Open Letter to the SF Community re: Ellison/Bradford Incident

To the Speculative Fiction Community:

We at the Carl Brandon Society are writing this open letter to our community regarding the recent incident involving Harlan Ellison and K. Tempest Bradford. Mr. Ellison, mistakenly believing that Ms. Bradford had criticized him on her blog, wrote a post on his discussion board that included the following passage:

She is apparently a Woman of Color (which REALLY makes me want to bee-atch-slap her, being the guy who discovered and encouraged one of the finest writers and Women of Color who ever lived, my friend, the recently-deceased Octavia Estelle Butler). And she plays that card endlessly, which is supposed to exorcise anyone suggesting she is a badmouth ignoramus, or even a NWA. Ooooh, did I say that?

Mr. Ellison has subsequently apologized to Ms. Bradford and she has accepted his apology. We do not wish to address what has now become a private matter between the two. However, since the problematic post was made in public and thus was published in full view of the SF community, the Carl Brandon Society wishes to define some basic principles of discourse which were put into question as a result of this exchange. We hope community members will consider and respect these principles in future debates and disagreements.

These principles are as follows:

1) The use of racial slurs in public discourse is utterly unacceptable, whether as an insult, a provocation, or an attempt at humor. This includes both explicit use of slurs and referencing them via acronyms.

2) Any declaration of a marginalized identity in public is not a fit subject for mockery, contempt, or attack. Stating what, and who, you are is not “card playing.” It is a statement of pride. It is also a statement of fact that often must be made because it has bearing on discussions of race, gender, and social justice.

3) Expressing contempt for ongoing racial and gender discourse is unacceptable. Although particular discussions may become heated or unpleasant, discourse on racism and sexism is an essential part of antiracism and feminist activism and must be respected as such. There is no hard line between discourse and action in activism; contempt of the one too often leads to contempt of the whole.

The Carl Brandon Society assumes in this letter that everyone reading it shares the common goal of racial and gender equity, and general social justice, in all our communities. We hope for a quick end to arguments over whether or not unacceptable forms of debate should be allowable. These arguments obstruct the process of seeking justice for all.


The Carl Brandon Society

Candra K. Gill
Claire Light
Victor Raymond
Nisi Shawl
Diantha Sprouse

Please feel free to add your signature to this letter in the comments.

247 Replies to “Open Letter to the SF Community re: Ellison/Bradford Incident”

  1. Dear Letter Writers, though I know only 2 you of in person, I love you all.

    Dear Letter Signers, Me too.

    Mary K Kare and I think I need to renew my membership don’t I?

  2. Thank you. This was something which very much needed to be said. It needed to be said by as many people as possible, and in a professional context.

  3. I would encourage you to add that age is similarly not an appropriate subject for insult, provocation, or attempt at humor. Part of the misunderstanding was that Harlan Ellison had apparently been led to believe that K. Tempest Bradford had used an ageist slur against him. (She had not, though she had reposted one, for which she apologized.) Obviously, one slur does not justify another, but respect must run all directions.

    –Kyle Aisteach

  4. Ellison actually wrote “Cuhluh” rather than “color”, which seems much more offensive to me. The use of faux-dialect is also worth mentioning.

  5. I am in agreement with these principles. We humans are all in this together; respect and compassion is VIP.
    –linda addison

  6. I add this comment:
    4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy,
    it does not boast, it is not proud.
    5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
    it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
    6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
    7 It always protects,
    always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
    8 Love never fails.

  7. Signed. This needs to apply within the anti-racism and anti-sexism communities as well, though, especially when discussing dissenting opinions within the community.

    Malcolm Gin

  8. Anyone who knows anything about Harlan Ellison knows (or ought to know) better than to take any of his hissy-fit pronouncements seriously. Expressing disapproval of any content of one of these hissy-fits is like expressing disapproval of a professional clown for wearing too much makeup.

    You’re A) wasting your time, and B) showing that you don’t understand that you’re talking about a clown.

  9. You forgot to add: Physical violence isn’t a joking matter (bitch-slapping someone? Who slaps whom? )

    Good response to a nasty comment.

    margaret welsh

  10. Thanks for this. Very practical and clear. I hope Mr. Ellison and others like him can see these words as the gift they are. Please add my name to the petition: Rona Fernandez

  11. Very well said. Bravo!

    We’ll get nowhere without civil discourse and mutual respect. This is a step in the right direction that we all need to take.

    Moshe Feder

  12. I forwarded around links to this post to several people over the past couple of days, but carelessly didn’t read down far enough to realize people were signing on in comments.

    I think this is an appropriate response, and along with my already having endorsed it in various emails (and criticized some other responses), I’ll definitely sign on here, too, with apologies for doing so belatedly.

  13. This is an excellent statement of principles, regardless of the sincerity of Ellison’s comments.

    I do wonder what the 21st century will do in terms of identity.
    It is clear our conventional identity categories (race, gender, nation, etc.) carry definitive power, but I also see in younger generations more fluidity, and different axes for community.

    From online identities to professional affiliations and more, I see a whole range of ways we are defining ourselves, and I wonder if we aren’t approaching a moment (in the still distant future) where race, gender, class, etc. will no longer dominate the discourse on identity.

    I also wonder what will have to be sacrificed to make such a moment possible…hmmm.

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