Cultural Appropriation


“It doesn’t matter where we come from, or even what we look like. The only thing that matters is who we are now….”

Those words accompany the “Author’s Notes” Charles de Lint wrote for Mulengro. They came back to mind, the other day, while a friend and I discussed cultural appropriation and storytelling.

I was extremely excited about sharing my latest addition to Thorn in Red. “I don’t know how it happened,” I said. “And who cares? I’m just enjoying myself as I spice up my story cauldron with Caribbean myths, ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and perhaps more. I haven’t decided yet.”

My friend chuckled.

“What?” I said.

“It seems weird to me,” he said. “Your culture is so rich that you could focus on it without ever running out of ideas. Why not add volume to the voice of Dominican writers, instead of fattening and fattening the literary print of the European monster?”

I wasn’t sure why—not then—but his comment made me a little sad… Having thought about that conversation for a while, I finally found the source of the discomfort (disappointment might be more accurate): I’m troubled by the idea of an artist who expects me to live in the box he has crafted for himself. How egotistic and limiting is that?

“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person…” before I read Alice in Wonderland.
“Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge…” and I’ve learned all kinds of things traveling towards The Wizard of Oz. 
I grimaced when I read “Little Red Riding Hood,” and noticed that the wolf saw the girl as nothing more than “a nice plump mouthful.” But I’ve read so many books since… experienced many things… I’ve lived… So now, I read the same words and grin; for I can picture the big bad wolf choking on a mouthful of hammer ;-)
Yep, “The only thing that matters is who we are now….”

I’ll leave you with more words from Charles de Lint: “My mother’s Dutch, my father was born in Sumatra of a mix of Dutch, Spanish and Japanese blood. Does this mean that my literary palette can only be composed of characters with that same genetic background? By such logic, I couldn’t even have completely white characters in my writing, little say women, blacks, Native Americans… or Gypsies.”

What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation? Feel free to deviate from storytelling, and share the things that matter to youI wouldn’t mind it one bit, if you kept spiritual eclecticism in mind…


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26 comments:

  1. Cultural appropriation - reminds me of children fighting over which toys are whose.

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    1. I see the scratching and shrieking...

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  2. I think some people take cultural appropriation too far seeming to claim for themselves, and profit by it, something that they never really lived. But those whose own heritage or cultural upbringing doesn't speak to them and they come to other traditions through a mental and emotional response, then I don't see how that can be objectionable. But I'm not sure how that relates to you adding little red riding hood to your story.

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    1. He pointed out that we have fables that transmit the same lessons, so I would do better by our "heritage" if I chose those.

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  3. Great art, literature and music transcend their individual cultures and are universal, for all humans to enjoy. Can or should only Germans listen to Bach? I rest my case.

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  4. So - you are to be responsible for the upkeep of Dominican literary culture..? Good to know. Then if I ever write something bigger than a short story, I will keep in mind that my only influences can be Nordic Gods, gnomes and socialism.

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    1. Now that you understand what your limits are, go write about Thor LOL

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  5. I once visited a forum where one lady was very quick to hop on people for cultural appropriation. She was a right cheeky cow about it, too. Then one day she posted that she was branching off in her practice and was going to focus on more native American spirituality. Upon being asked if she were actually native American, she got pretty defensive and stood up for her right to practice whatever spirituality she saw fit. That was the last time I ever went back to that forum. It seems that the people who cry the loudest about it are usually some of the most guilty of it. I just don't see the importance of disallowing someone to consume your cultural assets.

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    1. People have a great ability to run their mouths about topics that don't quite affect them. And then when things ooze into their backyards, then they show their true colors...

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  6. I think it's fine, mostly. You find variations of the same characters and stories across cultures anyway. Learning about other cultures can only broaden and deepen your understanding.

    But I may just feel that way because I'm an American mutt and I don't really have a culture.

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    1. I think many, many, many of us have bits from everywhere, don't we? No wondering we are so delicious ;-D

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  7. As a Brit, I know a lot of people think we have a solid "cultural base" historically. But if you look to how many times this land has been invaded and "settled", then abandoned(because of the weather lol) my "culture brew" would include Scandinavian/Italian/German/French/Spanish...and any number of trading travelling nations since the land dried out. Allegedly even Jesus came here in his youth, and I am now informed that "genetically" every one with blue eyes is descended from one woman living in Turkey in the ancient past????! I think I am pretty much covered historically for any cultural appropriation :D XXX

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    1. That's the reason Jesus has a British accent whenever I read the red bits in the Bible!

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  8. About the only time I fuss over 'cultural appropriation' is when a person, or group, takes wholesale another's cultural/spiritual practices without respecting the source. As for me, I consider myself more of a citizen of Earth, than of one little geographical location. I read & speak what I damn will please.

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    1. I'm with you. To take/borrow or whatever from a culture or anything without acknowledgment of the source is a bit nasty. No one likes a thief, but most of us welcome those wanting to add the general growth.

      I, too, am a citizen of the Earth. I used to have a Green Card to prove it ;-D

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  9. This is a very interesting and timely conversation. Had a similar one yesterday with an aquaintance who is so opinionated and unwavering.

    I find anyone who pigeon holes is restrictive. On the other side of it anyone who claims something for themselves and their people only is a separatist. THe ones who embrace creativity and allow the ones around them to do the same are the only ones I admire and hold to.

    Where I come from (I love that song), there are so many individuals trying their best to tell you what Southwestern style is. The Natives, who have been here the longest, the HIspanics who came and conquered the land, the Anglos who came through on their way to gold and stayed.....we have a blended culture but the claim on this desert spot as far as art is concerned is still being fought over by so many....claiming it is theirs. So silly. Art, creativity abounds and all who can do....everyone else just fusses and stagnates.
    Write, create, invent what is in your heart...not necesarily in your genes, jeans......jelly bean. Says the Olde broad, Oma Linda

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    1. Art limited to that which everyone expects isn't art at all. Says the Wickedest Witch Writer of Them All who totally adores her Olde broad ;-)

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  10. Enjoy and explore, art, music and literature of all kinds! It would be boring if we didn't !!

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    1. Can you imagine if your crows looked like everyone one else's? How boring, indeed...

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  11. I think magic happens when elements from near and far, old and new are blended to create something completely new but that still nods to its inspirational origins. Of course, as an eclectic human being, that's my response to nearly everything...mix it up! (Thinking of dark chocolate coated applewood smoked bacon with salty habanero caramel drizzle...mmmm)

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    1. I've never mixed chocolate and bacon, but you know what? Two things that yummy have to be fantastic together. "Mixt it up!" indeed!

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  12. In the end, we can only write who we are and what we dream. Doesn't matter where we're from.

    (Otherwise how could there ever be any work of fantasy? Horror, now that is a different matter...)

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    1. You mean all those people who write about Mars (or about galaxies no one has ever heard off) aren't from those places? What do you mean they haven't really been there! What kind of nonsense is that!?! *goes to verified that L.K. Hamilton has executed as many monsters as Anita Blake has*

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