Because I am a 30-year-old, straight, white English woman, who is about to talk about the touchy subject of cultural appropriation in writing. This has made me nervous because I am not coming from the viewpoint of one of the cultures being appropriated, but rather from the race doing the appropriation. Thus, a part of me is expecting to get shouted down and told I could not understand the issue because of my race, etc.
But, I am not going to let my nervousness stop me from having a conversation I think needs to happen.
The most recent well-known accusation of cultural appropriation has been (to my knowledge) the one levied against J.K Rowling. Recently, the well-known author of the Harry Potter books released a few shorts on the Pottermore website regarding American magic. These did not go down well, due to her handling of the Native American magic users.
The main issues that I have noticed springing from this particular occasion are the two below.
Lack of Research – thus reinforcement of stereotypes.
By having a well-known white author write about these cultures, it is making it more difficult for native writers to get published.
Looking at those two points, I can see why people would be upset. Reinforcing stereotypes is lazy and can be detrimental to how race, ethnicity, religion, etc. is considered by the general public. In a nutshell, not every native American is going to be awesome at or even like nature. Not every Mexican person is going to love tacos. Not every woman is going to go into hulk mode when it’s her time of the month. Stereotyping perpetuates distorted and often negative views, which is upsetting.
The second point that minorities, aka non-whites, are underrepresented in Western publishing is an issue that should be addressed. Our communities are vibrant and multicultural our literature should reflect that. When my books are published, I want it to be because I wrote a bloody good book, not because of the colour of my skin/ethnicity/religion/sexual orientation, etc. The idea of having one of my books dismissed because of the colour of my skin/ethnicity/religion/sexual orientation is immensely distressing.
But how do we change this?
One of the arguments I have come across is that a white writer shouldn’t write about non-whites at all, non-homosexuals shouldn’t write about homosexuals, people of a particular religion shouldn’t write about people of different faiths. This means you cannot have characters in your book that do not match your race/culture/gender/sexuality/religion.
I do not think this is the answer
I do not see how censorship can be a positive step forward and I will confess that when this idea was first mentioned to me, I had an instant negative emotional reaction. But, I calmed down pretty quickly and tried to think rationally.
I looked at female characters in literature as a way of comparison.
From my point of view when I read female characters, what do I want? I want strong characters who don’t perpetuate the stereotypes forced on my gender by a society that is slow to change its views. When I see a good female character do I care what gender the author is? No, I don’t. Now, obviously this is just my opinion, I cannot speak for anyone other than myself, but I honestly believe that you do not have to be a woman to write great female characters. Three of my favourite female characters are written by a man. Those being Karen Murphy, Molly Carpenter and her mum Charity Carpenter, all of these characters are creations of Jim Butcher, who is, among many things, a man. Here he is producing fully developed, well-rounded, flawed female characters.
There has to be a middle ground, in which we don’t resort to censorship but don’t perpetuate stereotypes or dismiss vibrant and engaging cultures just to make a character. In which we don’t reject a well-written story with wonderful characters because the author doesn’t match the cultural background of her characters. Or dismiss an equally well-written story with wonderful characters because the author is a member of a minority, or has written a story that doesn’t fit with the stereotypes of their race/culture/gender/sexuality/religion.
I admit I don’t know what the answer is but I hope to find that middle ground one day and I won’t stop looking for it.
The purpose of this blog was to start a conversation so I would be very interested in hearing your opinions.
How do you feel about cultural appropriation in writing?
Do you believe it happens?
Do you think censorship is the answer?
Do you think you know what the middle ground is?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and feeling about this issue.
Katie Marie wrote a Book. A big one and a couple of little ones. Check them out!