I wrote a longer-than-intended Twitter thread about the Romance Writers of America (RWA) implosion tonight — I got a bit ranty — so here it is as a blog post, tidied up only a bit for blog post format.
I have no idea what percent of my timeline is #romance and romance-adjacent and therefore already tuned in to the RWA implosion. But beyond romancelandia, if you are in the nonprofit / membership organization world this situation concerns you.
Detailed timeline (currently being frequently updated):
The Implosion of RWA by Claire Ryan, Author.
A good summary: “Romance Writers of America cancels annual RITA awards contest amid racism controversy,” Entertainment Weekly (6 January 2020).
If you are on the staff of a nonprofit and/or volunteer on a board of a nonprofit, this cascade of events concerns you. Particularly (I believe) the way that efforts toward justice (diversity, inclusion, equity, access reforms via policies and processes) were used against intent. The labor of marginalized members, particularly women of color within RWA, who were fighting to make concrete changes in their national professional organization, was appropriated and used to destroy their work (and directly used to try and silence them).
This isn’t an isolated incident, either in RWA or in the world of nonprofit cultural institutions and organizations, where underrepresented people are fighting to re-center their own stories and voices in the face of the imperialist, white supremacist ableist cisheteropatriarchy. If you work and/or volunteer in any space of this kind — and you care about fighting for a more just future therein — be on the offensive. Think about how your policies and procedures could be weaponized. Think about who is most likely to weaponize them.
Build defenses, contingency plans.
We can’t stop the work.
We absolutely shouldn’t stop the work.
But be ever aware that there are people for whom the change we are fighting for is something they will literally put their entire career (hell, the very existence of RWA as an organization!) on the line to stop our success, our right to be and thrive, its tracks.
Ask who would rather your organization cease to be than become truly anti-oppression in its orientation and practices. And plan to cut them off at the pass.
One key vulnerability in codes of conduct, codes of ethics, statements of diversity and inclusion, and other policy instruments that we often turn to within organizations to work toward justice is that they too often rely on language of non-discrimination. They rely on the very (white) American belief that the solution to inequality is treating everyone equally. To be “colorblind” … to be proud that you couldn’t tell your colleague was queer … to “not notice” a disability.
When policies and procedures require treating everyone “the same” they are VERY VERY EASY to weaponize against those who name discrimination. Because it’s not the quiet white supremacist who broke the rules … it’s the mean black woman who called them names. Drawing attention to inequality, in effect, becomes equated with creating the inequality. IF YOU JUST DIDN’T NOTICE the inequality, you marginalized person making a fuss, everyone would be treated the same BUT NOW I (the person expressing bigoted opinions) am being treated badly.
So you get situations like this:
person expressing bigoted opinion
files code of conduct violation complaint
against the person who identified the bigotry
So ask yourself, your committee, your organization … what does your policy require you to do in this instance? If your policy is written as a “neutral” document (there are no neutral documents) then likely your policy encourages you to find fault with the person who used Mean Words against the person who had a Bigoted Opinion because, after all, we must be inclusive. Welcoming to everyone. And look, we haven’t been so welcoming to the person with the Bigoted Opinion have we? Clearly, something must be done to address their complaint.
And think DAMN hard.
About when push comes to shove who gets to be welcome in your space, who gets to be included, and who pays the price of that welcome by being excluded.
Because someone ALWAYS pays the price. And I, personally, would rather the shitty white supremacist grifters paid the price than the queer black lesbians writing me good kissing books. And I’d like organizational policy documents to back me up on that one.