So, the question has been raised: can someone write outside their own culture?
Many would say yes, and many would say no; it is quite the divided topic. Those against it say that there is no possible way for someone outside the culture to truly understand what it means to be a ‘part.’ They may study it and learn its history, but they will never feel the culture as a lifestyle because they will never be a true member of it. Those for the idea have different takes on the subject. Henry Louis Gates Jr. says “no human culture is inaccessible to someone who makes an effort to understand, to learn, to inhabit another world.”
It is this quote that made me think past the realm of the ‘perfect world’ scenario I proposed and into reality. There will never be a culturally authentic writer for some cultures. Should these cultures just, disappear then? Or should we make an effort to learn as much as we can and use these highly complex neurons of ours to try and place ourselves in the closest situation we can?
I would also like to add this sentiment. If we are limited to
writing only about our own cultures, where does creative writing come in? Where is fantasy? How am I supposed to write a fanfiction shipping a Klingon character with a Romulan in a heart-felt love story across two warring peoples? I promise you, I am neither Romulan nor Klingon. However, I know an extensive amount about both character’s cultures enough to actually teach a class on the subject.
Along these lines, should we limit teachers to only teach their own cultures? My cultural anthropology class in undergrad was not taught by someone who was a member of any of the tribes that we studied. Does this mean that we cannot learn from him and his knowledge? Does the fact that he is not a member of this culture mean that he can never understand it?
Which brings us back to the beginning. Personally, I believe people
can write outside their cultures. Yes, I would prefer to read a biography of a black child growing up in the 60’s, but that does not mean that I cannot learn from a Latina woman writing a story of a black child growing up in the 60’s, or a white man writing. If I am unable to learn about the race in the story, the least I can learn is how the author views that race.
It is why we, as humans, have the ability to think critically. It is why we need to review author’s background while judging authenticity. Did he just watch a show on the history channel and think he knows every black plight? Or did he do extensive research on the subject, talk to people who lived at the time, and still admits to not knowing everything?
If we were to say that only cultures can write about themselves, well I think that is just lazy of us.