So recently Howlround published an article titled Appropriating Cultures for Fun and Profit. This was written by a straight, white, male, old, middle-class, well-educated Jewish American-Canadian, which the writer boasts in the article.
I opened it hoping for satire… It was not satire… So I responded in the comments section as follows.
What I have been asking lately is if I’m I representing many cultures in my plays, or am I appropriating cultures in my plays?
The problem with appropriation is that it, by definition, is taking from someone, typically without their permission. When appropriating other people’s voices it frequently results in stereotype and misrepresentation. Additionally, when you come from a place of privilege and appropriate from someone of less privilege you take away opportunities from that group.
While I agree, everyone is free to write whatever they want, it does not mean they should… or at the very least pursue having it produced. The fact is, the line between appropriation and misappropriation are thin, if even existent. In the end appropriation “if done wrong” does not end in getting laughed at, but real damage to real people. If you need an example read any of the reviews for “Oleanna” when it was first produced. Mamet’s appropriation of a women’s story of being sexually harassed by a professor lead to actresses being threatened and called bitch by many audience members. That does not seem like a laugh to me.
You used an example of greater gender parity onstage and that there is no persuasive reason for men to have primacy for having their stories told on stage. By this logic, why should white male playwrights have the right and primacy to tell other cultures stories on stage. You said yourself, “We can change that, diversify our stages, working from the top of the theatrical food chain as well as from the bottom.” As white male playwrights in the current theatrical climate we steal from the bottom and give to ourselves when we appropriate.
I just would like to end by asking the question. What does it mean for a “straight, white, male, old, middle-class, well-educated Jewish American-Canadian” to deem appropriation, something that does not negatively impact him, both fun and profitable?
There is not much more I want to elaborate on in this point besides that I am tired of white men explaining how it is ok for them to appropriate. We are not allowed to make that choice. As I pointed out, appropriation has no negative effects on us… so we cannot decide whether or not it is ok to do. It builds on the structure of appropriation if we do, one that is based upon people of privilege deciding it is ok to take from people of less privilege.
When a straight white man says it is ok to appropriate, he has gone beyond the damages of appropriation. He has decided that the cultures whose stories he want to steal are not even allowed to put in a word as to if that was good for them or not. He becomes an oppressor.
In short… if you are a white male playwright, please stop appropriating.