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I just saw this post on sfwriters.

These are the arguments I am seeing tossed out in response to "please be culturally respectful":

1) "Why is that my problem?" (With sarcasm)
2) "If you don't like how I portray [these people, your people], don't by the book."
3) "I'm being brusque with you because the 'jackboot of political correctness' has gone on too long." (So my tone is justified in correcting some perceived injustice)
4) You only have a valid point about how your people are represented if "enough people agree with you" (So if you're a minority, you'd better have a lot of allies otherwise the default right to "make stuff up" about your people still lies with me)
5) "You have no right never to be offended by anything", so I do have a right to write things that offend people. (Variation on the "you're too sensitive" argument, also, mischaracterizes marginalized minorities as demanding that "no one ever does anything that offends us" Connected to #6: In particular...)
6) You can't ever please everyone all the time, so I'm going to offend people whatever I do anyway, so I might as well keep doing it the way I please. (Variation on "damned if you do, damned if you don't". Also implies that all offenses are the same, regardless of the target group or scope)
7) This isn't my issue- I asked a question unrelated to all this and you were the one who brought all this in. (Minorities are inappropriately "pushing" this issue on people who don't want to hear about it and don't care)
8) This isn't an issue if I don't have any readership of my story (Cultural appropriation isn't a serious issue in the abstract, so I can dismiss what you said)
9) Good writing is good writing independent of the background of the author (What makes writing "good" exists in a culture-free vacuum)
10) The burden of proper and thorough research that an outsider has in writing about the "other" is the same as the research an "insider" has to do to write about his or her own people (You can't single us majority folks out as having any special burden of research independent from anyone else)

And of course, "I apologize, but I'm still right."

I'm hearing a bingo card.

[It was widely agreed that the "make up your mind" square should have been "Damned if you do, damned if you don't".]


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 16th, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC)
#9 is boggling my brain because I still haven't figured out what makes good writing. Some of it is indeed the background and the research skills of the author. Some of it can be objectively agreed on ("Doesn't write like a fifth-grader unless it's on purpose," for instance). Some of it can't. What race has to do with it, and how much, and where the boundaries fall if the answer is "Something but not everything," is a subject for a heck of a lot more ink than this (or any other post I've seen so far) has spilled. That discussion might bear fruit, or it might just keep going around and around like so much laundry in the washwater.

If nobody seems to be getting what you're saying, perhaps it's time to try again with new words. Part of the art of being a good teacher (and you are setting yourselves up to teach) is being able to say the same thing differently every time until everyone in the room understands you. If the first set of words didn't work the first time, then why would saying them again more loudly do any better? Just be braced to say it all a lot of times and be armed with a good dictionary of synonyms, which is better than a thesaurus. There are any number of dim students in the world.
Mar. 16th, 2009 08:43 pm (UTC)
I don't know if it's possible to define "good writing", it might be a case of "I know it when I see it"- but writing, good and bad, does not exist in a "context-free space". So for example, while one white reader might find a certain book about American Indians to be well-written, an American Indian reader could find the same book to be total trash for it's inauthenticity. If you argue that a book being well-written is independent of its social context and its author's experience and background, and it's just the numbers of people who find a book well-written that make it so, then you essentially say that the few thousand white people who like this book and find it "good writing" legitimately "outvote" the Native readers who know it's full of flat-out lies (and this happens). The default in so-called "context-free" contexts is, of course, whiteness. But wait wait wait whiteness is "the lack of cultural context"! (Ha.) Everything else exists against a backdrop of default, empty "whiteness"!

Alternatively, you can go the "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" route and say that the white reader's finding of the book to be well-written is just as legitimate as the Native reader's "opinion" that the book misrepresents and mischaracterizes her people. But it's not a mere "opinion"- one reader has personal knowledge and experience to draw on, and the other does not. One is living it, and the other isn't and hasn't. Ignorant first impression (supported by the legacy of colonialism and imperialism) is weighed as equal to firsthand, personal experience. Then, once you account for the relative voicelessness and powerlessness of Native authors and reviewers compared to white people, and the sheer numbers of white people versus Native people, we have the same scenario as before. Native people are "outvoted" about their own stories.
Mar. 17th, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
I'm willing to agree that authenticity (and there's another word we could argue about 'til time stops) is probably a component of good writing. On the other hand, the inauthentic has become so much a part of that great soupy casserole that is "American Culture" (if we can be said to have such a thing at all) that it's sort of a thing unto itself. At what point does that thing become a legit source of plotbunnies, and for whom? And at what point does research substitute for life experience acceptably? Nobody can be everywhere, or everyone, but we can read each other's words and learn from them.

Understand I'm coming at this from several angles. I'm born and raised in the world of classical music ("Western Culture"), went to a magnet school which led to some interesting musings based on race, religion, and other such aspects of "culture," spend way too much time around colleges in various capacities, went off to work in some rather grubby jobs and volunteer positions with a whole different branch of US "culture," AKA Redneck, and the more culture I see the less I know whatintheheck the word even means.

But the most formative of those high school events was happening to be browsing books in the library while two black girls muttered to each other nearby. "Everyone in this school is so racist," floated out. And I couldn't decide whether to turn around and chew them out or laugh. You see, they were sharing one big comfy chair. Touching from ankle to shoulder, plus cheekbone and temple. They were ALWAYS in that position. However, their isolation from everyone else was OUR fault. Perhaps it's just my "culture," but when two people are that close together and muttering into each other's ears, I don't interrupt them with a big friendly glomp. And neither did anyone else of any race whatsoever. Previously I had defined racism as whatever someone black said it was.

I started giving them a friendly smile whenever I saw them. One of them did actually start to say hello sometimes, if the other wasn't around. That's how far we got. In two years.

I guess what I'm getting at is that most human projects from housework to novels to social change are susceptible to a disease well-pegged in _Red Dwarf_: we're way too good at discussing the problem and spending all of our finite amount of time analyzing the problem, and then the test comes and we're not ready for the actual problem. After setting foot in a few cons, and enjoying other people's descriptions of cons (_Bimbos of the Death Sun_, anyone?), and so on, I'm inclined to say that the solution does not lie in cons. It lies in writing and publishing really good books to displace some of the really bad ones, and then making them into movie scripts with really good actors -- for which someone is going to have to bite the bullet and attend drama school, currently a bastion of whiteness in every Fine Arts Department I've been around. Perhaps some of the go-to-con money would be better spent on a scholarship fund. That's the longer, harder road, but it'll get the cons refocused!

Personally, that's my cue to exit LJ and see if I can't get some real work done. And -- sheesh, that was longer than my journal entry has been in a long time.
Mar. 18th, 2009 04:35 am (UTC)
As much as representation of people of color in Fine Arts departments is a real and serious issue, I think financial assistance to people of color who wish to attend WisCon and do not have the means to do so is a more immediate and tangible project over which Fandom can have a more direct impact.
Mar. 19th, 2009 03:26 am (UTC)
#9 is intellectually lazy--it lets the concept of "good writing" or of "goodness in writing" go uninterrogated. So people can bring their own definitions of "good writing" to the table and walk away not having had any substantive discussion.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


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