There's an interesting discussion on this very subject, from a couple of months ago, at the Angry Black Woman's blog
. Some quotes I quite liked:something from another culture that you’re using with no knowledge or understanding or care for its initial significanceCultural appropriation: when a member of a group in authority uses that authority to tell or use stories, icons, myths, art, etc. that belong to a group which does not have the power or authority to tell its own stories etc.; especially in inaccurate, insulting or self-serving ways, and especially without giving attribution or context.The appropriation is the way in which anything, no matter how holy, no matter how serious, can be revisioned, reused, remolded for entertainment. It’s the way in which white people can suddenly become martial arts masters or claim lineages of spiritual teachings, even though no one from the place of origin can verify it.CULTURAL APPROPRIATION: Herein lies the rub. Appropriation implies taking for oneself, to seize possession (or “adopt”) without consent or consideration in a way that detracts from the source culture’s ability to access or enjoy that which you have taken. It is stealing. It is inherently negative. Unlike cultural adoption or depiction, there is no good kind of cultural appropriation.
And another post here
, with some more discussion.
There's also this con write-up
, which is a couple of years old now, from a Wiscon panel. oyceter
's discussion of this ended up turning into a big conversation across swathes of LJ - nowhere near the scale of the GCADOD '09, but it was a precursor, and led to IBARW and a lot of the more recent conversations. It's a really smart post.
"Writing PoC badly" and "appropriating someone's culture" are two separate things, I think. They definitely overlap, but there are equally plenty of things which fall into one category and not the other. Frex: if you write a modern-day character of colour who acts exactly like a white person, who seems to have no awareness of racism or cultures other than the mainstream "white" one, I suspect that's gonna be bad writing. And if you write a story where an entirely white cast of characters suddenly starts using "Hindu magic", that's appropriation, right? But in the first instance you're not appropriating, and in the second you're not writing PoC.
I think The Free Slave makes a good point when he(?) argues that we should mostly think about what effect our choices have on other people. Not so much "am I being racist if I only watch anime?" but "how do actual Japanese people feel about me watching anime?". Mostly I think what matters is being aware of the context
of whatever you're doing. But this isn't a straightforward thing where you can be obviously "right" or "wrong"; different people feel differently about the same thing. I remember in the original CA debate that started with oyceter
's post a number of people mentioning Paul Simon's use of African musicians and musical ideas on his Graceland
album; some people felt that was appropriation, some people didn't. There's no real consensus.