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on being the change we wish to see in the world

kat kourbeti
kat kourbeti
welcome back to honest to blog (working title), a newsletter with thoughts about writing, movies, music, science fiction and fantasy stories, and general creative process blah.

as well as a deep dive into why my love for harry potter has officially left the building
hey. hope you’ve all been keeping well. boy oh boy has it been a Time since last we spoke.
it’s been a couple of months since i last sent one of these out, and though i did not intend for my break to be this long, world events and personal stuff going on in the background sent me absolutely spiralling, and the only thing i could do was stay afloat. that meant not writing at all, barely reading anything, and sometimes checking in on social media and then immediately noping out.
this was basically me most of may and june:
❀ jasmine ❀
desire to desire to
get off social stay informed
media for about events
mental health
( •_•) (•_• )
( ง )ง ୧( ୧ )
/︶\ /︶\
london’s still in lockdown (sort of, you know, not exactly, but totally, on the DL), and i’d be lying if i said it hasn’t gotten to me or those near and dear to me. it’s been quite hard to stay stable through such a long time of home confinement. my housemates and i developed a newfound love for cooking and baking healthily, which has been good for my skin and health, but even a perfectly assembled shepherd’s pie can’t distract from the fact that my day-job industry is on the very brink of collapse (despite a recently announced government bailout package), and that my workplace has announced we’re all very likely to get the boot very soon (and it’s all kicking off on twitter, as per)… so all in, it’s been a bleak couple of months, not gonna lie, and looking bleaker still going forward: as a union rep i’m gearing up to help my colleagues navigate redundancy land, so it’s about to get Distinctly Not Fun for a while, and i am not looking forward to it.
amidst it all, there has been so much happening around the world—crucially, a revolution against racism brought on by outrage at the police killing of george floyd. i didn’t post a lot at the time of it all kicking off (except for bits and bobs on instagram), because performative allyship is pants, and it’s useless. as neither an american nor a brit (despite what my accent/education and resident status might tell you), a lot of my understanding of race issues globally (and my role within it locally, as a white greek/serbian cisgendered woman who grew up in a caucasian monoculture and moved to london twelve years ago) has been a learning curve, and it is far from perfect.
but here’s the thing: it doesn’t need to be perfect; nothing, and no one, ever is. we all start somewhere, and the proof will be in our actions. what we need to do, as white people anywhere, regardless of location*, is witness and listen to people of colour, understand what they are going through and our responsibility in it, and then work to undo centuries of systemic oppression by amplifying their voices, getting involved in activism, and using our votes in order to change laws. it’s going to be a work in progress for a good long while—and we’ll have to deal with a lot of discomfort, both personal and collective, in the process of becoming conscious of just how many layers we need to peel back in order to purge the system itself—but it has to be done, and it needs to start now.
*yes, even in caucasian monoculture places like greece, where we have internalised and perpetuated racist/white supremacist narratives fed to us by the powerful west, where we foolishly think we belong—a story for another time. what i’ve been thinking a lot about is what the global conversation means for eastern & southeast europe specifically, and the hard truth is that we need to own up to our part in the perpetuation of racism both within our land and outside it, by:
  • disallowing racist jokes, and considering how ‘stereotype humour’ reinforces narratives of white/eurocentric supremacy and contributes to the systemic oppression of peoples through repeated microaggressions. that means calling out family members and friends when they’re being nasty, too.
  • examining our contribution to racial capitalism. countries that did not contribute to western imperialism originally are now supporting the system borne out of it; it is not a coincidence that the global south is kept in poverty, while their labour and land is exploited for peanuts.
  • treating everyone regardless of the colour of their skin or their country of origin with dignity, respect, and kindness… every day, all the time—not just when it serves as performative niceness to impress neighbours, family or friends (unfortunately, a commonplace attitude back home).
and then, of course, i now live in the UK, where systemic racism takes on a different tune to the one in the states, but is no less prevalent or insidious. britain is the birthplace of racism and slavery, the originator of systemic oppression as we know it, and the current global outcry against police brutality in the US is felt deeply here too. it’s why statues of known slave traders are being torn down, why there is open conversation about teaching the ugly side of the nation’s history in schools as well as art galleries and museums (my old colleague alice procter has written a fabulous book on the matter), and why university academia has been protesting for years to decolonise the curriculum. the country is beginning to reckon with its legacy, and that can only be a good thing—so long as it’s a sustained movement, and not a passing fad.
so… what can we do?
to start with, we need to educate ourselves in order to fully understand the extent of the issue, and the areas in which we can help. i’ve collected the links below over the course of the last month or so, and it’s by no means an exhaustive list of lists. if you have any more in a similar vein that you’ve found useful, or come across a book/film/podcast/article that resonated with and impacted you, please share them either in the comments for this post or by pinging me a tweet or reply to this email.
anti-racist reading, watching, and listening:
what about anti-racism in the science fiction and fantasy space?
there was a fantastic article on tor.com by L.L. McKinney on publishing and the commodification of black pain, in which she writes of how the only books by black authors that are marketed widely are ‘issue books’, and that as a black author, unless you write about trauma and pain related to race, you’re unlikely to be pushed by your publishers. issue books are necessary too of course, but there are also books by black authors that don’t focus on narratives of suffering. here’s a quote from the article with a list of books that sound spectacular and fun and worth checking out:
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia, which is about a Black boy who goes on an adventure to save a fantastical realm. How about The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, a book about a Black girl in a fantastical world where the price of beauty is a steep, dangerous one. Then there’s A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow, which is about two Black girls who are sister friends in a world peppered with the paranormal. Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds is about Black kids dealing with loss, love, and time travel! A Blade So Black is about a Black girl charged to save the world from beasts from the dark world of Wonderland.
but! like with everything i talked about above, the key is in ongoingsupport, not just when it’s a trend. once we check these books out, we ought to keep seeking out books like them, and supporting black authors and their work.
… did you think i’d run out of lists? hahaHA of course not. here’s some more books and stuff for ya:
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
THREAD: Here is a list of organizations and causes in the speculative fiction community that you might consider supporting and donating to at this time to help make concrete changes in the publishing landscape for Black writers:
the story is far from over. the fight is only beginning. we are witnessing a moment that will shape the world, and it’s on all of us to help that shaping take place, by starting with ourselves.
let’s keep the conversation going; let me know what you’re reading/watching/listening to, what’s been going on where you are with regards to this, and any thoughts you’re having <3
also, it turns out jk rowling is a massive bigot.
good thing i never bought that adult cover boxset of the potter books i’d been eyeing for years… i wouldn’t even know what to do with it right now.
for those not on twitter (a wise decision, actually), here’s the tl;dr on what has been an absolute storm of garbage, from 2015 up until the 20th june 2020, which is when this video was posted:
JK Rowling's history of TRANSPHOBIA
JK Rowling's history of TRANSPHOBIA
(kudos to moe for putting together a well-documented and researched timeline; saved me a lot of work, and honestly their video debunks rowling’s nonsense so beautifully it really should be considered art.)
the hateful saga has continued in the last couple of weeks, as recently as last sunday, with more and more transphobic (and anti-MH-medication) awfulness. by this point, the entire film cast has spoken out against jkr, starting with actual sweetheart daniel radcliffe, and now even mugglenet & the leaky cauldron have disavowed her and pledged not to cover news about her. MUGGLENET, you guys! the very heart of the fandom is noping out of this boat, and for good reason: this kind of hate is just not going to fly among the sorts of people who found a home in the wizarding world, the outcasts and misfits who are still waiting for their hogwarts letter.
last minute edit: jkr is now one of many writers, journalists, and scientists to co-sign a letter against ‘cancel culture’, published in harpers magazine yesterday (july 8th). the letter is abstract at best, claiming to advocate for ‘free speech’ and ‘open debate’, when really it’s about the signatories seeking carte blanche to say whatever they want without repercussions. SIGH. people are retracting their signatures, but jk is holding fast. naturally.
as someone who has been tremendously inspired by the potter books—they were the first books i read in english, and the reason behind my first foray into online fandom—this has all been a horrendous punch in the stomach. i did fall out of love with the work itself a long time ago, and unfortunately i can even pinpoint the day: july 21st 2007, the day deathly hallows was released. i was suddenly aware of the creator being fallible: 17-year-old me was finally equipped with critical reading skills and literary knowledge (thanks, international baccalaureate!), and the result was being able to objectively and critically look at this book i’d waited on for years, read it cover to cover in a day, and see that it was… really, really bad. a bad story, badly written, and a bad conclusion to a saga i’d grown intertwined with throughout my teenhood.
it felt like a welcoming to adult life through bitter, crushing disappointment.
then came cursed child, the sequel play that originated at a london theatre i indirectly worked for briefly, which was oddly similar to—and definitely worse than—fanfiction i myself had written at age eleven. you could say that at that point the magic just fizzled out for me. i was kinda done with harry potter, but i remained vaguely fond of the world, the wizardry, and the wonder, if even for nostalgia’s sake.
then came fantastic beasts, the first prequel-y movie, which for once had nothing to do with harry or voldemort or any of the people we knew, and was set in america, and actually featured a pretty overtly queer narrative. could it be?? were we headed for a five-movie series about gay wizards battling for world domination?? were my gay dreams about to come true??? ehh, not quite. first of all (spoilers, i guess, though will you watch these movies if you haven’t already? let’s be real here)—they replaced colin farrell with johnny depp, and jkr defended the decision to cast him, even while the accusations of domestic abuse against him were at their peak. red flag #1. plus the heartbreaking queer narrative that made the ending of the first film so poignant was ret-conned to bring this franchise into the fold of the potter stories we knew already, with no regard for any sort of continuity. that’s it, i give up, y’all. not even james newton-howard’s incredible soundtracks will be enough to drag this nonsense out of the gutter where it belongs.
so… that’s enough now. jkr’s overt display of hate for a community that’s so so close to my heart was the final nail in the proverbial coffin, and i’m all out of excuses to keep my love for the wizarding world alive. it’s not even that great a world! there are so many better stories out there, with deeper worldbuilding, nuanced characters, lgbt inclusion, rich and satisfying storylines… we can do better than this mediocre fantasy world.
to that end! here’s more recommendations!!
Morgan M Page
Sad about Harry P.otter being written by a transphobe? Have I got a book for you! Check out Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch series! Follows a young Igbo witch in Nigeria learning her powers - often summarized as "African Harry P.otter for girls." Two books so far, huge fave of mine. https://t.co/obkWOgFWRN
substack’s telling me i’m about to reach the email length limit, so even though i have a couple more topics i wanted to cover, i guess i can leave them for the next one. it feels good to be back! if you’re still reading: thank you!! sorry this one was a bit of a downer, but the world’s having a bit of a downward moment, so… shrug.gif :)
but! hopefully we can all help each other not stay down. the world needs our kindness, our stories, our love and laughter, now more than ever. and even if we’re not laughing now, we need to know that we will laugh again. i say this to you as much as to me; goodness knows i need a hearty reminder.
as always, feel free to share your responses to anything above by twitteremail, or owl. and if you feel like tossing a coin my way to help support my work, you can do so by buying me a coffee.
stay safe and speak soon,
xK
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kat kourbeti
kat kourbeti @darthjuno

writing, media and arts commentary from a queer g(r)eek writer of science fiction and fantasy works.

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