May 16, 2011

On Cultural Sensitivity

How important is it to be culturally sensitive, specifically when writing about diverse characters filtered through an MC? I would honestly like to know what your thoughts are on this.

Let's say character A, your MC, comes from a family that raises horses. She's a big horse lover and has always had them as pets. Then A meets an Italian character B, who may or may not have consumed horse meat back in (certain regions of) Italy (not picking on Italians, just randomly picked one country out of many that consume horse meat). This might seem repugnant to some, but that's because most of us were raised in a society that sees horses as companions and work animals. Lots of people eat cows, which are sacred in India. How do you think they view farms that raise cows for the sole purpose of being slaughtered?

So what do you do?

That was an extreme example, and I doubt anyone would write about horse meat, but you get the point.

How important is it to not condemn OR condone certain cultural behaviors/beliefs despite how you, personally, feel about it?

In my opinion, the answer is that the narrative should reflect the CHARACTER, and not you as the author.

Filter opinions and views through that character, good or bad, right or wrong, and the reader will decide whether or not they agree or disagree (strongly or otherwise).

But then, while A might have strong and unwavering beliefs on any given issue, as the author, is it our responsibility to at least give the other side due time and understanding in order to not alienate parts of our audience?

My answer is yes. But how do you guys feel about it?

eta: Mooderino made some great points in the comments - it should also reflect the story. While my answer is still yes, I mean it in a way that does NOT come off as trying to make a "point" or trying to "educate." I simply mean it in context with telling your story.



*Please note that cultural sensitivity is not the same as being culturally accurate. Make sure that if you do something like this, you present it accurately. Always do your research!
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