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[sticky post] Welcome to Cafe Nowhere

skull gloves
Hi! ¡Hola, y bienvenidos! My name is Lisa Bradley. I write speculative fiction and poetry. Most recently my work has appeared in Strange Horizons and Stone Telling. I also have a collection, The Haunted Girl, coming out from Aqueduct Press around Fall 2014. My agent is Rebecca Strauss at DeFiore and Company. You can find a (partial) list of my previous publications on my profile page.

In addition to being a writer, I am a wife and mother. I am Latina, and originally from South Texas, though I've lived in Iowa for 20 years now. I am an atheist, anarchist, and activist. Also, bisexual. I'm a vegetarian, but I'm not going to give you a hard time about it. I have chronic depression, but it's under control and I don't need medical/lifestyle advice, thankyouverymuch. I write about all these things on my LJ. I love horror movies, cars, gothic country, jigsaw puzzles, gin, NBC's Hannibal, whisky, dark chocolate, and art journals, so you're likely to see me rave about those things, too.

I have written a series of posts, "Writing Latin@ Characters Well." I've provided links to each post below and will update this master list as necessary.
What are you?
Where are you from?
No, really. Where are you from?
But you don't *look* Latin@.
Say something in Spanish!
I LOVE Mexican food!
Putting out those fiery stereotypes
Banging down more stereotypes
Ingroup versus Outgroup conversations

Thanks for visiting. I hope we can be friends. :)
why we can't have nice things
I will not attend WisCon in 2015. I may never attend WisCon again.

WisCon's Subcommittee Statement on Jim Frenkel demonstrates that WisCon is a feminist convention in name, not deed. The Harassment Policy Committee prioritizes the harasser (in this case, a man) over the victims. They offer him the out of a redemption narrative and will entertain any appeals he chooses to make. They offer the victims hollow apologies and no appeals process. They are more concerned with the harasser's access to the con than with the safety of the rule-abiding membership.

Given the committee's decision regarding a well-documented, serial harasser, I have no confidence that WisCon will handle responsibly the other pending report of harassment or future complaints.

The committee has stated their decision will not be influenced by future discussions. (It is non-negotiable for the victims and wider membership, but provisional for the perpetrator.) Therefore, I have no confidence that WisCon will be swayed by a petition like that created by vschanoes for Readercon under similar circumstances.

Even if WisCon rescinds this decision, whether due to overwhelming criticism or the demands of their own consciences, I am so thoroughly disgusted that I do not want to a part of the convention anymore.

I am angry that an event I looked forward to year after year cares more about reforming a predator than protecting its other participants. I am disappointed that WisCon has operated with insular stubbornness, rather than learning from cohorts and critics. I am incredulous that this subcommittee passed the buck to future committees, who will have to act as parole boards in addition to dealing with new, inevitable safety issues that will arise.

WisCon is no longer *my* con. There is nothing "provisional" about that.


Revisions done for the day, I can now blog about my Minnesota vacation. I planned our trip around a trip to the International Wolf Center, for Tweetie, who loves all animals, but notably wolves.

Click Here for Highlights and PicsCollapse )

Here is a bear...

coffee wtf
...I met on vacation.

Probably the highlight of our family vacation to the boundary waters of Minnesota was visiting a bear sanctuary, where we got to see more than 20 black bears. More details later.

(Not) Horror Movies

thinking bros
In the hopes of filling in some of Tweetie's pop culture gaps, we've been rewatching old movies.

One was Ghostbusters, which we'd tried to share with her when she was much too young. For some scenes, she was maybe still too young. I always forget the ghostly succubus going down on one of the ghostbusters! In my defense, I may forget because it's not of a piece with the rest of the film. (Kind of like that one scene in Evil Dead.) I think Tweetie liked the movie in general. There were spooky parts but she got through them by speculating with her papa about how the special effects people had made things happen. And she jeered at the quality of the CGI.

We also watched The Addams Family (1991), so Tweetie would understand papa's joke about Girl Scout cookies being made with real Girl Scouts. She liked this movie better, not least because of Wednesday, so we'll probably watch the sequel soon.

A movie J and I watched without Tweetie was World War Z. I'd read the book and couldn't imagine how it'd be translated from an epistolary story with multiple, international, POVs to a big budget CGI extravaganza. Basically, they didn't. They opted to focus on one continent-hopping ex-UN guy, which worked surprisingly well. Brad Pitt has a good "listening" face, no doubt related to his real-world activism. During one scene, when he listens to an Israeli official explain why Israel hadn't been overrun by zombies, I forgot for a split second that I wasn't watching a documentary.

Despite the theme, opening credits, and plenty of suspenseful moments, I didn't consider WWZ a horror movie. The thing I liked best about it was that our hero's "super powers" were his powers of observation, his ability to observe even under horrific circumstances. There were plenty of shots of Pitt looking, listening, reasoning. Frankly, it kind of reminded me of how the camera lingered over Steve McQueen's thoughtful face in Bullitt, another action-y movie you wouldn't expect to find respect for mental prowess. And rather than being punished for seeing too much or too deeply, as would happen in most horror movies, Pitt's character eventually triumphs. In that regard, it's more of a mystery thriller: will our hero put together enough clues quickly enough to save his family and the world?!

My reluctance to categorize WWZ as a horror movie forced me to reexamine my criteria. It wasn't just that I didn't find WWZ frightening. I expect horror movies to promote the idea of forbidden knowledge--that there are some things humans aren't meant to see or know or understand. You look too close, you die. You read the book, you die. You recite the words, and your soul can only be saved through the act of bodily dismemberment. (back to Evil Dead, again) To be fair, in WWZ, the hero never actually determines where the zombie "virus" originated, so that may count as forbidden knowledge. But the hero gets off pretty easy, considering horror movie traditions.

The only exception to this heretofore unexamined criteria of mine that I've been able to think of is Suspiria, which is quite definitely horror, but also has a mystery component to it. The heroine accidentally sees things that turn out to be clues, and as the movie progresses, she does some actual investigation that permits her to fight the evil. Perhaps what makes the difference in my mind is that the camera's gaze in WWZ is clinical, scientific, dispassionate, whereas Suspiria's is fetishistic, lurid, even gleeful. While WWZ is very invested in what happens inside human bodies, on a cellular level, Suspiria is more interested in what happens when the interior becomes exterior on a celluloid level.

I'm not done thinking about what makes a horror movie a horror movie, but if I waited to blog about it until I was done...well, I'd probably look like the Cryptkeeper or be blogging from the great beyond. :)

Your thoughts welcome in comments!

Talking Heads

dancing bones
Yesterday I knew I wouldn't get any writing done, but I was having a premenstrual power surge, so I continued The Culling. Basically, JJ and I have finally discovered our housepride, and we've been getting rid of a ton of stuff (books, movies, electronics, old toys and crafting supplies, etc). So much so, that Tweetie asked me the other day, "Are we just going to keep cleaning for three months?" (Not sure where she got the three months idea)

We sorted out our DVDs, some we'd never even opened, and I decided to finally watch Stop Making Sense, the concert movie by Talking Heads. Before long, I realized how much bands like OK Go have been influenced by David Byrne's concert-as-performance art. I don't feel the need to keep the DVD, so off it goes to be sold for the women's retreat fund. But in the special features was a "David Byrne interviews David Byrne" skit and two things he said really struck me.

First, discussing the big suit, he said he wanted to make his head look smaller (I guess because of the "stop making sense" theme?) and one way to do that was to make his body bigger, which was apropos because, in art and music, the body often understands before the head does. I sat up and paid more attention.

Later, he asked himself how he could be a singer when he didn't have a good voice, and he replied, "The better the singer's voice, the harder it is to believe what they're saying." Which I loved for being the EXACT OPPOSITE of the received wisdom, and for the matter-of-fact way he delivered this countercultural truth without a trace of cynicism.


hammer head
TW for discussion of child abuse, rape

More and more details are emerging from the deeply sad and disgusting history of Marion Zimmer Bradley and (her husband) Walter Breen's abuse of children. By and large, these are not new facts. This is history: personal, legal, and fandom history. I am not going to link to the proof. Suffice to say, legal depositions and plenty of damning accounts are available online, many using the keyword "Breendoggle."

I would really like fandom to stop using that word. Modifying "boondoggle" in this way suggests that the arguments about what to do about MZB and Breen were useless wastes of time and energy. It minimizes the horror of how fandom failed to excise a pernicious predator, how people colluded to protect perpetrators rather than victims, how survivors were shamed, gaslit, and silenced, and how the truth was allowed to sink out of sight and out of mind.

There's been a critical generation gap. Fans who knew of MZB and Breen's crimes seem to have assumed the information was common knowledge. They stopped discussing it. They let sleeping dogs lie. Which means a swath of current fans and writers (including myself until about a month ago) were completely ignorant of what MZB and her husband had done, what Breen was convicted of. No doubt it would be unpleasant and even painful to constantly footnote every mention of MZB's writing with "and she abused her children and enabled her husband to rape children." But there must be other ways to pass this information on to future fans. I mean, many of us are writers. Communication is one facet of our jobs.

The MZB/Breen situation feels disturbingly familiar to those of us now fighting for harassment policies and their enforcement. We have our own "missing stairs" or "open secrets." We know we have serial harassers attending SF conventions, and we warn our friends about those problem attendees. But not everyone is going to hear these warnings through the grapevine, just as many of us were left in the dark about MZB/Breen. And it's not as if we don't have sufficient evidence or proof of the problem. Instead, we have con committees that are fearful of litigation.

"...while we could of course cancel [their] membership, if we did so without telling fandom why, there would be a big row. And if we told why, [they] would sue for slander and libel and we didn't have $75,000.00.

It was pointed out that truth is a defense in a case like this. So it is, but [they] would probably sue anyway. And even though we have all sorts of evidence establishing the main facts, if not each individual instance, we'd still be out several hundred dollars in lawyer's fees even after we'd won the case."

That's from a 1963 newsletter about Walter Breen. In response to my "WisCon Wins and Fails" post, I heard almost the exact same reasoning from a WisCon volunteer co-coordinator. Fifty-some years later, and we are still (supposedly) immobilized by the fear that a serial predator will sue.

How many times have jackasses threatened to sue but never followed through?
If the NBA can ban an owner for life because of racist statements, why can't a con ban a known harasser?
The SFF community contributed over $53,000 to the "Women Destroy Science Fiction All Genres!" Kickstarter. Do you really think, if a con volunteer got sued for enforcing the harassment policy, we'd let them go broke?

We need to fix our missing stairs now. I can't bear the thought of, twenty years from now, younger writers and fans "discovering" their literary heroes are moral scumbags. Or that the same creepers bothering them at cons were known to be problems even back in my day. We in the SFF community pride ourselves on envisioning grand, complex futures. We need to develop longer memories. Otherwise, our future will be a shameful repetition of the past. The MZB/Breen history reemerging now is a timely, if painful warning.

FYI: I am out of town

I'm so gratified to see how much traffic my post about WisCon is getting. This means people are reading talking thinking strategizing & hopefully mobilizing to get WisCon to adapt & live up to its reputation. I am currently on my summer women's retreat in Colorado, so I have been slow to respond to comments. This is no reflection on the conversations themselves. If you're a new friend, please check out my user profile to learn more about me. At some point, probably when I've returned home & recovered, I'll add a sticky note that provides a fresher introduction to me and how I use this journal. :)

WisCon Wins & Fails

christina aguilera
I attended WisCon 38 this weekend and had a fabulous time. Some highlights:

I watched a young woman of color, a self-described fangirl, meet a hero. Shivering, eyes welling with tears, she introduced herself to NK Jemisin, who responded warmly and graciously. Though I could not hear their conversation, I saw that it NEEDED to happen. This young woman needed to meet Jemisin, needed to tell her how much her work meant, needed to have her hero-worship met with respect and thanks.

Think back on all the stories we've heard of young women approaching their favorite authors in other times and places, only to be condescended to, brushed off, or sexually assaulted. The SFF community needs to be different, and better. WisCon tries and often succeeds.

I watched the Tiptree award winner, Nike Sulway, struggle through tears to tell the audience about how many times her book, Rupetta, was rejected before Tartarus Press came to the rescue. Sulway mentioned her other life as an academic, and I imagined what it must've been like, to carry on professionally while her heart was aching, maybe breaking, on the long road to Rupetta's publication. Sulway really NEEDED to hear the silly, celebratory song written for her and Rupetta, to be welcomed into the Tiptree community, to be cheered by an entire ballroom audience.

Think about other venues, where tears would've been unseemly. Think about Sulway moving forward on her next projects with the knowledge—not hope, but knowledge—that there is an audience for her work, people who live and breathe with her characters, fans ready to devour her next literary feast. Her future will be different, and I hope, better because of WisCon.

I listened to the tremulous emotion in NK Jemisin's voice as she related her trials of the previous year, the defiant calm as she restated and refined her case, the awesome power as she called us to arms and the implacable righteousness as she urged us to fucking FIGHT—for our lives, for our art, for our future. We NEEDED to hear that speech, all of us, not just the POC in the audience. And, given Jemisin's comments right before her speech, that she wasn't completely sure what she was going to do until she heard co-Guest of Honor Hiromi Goto's speech, Jemisin needed a boost of inspiration, too.

Think about other venues, where Jemisin would've been booed and heckled, where people would've walked out, where she would have been confronted, attacked, assaulted, for speaking Truth to Power. WisCon can be different, better. In this case, I think it was.

I sat in a mostly white audience that was listening (and hopefully learning) from a panel composed entirely of black women. Where else would that happen?

But for all the good WisCon 38 achieved, for all the happiness it gave me and others, more needs to happen.

We need to revise and/or ENFORCE the WisCon harassment policy.

It is inexcusable that a known serial sexual harasser (James Frenkel) would be allowed to attend WisCon the year after abusing two women and being fired from his position at Tor as a result. [Scroll down to the Frenkel discussion in this storify, "WisCon and Harassment" (the Bergmann discussion is relevant, too, and I'll get to that in a minute). See also Lauren Jankowski's reaction to discovering Frenkel was attending.] ETA: Note that Ms. Jankowski has revised her statement since I initially posted. Please take that into account when referencing/reblogging. ETA2: Lauren's followup post is here. Thanks to Elise Matthesen for providing that link.

What a slap in the face to women who endured Frenkel's abuse to see this unrepentant offender all over the con! What callous disregard for newcomers and those who cannot identify Frenkel on sight so as to avoid him! What a thoughtless decision to allow this offender to volunteer in the consuite, thus endangering some of our most vulnerable guests!

WisCon needs to be different, and it needs to be better. There are several members on the concom who want to fix the Frenkel fail. Folks who attended WisCon can help by filling out the survey at . Even if you didn't attend this year's con, you can express your dismay at Frenkel's inclusion by emailing the concom: . (ETA: This email address is the one provided on the survey. On Twitter, I was informed by the WisCon38 account that they prefer to receive general feedback at .)

Frenkel is not the only problematic guest attending WisCon. Another documented case of harassment, that perpetrated by FJ Bergmann against Rose Lemberg, has apparently been ignored by WisCon organizers. [see also the references to Bergmann in the "WisCon and Harassment" storify] Perhaps because Bergmann is local and a long-time attendee? Whatever the excuse, because of Bergmann's behavior at WisCon 36 and WisCon's failure to address the matter, Rose Lemberg, an editor, publisher, and author crucial to the new wave of intersectional speculative SFF no longer feels safe attending WisCon. And several of the authors Lemberg has mentored and championed, who could contribute valuable new voices to WisCon, do not feel safe attending, either. What a trade-off we have made! This is another matter to address when you give feedback to WisCon, whether via survey or email.

Other authors and editors who could offer valuable insights to WisCon programming have given up after years of their panel ideas being ignored, misunderstood, or mishandled. I believe the variety of panels has improved to include more traditionally marginalized voices, but panel assignments still need to be vetted more carefully. For example, why were the "How to Ally" panelists all white, while the moderator was a WoC? Was the "Escaping the Hair Police" panel as representative as it could have been? If you found fault with any panel's composition, be sure to include that info in your feedback.

I'm told the concom is looking to improve panel assignments, by letting those of us who suggest panels flag ones that need special attention. In the meantime, we can help ensure parity and the best-informed participants by including notes when we suggest panels: "PoC only," "needs non-US participants," "trans person should be on panel," "must be moderated by a WoC," etc. We can also name specific people we'd like to participate, although they are of course not obligated to do so. And if you fall into a traditionally marginalized group, consider volunteering to moderate or sit on panels, if you can. It's easy for folks to burnout if they always have to act as spokesperson.

A few more thoughts for making WisCon different, better, safer for everyone:

Moderators should avoid assuming gender when calling on audience members. Rather than "First the woman in red, the man in the back, then the woman with long hair" the moderator could say "First the person in red, you standing in the back, then the person in the kilt." No one wants to be misgendered, least of all at a con that purports to care about gender and trans* issues. (I was on a panel where the moderator made this mistake, and I felt bad but failed to speak up. I might need to rehearse a quick interjection for that scenario.)

Folks, don't go up to a stranger and ask them if they are "so-and-so." If you're the person asked, it's hard to answer in the negative without feeling like a disappointment. And if you're asking a POC, you give the impression that you think all POC look alike. Instead, introduce yourself, wait for the person to reciprocate, and be prepared to chit-chat whatever their response. And, for goodness sake, do not inquire as to the origin of someone's name or whether it's a family name or married name. Just, no.

And a last request: Many of the folks I've quoted or linked to in this post are DONE and DONE talking about WisCon. They've said their piece, documented it, and are not up for reopening old wounds. Please be respectful of them. Don't drag them into these discussions yet again. Instead, learn from what they've already said and fashion new solutions with their experiences in mind.

I really do love WisCon, but I would love it even more if ALL my friends felt safe, welcome, and valued there. We have made progress. We can make more.

The Haunted Girl, the collection!

bloody drinking
I am ELATED to announce that my first collection, The Haunted Girl, will be published by Aqueduct Press as part of its Conversation Pieces series!

The Haunted Girl includes some of my earliest poetry and fiction publications (dating back to 1998!), as well as more recent works originally published in venues such as Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, and Stone Telling. The book also will include five previously unpublished poems and a brand new story: "Bilingual, or Mouth to Mouth."

The Haunted Girl should be available for purchase, as a paperback and e-book, in late summer or early fall. More details when I've got them!

WisCon Schedule and FYIs

Things to know about me at a con.

I am not a morning person. I will sleep in. And then I will try to do some writing, to stay on track with my novel. Is this a realistic goal? Probably not, but I should at least try.

I am happy to meet folks for lunch or drinks just about any day/evening, but right now the only dinner slot I have left is on Sunday, before the dessert salon. I'm a vegetarian.

I am easily overstimulated and will disappear to my room for downtime. For the same reason, I may not make it to parties, or may only pop in and out to say Hi.

I am bad with names/faces and stress exacerbates the problem. (I wouldn't call it face blindness, exactly, but I have trouble processing wholes rather than parts.) If I re-introduce myself to you, or don't recognize you or flub up your name: it's not you, it's me, and I'm sorry.

afternoon: arriving with my buddy diatryma in time for The Gathering
early evening: POC dinner
9pm: Spindles and Spitfire reading with Gwynne Garfinkle (gwynnega), Shira Lipkin (shadesong), and Patty Templeton

10am: writing date with queenoftheskies
late afternoon/early evening: Secret Poetry Cabal meetup
9pm: Chromatic Book Launch Party, maaaybe the Vid Party

morning: writing time
1pm: Defining Insanity panel: With the release by the American Psychiatric Association of the newest Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the way we categorize and label mental illness has been a hot topic. How much of mental illness needs to be "corrected" or "fixed" and how much is caused by our society's not having spaces for those who function differently? Let's discuss other visions for societal response to mental health as presented in science fiction/ fantasy. What are your favorite examples of things being done well or terribly? Who are your favorite "crazy" characters? Do you find it interesting or helpful to diagnosis them? Do you think a lot of conflict could have been avoided if the Galactica had a resident therapist à la the Enterprise?
2:30: Coloring Contest...of DOOM! Let's color! And while we do, let's talk about what kind of fat ladies we'd really like to see in space, how to deal with our unicorn problems (they are distressingly bro-ish), and how to accommodate giant lizards in the workforce. Winners will receive a pretty pretty picture to take home. (That they themselves colored. We're all winners!)
7:30: Dessert Salon & ceremonies
10:00ish: maaaybe the Aqueduct Press Party

noonish: Sign-Out (not officially there to sign anything, just to say goodbye to folks, but if you have something you'd like signed, I'll oblige!)
afternoonish: heading home again with diatryma, and probably tons of books!
coffee wtf

Originally published at Stone Telling blog. You can comment here or there.

Our interviewee today is Lisa M. Bradley, who contributed to the Body issue with her poem “Teratoma Lullaby“. Lisa’s nonfiction essay “Listening to the Lost, Speaking for the Dead: Speculative Elements in the Poetry of Gabriela Mistral” has appeared in the very first issue of Stone Telling, followed by “Litanies in the Dark: The Poetry of Alfonsina Storni” in the second issue. Lisa also had two other pieces of poetry published by us, Embedded (issue 9) and another poem of epic length, “we come together we fall apart” (ST7: the Queer Issue), which was nominated for the Rhysling award and was reprinted in Here, We Cross.

Lisa M. Bradley

Lisa M. Bradley resides in Iowa with her spouse, child, and two cats. She has poetry forthcoming in Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, and In Other Words. The “someone bewitched…more bear than man” in “Teratoma Lullaby” is named Art. Art’s story, “The Pearl in the Oyster and The Oyster Under Glass,” can be found in the Fungi anthology from Innsmouth Free Press.

I knew someone bewitched
enchanted, shifted—
more bear than man.
When I told him about my twin
he stroked his paw down my back
so so gently
(lest his invisible claws rip my skin)
and asked if my twin might not be
a sister.

- from Teratoma Lullaby

ST: What inspired this particular poem? What would you like readers to know about your context, and how it relates to your poem? A friend of mine was participating in Haiku Mondays, and one week her prompt was “teratoma.” I’ve been fascinated with the phenomenon of teratomas since I read Stephen King’s The Dark Half, and the topic lent itself to some stylistic experiments I wanted to try, so I started writing  “Teratoma Lullaby.” I’ve felt at war with my body since childhood, and the invisible illnesses I’ve developed over time have amplified my frustrations. The poem began as an intellectual exercise but quickly morphed into a weird rebus for that sense of not cohering within my self, and the perhaps concomitant desire to excise certain memories and emotions.

ST: Is the Body a central theme in your work? If so, what other works of yours deal with it? If not, what called you to it this time? I come to speculative poetry from a horror background, so yes. Horror is obsessed with the Body, which can be a battleground for competing forces (as in my poem “The Haunted Girl”) or a model of systemic failures (as in “In Defiance of Sleek-Armed Androids”), just to name two modes of body horror. In my work, the Body’s state reflects the Mind’s (“we come together we fall apart”). My characters often inventory the Body out of their desire to impose order (“The Skin-Walker’s Wife” and my Exile novels.)

ST: What else would you like to tell our readers about your poem? My grandmother sang the song in “Teratoma Lullaby” to my little sister, to the tune of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” The metaphasis “Buenos nachos” in place of “buenas noches” is a family joke, though I used it to different effect in the poem.

ST: Do you have any upcoming projects you might like to talk about? I had an(other) epic poem appear in Strange Horizons recently: Una Canción de Keys. (I write short poems, too, I really do.) I am also writing a series of blog posts, “Writing Latin@ Characters Well,” that I hope to continue, time and RSI permitting.

ST: Thank you very much, Lisa!


If you enjoyed this poem and the interview, please consider letting the poet know! Also, we now have a Patreon page, and would appreciate your support.

dolores del rio
Like any other group, Latin@s speak differently and about different things depending on whether we are conversing with an ingroup or an outgroup.

I refer to an rather than the ingroup/outgroup, because most of us belong to multiple groups of varying degrees of intimacy. It's not always race or ethnicity that determines our level of comfort when discussing certain topics. For example, I am much more comfortable discussing the George Zimmerman case with my white friends, who share my outrage at Trayvon Martin's murder, than with my Latino relatives, who are inclined to rationalize Zimmerman's actions.

The difference between ingroup and outgroup conversations is closely linked to the practice of code-switching, which is adapting speech patterns and language use depending on context (the term has another, more technical meaning in linguistics). For instance, one tends to speak differently to one's boss or school principal than one speaks to friends or relatives. There are many reasons for code-switching. I'll discuss those reasons and provide examples in a future installment.

Developing an awareness of what your Latin@ characters feel comfortable discussing with whom can strengthen characterization and make your world more believable. In this post, I discuss the kind of topics that I, as a Latina, am uncomfortable discussing with an outgroup. This is a YMMV kind of thing. Different folks have different boundaries.

Acknowledging the disparity between ingroup and outgroup conversations can also provide tension for your story. That disparity shouldn't be the sole basis for the tension, but it can contribute. People may withhold information that, if shared, would help resolve plot problems. A character who believes herself to be in the protagonist's ingroup may be hurt and angry when she is not privy to sensitive info. New or ineffective code-switchers can make mistakes that lead to bigger problems down the road. Spies can infiltrate groups if they are savvy code-switchers, and traitors can take what they've learned from their ingroup and share it with an outgroup.

Individual Experiences of Racism

It's not happy fun-times to remember, let alone discuss, that time you were mistaken for the gardener when mowing your own lawn or the time you stopped for directions and everyone assumed you were an ignoramus who'd spelled the street name wrong, when it was actually a "cutesy" street name that appeared on the maps. Who wants to reminisce about the time their white landlord swindled them out of a deposit, knowing they couldn't afford a lawyer to argue their case, or about being arrested for beating up their sister's rapist while the rapist was allowed to go free? Who wants to recount all the injustices, all the injuries, all the deaths?

And yet, in discussions of racism, apologists and obfuscators insist that minorities provide examples of lived experiences of racism. Usually so they can whitesplain how we've misinterpreted events or misperceived reality. You see this in discussions of sexual harassment and assault, too: Someone (usually a man) insists harassment isn't a problem because they have never personally witnessed it. When given a concrete example, that person then seeks to invalidate the proof.

A similar retconning of racism happens even among well-meaning white friends and allies: "But that guy's a jerk to everyone, it wasn't personal" or "I don't think they meant it that way." Which kind of makes sense, because no one wants to think their friends were mistreated or are moving through a world that is determined to destroy them using everything from micro to macro aggressions. I know I've been guilty of such retconning myself, when a friend shared her experiences of sexism and I tried to explain them away. Now, I could kick myself. (Amazingly, she's still my friend. I guess I'm doing some things right.)

Having our experiences diminished or our perception invalidated makes Latin@s leery of even broaching the topic of racism. We are very careful about who we have that conversation with, and where and when. We avoid it privately, with certain friends, because we don't want to get into an argument or be disappointed, hurt or be hurt. We avoid it publicly because we don't want to put our pain on display or entertain the inevitable rebuttals.

So when I attended a panel where a white author declared that racism is much less worse than it used to be and is on the way out, that we in fact live in a post-racial society, I shook my head, but I did not engage him. I refused to be dragged into an outgroup conversation with someone who had no clue. I would've tagged the White People Collection Agency if possible, rather than let that dude ruin my entire convention. To him, it's a debate. To me, it's a trigger.

I've seen other Latin@s do the same split-second cost-benefit analysis when dealing with outgroup members. Latino expresses skepticism that he'd get a fair shake in some situation, because of racism: "I don't know about applying for that job, I wouldn't exactly fit in." Outgroup person challenges him: "Why not? The ad says they're an equal opportunity employer. I know the boss, he's married to a Chicana." Latino squints at the person, taking stock, and evades: "Right. Any other leads?"

I've noticed that, personally, I'm more willing to talk about anti-black racism. Partly because black women have been my teachers, partly because there's some distance from my own experiences, partly because I'm willing to go to bat for others when I wouldn't for myself.

Criticism of Fellow Latin@s

Something I've discussed before but will reiterate here is that I try very hard not to criticize Latin@s in front of non-Latin@s. (I think I'm especially protective of Latino men.) I might think a Latin@ celebrity is an awful performer or chooses terrible roles, but I rarely talk about it with non-Latin@s. For one thing, I know all too well that there are limited opportunities for Latin@s in the performing arts. If an actor takes on a stereotypical role, well, a person's got to earn a living, right? I'll assume the person finds value, monetary or otherwise, in taking on that role. That doesn't mean I have to watch or enjoy their work.

I'm less forgiving of Latin@ politicians, given my general attitude toward politics. Even so, I rarely feel it necessary to call out a particular individual. Calling out a party, a system, or a specific policy stance is sufficient. Unless it's Ted Cruz. Fuck Ted Cruz.

The reality is, a lot of criticism of Latin@ public figures is veiled racism. Latin@s will be criticized more often and more severely for doing the same things that white folks, especially white men, are allowed to do without comment. (As Chris Rock has said, "True equality is the equality to suck like the white man."*) I don't criticize Latin@s in mixed company because I don't want to open the door for that double-standard bullshit.

Perhaps the flip side of the coin: I am mortified whenever real-world villains are Latin@. If somebody makes national news by shooting up a mall or kidnapping women and that person's Latin@, part of my heart shrivels up and dies. With my family, I can commiserate about those assholes making us all look bad. My husband and I often share an exasperated, "Ay, mi gente." It's worse for Muslims and blacks, who are more likely to be targeted for retribution.

But focusing on evil Latin@s when I'm talking with an outgroup might reinforce racist stereotypes, or give people a chance to vent racist hate under the guise of righteous fury. I worry that these conversations will lead to comments about the "inherently" misogynist or violent Latin@ culture. So it wasn't until the past year or so that I felt comfortable admitting my sense of shame, or guilt by association, to my dearest friends, who are white. As much as I trust my friends, that kind of discretion is a hard habit to break.

Now, that's all criticism of famous (or infamous) Latin@s. I'll complain about my own family, because who doesn't complain about family? But I'm guarded about commenting on mis compadres. As Zora Neale Hurston said, skinfolk ain't always kinfolk (Ted Cruz, I'm looking at you). But a little solidarity ain't a bad place to start.

Sensitive Topics

We spend so much time refuting *perceived* problems—Latinos are lazy, they're all "illegals", they're superstitious, they treat their women badly--it's understandable that we're reluctant to admit real problems to an outgroup. Internalized anti-Latin@ attitudes further complicate matters. If we have a secret fear that the racist stereotypes are right, that deep down we ARE all dirty, bad, ugly, wrong, then we might go out of our way to avoid publicly addressing problems, such as domestic violence, mental illness, or sexual abuse in the Latin@ community.

Growing up, I didn't know about rape culture. I *was* wary of male relatives in the extended family—with good reason; as a teen I discovered some of them had systematically raped another girl in the family for years. My daughter will never be alone with certain family members, because I know what they did to their own kids. Only as an adult did I "confess" to a white friend that rape and sexual assault by family and "friends" were an omnipresent threat when growing up Latin@. My friend gently told me, "No, hon. It's everywhere, all races, all families." I'd heard that truism before, but never really believed it until she said it. Bad education and garbage stereotypes had convinced me that MY culture was rape culture. And I was ashamed.

Then there's the danger that if we talk openly about difficult subjects, our tragedies will become the enemies' ammunition. To paraphrase ZZ Packer, all Latinos' failures are the norm, all our successes are the exception. Admitting our community has a problem means opening ourselves up to charges that the problem is uniquely Latino and we need to be "fixed"—through eradication, isolation, imprisonment, assimilation, purges—all interventions by white saviors.

As a result, the ingroup might prefer to discuss a troublesome situation behind "closed doors." Just because you don't hear the conversation doesn't mean it's not happening. If you DO see/hear an ingroup convo, on Twitter for example, don't assume the convo is open to outgroup participants.

One Current Ingroup Conversation

A conversation I'm hearing in a lot of places right now is about racism among Latin@s. Minorities can be just as awful to one another as the dominant paradigm is to minorities as a whole. I consider this a topic for ingroup conversations because it's soooo sensitive.

As Latin@s, we need to call each other out when we adopt the prejudices of our oppressors. Fellow Latin@s are uniquely situated to make these points in ways our ingroup will understand and to refute the defensive objections, especially "I can't be a racist! I've been discriminated against, too!"

We also need to call each other in. We need to have gentle, patient conversations with one another. We need to be supportive as we each learn at our own pace and given our individual obstacles. We need to address the self-hatred inherent in our diminishment or dehumanization of the Other.

This isn't to say we can't dialogue about our racism with other groups, or that only Latin@s can point out our mistakes. But I can't imagine much progress on this front until and unless the Latin@ community digs deep with some serious ingroup reflection and rehabilitation.

*The whole video is worth watching, despite the cheesy background music, but the basis for that particular quote starts at ~4:36, when Rock talks about Jackie Robinson and equality in baseball. This tumblr entry helped me track down the Rock quote and provided the ZZ Packer quote and link:

Book Purge

I sorted through some of my bookshelves (haven't really touched the nonfic yet) and I'm giving books away. I will send them to you for free.

If you're interested in any of the books listed below, leave a comment or contact me via email: cafenowhere at gmail. Many I bought secondhand or picked up at library sales, but they should be in good shape. All are paperback unless otherwise noted. Anything left over will be donated to a good cause. If it seems worthwhile, I'll make another post when I've culled my nonfiction shelves.

UPDATE: WOW! You guys have made a good-sized dent in my To-Go pile. Thanks very much. I have edited the post so it's easier to see what's left.


Jago by Kim Newman, hardcover library discard
Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice, hardcover
Jennifer Government by Max Barry
Ender's Game by OSC
City of the Beast, or Warriors of Mars (DAW 1975) by Michael Moorcock

General Fiction

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow, hardcover library discard
Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
From the Corner of his Eye by Dean Koontz
Anagrams by Lorrie Moore
Sula by Toni Morrison
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
Daughter of Troy by Sarah Franklin, library discard
Anabasis by Ellen Gilchrist, hardcover library discard


Don't Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities, ed Victoria Law & China Martens
Acts of Contortion (poetry collection) by Anna George Meek

Feel free to spread the word.



lennon cat
Tweetie's school had a two-hour delay this morning, on account of snow. I got up at the usual time anyway, because I was so stuffed up and thought it'd be nice if I could breathe. What coffee, meds, and a shower couldn't quite accomplish, the walk to-and-from school--twice, once with Tweetie, once with her violin and music stand--has. I can breathe now and, yes, it IS nice.

I'm wearing my wrist braces most nights, and often during the day, too. Because of wrists and depression and a trial membership of Amazon Prime, I've been watching way too much tv. I finally got to see the first season of Vikings. I'm most of the way through season 1 of Copper. I'm zooming through Parks and Recreation. I watched season 4 of Justified and season 5 of Sons of Anarchy. I tried Lost Girl. I've been rewatching season 2 Buffy. ALL THE TV GIVE IT TO MEEEEE!

I've roused myself from my self-pity enough to pick up another book to read, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.

Writing time is devoted mostly to the next novel, with occasional breaks to work on a short story for a Secret Thing or to provide extras for recent or upcoming poetry publications. I hope to get back on track soon with the Writing Latin@ Characters Well series, but we shall see.

How's everybody else doing? It'd do me good to focus on somebody else for a change.



coffee wtf
Lisa M. Bradley

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