I've recently been witness to a discussion about whether or not somebody (specifically, a heterosexual, cisgendered white man) should give a presentation about the representation (in a particular medium) of a social group (a minority) that they are not a part of. Some members of the given social group were wary of having a privileged person speaking on their behalf with no inside knowledge of the issues that they've faced, stating that a member of said group should be giving a presentation instead (or that the presenter's talk should be on another subject). Others were supportive of the presenter, stating that he is knowledgeable about the medium in question, has spent years researching this particular topic (including speaking with many people from said social group) and would approach it with care and consideration. It may be important to note that the presenter was invited to give a talk on any subject he wanted - he chose the representation of said social group in said medium - he wasn't invited in the place of somebody from that group.
This has troubled me. I am of the opinion that anybody should be able to give a presentation on any subject, so long as it is well-researched, considerate and useful. But I am not part of the social group mentioned above, so maybe my opinion is invalid. I certainly don't want to offend anybody.
From a personal point of view, this has made me question my own work. I have written a couple of pieces about the representation of social groups in video games because I think it's an important topic and I am interested in researching it. For example, I wrote a paper about the representation of black player characters in Diablo III (SPOILER - it's pretty offensive). Should I not have written this paper? In doing the research for it, I read articles and papers by people who I believe were black (an author's race isn't usually stated) and referenced them accordingly, building my arguments from theirs. Nobody had approached this exact topic in the same way as me, though. If I hadn't written this paper, it would not exist. And, more importantly, I wouldn't have learned from the experience (and the readers of the paper may not have, either). I know that I couldn't fuel the writing with my own experiences, but it's an academic piece so I shouldn't have anyway. Maybe this is the difference - it's OK in objective, academic work but not in informal presentations?
Another worry of mine is - where do you draw the line? There's always more division, if you look for it. Can a gay man talk about the representation of a gay woman? Can an Afro-Caribbean person talk about the representation of an African-American person? Can a black Muslim talk about the representation of a black Christian? (This comes to mind because I recently discovered that Christopher Biggins supposedly holds some awful views on bisexual people, but I felt that some people would argue that his views on this would be more valid than heterosexuals' because he is part of the LGBTQ+ community.)
I have another, ongoing project on player character representation in video games, this time looking at how the representation rates of certain social groups (based on division by gender, race and age) have changed over the years (and why this might be important). This one is a work-in-progress and there's a fair bit more to be done, but should I even be doing it? Research has stated that the way social groups are represented in media is important, with great sociocultural implications. I feel that anything that I could add to the subject should be added. But I'm worried that I can only discuss groups that I am a part of.
My work (both research and design) has the blessing of the most important black person in the world (to me), so I feel fairly comfortable that I am allowed to write and produce these things. I mention black as a social group specifically because I have written about the representation of black characters and I tend to try to include as many black (women) characters in my work as possible - maybe I'll write more about that another time. But maybe other black people would disagree. I wholeheartedly want to use my work to make the world a better place, so I despise the idea that I might be somehow taking away from the social groups that I write about or try to include in my work. I sincerely hope not.