This post was spurred by http://www.sfwa.org/2010/03/can-you-define-african-science-fiction/ and some comments from a rather angry young person a while back about someone writing from their little chosen identity's point of view (Pick your own, my dears. Could be homophobic Russian-speaking pentathalon athletes, or gay Chinese Quakers or whatever narrow little niche they catagorised themselves as). How DARE XYZ Author (who isn't in that particular niche) write about the niche! The barefaced revolting gall! XYZ-fail! Boycott their books! XYZ could never understand it.
Sigh. Back where I came from they had this 'charming' policy called 'apartheid' which this resembles. Yes, it is something the world holds in abhorence and rightly so, but in practice this is still the same thing. Let me explain: In political theory the apartheid policy was called 'seperate development' and purported to effectively divide the human race and allow the different cultures to develop and control their own affairs (we even had a Ministry of Own Affairs). In actual unpleasant practice this meant restricting part of the population from using the resources (jobs, land, votes) which were exclusively for the other part. Of course the 'special'part was not equally restricted. THEY could use anything. And what's more they could decide what was 'suitable' for the rest.
This is Dave's personal take on this. I give you my fullest permission to write about my niche, even if you have never been hetrosexual, addicted to adrenalin, excess-testoseronally challenged, or had to suffer from sunburn, and have not lived in Africa. Even if (as most writers who don't fit the above profile mostly do) you make something of a horse's butt out of it. Because unless you're going to write only about people in your niche, for your niche, odds are you will write about someone else. Probably as the villian (whose culture, background, motivation and feelings you don't understand - just as he doesn't understand yours). Don't expect, however, that I will grant you apartheid rights over me and my very broad niche. I've been a second class citizen, and am not ready to be one again, or to make anyone else be one. I am going to write female characters. I am going to write ones from cultures that are not my own. I'll try and do so sensitively, and with as much careful research as possible, because that is what the ethical author does. I will probably still make a horse's butt out of it sometimes. But the truth is, even if the character is a Mongol and lives in Eastern Romania in the 16th century, they were still human and I have still felt many of the emotions that motivate all humans. Unless you are prepared to back off from using my language or my culture or my gender or my orientation don't tell me to keep off yours. And if you feel your background in that niche qualifies you far better than me to write about it -- you're probably right. Please do it. But you don't own it anymore than Fred Nurk owns writing in English about fat middle-aged white guys because he is one. We'll leave it readers to see whose WRITING they prefer - because being a homophobic Russian-speaking pentathalon athlete may make you know all about being a homophobic Russian-speaking pentathalon athlete... but actually, no, it doesn't make you a good writer automatically. If you want your point of view carried effectively, you might be best advised to find the best writer possible to do so.
For the record, I do not think I write African Science Fiction (although I think I am the most prolific and widely read African born sf writer - with some 30 000 years on my mother's side of claim to that part of Africa, you might say I had some claim if I believed in this sort of territoriality). Nor do I want to. I write Science Fiction. I am still very fond of my birth-land, but it does not confine me. I will compete with anyone, anywhere. I'll lose sometimes, because there are some great writers out there - but I would rather be a lesser fish in big ocean with room to grow and peers to learn from, than need to claim some puddle all for my own. It would be nice to be considered on the merits and failings of my writing. That's unlikely, but I don't want to claim some sort of special status and territory of my own, whatever happens.
So: do you think there is any justification for exclusively restricting any area of writing to one group? Or does any group claiming this forfeit the right to use the resources of others? Can a man write about childbirth? And is a woman who has never had a baby excluded? Can a woman write about having many times the level of testosterone she's ever experienced (yes, actually men are hormonal, and yes it affects their rationality and behaviour)? Can a non-Inuit write about Inuit seal hunting (and can an Inuit who has not hunted seals write it better than a non-Inuit who has)?