At WorldCon in Glasgow in 2005, there were two panels about cultural appropriation in writing. In my memory (which may be inaccurate), both of them were populated almost entirely by white people. And most of the people on both panels said things like (paraphrased from memory) my person-of-color friend gave me permission to write about their culture, so whatever I write is fine and writers need to write about whatever they feel moved to write about, no matter who might object and why are those darn PC people trying to shut us up? and so on.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because that wasn't an isolated incident. It's a pattern. Over and over again, conventions put together panels that ask questions like “Is it okay to write about other people's cultures?” and then populate those panels entirely or near-entirely with white people; and over and over again, those white people say the same things.
The latest such panel, in a long line of them, was the Writing About Other Cultures panel at the latest Nebula Weekend. I wasn't there, but Sunil Patel has written about it. (I'm hoping that'll be visible to people who aren't Facebook members; I apologize if it isn't.) He noted that there were interesting and good things said on the panel, but he also noted that the panel was kind of a trainwreck in some ways.
And his description of the panel sounds to me remarkably like those two WorldCon panels nine years ago.
So I want to say this:
It is long past time that we stopped populating convention panels about cultural appropriation entirely with white people. It's a near-guaranteed recipe for awfulness. Concoms, just STOP DOING THIS.
(I gather that there was a second cultural-appropriation-related panel at the Nebulas, in which all of the panelists were people of color, but I may have misunderstood. Still, in case anyone involved in running programming for any convention thinks it's a good idea to have an all-white diversity panel to balance an all-PoC panel on similar topics: Don't do it. It's a terrible idea.)
And by the way: white people, when you find yourself on a panel about cultural appropriation or writing about other cultures: stop being defensive, stop saying appropriation is fine, stop complaining that the mean PC people are beating up on you, and start being aware that the problem is not so much your specific instance of (for example) a stereotype, but more the vast pattern of that stereotype being used over and over and over again throughout our literature and art.
And remember: IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.
PS: Juliette Wade, one of the white panelists on the Nebula Weekend panel, has now also written about the panel. It sounds like it was uncomfortable for at least some of the panelists as well as for the audience.
PPS: Another recommendation for panelists with various forms of privilege: if you're signing up for programming at a convention, try explicitly mentioning to the Programming people that you're more interested in hearing from people with less privilege than people with more. I'm hoping that if concoms hear that enough—from all directions, not only from the people who are being excluded—then they'll start to pay more attention.