Sunday, July 15, 2012

We Interrupt Srs Bog Bzns to Bring You Twitter Feuds

Ladies, gentlemen, sweet non-binaries.

Tonight, this happened:

Let me tell you how this came about.

Weeks ago now, I noticed this fellow was following me. With only two other tweets, I followed through to find out what his ish is.

I found "Steampunk Tut" which was... somewhat cringe-worthy. I've written before about mummies and how I find the idea of vandalizing another person's dead revolting. So I thought, what's the deal here?

Turns out this is just yet another example of white folk latching onto something non-white that appears really cool, and then "steampunking" it as if it's just another neat accessory. Might've been nice if he'd ended there, but nooooooo, I subjected myself further to this idea that "Egyptian Steampunk" is a whole new philosophy, omg! Also, the Pharaohs were robots.


Because you know, the concept of making minorities into robots or aliens has NEVER happened before! Not only has it NEVER happened before, it also NEVER happens at the hands of white appropriators using non-white cultures for their entertainment and profit! Not only that, but it NEVER passes into mainstream consciousness as plausible! And thus we are subject to documentary after documentary on the History Channel speculating how aliens were responsible for POC civilizations like the Egyptians' or the Babylonians, because goodness, how could they possibly have come up with such great and advanced civilizations without aliens. 

My gentle readers, some of you may be aware that I do not suffer fools lightly, and so, I tweeted (I think I did anyway, it was a while back, and I am enough of a high-volume tweeter that I don't care to go back to see what I said), "Did you not get the memo? I do not have tolerance for white appropriators." 

And I'm sure I went on a mini-rant about how white steampunks alienate POC because of stupid shit like this, which he probably couldn't have seen because I'm sure I didn't @mention him. 

Either way, he still called me "fucking racist trash" and told me quite unilaterally that I'm "not part of any steampunk culture." 

So here are my responses, complete with links to the Twitter statuses for your re-tweeting and favouriting leisure:

And after this, one @DennisElms proceeded to derail the conversation by somehow talking about the SFF hegemony and how to beat racism when he claims he wasn't actually talking about race.

Either way.

You know what? Maybe I don't want to be part of any steampunk culture. What culture is worth being part of, as a POC, that only seeks to alienate me and mine? What culture is worth being part of, that tolerates cultural appropriation and racism? What culture is worth being part of, that contains racists who will defend their racist art?

What culture is it, really, when injustice is excused under the guise of civility? When politesse is prioritized over care, concern, and compassion?

Steampunks are said to value "politeness"--without recognizing how very impolite the white supremacist cisheteropatriarchal ideals they hold, of inspiration and adventure and exploration and invention, are, to be built on the backs of the oppressed. How very impolite it is to gush in one breath the joy and excitement of the Industrial Revolution without mentioning in the other the need to address the genocides and colonialism of that self-same period.

Perhaps, though, this erasure of this part of the conversation, is meant to be polite. Politeness maintains good feelings, after all.

Of course, only certain people's good feelings matter above others'. Yes?

Perhaps steampunks should examine what politeness means, and how worthwhile it is, if putting up facade of politeness is more important than the necessary yelling and displays of contempt and pain it takes to actually get through to people that, yes, you know, racism is an actual problem, and still is, no matter how much of a airy-fairy fantasy world you have built for yourself in steampunk.

Just a thought.

ETA: this was from today.

Wretched little opportunist.


  1. Male, cishetero, white here. OloOMatthew doesn't speak for all of us. You most certainly have a prominent place in Steampunk culture, that you've earned and made for yourself. The steampunk culture I know of and participate in is open and welcoming, which it needs to be. The features alone that you present on steampunks of colour show just how much we'd miss out on if steampunk was just white colonialism.

    There are different ways people approach having fun with steampunk and the realities of the real Victorian period. As you state, some of them are dismissive which is damaging. This blog is one of the reasons why I haven't worn my pith helmet since reading about what it meant to POC a number of years ago.

    Politeness as an excuse to shut down dissenting opinions is misusing politeness.

    Disclosure: I attended an Egyptianed theme steampunk nightclub event some years ago. I tend to make devices to fit events, so I altered my thing-o-meter to incorporate a feather stored in a flask that was useful in detecting dark-hearted individuals. I'm hoping that was a respectful incorporation of another culture, but I'm open to be corrected.

  2. Colin, I'm going to ask you to ask yourself why you feel the need to clarify that OloMatthew "doesn't speak for you"--I know steampunk is made of variegated voices (you know, the whole wasn't born yesterday thing).

    The steampunk culture I know of, that I'm part of and have been watching for years is an offshoot of a larger culture that is white supremacist, that remains subject to the Gaze of the Straight White Male, that allows ignorance because there's just no way to identify straight up the ignorant ones from the real assholes, since we're all performing by the same code of politeness.

    That is not the world I want to live in, but it is the world I do. And that is the world I need to change, and so do you, and everyone who would like the world of openness and welcome.

    Your other question: Was the event you went to run by Egyptians? People of Egyptian descent? I can't tell you for certain, because I'm not Egyptian. It's not as egregious as a belly-dancer outfit but would you want to measure your sense of respect in such a "but I'm not as racist as X" way?

    Whether or not we like it, much of our subculture is thoughtless and uncritical. Until we encourage critical thinking and integrity to be part of steampunk, we're always going to be plagued with "was this racist?" questions.

    1. "Colin, I'm going to ask you to ask yourself why you feel the need to clarify that OloMatthew "doesn't speak for you"--I know steampunk is made of variegated voices (you know, the whole wasn't born yesterday thing). "

      The response "I'm a member of X but the member of X you spoke to doesn't speak for me" is standard Internet response #40ds. I am fully aware you've been subject to this for some time, with your comments "Maybe I don't want to be part of any steampunk culture. What culture is worth being part of, as a POC, that only seeks to alienate me and mine? What culture is worth being part of, that tolerates cultural appropriation and racism? What culture is worth being part of, that contains racists who will defend their racist art?" I felt like the response of "remember that's not the whole culture, or even the whole white-side of the culture" was warranted. Sorry if it felt patronising, it was not my intent.

      The event was not run by Egyptians or by people of Egyptian decent. Each steampunker who themed brought their own story with them. I will be viewing and commenting on such events with a more critical thought process thanks to your side of the steampunk culture. You are right, I do not want to measure my respect in "not as racist as X".

      I'd say that the "was this racist?" question is a cornerstone to ongoing critical thinking; rather than a question no longer gets asked. All rolled up into the "have I considered the implications?" question.

    2. I really did not need to hear it, Colin. And no POC does. "But we're not all like that" is trotted out far too often in some sort of defense for something that does not require defense. Just because it's standard response, doesn't mean it's GOOD. It's actually a really shitty and minimizing response.

      It's quite typical for "Egyptian" forms to be lifted due to the over-saturation of Orientalist imagery. (We do it in Malaysia too... shopping at a particular mall is quite difficult as a result, and somehow every year I go home they manage to up that neocolonialist, racist ante.)

      I think it could be done well, but I'd rather see actual Egyptians handle it for themselves.

    3. I take your points, I again apologize for my unnecessary defence, thank you for your response.

  3. So, I'm a little confused. At what point does the use of cultural themes become racist? If you're creating in a medium that draws from a historical time period in which racism was rampant and blatant, is it incorrect to reflect that in a written work? Simply because one writes a character that believes in slavery, that does not mean the creator themselves holds with that belief. Because I am a white woman of European does that mean I am not allowed to include Middle Eastern, African, Native American, Latino, or Asian elements in anything I do as it could be construed as white appropriation? That seems exclusionary and promoting of ignorance in regards to other cultures and ethnicities. If no one is allowed to use things that aren't a part of their heritage the genre will stagnate. Steampunk, to me, is about exploration, learning, adventure and new takes on old themes. By restricting the genre to "white people's adventures in Victorian England" you take away what's most amazing about Steampunk: it's ability to adapt to any setting. Since the genre is so dominated by Caucasians, should they be made to stay within the confines of their ethnicity? I'm wondering where you draw the line between racism and creativity. It seems very subjective to me. I'm sure Licoln would be just as peeved about being written as a vampire as the pharoahs would be as being written as robots were they all alive today. So I wonder, where is the line and who dictates what is or isn't racist?

    I'm not trying to be confrontational, just wondering what standard you're using.

    1. You see those links in those tabs above? One of them says "Read These Before Engaging".

      I suggest reading up.

      I see I will also have to tell you to learn the difference between "educating oneself for the purpose of education, equity and justice" and "educating oneself for the purpose of creating works representative of the Other for commercial profit."

      Guess what camp most of us media creators fall into?

  4. Isn't there a prior aspect to the appropriation of Egyptian culture? I was under the impression that ancient Egyptians are often imagined by whites as white. This avoids the terrors of having to realize that POC accomplished anything as impressive as pyramid building. So before the Pharaohs become robots or whatever, they've already received a thorough whitewashing.

    In other words, you may have upset dear Matthew on several levels by confronting him. Two for one.

    1. Yes and no? Many Egyptians consider themselves white, in the current race paradigm. It's a by-product of prolonged colonialism and global white supremacy. Although I do agree that imagining Egyptians as white diminishes the anxiety of POC accomplishing anything before whites did!

      Whitewashing is another aspect of appropriation, for sure.

  5. Interesting. I would argue that there is a world of difference between the Eurocentric imagination of Egyptians as white vs. an Egyptian adoption of that category, although yes, both are products of colonialism and global white supremacy. In the context of this discussion, dear Matthew is most likely in touch with / saturated by the first idea, and has no clue about the second.

  6. Maybe it's about time many people remember what the *punk* in Steampunk (as derived from Cyberpunk) actually means, and perhaps apply it to the real issues of the time, and dilute this romanticized, saccharin, and ultimately repugnant celebration of veiled colonialism and "the good old days" that never were.

    I recommend that any self-proclaimed steampunk who hasn't watched the "Cyberpunk Educator" do so as soon as possible. It's available for free from the creator on the web.

    1. After a little bit of searching, it appears that the original website has regrettably vanished, leaving only a relatively low-quality Google video, and some scattered rar-archives around the Internet, Luckily there is a copy stored on

    2. As much as certain folk would like this to be true, the truth of the matter is that JETER WAS MAKING A JOKE. Yes, we are related to cyberpunk, but tangentially. Cyberpunk has got its own set of problems, many of them the same as in steampunk.

    3. What I mean to communicate is not that they're the same, but rather that Steampunk, as it is, could do with a bit less of the pseudo-utopianism and ignorance of 'the wrong side' of history that creates the possibility for this kind of exploitative cross-cultural acquisition to continue to take place, strait-faced, and without any irony at all.

    4. Ah. That did not come across at all.

      But much as I agree with that sentiment, I find it worthwhile to find out WHERE this proclivity towards such comes from. And the simple answer is that society at large is like this already. Addressing it in steampunk is just easier, but it needs to be acknowledged that this problem in steampunk is just a symptom of the fact that society in general is exploitative and lacking in critical thought.

    5. I find that I am in complete agreement with you on this. I tend to get caught up in whatever narrow cultural avenue I'm interested in at the moment, so thanks for the clarification.