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There was apparently an episode of some stripe of fail at Eastercon. Discussion of this is all over the net, and, of course, all over LJ. You may be reading this because you've followed a link from a discussion back here. I won't identify it here, although some Googling around could probably find it; feel free.

One of these discussions mentioned the charges of cultural appropriation that are being levelled at people like Paolo Bacigalupi and Ian McDonald. I commented, bsaically saying that I can see where they're coming from in Bacigalupi's case, but what was up with McDonald? And that I'd previously seen mentions of how, in River of Gods he'd handled Indian culture as it might be in 30 years time pretty well, without (much) exoticisation or appropriation. I also pointed out that as someone from Belfast, he probably knows a bit about the effects of colonisation.

The owner of the journal replied, pointing me at a review (which was more screed than thought, and which called River of Gods both bland AND culturally appropriating), and said, in essence, that the Irish experience of colonisation didn't give any understanding of the Indian experience. Also said that the book didn't match their experience of India.

I replied, pointing out that India is a big place, and that one person's understanding of India might well be totally different to another. I noted that The God of Small Things didn't feel particularly "Indian" to me, but that being written by an Indian author and set in India, that clearly had no validity. I wasn't even in the same part of India when I was there. I also said that I reckoned that McDonald's background in a country colonised by the same power as India, it probably gave him a few tools toward better understanding, even if it in no way prevented a failure. In conclusion, I reckoned, I'd go find some Indian writers reviewing or writing about McDonald, and see what they thought.

The reply to that was interesting, and I don't think I can do better than quote.

"Oh no you did NOT just say an Indian writer's depiction of India is not "Indian" enough for you. You ignorant, dim-witted little mollusc.

You are not Indian. You are not the arbiter of "Indian"-ness. Shut the fuck up.

The rest of your comment is just 101 derailing and foolishness, so that's all I can be fucked replying to."


I replied calmly, identifying myself but posting anonymously so that it would be screened, pointing out that that's largely the opposite of what I had said, and that I would check my privilege, position of pants, and generally work out whether I'm being an ass. I also noted that talking about different experiences and degrees of experience of colonialism in a discussion about colonialism hardly seems like derailing, although I'd check that too. And further, that I wouldn't post further there unless explicitly asked to do so, since I've no interest in invading someone else's space.

That comment was allowed through, and there was even a calmer reply, but there was no request for me to keep talking, so I'm staying clear. There were also two more useful replies from someone else in the same thread, which I appreciate.

However, there are two points I want to make about that exchange, as much to get them out of my own head as anything else.

One, the journal owner is not, as you would imagine from the above, Indian. They are, in their own words, a "white Brit". So a white Brit is telling an Irishman that his point about British colonialism in Northern Ireland holds no validity with regard to experiences of British colonialism in India? Seriously?

Two, I'm sure this person thinks of themselves as an ally. Allies do not have the right to become angry over things like this. The colonised peoples do. Indians do. I, to a much lesser degree, as someone whose entire life has been affected by British colonialism in Ireland, but who came out of it pretty ok, do, a bit. You, journal owner, don't. That's not your anger. Put it the fuck down, and let the colonised people use it.

An ally's job is to be rational, to explain to clueless people who don't get it. It is not to insult and belittle someone who is down the privilege ladder in terms of minorities and colonialism, particularly when misreading the text. By all means explain to me, that is what I am looking for, and why I am asking - having already taken a good look around on my own resources. But insulting and belittling me from that position is not on. You're not helping ANYONE that way.

There, done. I'll do my own research on McDonald, and see what that says. But it won't be thanks to the journal owner.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
chelseagirl
Apr. 11th, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
FWIW, when I was in grad school, one of my professors, who is a major scholar in the postcolonial field and is Indian, was working with a student on a postcolonial project on Irish writers.
gothwalk
Apr. 11th, 2012 09:47 pm (UTC)
Awesome. It's one of many fields within literature that interest me at the moment - I'm still largely at the OMG-so-many-cool-things stage of humanities.

One of the bizarre things about the British attitude to Ireland is that many British people are not really aware that the Republic is a different country. I've spoken to English people who have moved here who assumed that they would still have access to the NHS, for instance. It makes a discussion of post-colonial attitudes difficult when they don't recognise the post bit... :)
mollydot
Apr. 12th, 2012 02:20 am (UTC)
They've moved country without realising they've moved country? What!?
I have previously wondered how people could be so stupid that they didn't know whether or not Dublin was in their own country or not, but this is even worse.
ailbhe
Apr. 12th, 2012 10:43 am (UTC)
It's more that they can't really imagine not having an NHS.

They're gonna find out soon enough though.
mollydot
Apr. 12th, 2012 05:00 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately :-(
dangerdean
Apr. 12th, 2012 12:37 am (UTC)
I think I may have seen that blog before...
I wonder about cultural appropriation as it applies to writing about a speculative future. Both River of Gods and The Windup Girl were set in specific countries, but in a very speculative global future. It's not like you're stealing a culture's stories when you're creating the framework. Or is it? I don't pretend to know. I'm not Indian or Thai. Canada is post-colonial, but not in such a way that I can claim to have any understanding of that.

Also, The God of Small Things is very much a South Indian novel. If you go back to India I highly recommend spending some time in that part of Kerala.
valkyriekaren
Apr. 12th, 2012 11:50 am (UTC)
I found the depiction of the windup girl herself more problematic than the setting - something about the supercharged stereotype of a sexually submissive, beautiful, exploited Japanese woman just didn't sit right with me. Yes, fine, she turns out to be kickass in the end and 'breaks her programming' but it left a bad taste in my mouth.
gothwalk
Apr. 12th, 2012 12:46 pm (UTC)
I think there's been a spread in the use of the term "culturial appropriation" from "stealing other cultures' stories" to "depicting other cultures".
ulaire_daidoji
Apr. 14th, 2012 03:14 pm (UTC)
Never wrestle with a pig because you'll just get filthy and the pig will enjoy it.
cissa
Apr. 20th, 2012 04:36 am (UTC)
Heh. True, that.

I've given up on several supposed discussions because- if I tried to broaden the discussion (as seems appropriate to me if it in in fact a discussion)- I got accused of "derailing". Apparently in many contexts, what is NOT derailing is defined as saying something like "Oh, Original Author! How smart you are!"; saying "OK, good point, but what about X?" is defined as derailing.

And OK, sometimes it might be derailing- but sometimes it's just looking for a good discussion of a complex topic.

I think there's a difference. And honestly, I have lost considerable respect for Original Authors who don't seem to see that.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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