Writing Wrongs: Appropriate Appropriation

Some of my favourite femail exchanges are with my mom. She’s hilarious, wicked smart, and ruthlessly compassionate. With mother’s day having just passed, it’s only appropriate to share a recent conversation.

From: D
Date: Mon, May 15, 2017 at 8:30 PM
Subject: Writing wrongs – appropriate appropriation?
To: Mom

Canadian lit had a bit of a “Dear White People” moment recently. Have you read the stuff around the appropriation prize? The editor of Write magazine wrote a piece that began “I don’t believe in cultural appropriation.” A hook. Slightly tongue-in-cheek. But obviously tone-deaf. He could’ve made his points around writing “what you don’t know” without triggering so many people.

If you read the essay – without knowledge of the backlash – it’s not actually trying to be racist. It’s basically saying that “anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities,” especially since those voices aren’t heard very often (which, um, there’s another solution for, but hey… baby steps). It then praises indigenous writers. Sadly, throwing around the term “appropriation prize” makes even the praise sound condescending. It’s a shame too because his actual point is not a bad one.

Canada’s always struggled with its “identity” and Canadians – in all their hyphenated origins – have unique experiences of the true north strong and free. In a way, we’re all appropriating cultures of convenience at any given moment because so many of us are floating in vaguely ethnic limbos. Example: I can no longer lay much claim to Persian culture, but I’m also alien to “white Canadian” culture. Sometimes my own American accent legitimately startles me, and other times, I’m taken aback by random sprinklings of “eastern” traditionalism in my thinking. I’m Iranian for the purposes of a dinner party debate and strictly Canadian at the airport. If I stuck only to writing what I know, all of my characters would be in constant cultural paralysis, from a cis female perspective. It would get old real fast. Having more writers who thoughtfully include diverse characters in their work would make Canadian lit more representative of Canadian reality. The problem is that the words used to portray this in the essay, ignored the massive history of systemic racism, pointed out here by CBC’s Jesse Wente:

“We have to acknowledge … that appropriation is institutionalized in Canada. Not just cultural appropriation, but appropriation of land, of our lives, that this is the very foundation of what Canada is based on, including laws that were written specifically to enforce cultural appropriation.”

They also ignored the other solution to lack of diversity… removing barriers to entry and enhancing platforms for more accurate representation of different experiences.

Anyway, I wanted to know your thoughts.

From: Mom
Date: Tue, May 16, 2017 at 4:54 AM
Subject: Writing wrongs – appropriate appropriation?
To: D

I went to a workshop on aboriginal art. We were expecting to learn how to integrate aboriginal arts into our grade level curriculum.

The woman stood there and talked about appropriation for 90 minutes. One of the examples she used was Justin Trudeau’s Sun tattoo. Apparently, the artist’s family frowned at him after they saw their dead dad’s art on Justin’s arm. The guy had to apologize and explain that he just wanted to appreciate that work of art. I pointed out that it was the tattoo artist’s responsibility to make sure all his tattoos were authorized before transferring them on people’s body.

Generally, she was saying that if I wanted to use a work of an aboriginal artist in my art lesson, I need to contact the artist and ask for permission. Someone raised the point that if we don’t do that for any other artist, why should we do it for aboriginal artists?

Now, let’s go back to the article: I think the prize idea was silly, but asking people to write about other cultures to bring some diversity in written work is fine. The problem is, then white writers will go even bolder and write whatever BS they think they know about other cultures. I am thinking of reading a piece on Persian culture written by a non-Persian. Hahaha. I get mad at many Persian writers for distorting our cultures by looking at it through a tiny window. Now, imagine what a clueless author from another culture can do.

That being said, I don’t understand why they even argue over this subject. We call this practice, “research.” You gather information about a topic and write your findings. Haha. You just have to not suck at doing proper, thoughtful, well-informed research, which is the problem I guess.

Originally posted on: https://femails.org/ 

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