Marlon James on cultural appropriation in literature

This debate over cultural appropriation bewilders me. The most we read about it tends to regard clothing, headdresses at music festivals, that sort of thing. Yes, of course, it’s offensive, but I like to think simple visibility is an adequate response: you show up as your regular, common, Indian-looking self and that person should immediately understand what they’re doing is wrong. I mean, wouldn’t you just feel stupid?!

Similarly with the Ralph Lauren t-shirts that include Indigenous-inspired graphics. I own one, and I wear it rather often, because I feel as though that juxtaposition, the sight of a Native person wearing an article of clothing that simplifies all of Indigeneity, (a) is quite funny, and (b) tells a story all its own. It says “this shirt doesn’t make any sense draped over a real Native person’s back, and it would look especially out of place if a non-Native person were to wear it.” In fact, I’ve not ever seen anyone in those clothes; I can’t fathom the sort of person who would buy anything like the shirt I own, except for me (and even then I wear it ironically).

So when the author Lionel Shriver commented on “the concept of cultural appropriation” in literature, and basically lamented a world where white people find themselves frustrated/hindered by criticism foisted upon them by members of minority groups under-represented in the arts to begin with, I again was torn. Until I read Marlon James response. It was a Facebook post and I just have to share the entire thing.

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