A heated debate over cultural appropriation and free speech boiled over in Canadian media after a controversial opinion piece was published last week that that encouraged white writers to explore “the lives of people who aren’t like you.”
The controversy began when novelist and former editor of the Writers’ Union of Canada’s publication Hal Niedzviecki penned an editorial in Write magazine under the headline “Winning the Appropriation Prize” where he argued that he did “not believe in cultural appropriation” in the context of literature and encouraged writers to “write what they don’t know.”
Niedzviecki promptly resigned as editor of the publication and apologized after his editorial sparked outrage from members of the Indigenous community and others over a lack of understanding about the impacts of cultural appropriation.
“The theft of our story is the loss of our culture, is our assimilation. That’s why in the arts it actually matters to us as much as anything else,” Jesse Wente, a Toronto-based culture critic, told the Canadian Press. “This is as important as the pipelines, as sovereignty, as water. They’re all interconnected.”
The outrage grew when former National Post editor Ken Whyte and other high-profile members of the Canadian media, including The Walrus editor Jonathon Kay, launched into a late-night Twitter conversation around a hypothetical “appropriation prize” which many saw as insensitive and intimidating.
The backlash over the article and the “appropriation prize” has led to a number of retractions, resignations, and reassignments.
Steve Ladurantaye, the managing editor of CBC’s “The National,” was reassigned Wednesday afternoon, less than one week after tweeting about the issue. He has apologized repeatedly and has since started to reach out to those who were offended by his actions.
CBC News general manager and editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire told the Canadian Press the incident “raised questions about CBC’s commitment to being a more inclusive and representative workplace in staffing, in leadership, and in content.”
Ladurantaye’s reassignment also came a few days after Jonathan Kay stepped down from his job as editor-in-chief at The Walrus magazine. Kay penned an opinion piece in the National Post defending the right to debate cultural appropriation and what he called the “mobbing” of Niedzviecki.
With the debate over cultural appropriation and free speech continuing across social media and elsewhere here is a look at both sides of the argument. A piece by Indigenous artist Aylan Couchie “Let’s start with what cultural appropriation is not” and AM980 host Andrew Lawton asks “Is cultural appropriation an act of theft or artistic literary exploration?”
*With files from the Canadian Press