Open Discussion – What is Appropriation?

Happy Saturday, folks! Hope you’re weekend is off to a great start.

For today’s open discussion topic, I wanted to discuss the subject of appropriation. You see the phrase tossed around a lot in the book world, especially when it comes to writing poc (people of color).

In case you’re not familiar with the term, it basically means taking something and using it for your own gain. There are some people in the Black community who feel that white R&B singers have appropriated the R&B culture and used it for their own gain. That also goes for non-minorities wearing cornrows (braid style), dreadlocks, singing Blues and other music attributed to the Black community.

(As I am Black, I’m not sure if other minority groups feel the same way. If so, please chime in.)

Anyway, I want to ask the question, when do you decide that a non-minority writer is appropriating poc’s culture for their gain in hopes to achieve literary success? What makes a story written by a Caucasian labeled appropriated material versus admiring them for adding diversity?

I can’t wait to hear (read) your thoughts on the subject!


Discussion written by Toni Shiloh

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7 thoughts on “Open Discussion – What is Appropriation?

  1. Ooh, good question. I would say that it’s one thing if you’re writing about that culture because it’s your heart and another if you’re doing it because everyone else is doing it and you wanna make money off it. I think it’s all about the heart of the situation. Like Barbara Kingsolver has written some beautiful diverse characters into her books, but I didn’t the vibe that she did it for the money but because it was part of the book. I guess that’s another thing, like if it feels like it fits. With someone doing it for the wrong reasons it will probably stick out, because it won’t feel natural or authentic.

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  2. This topic sparked a few discussions on FB recently! Since I’m from the ‘majority’ culture, I can only assume how painful it must be to have aspects of culture stolen for monetary gain or sensationalism. And it doesn’t just happen in books. Here’s a non-literary example of appropriating culture: a few years ago, a fashion show featured several white models with a ‘moko’ or Maori facial tattoo. These tattoos have certain patterns which tell of a person’s ancestry and social status. However, the patterns of the ‘mokos’ on the models made no sense (according to authoritative sources) but were drawn on because they looked cool and edgy. In this case, the organizers of the fashion show didn’t have the right heart. They had no intention of honoring a cultural tradition (or they would’ve researched it more! And then maybe decided not to do it!)

    All that to say: I’d love to see more diversity in fiction–please not only blonde haired, blue eyed heroines!–but I’m not sure of the way forward from here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing the Maori example. I’ve heard of the tattoos. It’s a shame that people don’t care about the background and heart of the culture. I think that’s what makes the big difference. You can see the care and attention to detail when someone is truly trying to share the culture and history behind the story and not just use it as a fad or to achieve fame.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve hesitated to put POC in my stories because of concern I’ll write something unintentionally insulting. After a lot of worry and frustration I decided to just take my lumps if I mess up and write them anyway. My black, Native American, Hispanic, and Asian friends are precious to me, and I want people like them in my stories. I figure they love me enough to tell me when I’ve stepped in it and help me do better. Thank you for bringing this up and giving people like me grace!

    Like

    1. If we want to change perception of poc and want to bring more diversity to our reading, then we have to unify to do so. Massive change and impact has always happened when unity came first. Praying God gives you the words and wisdom when writing!

      Liked by 1 person

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