Cultural Approriation vs ???
As a writer, I’m constantly aware that I write from a place of privilege.
I’m white. I’m cis-gendered. Healthwise, I’m in surprisingly good nick – and you don’t even need to add “for someone my age” because physically, I can stack up favourably to most people twenty, even thirty years younger than me – and I am not rich, but I am financially solvent enough that money is not a source of continual worry for me. I’m insanely well-educated, too, and despite the wrinkles and the middle-aged spread around my torso, I’m okay to look at.
It’s not surprising, then, that the books I write are not about being differently abled, or about neurodivergence, or about poverty, gender, or race.
They are – and I will not excuse this – based on northern European, homogenous societies and whatever I have written about sexuality within them is, for the most part, hetero-centric.
“Write what you know.” I do that. I have to. It may be fiction, and fantasy fiction at that, but it is rooted in the life and culture and reality that I have, personally, lived.
Because here’s the thing: if I were to write about how people with experiences alien and unfamiliar to my own (not “incidents”, but bred-in-the-bone, actual, lived experiences and emotions that transcend the boundaries of what I have, myself, a real understanding of) if I were to take those on, I am pretty sure I would get them wrong.
That would be far worse, in my not-humble opinion, than sticking to what I can speak to.
I have tried to branch out, a little. I do reference other sexualities – I don’t erase them. Dog knows, they weren’t absent in the cultures and eras I use as the basis of my work. I am considering the ways in which my characters can become more diverse, but it’s going to take me time and work, and I cannot be sure that I will get this right.
It’s important to get it right: it helps no one if I – a white woman in North America – produce a caricature of a black man anywhere. It is detrimental to the discussion for me to valorize or denigrate another person’s life experience by cannibalizing surface cultural markers for my own purposes.
But I cannot, in all conscience, attempt to speak for lives and understandings that are not my own.
And this is not a writer’s job, anyway.
No. Wait. Bear with me.
The writer writes out of their own experience.
Sure: they need to universalize it as much as they are able. Otherwise, there’s no point at all.
But it is not my role to create or illuminate experiences of lives I have not lived.
That’s your job, readers.
It is the reader’s job to open themselves up to the alternatives. The writer puts it all out there, and the reader has the responsibility to be open to it: to buy it and read it and to think about it.
Readers need to read wider, to be fearless in the face of diversity. They need to challenge themselves.
Writing is a conversation, not a monologue: the writer needs the reader. The speaker needs a listener.
It’s the chain that binds us together as a species, if you will.
It’s also the publisher’s job and that’s where the chain breaks down.
It’s the publisher’s responsibility to make the stuff available.
They have to. The writer can write, and the reader can read, but if you set yourself up as a “gatekeeper”, then you must/must/must accept that you have a global responsibility to open that gate to a far wider range than “what you did yesterday”.
Capitalism and profit be damned. The written word has no value if that’s all that you are in it for. The world is increasingly both smaller (because communication systems keep shrinking the distances) and larger (for the very same reason).
And I think, in the end, that unless the more mainstream and worldwide publishing concerns begin to do this on a far grander scale than they have, they will become increasingly irrelevant to the written word.
You need to give those writers their audience, and change the conversation.