The Writers’ Union of Canada has issued an apology and the editor of its magazine has resigned after publishing an opinion piece titled “Winning the Appropriation Prize” in an issue devoted to Indigenous writing.
“I don’t believe in cultural appropriation,” began the editorial by Hal Niedzviecki in the spring issue of Write magazine. “In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities. I’d go so far as to say that there should even be an award for doing so – the Appropriation Prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren’t even remotely like her or him.”
Some people were enraged, and the fallout was swift: TWUC issued an apology, a board member resigned, TWUC’s Equity Task Force issued a list of demands – and Mr. Niedzviecki left his position.
“I had no intention of offending anyone with the article,” Mr. Niedzviecki told The Globe and Mail Wednesday, after resigning that morning – his choice, he says.
“I absolutely understand why people are upset. I think that I was a little tone deaf, and I was failing to recognize how charged the term cultural appropriation is and how deeply painful acts of cultural appropriation have been to Indigenous people.”
. . . .
The TWUC Equity Task Force issued a statement, saying it was “angry and appalled” by the column, and shocked that it was approved by a TWUC editorial committee – saying it was an indication of structural racism, “brazen malice, or extreme negligence.” It issued a list of demands, including that the next three issues be turned over to Indigenous and other racialized editors and writers, affirmative action hiring for the next editor and future office staff and a future issue dedicated to bringing historical context to the issue.
Link to the rest at Globe2Go and thanks to Tudor for the tip.
A friend of PG’s was, long ago, the editor of an underground newspaper in Washington DC. Underground newspapers were part of the antiwar movement, cultural upheaval and general hellraising that went on during the Vietnam War period in the late sixties-mid seventies of the last century. Underground newspapers printed “news” and opinion that establishment papers were not printing. Such news was invariably inflammatory and reflected an alternate view of contemporary events.
PG and his friend were talking about the friend’s journalistic endeavors during this time and the friend commented, “Whenever we didn’t know how to respond to somebody (with differing views), we called them a nazi and they always froze up and freaked out. It worked every time.”
Name-calling is a propaganda and political control technique that certainly predates the 1960’s.
The name-calling technique links a person or idea, to a negative symbol. The propagandist employs this tool to persuade the audience to reject the person or idea on the basis of the associated negative symbol.
During the Inquisition, for example, successfully branding a political, business or social rival a heretic could make anything the person said or proposed completely unacceptable. Indeed, the only safe response to a heretic was to totally avoid him/her because of the likelihood that the heretic and his/her associates would be executed or otherwise severely punished. Galileo’s opponents branded him as a heretic for supporting heliocentrism in 1633 and his scientific discoveries became completely unacceptable thereafter.
Leon Trotsky, one of the heroes of the Russian revolution of 1917 and its brightest theoretician, was, for a period of time, second only to Lenin in the Soviet political hierarchy. After Lenin died, Trotsky contended with Stalin for leadership of the Communist party and the state. Trotsky lost that battle, was exiled and later assassinated. Trotskyism was anathema to Stalin’s continuing dictatorship. Branding anyone as a Trotskyite effectively removed that person from Soviet society and was often good for an extended visit to the Gulag.
During the 1960’s, Cultural Revolution in China utilized “counter-revolutionary revisionist” as a negative brand. Such a person would also invariably be guilty of practicing one of the “Four Olds” – old customs, culture, habits, and ideas. Once someone was categorized as revisionist, society could be certain that anything such a person said or did was tainted with the curse.
PG is not an expert on theories of cultural appropriation in either Canada or the United States, but much that he has read of this and other Social Justice activities currently being applied in various culture wars reminds him of the propaganda techniques described above.
Indeed, “Social Justice” has, for PG, a distinct Maoist/Stalinist ring to it.