments that followed. In fact, the whole focus and point of the discussion devolved into several PoC having to defend themselves, their integrity and their character for having a non-dominant-white-mainstream opinion and for expressing it. It became, as these discussions do without fail, almost completely about white people's feelings, white people's actions, white people's reactions and white people's needs. Even a discussion about cultural appropriation, about us and our representation? The whole conversation is appropriated, our concerns are very much silenced and lost in the furore.[43]

In Bossymarmalade's words,

[N]ow it has reached the point where people are making posts claiming that the PoC who have objected to being reduced to "write everybody as though they were white on the inside!", who have objected to dismissal as being "unable to critically analyze literature in the proper university-trained manner", who have objected to the old, tired trope of "if you don't like how white people write you, why don't you just write yourselves?" were being ABUSIVE for challenging those statements. In a "tone" that isn't completely detached, unemotional, and coldly academic... Apart from the blatant, mind-boggling way in which an issue that supposedly began with an interest in respecting the Other has suddenly and aggressively become yet again All About the Hurt Feelings of White People, I am astounded that so many people wanking about their precious academic credentials are completely ignorant of how goddamn OFTEN PoC have seen these same generalized dismissals. Too emotional, too loud, too angry, too uneducated, TOO FUCKING COLOURED.[44]


Criticisms of the usage of the term "people of color" (and the abbreviation PoC), as well as discussion of what language should be used in its stead, were raised throughout Racefail[citation needed], and reflect an ongoing conversation in the broader cultural context.[45][46][47][48]

spiralsheep explained the political and personal meanings behind the choice to identify as non-white saying, "Choosing to self-define as non-white can be a linguistic resistance to both whiteness and the concept of whiteness."[49]

Internet-specific forms of communication

Delving more deeply into the idea of hypertext and the form of conversations on the Internet, many people began discussing how the Racefail conversation was shaped by the medium that carried it and by the ways the people involved tended to use the Internet.

thingswithwings discusses how "POC and anti-racists and white allies are always, always called upon to bear the burden of proof. " and goes on to describe the difference between posts that link and quote extensively and posts that paraphrase generally.[50]

zvi expands on the idea, drawing on sources other than just the Racefail discussions to contrast literary style of referencing other works with the hypertext model of Internet communication, concluding, "the idea that a piece of writing is isolated by the boundaries of its page or its volume is completely untrue on the web. And writing a connected, unbounded document requires a different way of organizing your thoughts, an assumption that people aren't going to read what you write in isolation, or straight through, or only while holding a vague idea in their head of what happened that other time you're kinda sorta dancing around."[51]

Book and author lists

Many fans began assembling lists to share with others. At first, these were mostly recs for books written by or about people of color/non-whites. One list of authors a fan was choosing not to read sparked further controversy. {refs to come}[citation needed]

Though the comm pre-dates RaceFail '09, many fans recommended 50books_poc as a resource for finding books written by people of color, at least until it was shut down following the depredations of pro SF author/Race and Fandom agitator/troll Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

Another Appropriation: Subject of a Series of Flyers

In 2009, Laura Hale summarized the issue and created a series of flyers that was distributed at MediaWest*Con for the purpose of sending fan traffic to Fan History Wiki.

The Legacy of Racefail

Positive change

More positive change that came out of RaceFail: fans of color began daring to blog their experiences and their feelings about systemic racism in fantasy and science fiction (both in the literature and in the community) because they realized there was some backup. Fans of all stripes—and by that I mean “white people, too”—began challenging each other to read books by people of color and review and discuss them, and they are by heaven doing it. Can I just say, I love me some fandom? Fandom is not exempt from the kind of wrongheadedness that humans display every day. But when fans conspire to do a good thing, it is most well done indeed, with verve and enthusiasm.

- "A Reluctant Ambassador from the Planet of Midnight" by Nalo Hopkinson - the guest of honor speech at International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts in 2010.

Some fans have argued that RaceFail and other pan-fandom discussions of race are "worth it" if consciousness-raising happens as a result. Others argue that this is offensive to fans of color whose suffering thereby becomes a learning tool for white fans. (Need links!)[citation needed]

Regardless, some good things have arisen partially thanks to RaceFail '09; including the founding of Verb Noire[52], Con or Bust (an assistance fund aimed at helping fans of color afford Wiscon[53]), the Anti-Oppression Linkspam Community, and foc_u at LiveJournal, "a place to serve as a central hub to combat the destructive effects of RaceFail."[54]

At Escapade 2009, Aral and Sinead co-led a panel called "Becoming Better Allies: Consciousness-Raising for White Fans."[55] The panel overflowed its original timeslot and a second session was scheduled for later in the con. A number of conventions began to dedicate panels and programming tracks to discussing race, and trying to be more inclusive of fans and creators of color.[56] The International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) was one such con - devoting their 31st conference in 2010 to Race and the Fantastic.[57]

Also notable is the creation of the LiveJournal community Fight Derailing:

During RaceFail 2009, numerous fans have been working very hard to, first, point out that the Fail is unacceptable, and, second, to return to the conversations that the Fail is an attempt to derail: racism in science fiction and fantasy fictional works and in science fiction and fantasy fandoms. This community is meant to be a place that rounds up the anti-derailing efforts in a central location for the benefit of those who want to continue the conversations about cultural appropriation, racial diversity and multiculturalism in SFF fiction and fandom, racism in ditto, and its intersectionality with other oppressions. It is not meant to displace existing conversations or efforts, but to be a resource that supports them and enables additional discussion and action.[58]

Deepa D.'s essay I Didn't Dream of Dragons was shortlisted for the 2009 BSFA Awards for Non-Fiction.[59]

N.K. Jemisin posted Describing characters of color in writing inspired in part by some of the conversations around RaceFail. In order to offer constructive writing advice, she drew on her own writing for examples and other writers offered examples in the comments. The post was popular enough to warrant a second part a few months later.[60] One year after, on January 18, 2010, she posted, Why I Think RaceFail Was The Bestest Thing Evar for SFF (accessed November 23, 2010). The title is only partly ironic, and she makes the case for personal and systemic changes for the better in SF/F Fandom.

Negative Effects

Many fans, and especially fans of color expressed a feeling of burnout and hopelessness. The willingness to engage on issues of race and appropriation publicly dropped dramatically for many people. Many fans expressed feeling physical and mental effects from engaging in RaceFail conversations that they were not willing to continue suffering.

At least one fan reported being unable to participate in the discussions because when she tried, she was told to "shut up" -- that as a white person, she had "no voice.[citation needed] The fan in question was not white, but had never made an issue of her actual racial identity. Thus she was perceived as white even though she was not.

Some communities, such as Deadbrowalking, saw a drop in posting and commenting.[citation needed]



Fanworks Created in Response

hapex-legomena, an Afro-American woman, created a four-part vid, Enter the Wu-Tang that utilized footage from The Lord of the Rings. The vid uses the problematic source representation of Orcs and other non-humans, disproportionately played by non-whites, to comment on the comparisons of non-white fans during RaceFail to non-humans and monsters.[61]

Summary I: An audio-visual essay deconstructing orcing and the emulation of the behavior and appearance of other nithings in the pursuit of performance art.

Summary II: In an alternate universe where orc hordes start an internet flamewar with the good white peoples of middle earth in order drag the blogosphere down into a never-ending age of darkness and wank, the only way men can hope to save their fantasy world is to destroy the source of the POC hive vagina's Sauron's power.[62]

Talitha78 created the vid, "White" and Nerdy. Originally inspired by the IDIC challenge at Vividcon, the vid became, "a way of working through my issues with regard to RaceFail 2009."[63] The vid uses footage from Psych and the Weird Al Yankovic song, White and Nerdy, to comment on the way society frequently codes nerdiness as white. Recent studies done by Google bear this out; in television and film, the stereotypical computer expert is still a white man with glasses. Their "Computer Science Education in Media" program pressures media executives to show women characters in STEM-related roles.

One of the threads of RaceFail and the partly concurrent MammothFail was a sense of surprise from many white people that fans of colour even existed. This was not a new phenomenon, unfortunately.

In response to comments by fans and professionals like Lois McMaster Bujold, implying that fans of color did not exist in fandom, or were a new phenomenon, Deadbrowalking posted a call for a wild unicorn herd check in. The resulting 1000+ posts became a joyous roll-call of racially diverse Science Fiction and Fantasy fans.

Further Reading

Lists of Fans Who Made Posts About RaceFail

For a very, very long list of posted comments and resulting discussion, see:

This same list has also been sorted by date; see:

Academic Commentary on RaceFail '09

Writing on Race, Racism, and SF/F

  • Ursula K. LeGuin: Whitewashed Earthsea Links to essays by LeGuin and others, discussing why she described the hero and other Archipelagan characters as brown- or black-skinned and why casting white actors in the film version ruins the story.

Commentary on RaceFail '09: 2010 - present

i wasn’t in the english-speaking fandoms back in ‘09, because i could hardly string a couple sentences together back then, but reading about how these events unfolded and how the absolute fuckery that happened half a decade ago is so clearly mirrored by BFNs today (specially in the marvel, dc and star wars fandoms, but in many smaller fandoms as well) is truly disgusting. i thought this could be a good read for those who, like me, joined fandom after this happened. as is usual in fanlore, there are a bunch of links and backlogs and everything is pretty neatly resumed.[64]

See Also


  1. ^ "I remember Racefail '09, and how one of the big lessons I took away from that was sometimes POC discussing racism is not about you, a white person, and that you shouldn't jump in and invade the conversations. Racefail '09 was for POC to talk about racism among themselves. It's hard to know when, as a white person, your voice is wanted to contribute to the discussion, and when you're appropriating a discussion reserved for POC." In a brief thread on this post to lj-fandomsecrets, 2011-04-24.
  2. ^ Rydra Wong later adopted a policy of not linking to any posts made by Kathryn Cramer or Will Shetterly. Rydra cited their repeated attempts to derail the discussion and the fact that they had outed a fan blogger known as coffeeandink by revealing her legal name.
  3. ^ Jewish German author Franz Werfel did this for his novel The Song of Bernadette after he and his wife had sheltered from the Nazis in Lourdes. Knowing nothing about Catholicism and very little about French history, he researched the faith intensely, especially how it was practiced in France, interviewed hundreds of people and amassed a huge amount of information about Catholicism and its relationship to the complicated political atmospheres in France at the time. Although he included numerous fictionalized and folkloric details to embellish the story -- some probably sourced from his Lourdes interviewees -- he was so successful in conveying the French Catholic experience that many readers believed he had converted.
  4. ^ "I personally first saw the post via a link recommending it as good meta well before I saw a critical reference to it. I have no clear recollection of who was linking to it." - facetofcathy, 22 November 2010.
  5. ^ When it's not, it's often a fantasy Ancient China, Japan or Persia. See Tanith Lee's Flat Earth books, or any work by Kara Dalkey.
  6. ^ Ancient India's caravanserai inns are well documented. Roadside taverns (panagara) had strict laws governing their operation (Radhakumud Mookerji, Chandragupta Maurya and his times. Univ. of Madras, 1943, available for free at Internet Archive). Dragons (naga) also exist in folklore and religious stories. Deepa herself engages in a discussion about this on blog post Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM, Part II, which specifically addresses the concerns she raised in her article.
  7. ^ For an example, see Geethanjali Kids. Owned and operated by a company in South India, their renditions of white Anglo nursery songs and games dominate the list over traditional India folktales and songs -- which are all presented in English.
  8. ^ There is still a lot of British influence in India, even though it's been independent for decades. Mahatma Gandhi wrote that he knew little of India's religious or political history until white people -- students of Theosophy who had studied Buddhism and Hinduism in depth -- told him about it.
  9. ^ A case in point is the prolific Brazilian author Carolina Maria de Jesus, a favela resident who scrounged writing materials from garbage dumps. The only reason we know about her work is that she happened to come to the attention of a journalist who was covering something else in her district.


  1. ^ archive link, page 1; [ archive link, page 2]; [ archive link, page 3]; [ archive link, page 4]
  2. ^ "MammothFail ’09" by Liz Henry. Feminist SF - The Blog!. Posted on May 11, 2009. Archived on February 4, 2012. Accessed on July 14, 2018.
  3. ^ Untitled list of links on RaceFail/MammothFail. Posted on May 16, 2009. Accessed on July 14, 2018.
  4. ^ Can We NOT Do Racefail Again, Please?, Claire Light. Posted on May 11, 2009. Accessed on July 14, 2018.
  5. ^ Nalo Hopkinson, Blogosphere discussions on cultural appropriation panel at Wiscon 30, June 5, 2006. Archived on December 30, 2015.
  6. ^ Pam Noles, On The Upset That Emerged From The Cultural Appropriation Panel At WisCon 30, June 8, 2006.
  7. ^ Tablesaw. O HAI RACEFAILZ: Notes on Reading an Internet Conflict, posted on 09 March 2009 at tablesaw's journal. (Accessed 19 May 2009.)
  8. ^ Aqueduct Press (Accessed July 14, 2018.) A summary of the book is found in Genevieve Williams' 2006 review Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward at Strange Horizons.
  9. ^ This LiveJournal account has been deleted, but you can view archived pages via the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ This LiveJournal account has been deleted. The original URL was https://coffeem.livejournal.com/.
  11. ^ This LiveJournal account has been deleted. The original URL was https://cdguyhall.livejournal.com.
  12. ^ Comment by sparkymonster, (Accessed 23 November 2010.) (Quote has been reformatted to reproduce links only, not for content.)
  13. ^ Comment by nojojojo, January 13, 2009 (Accessed 22 November 2010.)
  14. ^ Stone, MacAllister. If you are chilly, here take my sweater... (post deleted, but screencaps are available here), posted on 17 January 2009, and here[Dead link] [Offline as of July 14, 2018, link not archived] and at mac_stone's Journal. (Accessed 09 October 2010.) Additional screencaps: Screencap 1, Screencap 2, Screencap3, Screencap 4.
  15. ^ Discussion of PNH's quote made in mac_stone's post at copracat's Journal (including PNH showing up to defend his comments). (Accessed 09 October 2010.)
  16. ^ Nielsen Hayden, Patrick. ??? (post deleted, but quote remains from wistfuljane's comment at Avalon's Willow's journal), posted on 19 January 2009 at PNH's Journal. (Accessed 09 October 2010.)
  17. ^ Elspethdixon. Holy mother of God *is horrified (on the meaning of the Old English word "nithings"), posted on 29 January 2009 at elspethdixon's Journal. (Accessed 09 October 2010.)
  18. ^ Nielsen Hayden, Teresa. I'm taking this about as well as you'd expect. (post deleted, but here is a screencap), posted on 26 January 2009 at tnh's Journal. (Accessed 20 May 2009. Requires login to access.) Additiona archived copy here.
  19. ^ cf. for example cereta's On pseudonyms (also in reference to later Kathryn Cramer incident), posted on 02 March 2009 at cereta's Journal. (Accessed 20 May 2009.)
  20. ^ Coffeeandink. Untitled, posted on 05 March 2009 at coffeeandink's Journal. (Accessed 19 May 2009)
  21. ^ Coffeeandink. The People Whites Don't See: An Open Letter to Kathryn Cramer, posted on 07 March 2009 at coffeeandink's Journal. (Accessed 18 May 2009)
  22. ^ a b Coffeeandink. RaceFail: Once More, with Misdirection, posted 02 March 2009 at coffeeandink's Journal. (Accessed 09 October 2010.)
  23. ^ Coffeeandink. Clean-up and hiatus, posted on 07 March 2009 at coffeeandink's Journal. (Accessed 18 May 18.)
  24. ^ Somerville, Ann. A themed summary of RaceFail ‘09 in large friendly letters for those who think race discussions are hard (scroll down to Derail the Fourth: It gets even uglier), posted on 11 March 2009 at Ann Somerville's Journal. (Accessed 18 May 2009.) An archived copy can be found here, archived in May 2009.
  25. ^ Rydra Wong. Because "tl;dr" shouldn't be an excuse, posted on 05 March 2009 at rydra_wong's Journal. (Accessed 09 October 2010.)
  26. ^ Discussions of Will Shetterly and Kathryn Cramer's outing of coffeeandink at unfunnybusiness. Accessed 09 October 2010, but subsequently deleted when journalfen went down.It was Archived on February 18, 2013.
  27. ^ Coffeeandink. Guess who managed to escalate the situation again!, posted on 04 March 2009 at coffeeandink's Journal. (Accessed 09 October 2010.)
  28. ^ Coffeeandink. Untitled, posted on 05 March 2009 at coffeeandink's Journal. (Accessed 09 October 2010.)
  29. ^ Janet. Who’s Rulin’ Who?, posted on 17 March 2009 at Dear Author. (Accessed 09 October 2010.)
  30. ^ This refers to the controversy over illustrations in Marcotte's book on feminism, It's A Jungle Out There published by Seal Press. Page found 2011-04-25. More at the Feministe blog, I Guess It's a Jungle In Here Too written by Holly, 2008-04-25, page found 2011-04-25.
  31. ^ ciderpress, You mean those giant brains are making everyone on Earth stupid?, posted March 3, 2009, (Accessed 22 November 2010.)
  32. ^ Scalzi, John. Walking myself back, posted on 11 March 2009 at Whatever. (Accessed 18 May 2009.)
  33. ^ Mohanraj, Mary Anne. Mary Anne Mohanraj Gets You Up to Speed, Part I, posted on 12 March 2009 at Whatever. (Accessed 19 May 2009.)
  34. ^ vito_excalibur. Bingo, Mr. Scalzi. BING-O., posted on 13 March 2009 at vito_excalibur's Journal. (Accessed 19 May 2009. Requires login to access.)
  35. ^ As per email from Avalon Willow to Gardener's mailing list on May 4, 2016. Please contact the Gardener's if this is incorrect.
  36. ^ Monette, Sarah. the whole ugly mess(https://archive.is/plXp archived link), posted on 19 January 2009 at truepenny's Journal. (Accessed 20 May 2009.)
  37. ^ Addendum to the Racefail post and an apology. Posted by Leah Clarke on March 15, 2009. Accessed on July 14, 2018.
  38. ^ An apology. Posted by Emma Bull on January 29, 2009. Accessed on July 14, 2018.
  39. ^ An apology. Posted by aquaeri on June 8, 2009. Accessed on July 14, 2018.
  40. ^ Tone argument at Geek Feminism.
  41. ^ No, We Won't "Calm Down." Comic by Robot Hugs. Published at Everyday Feminism on December 7, 2015. Accessed on July 14, 2018.
  42. ^ Respectability politics Wikipedia page. Accessed on July 14, 2018.
  43. ^ ciderpress. ven ve voke up, ve had zese wodies, posted on January 22, 2009 at ciderpress' Journal. (Accessed 18 May 2009.)
  44. ^ Bossymarmalade. Untitled, posted on 18 January 2009 at bossymarmalade's Journal. (Accessed 18 May 2009).
  45. ^ Why We Have So Many Terms For 'People Of Color' by Gene Demby for NPR's Code Switch. Published on November 7, 2014. Accessed on July 14, 2018.
  46. ^ The Journey From 'Colored' To 'Minorities' To 'People Of Color' by Kee Malesky for NPR's Code Switch. Published on March 30, 2014. Accessed on July 14, 2018.
  47. ^ I am no ‘person of colour’, I am a black African woman by Adebola Lamuye for the Independent. Published on July 31, 2017. Accessed on July 14, 2018.
  48. ^ The End of Non-Whites by Natalie S. Burke. Published on January 12, 2018. Accessed on July 14, 2018.
  49. ^ Comment in Rydra Wong's journal on March 16, 2009 (Accessed 25 November 2010.) Offline as of July 14, 2018, link not archived. Temporary archive copy located here.
  50. ^ thingswithwings, on privilege and the burden of proof, posted March 6, 2009 (Accessed 25 November 2010.)
  51. ^ zvi, This is a paradigm shift, posted March 22, 2010 (Accessed 25 November 2010.)
  52. ^ Bradford, K. Tempest. 2009. Interview with Verb Noire. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2009.0160.
  53. ^ (Wis)con or Bust: Fans of Color Assistance Project. (Accessed 19 May 2009.)
  54. ^ Neo_Prodigy. first order of business, posted on 2009 May 15 at foc_u. (Accessed 18 May 2009.)
  55. ^ Aral. Escapade Panel Report - "Becoming Better Allies: Consciousness-Raising for White Fans.", posted on 9 April 2009. (Accessed 21 May 2009.)
  56. ^ Why I Think RaceFail Was The Bestest Thing Evar for SFF by N.K. Jemisin, 2010.
  57. ^ Racefail:Race and the Fantastic, Flourish Klink, 2010.
  58. ^ fight_derailing's profile page. (Accessed 21 May 2009.)
  59. ^ 2009 BSFA Awards Shortlists (Accessed 22 November 2010).
  60. ^ Describing characters of color in writing posted in N.K. Jemisin's blog on April 11, 2009 (Accessed 23 November 2010.)
  61. ^ [Vid: Enter the Wu-Tang (Collector's Edition): hapex_legomena, Archived version
  62. ^ Vid: Enter the Wu-Tang (part 1 of 4) (Accessed 22 November 2010.)
  63. ^ New Psych Vid: "White" & Nerdy (Gus) (Accessed 22 November 2010.)
  64. ^ The post linked to the Fanlore RaceFail '09 page in the title.