Cultural separatism and fandom

Arisia and Boskone both released their schedules recently, and I noticed a disturbing item on each of them. Arisia has this:

We all know bullying is wrong, but what about other behavior that might fall under the radar? This includes things like fannish gatekeeping, and tagging your hate and cultural appropriation under the guise of fandom.

On Boskone’s schedule we see this:

Writing diverse characters necessarily requires writing people who are not like you. When these characters come from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented or targets of discrimination, it is necessary to approach this task with care — but the need to be careful sometimes scares off well-intentioned authors. What techniques can be used to understand and communicate their perspectives? Where is the line between writing inclusively and co-opting a story that is not yours to tell?

“Cultural appropriation,” according to Wikipedia, is “the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group.” It’s something which has happened ever since cultures have met. Stories from The Arabian Nights found their way to Grimm, and “Cinderella” is said to have descended from a medieval Chinese story. Cultural appropriation is a wonderful thing, creating ties and understanding between cultures. For some people, though, it threatens the purity of their culture.

Musicians like Benny Goodman and Elvis Presley used stylistic elements that came from black American culture. In doing so they paid tribute to it and made mainstream music more exciting. This outraged some people. Bono (whom I still despise for dumping his trash on my iPod, but never mind) put Elvis’s contribution this way:

I recently met with Coretta Scott King, John Lewis and some of the other leaders of the American civil rights movement, and they reminded me of the cultural apartheid rock & roll was up against. I think the hill they climbed would have been much steeper were it not for the racial inroads black music was making on white pop culture. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival were all introduced to the blues through Elvis. He was already doing what the civil rights movement was demanding: breaking down barriers.

Today, some people want to bring “cultural apartheid” back. They presumably want mainstream American music to be purely European, and I chuckle to imagine their sputtering rage when they encounter filk music, which gleefully grabs songs from everywhere. It’s not surprising that people want to build walls against people who are different, but what is this trend doing in fandom, which is supposed to be about welcoming differences?

Update: It gets worse. An Arisia 2015 panel description on “Writing and Racial Identity” reads: “What does your race have to do with what you write? Depending on your race, are certain topics forbidden to you? Obligatory? None of the above? If your race matters, how do you know what it is? By what people see when they look at you, or by what you know of your genetic background? By your cultural upbringing? By what you write?” Seriously. A science fiction convention is opening the question of whether some topics should be forbidden to writers of some races. On Martin Luther King Day, no less.

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One Response to “Cultural separatism and fandom”

  1. Eyal Mozes Says:

    Every time I think nothing I see in fandom will shock me, something comes up to prove me wrong.

    The fact that there hasn’t been a huge cry of outrage about this panel is even worse than the existence of the panel itself.


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