Framing Matters

Earlier today I received an email from SFWA that stated that they had removed Mercedes Lackey from the Nebula conference because she “used a racial slur” and that they had removed the recording of the panel where that happened to “avoid any additional harm”.

This notification to the entire SFWA membership gave absolutely no context to what happened. It simply labeled a long-time SFF author who was just named a Grand Master a racist. And then it removed all evidence of what was said and in what context so that no independent analysis was possible.

According to the announcement her actions were bad enough that it warranted removing her from the conference where she was being honored for being a Grand Master.

If that’s all I knew about the event, I would think she’d used the n-word or an equivalent term for a different minority group and that she’d done so in a deliberately offensive way, like calling one of her fellow panelists by that term. Or that she’d gone on a Sad Puppyesque rant of epic proportions.

Now, I did not attend the virtual panel, so what I relay next is second-hand from a Twitter thread I saw from a fellow panelist of hers. In that thread they discussed how they debated calling out the term at the time but chose not to because of power dynamics. I also saw someone else mention that they had attended the panel and hadn’t even noticed the use of the term until it was later pointed out on Twitter.

So.

According to the Twitter thread, what happened is that Mercedes Lackey was praising the work of Samuel Delaney in the panel and referred to him as a (and I apologize now for using this word) colored author.

That is what she did.

Now, I’m not arguing that her use of that term was appropriate or that it doesn’t warrant an apology and some education about proper terminology when referring to an author of color.

But I do think that the SFWA announcement deliberately framed things in a way that gave the worst possible spin to what happened and then removed the ability of anyone to see and judge what was said for themselves.

And I do think that whoever made that choice was bringing in past controversies and criticism of Mercedes Lackey when they made that decision and using this situation to finally burn her.

I have no doubt her use of that term caused harm. And I do believe there should have been consequences for doing so.

But as a new member of SFWA I am highly disappointed in the way that this was framed. Because yet again I see the SFF community using a zero-sum, scorched earth approach to problematic behavior where any misstep is treated as equally bad whether there was an active desire to cause harm or not.

I just don’t see how a community doesn’t tear itself apart if that’s the approach. And, personally, it makes it a community I have no desire to participate in which is unfortunate since I just joined SFWA a month or so ago. Ah well.