Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Cultural Appropriation

The other day I ran into Rona.*
*(name changed)
Rona was a girl I knew in one of my children’s classes. Rona has changed a lot. Rona is now going by Ron. They are transitioning.

I wish them well. People seek their authentic selves all their lives, and there are many ways to that. But something occurred to me right then and there. There is nothing inside my being that has insight into this particular transition.

Oh, sure. Like most humans, there were parts of my physic that I wished were different at various times, though this has lessened greatly as I gained in years. Who hasn’t wanted a different nose/eye color/height or whatever? But the feeling of being in the wrong body was never one I had.

Which brought another insight: I could never write such a fictional character from the inside. I could and would write characters who are very different from me, but only as secondary characters, the way a main character whose inner world is one I know intimately, experiences them. We encounter and appreciate many people as we live, and my main characters will also. But it is the inner world, or point of view, (POV) that will remain someone I can vouch for.

This means that a black/Asian/Muslim/Trans character will not be the POV (first person or third person personal) for a story I will write. I’m guessing this is what the cry about cultural appropriation in fiction is about, and to that extent, I understand it.

But I do not begrudge any writer of fiction who does attempt this, because here also we must allow others to tackle what they feel strongly about. If they do so convincingly, that’s just fine with me.

And, in the end, there is no end to appropriation in fiction: main characters who are male written by female writers, (and vice versa) or a story taking place at a time so long ago the writer couldn’t have lived it except in their mind. It’s fiction.

I just don’t think I could do it well, so I will strive to appreciate but not appropriate.

©Luis Rodriguez 2018


Johnell said...

Definitely a fine line for an author to navigate.

Vijaya said...

Like you, I could never write about some people because I could never truly understand to write from the inside. But this is why it's so important to study what one is interested in and loves, so that we can write authentically, otherwise we'll all be stuck writing memoir.

Evelyn said...

It's a difficult topic, but I agree with what you've said. Our variety in literature would be sadly limited if authors only wrote about what they'd personally experienced.

Mirka Breen said...

Navigation is the ever present challenge of storytellers. Nothing easy about it.