My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Won't Someone Think of the Straight White Males (Mailbox)

Diversity polls make me feel bad.

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. Full disclosure––this is a composite of five different letters received since I started doing A Year of Diverse Polls.]

C writes:

I just want to say, as a straight white male who is trying to aspire to write, I can no longer abide your page and your "diverse polls." I understand the intention of them, and on one side I think it's great to promote diversity. On the other side, however, it makes me feel like shit. I feel like I'll never get anywhere with writing, and I shouldn't even try because I'm the wrong race, gender, and sexuality.  

I'm not a racist but why can't we just read books and lift them up based on whether they are good enough and not get into all the identity politics?

I just feel like everyone should be supported, and find it impossible to stick around because all I see are the diversity polls, mocking me. I know you probably won't care, but I'm done with your page. [Note: I added the links above.]

My reply:

I almost just answered this with, "Yeah? How does that feel?" and called it a day, but I suspect the folks who most need to hear it would be the least likely to GET it (in a not-the-reason-Mr-Burton-was-put-on-Earth-sort-of-way), so I'll unpack it a bit more.

C, did you INTEND this to look like performance art? I mean....literally and explicitly lifting your feelings up to the importance of diversity itself? Jesus Buttlicking Christ! I had a Creative Writing teacher who would have yelled at me for lack of realism if I'd ever had a character say something like that. ("No one's going to just SAY that, Brecheen! They'll say they love diversity, but you have to show through their actions that their feelings are more important.")

C, I'm only going to say this half a zillion more times, so listen up. You're not the "wrong" race, gender, sexuality. You are the top of the social hierarchy. You will overperform in the results of your efforts no matter what the quality of your writing is, and (as can be clearly seen from a casual look at any bookstore shelf) mediocrity will not prevent you from having a comfortable career.

People who are not like you––not white, not male, not straight, not cis––will have to work much harder to achieve the same success. The more not like you they are, the harder they will have to work to achieve the same bellwethers.

This is to say nothing of if you're good at writing, in which case you will be hailed as brilliant while other writers of comparable and even greater skill will struggle to find legitimacy, platforms, and recognition if they aren't straight white men like you. These days, naked bigotry is in the White House and marching on the streets, daring anyone to do anything about it. You realize some of these people buy books, vote in the Hugos, +1 or like posts, and are even gatekeepers, right? Right?


This is not to say that being a cishet white male guarantees a career (it doesn't), but the whole rest of the world is going to lift you up through mechanisms unconscious and deliberate over the folks who aren't like you. Overperformance doesn't mean it's impossible to fail, just like setting the difficulty on a video game to easy doesn't mean you'll never die. It just means things will be EASIER for you.

So for ONE year, ONE blog (that barely anyone even reads) will have a set of polls that tries to adjust for that massive "background radiation of everpresent inequality." By running some polls for everyone who isn't advantaged by the deep seated (and sometimes shockingly surface) attitudes of a repugnant and revolting cultural acceptance of every bigotry, I try to make a readership that OFTEN remarks that they "didn't even know some of the names on this list" aware that other writers exist.

I will say this, C. I believe you. Even though the diversity polls are between 1-2% of the posts I put up on my Writing About Writing page (consisting of perhaps six posts in a month where I put up 10-15 things a day), they will be like a mark on a movie theater screen––"all [you] see."

Or rather, all you notice.

See, that's the trick of modern white supremacy (and male supremacy and hetero supremacy). At least the kind that isn't marching in liberal cities to try and pick a fight. Most people don't run around hatefully bigoting. They just ignore every. SINGLE. double standard that benefits them. But then they come out swinging when anyone or anything tries to level the playing field even the tiniest bit.

Because that wouldn't be FAIR, and now, all of a sudden, that matters an awful lot.

The point of having a poll like this is that when you were the beneficiary of unfairness, it didn't make you uncomfortable. You didn't feel "like shit." And not once did you threaten to take your ball and go home or sanctimoniously lecture about not "supporting everyone." So for one year, I hope people examine that unconscious bias they have and do some introspection about the world they usually never bother to question.

However, C, you take care of yourself and have a nice life. Self care IS important. I wouldn't want some attempt at diversity to hurt your feels. But we're not going to elevate your feelings to the point of being just as important as representation here.

Just be glad you only ever had to weather the RESPONSE to bigotry instead of the bigotry itself because if having to see yourself not represented in a single year of polls makes you feel like shit, the acute realities of genuine bigotry with institutional power differentials to back it up and actual harm would have absolutely gone Dr. Marr on your crystalline ass. #27yearoldpopculturereferenceFTW

And as always, if you announce your departure like I'm United Airlines, you will find that the door locks behind you.


  1. Looks like you changed the pseudonym at some point; you've got "C" generally, then "M" in the last substantive paragraph?

  2. Dr Marr used as metaphor for "acute realities of genuine bigotry with institutional power differentials to back it up" is pretty good :)

  3. This is the line that gets me:
    "I feel like I'll never get anywhere with writing, and I shouldn't even try because I'm the wrong race, gender, and sexuality."

    I feel like I'm getting my monthly allowance of irony all in one big chunk, because he doesn't realize that this is *exactly* what non-[cis|het|white|male] people think to themselves when they're trying to get started writing, does he? And unlike him, they have *actual* barriers, not just fragility which is easily overwhelmed by anything that doesn't look like positive reinforcement.

    I should be able to open an anvil shop with all the irony supplied by these folks. (I refuse to comment on to what use those anvils might subsequently be put, as I don't want to potentially incriminate myself.)

  4. Yes, you can be a bigot against white heterosexual men. This article is a great example. Your third paragraph denotes an invalid assumption. In fact, some men are even using female pen names in romance novels because it sells; case in point. You are developing an echo chamber. A chamber in which you hear only the things you want to hear. Members who disagree with your conclusions are ejected. I am not even sure that this comment will be approved, as it stands contradictory to your blog. I subscribe simply because what you have to talk about is outside of my normal spectrum of experience, even though it may cause frustration or anger(your opinions). I don't believe that you extend the same courtesy, of differing opinion, in your readership. I guess I will find out if I'm blacklisted.

    1. If I had a dollar for every "What about romance?" attempt to derail. Do you all get your counter arguments from the same outlet store?

      Yes, there is ONE genre that behaves like all the others do in reverse regarding gender (but not with regards to race or sexuality). This does not make everything else I said invalid. It's just a "Gotcha" example played like a magic card "counter spell" against anyone who ever points out that the publishing industry skews heavily to cishet white men. Try coming up with a better example...or better yet come up with something that is industry wide instead of just ONE axis of marginalization v. privilege in ONE genre, and....well then I won't have anything to run separate polls about, and we can worry about all that reverse bigotry.

      I'll let everyone else judge the irony in what is basically the last 2/3 of your comment (that my "echo chamber" would not suffer your brilliant "takedown"). Seeing as it's still here, I guess that makes you look kind of foolish.....

  5. Maybe if you're writing is good and your story is compelling.....

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