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Identity politics collars fiction

By Malcolm King - posted Monday, 4 November 2019

Advocates of identity politics are demanding that white writers stop creating fictional characters who are different from their own race, gender or sexual orientation.

They believe white authors have appropriated black, female or gay cultures for too long.

This new orthodoxy is blooming in many of our cultural institutions, especially in film, publishing and literary competitions.


Last year, The Saturday Paper, which awards the $15,000 Horne Prize for the best essay on Australian life, changed its submission rules.

It would, "not accept essays by non-indigenous writers about the experiences of First Nations Australians, essays about the LGBTQI community written by non-LGBTQI people or any other writing that purports to represent the experiences of any minority community of which the writer is not a member."

In protest, the journalist David Marr and novelist Anna Funder, withdrew as judges, and the new rules were ditched.

Marr wrote in The Guardian, "Men can write about women, gays about straights, blacks about whites. You judge, as always, by quality."

I wish that was true.

In 2017, the American book review magazine, Kirkus Reviews, removed a star (signifying an exceptional work), from Laura Moriarty's teen fiction novel, 'American Heart'.


The story is set in an American dystopian future, where a 15-year old girl helps a Muslim girl to escape from a Muslim detainment camp.

Kirkus said it removed the star and rewrote the review because 'American Heart' was a 'white saviour narrative', where a person of colour relied on the compassion of a white person for rescue.

In the last five years, some youth fiction publishers have hired 'sensitivity readers', to assess whether stories may offend minority groups.

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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