What factors determine cultural appropriation (in the arts)?

 Hello folks, 

 As many of you may know from my last post, I am looking into the concept of cultural appropriation. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, cultural appropriation refers to somebody using a culture to which they do not belong as their own. In regards to the arts, this could mean somebody writing a story as a character of a culture to which the author does not belong, which is what I am focussing on in this post (and likely in my next few rounds.)

  One particular example that I looked at was an article by Hal Niedzviecki, an editor of an issue of Write Magazine from the Writer’s Union of Canada. He "doesn't believe in cultural appropriation"(1) and claims there should be an "appropriation prize"(1) for an author who writes about another culture, because they're stepping outside of what they already know. 

 Niedzviecki is frustrated that writers "must follow the classical rule of writing: write what you know." (1) As well, he suggests the idea of cultural appropriation limits creativity, and sets boundaries on what people are allowed to do within the arts. “The idea of cultural appropriation discourages writers from taking up the challenge.” (1) His advice to writers is to “Write what [they] don’t know. Get outside [their] own head. Relentlessly explore people who aren’t like [them.]” (1)

 One of Niedzviecki's examples was how, “Indigenous writers [in Canada]...must often write what they don’t know.” They “[take] risks, bravely [forge] ahead into the unknown, [seek] just the right formula to reclaim the other as their own.” (1)

  However, Niedzviecki also suggested that it's acceptable for a person to take ownership of someone else's culture. This idea was something many people found offensive. Niezviecki seems to be encouraging authors to write about things they don't understand and aren't "allowed' to write about. “There’s [nothing] preventing us from incorporating other culture’s myths, legends, oral histories, and sacred practices into our own works.” (1) 

 But, regardless of this, Niedzviecki has also acknowledged what not to do when writing about another culture. “If we steal stories or phone in stereotypes, readers will know. It will catch up to us.” (1) As well, he admits that writing about another culture in a way that would not offend people is a difficult thing to do. “... it’s up to each of us to find the right measures of respect, learning, and true telling.” (1)

 Ultimately, Niedzviecki concludes that portraying another culture helps to “bridge personal and social divides.” (1) 

   What do I make of all this? Well, I can relate to being told to "write what I know." It's something I've never wanted to do - writing about my exact experience. If writers were restricted to solely creating characters based on what they immediately know, every single story I wrote would be about a white, Euro-Canadian, middle-class, heterosexual female, who attends a fine arts school and likes to write, etc. So I can see how writers like Niedzviecki would want to branch out and write about something else. 

 But ultimately, the fact that he said cultural appropriation deserves a prize is not something I agree with. I hear that it limits what a writer can write about, and I agree that we shouldn't just write about ourselves, but there is a place to draw the line. When someone takes another culture and relies on stereotypes to portray it, that is something that contributes cultural appropriation. So I think the idea of appropriation is helpful because it sets a guideline for artists and allows them not to publish things that are determined as offensive. I do think stories should include characters of different races, because the real world consists of people from so many different backgrounds. But as well, people shouldn’t be using other culture's experiences as if they know everything, especially when it comes to sacred practices of another culture, because then they're taking something and using it as their own, which I believe is not fair. 


(1) Write Magazine, Writer's Union of Canada (p. 8) released May 2017. (I had to use a scan of the article because the original is not available.) https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecu...iedzviecki-1.4112618





 Thank you everyone for reading my research! In the next round I will be looking at the opposite side of this argument - people who are against cultural appropriation. This will include responses to the article. I hope you all have a lovely day. 


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Wow, I find that very interesting, and I agree with the part where you say that writers shouldn't have to write what they know. I also really enjoy writing, but it would be boring to be unable to use different cultures in my writing. I think there is a fine line between being creative and cultural appropriation, but I still think that cultural appropriation exists. Yes people over-react sometimes and call things cultural appropriation when it's just an artist trying something new, but when people are portraying something bad about another culture that isn't there own I understand how that may be cultural appropriation.

For your research next time I think it might be good to add several different sources. Also another thing to consider would be the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation (https://www.browngirlmagazine....ltural-appreciation/)

Okay, well that's about it! Good luck with your next round!

Hi Sophie!

Great round of research! I like how you're looking at more than one point of view on the subject instead of only looking at the negative things about culture appropriation, as it's good to see things from more than one perspective. I also like how you give your own thoughts at the end after doing research on what others have said. Like you, I personally don't agree with Hal Niedzviecki that there should be an appropriation prize, but I do think that you should be allowed a little bit of freedom as to what you can write about. One thing I wonder about is, if we're only allowed to write about our own culture, couldn't people then see that as being discriminatory, as our characters would have no diversity? Maybe you could look into the conflict between having diversity in your characters, but at the same time making sure that you're not appropriating someone else's culture in your writing.

Here are some websites you can use for your research:




Good luck!

Hey Sophie, 

Very interesting topic you have chosen! This topic seems to be very controversial because as Jasmine mentioned above there is a fine line between cultural appropriation and assumptions. Perhaps you can explain your opinion and find some websites to try and explain this "fine line". In my opinion, if there is research behind the usage in the story or piece of art then it was appropriately used. On the other hand, you may be from a specific culture, but you must still make sure these are pure facts and not strictly opinions. The usage of opinions may effect people's views on that specific culture and cause some backlash on the author/artist. There is always 2 sides to a topic (yes and no) and although there is no easy answer, it's great that you are looking into both sides. Here are some citations that may be helpful for the next round. 



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