Tag Archives: bias

Writing and Cultural Appropriation

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From time to time an author is accused of cultural appropriation, where they write in or about a culture other than the one they are most familiar with, their own. Cultural appropriation can take on many nuances, from intimations of racism and bigotry to naiveté and misconceptions of history.

An example of cultural appropriation could be a white person with Maori tattoos, a person from India eating smoked salmon, the women of the Middle Ages wearing turban-style headdresses (from the Middle East). In this sense one culture adopts aspects of another culture. Throughout history, this has always happened as one group migrated or conquered another group. Blending languages, religions, styles and eating traditions were just some of the ways in which culture was appropriated.

In the world today, especially in Western culture, relaying and exchange of information as well as goods is swift and nearly universal. This means that after a certain amount of appropriation the culture assimilates or becomes a melting pot. This is neither a bad nor a good thing but it is just the way humanity adapts. We are always attracted to or repulsed by something new, until we get used to it.

In writing, cultural appropriation has usually had negative connotations. In other aspects of politics and life, when it’s mentioned in the media, it usually has a criticism attached. Sometimes the criticism is justified, say with a white writer whose story is about blacks who are only all ghetto, given to gang activity and play basketball on the street. That story may be playing off of stereotypes and only show the people in a negative light. It is usually when a writer of another culture, and most often a white author writing about another culture, that the term of cultural appropriation comes out. W.P. Kinsella is well known for writing stories involving Native/First Nations people and he’s white. I don’t believe he’s ever been blamed for cultural appropriation because he doesn’t stereotype everyone and he makes them real and three-dimensional. The criticism usually happens if someone writes of another culture but does so with cliché characters or stereotypes.

Often as not the accusation will grow to ridiculous proportions, such as; you cannot write about blacks because you aren’t black. You can’t write about women because you’re a man. I was once told by another writer that I couldn’t write about old people because I wasn’t old. Now I might not have written something well or in the correct viewpoint but in fact if we started pointing the finger and saying we could not write about gender, race, culture, religion or lifestyle other than our own, then we would all be writing about ourselves. The stories would be autobiographical and all characters would have to be us. I often roll my eyes when I hear the term. While I believe in honoring and respecting all people, and trying to avoid saying “you’re wrong because you’re not doing it my way,” I also do not believe that I cannot write about or include another culture than my own in the stories I write.

It has become the politically correct thing to say the moment a white person (usually) writes about anything other than their own people. And interestingly enough, it’s usually tossed about by other white people. Definitely when we write we are responsible for not perpetuating stereotypes and racism. However, if I’m writing a period piece and the character is thinking or talking within his time and it serves a purpose to move the story forward, then I must write that character accurately with attitude and vernacular, no matter how offensive it is to our modern sensibilities. And in fact, I’m most likely making a point, or indicating some horror of the past by including such a viewpoint. It is important that before we start painting everything with the cultural appropriation paintbrush that we understand the context and the message. It is one way we can understanding of events, cultures or people different from us, by writing about them, and putting ourselves in their place.

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Bigotry and the Dumbing Down of the US

The US continues to perpetuate the stereotype that Americans are stupid. There is always a truth in a stereotype. While I know many intelligent Americans I wonder at the great gobbets of them who have such a bigoted and kneejerk reaction as to stop using their faculties for reasoning, deduction and fairness. No political system is perfect and really, democracy only works with 100 people or less (in my opinion) before its edges get a little rough.

Nine years after 9/11 and the stupidity seems to be mounting, not lessening. Certain small-minded, fear-laden people are equating the building of a mosque near ground zero with terrorism and other silly notions. They’ve used such rabid comments even in their Republican and Tea Party campaigns. What comments? Oh, let’s see, equating a Muslim to a terrorist, showing a picture of a nearly stereotypical turban-wearing man as a terrorist, calling candidates of Lebanese descent (and Christian) as being Arab. The amount of ignorance, fear mongering and bigotry is astounding.

Now, not all republicans are bad, or so right wing that they can only see sideways, but this attitude that everyone of the Muslim faith is a jihadist terrorist is outright ridiculous and dangerous. Why dangerous? Well if someone kept calling me a terrorist or some other nasty phrase when I was not I would tend to be less forgiving of anything they did and maybe just maybe would decide that if I was already branded then I may as well play the part.  The best way to show the idiocy of such allegations and get sense into the thickening skulls of such people is to give a comparison. If all terrorists are Muslim and therefore all Muslims are terrorists, then all Klu Klux Klan members are Christian and all Christians are KKK. And what is KKK but a terrorist group too? Well, you say, that’s only KKK and they’re a freakish group but not the same as terrorists. Still, the overt labeling is dangerous and inaccurate.

If a man has an obsession with eating pickles and then kills someone, is it because of the pickles or the man? If someone reads a murder mystery and decides to commit a crime that might just resemble that story, is it the story’s fault or the person’s. Responsibility and choices lie with the individual and very few groups all think the same. I talk specifically of religious groups. There are orthodox and non-orthodox, liberal and conservative aspects to most religious paths, as well as branches and branches. Look at Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Muslim faiths. There are many varieties on the theme.

The mosque in New York would be like mosques everywhere else. They have not said that the mosque’s agenda is to teach terrorism and it’s retarded (how can you tell that this makes me angry) to believe that’s the mandate. I know several Muslims who are quiet about their faith, like many Christians or Jews. Here’s another question: should a religion move into another country and plant its religion doing missionary work and pushing its faith on the people who have other traditions. Think of all those early Christian missionaries and the ones today, going all over the world to do “good works” but in the process trying to convert people. In the past that conversion was often accompanied my abuse and murder.

I’m not that astounded that people are so biased as to not see clearly and whine about the mosque in New York. But I am astounded at some of the campaigns going around with outright racism and bigotry in their messages. Like you can run a country on denouncing terrorists and prejudicing people against those who are innocent. Can anyone say Hitler? I don’t expect any American to read this who thinks there should be no mosque at ground zero. What would be best of all would be a temple/church/altar of every faith in a circle at ground zero. Now that would show that perhaps the faiths can come together and let everyone be, in peace.

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The Media Circus and the Bandwagon

The media is a powerful tool (whether internet, print or radio) and how a story or event is portrayed can sway popular opinion, raise hopes or fears. There also seems to be two types of news: there is the news that reports an event that has just happened, and there is investigative reporting, which involves giving backgrounds and both sides (sometimes) into current events. Of course some investigative reporting also takes noncurrent events and makes them current by revealing what has been going on behind the backs of the public.

Reporting is supposed to be unbiased but as we know the range is vast. The best news presents only the facts but that’s rare these days, and even those facts and events are embellished with adjectives and descriptions that can color the story. The worst news reportage is given to hypberbole and innuendo or even outright conjecture and sensationalism.

But media in general, to draw audiences and increase sales, must report current and hot topics, sometimes over and over and over again, ad nauseum. This mindless media bandwagon is like the chatter of an excited child who has noticed a bright balloon. They forget to ask other questions or point out more than the obvious. For whatever reason, the media might latch on to a certain topic and deem it newsworthy, and flog that horse till everyone whether they wnant to or not Here are a few examples.

H1N1, also called Swine Flu. The vaccine is out, the vaccine is out, British Columbians are rolling up their sleeves, health authorities ask the public to be patient, many British Columbians have been waiting. Have they? How does the media know? Have they done surveys or is that just hyperbole? So here we are told over and over again about the vaccine, about the flu, about the number who have been hospitalized or died in BC.

Here is what we aren’t told and which I’ve had to dig out on my own. What’s a pandemic? It’s a case of a particular strain of disease that is infectious and shows up in different regions (global). There are different levels of pandemic. The Spanish flu (a strain of H1N1 coincidentally) of 1918, estimated to have infected a third of the world’s population killed between 50-100 million people and was a stage 5 flu pandemic. It was one of the most deadly flus in the last hundred years.

The WHO says a flu is pandemic when these conditions are met:

  • emergence of a disease new to a population;
  • agents infect humans, causing serious illness; and
  • agents spread easily and sustainably among humans
  • Flus recur often and flu pandemics (AIDS is also considered a pandemic) at least three times a century. The media has been hyping the shots and the spread of the flu but not putting it into context with what a pandemic is or how severe it is. At this point, it’s still not that severe but it has been classed a stage (or level) 6, which indicates spread not virulence. More people die every year from a regular flu than have died yet from this strain. However, what they also don’t say is that because it is of the same type (but not the same) that caused the Spanish flu they are worried that it could be as deadly. Avian flu was more virulent than the current flu but didn’t spread as quickly.

    The media needs to do a better job of presenting facts without increasing fear. By only reporting over and over again about the flu and vaccines makes it sound very deadly. And though it is to some people and there are risk groups, that is no different from the yearly flus that can kill 500,000. So what are the facts in perspective, instead of the facts segregated out for greater effect and emotion?

    Then we have the Olympic bandwagon. Over the past several years we’ve been presented with several perspectives. The cost of the Olympics, how much the province, the city and the federal government were going to put in was mentioned first. As projects and venues were completed, these things were reported of course. The lighting of the torch is now in the news.

    Also in the news is the fact that the city and the province are fighting huge deficits. The provincial government wants to bring in a tax (after the Olympics of course) that will ding everyone into paying more for things that weren’t previously taxed. Jobs are being cut by the city and province. Oh and somehow the Liberal government has prebought enough tickets to Olympic venues to equal a cool million bucks.

    It should be up to the media to now present a picture of what we were told and promised at the beginning and what we’re getting in retrospect. But I think I can figure that out. We were given wishful thinking and lies so that some people would naively believe that the Olympics wouldn’t be over budget and that we wouldn’t be paying higher taxes to cover it. But really, I’m as bad as the media (though I’m not being paid) because I base my beliefs on conjecture and what I can remember. But perhaps we’ll see some good investigative reporting on this before the Olympics begins though it’s more likely to happen after the close of the event.

    And of course, media can be influenced by and even muzzled by politics. And politics plays in anything that a government is involved in.

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    There is No God

    Or is there? An age-old debate that can’t be proved or disproved. But now the atheists have decided to campaign with a poster that first started on the sides of buses in England, with the slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” I don’t know whether they actually capitalized god or not since this was put out by the British Humanist Association. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/7681914.stm

    Canada’s Freethought Association is running a similar campaign and supposedly the BHA raised more money than anticipated, making their run of ads longer and more far reaching. http://freethoughtassociation.ca/n2ew/ Okay, so atheists don’t believe there is a god, or gods, or divine forces, or mythic animals, or talking snakes or whatever. They have felt a need to champion their side against various ads that have promised salvation or damnation.

    This has upset some people, offending some religious groups with “probably” no god. Stephen Green (of pressure group Christian Voice, though I’m not sure what that means) , in the BBC Newsarticle said, “Bendy-buses, like atheism, are a danger to the public at large.” Errr, really? Like Christianity, and Muslim and all those other beliefs in which people have died for not believing or during a holy crusade or pogrom?  I wonder what the danger is, questioning things? That has got people into trouble since the beginning of time: human curiosity.

    Of course, one of the star supporters is a writer named Richard Dawkins who said, “This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think – and thinking is anathema to religion.” http://richarddawkins.net/article,366,The-God-Delusion-Review,Barney-ZwartzCBC-News Hmm, this guy starts to fall into the same realm as the religious right (any religious right) where they assume one thing and believe not only should everyone follow their version but if they don’t, they’re blasphemers or worse, should be killed for being unbelievers. Sweeping statements tend to fall into the realm of bigotry and blind faith, whether for believing in a god or believing there is none.

    Dawkins is a bit into sweeping statements like the bendy bus guy. Thinking is anathema to religion. Noo, not really. But thinking is anathema to some religious sects or branches, those that tend to like the fundamentalist “our way or the freeway to hell” version of belief. Many religions enjoy and encourage open dialogue and discourse, and if one is firm in their faith, questioning it shouldn’t be a problem. Many theologians exist just to study religions, to ask and discuss questions. Maybe Dawkins is an atheist theologian.

    I don’t care if one believes in a beard guy in a white nightgown, a sentient mist, the flying spaghetti monster, a three-headed talking god, sparkling fairies, or in the great abyss of nothingness. Every person should be allowed to believe in what makes them comfortable, as long as they don’t injure another in the pursuit of their beliefs. If any god needs people to campaign for it, then that god  is in trouble. I can see why atheists might campaign and there were some good points of view presented on CBC yesterday by a speaker for the Freethought Association.

    I’m not an atheist, nor do I believe in the Christian god, but that shouldn’t matter. I can coexist with a whole bunch of belief systems and think that thinking about religion or there being no god is not a bad thing. And yeah, atheists should get their piece to say as well. Maybe it should be Atheists, capitalized. They’ll help keep a balance and I firmly believe church and state should be separate because power can be abused. There are some exceptions maybe, like the Dalai Lama, but I’d need to do more research into that before I could speak knowledgeably about it.

    But I’ve always liked the signature line my brother (who loves to play devil’s advocate) put on his emails: “God hates me because I’m an atheist.”

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    Carleton Votes Against Cystic Fibrosis

    Carleton University is getting more attention than they want right now. The Student Association voted against fundraising for cystic fibrosis, something they’ve been doing for more than 25 years. Although one council member argues that they wanted to rotate charities, the statement that cystic fibrosis was primarily a white man’s disease was a deciding factor.

    Yoicks! Where have the brains of students gone? As it turns out, CF affects as many girls as boys (not men here, many young people). From what I remember from anthropology there are three distinct racial groups: Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid, where specific physical and genetic traits differentiate them. The Caucasoid or Caucasian group includes white people, some North American First Nations, Indians, people from the Middle East and Europe. Many of them have brown skin but they’re of the caucasoid group. Not to mention many people are of mixed race and therefore can be black and white.

    So, the Carelton U council got their facts wrong. But let’s say their facts were right, that the disease they were fundraising to help eradicate only affected white men. What if they then had voted this in, as they thought they were? It seems some people can’t see the reverse racism here. Should a person suffer because they are of a certain color, or a certain gender, even if it is the one we joke about as the least popular: white male? Should a child suffer because he was born a white boy?

    Sickle cell anemia predominantly affects black people. Other diseases affect particular ages, or races or genders. Should one disease be barred from research or its victims from the benefits of such research because of this. Carleton U Student Association, time you guys took a class on ethics.

    I’m all for equality but that means not biasing one group over another, not favoring one and not ostracizing any. If Carleton had voted to rotate their charity, that would have been a different story. But they didn’t. It’s sad to think that people get so caught up in being politically correct that they don’t see how incorrect they have really become. And in case anyone doubts the words, here is their motion:

    Whereas Orientation week strives to be inclusive as possible
    Whereas all orientees and volunteers should feel like their fundraising efforts will serve their diverse communities
    And whereas cystic fibrosis has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men
    Be it further resolved that: The CUSA representatives on the incoming Orientation Supervisory Board work to select a new broad reaching charity for orientation week.

    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/ottawa/story/2008/11/25/ot-081125-shinerama.html

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