Later this week, Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward return with more guest blogging, in part based on their book Writing the Other.
In the meantime, check out this essay by Shawl on “Appropriate Cultural Appropriation.
For some of us, the attractions of another’s culture can hardly be overrated. Within the context of speculative fiction’s reputation as “escapist” literature, getting away from one’s own traditions and background may seem like a good idea. Surely to find that much-prized “sensawunda” sought by genre afficionados, we must leave behind what British fantasist Lord Dunsany called “the fields we know?”
But what if the realms beyond these fields are populated? One person’s terra incognita is another’s home. What are we to make of the denizens of these exotic lands? And what will they make of us, tramping through their yam patches in search of the ineffable, and frightening their flocks with our exclamations over their chimeric beauty?
To collapse the metaphor, readers looking for something “different” in fantastic fiction, and authors who attempt to supply them with it, often turn to mythologies, religions, and philosophies outside the dominant Western paradigm. Then, not too surprisingly, people who practice these religions or espouse these philosophies or descend from those who constructed these mythologies object. Their culture, they complain, is being misrepresented, defaced, devalued, messed with. Stolen. Often, said culture is the only resource remaining after colonialization has removed all precious metals from the ground, or the ground from under its former inhabitants feet, or, as in the case of the African slave trade, when it has assumed ownership of those feet themselves.