As you all know, I read LJ extremely irregularly, so it wasn't until yesterday that I came across the complex and often painful discussion about cultural appropriation that's been going on in various journals these last 10 or so days. But when I did I started to read, and then I read, and read, and read some more, and tried my hardest to listen and understand, since this is one of the many (many) things I struggle with fear around in my own (so far completely unpublished, and indeed almost entirely unseen by others) writing.
I'm white. Lots of people didn't believe this when I was growing up, which is another post, but nonetheless I'm quite thoroughly white. The characters I write are also white, because that's my comfort zone, and because I can't really figure out how to do race in subcreation, and finally what is really the core of the other two: because I am absolutely terrified that if I tried to write someone who wasn't white, I'd get it wrong
I used to feel this fear even talking to people who weren't white, the fear that I'd do it wrong, offend, harm, damage, and that the person I was talking to would get mad at me
and think I was a bad person
-- and they'd be right. I'm grateful to SFSU for changing this; being one of the only white women in my counselling classes caused me to realise that I could screw up in good faith and learn from my mistakes, even when people were angry at me. Still, in my writing I feel an enormous sense of helplessness. I see the anger that gets expressed when a white person does it wrong, and I am horrified to think of that anger being expressed towards me.
Yesterday I read deepad
's post: White people, its not all about you, but for this post it is
, in which she addresses some of the comments white people brought up during these discussions. One of her answers had an enormous impact on me, and so I'm quoting it in full:
Statement: I'm a white male, and this suggests that I'm not allowed to write anything but white males.
Response: Physically--White males experience less censorship than any other demographic on this planet. They have easier access to more resources including paper, pens, computers and dictaphones. Not only do they have more ability to access the internet to publish online; they also have the world's strongest publishing industry statistically supporting them more than any other group. Nobody is less prevented from writing whatever the hell they want to.
Intellectually--When you imply that POC are disallowing you from writing something, what you are really saying is their their disapproval affects you to a degree that you are willing to pretend that they have the power to alter your choices. This is disenginous.
Morally--I realise this is hard to understand sometimes, because it is a very fundamental difference between post-colonial and imperial nations, so I'll try to be clear.
When you are part of the dominant culture, you are in a system that rewards your default way of living as being termed 'right', and you grow up thinking that being 'wrong' is bad, and therefore a serious enough offence to either paralyse you, or invoke anger at the name-caller.
When you are a minority or a survivor of an oppressive system, you are used to your identity being termed 'wrong', and you work on the assumption that the systems are all broken. You do not trust power to not be used for oppression, opportunity to not be used for selfish advancement, intelligence to not be used against justice, and discernment to not be used to create bigotry.
We are not used to throwing our abusers in jail after three strikes--we negotiate with our abusers being our bosses and television hosts and school teachers and peacekeeping forces and our clergy. When someone tells us we are wrong, we can't run away or banish them, we learn to live with them, and with ourselves.
Try to put yourself in this mindset when you hear someone saying you were wrong.
I am amazed to realise very deeply that, yes, my fear of standing out -- and my ability to fit in -- are part of my white privilege. It's a privilege I was sometimes challenged on as a child, which might be why I've been guarding it so jealously this last five or ten years, but it's certainly one I have now. Unlike many other people, I have the ability to do it right simply by keeping my mouth shut
As I told deepad
[...] I've always taken it for granted that being wrong is horrifying, even deadly. That being told I'm not blending in is dangerous unto death.
Your 2nd response above (to the 'I'm a white male') has given me a new way to look at my own fear, and to see how much of that fear comes from the privilege I enjoy as part of the dominant culture. Your suggestion to "try to put yourself in this mindset" is terrifying and exhilarating to me both at once. I'm going to try it.
And so here I am, trying it. I'll no longer be locking all my (fairly rare) journal posts, although there will probably be the occasional TMI physical condition post that is locked out of a sense of privacy rather than a sense of fear. Imagine my surprise to realise that they might not be the exact same thing!