Ixty Quintanilla at Everyday Feminism wrote a great piece about writing outside of your own identity or culture. She interviews WtO instructor K. Tempest Bradford as well as Ebonye Gussine Wilkins, each offering very similar takes on cultural appropriation and representation in fiction.
Even though we need more people from marginalized communities writing their own stories and getting those published, “people from dominant paradigms need to learn how to navigate this stuff, too,” says Bradford. “Because representative fiction should reflect how the world is and the many identities that make it up.”
Often, writers take on the “salad bar” approach. This means they find an “interesting” aspect of a culture, whether it be tattoos or a spiritual ceremony, and pluck it out of the entire community without any cultural context. This then creates a shallow, inaccurate, and insensitive representation of a community.
Ebonye Gussine Wilkins, CEO of Inclusive Media Solutions, writer, and sensitivity reader, calls this form of cultural appropriation in fiction “cherry picking.” By picking what they want to highlight and what they wish to neglect, she says, writers are being disrespectful in a lot of contexts.
“Someone might be taking part in something that is not from their identity,” continued Gussine Wilkins, “but they’re either doing it in a mocking way, not giving proper credit, or ignoring its historical background and once again cherry picking the so-called “cool” parts in order to seem like they are worldly.”
As a means of avoiding this approach to appropriation, Gussine Wilkins highly encourages “socially responsible media,” that is, “making sure you’re fact checking and getting the respectful engagement of people from the community you’re writing about.”
The article offers tips on how to get started writing inclusive fiction and is a great intro to the subject. Click here to read it in full.