i can feel the weather in my bones (causeways) wrote,
i can feel the weather in my bones

haiti fic fail: signal boosting and appropriation

tripoli 's post was the first I saw about the massive, massive fail that is [personal profile] gatorgrrrl's J2 Big Bang, Caught Between the Earth and Sky. walkawayslowly emailed me about it shortly thereafter, and since I got home tonight my entire flist has been packed with posts about it, so you've probably already got some idea of what's going on here. If not, amazonziti has a great write-up and collection of links here, and though asteroidbuckle has locked the story down (and therefore the comments on it are missing as well, which is a shame, as I understand that there was some very excellent discussion on that post), you can see excerpts of the original story compiled by [personal profile] bossymarmalade here.

There are a lot of really horrifying things going on in those compiled excerpts, and I'm willing to assume that they are representative of the rest of the fic: portraying a black man (possibly the only black person with a central role?) as big and dumb and ultimately comparing him to an overly large cat (aka a big dumb animal); representing black women as voiceless and helpless and savage; presenting post-earthquake Haiti as a backdrop for Jensen Ackles, The Great White Hope, to save the ever-grateful poor black populace . . . And then, of course, there is the entire fact that post-earthquake Haiti is serving as the setting for a story about two white men falling in love and getting it on.

I'm saddened by the fact that while asteroidbuckle understands that she's done something terribly offensive and wrong, she still does not really understand what she's apologizing for. (See here and here.) She's trying, but she's not getting it; that much is clear from that second link in particular.

A lot of people are talking about this quite eloquently, and hackthis wrote a post reminding us of all the stuff we should already know, but keep (as a fandom, or a world for that matter) collectively forgetting. The heart of the matter, IMO, is something nyoka wrote about: the issue of appropriating tragedy and other people's experiences for yourself.

I think it's perfectly fine to write about something that you did not personally experience, or about a person who is completely different than you are -- with the caveat that you do it respectfully. I think, too, that it's valid to use fiction (fanfiction included, though admittedly I've never seen it done well in fanfiction) to write about tragedy, even one that does not affect you personally, as long as you do it respectfully -- i.e., as long as you do not do it in an exploitative or otherwise offensive way. The issue of whether or not it's a good idea to write about a tragedy that is ongoing set aside, I truly do not believe there can be any debate about the fact that it was a deeply horrible idea to set a love story between two white men in post-earthquake Haiti, using that tragedy and those who experienced it personally as a backdrop. Haitians are not a backdrop, and neither is any other group of people. This is something that we need to get right.

A huge point that I think needs to be made repeatedly: getting this stuff right is NOT AT ALL just about not offending people. Sure, you don't want to offend people. The thing is, not doing something just because you do not want to offend people has a distinct tinge of, "Well, I think what I'm doing is fine, but I will keep it to myself because it might offend some easily offended other person," and that does not work at all. It's about RESPECTING other people's experiences. Of course white people can write people who are not Just Like Them; white people can and SHOULD, for that matter, because who wants to read stories that are about nothing but white people? But for the love of God, do your research. Learn about the history and the cultural context of your characters, more than you think you need to know; make their existence central to your story and not just there for some kind of "flavor"; and, most importantly, make them people. A great big black man with hands the size of frying pans who follows Jensen Ackles around Haiti is a cookie-cutter stereotype, not a flesh-and-blood person.

I don't think white people must stick to writing what we know, but I do think it's imperative that we do our absolute best to get it right when we are writing something we do not know, and that we be open and ready to learn when other people take time out of their lives to tell us that we've gotten something wrong. It's perfectly human to want to be defensive when being told we're wrong, but we cannot give in it to. If we do something wrong, we MUST apologize for it, and we must ALSO take the time and put in the effort to understand what it is that we have done wrong, if we do not understand it from the start.

A last link that I thought was really interesting, from a few years back (during a previous round of J2 RaceFail): Some thoughts on writing outside my experience by brown_betty

crossposted from [personal profile] causeways | original entry | comment count unavailable comments on Dreamwidth
Tags: racefail
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