On Turning Fifty (Years)

Originally published on August 31, 2020.

So, Fifty. Heck of a thing, I guess.

It was a nice, quiet day. I slept in, got presents, ate the best pizza reasonably to be found in Illinois, and had cake. All in all, it was very nice.

Thanks to everyone who posted on my wall or in my story or messaged me or emailed me or texted me.  There are a lot of you, and I can’t possibly say thanks to each of you individually, so I’ll say thank to you jointly.

I will say thanks to Laura who not only baked the cake, but made the frosting from scratch! Laura’s always here to support me and I can never express my appreciation for her enough. She works harder than I do, she’s far stronger than me, and we won’t even talk about how much more smarter she is.

Coupla years ago I talked about how I don’t really count birthdays up after a certain point — I figure I’ve got a good shot at 90 total, so I start counting back down at 45, which means yesterday was 40 left. Knowing that there’s less time available to me than I’ve already had certainly makes me regret the time I wasted so far, but it also sharpens my intent for what remains. I’m not going to discover a live-saving cancer drug, and I’ll probably never leave the gravitational pull of the planet — or even the atmosphere — but I can, and will build on the good works I’ve done so far to try and create a more just world and a more inclusive and welcoming SCA, and raise decent young men who understand the meaning of privilege and consent.

I am incredibly blessed to have you all in my life. Thank you.

So, back to work.

What is the “Real” SCA?

Originally published August 29, 2020.

This post was the result of a discussion with a long-time SCAdian who said, when asked what they were doing during the Covid times, said “Like a lot of us, I’m hold up, waiting until the REAL SCA can start up again.”

I took offense to that, because there’s a whole lot of people keeping the SCA alive right now, because if they weren’t doing what they’re doing, there would be nothing to come back to when the pandemic is over. In addition, the pandemic has helped me to realize that there are people in the SCA who are seriously unable to go to almost any events, because of illness, finances, whatever. Being able to attend even one event a month is a privilege.

Ok, I’m gonna lay it out here, so listen to what I have to say.

Online-only SCA means that we can’t do a lot of the stuff we want to be doing. Not everyone is comfortable being onscreen or watching stuff onscreen or performing onscreen or whatever.

That does not mean that online SCA activities are somehow not the “real” SCA. The RUM has hosted over 120 classes, with over 1000 student-hours, and other Kingdoms have followed suit. Baronies and Shires are having online A&S nights, gaming nights, and random get-togethers daily or weekly. There’s an online Bardic somewhere every night of the week. The Midrealm has even had 4-6 virtual events, Pennsic University hosted dozens of classes, and the Midrealm has had multiple online courts.

Don’t you – dare – say that’s not real. Maybe it’s not for you. There are plenty of activities in the SCA I don’t do. We all pick and choose. But the hours and hours of work and problem-solving, the dozens of dedicated and selfless people making it happen, and the enjoyment and education and achievements of the people participating are JUST AS REAL as if they were happening at Coopers Lake, or Simple Day, or Tournament of Ymir, or Twelfth Night, or Estrella, or any other in-person event.

So miss me with that dismissive and exclusionary language, or I will call you right the heck out.

This will end. We will be able to see each other in person. And until then, take care of yourselves and participate at the level you’re comfortable with.

Excelsior!

Do Better, Be Better

Originally published August 21, 2020.

This letter took me a LONG time to write. I even did research! Unfortunately, I can’t point you at the “Revolution for the Dream” FB group, because it’s become private, hidden, invite only. The person behind it, who was Queen of Trimaris, wrote this letter found here: https://www.facebook. com/notes/ogier-larmurier/letter-to-the-bod/163344672055105/ (take the space out between the dot and the com, because I’m not linking to it. This post was written before their letter, but it demonstrates the lack of personal accountability and inability to see their own privilege that I talk about all the time.

Another day, another letter to the BoD…

——————

To the Board of Directors,

My name is Drew Nicholson. In the SCA, I am known as Andreas Blacwode. I live in the MidRealm, and I have been an SCA member for over 30 years.

I know that you have been receiving a lot of letters about the recent changes made in collaboration with the Corporate DEI Officer, Jessica Van Hattem, (who, by the way, is doing an amazing job, along with John Fulton and Lis Schraer) and that many of the letters are being sent by members of the SCA who are unhappy with this direction of the SCA towards inclusion, equity, and diversity.

My letter today is written to urge you to continue to support the DEI Office, and indeed, to expand its scope and mandate. But even more so, I am writing today to urge the Board of Directors, specifically, to hold the line, and to continue to expel those who have consistently and continually shown that they are unable to abide by the SCA Statement of Core Values. Rather than name specific individuals, I am going to talk about two specific concepts that I want to focus on as recommendations to the Board to consider in all deliberations:

1. The recognition of Speech Acts
2. Separating Rank from Sanctionable Actions

All SCA participants are called to conduct themselves in accordance with the SCA’s Statement of Core Values[1]. These values do not place one set of political views over another, nor do they require someone to give up their personal opinions on anything. What they do establish is a Code of Conduct – IE, all SCA participants are expected to act in certain ways.

1. Speech Acts

I submit to the Board that having a personally held belief is not the same thing as making that belief known – especially on social media, where statements can be shared, in their entirety, with hundreds or thousands of people.

As an obvious example, there is a difference between thinking “I don’t believe that trans women are women,” and posting it on Facebook. While I disagree with the former, it’s a personally held belief that, when not acted on, is mostly harmless. However, when the statement “I don’t believe that trans women are women” is posted on a FB account that is obviously associated with the SCA and/or an SCA participant, it violates many, if not all of the SCA’s Core Values – because once posted on Facebook, or spoken aloud at an event, for that matter, it is no longer a just a personally held belief. It is a Speech Act[2] – a statement that does not just reflect a meaning or opinion; but one that is designed to get things done.

There is an implied action in statements such as:

“I don’t believe that trans women are women [and I won’t treat them the way they think they should be].”
“I don’t believe that gay marriage is valid [and I refuse to recognize that relationship].”
“The biggest problem for black people is black-on-black crime [therefore I am going to treat black people like criminals].”

When statements like this are made public, and they have the names of senior, highly-ranked & respected SCA Peers and Royal Peers attached, they have an influence in two ways. First, we regard SCA Peers and Royal Peers as exemplars, and if an exemplar acts this way, it suggests to non-peers that they should emulate that behavior. Secondly, these statements have a Chilling Effect[3] on participation; they make the SCA unwelcoming to people who do not fit the mold of what appears to be desired. These kinds of statements actively drive potential new SCA participants away.

Once posted or spoken, these statements are no longer just personally held beliefs. Facebook is not a secret diary, or a private letter to family.

When you write something on social media, that is no different than saying it in a large group of people or putting it up on a billboard for all to see.

Doing this is an action, and the actions detailed above absolutely violate the SCA Statement of Core Values.

2. Separating Rank from Sanctionable Actions

We all have unconscious, or implicit, biases. We learn them from our families, from our communities, and from the societies in which we live. They tend to favor our own in-groups – people like us — although not always. These implicit biases become part of our perspectives, and manifest in both our verbal and non-verbal communications. They influence us even when we are unaware of them.[4]

I submit to the Board that these biases do not manifest just about race, or gender identity, or economic class; nor are they only formed when we are children. They also manifest in adults, and about other things, such as rank in the SCA. As I said above, the SCA teaches us to respect peers and people with coronets, which means many SCAdians develop favorable unconscious biases about them. This can lead us to make excuses for Knights, Pelicans, Laurels, Masters of Defense, and Royal Peers when they do something wrong. This is a version of something called the Halo Effect[5], wherein people who think highly of an individual in one way are likely to think of them highly in several other ways – i.e., if we think someone is a good fighter, we may also think they’re chivalrous, or charismatic.

The only way to challenge and change unconscious bias is with introspection and reflection, but it is difficult and takes time. In addition to that, I recommend that the Board of Directors seek to minimize unconscious bias by using more immediately applicable techniques. One method could be for the names and ranks of the offenders to be anonymized as much as possible when the BoD deliberates on the results of the investigation.

Consider: are certain actions acceptable from someone who has been in the SCA for two months or two years? Why, then, would they be acceptable from a Viscount or a Knight or a Landed Baroness?

Anonymization is used in corporations around the globe that want to reduce unconscious bias in hiring. There are applications that remove candidate names and photos to enable hiring managers to focus on skills and experience, such as Blendoor.com, or Ubias.io, a Google Chrome extension that removes faces and names from LinkedIn profiles. While there may not be specific automation or technologies that could do this for the SCA Board of Directors, the results of investigations could still be anonymized manually for the purposes of reporting to the BoD, and then vote before the names and ranks of the people being investigated are revealed. Even if you do not choose to do that, I sincerely hope that the Directors will think about unconscious bias and how it might be affecting their deliberations.

Why Does this Matter?

This matters because there is a Facebook group, called “Revolution for the Dream”, administered by a Royal Peer who reigned with someone who was sanctioned by the Board of Directors recently for poor conduct. Many of the participants of that group are Peers or Royal Peers who are unhappy with the steps the SCA has taken. They have forgotten what it is like to be young and unsure of themselves and they have forgotten how it feels to be excluded. They are mounting a concerted effort to roll back the progress that the SCA has made in the areas of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. They want to force the BoD to reverse or end the sanctions that have been implemented against some of their more problematic friends. They are unable to discern their own unconscious biases. And I believe that they think that your joint experience with them means that you will unconsciously favor them.

Why? Because the Board of Directors is made up of seven people, with one additional Director-Elect. Of those eight people, four are royal peers. Six hold a bestowed peerage. Four are double peers. Only one member of the current Board holds neither a royal nor bestowed peerage. You have all worked hard for the accolades with which you have been recognized. The average SCAdian feels that the BoD is in very rarified territory – but the people in this “Revolution” group do not understand or do not care. I urge you to recognize this, and I urge you to make a conscious decision to represent all of the SCA – especially those who are of minority populations – in your deliberations regarding the deeds that other, more popular and powerful SCAdians have committed, to make the SCA less welcoming, less diverse, and less equitable.

  • I stand in favor of the proposed revisions to the Introduction to the Governing Documents.
  • I stand in support of the Corporate Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and its mission.
  • I stand in appreciation for the work the Board of Directors has done to make the SCA a more welcoming place.

In service and in song, I am,

Magister Andreas Blacwode

Companion of the Order of the Pelican
Baron of the Court of William & Isolde
Participant of the SCA for Thirty Years.
MKA Drew Nicholson, Member #73128
______________________________

[1] https://www.sca.org/sca-code-of-conduct-core-values/
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speech_act
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilling_effect
[4] For more on Unconscious Bias, see https://www.americanbar.org/…/unconscious-bias-implicit-bi…/
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halo_effect

cc:
John Fulton, President, SCA, Inc.
Lis Shraer, VP for Operations, SCA, Inc.
Jessica Van Hattem, Corporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, SCA, Inc.

Peddler of Bombast, Man of Parts.
Ka is a wheel.
Haec officia officialis honesti.
Merda aspera est, eho.