About Me

My photo
To listen to my latest recording, view my complete profile and then click on "audio clip" under "links"

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Still Searching

If you're a reader, you might be aware of the controversy that engulfed author Jeanine Cummins not long after her 2019 novel American Dirt became a bestseller. As the cultural appropriation brouhaha swirled around Cummins, for reasons I don't clearly recall, I skipped reading her book, though the early reviews and significant buzz about it had initially intrigued me. My reading life continued apace as Cummins suffered withering attacks about "speaking for" a group she cannot claim as her own - un-documented immigrants.  

Though I hadn't given much thought to cultural appropriation since the Cummins fracas, the subject and her book both roared back to life recently. Unknown to me when we started our trip, what resided on my wife's phone, a compelling companion during our driving vacation through the South when looking for a break from music? That's right, American Dirt. And here's the rub: I still have no clear idea where I land on the cultural appropriation continuum. (I do know this: Cummins is a talented storyteller and her book is a near-perfect one to listen to while driving - linear plot, not too many characters, strong narrative line.

On one hand, I'm thrilled cultural critics are raising this issue, especially since oppressed people have often been rendered voiceless by oppressors. But I can think of many examples from my own life when I might never have learned about an injustice had it not been for authors, musicians, or filmmakers who tried using their privileged voices to tell a story needing to be told. I can think of just as many instances when I might have never known of an important talent because my world was narrow. And many well-meaning people around me - educators, family, friends - also unaware of the unheard, didn't bring those talents to my attention. But then, some well known artist championed the previously unheard, in the process helping me to be exposed to those "others". 

I'm not convinced the public castigation Jeanine Cummins endured was fair or just. Does that matter? Isn't it better for questions and challenges to be posed even when there are no clear answers? Where is the line about who has the "right" to speak for or on behalf of whom? I can't pretend to know. Can you? 



  1. What a thought provoking and intriguing post and question. I also can't answer that question. Perhaps it has more to do with how the subject is handled than who does the handling?

    1. Ines; How I wish I could attract more comments of this caliber, i.e. vulnerable AND thoughtful. From the inception of my blog, I've yearned for honest and forthright virtual conversations. You gave me what I hope is the start of one of those today by what you wrote. Thanks for making my day and for your unfailing support of my reflections.

  2. Oh wow, Pat! Thank you for writing this! The difference, as I see it and argue it often with others, is between appropriation and appreciation. I am not familiar with the Cummins story, but kudos to Kim for getting the book to listen to regardless! We have become a society that is quick to want to be a system with hard and fast rules to follow instead of interest in the betterment of each other and humanity through education. In my brief (right now) perusal of information regarding this particular instance, I can't help but feel what I often feel...folks want to jump on a bandwagon of finger pointing and destruction. If not for authors being willing to write about that which they have not experienced personally, how will we ever learn??? Appropriation, in my mind is the adoption of a single part of a culture and diminishing the entire culture or person to that one trait. From what I read just now, her book dove deep into the trenches and pulled out all kinds of information regarding a particular population. She tried to bring to light something to which you and I might otherwise remain ignorant by doing the research and writing the story. I have to stop here because I have a meeting to attend in nine minutes and that is where my attention needs to go, but THANK YOU for questioning!!! We need to do that more often and with intention when people blindly run with ideas that hit us funny in our gut. d.

    1. d; Thanks for the comprehensive comment. I suspect I will continue to struggle with this issue for a long time. And that's OK; it's better that I have lots of questions vs. acting like I have answers.