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View Full Version : a problem with writing about a culture not my own.



Okelly65
12-18-2014, 09:32 AM
I recently finished a part of a WIP that was set in a Gullah township. Post apocalyptic in case your wondering. I found as I was writing that I didn't really like anything I wrote about their culture. its an incredibly vibrant culture that has affected and influenced mainstream US, particularly southern Culture for well over a century.

in the story, they were actually recovering better than many other places including setting up a commodity Currency and having an excess of food and goods that allowed them to establish a small business community and practice other skills such as boat building and making musical instrument instead of just growing food to survive.

In the end, I focused on the leaderships drive, past and present to preserve their culture, while trying to move beyond the past and build a better future for themselves.

In the end I feel like the character's didnt really sound Gullah. But I was glad the characters and their township didn't come across as stock, stereotypes either.

so if any one has any suggestions on how to add any little touches that could add flavor with out seemingly or in reality pander to stereotypes I would be thankful.

C. Eldon Gammon
12-18-2014, 10:03 AM
How has religion evolved since the Apocalypse? That could be a great starting point. Did they maintain the same structure of government? If not, how can you demonstrate how the new government is affecting their life?

Just some thoughts.

Okelly65
12-18-2014, 10:49 AM
How has religion evolved since the Apocalypse? That could be a great starting point. Did they maintain the same structure of government? If not, how can you demonstrate how the new government is affecting their life?

Just some thoughts. the way I am handling religion is complicated. :D some people have pitched the religions they grew up with, others have adapted old beliefs to the new reality. some just created whole new ones.

In the story, the Gullah Township is actually run by the board members of a fictional Gullah historical society. they were elected as whole by the people because they were the ones who saw what was coming and started preparing and organizing for it.

Part of the problem of showing Gullah and religion is that to some it might sound like a stereotype or racist if I included the ring shout and other traditional Gullah religious activities, hymn's and such. when my attempt is really to show the richness of the culture they have and are fighting to preserve.

there are elements of traditional supernatural belief as well such as painting door and window frames blue to keep out evil spirits like the Boo hag.

Do you remember the Briar Rabbit stories, that a decade or so ago were declared racists and offensive and have pretty much vanished from schools and everywhere else. Those were Gullah trickster and Morality stories amongst other things, collected and printed in the book "Uncle Remus".

patskywriter
12-18-2014, 06:23 PM
I think it all depends on your frame of mind as you write the story and how you express yourself. I've read stories and articles where the author reminds me of Jacques Cousteau, someone who's giving you a glimpse at something rare and exotic. The culture-by-tour-bus effect often comes across as awkward.

It would be cool if you can describe cultural practices in a straightforward, easygoing, nonjudgmental manner. Having someone from the Gullah community read samples of your descriptions of their culture might also be helpful.

Okelly65
12-19-2014, 06:27 AM
thanks for the suggestions C. Eldon Gammon, I appreciate it.

thanks for the reply Patsky. I might just do what you suggest when I go back to do a rewrite. Right now I dont even want my dog reading it:D

C. Eldon Gammon
12-19-2014, 09:07 AM
thanks for the suggestions C. Eldon Gammon, I appreciate it.

Anytime!!

S. Eli
12-19-2014, 09:29 AM
My mother and her side of the family is gullah! Imho, I feel like you should just add everything you know--the things you're worried about being stereotypical, the hymns, the traditions--and then when it's over, dial it back in places, turn it on its head in others.

It's easy to use stereotypes to distinguish a character FROM stereotypes. For example, some variations of the mammy stereotype make her an older Black woman that sings negro spirituals. I've seen films turn that on its head, sometimes they make that character a kid, and other times other characters call attention to it--"You're being like that stereotype, woman!" Sometimes the character herself addresses the issue.

It's good that you're exploring another culture. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, just make sure you can fix them when you're done.

sugarhit
03-03-2015, 06:50 AM
Have you been to Gullah township? Maybe that'd help.

I would throw in some geechee phrases and references that only someone there would know like the smell of the air, locations, customs, etc.