… we have all been programmed to respond to the human difference between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. – Audre Lorde
We (whether we care to admit it or not) are all products of our environment, upbringing, family, peers, education, and the biases, opinions, literature and mediums of our times.
We, dear storyteller, have decisions to make, many, many decisions. We, dear storyteller have ourselves as well as an audience/listener/observer/village to which we are accountable the moment we share a story.
When writing, telling, showing or performing a story try asking yourself:
1) Who is this story for? Who will I be telling it to? If you don’t know, then write/tell/show yourself first (it might remain as a journal entry, or even a confession).
2) Who’s story is it? Is it mine to tell? (this may require research, or even written or verbal permission).
3) Where did this story come from? Do your research. Is the story published? Is it a folktale, myth or religious tale? Are there different versions? How do they differ? Are these differences significant? From whose perspective will you choose to tell it? What did you consider when making these choices?
4) Why am I choosing to share it?
5) Why is this story important? In other words, why is it “urgent” – this is a direct reference to d’bi young anitafrika’s sorplusi method).
6) Why am I telling it now?
7) HOW will I tell it? Am I plagiarizing any part of it? In what ways will I give, or not give attribution?
8) Who am I accountable to when sharing this story? In what ways am I willing or unwilling to be accountable for the ways in which I tell it? Why or why not?
And finally, the one that people with unexamined biases often miss:
9) Am I harming anyone with the telling of this story? Does this story denigrate, ridicule or disrespect any person or group? In what ways am I willing to be accountable for this harm, intentional or otherwise?
Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn’t matter. I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for. – Alice Walker
This post was inspired by the recent debates in the media regarding appropriation. For some very fulfilling mind-food regarding appropriation, I give the floor to two writers I carry a deep respect for, please read more below.