The lack of nuance in her September 8 speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival proves that she mostly doesn’t get it.
In an attempt to advocate for fiction without boundaries, Shriver, best-selling author of We Need to Talk About Kevin and Orange Prize winner, declared the criticism of cultural appropriation “a passing fad” and claimed that “membership of a larger group is not an identity.” Instead of stopping there, she colored her borderline offensive comment with examples: “Being Asian is not an identity. Being gay is not an identity. Being deaf, blind, or wheelchair-bound is not an identity, nor is being economically deprived.”
My question for Shriver is: If these labels are not identities, if being gay or disabled is not a part of who you are, then why are hundreds of people abused, shamed, and killed everyday because of them? Why are these individuals barred from exercising certain rights and privileges, if these traits, as we will call them, are not important parts of the self?
Shriver, who is German-American, also wants us to know that she welcomes others’ adoption of her heritage. She is “more than happy for anyone ... to don a Tyrolean hat, pull on some leiderhosen, pour themselves a weisbier, and belt out the Hoffbrauhaus Song.”
What Shriver seems to miss about cultural appropriation is its inextricable link to power. This example proves the necessity of cultural appropriation studies in the first place. A Mexican in a Tyrolean hat is not the same as a group of college kids partying in sombreros. Cultural appropriation is when the wearing of a hat makes one group the butt of jokes and another “cultured.”