“Mama, I can’t sit here,” I said, the corners of my mouth dragging downwards. “I cannot legitimise this …” Yassmin Abdel-Magied recalls telling her mother right before she walked out of Lionel Shriver as she gave her keynote address at the Brisbane writers festival.
Lionel Shriver, an unconventional writer best known for her novel, “We need to talk about Kevin” was meant to have a talk on “community and belonging” but instead deviated and spoke on another topic, which according to her had gotten all too interesting, “fiction and identity politics”.
“I hate to disappoint you folks, but unless we stretch the topic to breaking point this address will not be about “community and belonging.” She began.
“In fact, you have to hand it to this festival’s organisers: inviting a renowned iconoclast to speak about “community and belonging” is like expecting a great white shark to balance a beach ball on its nose.
“The topic I had submitted instead was “fiction and identity politics,” which may sound on its face equally dreary.
“But I’m afraid the bramble of thorny issues that cluster around “identity politics” has got all too interesting, particularly for people pursuing the occupation I share with many gathered in this hall: fiction writing. Taken to their logical conclusion, ideologies recently come into vogue challenge our right to write fiction at all. Meanwhile, the kind of fiction we are “allowed” to write is in danger of becoming so hedged, so circumscribed, so tippy-toe, that we’d indeed be better off not writing the anodyne drivel to begin with.”
Beyonce recently became the latest celebrity who was accused of cultural appropriation after her performance at the wedding of Isha Ambani, the daughter of India’s richest man. Pictures of her wearing a traditional red-and-gold Indian ensemble, with a gold headpiece and jewelry surfaced online, and the people of the online world raised their accusing fingers.
The people of the world preach togetherness, we are all advocates of peace and oneness. Several groups who try to bridge divisions have sprung up and are gaining momentum.
It is slowly getting to a point where it is beginning to seem like Trump would herald the end of the world, and the ‘human’ individuals are not having any of it.
Sometimes, I am tempted to think that the so much media publicity being given to Trump and his bizarre policies should be toned down. But hey, that is how everything in the world goes wrong. When people turn deaf ears to situations around them, wishing that when they do not give it so much attention, it would just go away. Some things in life do not just go away.
So, while Trump is the visible crusher we see, I mean the man has brought down the government to the common man, right? We get to know about America’s policies on our timelines on Twitter. While we can see and feel Trump’s impact, Brexit seems to be intangible. It is a thing that will happen, but nobody seems to know what the impact would be on the European Union.
Trump’s bizarreness has a lifespan. He will be over soon. But Brexit?
And so most of the reasonable people of the world are kicking against it.
But, how can we advocate human coexistence and togetherness and at the same time scream Cultural Appropriation?
Is this not contradictory?
How can a fiction writer write without getting into the shoes of other people? How then is she a fiction writer?
Because I am black, African and Nigerian, I should write only about my own people? If we are to go by this narrative, someday, we would discover that writers would be constrained to writing their autobiographies only.
How boring would life be?
“do not write about characters who are poor when you have never experienced poverty”. Can you feel how silly that statement sounds? Exactly my point.
What was Shriver’s intent when she chose to discuss her distaste for the concept of cultural appropriation? Yassmin Abdel-Magied noted that “Humility is not Shriver’s cloak of choice”. Oh, you should have started with that. Would probably have saved me the pain of going through your rants. You do not like the woman’s arrogance! Now I get it.
As long as you do not try to disrespect the other’s culture, or try to make a caricature of their ancestry, I feel people should be allowed to identify with whomever and whatever culture they wish.
Beyonce should not pose in an Indian-inspired dress because she is not Indian.
Lionel Shriver should not write about fat people because she is not fat.
Andrea Levy should not be allowed to write about Americans.
Chimamanda Adichie should not make the idea of men leaving their wives for their childhood sweethearts sound ‘cool’ because she can’t relate with what it feels like to be left for another woman.
What is all this silly chaos about?
The world needs some level of rules, checks, and balances. But everything at its worst is bad.
And I think the path the current discourse on cultural appropriateness is towing is disastrous.
A Dutch filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh had his throat slit and his body ripped apart with several gun bullets because he made a film about Islam and how they treated their wives.
Oversensitivity. Stop it already.