Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM 2009: Update

A few people (Liz Henry, I know, but also others independently) observed that this is more like Round III than Round II of the Cultural Appropriation Debate, if not actually Round 300. So I'm re-titling this Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM 2009 to avoid sticky numbering issues. There have been many, many updates and participants; once again I am indebted to Rydra Wong for her comprehensive link dumps. This is simply a selection of the posts I found most relevant, thought-provoking, or moving.

I am grateful to the women of color who gave me permission to link to their posts, despite previous bad experiences with influxes of hostile commenters, and I hope that anyone going through these links will consider their words carefully when commenting.

Avalon's Willow has posted several updates on the (disappointing and infuriating) responses to her Open Letter to Elizabeth Bear:

Sparkymonster sums up the exchanges in a question posed in Bear's blog:

I have some questions for you. Why haven't you actually called out any of your defenders who were being racist? You name checked nojojojo in the context of her post, and kenscholes as someone who can handle direct criticism. Why not say "hey, medievalist it was awkward how racist you've been in defending me from a criticism I agreed with" or "Hey truepenny and coffeem it sucked how you didn't notice the racism that was happening while discussing reading texts closely." Or how about cdguyhall began comments on this post of yours by saying racist things, and went pretty much unchecked despite you ending that post by saing "And make damned sure you are being both polite and respectful of others when you do. Or I will close comments."

Or your lack of response to the next comment by rolanni which says "So, all storytellers should shut up because they can never tell everyone's story for them, correctly and exactly as that person would tell it, if they could? And we shouldn't even try, because we'll only Get It Wrong?

*is depressed*

Going back to bed, now. I shouldn't read LJ when I'm sick."

By not freezing those threads, or clearly saying "cut it out", you are implicitly telling people reading the post that you think those are acceptable types of arguments to make. And that people making them are somehow being polite and respectful.

Basically, you set off a bomb which resulted in a lot of PoC being hurt and wounded. I understand you may not have realized you were setting off a bomb, but after it happened I didn't see you doing much to protect or help PoC that were injured by the shrapnel.

Yes when I burrow into comment threads I can see you having discussions and going "oops I didn't realize my privilege goggles were still on" but at that point there has already been a ton of people saying and doing hurtful things who believed they were helpful, and doing things you were OK with.

What I'm seeing a lot of in comments to this post are white people praising your insight and strength in apologizing. What about the strength of PoC who have been engaging in this discussion while having their intelligence insulted and their humanity belittled? What about the time and energy PoC and white allies have put into this discussion only to receive complaints that things weren't phrased nicely enough? What about mentioning that this imbroglio has resulted in the comments and posts by PoC being referred to as "Orcing" (apparently a racist step above trolling). Orcing, as in a reference to dark skinned, mindless savages who live to destroy things. Nothing racist there. Nope.

Apologizing for making a mistake is good. Acknowledging the fullness of what happened is better.

Delux Vivens dissects the idea that

Text is always an innocuous beam of pure starlight which personal experience *never* has any sort of bearing on; it merely enters through your ajna chakra and slips down slowly into your throat, from which elegant and suitably academic explications de texte flow like the finest lavender honey made by lissome elven beekeepers.

Oyceter explains why IBARW will not be participating in the Diversity 2009 project proposed by participants in the debate.

And several women explore the implications of decolonizing the mind:


It hasn't been uncommon for people who meet me on the Internet to tell me that they thought I was British.... I don't find this especially pleasing, but there is a kind of satisfaction in it, and it's the satisfaction of having pulled something off. That 'something' being -- talking right, writing right. IRL it is impossible for me to pass as white; I look pretty definitively East Asian and my accent is obviously Malaysian (though more on that later), but in writing ... I'm not saying that anyone who writes in grammatical English of a certain flavour will sound white, but there are Englishes and there are Englishes, and I've become aware that the English I adopt in writing is basically the equivalent of the Queen's.

Deepa D.:
I do not want to be blind to race.

I want to see the glossy dark brown skin of the new President of the United States, as his beautiful smile dazzles the world.
I want to see the epicanthic folds that crease as Lucy Lui laughs.
I want to see the nose that Jon Stewart points to as he calls himself Jewy McJewson.
I want to see the blue eyes in a a close up of Cameron Diaz.

Oh, I do want to see race. Dreadlocks and thin straight hair and thick springy hair and silky straight hair and wavy hair, and nappy hair and oily hair and black and brown and reddish-golden and white and gray hair. Hirsute and hairless chests, brown and pink nipples. Noses straight and curved and tilted and flattened and lips broad and narrow and everything in between.


I don't remember the first time that I was walking down the street and someone yelled at me to go home, but I remember not understanding. At first because I usually was going home, and then because I didn't see how they couldn't understand how much I wanted to. I do remember my mother holding my hand and pulling me after her, crossing the street, keeping her head down and moving faster while people shouted abuse after us. Safety is an illusion. I may not wake up to the sounds of gunshots anymore, but there is always someone willing to remind me that I'm not safe, that being who I am makes me unwelcome. A man shouting a racial epithet at me as he walks by. A woman pulling at my headscarf. A drunk man stopping from walking by him while his friends stand by and laugh. You soon learn that no matter how crowded the street is, no one will help you if someone decides to become violent.

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