Privilege is “tricksy,” and so it’s not always easy to identify just when and how it’s operating. If you want a recent example, stop by Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature. Debbie discovered a 2008 interview in which author Neil Gaiman made some rather careless remarks; he responded to her post, and admitted that he misspoke. He didn’t exactly apologize, but he made it clear that that was not what he intended to say. We all fumble with words now and then, so I say he gets a pass on this one. And Debbie wasn’t trying to crucify the man, yet he is so beloved by so many that she has since been inundated with commenters rushing to Gaiman’s defense. The only problem with this kind of loyalty is that it prevents us from having a larger conversation about WHY NO ONE ELSE FOUND HIS COMMENTS PROBLEMATIC. Why did it take two years for this to come up? Probably because most of us aren’t vigilant about the kind of language that distorts and/or dismisses the history of American Indians. But are people willing to talk about THAT? No—so if you have a moment, do read Debbie’s post and stay tuned because she’s got a follow-up post in the works…
Shveta pointed me to this provocative post by Deepa D.—“I Didn’t Dream of Dragons”
When I was around thirteen years old, I tried to write a fantasy novel. It was going to be an epic adventure with a cross-dressing princess on the run, a snarky hero, and dragons. I got stuck when I had to figure out what they would do after they left the city. Logically, there would be a tavern.
But there were no taverns in India. Write what you know is a rule that didn’t really need to be told to me; after having spent my entire life reading books in English about people named Peter and Sally, I wanted to write about the place I lived in, even if I didn’t have a whole bookcase of Indian fantasy world-building to steal from. And I couldn’t get past the lack of taverns. Even now, I have spent a number of years trying to figure out how cross-dressing disguise would work in a pre-Islamic India where the women went bare-breasted. When I considered including a dragon at the end of a story, I had to map out their route to the Himalayas, because dragons can be a part of a Tibetan Buddhist tradition—they do not figure in Hindu mythology.
I love the blogger’s response to those with privilege who say, if you don’t like the stories WE write about you, “stop bitching and write your own.”
This naive position stems from the utopian capitalist belief that all markets are equal, and individuals are free to be what they can driven only by their inner divine spark.