In Everything I Never Told You which I reviewed recently, I mentioned briefly my thoughts about Kiri being part-Japanese. As a first-time author everything one does the first-time around seems clever and interesting; my creative writing tutor, John Seymour didn’t guide me away from that early decision to make her part-Japanese so I ran with it and arguably, am still running with it. In Riccarton, I wanted conflict. It is conflict that drives plot. A man walks across the road. There is no one else around, no traffic. Yawn. He gets to the other side. Yawn. He walks along the pavement. Jeez. It starts to rain. Yawn. Coming towards him down the middle of the road, he sees four tigers and he knows they have spotted him. Conflict.
For a couple of hours when I was writing my early draft, I considered making Kiri Judi, a half-Pakistani whose mother, her water-engineer father had met in Pakistan. I am pretty much the only person I know who has actually ever visited Pakistan but we had recently returned from a long holiday in Kyoto and I was full of it; couldn’t get it out of my mind so, so dazzled by Japan and its contradictions. And making Kiri Kiri simply fell in to place. Could have made her white middle-class but there was a gift there of conflict, so that was the way I went.
There is a review somewhere on Goodreads suggesting that I am guilty of Cultural Appropriation; that it’s a convenient prop. It’s possible. I am not Japanese. I am a white middle-class male. Unlike Celeste Ng, who is part-Chinese and therefore can never be accused of Cultural Appropriation.
When I think of cultural appropriation, I suppose I think of fashion or music videos where an exotic culture is misappropriated just for the sake of doing something different. I think the fashion industry does quite a lot of cultural appropriation, one way or another. I don’t mind. Rihanna has a music video out at the moment where she is some kind of Indian princess, and yes it is to quote, ‘untethered from meanings of religious and social significance’. Don’t care. And Beyoncé has done something similar, arguably a message to black women: if you want to be beautiful, light skin, light eyes and blonde hair is the way to go, no matter what clothes you are wearing. Don’t care. All little black girls love her; she is a role model for millions of women, white or black but not because she is light-skinned and beautiful.
I am sure many people will say I’m overstating the case and talk about how political correctness is ruining everything. After all, it’s just a book, right? I think there probably is a penchant for western artists to commodify exotic religions, culture and fashion but honestly, if there is anything going on in Riccarton Junction, it is cultural appreciation, not cultural appropriation.