Tag Archives: cultural appropriation

An allegory (not about the election)

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Once upon a time, in a small village, there was a shop that sold pots. There were pots of all kinds, in different sizes and shapes. Some were squat and earthy, some were tall and elegant, some were useful, some were purely art pieces.

Each had only one handle.

One day, a new potter came into the shop. She was holding a pot with two handles. The proprietor looked over his glasses at her.

“Two handles?” he said, not quite sneering. “How…Unusual.”

The woman swallowed, but stood tall.

“This is how I make pots. With two handles.”

The man smiled in a patronly fashion.

“And that’s very admirable, but as you can see, all the pots in this shop have ONE handle. I simply can’t sell a two handled pot. No one would buy it.”

The woman frowned.

“Excuse me, but how do you know that?”

The man waved once more at the stock in his window.

“Because I’ve been selling pots for over thirty years, young woman, and I have never yet sold a two-handled pot. It can’t be done.”

The woman arched an eyebrow at him.

“Have you ever HAD a two-handled pot to sell?”

The man had no answer to this, and in his moment of confusion, the woman carefully placed her pot in his hands. Both hands instinctively closed around the handles, holding the pot firm. It felt right in his grip, comfortable, safe and secure. There was no arguing that it wasn’t different from every pot he’d held before. He liked the pot, but his pride prevented him from saying aloud how he felt. He cleared his throat.

“Well, look, I can see you’ve worked hard on this. I think we should be charitable and give a chance to new…odd, things. I’ll put it in the window, for now. We’ll give you a week, how about that?”

But less than a week had passed before the woman heard from the shop owner. Her pot had sold, and word had got round, and could she bring him more pots, more two-handled pots please. As many as ten? By tomorrow?

Along with the modest flow of people buying the new pots (new to the shop, but perhaps an old design, to be sure) came an angry potter. He was, he explained, there to represent the views of several potters who had concerns.

“These new pots of yours, ” he said, “They’re not right. Not proper.”

The shopkeeper frowned at that.

“I don’t see how that’s the case. They are pots. Whether artistic or practical, they do what needs to be done.”

The potter shuffled his feet, as if physically adjusting his mental stance.

“Look,” he said (and the strain of keeping a level tone was nonetheless evident in his voice) “I can see there’s a bit of a fad for this new style. Well, fine. If you want two handles on pots, I can supply pots with two handles.”

“Why?” asked a softer voice.

Both men turned to see the woman who had made the two handled pots. She had clearly heard the exchange.

“I beg your pardon?” grated the potter.

“Why would you suddenly start making two handled pots? I make them that way because that’s how I was taught to make them. It’s the way my family have always made pots.”

“I’ve never seen them before.” asserted the potter, as if that were a closing statement.

“Little wonder about that, since they’ve never had space in the shop before.” replied the woman.

“Well, now they are taking up space. Space that other potters have earned. Potters that have more experience, that have sold pots for longer than you…”

“Not hard to do, since I haven’t sold any pots before this week.” admitted the woman.

“Exactly!”

“But then again, that doesn’t make them better. It certainly doesn’t make them better at making two handled pots.”

The potter stared at her, then glanced at the shopkeeper who shrugged, unwilling to intervene. The woman continued in a level and understanding tone.

“You see, I know you are a good potter. I see your pots right there in the window and they are beautifully made. Some are useful, and some are too lovely to use. You are clearly a master potter.”

He stammered a vague thank you, trying to see why she should compliment him.

“And yet… All your pots have one handle. They only need one handle. That’s how they were made, how you have always made your pots. You COULD make pots with two handles, and they would be good pots, but you know what? You’d be making them because people are buying two handled pots. Not because you want to MAKE two handled pots. And before you could sell them, you would have to go away and learn about the design, probably from someone like me, who has spent her life making pots like these.”

The potter opened his mouth and the woman held up one finger. Not imperiously, not commandingly, just to indicate a moment’s pause was needed.

“You should make the pots you have always made. They will still be beautiful or useful. People will still buy them and love them. And yes, you may sell fewer pots because the shop shares the space with different pots. But you’ll be making the pots that you make best. The pots you understand. The pots you dream of. And so will I.”

So, this is the internet, where you have to point out when you’re writing a satire. This is not a satire, it’s an allegory, and it’s not about the American election, even though it seems like EVERYTHING is about the American election right now. This is about a discussion in the publishing industry that rose and fell recently. It’s how I feel about that argument.