The Trouble with Sombreros

In early September, the novelist Lionel Shriver gave a speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival in which she expressed her hope that identity politics and the concept of cultural appropriation would turn out to be passing fads. During her lecture, several audience members walked out in protest, and the text of her address has sparked a controversy that has spread across the Internet and the British and American press. It has stoked a debate already raging on college campuses, in the literary world, in the fashion and music industries, on city streets, and in other areas of our social and political lives. But while this debate has raised important issues—for writers and the public—both Shriver and her critics may have overlooked some of its larger implications.