Thu, Jun. 1st, 2006, 11:11 am || Cultural appropriation, pt. 2

add to memories

Or, in which I make myself extremely unpopular and get flamed through the roof.

I am limiting this to America because I live here now and because the majority of people who've been commenting seem to be from there. This isn't because I think America is most important (because I don't), but because I need to limit the scope of this somehow. I apologize to those living elsewhere, and I really want to make a more global post about this later, unless people are absolutely sick of me going on and on and on about this.

  1. There has been much discussion of cultural authenticity and the problems of cultural authenticity in the comments of my previous post, yhlee's post, cofax7's post, and rilina's post. I feel conflicted about this -- discussion of cultural authenticity is by necessity related to cultural appropriation, but I am very uneasy as to how it has somewhat usurped the discussion of appropriation. This uneasiness is further cemented by the fact that a lot of discussion of cultural authenticity has to do with minority cultures adopting the dominant culture, or questions along the line of "If I can only write about my own culture/race/ethnicity without cultural appropriation, what can I write about?" And from the comments, it does seem like a majority of the people asking these questions are from European/American descent. I am not finger pointing, I swear. I know that's a horribly passive-aggressive way to say it, but I really don't want to call people out because I think it's unproductive, and because I am reading through all four threads and trying to suss out common themes.

    Which leads to...

  2. Even if there is no such thing as cultural authenticity, the question of cultural appropriation is still present. Furthermore, I am not saying that you can only write about what culture/race/ethnicity that you belong to. Instead, I am saying that the problems inherent in cultural appropriation exist and will very likely exist for many, many decades to come. Also, the very act of writing about another culture, particularly one in which you are a part of the dominant culture that has a history of subjugating minority cultures, that very act is problematic.

    It is even more problematic when you look at means of colonization in the past and how much of colonization involves language and schooling and learning the mythos and culture of the colonizers.

    This is not limited to white American and/or European culture (see: Japanese culture with regard to Korean culture), but because white American and/or European culture was so often the colonizer in the past few centuries, I think deflecting the issue back to minority cultures avoids the larger issue.

    Does this suck? Yes.

    Is this fair? No.

    Does this mean you shouldn't write about it? No.

    Does this mean you have to think about it? No. Feel free to ignore it if you want.

    But even if you think you're writing in a vacuum, your readers are not reading in a vacuum. People read in historical context. I read Naomi Novik's Throne of Jade as a third culture kid with the (slight) knowledge of Qing Dynasty China and what happened to Qing Dynasty China, and even if Novik wrote without that in mind (which I don't think she did), that still doesn't make my reading experience any different.

  3. And because rilina says it better than me and because I think it bears repeating many times:

    "It's very hard for a minority culture to "coopt" something from a dominant culture. I'm sorry if this doesn't seem fair to dominant culture folks (and I'm not saying it's impossible), but I think this is true. When cultural things flow in that direction, it's usually less appropriation and more assimilation." [emphasis in the original]

  4. Unpopular thought about assimilation: I think if you are a hyphenated American or an American of color, claiming American culture as your own is problematic. I wish this weren't so, and I struggled against this in college. But the fact is, if your skin color is different from that of people around you, no matter what you think you are, people will very often treat you differently. They may be well-meaning and be very cautious about the subject of race, or they could just say incredibly stupid things, but the issue of race is always there.

    We aren't at the point where things are colorblind, and as such, cultural assimilation is problematic. No, I don't think this is fair, and yes, I think it is limiting, particularly when you don't want to feel different and are made to feel different. But again, sadly, things don't exist in a vacuum.

  5. As an addendum to this: no, it isn't fair that minority authors are often corralled into minority fiction and said to write about the minority experience. On the other hand, since so few other people are writing about the minority experience, it's a lose-lose situation. I do think that limiting minority authors to the minority experience is very much like limiting female authors to the female experience, but... BUT! seeing the minority experience as a limiting factor can very much be as denigrating as the whole "OMG women writing about female things, the horror!"

  6. Of course, if you look like the dominant culture but aren't from that culture, the issues are very different. But since there is much discussion about hyphenated Americans in the other comment threads, I would very much like to leave it out of this particular post and the comments to this post.

  7. And now, look, even this post has become about minorities writing about minorities and not about dominant cultures writing about minorities and the inherent problems therein.

    I'm sorry, I'm really angry about this, and like rilina says, I think many of the issues here are like feminist issues, in which all discussions seem to go back to the men and femininsts must continue to argue why feminism is still relevant. I know this is a horribly uncomfortable topic, probably more so than feminism on LJ, because most of the people I know on LJ are female, whereas most of the people I know on LJ are not minorities in terms of skin color.

    I am highlighting this not because I want to call out people, but because I think discussion of cultural appropriation keeps skirting around this fact. I am highlighting skin color because despite what I'd like the world to be like, it is still a very important factor and one that can divide people at first glance.

  8. In conclusion, no one is ever going to tell you that cultural appropriation is ok or that there is a way for a dominant culture to write about a minority culture without these problems rising up. If they do say that, I'm sorry, they're lying or they're from the far future, in which there is no race disparity, no racism, and all nations are on equal economic, political and cultural standing.

    This does not mean you shouldn't write about it. Nor does it mean you should write about it. I mean, I personally wish everyone would write about it, or include minority characters, or do something to change things so that the default of a character is not white male. But in the end, it means that even though you may think you're writing in a vacuum, you aren't, and, more importantly, no one is reading in a vacuum. So no matter how you think you should deal with this issue or disengage from it, writing another Euro-centric fantasy is still contributing to the mass of Euro-centric, non-ethnic fantasies out there, and writing a non-Euro-centric fantasy will by necessity run up against these issues.

    I wish there were an easier way, but I don't think there is.


Also, does anyone know about critical theory regarding race like Joanna Russ' How to Suppress Women's Writing?

Ok, um, flame away.

ETA: yhlee responds

ETA 2: Most recent link round up that I know of

Also, I am going to answer comments. I just need time to think and time to stop being overwhelmed.

ETA 3: ladyjax on discourse on race