writer, reader, dreamer, doer

The Blog

Cultural Appropriation In Works of Fiction

A good friend of mine - also a writer - linked me to this masterpiece of an article this morning and I just had to share.

"Lionel Shriver's full speech: 'I hope the concept of cultural appropriation is a passing fad'"

I must admit, I spent a good portion of this article - or speech, I suppose - cringing as much as smirking knowingly. It's strange how we can at once be activists for a certain type of political correctness and find other types so entirely ridiculous.

Personally, I feel that I grow as a person when I find new characters to include in my work. I enjoy finding people with new sexualities, new experiences, new problems, new talents, new solutions... I think it's a way to spread awareness, as well as experience something new myself as someone who is NOT that sexuality, who has NOT had those experiences and problems or talents, et cetera.

In truth, when I find characters like myself in books, I don't feel "used" or "stereotyped", I feel like I'm included.

To be fair, there is a very grey area in regards to creative work - especially between those who create the work and those within it - and while I find some points made in the above link are ones I agree with, others I find myself scoffing at. Possibly because I didn't grow up in America, and New Zealand - thankfully - hasn't such a cruel history with racism as the larger continent does.

That said.

I never felt that Arthur Golden, for instance, stereotyped Japanese women in Memoirs of Geisha, being, himself, a white male. I thought it was a well-researched and interesting book that I devoured as a teenager; it didn't once occur to me to consider his work as "appropriation".

Again, it's possible I am speaking from the high pedestal of white privilege, but even so, most work that is created by artists and writers and dancers and musicians is meant for a wide audience - so wouldn't it make sense that those creating are of a wide supply of races and sexualities and genders?

I agree entirely that there is a hugely unfair gap in any industry, between people of colour and people not of colour. More than just in pay. There SHOULD be more actors of colour recognized for their work, and directors and the editorial and musical teams associated with the films by proxy, of course. There SHOULD be more writers of colour recognized for their incredible work. There SHOULD be more fairness, and possibly, one day, there will be.

But that being said, I don't at all agree with ignoring, or pushing aside those people who are not of colour, or who are cis het, or rich, because they just happen to be those things. There are many incredible works by people who are - in current stereotyped internet culture - "due to check their privilege", and those works shouldn't suffer because at this moment in time the internet has a fad for supporting some people and not others.

We are, inadvertently, creating yet another "us and them" divide; not solving a problem, but covering one up with another.


I could go on for far too long, and I truly shouldn't. Too long listening to interesting podcasts and researching cultures that aren't my own would have me making this into a 4,000 university assignment.

I'm not sure about other writers - and I can only speak for myself, in the end, regardless of anything - but I have never felt backlash in regards to approaching a lifestyle or method of expression that is opposite or merely different from my own. I have had people praise me for taking the time to see their point of view, to understand that although I may not fit into this category of people or experiences, I have tried to see something from their perspective, and put it out into mainstream media for others to see, too.

If that's me using my white privilege for good, then I suppose that's all I can do with it, really. I hope I get to for a good long while more, alongside people who can tell their own stories proudly and have them heard.

- V