Over the weekend, a member of the Board of Directors wrote a blog post in the form of an open letter to me, rebutting my most recent blog post Power, Justice and Safety in the SCA on an almost point-by-point basis. To her credit, Baroness Franca Donato contacted me ahead of time for permission to extensively quote from my blog as per my posted rules, which is a gesture of respect and courtesy which I greatly appreciated. Her post was exhaustively researched, politely written and as I said when I updated my blog post to include it yesterday, an invaluable addition to the ongoing discussion that is raging in the SCA; having a member of the BoD go on record with what the BoD can and can’t do was extremely educational.
A number of people have been vocally offended by Baroness Franca’s post on my behalf. My response to that is to simply state that I am not offended because people are allowed to tell me I’m wrong. I hit the BoD pretty hard in that post; a response is certainly within their rights and not entirely unexpected. (And bluntly, since this roller-coaster ride started I’ve gotten half a dozen anonymous threats by enraged alt-righters; a respectfully-written open letter from a Director is a stroll in a park on a summer’s day in comparison.) I also think we need to have some compassion for the Directors themselves – I’d imagine that they’re being inundated by flood of demands, complaints, and criticisms at the moment and I have no doubt that’s an uncomfortable and at times frustrating situation to be in. While I clearly don’t agree with Her Excellency’s conclusions, there’s no need for anyone to be upset on my behalf; I encourage everyone to carefully read her post and, if you still feel the need to debate it, to do so strictly on its arguments and not in an unnecessary defense of me personally.
I also want to say that I’m not going to rebut her rebuttal in a point-by-point manner, because then she may feel the need to rebut my rebuttal of that rebuttal and anyone who’s been on the internet for longer than ten minutes knows that’s a quick trip down a hall of mirrors.
But I do want to address a couple of concerns that leapt out at me when I read it. Primarily, her contention that the BoD is neither able nor equipped to address serious concerns and that those need to be resolved at the local or kingdom level between the persons effected; the Board of Directors is intended as the ultimate appeal when local structures of grievance have failed to resolve an issue. That’s as may be and I can’t refute her extensive explanation of how those grievance structures are supposed to work but my original point, which I believe still stands, is that I (and many others) have no confidence in that system. Throwing it back to the Kingdoms does little good, because clearly the Kingdoms aren’t always handling it well… or even properly.
One of the unforeseen side-effects of publishing Confronting Racism in the SCA is that people have been sending me their stories of injustice in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I have, in the past eleven days, received dozens of these stories. Dozens. Stories of racism. Of homophobia. Of rape. Some of those stories have been shared publicly (and to my distress some of those people have suffered further repercussions because of it.) Most have come to me in confidence. And every one of those stories has included a variant of the statement “I brought this to my Kingdom officers and nothing was done.” It has been heartbreaking and exhausting and on a couple of occasions literally nauseating. I’m not even sure why people are sharing them with me, except that it makes them feel less alone. And so I read them, or listen to them because I owe it to the person who has sent me their story not to leave them alone out there with it. I will not deny that I’ve become emotionally effected by this… nor can I apologize for it. So when I write that people have no confidence that the Society can provide justice or a safe space, that’s where I’m coming from. I stand by that statement because it is so heartrendingly self-evident.
I’m not disputing that there are are processes of formal complaint in place within the Society, I’m saying those processes are broken. If they weren’t broken, people would have confidence in them. What processes exist are cumbersome, or inaccessible, or opaque, or all three.
The other concern with Her Excellency’s post that I feel the need to address is the suggestion (reinforced by an earlier post on her blog) that social media should not be used as a forum for important discussions within the SCA. Well, respectfully… that ship has sailed. I agree that social media is often an imperfect vehicle for discussion, but it’s the vehicle we’ve got and suggesting we abandon it is merely wishful thinking. Social media is now so intrinsically interwoven into the very structure of the Society that I can’t even imagine how the old-timers managed the SCA without it, both good and bad. The discussions of our community are occurring on Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and on blog posts because this is where the Society exists.
Related to that concern is the implication (made several times throughout her post) that without being directly involved in a situation we should not be commenting on it because that does more harm than good. We need, she says, to keep our “boots on the ground” in our own Kingdoms. I’m afraid that doesn’t work, either… and skirts perilously close to censorship. The advent of social media has erased the boundaries of distance in the Society; our community is no longer confined to events and weekly practices and photocopied newsletters (if it ever was.) We are no longer a collection of scattered groups. We are a city’s worth of people no farther away from each other than the phones in our pockets. It is now possible to be connected to the SCA’s community constantly, in real time, and in its entirety… with all the advantages and disadvantages that implies. We can rejoice in that fact or lament it, or do both by turns, but it’s simply not a fact we can deny.
A racism crisis in Caid is no longer a crisis just in Caid, nor is the controversy in Trimaris limited to the boundaries of that kingdom. We are all of us involved. If there’s concern that people are interjecting uninformed opinions into a volatile situation… well, yes, I’ll concede that’s a very valid thing to be worried about. But the answer to that is more information, more transparency, not less… and the answer certainly isn’t to tell people to stay in their own lane and not get involved. Indeed, I’m beginning to wonder if the elimination of geographic distance caused by social media is why so many people – myself included – sometimes hold the BoD up as the Ultimate Arbiter of All Things SCAdian… even when it isn’t, and can’t be.
That’s as far as I want to go with any rebuttal to Baroness Franca’s post, because I don’t want to spend the rest of my life re-hashing the same arguments over and over again. She made some very valid points and I’ve been thinking about them and will continue to do so. I’m quite sure that she’s thinking about the things that I write… and so we progress. We might be progressing like Luther’s drunken peasant, but we progress all the same.
If there’s a silver lining to this whole situation, it’s that a necessary discussion is occurring. If the discussion has become impassioned, then I think it’s that’s a reflection of the value of both the discussion itself and its importance to the future of the Society. There have been a number of excellent contributions to the discussion on all sides, many of which I’ve linked to in earlier posts. In concluding today’s post, I wanted to link to Master Cormac Mór’s outstanding blog post Hate Speech: Perceptions and Responses in the SCA, in which he presents a rubric of four positions within any given controversy in the Society. It’s too long – and far too insightful – to do any justice to in a short summary, but I urge each and every SCAdian to read it and to remember the conclusion he comes to — “There is room in our game for opposing viewpoints, and even vehement disagreement. But there can be no place in this game for hate.”
Baroness Franca Donato has done me the very great honour of taking my concerns seriously and responding to them honestly and respectfully. That I she and I do not necessarily agree on all points is not a problem; indeed, her post has actually been one of the brighter points in a very rough week. Where all participants in a debate are acting in good faith, a discussion openly embraced and respectfully conducted is always the best method for resolving our differences. I urge everyone who cares about the SCA and its future to think about ways in which we can move forward, to address the injustices in our midst, and to prevent future injustices. I know I will be thinking quite hard about it… and probably writing about it, too.
Lord Fulk Beauxarmes,
Kingdom of Ealdormere