Friday, 5 February 2016

Sarah, Please Keep Doing Special Needs in Strange Worlds

I don’t normally comment on controversial issues in SFF, but sometimes you can’t stay silent.

SF Signal posted a Special Needs in Strange Worlds entry titled, “We are all disabled” that has caused a lot of hurt. (The post has been removed from the site but @eilatan took this screenshot of the post and asked that it only be shared with a TRIGGER WARNING)  While I was not personally affected by it (I found it more confusing than anything, and didn’t agree with the premise), I understand that many in our community were.  

I have learned a lot from the Special Needs in Strange Worlds column.  I have also learned a lot from the responses I’ve read about this particular post - responses that explained why it was insensitive to post, offensive, how it fed into stereotypes associated with autism.  How it hurt to read on such a well respected site as SF Signal.

SF Signal messed up.  Sarah messed up.  

I was taught that three things are necessary when you make a mistake:
1. Apologize 

2. Make restitution 
You have to somehow make up for what you’ve done.  First, they removed the post.  Good start.  Some other possibilities to help in this instance could be to post on SF Signal one or two responses to the original post, explaining why it was offensive and different ways negative stereotypes hurt.  Several posts by autistic people, showing different viewpoints, would be wonderful - to get more voices out there and counteract the inaccuracies of the offending piece.

3. Try to do better / Don’t make the same mistake again
I’m sure Sarah will be more careful going ahead - assuming she decides to go ahead with the column.  Maybe a panel would be more appropriate for screening responses for this column than one individual, and some people will volunteer to help her with it.  Maybe more people will send her their experiences to post in the column so it’s more representational.

Criticism is good.  We need to be able to point it out when people do things wrong.  But if we go too far and push people out of the genre for making mistakes, we’ll soon be in a very small, very empty room.  Because we all make mistakes.  All of us.  We can all do better.

And education is one way of doing better.  Education that this column usually provides.

I NEED this column.  I want to learn more about others, about what makes us different, and similar.  I want to know more about people’s experiences with disabilities so I can better understand my fellow man.  But like most people, I’m lazy.  I’ve stumbled across the occasional other post on this topic, but I don’t go out of my way looking for them.  We need posts about representation, about difference, about disability on sites like SF Signal that get a lot of genre traffic.  Because I’m not the only one who needs to learn about these things who won’t go looking for them.  

They need to be front and centre in genre if we want change, they need to be on the sites that get traffic, views, discussion.  

Mistakes hurt.  Sometimes they hurt a lot.  But if we don’t pick ourselves up and try again, if we give up, then we learn nothing from the mistakes.  And the mistakes simply repeat themselves in different venues at different times, with different people.  

Sarah, you made a mistake.  But I respect you.  I respect your work on the Special Needs in Strange Worlds column.  I’ve learned so much from you and that column.  This genre needs you.  Please, please keep doing it.  Don’t let this mistake be the end of this wonderful work you’ve done.

ETA: I've just read this enlightening post on Flat Out which explains more of what was offensive about the original SF Signal post.  It's worth checking out.

And here's a response by Foz Meadows, which dissects the post, again pointing out some of the problematic language.


2nd ETA: Sarah has decided to close down the Special Needs in Strange Worlds column on SF Signal but she's teaming up with Shana DuBois to create a website, tentatively named Own Voice, which will expand the ideas of SN in SW to include more content, interviews, essays, etc. with a panel of people okaying content to avoid another mistake like the one that prompted the above post.  I think this is an excellent idea, and am excited to see how it expands.

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