There’s been alot of criticism of American Dirt.
The criticism centres around the fact that the author, an American, has written a novel about Mexicans making the journey to America to escape their living conditions in Mexico. The absolute rascal!
The critcism centres around Cultural Appropriation.
In essence the exponents of cultural approriation believe you can only immerse yourself in a culture and use elements of that culture if you belong to that culture. Jamie Oliver was accused of the same offence when cooking Jerky Chicken.
Defining the words within cultural appropriation show how ludicrous the term is.
What’s culture? The best definition is culture is a set of shared assumptions. Who gets to decide what those assumptions are? Who gets to decide who shares what with whom? Who is head of culture setting out the assumptions and defining who gets to use them?
What’s appropriation? It’s taking something that may not be your’s to take. Who owns Jerky Chicken? Who owns the right to write a novel about Mexicans fleeing Mexico? Clearly Jerky Chicken is not owned by anyone, neither is the right to write about an experience you might not have personally experienced.
The term cultural appropriation is used normally as a stick to beat someone with, the term is an offshoot of identity politics. Only those identifying as Mexican or West Indian can write about the Mexican migration experience or cook Jerky Chicken.
Extrapolating this out further, is it cultural appropriation to use the words pundit, guru, pariah, bungalow? Language reflects history and experience. Language is dynamic not static. Those words derive from India but are not owned by India. Do we not have carte-blanche to use words derived from French? It’s a faux pas to think using the term deja vu amounts to cultural appropriation from the French.
Applying the same standards as that applied to the author of American Dirt, was Shakespeare taking something that wasn’t his, when he wrote Othello, the Merchant of Venice, or Romeo and Juliet? Bram Stoker did not live in Romania, is he not allowed to write about Counts living in Transylvania?
Identity politics has led to some wrong turnings. Criticising an author for cultural appropriation is one of those wrong turnings. It needs to stop as we should be focussing on our shared humanity rather than our individual differences.