Hi all! Today, I want to talk about something that is a really touchy subject for a lot of people: cultural appropriation. It’s something I’ve seen tossed around a lot lately, and most of the time, I wonder if the people throwing that phrase around actually understand what it implies or if they’re just looking for something to rant about. Honestly, it usually seems like the latter.
It’s something that’s seeping into every aspect of life. It’s gotten to the point where people are afraid to study other cultures because some lunatic might come up screaming “cultural appropriation” at them when really, they’re trying to learn how not to appropriate things. People are afraid to cosplay characters outside of their race and gender because of the same reason. It’s ridiculous. As long as the cosplayer isn’t doing anything derogatory, what’s wrong with an African American Elsa or an Hispanic Tiana or a white Mulan? There’s nothing wrong with showing your love for a character by cosplaying as them. And that’s what cosplay is about, love and appreciation of a character, not taking something that doesn’t belong to you.
For a writer, cultural appropriation is a terrifying thing. We’re constantly told to write diverse characters, especially when it comes to popular fiction. That’s like rule number one in writing. However, I’ve seen a huge increase in authors (mainly white authors) getting called out and put down for writing outside of their own cultures, no matter how well they did their research and how respectful they were. Basically, it seems like we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
Personally, I tend to blend cultures in my longer stories (I’m from the U.S., aka the melting pot, so why wouldn’t I write that way?). I’m constantly worried someone’s going to accuse me of cultural appropriation, but you know what? I’m not going to whitewash my stories simply because some overzealous crusaders think a white chick from Texas shouldn’t incorporate Japanese culture, Greek mythology, and all of the other elements included in my stories in her work. I like a colorful world that expands beyond my own horizons. Sorry, not sorry.
I do, however, follow a few rules when writing that I hope will deter the cultural appropriation shriekers if/when I get published.
1. I do my research! Granted, I use a lot of mythology and, when there’s not a lot to go on, I tweak certain stories to fit my books, but I’m never disrespectful about it. I know I’ll catch flak from some people for it, but I’m prepared for that.
2. I don’t rely on stereotypes when creating my characters and worlds. Most stereotypes are quite insulting, a personification of the worst aspects of a person. If something fits the character, I’ll use it, but it will be tempered by other aspects of human nature to create a fully fleshed out person. At least that’s my goal.
3. The one don’t on my list is “don’t be a dick.” I never use anything with the intention of making fun of or insulting a culture. Research and not relying on stereotypes really helps with that. Don’t get me wrong, my characters can be incredibly rude to each other, but there’s always a purpose for it in the stories. It’s never an attack on any culture.
So, to sum up… Go learn about that culture you’re interested in (and all of the others)! Go cosplay as that character you adore! Go write all the things! Just don’t be a jerk about it.