Regarding the Elizabeth Moon Controversy
We at the Carl Brandon Society Steering Committee feel it is important to state our position on a number of issues raised by the Elizabeth Moon controversy.
- Regarding demands for “assimilation”: In the United States — as a nation and as a singular culture — no mainstream assimilated identity exists. The U.S. culture, such as it is, is an agglomeration of subcultures based upon region, neighborhood, urban/suburban/rural status, class, vocation, affiliation, race, ethnicity, country of origin, and a number of other factors — all in combination with one another. Demanding that an immigrant “assimilate to U.S. culture” is meaningless: assimilate to what exactly? Which set of cultural values and uses are immigrants to assimilate to? And who gets to decide? We contend that it is irresponsible to demand assimilation or further assimilation from any U.S. resident for any reason.
- Regarding the responsibilities of immigrants: Immigrants often lack English language skills and cultural competency in our legal system and political and business cultures, which leads to disadvantage. People lacking these skills and competencies are already struggling in our society. To blame them for this lack is vile; to impose upon others the responsibility of becoming more like “us,” when they are often already struggling just to survive, is unjust. Naturalized citizens, those born and usually raised in another culture, have had to deliberately change their identities to become U.S. citizens. This is a soul-wrenching transformation; different individuals must create their new identities out of different pieces. To stand outside of this process and make ignorant demands is despicable. We contend that the just and right course is to leave each individual to find her own way, and to welcome the new citizen in whatever guise he appears in.
- Regarding immigrants choosing to remain separate: Ethnic enclaves are not merely about comfort. For immigrants lacking language skills and cultural competency, the ethnic enclave is often the place to find assistance in navigating bureaucracy, or understanding cultures, or just translation help. The ethnic enclave historically has provided banks, social assistance, insurance, protection, gainful employment, education and training, etc. The ethnic enclave also makes groups of immigrants easy to find and serve; government outreach is much more effective when agencies have ethnic enclaves to turn to. The supposedly “separatist” ethnic enclave is, in fact, an engine of citizenship: a machine that processes the new immigrant into a culturally competent and productive member of society. That it does so without washing out what is distinctive and valuable about the immigrant’s culture of origin, explains why it is so effective.
- Regarding “citizenship” and our responsibilities as citizens: Within the law, native born citizens are free to debate and experiment with the concept of citizenship in word and lifestyle; immigrants are free to do likewise. We contend that a demand that immigrants “earn” citizenship by conforming to a narrow and stereotyped understanding of “good citizenship” is irresponsible and unjust. Furthermore, definitions of “good citizenship” and “good citizens” have been used to oppress various groups throughout the history of the United States, including: continuing debates on the autonomy and status of Native Americans/American Indians; oppression of poor European immigrants in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; Chinese and Asian exclusion; immigration quotas; Jim Crow laws, especially those that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote; Japanese internment; Arizona SB 1070. We are particularly wary of any definition of “good citizenship” when it is applied to a particular group. When an accusation of “bad citizenship” is made by a member of the majority towards an entire group, it is an act of discrimination and must be treated as such.
- Regarding the “complaints” of marginalized groups: We contend that speaking up for civil rights is the essence of “good citizenship,” if there is such a thing. Expecting immigrants to accept intolerance and bigotry directed towards them because of what their former countrymen may be doing abroad is to expect those immigrants to be bad citizens.
- Regarding the responsibilities of Muslims for Islamic fundamentalist terrorism: Islam is the second largest religion in the world after Christianity, with nearly one fourth of the planet’s population constituting its adherents. Generalizing about Muslims is impossible and absurd. All Muslims no more share a common culture or set of beliefs than all “Christians” do. No Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or any other religiously inspired violence excuses bigotry against that religion’s adherents. No Muslims bear responsibility for Islamist terrorist acts except those Muslims directly involved.
- Regarding “tolerance”: “Tolerance” is often considered one of our primary duties as citizens. “Tolerance” does not mean agreement, consensus, likeness, or even understanding. It does not mean assimilation. It does not require friendship, nor even dialogue. It is simple. It means refraining from expressing negativity towards things that are different from or alien to you. Tolerance is part of our social contract: you tolerate me, and I tolerate you; we both refrain from attacking one another; we live and let live. On the other hand, tolerance doesn’t deserve reward, either. As a social responsibility, it doesn’t change, lessen, or end; you never cease to be responsible for tolerating others.
- Regarding “teachable moments”: It is not the responsibility of members of marginalized groups to educate others about their group’s reality, history, or oppression. In situations like the current one, where someone has made bigoted statements against members of a particular group, members of that group have the right to be outraged and hurt without being forced into a false “teaching” position. We also affirm the position of those who do not wish to make this topic the focus of their Wiscon or other SF fan experiences.
We ask both the Wiscon concom and Ms. Moon to take advantage of her presence at Wiscon 35 to make programming opportunities for Ms. Moon to engage in open dialogue with the community on this topic. We consider this sort of dialogue to be a primary responsibility of the Carl Brandon Society as an organization — particularly given our history with Wiscon — and we welcome the opportunity to engage in it. We also welcome other voices to work together with CBS in this dialogue.
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