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One more thing…

Because of having a great deal of craziness in my life, and just being damn tired of drama as a whole (I mean like physically tired, could be messed up thyroid meds not helping as well) I’ve not made the post that’d been spinning around in my head regarding this whole cultural appropriation discussion and the topic of writing the "Other".

I chose to speak on this now, and ask for folks to forgive me if I ramble. My ADD brain has been chewing on this all for days and days and there’s a lot of info out there to get out. That and two kids home from school are a huge distraction. I will do my best to follow some semblance of order in my thoughts. It’s long, you have been warned.

I saying this now, I’m not trying to talk for anyone other than myself, even so I am sure I’ll piss people off with what I have to say. People may even want to defriend me, go ahead. That’s your choice. My only hope is that something good will come out of all of this.

I’ve never been one to shy away from saying what I felt was right, and calling folks on their crap, though I admit this current event happened at a time when I was already emotionally drained. I read, and gathered my thoughts, only to have wonderful women like sparkymonster  say what I was thinking far more eloquently then I could have. I saw many women I respected say things so full of fail I wondered how these folks could be the same women I thought I’d known.

I will admit that I’ve been advised by several authors of color I know to steer clear of this, considering I have my first book coming out in a few months and this wouldn’t be the time, they said, for me to make big enemies in the fannish community. I’ve considered this advice and decided silence, for better or worse, in the end does nothing to promote lasting change.

It’s been said that Wiscon will be “interesting” this year and I suppose that may be true. Many folks I’m used to going to see there, talk about not coming, some because of cash and timing issues, others because of the hurt feelings over the past few weeks. Again I speak for myself when I say I’m not giving up my families special place, even if some of the white artists I thought were allies prove to be allies only until it is too hard or takes real work. Maybe it’s the country girl in me, but I’ve always believed anything of worth takes a lot of work to get it right.

Many of my poc friends now feel they no longer have a place in the fannish community as it stands. These are people I consider part of my fannish family, people I don’t get to see at any other time but once a year at Wiscon. I don’t care less what a big name whosist someone thinks they are, they have no right to make any of these artists and fans feel any less welcome there or any place else in fandom.

People spout off about being allies, and then when they have the chance to really show they mean what they say, these same people gather up in some unified front against the “mean pocs”. This is not to say all of the white allies behaved in this reprehensible manner, but as is usually the case, the ones that did, were also ones that said their disrespectful and even hateful things in the loudest voices. I guess it’s easy to tell people how to act, and much harder to set a good example to friends and fans when faced with your own transgressions, purposeful or not.

For now I’m going to step away from the current discussion and talk about cultural appropriation as I see it, as well as the concept of writing the “Other”. Though I identify as an ndn author, even in writing about my own nation I have a ton of research I need to do because I’ve not been brought up on the reservation or even a rural area near the reservation, so there are some inner cultural and political workings that I would never understand. It’s my duty to do this work not only to honor those who live these lives, but to honor my own heritage and that of my children.

Some folks think all nations are the same, they really aren’t. I’ve lost count how many discussion/arguments I’ve had with writers who write ndns as a callage of different tribes, with no thought to who these wiriters are really writing about. Why research? they say, it’s not that big of a deal. Bull. It’s a hugely big deal. The land a tribe or nation lived on was paramount to who they were as a people, from the food they ate, to the ritual practices that were part of their daily lives. Everything in their environment effected them, and molded their lives. If a writer doesn’t do their research, then they have no right to complain when someone calls them on their failure.

One thing many writers who try to write ndn characters forget is that ndn life now is just as different from what it was in precolonized American, as life is now for indigenous Africans since colonization there. So many writers write ndn characters as if they are displaced in time, “savages” in a modern setting. It hurts my brain every time I read stuff like that. Unless it’s a time travel setting, that concept just doesn’t work.

Another habit of writers that really grates on my nerves is to take bits of ndn tradition and beliefs and sprinkle them over their European heritage characters, using the excuse they are just “borrowing” ideas. Borrowing to some is the same as stealing to others. Not only is this an insult to the culture the authors had “borrowed” from, but it an insult to the heritage of the character who id the writer did a bit of research has perfectly workable spiritual practices to draw upon in their own bloodline.

Now one exception to this might be if this white character is married to an ndn, then sure, I can see their family tradition being a mix like that. However, when you have a white character with no prior experience within ndn culture, or who just borrowed what she thought was neat, just as in real life, that’s cultural approbation.

Generalizations are also an element in writing that is doomed to fail. People are more than just race, their overall experiences mold who they are. For instance, a black women who grew up in the south will be very different than a black women who was raised in Chicago, for instance. Using generalization to build characters is not only lazy, for the people who live those live it’s damn insulting.

Yes, writing outside of the live you’ve lived is always a risk, but when you are portraying an aspect of life someone else IS living, you HAVE to be willing to do the work to do it right. This doesn’t mean just white writers, or just cultural imformation. I’ve written from the POV of Oneida, East Indian, Black, Navajo, Irish, Korean, Blind, Albino, etc… women (and men). Every time I’ve had to do my research to do the character, and those who I hope will relate to these characters justice. I’ve spend hours with people of that culture, who’ve lived that life, even with cultural departments of various tribal nations (who are so patient and helpful).

Even with all the work I spend to avoid them will I make mistakes? I’m sure I will. That’s the risk you take writing outside yourself and what you know, but then they ways you can grow as an artist and a human being by doing this work in my opinion makes it worth the risk.

This also means that when you make these mistakes you have to be willing to listen and learn from them. To not do so is lazy, and unproductive. No one is immune from mess ups. When you see yourself as above reproach you face creative stagnation, and when you as a fan treat your favored artist as someone above reproach you do them a great disservice.

As I plan to write for many years, I also hope within this time that I set a good example in everything I write and say to my friend and my fans (I’d looove to have fans one day  ). This hope is a big reason I take the risk of writing from POV outside of my own. I know what it’s like to have trouble finding people in the book I read I could relate to, so I write these characters not only to present another way of viewing the world, but to enrich my own wide view of the lives we all touch day to day.

 



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Comments

( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
browngirl
Jan. 23rd, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)
This is well and wonderfully said. *beams at you*
moondancerdrake
Jan. 23rd, 2009 07:11 pm (UTC)
Thank, hun. We'll see if I painted a bullseye on my forehead or not (grin), wouldn't be the first time, likely will not be the last.
deakat
Jan. 23rd, 2009 08:02 pm (UTC)
I haven't had a chance to read everything, but I did read Elizabeth Bear's original post, and thought that it was full of wisdom, in trying to share her techniques of how she tries to write characters who are not her without Othering them.

Sure, it hasn't worked for everyone, but she is open to hearing where it didn't work, and trying to do better. I don't understand how anyone can be asked to do more, and especially don't understand why she has been/is being slammed for it.

I'm going to try to read more of the comment threads this weekend, in an effort to wrap my head around how this all exploded.

Thank you for bravely sharing your thoughts and experiences.
moondancerdrake
Jan. 23rd, 2009 08:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks for visiting. I think in the beginning Elizabeth Bear meant well, but after she was called on issues in her own work, some of her supporters said horrible things, few of which I saw her call them on. If my friend says something out of order, I figure as a friend I should call them on it. It seems Elizabeth Bear doesn't agree. That fact lost her and those supporters who were yelling their venom the loudest a great deal of respect in the fannish community, especially among fens of color...a fact Ms. Bear seems apparently unconcerned by. Here’s a good summary of the events that might help you follow the explosion. :)

http://navia.livejournal.com/220395.html

I hope this is helpful to you.


gunhilda
Jan. 23rd, 2009 09:17 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is such dangerous territory that I feel like I'm voluntarily jumping into a mind field with eyes wide open to even reply to this post.

I've been following the discussion with interest, enough to know that I am clueless, which will no doubt shine forth in this post. I am not a person of color, so I can't speak to their experience with any experience of my own. I can only speculate and try to address the issues while employing my powers of empathy.

On one hand, it appears that there is a problem with our society today in that the "Other" is often neglected entirely or not presented in a positive fashion in literature and entertainment. I agree with this completely, and I'd like to think I'm more sensitive to the problem than many of my peers, simply because I am conscious of and abhor prejudice in all forms, even when I am guilty of it myself.

And yet, on the other hand, it appears that anyone who is NOT the "Other" (with first hand experience of being an "Other") is not qualified to try to write the "Other" without fear of insulting someone for getting it wrong. At least, that is the very strong message that I'm getting.

Research is good, but even you admit you're going to get it wrong some of the time. So, it's a catch-22, isn't it? I write fanfiction for fun, and I'm not willing to devote hours of research into a science fiction fanfiction story that may deal with another, obviously fictional, society on another planet, etc. etc. etc.

But now I'm frankly terrified to write any character that is not a modern, white, American female for fear of insulting someone because I have a character (or world, or culture) that is not based in my own personal experience.

Seriously.

If the only people who are allowed to write about the experience of POCs without fear of causing insult are POCs, how will society ever change? At what point does the harsh criticism for "getting it wrong" start to deter people who have good intentions of "trying to get it right," but fear they might fail? How will positive portrayals of characters without white skin ever become mainstream?

Particularly in the context of science fiction and fantasy (which is what I write), I would think it better to have heroes (presented in a positive context) of all colors, shapes, sizes, genders, and cultures splashed across the canvas of our books and stories than limit their appearance because of fear of causing insult...
sholio
Jan. 23rd, 2009 11:42 pm (UTC)
Here from Rydra-Wong's links post
moondancerdrake, I hope that you don't mind me responding to this (and please, tell me if so, and feel free to kick me out if I'm making an ass of myself). Addressing myself now to the gunhilda's question(s):

I thought that moondancerdrake's post that you're responding to is actually a pretty good answer to what you're asking. Elsewhere, nojojojo has a very good, recent post: We worry about it too. My own recent musing on the matter is here - I'm not pointing this out to set myself up as an expert (because I'm not, and everything I'm saying here, and there, is a distillation of other posts I've read over the last couple of years, mostly written by PoC, and all of them far more eloquent than me), but my other post explains more thoroughly what I'm going to try to say - which is basically that we're all drowning in a sea of racist stereotypes that come out in our work unless we're consciously on guard against them (and often even then). Consciously choosing not to write PoC characters out of a fear of getting them wrong is just another form of this. As a writer, you can't not deal with it; not writing PoC characters on purpose doesn't avoid the issue, it just makes a particularly unpleasant political statement. So all you can do, like moondancerdrake said, is just do the best you can, research what you don't know and - this part is important! - prepare to be as open-minded and graceful as possible when someone points out that you got something wrong.

And, since you're a fan writer, specifically, zvi_likes_tv has a really fantastic post here for fanfic writers on writing characters of color in your fandoms; among other things:

When the CoC in question is black and the white fan in question is American, I am very often tempted to read, "I do not understand the African American experience," as really saying, "I don't know anything about poor urban dwellers (i.e. hoodrats.)" Luckily for you, most CoCs, even if they come from the hood, have left the hood far behind by the time they get to your television screen. Foreman may have grown up in the ghetto, but by now he's done four years of college, four years of medical school, and six years of neurology residency. That's ten to fourteen years of working in environments that are predominantly white.

and

Ninety-nine percent of shows that catch fannish attention are written by white guys who don't know any more people of color (of any social class or profession) than you do. ... You only have to get the characters as ethnically authentic as the writer/producers do, which means you mostly don't have to get them ethnically 'authentic' at all.

(But seriously, read the whole post! Much good stuff.)

I write both fanfic and original fiction. My main fandom is Stargate, where the three main CoC's on the two Stargate shows are all from planets other than Earth, and basically it is (nearly) impossible to do a worse job of writing them in fanfic than the show itself does (not that people can't manage to do it anyway; I never cease to boggle at it). Anyway, in that particular fandom, you don't have to know a single thing about any specific real-world culture; you just have to be able to write someone with a different skin color as a person.

In original fiction or when you're dealing with actual real-world cultures, it's of course much more important to do your research and take people seriously if they tell you that you've messed something up. But, really, wouldn't you do the same if you were writing about a doctor or a mechanic or a waiter; don't you try to be accurate with, say, the technical details of a gun, or the climate in Scotland? Isn't it even more important to be accurate when you're dealing with human beings and their identities, especially when they've been poorly represented in the past, and when they're having to deal with so much marginalization and ignorance in real life?
moondancerdrake
Jan. 24th, 2009 12:06 am (UTC)
Re: Here from Rydra-Wong's links post
Sholio, I admit I am grateful that you responded in such a thoughtful and informative way. I’d been wracking my brain to come up with a more thorough response, since it seemed my post was unclear on this matter. Thank so much. I still can’t figure out how to do the lj user link in my comments posts like you did. Needless to say I am not very technically knowledgeable.

Gunhilda, I think making the choice to write character unlike yourself is a choice that takes a lot of forethought, no matter your cultural background. Being a writer of color doesn’t mean I have a magic wand of rightness even when writing about my own culture, much less someone else’s. I write these stories because I believe they need to be told, and knowing that even if I make a mistake I’m doing the work I must do.

And when I make a mistake, I can only hope I handle the criticism well. Sure, the fear of making a big screw up even with all my research is there, but living in fear is hardly conducive to creativity. Thanks again to Sholio for such a wonderful response, and for the great kinks, some I hadn’t seem myself. I’m off to read!
sholio
Jan. 24th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
Re: Here from Rydra-Wong's links post
(Why do I only notice typos in my comment once it's too late to edit them out? Durrrr ...)

Anyway - thank you - though I'm really just collecting links to smart things that other people have said! And thank you, too, for the excellent post.

I still can’t figure out how to do the lj user link in my comments posts like you did.

Here is where I found out! It's a little tiny bit of code that you put around the user name. :)
gunhilda
Jan. 24th, 2009 06:48 am (UTC)
Re: Here from Rydra-Wong's links post
Sholio rocks!

I don't want to offend and insult people, but I would like to do what's right. I just need a little guidance, sometimes. Or a swift kick in the rear.

I think everyone's instinctual reaction to criticism is to be defensive, but I'd like to believe that if someone told me I was being a racist ass about something, that I'd take it with grace and correct (and apologize for) the mistake. Or at least not repeat it. And ultimately learn from it.




Edited at 2009-01-24 06:49 am (UTC)
sholio
Jan. 25th, 2009 09:14 am (UTC)
I also realized (very belatedly) that in responding to your commenter, I never responded to your post itself, and that's a terrible oversight, since it's an excellent post. This part, in particular, hit me very hard in the gut:

Many of my poc friends now feel they no longer have a place in the fannish community as it stands. These are people I consider part of my fannish family, people I don’t get to see at any other time but once a year at Wiscon. I don’t care less what a big name whosist someone thinks they are, they have no right to make any of these artists and fans feel any less welcome there or any place else in fandom.

This isn't the only place I've seen this, and it's -- just so heartbreaking, and infuriating. Speaking as a white fan, I really, really hope that it'll be possible to reclaim fandom as a safe space for PoC eventually, or at least to create safe spaces within it.

And best wishes for success with your novel, also.
gunhilda
Jan. 24th, 2009 06:10 am (UTC)
Re: Here from Rydra-Wong's links post
Okay, this was very helpful. I had not seen the posts to which you linked, and they addressed my concerns directly. I see I am not the only person to perceive the same catch-22 (though I'm not particularly proud to have fallen into this particular crowded pit), but you have put my mind at ease. Thank you for taking the time to reply!
(Anonymous)
Jan. 23rd, 2009 11:40 pm (UTC)
I read a bit of the thread in navia's LJ, just to get some context for this post, since I admire what you've said here. Not being a PoC, I have never presumed to try and write the experiences of PoC. If I ever were to try it, though, I agree wholeheartedly with what you say- research is ESSENTIAL. Trying to step into a culture you have no knowledge of, a mindset, an upbringing, an awareness you have not experienced, requires research in order to understand even a little bit who you are trying to portray.
is_thislove
Jan. 23rd, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC)
Whoops, that Anon comment was me. I didn't realize the comment box was set on Anonymous. xD
moondancerdrake
Jan. 24th, 2009 12:08 am (UTC)
lol, yeah I've done that a time or two myself, no worries.
mevennen
Jan. 24th, 2009 09:08 am (UTC)
(via Rydra-Wong). Thank you for this. I am a pro writer, a white Brit, and I have written fiction which features POC. I've had issues with various sides of the debate, and with my own stance on things, which I have been questioning over the years and continue to do.

I am commenting minimally and spending most of my online time reading through the various posts that RW and others link to (deepad has some very thoughtful things to say and ciderpress takes great care to go through the logical ramifications of the wider debate, which is very helpful from a formal philosophical pov).
moondancerdrake
Jan. 24th, 2009 02:50 pm (UTC)
I thinking constantly learning and question the standard is a great way to avoid creative and personal stagnation.
ungereimt
Jan. 24th, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
Well said!
moondancerdrake
Jan. 24th, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)
:) thank you.
were_duck
Jan. 24th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)
Well-said!

I'm looking forward to seeing you at WisCon this year, and reading your book when it comes out :)
moondancerdrake
Jan. 24th, 2009 02:47 pm (UTC)
If all goes well my frist novel will be coming with me to Wiscon. I am really hoping for that. I miss you all so much! If money wasn't so tight I'd wish Wiscon was more than one a year just so I could see folks more often.
(Deleted comment)
moondancerdrake
Feb. 6th, 2009 01:06 pm (UTC)
I want to suggest panel topic around what's been happening, but I'm at a loss on how to word them. I tried to do similar topics last year and for whatever reason they didn't go through the way I intended them to be (or to be about). I'd love suggestions since we are so close to the deadline.
(Deleted comment)
moondancerdrake
Feb. 6th, 2009 08:43 pm (UTC)
Okay I have something started on my blog today I hope to have ready to submit by tonight...since the deadline's tomorrow we'll see if I can work out the bugs before then. :)
shveta_thakrar
Jan. 24th, 2009 05:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. :)
moondancerdrake
Jan. 24th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
If people can get some good from all of this, I'm thrilled.
lisaquestions
Feb. 4th, 2009 11:35 pm (UTC)
I feel like I'm a week late getting back to blogs/LJ.

I'm appalled - not shocked, sadly - and disturbed by so much of what's been said, and it's doubly frustrating because several of the people involved are people whom I once had much respect for.

moondancerdrake
Feb. 6th, 2009 03:08 am (UTC)
Yeah, I'm feeling a lot of downheartness over people I really thought were more clueful then they turned out to be. I keep hopeing to find it was a case of them being replaced by pod people or temperary insanity.
lisaquestions
Feb. 6th, 2009 04:14 am (UTC)
At least a few people are people I've interacted with over the years. A couple I know personally. I'm not even going to pretend to say something like "I'm shocked! They're not racist!" because clearly, they're willing to say racist things, or at least support people who are saying racist things.

I'm just deeply disappointed. :(
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