Oh Jesus, Here We Go

Oh Jesus, Here We Go

I was just contemplating asking around the FList and WisCon friends about having the virual cultural appropriation panel we’ve thought about doing for some time.  But I suspect that this thread is going to make me want to take a shot every time I hear the words Cultural Appropriation for a long time.

Just look at the userpics of so very many of the commenters there and take bets on how fast we get a bingo.  Maybe bit should be a drinking game.

Or maybe not.  I can’t afford to be drunk before 3PM today.

Update:  wow, the fail comments just keep coming.

Comments

  1. says

    But I do think Jay makes a good point in his original post. There’s an obvious exmple here in Tobias Buckell, who is “white” to the casual observer, but whose cultural background is far more complex. Just because someone “looks” white, doesn’t mean they necessarily don’t have a cultural awareness of anything other than white (and just because someone is “black” doesn’t mean they necessarily DO have a cultural awareness of all things “black” – one of my schoolfriends in fifth/sixth/seventh grades was black, which given that I went to school in a small village in the UK was something HUGELY out of the ordinary. His cultural background was almost entirely white – there were no other black kids in the school, nor in the village, and as far as I was aware he had no contact with his family back in Nigeria).

  2. says

    it has been the case in the past, and i suspect it is the case this year as well, that if you suggest a panel complete with suggested panelists, it’s got a pretty decent chance of being scheduled and populated with those panelists.

  3. Beth Plutchak says

    I remember attending one of the cultural appropriations panels at WisCon a number of years ago. One of the specific items being discussed was when it was appropriate to use Alaskan Tlingit myths and themes. It was frustrating because the people on the panel seemed to be trying to reason their way through it on their own. I lived in Alaska for many years and had a number of Athabaskan friends who I was sure would have an opinion. With a little research I found -http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/Publications/knowledge.html (very little research btw. this is rediculously easy to find). Not sure how to paste this in as a link, but please go take a look.

  4. says

    Ow dammit why did you make me read that?

    There were like 3 sensible comments there, and two of them were you being snarky.

  5. veejane says

    It amazes me how some of the same people who originated “RTFM” as an accusatory abbreviation are people who can’t, you know, read up on the first million times discussions of this sort have happened. The repetitive cluelessness is exhausting.

  6. says

    But underneath we are all the saaaaaaaaaaaame! So let’s just ignore that unimportant surface stuff.

    (Whenever people say this, I always hear them saying “Really, everyone’s white!”)

  7. Tired says

    And they’ll be ignorant forever if all you ever do is stand around making snide remarks.

  8. says

    yes well, considering that every other time I spend countless hours educating people (who are convinced of their own rightness and non-racism when they clearly are not right and also engaging in racist thinking) I get yelled at, called nasty names, and written up as a racist myself, I can’t bring myself to worry about it much anymore. I already have high blood pressure, why add to it if it goes nowhere? Being snarky is fun, and thus I have lower blood pressure and I’m happy and people will continue to be silly and ignorant. Win win on both sides, if you ask me.

  9. says

    They’ll be forever ignorant even if she spends all day trying to educate them.

    They don’t want to be cured of their ignorance; they just want to be justified in their ignorance and privilege.

  10. Delux says

    I hate you for making me look.

    You hear me?

    I’m always amused by how none of these traumatic conversations between white authors never seem to deal with topics like ‘cultural appropriation and financial profit’…

    Mostly i want to beat all the people in that discussion with “A Broken Flute.” The hardcover version. Because that book spends chapters talking about appropriation, the effect of external interpretations of native culture by outsiders on native people, and all the rest of it.

    In conclusion, hate you.

  11. Jace says

    Yeah, so those guidelines are ridiculous. If, and only if you’re getting personal information directly from one person, information that hasn’t ever been disseminated elsewhere… maybe. But general myths and themes? Those restrictions are insane.

  12. says

    *sigh* Okay, trying for non-snark here.

    jace, myths are not freely up for grabs any more than any other part of a culture. Just because you might consider myths to be just stories or not true or whatever doesn’t change the reality of the cultural appropriation situation.

  13. Jace says

    Um… “myths are not freely up for grabs any more than any other part of a culture” When you’re talking about writing a story, everything *is* freely up for grabs, so I suppose that myths aren’t any *more* up for grabs, but still…

    If you’re getting a ‘part of a culture’ for a story from personal observation, general knowledge, or some previously published work, then you can use it freely (excepting legal copyright claims, of course.) If, as I used as an example, someone tells you something in personal confidence, then you have a responsibility to that person and no one else.

    There’s no responsibility to a culture to get the authorization of some governing body or group consensus before using some aspect of it in a story, nor should there be. Would some people refuse to publish such a story, or review it poorly, or just not read it because you didn’t ‘poll the audience’ for their go-ahead? Sure. It’s like freedom of speech – you can say whatever you want, some people just might not like you for it.

  14. Ken says

    Well, Tempest, I for one, am glad you took the time with me back when, as painful as it was on both sides, I’m sure. There are still some key issues I don’t quite fully agree with you on, but I am at least fully aware of my privilege now and think about race and race relations pretty much daily.

    And for what its worth, yeah, you’re in a catch 22. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    But sometimes, some of us start to get it.

    While a mass conversion zomg right now would be nice, I think maybe one person at a time is all you’re going to get.

    But that’s one more than before.

    And over time one becomes ten. And I think that’s cool.

  15. says

    Jace, people like you are the reason we even need to have cultural appropriation discussions. You don’t get it on such a fundamental level that i don’t know where to begin.

    Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you have the right to everything. I suspect, though, that you don’t think that because you’re a writer but because you’re white. i could be wrong about you being white, though.

    You don’t have the right to it and that’s why it’s called cultural appropriation — the appropriation of cultural elements for the financial benefit of you. that’s not the only definition, but there we go. If you have no shame in simply using bits of other people’s culture without any thought given to said culture or people and how your feeling about their culture is shaped by your own culture and history, YOU NEED TO GET AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER AND STOP WRITING UNTIL YOU BECOME LESS INSIPID.

    That is all.

  16. Jace says

    “Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you have the right to everything.”

    I’m not saying that anyone has any right to everything. If something is freely available via reference book, general knowledge, etc. then you can just go ahead and use it. Why not? Bullying someone into telling you something and then running with that would be a manifestation of thinking you ‘have the right to everything’, but as I said, if “someone tells you something in personal confidence, then you have a responsibility to that person…”

    “You don’t have the right to it and that’s why it’s called cultural appropriation”

    So who has rights to what, then? Can no one mention, say, the Navajo’s Corn Boy unless they’re Navajo back x generations? Are we not allowed to use Daedalus and Icarus, even allude to them, unless we go to Greece for formal permission?

    “If you have no shame in simply using bits of other people’s culture without any thought given to said culture or people”

    What do you mean, ‘thought’? Worrying about what people would think? So someone can’t write about something if someone else, somewhere wouldn’t like it?

    “how your feeling about their culture is shaped by your own culture and history”

    Why does that matter, seriously? We aren’t talking about ransacking burial mounds or stealing sacred scrolls. Stories, made up fictions, ideas. How, exactly, is someone hurt because someone else wrote something including some element of that person’s culture – or whatever they claim as their culture?

  17. says

    As I said before, Jace, people like you are the reason we need to have discussions about CA in the first place. The very fact that you have to ask why your cultural views have any bearing on how you perceive other cultures means that you’re really not ready to have a proper discussion on this issue. But keep an eye out for the online CA panel we’re going to have soon, because I think it will help you better understand.

  18. says

    I have a different threshold for doing this kind of thing for people I know and consider friends than the world at large. Obviously on the ABW I do it for the world at large all the time. I’m just more likely to get frustrated. When talking about these issues with friends, it is hard, but I feel like there’s more of a chance of me getting somewhere and reaching an understanding about it. Yeah, we don’t completely agree, but it makes me happy that you actually DO think about the issues, which is more important than absolute agreement. And this is why I still love ya :)

  19. Jace says

    “The very fact that you have to ask why your cultural views have any bearing on how you perceive other cultures”

    That’s not what I asked. I asked, specifically,

    “How, exactly, is someone hurt because someone else wrote something including some element of that person’s culture – or whatever they claim as their culture?”

    I could grow up in a culture that perceives that other culture as awesome, or horrible – either way, how does that make using some cultural element better or worse? Are you implying that someone is completely constrained in depicting other cultures because of their own culture? Because that’s asinine.

    Oh, and – “I suspect, though, that you don’t think that because you’re a writer but because you’re white. i could be wrong about you being white, though.”

    Racist much?

  20. says

    Can’t you just go google it up yourself? Because there have already been oodles of discussion about this, with people just like you saying the exact same thing.

  21. Jace says

    “White people, proving me psychic since 2005.”

    Thinking you’re racist because… you are? That’s not exactly shocking.

    How exactly, specifically, is my writing a story with some cultural element in it doing any harm to that culture? I’ve talked with other authors about this, and they agree that as long as you get things factually correct – as much as possible within a fictional confine – you’re good.

  22. says

    “Thinking you’re racist because… you are?”

    Oh, do go fuck off.

    “I’ve talked with other authors about this…”

    Well, THAT settles it!

  23. Jace says

    “Oh, do go fuck off.”

    That isn’t a ‘no.’

    “Well, THAT settles it!”

    Settles it more than the complete lack of examples anyone has provided to the contrary.

  24. Jace says

    So… Again, – what’s one example of how writing a story with an element from culture X harms a member of that culture, or, for that matter, anyone? None of the things you linked appear to have any more persuasive argument against it (most of them seemed to equate a word or an idea in a story with Perry’s warships and smallpox blankets) than “I felt bad.” Not a good enough reason. And even most of those had to do with things that were gotten wrong, misconceptions, stuff that… wasn’t factually correct. Huh. Heard that before.

    “I’ve talked with other authors about this, and they agree that as long as you get things factually correct – as much as possible within a fictional confine – you’re good.”

  25. says

    Name those other authors, please. Otherwise I don’t believe they actually exist.

    Meanwhile, I don’t think you actually read any of those links, if all you came away with was “oh, nobody has ever been harmed by this.”

    Why am I bothering? For that matter, why are YOU bothering? You’re obviously not going to be convinced by anything, and you’re going to do whatever your little white privileged brain tells you to do anyway.

    And ultimately, yeah, it won’t really matter, since I’m pretty sure nobody will ever read whatever it is you write. So I’m done here; good luck learning not to be such a racist fuck in the future.

  26. Jace says

    Joseph Bruchac, for one – when asked if there was a problem with a white person (since you seem to be so enamored of casting things in racial terms) writing about Native Americans, replied rhetorically by asking if there was a problem with a Native American writing about white people. He elaborated by saying that as long as you did your research and got the facts right, no, there wasn’t a problem.

    “Meanwhile, I don’t think you actually read any of those links, if all you came away with was “oh, nobody has ever been harmed by this.””

    Feelings hurt != harmed.

    “I’m pretty sure nobody will ever read whatever it is you write”

    ‘Pretty sure’, maybe, but wrong, yes.

    “good luck learning not to be such a racist fuck in the future.”

    Hmm… Ah, you must be referring to when I said:

    “You’re just saying that because you’re black. Of course I could be wrong about that.”

    Of course, that would be racist. Of course, that also wouldn’t be me. That would be Tempest.

    “I suspect, though, that you don’t think that because you’re a writer but because you’re white. i could be wrong about you being white, though.”

  27. says

    I have some doubts about the utilitly, but seriously, you are not even talking about the same things everyone else is talking about, and it’s really irritating me so I am going to attempt to give you 101 level materials which you are attempting to do this without.

    “Cultural appropriation” does not mean “writing about a person from another culture.” No one is saying that a white person cannot write about the experience of a native person, or a Black person. You are arguing against a position no one has taken.

    “I suspect, though, that you don’t think that because you’re a writer but because you’re white. i could be wrong about you being white, though.”

    I don’t know what you think Tempest is saying, but what she is actually saying when she says she suspects you think something because you are white, is that being white, you would have been treated a certain way because of that, have had certain experiences because of that treatment, have formed opinions based on that treatment, and therefore “think a certain way” yes, “because you are white,” much like you think a certain way because you are man, not because men’s brain structures are somehow unique, or because a penis is that revelatory, but because men live lives where they are treated as men.

    (I could be wrong about you being a man, but I don’t think I am.)

  28. says

    “[Bruchac]’s position, & that of many writers who are American Indian, is that they have no objection to non-American Indians writing about the topics, as long as they have: information, knowledge, connection, and in some cases permission.”
    http://kate-nepveu.livejournal.com/264623.html

    “Even the rewrites of classics and the repackaging for popular consumption of traditional Native stories may prove problematic. For instance, issues of appropriation have sparked debate about the retelling of traditional stories. As Joseph Bruchac (1996) has said, “those who just pick up a story that they think is lying around unused…can easily err in recognizing just what is they have found, how it is to be properly used and to whom it truly belongs” (p. 90).”
    http://www.teacherlibrarian.com/tlmag/v_28/v_28_2_feature.html

    I think you need to be careful in assuming that a quip from Bruchac (which, of course, none of us can confirm) gives you the right to pillage at random from any culture you like.

  29. Jace says

    “a quip from Bruchac (which, of course, none of us can confirm)”

    He said this at the 2008 National Festival of the Book. His entire talk and the question and answer period afterward were filmed and recorded by the Library of Congress.

    “gives you the right to pillage at random from any culture you like.”

    It’s a right as a human being to draw upon the multitude of human experience when creating fiction, or any other work of creative expression. It isn’t a question of “Why should I be able to use this in a story”, it’s a question of “Well, why the hell *shouldn’t* I?” And so far there hasn’t been a good answer why not.

  30. Jace says

    ““Cultural appropriation” does not mean “writing about a person from another culture.””

    True, and that’s why I don’t argue using that definition.

    “You are arguing against a position no one has taken.”

    By which statement you yourself are arguing against a position that I didn’t take. Whoa, man, meta.

    As for the last part of your comment, I think I get it. I can say that someone is acting a certain way just because they’re black, or because they’re a woman, or *especially* because they’re a black woman and that’s completely valid, because those labels are acceptable shorthand for personality-molding environmental feedback?

    So then, if someone got upset at something with a sample size of less than twenty not accurately representing a worldwide demographic the composition of which they have no data regarding, and someone were to respond that they’re only upset because they’re a black woman…

    That would be an acceptable thing to say? (I mean, whether or not it would be *correct* is another matter, but would it be acceptable?)

  31. says

    My apologies, I thought you were saying these happened in your discussions with Bruchac, rather than something you watched.

    Here’s the link for those playing along at home.

    http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=4397

    The question you refer to starts about 21:51. Here’s the full answer given by Bruchac, which I just transcribed:

    Audience member: “I’m a YA author myself, I’m working on a book about Cherokee culture, and I found myself criticized at writers conferences because I’m a non-Native writer writing about a Native culture. Do you think that a non-native can write that?”

    Joseph Bruchac: “Can a non-Native write about Native culture? Well, can a Native write about European culture?”

    AM: “That’s what I asked them!”

    JB: “It’s always a question of what do you know, and how well do you know it, and how do you know it.
    The reason I think that people get worried about non-Native writers writing about American Indian subjects is that the record has been so bad. There are so many cases where people Just. Don’t. Get It. They just don’t get it.
    And no disrespect meant to anyone, especially here in Washington, but every time you say the word “Redskin”, for many Native people, it’s just like hearing the n-word spoken, if you’re an African American.
    And I love the team! I love that team very much, but I have to say that. And the fact that people Don’t Get THAT is one reason why people get really worried about a non-Native author writing about a Native subject.
    And then, it might be a book that could turn out quite well.
    But you have to have inside knowledge.
    So the question is what do you know, how do you know it, how well do you know it. Because no one can ever tell an author not to write something. They can say “We don’t want you to do it,” but this is a free country, and you should have the freedom to write what you wish — but you also have to have the courage to accept the consequences of what you write.”

    AM: “Thank you.”

    JB: “Hope that helps a little bit.”

    AM: “It does. And I want to say in response to what you just said about sports teams that Heart of the Chief was one of my very favorite books of all time.”

    JB: “Thank you.”

    AM: “If anybody hasn’t read that, pick it up.”

    JB: “I appreciate that, thank you. And again I don’t want to show disrespect or to be unkind to anyone, I just want to point things out to people, that they might keep them in mind, that’s all.”

    … I’m not convinced that your summary of “s long as you did your research and got the facts right, no, there wasn’t a problem” isn’t accurate, but I am pretty certain you’re going to disagree, just as you resist anything that challenges your position.

    Which makes me wonder why you’re bothering to post here on this blog anyway.

  32. Jace says

    “… I’m not convinced that your summary of “s long as you did your research and got the facts right, no, there wasn’t a problem” isn’t accurate, but I am pretty certain you’re going to disagree,”

    On the contrary, I’m glad that you’re agreeing with me. Also note the part:

    “Because no one can ever tell an author not to write something. They can say “We don’t want you to do it,” but this is a free country, and you should have the freedom to write what you wish — but you also have to have the courage to accept the consequences of what you write.”

    Sounds familiar.

    “There’s no responsibility to a culture to get the authorization of some governing body or group consensus before using some aspect of it in a story, nor should there be. Would some people refuse to publish such a story, or review it poorly, or just not read it because you didn’t ‘poll the audience’ for their go-ahead? Sure. It’s like freedom of speech – you can say whatever you want, some people just might not like you for it.”

    Just so.

  33. says

    Woops, I mistyped. I mean that I don’t believe your summary is accurate.

    Anyway, I am trying to avoid feeding trolls (and failing spectacularly at said avoidance) so I give up. You’re just here to argue, and it’s pretty clear that you’re either too stubborn or too thick to understand what is being said to you. And what’s more, you clearly don’t care.

    Goodnight.

  34. says

    Jace said: “““Cultural appropriation” does not mean “writing about a person from another culture.””
    True, and that’s why I don’t argue using that definition.”

    Uh, Jace, do you even read what you write? Elsewhere in this thread:

    “Joseph Bruchac, for one – when asked if there was a problem with a white person (since you seem to be so enamored of casting things in racial terms) writing about Native Americans, replied rhetorically by asking if there was a problem with a Native American writing about white people. He elaborated by saying that as long as you did your research and got the facts right, no, there wasn’t a problem.”

    You harp on a lot about “my feelings hurt” not being equal to “harmed”. But you’re sure as hell bleating about YOUR feelings being hurt in this thread. And as a writer… do you WANT to hurt people’s feelings? I don’t, as a general rule. Ther emay be some people whose feelings I don’t care if I hurt. But in general, if I’m hurting people’s feelings, then I’m probably doing it wrong and need to do better.

  35. Jace says

    “Uh, Jace, do you even read what you write?”

    Hmm… ‘Joseph Bruchac’ != ‘Me.’ And also, note the use of the plural in the quoted passage. “Native Americans” & “white people”. It’s not writing about a specific person who happens to be Native American or white, it’s about their overall cultures.

    “But you’re sure as hell bleating about YOUR feelings being hurt in this thread.”

    Uh, nope. I mean, I take intellectual offense at the disingenuity of a lot of what’s said here, but my feelings being hurt? No, no, and hell no.

    “And as a writer… do you WANT to hurt people’s feelings? I don’t, as a general rule.”

    The issue isn’t ‘wanting’ to hurt someone’s feelings (as vapid as that is), it’s whether or not the possibility (or threat) of someone somewhere getting their feelings hurt is a valid objection to the creation of an artistic work.

    It isn’t.

  36. says

    i know i shouldn’t be feeding the trolls, but i wanted to respond to jace’s formulation that cultural appropriation = getting one’s feelings hurt.

    if you wanted to you could reduce calling black people n*****rs to “hurting their feelings.” You could reduce calling women b**ches and h*s to “hurting their feelings.” You could reduce systematic emotional abuse of a child (“you’re worthless! you’ll never amount to anything!”) to “hurting their feelings.” You could reduce kids bullying an unpopular kid every day at school for years to “hurting the kid’s feelings.” You could reduce white co-workers not inviting a black colleague to happy hour after work to “hurting his feelings.” You could reduce daily workplace sexual harrassment to “hurting her feelings” …

    am i getting through here?

    who ever said that feelings don’t count? what world do you live in where it’s okay for a writer to “hurt” an entire group of people’s “feelings,” even for an instant, much less as part of what amounts to a decades or centuries-long national campaign?

    what kind of a person are you, that you feel that this is okay?

  37. Jace says

    Your first two examples, why yes, you could certainly reduce them to that. Of course, when someone says something like that in a certain real-life situation, there may be a strong implication of physical violence, which is simply not present in a written story.

    “systematic emotional abuse of a child” isn’t really reducible that way because the main import of that isn’t the hurt feelings, it’s the breakdown of the basic family unit and the real negative implications of that. The reaction to such emotional abuse lessens as the child grows older and grows up not because their feelings are less hurt, but because the actual real side-effects of that abuse lessen as the child grows up into an adult.

    The next two examples, again, yes, they do reduce to that. Sexual harassment is different because it occurs in the workplace, and is thus subject to government regulations.

    “who ever said that feelings don’t count?”

    Uh, they certainly don’t count enough for someone not to write something that they would have otherwise.

    “what world do you live in where it’s okay for a writer to “hurt” an entire group of people’s “feelings,” even for an instant,”

    The real one, where the First Amendment isn’t just a part of the law of the land, but a damn good idea to boot. You write the best story you can, and if that means someone, somewhere, taking offense at some part of it, screw it. People can potentially take offense at everything, but we don’t, and shouldn’t, stop writing because of that.

    “much less as part of what amounts to a decades or centuries-long national campaign?”

    See, it doesn’t amount to that at all. There’s slavery, Jim Crow laws, and then there’s writing a story. One of these things, is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong.

    “what kind of a person are you, that you feel that this is okay?”

    Someone who doesn’t give in to knee-jerk reactionary political correctness at the price of originality and telling a good story.