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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 5:00 pm 
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not something I would recommend
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Primula Baggins wrote:
I'm involved in some discussions on Twitter and elsewhere about culture in general; right now science fiction and fantasy are undergoing (and rightfully so) kind of a convulsion on this point—is it enough to put brown people into works written by white people who are not intimately familiar with the cultures in question? Should white writers even try, or is that appropriation of culture and erasure of writers of color?


I think there is a very frequent mistake in these discussions, often by very well intentioned people, in that they confuse race and culture. For example, I am of Dominican/Hispanic descent but culturally, I am not especially different from any other white American around. I would say much the same about my brother who is came out more brown skinned than me. I would be reluctant to speak on behalf of our friend nel, but comments she has made in the past would suggest that she would probably say the same about - she may have come from Indian descent, but culturally she is American. My oldest friend is a dark-skinned Haitian man who knows American and Western culture better than most Americans - he can rattle off all of the great authors of the Western literary canon, classical composers, Western painters, Etc.

In my opinion, the idea that white people should not write brown people just emphasizes the idea that brown people and white people are somehow innately different. This is essentially the definition of racism. While it is fair to say that there are aspects that a white person would not be able to identify with or fully understand, unless your story is specifically dealing with racial issues, anyone should be able to write anyone of any race. Much the same way that man should not feel uncomfortable writing women. The trick for either is simple - write them as if they are humans.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 5:05 pm 
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yovargas wrote:
I would be reluctant to speak on behalf of our friend nel ...


Who?

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 5:12 pm 
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Correction - my friend nel.

:salmon:

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 5:30 pm 
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Voronwë, :salmon:

yov, I know what you mean. However, in the discussion I'm talking about, it really is culture that's at issue. I can and do write fiction about people who aren't white (because I expect that in the future most people will be some shade of brown)—but I put them into an invented culture that's assimilated everyone, or I create a subculture that's based more on what planet you ended up on than on race. Or I write about aliens, as I did in my most recent book. I'm a de facto expert on their culture, so I can write confidently and say whatever I want.

There's currently a wave of excellent SF and fantasy written by people of color and people not from northern Europe/North America that includes the writer's own culture of origin or one they know very well, extrapolated into the future or blended with magic. It's wonderful, and it's winning attention and awards in a field where that was a very tough sell only a decade or two ago. So some people from northern Europe/NA are tempted to try to write that way themselves, with characters from real cultures that the writers aren't intimately familiar with—just borrow some names and read a few legends and crank out a story. (a) This is hard to pull off well, and (b) whether or not their intentions are good, it can look like culturally empowered writers, who have historically had an advantage in the SFF market, trying to steal bandwidth from writers who are not.

I'm so white-bread North American that I would never try this; instead I play with inventing cultures of my own. That doesn't step on anyone's toes, and it gives me free rein, which I really need to keep any kind of story going. In fact this is probably one reason I write SF: the culture I actually know up close and personally is not very interesting. And it's the culture that dominates movies and TV and fiction right now, and I can't come up with stories about it that are new and that I actually want to go to the immense trouble of telling. (I suppose I could if I wanted to write mysteries or romances, but I don't.)

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 5:34 pm 
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Why do people always post such interesting, thought provoking things when I'm at work and have neither time nor keyboard?
/whine

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 8:07 pm 
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yovargas wrote:

I think there is a very frequent mistake in these discussions, often by very well intentioned people, in that they confuse race and culture. For example, I am of Dominican/Hispanic descent but culturally, I am not especially different from any other white American around. I would say much the same about my brother who is came out more brown skinned than me. I would be reluctant to speak on behalf of our friend nel, but comments she has made in the past would suggest that she would probably say the same about - she may have come from Indian descent, but culturally she is American. My oldest friend is a dark-skinned Haitian man who knows American and Western culture better than most Americans - he can rattle off all of the great authors of the Western literary canon, classical composers, Western painters, Etc.

In my opinion, the idea that white people should not write brown people just emphasizes the idea that brown people and white people are somehow innately different. This is essentially the definition of racism. While it is fair to say that there are aspects that a white person would not be able to identify with or fully understand, unless your story is specifically dealing with racial issues, anyone should be able to write anyone of any race. Much the same way that man should not feel uncomfortable writing women. The trick for either is simple - write them as if they are humans.


Yov, I like how you think! :toast:

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 9:37 pm 
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Prim, why is this phenomenon treated differently from the usual copy-cat phenomenon? LOTR rip-offs, anyone?

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 10:08 pm 
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I think it’s because the cultures being ripped off are real, and shouldn’t be treated ignorantly or disrespectfully—especially coming from people who are part of the culture that has dominated media and centers of political and economic power for so long.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 11:36 pm 
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Primula Baggins wrote:
I think it’s because the cultures being ripped off are real, and shouldn’t be treated ignorantly or disrespectfully—especially coming from people who are part of the culture that has dominated media and centers of political and economic power for so long.
And, let's face it, the culture that thrived at the expense of looting other lands and/or enslaving their people. That might make some people unhappy with their culture being used for profit and entertainment.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2018 4:47 am 
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Primula Baggins wrote:
There's currently a wave of excellent SF and fantasy written by people of color and people not from northern Europe/North America that includes the writer's own culture of origin or one they know very well, extrapolated into the future or blended with magic. It's wonderful, and it's winning attention and awards in a field where that was a very tough sell only a decade or two ago. So some people from northern Europe/NA are tempted to try to write that way themselves, with characters from real cultures that the writers aren't intimately familiar with—just borrow some names and read a few legends and crank out a story. (a) This is hard to pull off well, and (b) whether or not their intentions are good, it can look like culturally empowered writers, who have historically had an advantage in the SFF market, trying to steal bandwidth from writers who are not.


Yes, this is a different kind of thing for sure. I don't think any writer should be afraid of writing a Dominican character into their story because they are not Dominican or familiar with Dominicans. But if that writer was writing stories set in the Dominican Republic, about Dominican people, well, I I wouldn't necessarily find that offensive but I really doubt they could write a story I would think is any good. And if that writer started getting praise for their story about Dominican peoples that he clearly doesn't know or understand, then yeah, I might start getting pissed about that.

To me, it's a fairly simple distinction. You are the writer can create individuals regardless of race or whatever. But if you're going to try and write about a existing culture, not a imaginary culture you created, you should really try damn hard to make sure you know what you are talking about. I would definitely not tell someone they shouldn't do it, just that they should really do their homework. If they're not willing to do that, it's probably best to leave it alone.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2018 5:14 am 
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That’s where I come down, yov, with the addition that I think it’s kind of nervy for someone outside the culture to try.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2018 5:20 am 
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(Apropos of nothing in particular, everyone should read the novel The brief and wondrous life of Oscar Wao, because it is amazing and it is Dominican as hell. :D )

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2018 6:14 am 
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Primula, I agree with your reticence in this regard. I am not a writer, but my daughter is and she often discusses her stories with me and asks for my views and this subject has come up often. It is more of a cultural thing than a race thing. How might a character (from a different culture) view a subject differently? What is in their history that may have them react in a way I would not? Is there something we take for granted as commonplace that is taboo in their culture? This gets especially tricky dealing with different periods in history and why it is so much easier to deal with an invented world.


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 Post subject: Cultural Appropriation
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2018 6:23 am 
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Yes. It really is true that inventing an entire world is easier than correctly and respectfully portraying a single real culture in the real world. In other words, SFF writers be lazy as hell.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2018 7:39 am 
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Well, and you can also make it do what you want it to do, to make the points you want it to make. The pitfall here is to assume that the Western culture is the normal one, and it's the deviation from it that makes another culture exotic or even alien.

But to write someone of a different but real and contemporary culture accurately, I don't know how it can be done. I spent basically my entire adult life in the US and tend to think of myself as pretty well assimilated. I was still completely gobsmacked when I kept hearing how women are conditioned to be nice and to avoid conflicts, and it took me up until quite recently to realize that not only do they mean it as a rule and not an exception, but that men (unconsciously?) factor that expectation into their interactions with women. Well, that explained some things!

This is not to say that the majority of American women ARE so conditioned, but when they are not, they are still (unconsciously?) aware of the society's expectation that they would be. I tried to work out if it was just me who missed the memo, but my experience suggests otherwise.

So if I missed that pretty basic thing, could I ever hope to correctly portray someone from a culture I merely researched?

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2018 10:12 am 
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Sometimes the more you know, the more you know you don't know enough. :P


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2018 4:46 pm 
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This. I could write a convincing tale of an American in the Balkans. I wouldn't dare write it from the perspective of a Balkan, though.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2018 5:10 pm 
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The biggest cultural shock of my life was getting to know a few Southern Baptists. That was the first time I realized that someone's mental picture of the universe is completely different from mine. I mean, meeting a few guys from Azerbaijan was interesting, with how built in their chivalry is, but that was an extension of what I already knew.

Meeting different kinds of people taught me, on the one hand, that I can't just extrapolate from my reaction how someone else would react in the same situation. Both individual and cultural experiences combine in ways that I can't always predict. On the other hand, we are all humans together and the range of our possible reactions is finite. That's what makes fiction possible.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2018 8:05 pm 
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I'm not a writer, so please excuse if my understanding/terminology is incorrect, but this would present more of a problem dependant on the point of view/from the point of view the story is written, correct? As River said, it's not a problem if the writer tells the tale of one character, whose background they share. There are all sorts of views that may be difficult to 'pull off', some more difficult than others and it is a matter of degree, like an increasing circle of difficulty/complication; writing a male character if you are female, having a main character who is a mother if you have never been one, might be in a close circle. Writing about an opposite gender person from a different age and culture would be on the outer edge of that circle of difficulty. Errors & plot holes would become more of an issue.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2018 2:56 am 
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Rose, that's why I can't bring myself to love the Great Male Writers of the 19th century - Dickens, Balzac, Dostoyevsky (wait, no, him I don't like for other reasons) - because their female characters feel so fake to me.

As River said, one solution is to write from an outsider perspective. That wouldn't be a problem if we have a diversity of perspectives, speaking to diverse audiences. Otherwise, the story of only one group is getting told, regardless of the setting.

Another solution is to have someone with the insider view review your work.

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