Early Wiscon was actually pretty traumatic for me. I almost left and never went back. But I had friends involved and I didn’t want to abandon them. Plus I hate being told what I can and cannot do by people who clearly don’t think I’m human. I’m a brawler not a fighter (there’s a difference), so I won’t say that I’ve been particularly nice or sweet about things at WisCon. To be honest that ship sailed when I left in tears that first year. When Richard Russell’s right to berate POC (especially WOC) was defended for years. When white women’s license to be racist and clueless was held up as feminism. When I learned that most of the “feminist” in that con was for white women. I still remember that it took a white woman asking for Russell to be stopped before the old concom was willing to even filter his posts. And many kept making excuses even after that for the terrible way he treated some people by pointing to how nice he was to them. And yeah people change, but I notice some overlap between people asked not to be on staff at WisCon (or in some cases to attend at all) and what went wrong at OddCon.
The anger you see coming from so many POC at WisCon now is years deep. It might be uncomfortable to hear, might be upsetting but only recently has WisCon been a place where it was safe for many of us to be angry out loud. I still remember the threats during Racefail to prevent many of us from ever being published. Those threats were empty but none of us knew that then. We thought we were giving up an aspect of our writing careers (or the whole thing) to carve out some space for others. That was why I started Verb Noire with my friends. And yes we failed at starting a company, but we succeeded at the message that we wouldn’t be driven away.
I helped with WisCon’s statement of principles, took the heat for banning someone who had been verbally abusing hotel & con staff for 10 years. I was the first Black chair of a con that claimed to be feminist while being actively hostile to WOC and so many others. I’m never going to have that shiny happy joy about WisCon that some people do. That ship sailed the first time I attended and I have accepted that some people feel differently. Your love for WisCon is less complicated than mine. That’s a-okay, but can we stop pretending that a lot of people don’t have great reasons to be angry about the years it took to get here?
I chaired Access this year & did some last minute work with Programming & there’s still a shitty gaslighting quasi racist thing happening with one of the missing stairs from the old concom that will get dealt with, but seriously if you’e talking about the anger of POC as unproductive you still aren’t paying attention to how we’re treated when we’re there. The racism & misogyny is less overt but it isn’t gone. The misogynoir in particular isn’t gone. Because white men aren’t the only culprits. Some of this is coming from “feminist” white women who can’t deal with even the tiniest shift in power dynamics. And I have to tell you that the tears of racist white women really don’t move me. Cry. Go on. But you’re going to act right or you’re going to have a rough damned day.
I’m not nice enough or kind enough or whatever other rooted in Mammy tropes/expectations some folks have of me in how I deal with the work that needs to get done at WisCon. I’m the bitch that doesn’t care about your feelings because your feelings are manipulative bullshit when it comes to race and class far too often. Other people who are willing to do that emotional labor are welcome to it, but I think that sheer entitlement will drive away even the kindest hearts sooner or later.
WisCon has been a source of great joy & also pain for me. And yeah I think about leaving it behind a lot. A lot. But that falls into my “Why should I give up the sweet because of the bitter?” range of responses. Plus every year new POC come to the con & some of them are sweet and shy & unlikely to fight back. I’d rather they keep their joy instead of going through what I did. I also find it incredibly suspect how often it is assumed that POC attendees aren’t investing time and money to help the con run in the same way as white attendees or that younger people who use newer tech are somehow doing less work because their process is different. But that’s pages and pages of mundane breakdown of how many hours of work go into making the con happen before the event & the unseen work done during the event. It’s not the WisCon it was 10 years ago or 20. It’s not even the WisCon it was 5 years ago. That’s actually a good thing. Just so you know, if it doesn’t change and grow then it dies. Survival is hard work and I am underwhelmed by the complaints of people who don’t go to WisCon or who aren’t willing to do the work about the results created by the people who do show up and show out every year.
One thought on “WisCon…is complicated”
FWIW, this was my first year at WisCon. The hard work you and other WoC have put into this con really shows, and I am eternally grateful for it. The difficult work you’ve done and the fights you’ve had have resulted in a con that, at least to this WoC, felt like sitting in a hot tub and coming out dressed in plate mail and ready for battle. Thank you a thousand, million times over, for not giving up on the con and helping to make it into what it was this year.