Dieter Kurt Von Kraut-Angelou, Lederhosen Vendor, Slavery Expert
(or why Identity Politics is a Crock of Shit)
Over on theRPGsite, the re-posting of an old blog entry about the "Racefail" incident has led to some very interesting discussion about how race affects one's qualifications to portray cultures, in not one but two threads.
On the first, John Kim has created a nice little strawman where he was talking about the influence of race and claiming that I would protest that race has no influence at all on one's ability to write. Of course, that's not my position, certainly a personal element due to race and the personal experiences of family or culture can be important.
As I said there; I would agree that race is certainly a factor in our experiences and in how we write. I just protest the notions that:
a) If a white guy writes a novel/game setting/etc about absolutely anything other than possibly Europe, regardless of how much he studies or researches the setting, he is DOOMED to be racist in his portrayal.
b) that if you have two guys born in Delaware, raised there entirely, one of whom happens to be Korean in ancestry but speaks no Korean, has never been to Korea, was not taught anything about Korea by his also-non-Korean-speaking parents, has never eaten kim chi, doesn't even know how to use chopsticks, and can't name any Korean city other than Seoul; and the other of which happens to have no Korean ancestry but has received a PhD in Korean history, spent a few years visiting Korea, speaks some Korean, loves Kim Chi, can use chopsticks, watched all of the Immortal Yi-Soon-Shih, etc.; the guy who happens to have Korean blood is STILL somehow more qualified to write about Korea than the guy with the PhD, the latter of whom Can't Possibly Understand because there's No Way his lack of the Sacred Korean Blood can permit him to comprehend the Inscrutable Other, and he'd be a racist to claim to try (though other PC-asswipes would simultaneously claim that he'd be a racist if he does not include a token Korean in any work). Whereas the former will be able to "grok" the whole question of Korean-ness because he Uses the Force and if he really tries very very hard clicking his heels three times and wishing to the magic deer, the super-awesome powers of his Korea-blood will ACTIVATE and he'll be granted the magic power of being able to say any old nonsense while being immune to criticism because HE AM BECOME KOREA-MAN!!!1!!, never mind that he doesn't actually know fuck all.
Meanwhile, over on the other thread, Jibbajabba tried to create a distinction between academic work and story or setting work, where he said "Do I think you could write a convincing narrative from the perspective of a freed slave in 1860s America that would rival Maya Angelou? No."
My response was that, not to shit on Maya Angelou, but what exactly makes her more qualified here? The fact that some great-great-grandfather, who she never met, was a slave?
And if the answer to that is yes, does the same apply to Angelou's grandkids if THEY wrote a novel about a freed slave? What if Maya Angelou has a great-grandson who is one-quarter black and grew up in Germany and works as a lederhosen salesman instead of an award-winning poet like his great-grandma? Would he still be better qualified than I, who have no black american ancestry but could find and study real narratives for years, and have a profound historical knowledge of the actual social and economic contexts of the times?
Because if you do think that "Dieter Kurt von Kraut-Angelou" is still more qualified, I would say that you're a fucking tool.
On the other hand if you think that he's not more qualified, then you must conclude that Angelou's race is not the central factor to her own qualifications, but her personal experiences combined with her talents and studies, meaning that anyone else, regardless of race, can also do the same.
Currently Smoking: Masonic Meerschaum + Image Virginia