This is kind of a tough post for me, partly because I was also involved in the below issue. I invited Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series, to tell her side of the story here because I wanted her to have her voice.
Writers thrive on fictional conflict. It’s the painful, risk-taking process through which our characters grow and change and seek justice. But real-life conflict? It’s so unpleasant, so stressful, and if we say anything controversial, people might harass us on social media. And that could affect our book sales. I’ve lost blog followers and Facebook likes over telling a funny story that wasn’t about politics, but it took place while I was knocking on doors for a local candidate in 2018. I guess the fact that I was even volunteering turned a few folks off. Some people just hate politics that much.
A fellow mystery author and blogger (I’ll call her Z) made a political post a while back on a group blog I’ve been part of since its inception. She wrote in defense of Confederate statues. I didn’t like seeing political opinion on our blog, but I couldn’t let Z’s essay stand unchallenged, as if it might speak for us all. I spent hours crafting my reply, expressing my feelings on the topic, then posted it in the comments section and contacted our moderator to explain why I did it. Our moderator decided to set a clear policy: No Politics.
Z later posted what struck me as a dismissive opinion of alternative pronouns for people with nonbinary gender identities. I was able to frame my response in terms of how I’m exploring this issue for a character in my work in progress. Our moderator didn’t see the topic as political, but about language. Conflict number two went smoothly. No explosion.
The conflict grows
Recently, though, Z used a racially insensitive phrase twice in a post about struggling to stay focused during the coronavirus pandemic. She didn’t call it what I just called it, but the _______ plague. I was stunned. She’s so politically engaged. Could she not know the words were offensive? It’s been in the news. The WHO now recommends against naming diseases after places. There’s been racist violence and harassment toward Asians from Americans blaming them for the pandemic. So I spoke up, first in a private message to Z, explaining how her words came across and providing a list of articles documenting the issue. I didn’t accuse her of being racist. People I’d sought advice from said to do it one-on one, in case she was open to rethinking what she’d said. She told me she was being honest and accurate in calling the virus after its country of origin. I don’t know if she looked at the articles.
I felt I hadn’t gotten through, so I contacted our moderator. She had a private e-mail exchange with Z. The outcome: she didn’t ask her to change the post. Maybe I should have engaged with Z in public, in the comments section, the way I had with her other posts.
I learned years ago, reading the work of Peace Studies professor Colman McCarthy, that conflict doesn’t have to be me against you. It’s us against the problem. That’s the ideal path for effective conflict resolution. Though Z and I didn’t attack each other, I don’t think ours was resolved. We never successfully defined the problem so we could work together to solve it.
I left the group blog.
My final post was about waking up to the fact that I’d been reading mostly white authors and then seeking out mysteries by writers of color. I worked it over and over to make sure I wasn’t being political, and I hope I didn’t blunder into accidental racism. If I did, I trust someone will let me know and not be afraid of the possible conflict. I’ll listen. And I’ll work to change.
As a post-script, I, too, wrote a note to Z about her use of language and have yet to get a response.
You can find out more about Amber Foxx, and her latest novel, The Calling, at her website, amberfoxxmysteries.com