I'm not all that deeply involved in the online spec fic community, so I'm rarely around when Mount Vesuvius erupts. I only ever come in on the tail end of these things. Here's the latest case in point, courtesy of Tobias Buckell's blog. Watch in horror as HelixSF implodes:
I've dealt with Sanders in the past--in fact, my story "The Makeover Men" is currently in the HelixSF archives--and found him to be a prickly fellow, quick to take offense, ready to engage in confrontation. I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb by making these observations. He wears the label "ornery cuss" as a badge of honor, and I'm not about to hazard a guess as to why. Some folks are just born that way.
I find his use of racial slurs in the above-linked rejection letter disappointing and troubling. I won't be asking for my story to be removed from HelixSF, however. Sanders challenged me on the piece, made me do several re-writes and all in all hounded me into making the best story it could be. He got it, where all the other markets responded along the lines of "Not just no, but hell no!" Sanders published it when he said he would and paid me on time. So "The Makeover Men" stays up at HelixSF.
That's not to say I ever expect to submit there again. I don't condone his words, but then again I won't submit anything to Orson Scott Card's projects anymore either. For my money, Card's been persistently more offensive over the years on a grand scale, the only consequence of his being the spontaneous propagation of Card apologists. The righteous indignation against Sanders seems to be driven at least in part by the fact that Sanders makes it so easy to dislike him. He's become a target of opportunity. Those venomous folks attacking his detractors on the Asimov's boards, however, have no such excuse. In truth, they're the ones that disturb me the most.
The core tragedy--if I may be allowed the hubris to invoke such a mighty word--is once again seeing a member of a marginalized minority using demeaning stereotypes to marginalize a different minority. Native Americans have undergone some of the worst suffering, disenfranchisement and even genocide ever inflicted, yet despite our "enlightened" society, discrimination and stereotyping continues to exist. I just recently finished reading The Chicken Ranch: The True Story of the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas by Jan Hutson, as wretchedly-written a book as there ever was. In a chapter on the history of the La Grange, Texas, area, Hutson launches into a full-blown attack on native people, the native Tonkawa tribe in particular. Stupid, dumb, lazy, lying and thieving are among the kindest descriptions she uses, going on to praise those European settlers who slaughtered the tribe to extinction as doing humanity a favor. I can't say for certain how Sanders would react to such characterization, but I suspect he might find it offensive. That one group could be victimized by such libels and slanders, yet lack the empathy to see the wrongness of their using similar tactics against other groups is equally wrong. It doesn't matter if you're William Sanders or Jan Hutson or Barbara Bush ("We're afearin' them darkie New Orleans refugees will stay in Houston") or Ray Nagin ("We're afearin' then Mexicans will stay here in Nawlins once they done finished rebuilding it")... well, shit folks. It's wrong. In 2008 it shouldn't take a ill-conceived rejection letter, a particularly vicious message board flame war or a long-winded blog post to get that basic point across.