So… I’m beginning to freak out a bit. My original post Confronting Racism in the SCA is finally slowing down a bit – it’s only getting a few dozen views per hour, rather than hundreds or thousands. For comparison, posts on this blog have historically gotten one or two hundred views… and not per hour. Total. At first I was thrilled and excited that something I wrote was getting this much traction… and then people in Ealdormere started to focus on a single line in the post, where I claimed that “There’s at least one Peer in this Kingdom whose real-life bigotry is an open secret.”
People in this Kingdom are very upset about that statement. I’ve had people tell me to take the post down entirely, or to edit out that line (although twenty-five thousand views and a raucous discussion on our Kingdom Facebook page has pretty much eliminated that as an option – it’s out there already.) I’ve had several people – and some of them are people I profoundly respect — demand that I publicly accuse the person because otherwise I’m just spreading unfounded allegations and rumours. The phrase “witch hunt” got used on a Kingdom forum this morning for the first time.
I’ve also had a couple of Peers contact me directly and – in varying degrees of distress – demand to know if they were the person I mentioned. And of course, they weren’t: I’ve had my share of disagreements with people in the SCA over the years, and likely will again, so for the record let me state this: Disagreeing with me is not bigotry. Holding Conservative political opinions is not bigotry. Voting for Doug Ford or even Donald Trump is not necessarily bigotry (although given some of their supporters I personally consider it a warning sign.)
Honestly holding political opinions or religious beliefs or even just plain being an abrasive asshole doesn’t make you a bigot, which is good because I have definitely met all those criteria at one time or another.
Despite the frequency which it’s appeared on this blog recently, bigot is not a word I throw around lightly.
Implying that all Muslims are terrorists is bigotry. Claiming that LGBTQ people are undermining our values is bigotry. Stating that we can’t afford to allow Middle Eastern refugees into our country because they’ll change the European character of our nation (whatever the hell that means) is bigotry. Rejoicing in the death of migrants or the caging of children is bigotry. Making jokes about gas chambers and denying the Holocaust is bigotry.
And I’ve seen examples of each and every one of those by various people who come out to SCA events and yes, some of them are Peers. Our Society is not as perfect as people would like to think.
But even in light of that, I need to state unequivocally that I never intended to create a “witch hunt” atmosphere or to spread discord and distrust. I despise vicious rumours and gossip, and I hate the corrosive effects of those things within a community. My intention in mentioning a specific situation in my own Kingdom, however obliquely, was to encourage people to examine attitudes and situations that I damned well know exist in this Kingdom, and I have no doubt in every Kingdom of the SCA.
I have not publicly named the person I referred to in my blog post, nor will I, for three reasons:
First, and very frankly: I have no proof of the situation them beyond my own experiences and the hearsay of others and I really don’t need to be sued for libel or defamation. (Don’t scoff: I have friends who were sued for just that in a similar situation — and because names were named, they lost.) As an amateur blogger, I don’t have a big corporate law-firm backing me up, and I don’t have pockets deep enough to cover the legal costs.
Second, that situation was four or five years ago, so I don’t feel that it can be addressed in a fair or equitable manner without evidence now. And certainly not publicly. As I noted above, I mentioned the issue in the blog post as a way to demonstrate that even in our own kingdoms these are issues which occur, that they’re not isolated to Trimaris or Caid.
And third – and this is a biggie – the completely unexpected popularity of that blog post has actually kind of frightened me. If I go out and say “So-and-so made a number of hateful statements on their Facebook page about immigrants and LGBTQ people” will I end up triggering a mob? Will we see a witch hunt? That kind of thing would no good for the community or anyone in it – and it certainly wouldn’t be a teachable moment for the person who I was thinking about when I wrote those words.
Perhaps that makes me a hypocrite, especially since I wrote the blog post as a deliberate call to action. A number of people have certainly said so and I’m honest enough to admit they may be right. I’m also the first to admit that I should have handled that situation better, instead of just cutting the offender out of my social life and blocking them on Facebook. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I deeply regret how I handled things — turning up my nose and walking away doesn’t help the community. Maybe I could have reached that person, maybe I could have taught them something. Maybe.
So how should I have handled that situation?
With the benefit of hindsight and a lot of thought… I should have contacted them privately and said “Not cool: This behaviour is hateful and a problem and this is why. I think you need to reevaluate it.”
And you know what? Probably I would have been laughed at. Or been told to fuck off. Or been told – as the current King of Trimaris is claiming regarding the controversy there – that it was “just a joke” and had my concerns dismissed.
And had that happened… then I should have gone to a Kingdom Officer, perhaps the lawspeaker, or even the Crown and privately told them my concerns.
And if nothing came of that, if the behaviour continued… then I should have contacted the BoD.
And if nothing came of that… then maybe I should have done what Don Davius has done and made a public stand.
What I should not have done is exactly what I did – walk away and do nothing beyond closing the channel of communication with that person in disgust.
As my wife has pointed out to me, sometimes in the moment you make mistakes and only later you realize what you should have done. All you can do then is make plans for the next one, to do it better. It’s not being a hypocrite, she says, but learning from your mistakes.
I won’t be walking away the next time this happens, nor the time after that.
Which brings us back around to the current issue, which is that people are upset I made this allegation in a public forum. Several people have contacted me demanding to know who I was talking about. Several more people have contacted me and said “you’re talking about so-and-so, aren’t you?” (and the worst part of that isn’t that they guessed right, it’s that they guessed wrong based on their own experiences with other Peers or nobles in this Kingdom.)
And a lot of people have apparently decided to dismiss the problem. The King of Ealdormere himself declared on the Kingdom’s official Facebook page that he did not know “of any peer within our Kingdom who is openly bigoted.” Another person replied to that “Agreed, but now we all have the shadow of bigot over us.” Implying, as I saw it, that having the subject raised was the problem… and I thought to myself, with a definite flare of temper, “now?”
Now we have the shadow of a bigot over us? Only now? I have terrible news for everyone: we’ve always had the shadow of bigots over us in the SCA. One of the side effects of that viral post is that I’ve had dozens of people share their stories of being exposed to homophobia and racism and misogyny in the Society. Some of them publicly, some of them privately. Since I wrote “Confronting Racism in the SCA” I’ve been inundated with stories of antisemitism, homophobia, misogyny and racism and it has been exhausting and emotionally devastating.
I’m an openly LGBTQ person in a medieval reenactment community. Let me tell you something: The shadow is there. It has always been there. I have the expectation, from bitter experience, that it always will be there. How fortunate for those who haven’t needed to see it for so long.
And I’m going to be honest, I have a hard time believing that anyone who’s been in the SCA long enough to become a Peer has never been aware of problematic behaviour. But of course, in the words of John Heywood, “There are none so blind as those who will not see”… or to modern it up (and as I’ve repeatedly stated): SCAdians will tolerate almost any level of injustice and unfairness in order to preserve their hobby.
I’m sorry if saying we have problematic behavior in the SCA – in our own Kingdom — makes people uncomfortable or upset. It is upsetting. It should be upsetting: we don’t want to have people among us who are bigots. We don’t want to realize that our neighbours and friends and colleagues have had to deal with this. I rather suspect that half the upset in Ealdormere over my post is that people – genuinely good people – know they’ve let shit slide that should have been dealt with.
I know I have. I’m not proud of it.
Sigh. And now I’m back to being exhausted. Maybe we can’t go back and confront specific people in the past who we should have confronted. Maybe we should let the past be the past, give everyone a mulligan and move forward… but only, only as long as we commit to challenging problem behaviour in the future.
The Society for Creative Anachronism, as I wrote over the weekend, can be a beautiful, profoundly supportive place. It can be a place of romance, of chivalry, and even of magic. I truly believe the Society ought to be a place for everyone of good intent. Having a tiny minority of people involved who hold and spread hateful, prejudiced views shouldn’t be allowed to darken that reality… but neither should we ignore their existence among us. We need to confront them, however frightening or exhausting or even futile it might appear… and even if we’ve failed to do so in the past.
I think that’s why I have so much respect for the stand that Don Davius has taken. He is succeeding where I failed. I can only hope — for my sake, and his, and all of ours — that I will have the courage to follow his example the next time I’m called upon to do so.
Lord Fulk Beauxarmes
Kingdom of Ealdormere