Update: I appreciate the positive messages, but I’m turning comments off now for reasons you can guess. If you were going to leave something rude, go find something better to do with your time.
This will be a blog post in two parts.
First, I want to elaborate on some of the points I made during my panel on cultural appropriation. I’ve already tweeted about below, if you’d like to read the original thread. But a couple points are worth expanding.
i just did the cultural appropriation panel at World Fantasy Con and i have a lot of thoughts.
— Rebecca Kuang (@kuangrf) November 4, 2017
First, I kept hearing the myth that diverse works don’t sell. Let’s put aside the subtle (well, overt) racism inherent in that argument for a moment and just look at cold hard numbers. Diverse stories are popular! The audience is out there! People from privileged backgrounds want to see stories from viewpoints and histories that aren’t their own. People from marginalized backgrounds want to see themselves represented! Many of the biggest hits of 2017 were by creators of color–see Get Out, see The Hate U Give, see Crazy Rich Asians and its sequels/film in development. Refusing to work with creators of color isn’t just bigoted, it’s bad for business.
Second, permission to fail is privilege. (An audience member very eloquently made this point, and I’m sorry that I don’t know your name.) Books by white authors sell very badly very often. Publishing is fickle. No one can predict how a book will sell. But when white authors flop, no one says “Oh, well, guess this proves we should cancel the trilogy about Macaroni Marshmallow Vanillaland.” On the other hand, many writers of color I know feel the immense weight of expectations on their shoulders. If they don’t sell, then their narrative–their background, their right to tell stories–gets written off as unviable.
Third, industry gatekeepers–publishing houses, agents, editors, workshop directors–can and should do more to reach out to writers of color. Make it clear that you’re seeking diverse stories, and then back it up with book deals. Hire interns from marginalized backgrounds. Pay them, or let them work remotely–because unpaid internships are an economic privilege inaccessible to many young POC trying to break into the field. Hire editors of color so that diverse stories don’t get whitewashed into oblivion. Hire artists of color to design covers. Invite more writers of color to teach at workshops so that younger, POC writers can have role models. I could go on.
We’re good at what we do. We’re out there, and we’re hungry. Give us a chance.
I don’t want to discount the fantastic work that’s being done on this front. I know that my own publisher–Harper Voyager–has made a concentrated effort to publish diverse stories, and the 2017/2018 lineup shows: Nicky Drayden, Maggie Shen King, and S.A. Chakraborty make their debuts this year, and The Poppy War will be out next May. I’m very proud of the work they’re doing. We still need more of it.
I don’t think any of these arguments are outlandish or particularly controversial. They’re inconvenient truths to people who don’t want to acknowledge them. But the response I received on Twitter was for the large part overwhelmingly positive.
Which makes Part II of this post very weird.
The majority of criticism I’ve gotten comes not from white people in publishing, but from Asian activists. It’s hard to sift out their particular argument from the vitriol, but I’ll try to summarize it here:
I am an Asian woman dating a white man. This makes me an unfit advocate for Asian-Americans for a myriad reasons–because my “racial preference” displays internalized self-hatred, because my “refusal to date Asian men” proves that I only advocate for “toxic” Asian females, because I “talk Asian but sleep white,” and because I’ve submitted myself to a “colonialist” relationship with a “weaboo” with an “Asian fetish.”
I’m not going to link to the threads themselves here. I don’t have much respect for people who post anonymously, or people who sift through my personal history to make irrational and ad hominem attacks. You can surely hunt it down yourself if you’re curious.
But I will respond to the argument, because I think that this ideology is so terribly hurtful and dangerous.
I understand where it’s coming from. Trust me. I am aware of how my relationship with my white partner is situated in a long history of a) the emasculation and demonization of Asian men, and b) oppressive relationships between white men and Asian women. I understand the instinct to believe that an Asian woman who dates a white man must hate her own race. I get that.
But see, you don’t get to tell me who I should date. You don’t get to make assumptions about my “racial preferences” when you don’t know me, you don’t know my boyfriend, and you don’t know a thing about our relationship. That’s misogynistic. That strips me of my agency because it purports to make my personal decisions for me.
I don’t have to prove my activism is genuine by dating someone from my own race. That’s…well, that’s just honestly pretty stupid.
You certainly don’t get to tell me that I have “no standing” among Asians if I “sleep white.” I advocate with my words. I don’t advocate with my vagina.
My boyfriend and I aren’t naive about the ways that race affects our relationship. We know we come from different locations, that he doesn’t understand many of my experiences. Of course there are slip-ups! Of course there are awkward run-ins with family! But we’re talking through them. We’re learning. We’re moving forward together, because we love and respect each other, and that’s all that should matter. I can very much assure you that he is not a domineering Pinkerton, and I am no submissive China doll.
I love the Asian men in my life–my father, my brother, my closest friends–and I will advocate for them. I also love my boyfriend because he’s kind, cute, thoughtful, and makes me laugh. Love is love is love is love. Don’t make this a forced choice between them, because that’s a foolish binary. Don’t create divisions where none need exist. You’re better than that.