“Stay in your lane” is a comment referring to a statement or opinion made by a member of a group who has commented on a group “different” from their own, usually the one uttering the title phrase. In North America this is most recently manifesting as the “white” person commenting about a “black” issue and being told to “stay in your lane” – as any such comment, good or bad, is an appropriation of culture or cause. The “white” person should not comment as such a comment rather than being empathetic or sympathetic is, in actuality, offensive as it constitutes appropriation of the culture or experience of the “black” person or group.
Lionel Shriver, the author, gave a speech to the Brisbane Writer’s Festival. The text of the speech is provided in full by The Guardian – please follow the link. In her address she outlines the reasons that this type of thinking is wrongheaded when applied to the authors of fiction. I would suggest it is wrongheaded in all occasions. This notion of appropriation, of “staying in your lane” extends to music, politics, and other social forms. Ms. Shrivers speaks to the plight of the author of fiction when confronted with criticism over writing a character that is ethnically, gender, or sexually different than the author. This idiocy would have each of us remain fast to our own experience. Ms. Shrivers lists but a few of the literary works of art that wouldn’t exist if the author had chosen to stay in their lane.
The proponents of identity politics would have us eat our own foods, drink our own drinks. The notion of diversity is not one of separation but sharing and exchange. An author must create characters from life, or be accused of being exclusionary. Likewise, much art is made trite by the tokenism of placing a character of one group or another within the narrative solely to serve as an example of the diversity of the story. As with all things, balance and honesty rule. That does not preclude, as Ms. Shrivers points out, that some authors will do it badly. But, that’s bad writing, not appropriation. There are other aspects to this argument though. Solange Knowles spoke to this in a recent blog that is getting comment and publication on the internet.
Solange Knowles has recently posted an essay on her website decrying the challenges of being a black in a “white space.” There are no “white spaces”. However, there are places where one is among many. If that makes the person uncomfortable then soul searching is required. If, however, which is what Ms. Knowles eludes to, one is made to feel uncomfortable solely because that “one” is different, then that is entirely another matter. We should have an expectation of fair treatment. However, should Ms. Knowles have chosen to remain in her lane and not to appropriate “White” German culture by attending a Kraftwerk concert. Of course not. The notion is as idiotic as an author being dragged over the coals for writing a story from the perspective of a woman, if male, or an English character, if South African. Yet, I suspect it is less likely that Ms. Knowles will be accused of appropriation. The accusation of appropriation is no less racist than the purported act. Still, discomfort felt by Solange Knowles by the behaviour of those around her and the criticism of authors who refuse to “stay in their lanes” comes from the same root. That root needs stamping out.