I saw a couple of pieces circulating via The Guardian this week about cultural appropriation in fiction. First writer gives a keynote speech and says, more or less, “Hope that concept dies soon, because it’s offensive to me”. Second writer says, more or less, “Hope that writer dies soon, because she’s as offensive to me as cultural appropriation is” (I exaggerate… slightly).
I found both perspectives unhelpful, though the first writer’s sense of absolutism struck me as closer to useful than the second one’s – but then it would, wouldn’t it? Why would I want to accept being restricted to only writing about over-weight hairy-white middle-aged males from a patriarchal society which thinks it’s better than everyone else’s (I exaggerate… slightly) simply because that’s what I am? And if, for example, I write a story about a self-harming woman (which I’m not) or a young Native American (which I’m not) of course I don’t want to see myself as a bad person for doing so… but actually I’m in denial, and a horrible cultural appropriator. Damn.
Well, neither writer was convincing to me. Both take provocative stances to make a point, one not valuable, one not well made. The first argument dismisses or plays upon presumed failures of judgement pro and con, but says little about what a writer entering (for them) “alien territory” should do to be effective in their goal. The second argument equates to a call for protective segregation while laying the fault with other writers, instead of a culture in publishing that may well disadvantage some people’s voices in favour of others, which I didn’t find very helpful.
Fortunately, this morning I read an article called Representing My Equals by Nisi Shawl. Click.
Note: if you really want to read them, the Guardian articles I mentioned at the beginning are these: A and B. And there’s an overview here: C. But if I were you, I’d ignore them and click on the picture.
EDIT: since this post, I’ve also read this piece by Jim C. Hines, which goes a long way to underscoring just how misjudged Lionel Shriver’s speech was (not much point in skipping names now, really). It also includes a handful of really good links at the bottom, including this one.
EDITedit: The Guardian continues adding to this discussion in useful ways.