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.