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Does this come across as... (Part 2)

In the early days of lockdown last year, when the world went made for toilet rolls and pasta, I was told about an incident. It stayed with me, and I have written a short story based on the event. The characters and what happened afterwards are all my own invention, but the core incident did actually happen. I doubt I could have invented it.

It's written from the point of view of a supermarket security man. He's a middle-eastern immigrant who speaks good English, but English isn't his first language, which is why it's deliberately a bit off in places. He's also a Muslim, and the title of the piece is Inshallah, which means God's will, or God willing. 

My concern (apart from technical issues, and accuracy - and you're welcome to comment on these too) is whether I'm open to accusations of "cultural appropriation", because I am neither a middle-eastern immigrant not a Muslim.

I'm an old English male atheist. If I can't write from this man's point of view, can also I not write a character who is young, female, American or Christian? Is there a line? I'm especially keen to hear from Muslims, immigrants and anyone who might identify with the narrator.

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    • I read that over a cuppa... It's beautiful and real and so relatable I wanted to cheer! :) That's definitely me in a queue. I cannot tolerate entitled behaviour - registration be damned! Store staff need more people like your MC and less like the entitled scnarf (no that's not a real word, but it fits I feel) that was giving her a hard time. 

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      • Thank you. I was pleased with it, and I entered it into a competition. It didn't place, which got me wondering if it wasn't much good, or if maybe it offended someone's ultra-wokeness.

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        • Nah. It's not you, it's them lol :)

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        • Hi Glyn, I've not read your story yet, but concerning writing about 'the other' the following article was recommended by someone on the Shit No One Tells You About Writing podcast. I've not read it yet, but apparently it is a go-to for many on this issue.

          https://www.vulture.com/2019/10/author-alexander-chee-on-his-advice-to-writers.html

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          • I loved the story. I was completely held wondering what would happen. I don’t think it is at all racist, obviously the old woman was but not the piece. I suppose it is possible you might get told off for cultural appropriation. I hope not.

            As it is true, it is rather sad from every point of view. Clearly the pandemic did not bring out the best in everyone.

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            • Clearly. And it still isn't. 😖 

              Glad you liked it!

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            • Glyn- I finally had time to read your story.  I think this story is told with so much compassion, but I don't have a good answer to your question.  I'm an American.  My son-in-law is an Egyptian Muslim who immigrated when he was fourteen and has adapted well to American life despite all the potential problems.  He is the father of my two beautiful grandchildren.  I find myself trying to put myself in his shoes, but I can't.

              Why don't you have a Muslim friend read the story for you?  I think it is a story that should be told.


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              • Hi Glyn,

                I've just read your story and I loved it. No, it's not racist at all, on the contrary... it depicts very well a certain homophobia in the character who says:

                “I’m sure they keep some back for people like you.” 

                You are allowed to depict homophobic behaviour in characters to show their character and flaws. What you should never do is depict homophobic behaviour as correct or acceptable. And you make that clear in the next lines, by showing the true feelings of the first person narrator in the next sentence and next paragraphs: 

                "Ah yes, people like you. That cut me, even though it was aimed at the mother."

                It's clear the homophobia is not supported anywhere in the story. The sympathy of the narrator (and the readers') goes to the victim.

                I've just read an article about readers who confuse flawed fictional characters with the writer who created them.  Says something about the reading level of some people...

                Guardian article: 

                https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/11/so-sally-rooneys-racist-only-if-you-choose-to-confuse-fiction-with-fact

                As to the other question: is the story cultural appropriation?

                I don't think it is, because you live in a country where (unfortunately) this kind of story happens every day, and every hour of every day... and you've heard of it yourself. The only "appropriation" is in choosing to tell this story through a first person narrative, when you (as writer) are a different person from the muslim narrator. But I don't think there are any rules about not writing fiction in first person narrative unless the writer is the same person as the narrator. Or are there?...

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                • I read the piece. Very thoughtful. Sad that the Sydney Herald Journalist should half read the story and then erroneously claim racism in the writer. It is the kind of comments you expect from the unchecked social media sites, not an edited newspaper.

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                  • Thank you for the comment, and the link - a good piece.

                    I did just want to know why you think the woman in my story is homophobic? I mean, she may well be, but I didn't intend to imply it, and dont think any of the characters come across as gay or lesbian. But maybe some ambiguity slipped through. Or did you mean something else? 

                    By "people like you", the woman was (to me) sneering at what she saw as a lower class young single mother, probably living on drugs and welfare!

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                  • Just read the story, it isn't at all racist. And you aren't culturally appropriating anything - we're writers, we have to put ourselves in our characters' shoes. Otherwise all I could write about these days is grey-haired female pensioners - bugger that for a game of soldiers. You don't show any lack of respect for any of your characters' racial, sexual or social status.

                    I've spent the past 45+ years living around Middle Easterners (there and in the UK) so recognised the toilet paper joke and talk of using water to wash one's behind being far cleaner than mere wiping. And I've written about it myself in another context. I enjoyed your writing so carry on and ignore those idiots who look for the superficial and don't see what's beneath that. 

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                    • Thanks Maggie - that's very heartening!

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                    • Your story has that priceless ingredient of charm, which, in my opinion, is difficult to achieve.  You do, however, display a hint of prejudice…toward arrogant, entitled, racists. Well done, and keep submitting it. It deserves a wider audience.

                      Only one thing may be considered a cultural appropriation and that is the title, maybe consider, God Willing. 

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                      • Thanks so much! (Though you had me worried in your second sentence, for just a moment)

                        Your final point bears thinking about. My feeling is that if the narrator is a Muslim, it would be worse to change it to God Willing than to leave it as Inshallah. I could of course have had him as a plain Englishman, but then I'd lose the opportunity to present a positive image of a Muslim immigrant. I could have made him Romanian, say, but Romanians don't get quite such bad press (especially not this week).

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                        • He says God willing though. Maybe he could say Inshalla at the end instead, swop it round. Actually it is a very English story, and the MC is a very much a part of English society.

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                          • He does, doesn't he. I admit, it's a sop for non-Arabic speakers and anyone who doesn't know what Inshallah means. He wouldn't actually think "God willing" even if he was thinking in English, but I thought I neede to put it in.

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