Authenticity + Respect, not just #ownvoice

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Or, how the #ownvoice movement discourages writers as well as alienates those close to the voices.

I already know that this post is going to be wildly controversial. I might get called some names, or shunted out of some writing groups, or just generally be ridiculed by people who don’t agree with me. But I still think that this opinion, which is not just mine, ought to be said.

The #ownvoices movement is dangerous.

Whoa. What?

Yes. I said it.

Do you know what the #ownvoices movement is? Have you heard the buzzword ‘cultural appropriation’ floating around your writerly friend’s blog or facebook page? If you have a twitter, go ahead and use the search function to look up #ownvoices.

On the plus side, this movement encourages racially/ sexually/ religiously diverse people to write about what they know instead of trying to write from perspectives or experiences not their own. This is a great thing. Give me a Hindu MC, let me as a reader see what it’s like to be Vietnamese, help me understand the struggles and trials of people who are unlike me in many ways. Help support authors who are diverse. This part of #ownvoice I can get behind.

(NOTE: I still reserve the right to read or not read any work by any author. Everyone has that freedom of choice. Move on.)

Negatively, this movement discourages racially/ sexually/ religiously diverse people from writing about perspectives or experiences not their own.

This movement has worked tirelessly to do several damaging things. They target authors who write about things they know (e.g. a white, straight American writing about white, straight Americans) and label them as ‘whitewashed’. They discourage these authors from branching out and studying other cultures/ beliefs/ lifestyles and then bash them for not branching out. Nice.

I believe that, while it’s important to get things right, one Native American family is going to be pretty different from another. One Hindu might not practice their religion exactly like another. And yet, it seems that the narrow, narrow view of #ownvoices doesn’t allow for diversity within their diversity.

Look. If you are white and want to have a Native American MC, go for it. Do your research, make a real effort. Learn. Grow. Begin to understand. If it’s done poorly, I won’t read it. If an #ownvoices book about the same subject is done poorly, I won’t read that, either.

Give authors a break. We work hard. If our books are ‘whitewashed’, we might need a little help to diversify. But #ownvoices, pointing fingers and calling names, shaming white authors and glorifying everyone else, is going to do more damage than good. They’re damaging the very cause they hope to support.

This article, recently, helped me formulate firm opinions on this.

That’s why I’m more in favor of authenticity than ‘own voices’. There’s a big difference. Being authentic is treating your subject matter with respect and being as true to accurate as you can be. It might be delaying a publication to do some more research or call up that cousin’s best friend that grew up in Indonesia just so you can add authenticity to your work. Do your research. Don’t treat cultures/ religions/ views not your own with carelessness or contempt.

Every single person deserves respect.

By focusing singularly on groups that have been historically marginalized, the #ownvoices voices are marginalizing groups today. Respect the Indians. Respect the gays, and the blacks, and the Mexicans. Respect diversity. #writeauthentic #authenticauthors

Even the straight, white, Americans. Respect them, too.

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