I’ve been reading a lot of your advice posts, as well as some of your literature. First I want to say thank you for being so willing to address questions and hand out writing advice. I’ve found it very helpful. However one of your posts, I have to admit irked me a little. In it, you mentioned that people should be able to write characters of other ethnicities and creeds. Frankly, I don’t see how that is possible if you’re not from that culture or haven’t experienced it firsthand. By attempting to do so, you run the risk of appropriation and possibly making an unintentionally offensive character. I was hoping you could clarify your point about that a little further, as I don’t think simple research is sufficient to be able to accurately represent someone else.
A few things here… first of all, I don’t subscribe to the idea of cultural appropriation and I never have. To me, this is the antithesis of everything the United States, if not most western nations, stands for. Our country functions under the principle that we are a melting pot and that cultures are embraced and aspects are assimilated into our own. In other words, if you like something from another culture, you can adapt it into your own. I have several antiques and curiosities around my house from Norse, Asian, and South American origin, though I do not share their heritage. In the same spirit, I, as a man of Irish heritage, have seen Asians and Latinos in my own neighborhood singing Irish drinking songs, dressing like stereotypical Irishmen, and dancing (surprisingly well) Irish jigs on St. Patty’s day. Not only am I not offended, I both enjoy and appreciate it. I think this is the attitude we should have towards such things. The idea of appropriation and how it’s been applied is an institutional barrier against the freedoms that the west enjoys, and creating such institutional barriers isn’t a positive.
That being said, it is important to get it right. In my post, not only did I say research, but also attempt to experience the culture where possible, or at the very least, speak to some people who are a good representation of it. At no point did I say that simple research, such as opening a book, would be adequate.
I don’t agree with the idea that if you’re not part of or have experienced a culture, you can’t write about it. If that were the case, all I’d be writing about are white men. There would be no women or any ethnic minorities in my writing. So let’s consider that for a moment. Let’s say I were to subscribe to the idea that… let’s say only a person of color can adequately represent a person of color. Okay, so I write stories strictly about white men… then someone comes along and accuses me of not being inclusive and diverse in my writing. What would be my defense?
In essence, you can’t really have it both ways. Either someone can, if they put the effort in, adequately represent someone of another walk of life, or writing is going to quickly become segregated. There is an inherent danger in that thought process. One, because its completely unrealistic, and two because then it opens up doors to many other problems.
So I will restated what I said before. If you want to write characters of a different culture, race, creed, just be careful. Make sure you have enough knowledge of that group of people to proceed. Don’t assume, and don’t stereotype. Just write them as people, equal with anyone else. The cultural differences shouldn’t be the determining factor of the character, if anything, it should be an influence at most. Anything more than that and you run the risk of just creating a character archetype for a certain group of people which can come off as offensive.
Anyway, thanks for the email and the thought-provoking question!
Readers, what do you think? Can someone of one race/gender/culture effectively write another or should that remain their domain?
Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.
I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.
Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:
Catch you on the flip side!