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Cultural appropriation a year after Shriver furore

  • 12 September 2017


A little over a year ago, Lionel Shriver delivered the opening address at the Brisbane Writers Festival, where she notoriously derided political correctness and defended the practice of cultural appropriation by white writers.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post responding to what she'd said. I wrote it while I was walking to the train station, while I was on the train, and while I was walking home from the train station. I was angry, but I somehow managed to temper my anger.

'The publishing industry is chock full of white men,' I noted, 'and advocating for their "right" to write from the perspective of someone in a marginalised position takes opportunities away from those with authentic experiences to share. In other words, the subaltern continue to be silenced, and still cannot speak.'

I didn't expect anyone to read my post, but they did. My friends Yassmin and Suki also wrote about it, and got far more negative attention for their words. Their pieces, and Shriver's responses (as well as the responses of those who were defending her) sparked a worldwide conversation about whether or not cultural appropriation was acceptable, and a slew of internet comments claiming we were trying to censor other artists.

To be clear, we weren't trying to censor artists at all. We didn't say writers couldn't exercise their imaginations and write whatever characters they want.

We were (and are) saying that if writers want to include characters of a different race, they should do so with respect; that they be willing to accept criticism if they haven't done their research, or if what they've written is wrong or offensive; and that if someone of that race or community tells them they shouldn't be writing that story, they take that advice onboard.

And now, a little over a year later, I am back. I have been part of the Brisbane Writers Festival in many capacities over the years — as a patron, a volunteer, an intern — and at this year's festival, which ran 6-10 September, I was lucky enough to be a festival artist, to contribute (even if it was in a minor way) to the conversations that were being had at and around the festival.

This year's festival didn't attract any real controversy, but the memory of last year's opening address still lingered. Little jabs and references were made to That Shriver Incident in some of the panels