Random Ramblings, Writing, Writing Prompts

Diversity in Fiction: Am I Commiting Cultural Appropriation?

Pedigree

noun
  1.  an ancestral line; line of descent; lineage; ancestry.
  2.  a genealogical table, chart, list, or record, especially of a purebred animal.
  3.  distinguished, excellent, or pure ancestry.
  4.  derivation, origin, or history:

*This post was inspired by The Daily Post: Pedigree

Adrift Updated 2

I have played at writing a novel for YEARS. During that time, I’ve written several short stories. I wrote an article for Goth Times—although I don’t identify as Goth. (I’m rubbish with eyeliner! LOL) But writing a novel is different. It takes patience and planning. (I’m rubbish with both of those, too!) And…it takes courage, especially if you’re writing outside your comfort zone.

I’ve been plugging away at my book, this time using The Snowflake Method. The great part about using this method is the PLANNING. I thought I knew my characters, but the more I worked on my lessons, the more my characters evolved into their own people. I am shocked how this happens, how ideas that came out of my brain, are written BY me, are NOT me. My first attempts at writing resulted in a “Mary Sue,” although my dialog wasn’t quite this bad, but almost!

Anyway, if things are going better, my lessons are being completed, my book is coming along…then why am I faced with a NEW set of fears? Because my cast of characters are much more diverse than they were in the previous incarnations and I’m afraid I won’t have the writing skills to tell their stories in the way they deserve. I’m afraid that MY own pedigree—67% Western European and 19% Ireland/Scottland/Wales—doesn’t lend itself well to writing a diverse cast from my own personal experience. I have a diverse group of friends, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m able to write what it’s like to be multiracial with any realism. And I WANT my book to be relatable to young adult readers.

I feel like there are PLENTY of Caucasian (white) female protagonists out there already, especially in young adult novels, and ESPECIALLY in paranormal fiction. Why is that? And if there is a character of any other background/ethnicity/etc—besides “white” European—they’re usually relegated to the “plucky sidekick.” (Sigh!) By the way, Writing with Color is a FANTASTIC site for ANY writer, especially if you’re writing characters with a different background than your own.

So, anyway I have two NEW fears:

  1. Getting the details correct
  2. Cultural Appropriation

I can do my homework, do my research, learn everything I can about the lives I want to write about, and ask a “Sensitivity Reader” to critique/edit my story when I get there…but is this even my story to tell? I mean, it would certainly be easier to stay in my own lane and have an all-white cast, but that doesn’t feel right. The “plucky sidekick” role feels genuinely insulting. I don’t want to write a trope: “the ambiguously brown” character. (UGH!) I don’t want to write a stereotype. I don’t want to insult anyone, but of course, no matter WHAT I do, there’s a chance someone will be offended. That’s just the truth!

I suppose the reasons behind my creation of a multiracial character are important, besides the “obvious.” Last year, my husband, kiddo, and I had our DNA tested through Ancestry.com and it was rather eyeopening. Since we’re Americans, we assumed we were multiracial even if our skin color (all three of us) was “white.” And honestly, the stories we were told didn’t necessarily match our DNA. When you don’t know where your people come from, there’s this…feeling. It’s like there’s something missing. You look at the people around you and wonder, “Are these my people? How about those people?” You don’t know. And then, in our case, you find out the truth…and it’s even MORE confusing. My kiddo can trace his DNA to SEVEN different regions. Sooo…what does that mean? He has over 1000 matches, 4th cousins and closer. His family…covers a BIG chunk of the globe. Which is awesome! But he doesn’t have ONE region of the globe where he can say, “Ah ha! This is where I come from. These are my people.” It’s more like:

Yeah…my people are from…Earth. Yeah…the planet Earth. Cool!

I feel like this is the norm, at least here in The United States. Maybe we’ve been taught one thing, but our DNA tells a far more diverse story. I’d like my main character to reflect this in a believable way, with all the confusing thoughts and feelings that go along with this. Plus, it REALLY bothers me when people make assumptions. Someone has curly hair? Strangers will ask, out of nowhere, “What are you? Where are you from? Are you Black, Greek, Jewish, Irish, Italian, Latino, Middle Eastern, or Other? No??? Are you sure?” Yeah…it’s kind of obnoxious, and if you say they look “exotic,” that’s even worse. Please, don’t do that! Like…ever. Just don’t.  😉

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you!

xo Juli

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5 thoughts on “Diversity in Fiction: Am I Commiting Cultural Appropriation?”

  1. Hi Juli! I popped over to your blog after you hit like on my post about cultural appropriation.

    It’s interesting to think about, whether or not cultural appropriation can be applied to literature. Personally I feel that cultural appropriation might imply if let’s see you were always, as a white person, writing novels that say took place in all black communities or something, and making your money telling stories that are not your own. At the same time, as you wrote above, the characters you invent are by you, but not you. Of course as an author you want your characters to always be authentic, while at the same time they are filling a role that is integral to the story you are trying to tell. Thus there is always going to be some lack of reality there based on your own interpretation. In this way no character you create is completely real regardless of your race. You might be white, and another person might be white, but to what degree can you really tell their story either?

    It’s clear as a writer you care about research and sensitivity, and this means that you have respect for the cultures your characters belong to. Hell you even read my random blog post! I think this is where cultural appropriation becomes troublesome – when you are reductive to a culture, stereotyping it, turning it into a caricature. But if you are trying to make this person as human as possible, I don’t see how it could offend. And if it does, I would say that person is missing the bigger picture. Which is that we should be encouraging people to learn about other cultures and the stories people in that culture have to tell. And that if the author in good earnestness is trying to bring diverse stories to readers that has value.

    But I understand your concern and wish you the best of luck. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your detailed feedback! I really hope I can do these characters justice. I live in Michigan, an incredibly diverse area. I have real-world friends who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic, and Atheist. Their ethnic heritage is from…almost every continent. Heck. I have a buddy who used to live in Antartica!!! (Job-related stuff.) So…yeah, I want to be super-sensitive with diversity. I actually feel it would be a slap in the face (figuratively) if I ONLY had “white” characters. Or straight characters. That’s NOT the world I live in. The news is quite different when I watch a story about something that’s happened in the Middle East and one of my friends, originally from Iraq or Lebanon, chimes in with their two-cents. “Black Lives Matter” means something! I’ve seen my black friends treated differently than my “white-looking” friends. It makes me angry! At the same time, I don’t want to unintentional add the problem. If anything, I’d like to SHOW through my writing, what I’ve experienced firsthand. People of different backgrounds and ethnicities can and DO become friends all the time. Human beings are more alike than different. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Human beings are more alike than different.

        I very much agree with this statement. I feel like we live in a time where those with with unimaginable wealth and power are dividing us, but those divisions aren’t as big of barrier as they would lead us to believe. I hope that we can ignore the messages from media and politicians and spend more time seeing the humanity in each other. I grew up in Canada and so I also was surrounded by a great deal of multiculturism and being biracial myself it just doesn’t seem like even a difficult thing for people of all walks of life to get alone.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. It seems to me that this problem is a black hole for good intentions; as you say, someone will always be offended. It seems to me the only goal should be to create the characters the story demands, and do your very best job to make them fully living and breathing. If you do that, then the truth of your story will show through.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Black hole for good intentions…” I LOVE this LOL If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, at least I’ve already been there…Hell, Michigan that is! (Sigh!) Yes, we ACTUALLY have a town name Hell here in Michigan. It’s quite lovely, although smaller than you might expect!

      Thank you for this! (HUGS!!!)

      Liked by 1 person

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