Despite my best intentions, I slowed down my writing schedule this past week due to a death in the family and the accompanying duties and responsibilities which stem from that… a sad reality that I’m sure everyone understands. That’s been my week. I’ve been coping with the family stuff as it comes. The usual silver linings of funerals apply, of course – reconnecting with family and friends that have drifted apart and a renewed commitment to strengthening those bonds, and so forth – but it’s emotionally exhausting work, which hasn’t left me much space for non-family thinking or reflection.
The timing of the funeral, unfortunately, coincided with Ealdormere’s Feast of the Bear event, which I was very much hoping to attend this year. It’s an event with some happy memories for me: Ten years ago I messed up my back spending the afternoon bent over a too-low sink doing dishes and used the resulting muscle pain to cajole a back-rub out of a young lady from our canton; not only was my back fixed, but some ice was broken which I’d wanted broken for more than a year and that led to coffee, then to dinner, and then a movie, and then… well, eventually a wedding proposal and, in a couple of weeks, five years of marriage.
Still, even with the emotional stuff I’ve been keeping physically busy in the shop, such as putting a lot of work into getting my armour-refurbishing project finished and doing a number of other small jobs (including repainting my shield), and I’m finally working my way back into a headspace where writing can happen. But the other reason I haven’t posted is that I can’t seem to get a post together on the subject I wanted to write about.
I’ve been involved in a number of online discussions about the current state of the SCA and the need for Kingdoms and Baronies to make a public statements of inclusivity. Part of that involvement has been responding to discussions around my previous post Words and Deeds, in which I frankly tried to skew positive. (No, seriously.) In that post I’d rebutted a number of phrases that I’ve been hearing during the various discussions reverberating throughout the SCA. But I deliberately didn’t rebut one statement I’ve seen again and again, during discussions online about inclusivity and equity in the SCA, and particularly the question of whether or not people in racist and homophobic organizations should be allowed to participate. I figured it needed it’s own rebuttal, which I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to write.
Before we can address this particular statement, though, I think I need to define the operative word so that we’re all on the same page. And that word is “bigot.” Let’s define bigot.
I’ve always gone with the definition that blogger Doug Muder gave in his excellent article You Don’t Have to Hate Anbody to Be A Bigot: “Bigotry is not the same as hate. Bigotry just means believing that certain groups of people do not deserve the same kind of consideration you want for yourself. Their suffering and distress doesn’t count, or they must have brought it on themselves in some obscure way. You don’t have to hate those people any more than you hate your dog when you keep him penned in your yard, or hate your children when you make them eat something they hate.”
(Seriously, read Doug Muder’s article. The specific examples he cites are a few years old, but the whole thing has a timeless relevance that really does apply.)
So that’s the definition that we’ll be using: A bigot is someone who believes that certain groups of people do not deserve the same kind of consideration as themselves. Bigotry exists, in my opinion, when it’s directed at groups who have no control over whether they’re in a group, whether it’s by virtue of their ethnicity, skin colour, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability or… well anything you can’t control. (For example, being prejudiced against Detroit Pistons fans isn’t great but it’s not bigotry: You can choose not to be a Pistons fan; you can’t choose not to be black, or gay, or disabled, and so on.)
And that’s relevant to the statement I keep seeing in online discussions about bigotry in the Society. That statement is “I don’t care if they’re a bigot, as long as they keep it out of the SCA.”
Let’s unpack that. First, there’s an incredible, shocking amount of privilege in the words “I don’t care if they’re a bigot…”
Really? They don’t care? How can they not care?
I’ve done some serious thinking about this and I’ve come to the dismaying conclusion that they don’t care because the bigots aren’t being bigots to them. And that horrifies me. It’s an implicit acknowledgement that someone has decided they can afford not to care unless they’re the victim… and so by extension they simply refuse to care if other people are victimized as long as it isn’t them.
That’s a stunning failure of empathy and an appalling abdication of responsibility. And it is contrary to every principle and ideal that the Society for Creative Anachronism should stand for. We’re supposed to be about chivalry and courtesy and the Middle Ages As They Should Have Been. We’re supposed to be standing up to defend the weak and vulnerable. We’re supposed to live up to the ideals of chivalry, no matter what colour our belts are now or will be or even what colour they never will be. From the bottom to the top, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.
That’s the Dream. That the SCA is be a place that accepts everyone and holds them to a higher, more romantic standard than that of our tawdry everyday existence and rewards them for it. That’s what brings people into the SCA and what keeps them here and what will keep this community alive long into the future.
I honestly don’t understand anyone who can come out to the SCA and wear the clothes and sing the songs and not understand that’s what we’re supposed to be aiming for, whether they’re the bigots themselves or merely making excuses for them.
Which brings us to the second part of that statement: “…as long as they keep it out of the SCA.” So… they’d be comfortable associating with KKK members, provided the white hoods are left at home? You’re fine if someone spends every other weekend wearing swastika armbands as long as they’re not putting it on the trim of their garb? As long as their Tudor-era ruff covers up the SS-rune tattoos?
Okay, those are extreme examples I’m using to make my rhetorical point. Of course no compassionate person would tolerate those things… but when it’s less egregious than that, they do tolerate these things. We seem to tolerate people in the Society whose Facebook profiles are full of racist anti-immigrant memes, or who make sexist and misogynistic jokes, or who’ve disowned their own kids for being gay. I’ve watched all these things happen. I’ve seen it. And otherwise good people are arguing we should give these appalling people a pass because “they’re not doing it in the SCA.” And we should let it happen because unless we tolerate it we’re being Thought Police, and being “just as bad as them.”
Fuck. That. Noise.
Let’s leave aside the moral cowardice of turning a blind eye to racism, homophobia and misogyny and look at the hard reality: They’re not keeping it out of the SCA.
In a thousand tiny ways, a bigot is going to bring their bigotry into our hobby. They’ll shun non-whites. They’ll make LGBTQ people feel uncomfortable. They’ll passively push people out of the hobby by not speaking in support of someone who’s earned an award, or withholding their knowledge and experience from minorities, or simply by declining to offer help and support because they don’t trust certain groups of people. They’ll argue against minority players in a peerage or polling order meeting in the guise of being the devil’s advocate. On the list field they’ll ramp up hit calibration for opponents with a Bluefeather badge or a woman in armour. They’ll trash-talk queer people behind their backs whether there’s any truth to it or not. They’ll display dog-whistle symbols and use coded language to make sure that people like them — and only people like them — are included. And so on and so on and so on.
The notion that they’ll “keep it out of the SCA” is so absurdly credulous that I can’t even take it seriously. There’s no such thing as a part-time bigot.
When someone says “I don’t care if they’re a bigot as long as they keep it out of the SCA” you know what they’re really saying? They’re really saying “I don’t care if they’re a bigot as long as they keep it low-key enough for me to conveniently ignore it.”
And right now I can’t encounter that level of apathy, hyprocrisy and cowardice and without going into a serious rage. How do we respond to someone who says that? How do we get through to them? I’m genuinely asking. I genuinely need to know. This is what I’ve had trouble writing about: How do we address the fallacy that bigots are welcome as long as they’re not actively being bigots in our hobby?
I’m writing this knowing that I’m emotionally raw and fragile, and knowing that certain people – people whom I know – will see it as being called out. And let’s face it – if they feel that way then it’s because that’s the case. I wanted to end this piece with constructive criticism and some useful advice on how to shake people out of this attitude and I can’t seem to come up with anything — I just froth and foam at the keyboard and write scornful invective. (I’ve actually gone over this piece a couple of times and toned down the invective, by the way. The rough draft is pretty sweary, even by my standards.) And so I’m calling people out instead of being constructive.
Fortunately, when I raised this point in a forum I’m involved with, another member made a valid point that I can adapt to wrap this post up. They said something along the lines that the only way we can combat bigotry in the Society – whether the overt and open bigotry of a tiny minority or the more covert bigotry of a sadly not as tiny minority is this: All well-meaning people in the SCA must stand up against it. We cannot depend on the entity which is the 501-3(c) Corporation of The Society for Creative Anachronism Inc to be able to do something about it, because frankly it can’t. It’s simply outside the ability of an organization to legislate morality.
But the SCA isn’t just a corporation. And, in fact, I would argue – as I have been these many weeks – that the SCA isn’t even primarily an incorporation. It’s a community. And we have to make it clear that bigotry – however overt or covert it might be – has no place in our community. We have to start applying that pressure… and some people might have to begin by applying it internally. It might be tough… but it’s a worthy effort. People can change.
And as for being called out… one of the people who made that statement “I don’t care if they’re bigots as long as they keep it out of the SCA” was the same person who, a few days later, came up with the point I used above regarding the inability of an organization to legislate morality and the necessity of all well-meaning people in the SCA standing against bigotry. They were able to look at the statement they’d made, realize that it was wrong and badly expressed and in bad form. They learned from their mistake and admitted to it and continued to contribute constructively. I respect that. I respect it profoundly.
I do care if someone’s a bigot. And I care even if it’s happening where I can’t easily see it, even if it’s happening outside the Society itself. And we need, as a community, to send the message that everyone is welcome in the Society for Creative Anachronism… as long as they choose to welcome everybody. That’s the price for sharing the Dream: To earn your place, you have to share it with everyone; refuse and you default on your seat at the table.
I extend that consideration to all and expect to be given the same consideration in return. No more, no less.
Lord Fulk Beauxarmes
“In good faith,” said Sir Launcelot, “that knight is my fellow, and him I shall rescue, or else I shall lose my life for him.”
–Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, Chap XLVII