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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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How a Blog is Different Than an Article:By Me Anyways

Last year I researched and wrote a blog for a marketing company. They knew they wanted a blog but they didn’t know really what a blog was or what the different types were. So I did up a paper and printed off different blog sites to show them. I wrote a blog for the length of the contract where, because of what they marketed, they found the blog wasn’t really helping them a lot. It was also very specific and I warned them that there was a limited life on what could be written about.

Blogs can serve several purposes. There are the dear diary, hello my friend styles that are personal, chatty and set for people who know the writer. There are blogs done by companies, which can be troubleshooting or informative, advertise and raise sales. These might be in an informal style or have a particular voice. There are blogs that are for entertainment (gossip of the stars, humor, trivia) and blogs that are opinion pieces (or rants). Of course, you can have a blend of entertaining and informative, or opinion and chatty, or whatever.

I write a blog for several reasons. As a writer, when I can’t get to writing fiction every day, it gives me some exercise in writing. With a keen interest and opinion on many things I like to write about them and share my knowledge or insights, sometimes see if there are like minded people out there or if I’m just off the wall. Sometimes it’s to inform and sometimes to entertain. I also post some previously written articles that had a limited exposure on sites long gone.

What I don’t do with a blog is research very long. These are often personal interest, comments on current events or informative pieces. But the way I see it, I don’t have time to do a lot of research, unless I’m being paid. When I write an article for a magazine I do more in-depth research that might include interviews, going to the library, and some good ole fashioned legwork on top of internet research.

An interesting observation that I’ve noticed in general with my blog pieces. Since I started this blog in April, the entry “A Whole Rainbow of Possibilities” (on gay pride) probably had the most hits in a day. The “Fuel Efficient…” article had a lot of interest at first. The “Stones of Ireland” has been my most consistently read piece and the “Teenage Sex and Teachers” has skyrocketed over the weeks since I wrote it. I can conclude only that if you have sex in the title, especially coupled with teenagers, you’ll get many hits. Maybe I should title everything with sex. Sex Chocolate Chip Cookies. Sex Looking for a New Car. Sex Shopping for Clothes. Etc. I wonder how that would skew the views from those just looking for sex.

But in general, when I’m writing a blog entry I’m going on my memory and knowledge and some internet searching. Usually some Wiki and a few other sources, such as reliable newspapers or specific sites to do with the topic. So a blog satisfies my need that people will read it. Maybe not a thousand hits per day (yet! Unless I put sex everywhere) but still I’m one small voice in the cave. And of course I write because it’s fun.

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