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The War of the Genres and Why Fantasy Writing isn’t for Everyone! (I Feel Your Pain, George R.R. Martin)!

I love reading all kinds of genres. Whether it be poems, song lyrics, autobiographies, recipes, etc. I’m not a picky reader. In this post, I’ll discuss something few talk about.

The War of the Genres!

Publish America and the Hasty Generalization That Pissed Off the Science Fiction and Fantasy Community

Almost twenty years ago, a company called PublishAmerica asserted SF/F authors, “have no clue about what it is to write real-life stories, and how to find them a home,” are “not ashamed to be seen as literary parasites and plagiarists,” and believe that their preferred genres liberate them from such concepts as “believable storylines” or “believable every-day characters.”

not-sure-if-i-should-be-laughing-or-thems-fightin-words

Needless to say, this feud started by PublishAmerica’s needless criticisms of the science fiction and fantasy world didn’t end well for the company. Don’t they know this rule: when reputation is on the line NEVER, EVER go against a group of people that plays god for a living by weaving words into worlds.

Inconceivable_Princess Bride

A group of renowned authors got together and created a sting operation to show the world that PublishAmerica was indeed (at worst) a scam and (at best) a vanity press swindling naive writers out of their money while pretending to be a traditional publisher. They created an unpublishable and unreadable book called, “Atlanta Nights”. PublishAmerica being who PublishAmerica was or is (hey, is this company even around anymore?) published the book. You can read more about all of those juicy bits here.

On a personal note, I had almost fallen for the PublishAmerica scam. At that time, I may have been a teenager, but I sensed a disturbance in the force and stayed away. 🙂

I find it interesting that the way the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre has flowed in so many amazing directions that the hate would go away. Unfortunately, someone had posted this question on Quora: “What are the fatal flaws in writing fantasy?”

The responder, (whose name I won’t post) has his own opinions that for the most part I don’t agree with, but this gem . . . oh boy, this gem I found to be so untrue:

Fantasy for many writers is just a decoration. They don’t really need anything “fantastic” in their story, but they like it. It’s easier to write fantasy because it doesn’t really take that much research and you can explain a lot of things by how “this world is made”.

First of all, in order for fantasy writing to work, there needs to be the spirit of realism that not only breathes life into the author’s fantastically amazing world (setting), but also connects the reader so that the reader can then make connections. Second, fantasy does indeed take a heck of a lot of research. For instance, let’s say that your main character is a farm girl, and you, the darling author, know nothing about this profession. Well, you better start researching on agriculture. How are crops irrigated? What crops does your main character grow? You know, simple stuff like that to infuse realism into the story. Now, let’s say that your main character farm girl needs to travel for miles to reach the next plot point — how long will it take? How many hours are even in a day of this fantastical and fictitious world? Is she using a horse? Traveling by boat? How many miles? What, we don’t use miles in this world? Well, what are they even EQUIVALENT to?Oh Lord — bring forth the calculator!

We Need to Use . . . MATH

Here are some basic questions most fantasy writers know to ask themselves when planning their worlds:

GEOGRAPHY

  • Do you know the general layout of your world? Do you have some sort of loose map of it in your head? Where do different places lie in relation to others?
  • How does the location of different landmarks and countries influence their trade?
  • How does the climate and terrain differ in different regions of your world?
  • What are the weather patterns like? Are certain locations more vulnerable to certain elements of nature?
  • What plants grow in which areas? Do any of them have any special properties?
  • What wildlife is common in which areas?

NAMES

  • Are your names based upon certain cultures?
  • Do they translate to something?
  • Does the name fit the world and cultures you’ve built into it, or will it your reader find it jarring?

MILITARY

  • How are troops obtained? Through conscription or voluntary enlistment?
  • Who are the country’s allies? Why are they allied with them? Are the allies happy with the arrangement?
  • Is the country at war, or close to it? Why? With who?
  • What are the key military fighting techniques?
  • Are there any noteworthy weapons or transports?
  • What branch of the military excels? Do they have a particularly strong army, navy, etc.?
  • What about previous wars, alliances, and treaties? What prompted them? How did they influence interacting cultures, countries, and warfare?

EDUCATION

  • Is there any sort of public education, or is schooling reserved for the wealthy?
  • How about books? Do “peasants” and the middle-class have access to them, or are they solely in libraries– at schools and in wealthy estates?
  • Is it common to know how to read?
  • What are the basic tasks and facts people learn as children? Does it differ between genders? How about between social classes?
  • Are studies valued, or looked down upon culturally (generally speaking)?

GOVERNMENT

  • Is the government a monarchy? A democracy? A republic?
  • Who are some past noteworthy rulers or government officials? Who do the citizens remember now? And why are they remembered?
  • Is there an essential governing document (like the U.S.’s Constitution)?
  • Is it largely a patriarchal or matriarchal society? Or does it attempt equality?
  • What’s the currency?
  • How is incarceration determined? Is there any sort of court system?
  • What about capital punishment? Are people regularly executed– and what are the capital crimes? How about the method of execution?
  • What are the most important laws of the land? What laws are particularly unique to your world?

RELIGION

  • Related to the above topic of government, does religion have a place in the government or is there a separation between the two entities?
  • Are religious practices mandated by the state? Do those who don’t comply– or those who have a different belief system– face persecution?
  • What do people believe in this religion? What myths surround it?
  • Is the religion monotheistic? Polytheistic?
  • Are there holy texts? Scriptures?
  • What practices or services do worshippers attend? What’s entailed in them?
  • Who are the religious officials?
  • Are there particular holy days to note?

CULTURE

  • What denotes status in this world?
  • How does courting work?
  • What traditions are there surrounding life milestones (birthdays, weddings, births, deaths…)?
  • Are there particular superstitions?
  • What are the fashions like? The trends? What influences (modesty, climate, status) does it have?
  • What’s the architecture like?
  • What’s the food and drink like?
  • Are there any special festivals that people attend?
  • What are the typical gathering places for inhabitants of the world when they have spare time?

And that’s just scratching the surface! Click on this link (information provided by SFWA — Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) to see how deeper one can go when they’re seriously planning their fantasy world. The above questions were provided by Jennifer Elision.

Here’s a diagram of what we readers experience as we (automatically — this skill sometimes has to be taught to young readers) interact with the text:

Connections Readers Make to Text

Text to Self=connection between yourself and the book you’re reading. Text to Text= connecting characters, setting, or events from one book to another. Text to World= connecting the story to world history and events.

Most importantly, these three connections keep readers engaged from the beginning to the ending of a good book.

The Tortoise and the Hare

tortoise-hare-1

When you were little, you may have heard this fable and learned that the moral to the story is “slow and steady wins the race”, but I’m going to have to go with what Jacob Davenport deduced instead:

Success depends on using your talents, not just having them.

And when it comes to being slow, I mean reeeeeaaaaallllllyyyyy slow, three incredibly talented and fantastic authors come to mind and they’re making their fans lose their minds:

jim butcher

patrick rothfuss

george rr martin

My husband introduced me to Jim Butcher and Patrick Rothfuss. My oldest brother introduced me to George R.R. Martin. These three amigos are talented authors and I hope to meet them someday at conventions. Not to bask in their glory, but to soak up their great literary wizardry through osmosis.

But I digress. Apologies.

The simplest conclusion one could come to is that authors like Butcher, Rothfuss, and Martin aren’t doing their jobs because books are taking too long to “come out”. But again, like I said, it’s the simplest conclusion that doesn’t take much thought or consideration for the fact that these authors are also people with lives other than their books. Lives that include families, hobbies, and other personal attributes that may get in the way of their writing. In one interview, Rothfuss mentioned that he hadn’t finished the third book in the KingKiller Chronicles because he had to deconstruct it first. He also expressed that he wanted it to be just right. You know, he cares about impressing his fans.

Jim Butcher has endured a lot lately: divorce, death of his beloved dog, and I’m sure a lot more that the public doesn’t need to know about.

Nevertheless, some George R.R. Martin fans be like: “Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie, return to your Cave of Ordeals and complete the final book and kill off another beloved character so that we may cry!”

George be like:

george rr martin gives impatient fans the finger

Binders Full of Research

I’m reading 5000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox. The first day, I was able to crank out 1,964 words. I noticed that if I had all of my plans more detailed I could have written more. But every once in a while, I had to flip back to my notes, maps, character goals, fears, and so forth . . . or sometimes, I was quite naughty and chose to just keep writing even though I knew I’d have to go back and fix those wobbly bits during revision time.

Fantasy writers have so much to keep track of! In an interview, George R.R. Martin explained that he’s unable to write while he’s traveling to conventions and attending other meetings. He feels most comfortable at his home where he can easily access his notes.

I get it! Oh, do I get it and I empathize with both the readers that want the next book in the series, but I also understand how writers feel about the book being “just so”. After all, we are creating worlds from scratch. Now, I don’t personally know about other fantasy writers (besides those who have based their works off of medieval Europe), but I often base my worlds off of historical and current events that I find interesting. I even look to the geography and customs of real-life cultures and languages for inspiration. Not only am I learning more about the world I live in, but I’m able to create great plot twists and character sketches based off of historical places and people. Now, just because I may think that fantasy writers have it harder than a strictly mainstream fiction writer doesn’t mean that I have to demonize said mainstream fiction writers in order to lift up or edify the trials and tribulations of the fantasy genre. Unfortunately, writers of different genres sometimes treat one another poorly (even writers that belong in the same genre group — read about the sad puppies and rabid puppies to get an idea of what has happened and is still happening in the Science Fiction and Fantasy community).

“My Genre Brings All the Readers to the Checkout”

In Kelise’s Hip Hop R&B song, Milkshake she sings in a taunting and sensuous voice, “my milk shake brings all the boys to the yard and they’re like, ‘it’s better than yours’. Damn right, it’s better than yours. I can teach you, but I have to charge.” If the word milkshake is metaphorical for sex appeal, then when it comes to writers and their “literary appeal” it’s all about how well we craft words (and often worlds) in order to keep our readers spellbound page by page. There are so many different flavors of books! When I teach genre writing, I often compare the different genres to actual tastes. It’s like Baskin Robbins with all of those glorious 31 flavors. In other words, horror doesn’t have the same flavor to me as a space opera. Don’t ask me why, but horror stories have a medium-rare cheeseburger-ish quality to me while space operas make me think of popcorn and grilled cheese sandwiches. Oh, and a side of pickles. Can’t forget the pickles.

darth_pickle_by_star_wars_fan_club

See, I’m not the only one.

kwei quartey_author

Kwei Quartey

baskin robbins flavors

Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors. Gimme! Gimme them all!

 

 

 

 

Even when you’ve read a mystery novel, one book differs from another. Obviously because they’re written by two different people.

charlain harris_author

Charlaine Harris

For example, The Julius House, by Charlaine Harris in comparison to Kwei Quartey’s Wife of the Gods are worlds apart — not necessarily because one is a Caucasian-American woman and the other is an African man (he was born in Ghana) will be exceptionally different. Most importantly due to the settings. Quartey’s crime novel takes place in Ghana while Harris’ cozy mystery takes place in Georgia. Sometimes the settings of any good book (regardless of genre) becomes a character all on its own.

Now, back to the main debate. Critics of genre fiction, more specifically Science Fiction and Fantasy, believe that literary fiction is better because readers get a sense of “accomplishment” and “fulfillment” when they finish reading a book by authors like Haruki Murakami or Zadie Smith. While on the other hand, Science Fiction and Fantasy books are solely meant for escapism and entertainment.

grumpy cat disagrees

Yes, Science Fiction and Fantasy stories can also be a commentary on society and a way of seeing the world and understanding it. Not escaping.

lloyd-alexander-quote-fantasy

A fantastic example of an author writing stories that transcended this Tolkien idea of fantasy as a “glorious escape” is two-time Hugo Award Winner, N.K. Jemisin Her novel, The Fifth Season left me crying — not only because I wanted to read more — but because the book was so emotionally gripping! Before the first book in the Broken Earth trilogy even begins, Jemisin dedicates the book like this:

“For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.”

Chills. 

As I’ve said before it’s unnecessary to denigrate one group in order to protect and uplift another. We don’t need to demonize one to uplift the other. Whether you like Genre fiction or Literary fiction there’s plenty of room for both. 🙂 Or even better . . . a hybrid of the two.

nk jemisin

N.K. Jemisin

the_fifth_season_by_n_k_jemisin

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Racism? You Don’t Say?

A discussion came up on Facebook regarding the apparent lack of diversity in publishing when Martha Boss, book blogger, educator, and model shared her opinion regarding the lack of diversity at book events. She explained that she had no desire to attend any literary events that didn’t have authors from all walks of life. And in the United States of America in 2017, one would think that such an opinion would be positively acknowledged and celebrated. Unfortunately, an uproar of finger-pointing and finger-wagging ensued by some disgruntled readers of her post. On a positive note, the conversation inspired me to write this post.

Before I delve into where I stand on this matter, I will first give some background knowledge and context.

Most of you may know that my husband is white. I bring up his skin color because of the nature of this post. You see, some time ago Marvel was relaunching Spiderman and making the hero that followed in Peter Parker’s steps a young man named Miles Morales, who is  half-Black and half-Hispanic.

spider-man-miles-morales-peter-parker

I was okay with this change. And as an advocate for diversity, I’m all about the inclusion of more and more people of color in all social constructs. On the other hand, my husband was concerned about this change. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Spiderman, he’s a young man named Peter Parker who happens to be white, like most of the comic book characters that have become not only popular, but also who have become mainstream due to aggressive marketing and appearances in movies (Batman, Deadpool, Superman, ad nauseum). All alternate personas of these heroes are white males. And all but two of them are filthy rich (yes, looking at you, Deadpool and Mr. Kent.)

Hardcore fans are all about staying true to the “canon”. And there are laws that must never be broken.

Two main “no-no’s” are:

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE COLOR OF THE CHARACTER.

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE GENDER OF THE CHARACTER.

My husband was concerned that the writers weren’t staying true to the canon by changing Spiderman’s ethnicity. My husband’s argument was logical especially when he supported it with this gold nugget: “The market should be actively looking for writers with new fresh faces and cultures to add to the Marvel or DC universe. Peter Parker should keep on being Spiderman.”

I agreed with my husband that the Industry or Market should be looking for new material from different perspectives instead of rehashing the same tripe year after year.  Moreover, consumers need to do their job by demanding what they want and if the Market isn’t giving it to them? Well, now. There’s this powerful principle called supply and demand and it’s a beautiful thing. If I don’t like a show, I won’t watch it. If I don’t like a restaurant, I won’t eat there. For example, even if McDonald’s were the last restaurant on the planet I REFUSE TO EAT THERE!

A few months after my husband and I had our third child, he turned to me and said, “I get what you’re saying. You know, about seeing more characters that are people of color. I don’t want our sons growing up not seeing that they’re important. That they exist.”

we need diverse books3

BINGO!

And the cry for diverse books wasn’t enough because then you fall into the bait-and-switch trap that it’s okay for white authors to write books that star nonwhites as the characters. Then, the #ownvoices movement was ushered in to stress how important it is for people of color to tell their own stories in their own voices and not having to fear that they needed to pander to or patronize a white audience or any audience (regardless of color) that didn’t understand where they were coming from.

Too bad these movements aren’t making waves on television. Yet. You see, over the past several months, my husband and I observed a disturbing trend regarding television shows for children. I’ll most likely go into more detail about that in a future post. 🙂

The conversation that my husband and I shared regarding the necessity for diversity in books and comics inspired me to reflect on my childhood as a reader and where I am now as an author and reader. My reflection motivated me to write this blog post.

Now, back to the main topic.

In one of my previous blog posts I discussed the deathtrap of stereotypes.  A common stereotype regarding Black people is that we don’t like to read. It was also one of the arguments that excuses the cold, hard fact that 88% of books reviewed by the New York Times are written by white authors. So, one could ignorantly draw the conclusion that Black people don’t like to write either. Or that they don’t know how to write. But, if they do like to write, they’re not very good at it because they don’t like to read and thus there’s no market for them. And that’s just the way it is.

Uh, no. Just no.

weneeddiversebooksbecause

Yes, indeed. 🙂

When I purchase books for my classroom I choose them very carefully. I want books that will not only keep my students engaged, but appeal to their gender, not only relate to their own experiences, but challenge, and build onto this foundation. My Black students, as well as White, Asian, and Latino students love reading a good book regardless of what color the main characters are . . . or whether or not the main characters are even human. However, there comes a time when nonwhite students wonder WHY their experiences, their truths, their very essence isn’t proudly shown on the cover of a book or even within its pages. I know because I was once their age and wondered these thoughts: Am I not worth writing about? Are people like me not worth reading about? (Well, unless you’re a slave getting the crap beat out of them). By the way, what is the USA’s morbid obsession with Black pathology? Yuck.)

We Need Diverse Authors

About eight years ago, libraries (some may still practice this, but I’m pleased to say my local library DOES NOT) shelved books based on genre in an obsessive compulsive way that would impress even this guy:

monk-logo

Back then, there were no cross-genres.

mixedupauthor

Dear heart, weep not. Tis 2017 and we live and breathe for literary mashups such as yours. 🙂

No, no, no. Every little book went into its own boxed off little shelfie-welfie corner. Oh yes, yes, yes.

So books like this:

black romance

 

 

 

or this . . . romance_black

 

 

 

 

 

 

wouldn’t appear in the general romance aisle, but be ghettoized or segregated from that oh-so lucrative and coveted section and placed in the African-American books, Street Lit, Urban Lit, or wherever library’s chose to place books with dark brown to light brown faces on the cover. Think about your local grocery store and how soy sauce, butter chicken, and curry are cordoned off in their own aisle labeled “multicultural or ethnic” away from the other condiments. Even poor sauerkraut and gelfilte fish has its place there. If I hadn’t watched the Food Channel or binge watched “Great Eats Around the World” I would remain culinarily (made that word up) ignorant! Now, regarding the segregated books: Was this practice intentionally racist? *Shrugs shoulders*. Not sure. But, one could see how this limits authors of color from being discovered from readers regardless of their color even though it fit in the “general genre”.

A couple of weeks ago while visiting my local library I noticed a lot of newer authors I had never seen before. I was so impressed that the library had become “integrated” that I had to take a picture of it!

libraryintegration

A Japanese author, a Black author, a White author, and even a Native American author all on one shelf! 😀 And all different genres! Ha! Impressive. 

Clearly, people and books don’t belong in boxes. Well, unless you’re dead and boxed in a coffin. Sorry, I digress.

In 2015, Lee & Low, a publishing house that prides itself on finding new authors of color shared the results of the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that overall the Industry is predominantly white and female. Bet you weren’t expecting THAT revelation. But, it’s true. And when I say overall we’re talking about all levels:

  • Executive Level
  • Editorial Dept.
  • Sales Dept.
  • Marketing & Publicity Dept.
  • Book Reviewers

Is this predominantly female white status quo deliberate and thus, racist? Well, if you consider the data . . . the other question is will it be kept this way and by design?

While I hunted for facts regarding the struggle many writers of color — Asian, Caribbean, African, South American — experience trying to get published, I encountered similar stories:

  • Mira Jacob, young author of the critically acclaimed novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, shared a powerful speech about her struggles as an (East) Indian woman dealing with ignorance and prejudice in the publishing industry. A MUST READ!
  • Jenny Zhang shares how a white poet, Michael Derrick Hudson, used a Chinese pen name, Yi Fen Chou.
  • Paul Langan, a white novelist writes popular series about Black students growing up in an Urban setting.
  • Brandon Tensley discusses America’s Problem With Writers of Color.
  • PP Wong, author and editor shares how many times her novel was rejected. One of the reasons is really, really, really stupid. And clandestinely racist.
  • Phenderson Clark, speculative fiction writer of Afro-Caribbean descent draws back the curtain regarding racism against fellow Black authors (and the lack of characters) in the science fiction and fantasy community.

To piggy-back on the final bullet regarding the science fiction and fantasy genre that I write and adore I come to a fork in the road. Lately, several of the Big Five publishers that are located in New York are requesting romance novels from Black authors. I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I mean, doesn’t it entail, you know, like a “formula” where handsome guy meets gorgeous lady and they don’t like each other at first until he or she does something and then the tide is turned and then they like each other, but not like that and then they fight and break up and then you know — heck, I DON’T KNOW! So, my point that I’m trying to make is do I just “sell out” and go to the “Crimson Wine and Chocolate Covered Cherries Side” of Le Force and write Romance because it’s popular and I’m more than likely to succeed since there’s an open call for it?

Like I said before, I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I need creepy scenes, an occasional vampire or demon to slay. I need undiscovered elements on the periodic table. I need a nod to the current status quo and how to change it. I need to believe that there are dragons to slay whether they be literal or figurative. I need to hope for windows, doors, closets, basements, or even dreams that lead to alternate dimensions.

I may not write Romance yet, but I could learn, if I feel so inclined, and not because it’s what a publisher wants of me to selfishly benefit themselves.  In other words, why should writers of color pigeonhole themselves? We should be able to write what we want.

This scenario brings this excerpt from Rachel Deahl’s Publisher Weekly’s article, “Why Publishing is So White”:

So how does the industry move forward and do better? Right now, publishing seems to be struggling with the difference between words and actions. Take, for example, a situation a publisher at a reputable Midwestern press recounted. Claiming he is “always trying to diversify our staff,” he brought up a recent editorial assistant search that initially yielded 250 applicants. The press narrowed its options down to eight finalists, five of whom were white and three of whom were people of color. Although all the finalists were “excellent” in his estimation, the position went to a white woman. The reason? “There’s no room for tokenism at [our press].”

Dude, there’s no need for tokenism! What a cop out!

There’s always going to be a first and you don’t have to stop there. A first — if that’s the intended direction you want to go — will lead to a second and a third.

It only takes one to turn the tide.

The need for diverse books from diverse authors with different stories to tell isn’t a trend and never will be.

I'mnotatrend

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet with me @moniquedesir

 

 

Quotes to Write By – Day 27

Writing high fantasy is not for the hobbyist. It takes perseverance, cleverness, and lots of dedicated time.

I’m currently completing the second phase of world building for a high fantasy series that’s been haunting my waking and dreaming hours for quite some time. About three years actually. Adara Trosclair, for whom this blog is named after will make her appearance in the second book. I see main character in this first book clearly. She’s not like Adara, who is charismatic, sweet, and girly. Lethe, on the other hand, is bitter, snarky, resentful, and will most likely be an unlikable character. But that in no way means that readers will be unable to relate to her. Anyone who has lived on this earth may have acted like this guy:

grumpy

in some way, shape, or form. Even for a day. 🙂

But then again, maybe Lethe is more like this:

grumpy cat_people

And the entire idea behind this book — once a tiny seed — is now a mighty oak tree. Lol. Well, in my mind currently. For the past several days I’ve been working on my fantasy world’s distinct parts:

  • Continents
  • Characters
  • Religion
  • Ethnic groups
  • Jobs
  • Mythology
  • Language
  • Conflict

I also want my high fantasy idea to be fresh and to question and maybe even provide answers to current issues in the real world. Issues like racism, sexism, and bigotry.

tolkien quote

At first, I totally agreed with this quote from Tolkien. Fantasy is a great way to escape! However, escaping and being distracted is so easy and it’s not worth it. Yes, we all need a little break every now and then (that’s why I play video games and do Zumba Fitness), buuuuuuut, ignoring important issues in the world isn’t a solution to the world’s worldly ills (yes, yes, yes, I know I used the word world three times in that one sentence).

I’m considering whether or not the book would fit the Young Adult age group and if so, what kind of pitfalls must I avoid? For instance, is it okay for the two main characters to engage in sex? How violent and bloody should the sword and sorcery scenes be? And what about expletives? My husband and I are fans of Dragon Age and the rating for this RPG is “M” for mature audiences due to sex (your main character can ROMANCE other characters), violence (lots of blood — I mean LOTS), and other suggestive themes. And as I continue plotting away, do I consider my book having a dark tone like Dragon Age? HECK YA!

dragon age

Lots of blood slaughtering darkspawn, humans, dwarves, elves, and dragons!

I wouldn’t mind kids similar in age to my oldest son who will be seventeen soon reading this book. But younger than that? Wow. Just wow. Makes me feel uncomfortable.

dragon age_killthequeen

Lol. I just want Alistair. 🙂

As a child, I loved fairy tales and I also want to incorporate them into my high fantasy books. My favorites are the Twelve Dancing Princesses, Little Match Girl, and Rumpelstiltskin.

 

Regarding Tolkien’s quote, I agree more with the spotlighted quote of the day. I don’t need to escape. I want to understand.

 

Quote #27

Alexanderquote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cultural Appreciation, Please?

 

Cultural appropriation_disturbing

Dear America (not just white people), can we appreciate and respect each other in a genuine manner? Can we learn what other people’s cultures consists of and not do “our own thing?”

Some time ago another blogger, the talented and charming, Jess of Daring to Jess invited me to write a post about cultural appropriation vs cultural appreciation. I was more than happy to do it. But, I wanted to get it right. I wanted to give this important and provocative subject justice.

So, here we go.

Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. … Often, the original meaning of these cultural elements is lost or distorted, and such displays are often viewed as disrespectful by members of the originating culture, or even as a form of desecration.

Desecration. A word like that made me think of one of my favorite RPGs, Dragon Age where mages (magic users for the uninitiated) can enter unholy covenants with demons and transform into tainted, demonic abominations.

morrigan.

Obviously, the word desecration let’s you know, dear reader, that cultural appropriation has a negative connotation and for good reason.

Cultural appropriation is like treating other people’s cultures like an all-you-can eat and not all-you-can stay buffet, picking and choosing which parts of a culture you want to take part in. It’s superficial. It’s shallow. It’s not a good look.

Why? Because you cheat yourself into not getting to know the people of said culture; being ignorant of who they are as individuals; lacking the culture’s history; its struggles, its beauty; its mistakes; its successes; etc.

Likewise, cultural appropriation isn’t looking at a culture’s multifaceted parts. Instead, it’s a practice of using bits and pieces of that culture as a fashion statement. Which is just plain tacky . . . or plain creepy like a study in the twisted doctor Frankenstein stitching the pieces of dead body parts to create his “masterpiece” or monster.

frankenstein

Oooh. Who does your hair? It’s electrifying!

But I have digressed . . .

Some examples of cultural appropriation are:

kat

Pop singer Katy Perry dressed as a geisha.

Oh yes. I went there. Popular singers and actresses like Katy Perry and even Destiny’s Child (before Beyonce went solo) have sported kimonos and fetishized the geisha of Japan. Have these women — especially Katy Perry — considered how harmful it is for Asian women to fetishize the stereotype of the submissive and sexually exploit them for entertainment?

destinygeishacrap

*Face palm. どうして?(Japanese for “Why”?)

The question is, do these women even know what purpose the clothing and hairstyles serve? Do they care? Do they even know what the heck a geisha is? And is knowing important? Damn straight it is! Ask G.I. Joe.

the_battle-

G.I. Joe: Knowing is half the battle.

 

 

 

 

Other cultural appropriation examples are wearing a hijab or cornrows in a selfie and posting these egocentric and annoying photos on Instagram because you think it’s cute or cool or whatever. However, people who naturally wear this attire aren’t immune to micro-aggressions that the “fashionistas” get praised for whilst sitting at home taking more selfies in the safety of their bedroom or bathroom.

jennerisannoying

Uh. No.

 

 

Basically, a Muslim woman may face or have to deal with dirty looks as she shops for groceries or a Black woman who rocks cornrows will be sent home from work because her hairstyle isn’t considered “professional”. Even worse and more annoying is that people who play dress up with another person’s culture don’t even know why the culture they’re imitating has these types of hairstyles or clothes. Nor do they care to know! It’s arrogance in ignorance and I don’t understand why people love it so much! With search engines like Google at their fingertips, they couldn’t think to look up why people dress the way they do and why? Sheesh. I think maybe I’m asking too much . . .

For example, Black women have been rocking cornrows for decades. Historically, cornrows or braids, also called cane rows in the Caribbean, are an ancient traditional African style of hair grooming, in which the hair is braided very close to the scalp, using an underhand, upward motion to produce a continuous, raised row.

However, when white women like Bo Derek, Kylie Jenner, et al come along – then suddenly everyone loses their effing minds! Headlines declare, “Blah-blah or so-and-so has broken the Internet after doing such-and-such!” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/9-times-white-people-have-appropriated-black-hairstyles-since-2014_us_55a81211e4b0896514d0c3ca). Commenting viewers think it’s stylish, they think it’s beautiful, they think it’s oh-so effing amazing.

How often are Black women mentioned for the beauty of their hairstyles, the versatility of their hair by non-Black people? We’re often our own cheerleaders.

#FACT, motherduckers!

Cultural appropriation  FLASH-ATTACK! (HADOUKEN):

In some predominantly white-audience magazines, Bantu knots are ignorantly called minibuns.

No minibuns

Hmmm. Just tell the truth. Bantu Knots came from south Africa’s Zulu tribe and God forbid if Whites knew that they’d refuse the hair-do, right? (#sarcasm)

Uh, no. Just no.

 

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Black women often wear Bantu knots as a protective style. Click and learn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What about the culture the hairstyle came from? Anybody heard of Africa? You know, the continent with over 50 countries and such diversity and history that its beauty could fill scores and scores of books? The hairstyle is also popular in Jamaica where my mum is from. After you wash your hair, you part your hair and then simply twist the hair (two parts — not three) and then knot it around to lock it in place. It can stay in place for days or more and when you untwist the knot, the hair falls in a lovely manner!

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Bantu knots undone. Beautiful!

 

 

getoutThe social thriller movie, “Get Out”, written by Peele (the other half of the dynamic comedy duo, Key and Peele) is a perfect example of cultural appropriation on steroids. I’ll discuss those juicy tidbits either on another blog post or on my Youtube channel, Monique Monique, Quite Unique. 🙂 *rubs hands and giggles mischievously*.

Now, for the sake of argument, I shall play Devil’s advocate.

devils-advocate

Sometimes our own perception of potential problems does not connect with reality due to a gap.

While browsing the Internet and all of its many wormholes, I noticed a comment by a White woman who pointed out that it’s not fair that Whites are often criticized for being cultural appropriation villains when non-Whites (particularly Black women) have committed crimes by appropriating White women’s hair. I considered responding to her lament, but fortunately another commentator, Tamika Mustipher, beat me to it. And I’m so glad she did because she was more patient than I would have been and I don’t think my response would have been as clear as Tamika’s.

Below is her explanation in all of its absolutely fabulous glory:

“Agreed! Overuse of heat appliances on hair does cause damage, regardless of ethnicity. I have to disagree with your idea “that cultural appropriation is what they call it when White girls wear cornrows” though. The problem with that statement is that it is far too broad and insinuates that every Black woman is concerned with the ways in which White women style themselves. Let me tell you, that couldn’t be further from the truth because I do not care what you or any other woman does with her hair. Yes, there are some who gripe about cultural appropriation, because it is a very real thing but in my opinion the insult of it is far more profound than hair. A Black woman wearing straightened hair or extensions is not necessarily trying to “be White”, just as a White woman wearing cornrows is necessarily trying to “be Black.” Riddle me this; was Bo Derek trying to be Black when she wore cornrows? No. She was a woman, working. Was Nicole Kidman, who admitted that she “ruined” her curls by heat straightening trying to be “more White” by straightening her locks? No. She simply preferred straighter hair. As I said above, and I’ll say again, we as women should be able to style our hair as we wish without negative commentary and attacks from anyone, ESPECIALLY other women.
As for your statement regarding Black women walking around with beautiful jet Black hair straighter than yours, and demanding that they stop trying to be White, have you taken the time to consider that perhaps your look may not be the look they are going for at all? In all my years, I haven’t seen very many White women with naturally, jet black, straight hair. In fact, it’s actually a look that is more specific to the Natives. Another fact is that African and Native Americans have shared a rich history, as many runaway slaves were harbored by Natives and intermarried, etc. With that said, consider the idea that many Black women are not thinking about trying to emulate White women at all, and simply find indigenous beauty admirable.

Thank you, Tamika, for letting me use your words! 🙂

Dear America, cultural appreciation is a beautiful thing to experience!

When I traveled to Japan as a Sister Cities International ambassador, I made sure that I was respectful to the native family I lived with; the native students I taught; and the people I encountered by:

  • Slurping my ramen noodles (real ramen – not that packaged crap)
  • Bathing in a public bath. I embraced Japanese culture even though I was freaked out about bathing where other people could see me! Eeeek!
  • Wearing a kimono for parties/celebrations (not pretending to be a geisha)
  • Taking my shoes off and slipping my feet into uwabaki (上履き)
  • Whatever the family ate that day, I did too. Why? Because I appreciated their culture! I had traveled to the other side of the planet and I wasn’t going to waste my time eating McDonald’s when I could feast on delicacies like okonomiyaki, tempura (which is actually from Portugal, but Japan adopted it to their list of yummy foods). 🙂
  • Speaking the language! If I didn’t know how to say something in Japanese, I asked in Japanese, “Nanto ii masuka?” __ にほんご なん いいます か。
    __ wa nihongo de nan to iimasu ka? How do I say __ in Japanese? Why? Because I appreciate the culture! I said that phrase so many times, I still remember it to this day.
  • I’m still friends with the Japanese couple I lived with!

And that finally bullet is key. I love building connections, cultivating relationships, and making friendships that can last a lifetime. I’m also a xenophile and I love learning about different cultures, languages, and people!

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Yours truly wearing a kimono (a gift from my family in Nagano).

 

Isn’t that one of the reasons we’re on this Earth?

So, don’t be ignorant! I challenge you to connect with new people on individual levels and learn something!

Ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s plain tacky and tasteless!

#FACT, motherduckers!