David D. Levine (davidlevine) wrote,
David D. Levine

My only statement on the cultural appropriation imbroglio

ETA 2/11/09: Because the comments keep coming in, here's an attempt to restate what I was trying to say below, using words suggested by ktempest: "I'm upset by and troubled by the way this debate has been handled, because I keep seeing people engaging in ad hominem attacks instead of actual conversation." That's what I should have said instead of what I wrote below.

I am leaving the original wording below for reference purposes. However, what I was really trying to talk about was the way the debate has been conducted rather than about issues of race. Sadly, I only succeeded in adding fuel to the fire. Please accept my apologies for any offense given by the wording below.

There has been a major Internet kerfuffle going on in the last couple of weeks over the question of cultural appropriation and racism in SF and Fantasy. Many friends of mine on both sides of the debate (and, yes, there are clearly two sides to this debate, despite the complexity of the underlying topic) have been badly hurt. I have been sitting on my hands because it appears that there is no way to enter the slapfight without getting slapped, but I am tired unto death of the ongoing vitriol and character assassination, so I am going to make one statement. Comments are disabled, and I will not respond to comments elsewhere about this post.

This statement is addressed to those on the "anti-racist" side of the debate who have vehemently accused certain white writers and editors of racism or cultural insensitivity.

I have sometimes included characters of color, and of races and cultures other than my own, in my writing. I've been trying to do it more. I recognize that doing so is fraught with peril and I have done my best, through critique and research and asking questions, to get it right. I also recognize that sometimes I will get it wrong, and if I do so in a published work I will take my lumps and try to do better in the future.

However. Your reactions to the written works and Internet posts of my friends who are also trying to do the same have made me question even the attempt. The height and breadth of the heap of spleen that I have seen dumped upon my friends is more than just "lumps" -- it's something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. This slapfight, dogpile, shitstorm, whatever you want to call it, has been so severe that I am wondering if I should even try. I've seen those who try, in all good faith, have their heads torn off and thrown back at them, and when they react to this abuse as any normal person would, they are accused of being whiny and oversensitive.

I am working on a story right now where one of the two protagonists is black (the other is an alien). Her blackness is an important part of her character and helps to determine why she does what she does within the story. But lately I've been so worried about getting it wrong, and being vilified in public for it, that I'm considering abandoning the story. What if it gets published and then I see it torn apart in a panel at Wiscon? Will I get a little twinge of concern and angst every time I see one of my non-white writing friends at a convention, wondering whether she's angry at me because of that story? (Or this post?)

I may or may not continue work on this story. Haven't decided yet. Maybe I'll write something safer, something where all the characters are white, or aliens or cartoon characters or disembodied spirits, and I don't have to deal with issues of race and culture. I'll spend my writing time and energy on other issues instead.

This statement is addressed to those on the "anti-racist" side of the debate who have vehemently accused certain white writers and editors of racism or cultural insensitivity:

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