So, you’re a writer and you’re worried about writing outside your immediate experiences and identities.
Here is the thread of practical advice for you.
Are you trying to solve racism/sexism/colonialism with your work?
As writers we love stories about heroic writers whose work has changed the world. And as such we like to look to our own writing to solve societal problems.
But if you’re looking to play saviour with your words, it is unlikely that you will do the marginalised people you are trying to save justice.
But as such, you are still making the reader read about someone being awful to people like them for most of the story.
There’s a huge difference between writing a story with a diverse cast that reflects the complexities of the world and a story which looks to represent them to the world.
I would strongly advise against writing a story that centres on the struggles of being gay in a oppressive society if you are straight.
Ask yourself what your story is ABOUT.
Eg: Why does your mermaid stand in for an Asian woman have to be white in order to be sympathetic?
Very often, I feel people are implicitly asking me for permission.
And I understand, there is this weight of expectation and responsibility that you want to be free from.
Self awareness can be uncomfortable, and you think perhaps this can help you return to that state of innocence and grace.
It doesn’t work like that.
We all worry about hurting the people we are writing about.
Marginalised writers, if anything, worry more abt such because we intimately know the hurt that can be caused.
We remember the many books that have disappointed us.
We worry about accidentally confirming or validating stereotypes and further entrenching them in our culture.
If we are diaspora, we worry about our authenticity and being estranged from those cultural impulses.
We all worry and I sincerely believe this is a good thing.
It is what keeps us honest.
It is what makes us do better.
There is a tendency in humans to desire rules, of what should and should not be permitted.
It is very easy, however, once you’ve reduced things to rules, for some to forget why something is bad.
To start looking for loopholes and exceptions.
And it is the constant societal repetition of certain stereotypes and ideas that creates harm.
Symbols gain meanings.
Very often, a single instance will seem trivial.
As such you have to understand these things in aggregate, as patterns.
Stop it with the thought experiments about likening cheongsam to lederhosen or asking if blackface is the same as a child wearing a long-sleeved Thor costume that has that bare arms with white skin.
It’s about history and repetition and cultural memory.
Symbols and actions and tropes all gain meaning through the people who have used them, who have weaponised them before.
This isn't about you.
I know it feels bad to be shouted at when you know that you have good intentions, but it's not about any given individual's intentions.
But the hurt of cultural appropriation causes is very real and you can't argue your way out.
This isn’t about how to lawyer up before the verbal accusations begin.
Listen and believe people when they say something is bad.
And yes, there isn't always consensus, and that's also okay.
No culture is a monolith.
It's not your place to demand those who love it to defend you.
It's not your place to demand consensus.
Only by actually understanding this can you avoid these issues.
So stop worrying about your reviews.
Be very aware that there are many people who are more written about than writing.
But if your only sources are written by outsiders, then it is very easy to pick up unconscious biases or outdated ideas.
Also be aware that, say, Norse myth has been claimed by Nazis and you don't want to be reading their websites.
Things written for tourists, for example, will often be looking to package the culture in a way to appeal to the traveller, to sell them that experience.
One of the reasons why marginalised people are so able to write about the dominant culture is that we often don’t have our own fiction, we are used to empathising with the Aragorns and the Tony Starks.
You will likely thus have blind spots.
For example, white people often aren’t aware about the discussions around the Asian "double eyelid”.
Marginalisation means having these aspects of culture be hidden from the mainstream.
If you’re writing about a culture that is not your own, it is very possible that you’re not aware of those tropes about it and within it.
You won’t necessarily know what has been done to death and what you should perhaps avoid.
But for black women, being seen as desirable is still very rare in fiction.
Which is to say how Uhura being single in The Original Series was not empowering.
So whilst trying to avoid the evil, inhuman savage, be aware that the opposite stereotpye of the noble savage is equally insulting and two dimensional.
These dichotomies are themselves toxic and should be torn down.
The wesbites and many resources on the internet. Writing the Other is an excellent place to start, they have a specific section on cultural appropriation that I recommend you read. Attend one of their workshops.
Buy their books. Promote their work.
If nothing else, but that friend a coffee.
This is labour and they deserve to be paid.
Returning to the first point about wanting to play saviour with your own writing, remember there is more that you can do than just write about something.
Don’t set yourself up as a spokesperson.
Tell people about their books.
RT their tweets.
Cite them as your sources.
Recommend their books to your friends.
Include their books on lists you write.
You can read it in paragraph form there.
signing off with this incredible thread by @djolder re: criticizing art, the inevitability of imperfection, and the genuine benefits of discussing different responses to works of art from multiple perspectives.— Saba Sulaiman (@agentsaba) August 22, 2018
criticism \u2260 an attack.https://t.co/66YOz7WseV
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So, you\u2019re a writer and you\u2019re worried about writing outside your immediate experiences and identities.— Jeannette Ng \u5433\u5fd7\u9e97 (@jeannette_ng) October 29, 2018
Here is the thread of practical advice for you.