1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Cultural appropriation in fiction

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Steerpike, Nov 21, 2013.

    I'm curious what people here think of this idea. There are many definitions of 'cultural appropriation,' and many of those definitions do not apply here. I'm looking at it in the context of fiction writing. The issue came up when I heard a writer criticizing other writers who were writing about cultures that are not their own. In other words, if you want to write a story about native americans in a pre-columbian setting, the idea was that if you're not a part of that cultural you are appropriating aspect of it for your own benefit. Same argument could apply to writing a story taking place entirely within black urban culture if you have no ties to it.

    The argument is not persuasive to me. I feel writers can and should feel that they have the entirety of the human experience open to them, and there is more of that shared than not across cultures. Of course, I think it is important to get this right, and if you're dealing with a culture far outside of your own you have to do research, but the idea that the writer must belong to the culture she's writing about rings false.

    Thoughts?
     
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  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That's malarky, is what I think. There are different blind-spots to be dealt with on both sides of the divide as regards viewing and considering a culture. There are things one cannot see well from outside and there are other things one cannot see well from inside. To say that either POV is somehow invalid or not able to "see the big picture", or the reverse, that only from one or the other can one really see, is wide of the mark on the part of said writer you heard doling out the criticism. As a person who comes from two cultures, and as a result belongs to neither, that's my take on it. ;)
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks, @Wreybies. That's my view as well. I found it an odd criticism to level against people who are interested enough in a culture to write about it. We could stand to have more of that.
     
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  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, the mistake in logic the writer in question is making is born out by something I've mentioned enough times here to, I'm sure, annoy some members: Emic and etic data. Any anthropologist, sociologist or psychologist worth their credentials will know that when studying a people or a person, you must ask (emic) and you must also simply observe (etic), because both kinds of data retrieval have the capacity to tell truths and lies about the people or person. They must be joined in order to glean out something approaching truth.
     
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  5. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Anyone who says writers shouldn't write about cultures not their own has their head up their ass. If I can't write about pre-Columbian Native Americans or urban blacks, then, as a man, can I write about women? As a gay guy, can I write about straights? Can I write about someone old enough to be my father? I'm a North American; can I write about Asians? As an atheist, can I write about Mormons?

    Not all of these analogies strictly apply, of course, but my point should be clear. Someone telling me I can't write about certain cultures is telling me to wall off certain areas of my imagination and treat them as untouchable. That is offensive to me, not only as a writer, but as a human being. It's saying, "Stay put and don't think. Don't learn, don't discover, and most of all, don't presume to speak. You are unqualified and will always be unqualified. You are of no value."

    Grr.
     
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  6. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    Me neither. Write what you want.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    utter nonsense/baloney/hogwash/toro kaka/etc.!
     
  8. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    This is actually quite the niggling doubt I have of my own. It keeps me from writing more diverse characters because I kinda don't know the culture much. I have a Japanese character who teaches Kenpo and is a modern Kunoichi, her father sells blessed swords to certain people. It sounds kind of typical from an American writer doesn't it?
     
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've heard this too from people who had no idea what life is like outside their little internet spheres. I don't know if they even ever went out, dealt with real people, or if they just played games at home and wrote Medieval fantasies (which is cool, I love writing them too, but I also have a life), judging by the content in their posts. Like, no grasp of reality.

    To me writing about the Other is not just about weaving stories or cramming diversity in my and T's writing, it's also about learning to understand other cultures and people, walking a mile in their shoes. If I abided to this sentiment, our current WIP couldn't happen. Of course it's a challenge, and I'll probably never be able to pull off a gay Russian male detective as convincingly as a gay Russian male detective writer could, but I do want to try, I do want to tell other stories than those of insanely privileged white twentysomething females who live in a welfare state in the 21st century.

    Besides, doing research is awesome. I'll say it again and I say it in caps. AWESOME. So yeah, I don't find this argument persuasive either.
     
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