crypto (cryptoxin) wrote,
crypto
cryptoxin

Cultural appropriation

rydra_wong  has a round-up of links to current discussions on cultural appropriation. If you only have time to read one, my pick is I Didn't Dream of Dragons from deepad  -- this is maybe the most powerful and compelling post that I've ever seen on LJ, on any topic. I can tell that I'll be thinking about it for a long time.

rydra_wong  warns about the comments to one of the other linked posts, and it only takes a quick skim to see why. It's so infuriating to see white people turn the issue into a drama with themselves at the center, where it's all about their conflict, their angst and anxiety, their needs and desires. Where people of color are only conceived of as undifferentiated masses of potential critics with impossible standards, whose sole form of engagement as readers is to scrutinize fiction for traces of racism to be denounced -- where white people's sense of vulnerability to the extreme perceived harms of being challenged on putative racism threatens to eclipse entirely any sustained attention to and engagement with the lived experience of racism among actual people of color. Or else people of color are alternatively conceived of as the passive and tragically silent beneficiaries of white writers' inspiring efforts and heroic journeys towards a beneficent multiculturalism as a kind of charitable afterthought to the main business of storytelling, which surely should inspire an appropriate posture of gratitude.

All of which is just the absurd corollary of the white writer's plaintiff cry, "Damned if I do, damned if I don't!" As if the most important thing at stake in the conversation is white people's ability to feel good about themselves and get the proper respect and validation for their self-regard. And the implied burden for this outcome falls on people of color, whether through silence, approbation, commiseration, advice, permission, patience, or erasure.

And I say all this as a white person who has lived it -- not as a writer, but in other contexts, where I've prioritized feeling good about myself over everything else and made that the primary, non-negotiable condition of my participation. I'd like to think that I don't do that anymore, though that urge still hits me and I still fight against those defense mechanisms. But one thing that really helped me in not doing that was -- selfishly -- discovering how much better I felt when I didn't turn things into a drama about me, even if only in my head. I vividly remember a meeting where a couple of people of color brought up an instance where they felt that I'd been insensitive or ignorant to illustrate a broader theme. My gut instinct was to defend myself and launch into a justification, or explain that they'd misinterpreted me -- even before I paused to reconsider the situation from their point of view, in light of what they were actually saying. And that was so completely irrelevant to the matter of hand, which wasn't about me. Ironically, they were saying that they used me as an example because they didn't think badly of me or have a grievance with me -- in other words, they trusted me to appreciate where they were coming from, to support them on the broader issue, and to not react defensively and hijack the meeting until my ego had been assuaged. I resisted my gut instinct, and amazingly did not suffer a grievous narcissistic wound but discovered that the discussion proceeded much more productively for everyone involved.

More and more, I believe that sometimes the best answer to "Okay, but what am I supposed to do now?" is really to stay with the discussion and sit with your discomfort or anxiety instead of rushing towards a safe perch. Sometimes the best answer is to leave yourself open to other people's pain, hope, and struggle, even or especially when it threatens to decenter you and destabilize your world. And sometimes, the best answer is to put the 'I' aside and look towards asking "What do we do?" even if that question is difficult to engage with (and much easier to opt out of in favor of individual responses) until all of us have done some work to make that 'we' come more fully into existence as a substantive, meaningful force.
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  • Transmedia trainwreck?

    Is anybody still watching Heroes? *listens to the sound of crickets chirping* I'm still watching, partly for Hiro and Ando, partly out of habit,…

  • A couple thoughts re: authorship and authority on LiveJournal

    Is there a word for that middle ground between wakefulness and sleep, where you can't really tell whether your subconscious or conscious mind is in…

  • Criticism is not censorship!

    I end sentences with prepositions. I split infinitives. I screw up subject-verb agreement on a daily basis. In other words, I botch grammar, and can…