What About Cultural Appropriation? by Mickey J. Corrigan

What About Cultural Appropriation?
by Mickey J. Corrigan
What was for so long a given in fiction writing is currently a highly charged and controversial topic. I'm even afraid to bring up the subject here. But, well, can we discuss it without getting offended or offensive? I hope so.
The question is this: is it okay for novelists to write from the perspective of characters that do not share the author's own heritage, sex, class, age, sexuality, race, or nationality?
For many years, the answer to that question was yes. After all, fiction writing requires the use of one's imagination and novelists develop their creative skills in order to be able to immerse themselves in a character's fictional life. What would it be like to run away from home, be abused, fall in love with someone taboo, go to sea or to war, commit murder? Years ago, an author might be criticized for a lack of authenticity. A male writer might create a female protagonist who seemed too masculine. Or a mature author writing from the viewpoint of a twelve year old could be too adult to be credible. But in general, complaints about perspective were reserved for the writing itself.
Of course in those days, the majority of writers and publishers were white males. So there was that.
Now novelists must face the issue of cultural appropriation. Like if you are a middle-aged white woman and in your novel you write from the perspective of a boy from Kenya. Or you are a young man in an MFA program writing in the voice of an elderly Mexican mother of six. Be prepared: there may be an outcry.
Writing from another's perspective, from a gender or ethnic or class perspective you do not share, is now regarded as a form of cultural appropriation. This is frowned upon, attacked viciously in social media, and sometimes punished by the literary community.
I don't know what's right and what's wrong as I can see both sides of this issue. But I do think it's become an obstacle for novelists. If writers avoid creating stereotypes, if they write with respect for all people, isn't it acceptable to invent characters who see the world through eyes not their own?
I usually write about young females who are devious and disturbed, often self-destructive, with lives nothing like mine. I love being able to imagine what life might look like if I were decades younger with a much darker psychology. Am I treading on the toes of young women? What about when I write from the male point of view?
None of us can understand exactly what it feels like to walk in another's shoes. But isn't that what fiction is for? So we can find out, both as writers and as readers?
Good fiction doesn't appropriate what is, it creates something new while attempting to elicit empathy and understanding. Fiction writers always trespass into others' worlds—the lives of family, friends, and strangers get appropriated for our work. But we do this with great humility and respect. Right?
Please tell me what you think.

Mickey J. Corrigan lives in South Florida. She writes pulp fiction from a female point of view. Her novellas and novels have been released by publishers in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. Poetry chapbooks include The Art of Bars (Finishing Line Press, 2016) and Days' End (Main Street Rag, 2017). Project XX, a crime novel, was released in September by Salt Publishing in the UK.

Author website: www.mickeyjcorrigan.com

Project XX 

In 2012, a deranged grad student dressed as the Joker shot and killed dozens of movie goers at a Batman film opening in Colorado. Gun violence is so out of control in America that it has become a cruel joke.
Unlike most of Mickey Corrigan's novels, Project XX made itself known to her at that time, demanding to be written. Usually she researches, prepares, then writes. In this case, she wrote first, then did the research on gun violence, female violent crime, and school/mass shootings.
Males are almost always the perpetrators of mass shootings. But females are fully capable of shocking acts of violence and, in the US, military-style weapons are as easy to access as a new hairstyle.

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  1. I think right now the issue is about getting more diverse voices into the conversation. Why publish that boy from Kenya when you can get a similar story from a white writer from a cushy suburb? But I also think that one shouldn't be limited to write just what they "know". It's a difficult topic, but a good conversation to have.

    1. It is difficult, but thanks for having the conversation with me.

  2. I have no issue with writing about characters who are different from me. I have to do that unless I'm only ever going to write my own autobiography, don't I?

    Even if the lead character is my age, sex, race etc, I wouldn't want to write (or read) a book where every single character was the same. I just don't see how it's possible for anyone to write a novel and not include some characters who're a different sex, age, background etc from themselves.

    It's a good thing to encourage writers from different groups and backgrounds, but I don't think it would be possible or desirable to restrict anyone to writing only about characters in their same ethnic group, who are the same age and sex, and sexual orientation and have had the same education etc, etc.

  3. Yes, it seems that writers need to be able to add diverse characters to their stories in order to write realistic fiction. In most places in the US, we spend our lives immersed in a sea of diversity--people of different ages, cultures, sexual persuasions, ethnicity, religions--and to ignore that wouldn't be realistic or interesting. Thanks for your feedback.

    1. I'm from the U.K. - we get a nice mix here too.


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