1. What is the main point Shriver makes about cultural appropriation?
The overall point that Shriver makes is that cultural appropriation is not actually such a negative thing – it is instead about understanding different cultures. Nowadays everybody is hyperaware of representation (especially of minorities or groups prosecuted in the past) and it creates an environment where people must strictly adhere to the arbitrary categories they were placed in at birth. Shriver argues that we should be trying to push these boundaries by exploring new cultures – and that it’s ridiculous where we are right now.
2. What evidence does she use to substantiate her claims?
Shriver refers to many examples of extreme reactions to ‘cultural appropriation’, such as when a tequila-themed birthday party handed out sombreros and there was an uproar for the Mexican students who felt ‘unsafe’. Shriver also mentioned her own book The Mendibles, which featured a disabled African-American woman – and was slammed for her portrayal of this woman as well as a mostly white straight image of America. She defended herself explaining that it was about a high-income white family. Another example is Chris Cleave, who dared to write from the point of view of a 14-year-old Nigerian girl, though he is male, white, and British.
3. How does she view the role of the writer (in relation to this debate)?
She spoke about how it is the writer’s duty to step into a role which is different from her own – to explore different perspectives and get into strangers’ heads.
4. Are there aspects of her argument with which you agree or disagree?
I am inclined to agree with most of Shriver’s comments. I agree that participating in another culture is not ‘identity theft’ and we should celebrate the fact that we can try new things and put ourselves in others’ shoes. I think she also raised a good point that whenever its fiction people expect it to be written by someone in the situation – but we sure hope every crime writer has murdered people. If we write about certain groups, we have to make them lovely characters for fear of discrimination or stereotyping. However, one thing I disagree with is Shriver’s note on tv shows with mandatory gay characters. I think having some representation is important even if its slightly inaccurate so people can see themselves reflected in the media and in books etc. I believe Shriver was even arguing that some representation is better than none at the end – and I thought that couple of lines about mandatory gay characters was a bit inconsistent.