What is Cultural Appropriation?
Do the CA Cops have their hackles raised by even having that question asked? Does it mean that only a person with bona fide genetics, having been raised fully within the culture, is permitted to comment on or write a story about, say, a cult like Bountiful?
Bonny Brooks, writing in Quilette on 30 Jan. 2018, and linked from Pandaemonium, suggests we shake our heads and rethink what is being done being blindly raising the CA flag.
Yes, there should be the occasional slap on the wrist for blatant commercial appropriation of culture, but:
We often call this a ‘cultural appropriation’ panic, but the animus driving it is reaching into the deepest crevices of writers’ private lives and personal histories. I call this the memoirification of literature; the lovechild of a justifiable call for more diverse writers and a social media marketing imperative, this drive to personal confession demands ever more particularised voices prepared to share their particularised testimonies under the banner of literary forms that are not, by definition, supposed to be testimony. And increasingly there are penalties for those who appear not to ‘stay in their lane’ and write endlessly about themselves.
There is no appeasing this impulse. In the last few weeks, I read an article asking who ‘gets’ to write fiction about sexual abuse and another telling writers how they must do so should they dare. The current zeitgeist for biographical vampirism is even pushing journalists reporting on issues of public interest to qualify themselves. As James Bloodworth recently put it, having fielded online jibes for writing a reportage book about low wage labour in Britain while not actually being (or no longer being, in his case) a low-wage labourer: ‘A peculiar thing about our age is that one of the easiest ways to get ahead is to talk endlessly about yourself. If you aren’t prepared to emote publicly about how ‘tough’ things were for you personally, you’re effectively at a disadvantage to those that are.’ Were his critics not sure what journalism is?
For those of us that have memoir-worthy backstories but are more memoir-averse, this trial-by-testimony approach to choosing and marketing literature is alarming. As it happens, I fit within several historically ‘spoken for’ and much written about groups. However I don’t write testimony and I do not own these issues. There isn’t one way to emerge from adversity, so demanding a paint-by-numbers approach to its portrayal is frankly childish, reductive, and philistine. Characters should be three-dimensional beings, not mascots commissioned by committee.
Image by Nasreen Pejvack from her book of poetry, Waiting.