I’ve been thinking about this a lot. In light of the pushback I’ve seen surrounding the #WENEEDDIVERSEBOOKS campaign, in light of the Vice Interview Laydeegate debacle and the description of women as unknowable creatures, in light of an online book magazine creating a poorly sampled research project just to prove another online book magazine wrong, and most definitely in light of a straight male author quitting a conference to prove a point about equality in a way that might actually cause more harm than good, through all of this I’ve been thinking of the human inclination we have NOT TO BE WRONG.
Sometimes we try to so hard to not be wrong that we forget the opposite of wrong isn’t always right. Sometimes, being wrong would cause less harm than all of the gyrations we do to get to some gray area of “right”. And if not right, then as far away from wrong as we can get.
And I don’t get this. I’ve been wondering what I’ve been missing in this whole equation. Is it affluence? Is it sheer male audacity? Or maybe I’m just wrong and maybe I’m seeing shadows where there are none.
Some time between going to bed last night and this morning, it hit me: I was born wrong. I have never really, truly known what it means to be right.
Female? Wrong. Black? Wrooonnnnng. Biracial? So wrong. The first time I kissed a girl and enjoyed it? Welp, that was also wrong.
My life has been one long line of wrong answers. And at some point, I guess I realized that being right was never really going to happen for me. So instead of focusing on being right, I just tried to be good. To be better than I thought I could be and better than others expected me to be.
I get things wrong all of the time. I think I’m just used to it. It’s inevitable when you live in a society where your skin color is a big sign flashing WRONG day in and day out.
But when I do get things wrong, when I say something clueless or insensitive, I apologize. I learn from the mistake. I acknowledge that I was wrong, and then I try to do better.
I think I’m doing better.
The biggest question I get about diversity is how to write outside of one’s own experience without “getting it wrong”. And I always laugh. “You’re going to get it wrong,” I say. “You’re always going to get it wrong, no matter what story you write.”
“Then why should I bother?” some folks will say. And if they don’t say it, then their expression says it for them.
And that’s when I try to explain, to talk about how there is no universal truth, and how it most definitely isn’t straight, white, able-bodied and male. “It doesn’t even matter what you write. Someone, somewhere, is going to tell you it’s wrong. So why wouldn’t you want to at least do a little good on your way to wrong?”
Why wouldn’t you want to do better?
I have to think that this insidious fear of being wrong is why Andrew Smith answered that Vice article so flippantly and then responded a week later by calling his female detractors assholes. I have to think being told he was wrong was why Roger Sutton went and took a faulty sample size of data and tried to make extrapolations of non-logic, not even nonsense, there wasn’t enough coherent thought for that. And I think that fear of being wrong is why Chuck Wendig pulled out of the Midwestern Writers Workshop even though QUILTBAG folks, those directly impacted by the Indiana RFRA, asked him not to, to attend and support marginalized voices within the state.
It must be pretty awesome to always know, just through the blessed happenstance of your existence, that you’re right. Even unconsciously.