Cultural appropriation is the adoption and use of elements of one culture by members of another culture. It’s often done for financial gain. (source)
Think about it. It’s hard as hell to get published – having a trendy hook really helps. Write about vampires, zombies OR being the patient wife of somebody with a very exciting, wild life. Spit out a fantasy novel – preferably something involving magic, dragons and big swords – they’re very big now, don'cha know. OR Indians, Native Americans. Pick a tribe, any tribe but the Western nations tend to net bigger bucks.
Tony Hillerman's the author of the wonderful Navajo mysteries featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the tribal police. Hillerman wasn’t Navajo but all his main characters were. From the cultural safety of being a white male, he wrote about being Navajo. Would his stories have been bestsellers if his protagonist was some Caucasian Oklahoma rancher? Maybe – he really was a great writer. Probably not though.
I loved his books though I was disappointed when I found out that he’s not Navajo. How authentic could his writing possibly be? Maybe very but I also resented that he was getting rich off of another, way less privileged, culture.
Although Hillerman conducted extensive research and read copiously as he prepared to work on each novel, he still ran his manuscripts by Navajo friends to check for accuracy and believability. Many times Hillerman engaged in a dialogue with classes and adolescent readers around the Navajo reservation to ascertain what they thought of plot lines, character development, and endings. If his student readers were critical, he followed their advice. (source)OK so Hillerman was thorough and respectful. Yea him. I'd still rather buy a book with Indian characters that's written by an actual Indian.
Similar to publishing, getting a gallery to show (AND sell!) your work is mega difficult. Take my word on this – boyhowdy do I know this is true! The hook thing works here too. While in Phoenix I found a painter whose work really struck me. LOVE the colors, the brushstroke, the style. REALLY love!
A recently filmed documentary entitled the “Life and Art of Malcolm Furlow, “refers to him as a “Renaissance Man”: the quintessential cowboy, musician, and intellectual artist. He is an award-winning painter, whose accolades include the Silver award from the Sorbonne, and the highly coveted Gold Award from the world-renown Luxembourg Museum, Paris. (source)He doesn’t paint cowboys though. Nope, he paints Indians as they would likely have appeared one hundred plus years ago. His gorgeous work doesn’t describe vignettes from the history of his own, def not Native peoples, nope. Man’s got a hook and it’s making him a lot of dough.
Dave McGary’s an impressive sculptor, working in bronze. His work’s not loose and expressionistic, which is much more my taste BUT it’s mondo beautiful all the same. Like Furlow, he’s white and making big bucks off the exotic, appealing browns.
So then, love their work but would never buy it. Well, if I had big cabbage to spare, maybe I'd buy Furlow's Happy Coyote or Rabbit in the Garden paintings.
There’s a great column up at Jezebel, A Much-Needed Primer on Cultural Appropriation, by Katie J.M. Baker who, along with Susan Scafidi explains things way better than me. Read, READ!