Stephen Bannon not a white nationalist? He should repudiate Breitbart News.

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Stephen Bannon is the former executive editor of Breitbart News, a haven for white nationalism. He is President-elect Trump’s pick as chief strategist. Photo courtesy The Guardian.

The justifiable angst over Stephen Bannon’s hiring as soon-to-be President Trump’s chief strategist stems from the former’s time as executive editor of Breitbart News. He quit the job and joined the Trump campaign in August. Known for its incendiary headlines and stories that diss just about everyone who is not a white, male, U.S.-born Christian, Breitbart News is a comfortable home for the alt-right movement, better described as white nationalism.

Bannon is proud of his association with the alt-right.

The alt-right is led by young men like Richard Spencer, who runs a one-man think tank in Washington, D.C. Well-spoken, good-looking, and calm, if intense, Spencer was recently interviewed on NPR and the public radio investigative program Reveal. His main goal is creation of a white “ethno-state” within the borders of the United States, populated exclusively with—you guessed it—white people.

Earlier this week, Spencer and many of his ilk were banned from Twitter for violating its rules on hate speech. Many have fled to another social media site known for attracting the alt-right.

Bannon and Breitbart News are intimately intertwined with white nationalism. However, Bannon’s apologists claim he is not racist himself, and he really is a teddy bear once you get to know him. He denies that he is a white nationalist. His embrace of the alt-right comes from shared views on immigration (stop it) and globalist economics (stop that, too), not racism.

Stephen Bannon should immediately and unconditionally repudiate and condemn Breitbart News and all white nationalists in the alt-right and elsewhere.

Fine. As someone willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt, let him prove his tolerance and love of diversity.

Stephen Bannon should immediately and unconditionally repudiate and condemn Breitbart News and all white nationalists in the alt-right and elsewhere. That might ease the fears of religious groups, supporters of immigration rights, and feminists.

But I doubt it.

What do you think? Should Bannon disassociate himself with Breitbart News?

Let’s ban Breitbart editor Stephen Bannon from the people’s house. Here’s why.

Stephen Bannon meme

Stephen Bannon, President-elect Trumps’ choice for chief strategist, was editor of Breitbart News.

No one knows whether Stephen Bannon, President-elect Trump’s choice as chief strategist, is racist or not. It’s too easy to throw around the word, which tends to shut down debate immediately. That does not mean, however, he should be allowed within the walls of the White House.

Saying he should be “given a chance” is like saying “give intolerance a chance.”

The former executive editor of Breitbart News attracts white supremacists, anti-Semites, homophobes, and self-described racists like a flame draws moths. That’s why he doesn’t belong in the people’s house. We can’t take the risk of like-minded people soiling the home that belongs to the entire country, not just his followers.

Breitbart News draws white supremacists like a flame draws moths

Bannon rose to prominence last summer, when he joined the Trump campaign after championing the latter’s candidacy on the pages of Breitbart News. The site is responsible for incendiary stories with headlines such as “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy,” “Lesbian bridezillas bully bridal shop owner over religious beliefs,” and “There’s no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews.”

“We’re the platform for the alt-right,” Bannon told Mother Jones magazine, although he focuses his own energy on curbing immigration and the “globalist” trend in economic and political affairs. As executive editor, Bannon would have signed off on these headlines and the accompanying stories. He would’ve set policies that encouraged misogynist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, race-baiting language.

Will he encourage similar thinking in the White House?

His appointment this week rightly drew howls of protest. The Anti-Defamation League called for Trump to rescind his hiring, which does not require Senate approval. However, many other Jewish groups said nothing about the appointment, prefering to wait and see. This is hard to understand, given that Breitbart News compared Planned Parenthood’s legal abortion services to the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust, the most singular event in modern Jewish history.

Every American who believes in respect, tolerance, and diversity should cry out against Stephen Bannon and his views. If he joins the White House staff, it’ll take years to wipe out the stain on America’s values.

What do you think of Mr. Bannon?

Why writers should stop using ‘redneck’ as an ethnic slur, and probably won’t.

Redneck meme

“Redneck” is a staple of internet memes, but it’s old and tired.

Science fiction is awash with discussion about diversity. Almost since its inception, the genre has been dominated by Anglo-European men. (Oddly enough, modern sci-fi was invented by a woman, Mary Shelley, with her novel, Frankenstein.) In the past few decades, however, more women and some African-Americans, e.g., Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, and N.K. Jemisin, have added their voices to the chorus. Recently, writers from China, notably Hugo Award winner Liu Cixin, have earned attention.

The emergence of female and minority voices, as well as LGBTQ writers, perplexes many and irks a few traditionalists, who decry stories that veer from the dominant tropes of sci-fi—ray guns, space ships, alien invasions, and so on—and take on social issues that reflect life as it’s lived in their communities. Reactionaries, such as the SadPuppies and RabidPuppies, resort to name-calling and worse to tamp down a trend unlikely to go away.

One facet of the trend toward diversity is pressure to avoid racial or ethnic slurs. Of course, if a word you’d never use in polite company is necessary for characterization or to move the plot forward, it should be available, like any other word. Too often, however, these words are used thoughtlessly or for shock value. More often than not, they’re unnecessary. However, ignorant storytellers label this reticence self-censorship or political correctness, meaning avoidance for fear of offending some group or individual. Well, duh! Using a word simply to offend is offensive. What would your grandma think?

However, there’s one word that has not, as yet, entered the lexicon of slurs that include n—, c—, or s—. The word is “redneck.” This fact was brought home to me in an interview of Charles Murray, a conservative thinker at the DC-based American Enterprise Institute. “Try to think of any kind of ethnic slur that you can get away with at a dinner party you attend without getting immediate pushback,” Murray says. He referred to a friend who had recently moved to West Virginia. The friend’s urbane social circle thought his new neighbors “would be dumb, illiterate, [and] have missing teeth.” Continue reading

Should you hire a sensitivity reader to scrutinize your novel?

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When you write about things outside your experience, do you know what you’re talking about?

You’ve just finished a novel certain to win a Pulitzer Prize, and you’re particularly proud of one character, an individual not of your race, sexual orientation, and gender. You’ve struck a blow for diversity in literature, one of your core values. Blogger and consultant Mikki Kendall has a suggestion: If you think you’ve done a good job, get a second opinion. Hire a “sensitivity reader.”

Her idea is timely, given the national debate over transgender issues, racism in the justice system, and the possibility of a woman getting elected as president. And publishers want fiction with non-traditional characters, judging by literary agents’ Twitter postings with the #MSWL (manuscript wish list) hashtag.

A self-described “diversity consultant for fiction,” Kendall is a black woman in Chicago who identifies with the gender she was born with, that is, “cisgender.” In her post, she thunders against writers who perpetuate gender, racial, and other stereotypes and refuse to recognize what she believes is the harm they do to individuals and communities represented in those characters. “Art” is not an excuse to hurt people, deliberately or accidentally, “[b]ecause your bigoted depiction of them is a key component of the kind of gatekeeping that locks marginalized communities out.”

Kendall does not cite examples, but the point is on target: Writers, like all humans, have blind spots, and even well-intentioned writers can screw things up for people they may be trying to help. To mitigate the danger, she advises hiring or at least showing the work to someone from the community you attempt to portray to ensure you haven’t encouraged the thing you’re combating.

On the surface, it’s a fine idea, but on reflection, I find it troubling.

Full disclosure: I’m a white, middle-aged male from lower middle-class background living in a privileged, rich, two-thirds-white city. I fit the stereotype of The Man pretty well. While I have libertarian sensibilities, I also vote almost exclusively Democratic, caucused for Bernie Sanders, and I’ve served on two non-profit boards, one of them as president. Maybe I don’t fit the stereotype as well as I thought.

Kendall’s first advice is Fiction 101: Do your research. If you don’t come from a perspective you hope to portray, or at least have significant experience with it, then read, talk, learn. Failure to conduct due diligence is simply lazy. However, a writer doesn’t have to hire a diversity specialist to check their work. In the modern publishing world, writers, particularly new writers, should hire a trained, experienced editor before self-publishing or submitting the work to agents or legacy publishers. I’m always amazed at the crap my editor finds, beyond stereotyped, one-dimensional, hackneyed characters, though you can’t assume an editor is automatically sensitive to these things. Again, due diligence is the key.

More important, however, is your motivation for hiring or recruiting a reader sensitive to portrayals of non-traditional characters. Are you doing it because you care about accuracy and moving society into a more tolerant future? Or are you afraid of defending your choices as a writer, and hope a reader can scrub your text of offense? Or perhaps you are crass enough to seek out an editor to squash text bugs because they might hurt sales?

Success at handling characters with backgrounds alien to your own starts with your inner voice. Is your choice for this character essential to the narrative? If I make this man Hispanic, or this individual trans-gender, what difference does it make in their lives and their relationships? If you do it just because you think its smart or popular, you’re pandering to the market. If you do it because it’s necessary to your ultimate storytelling goals, then go for it.

It’s too easy, I think, for writers to chase publishing trends or the issue of the day, instead of trusting their instincts about what they want to say. Employing a sensitivity reader might result in wise perspective, but it may be a reflection of a writer’s lack of self-confidence, or a fear that readers might reject controversial ideas, or trepidation at the prospect of swimming against the cultural tide. A writer should accept that he or she WILL offend somebody sometime. It’s the world you’ve chosen.