Sitting in a room full of white, middle-class Cambridge students discussing the issue of cultural appropriation in literature made me feel eerily uncomfortable. The discussion was lively and interesting until parts of it were dismissed as nonsense which would have only been an appropriate response if every one of us weren't toppling on the high seats of our privilege.
This is not to say that white, well-off people shouldn't discuss race issues - they absolutely should be trying to work that one out - but with a lack of any other voice the conversation feels superficial and very awkwardly distant from ourselves. None of us were going to leave the room and live the reality of what we spoke about. It was a bit like a group of men sitting in a room discussing the rights of women over their bodies and leaving without gaining anything much from the conversation. Mainly because it wasn't allowed to finish. In fairness, we were not in that room to discuss cultural appropriation because it was a lesson and there were other topics to move on to. But, when we delved into the topic of race how much were we really thinking about it? How sensitive did we intend to be? Why did I feel squirmish about it, wanting to defend the missing representatives?
I can't think of how to raise this issue without sounding like I want to ban all white groups from casually discussing race. I should point out that no one in that room was racist, I think most of us felt the same way, but it was the dismissal that worried me. I wanted more thought on it, more working out of opinions and ideas. I didn't want anyone to wave my thinking aloud off as "nonsense" before I'd worked out what I was saying.
I think what I'm trying to say is that what I was saying, and what most of us was saying, was unfinished and so we went away with an uncomfortable question mark hanging over our heads. The topic had so much weight that to wave it off without any conclusion or bettered understanding felt wrong. If we were going to lack representation then I'd rather we talked about it probably. Obviously we weren't going to change the world in that room with that conversation, but we had a chance of developing ideas. I just feel that in an ideal situation we should have stuck to that development.
I feel that ultimately there was something missing. From our high seats of privilege we could have taken away something really cool from that discussion and, well, I just don't think that we did.