Hal Niedzviecki writes: I don’t believe in cultural appropriation. 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.
My response: I don’t believe in white supremacist primo douche canoes who windbag about subjects they clearly have no understanding of. In my opinion, people such as yourself, should not be encouraged to imagine themselves foremost experts about other cultures, other identities. I’d go so far as to say that there should even be an award for doing so—the Flaming Bag of Poo Prize for Best D-Bag Move by an Editor Propagating Appropriation and Racism.
Niedzviecki writes: The idea of cultural appropriation discourages writers from taking up the challenge, which is at least one reason why CanLit subject matter remains exhaustingly white and middle-class. The bulk of its producers are white and middle-class, and hesitant as they are to be accused of borrowing too heavily from the other for their own enrichment, they mostly follow the classic first rule of writing: Write what you know.
My response: The idea of promoting cultural appropriation encourages white writers to continue cultural theft practices, which is at least one reason why CanLit (and AmerLit) Indigenous subject matter remains exceedingly dominated by white writers stealing from cultures not their own. The bulk of its producers are white and middle-class, and not hesitant whatsoever about appropriating intellectual property, and don’t mind in the least being accused of stealing too heavily from “The Other” for their own benefit; they mostly follow the classic first rule of writing: Write what you can steal.
Niedzviecki writes: My writing advice is in opposition to that traditional axiom. I say Write what you don’t know. Get outside your own head. Relentlessly explore the lives of people who aren’t like you, who you didn’t grow up with, who don’t share your background, bank balance and expectations. Set your sights on the big goal: Win the Appropriation Prize.
My response: My writing advice is in opposition to that traditional axiom. I say Write your own stories. Get inside your own damn head. Relentlessly explore the lives of people who are like yourself, who you grew up with, who share your background, bank balance and colonialist entitlements and privileges. Set your sights on the big goal, or else win the Flaming Bag of Poo Prize for Best D-Bag Move by an Editor Propagating Appropriation and Racism.
Niedzviecki writes: So how to win the Appropriation Prize? There’s only one judge in all of this: the readers. Will the readers find themselves pulled into your work? There’s nothing preventing us from writing about characters whose lives and cultures are very different from our own. There’s not even anything preventing us from incorporating a culture’s myths, legends, oral histories, and sacred practices into our own works. But we answer to the readers. If we steal stories or phone in a bunch of stereotypes, readers will know. It will catch up to us. There is no formula for appropriately appropriating. Instead, it’s up to each of us to find the right measures of respect, learning, and true telling.
My response: So how to win the Flaming Bag of Poo Prize for Best D-Bag Move by an Editor Propagating Appropriation and Racism? There’s only one judge in all of this: Several million Indigenous readers and allies. Will the several million indigenous readers and allies find themselves pulled into your bullshit? There’s nothing preventing you from writing about characters whose lives and cultures are just like your own. There’s not even anything preventing you from using our own Euro culture’s myths, legends, oral histories, and sacred practices into your own works. But you only answer to yourselves. You get to decide. Your gatekeepers are pretty much all white, so no need to ever question viability or authenticity. It’s up to each of you to dictate the right measures of non-respect, non-learning, and the continued telling of distortions and lies.
Niedzviecki writes: Indigenous writing is the most vital and compelling force in writing and publishing in Canada today. And this is because, in large part, Indigenous writers, buffeted by history and circumstance, so often must write from what they don’t know. What at first seems like a disadvantage also pushes many indigenous writers into the spotlight. They are on the vanguard, taking risks, bravely forging ahead into the unknown, seeking just the right formula to reclaim the other as their own.
My response: White Euro writing is the most vital and supremacist force in writing and publishing in Canada (and USA) today. And this is because, in large part, white Euro writers, buffeted by historic atrocities and circumstances of genocide, so often must write from what they don’t know. What at first seems like stealing also pushes many indigenous writers out of the spotlight. You are on the top of the social and economic vanguard, taking, taking, taking, raping and pillaging ahead into your promising known futures, seeking just the right formula to CLAIM THE OTHER AS YOUR OWN.
Niedzviecki writes:In some cases, as the indigenous contributors to this issue of Write make amply clear, their determination to forge ahead with developing an indigenous literary culture within the Western tradition has led to estrangement—from family, from their traditional heritage; in other cases, it’s led to a distanced relationship to the mainstream publishing industry which wants all the gory details, no matter the cost. But in all cases, there is the need to forge ahead, to bridge personal and social divides, to find the truth telling that underpins every meaningful writing. Indigenous writers do this with courage and, at times, truly stunning boldness.
My response: In some cases, as the indigenous contributors you’ve allowed into this issue of MightyWrite make amply clear, your determination to marginalize us by developing your own faux “indigenous literary culture” composed of writers such as Joseph Boyden, and many others, has led to your estrangement…from reality. In other cases, it’s led to reinforcing strong relationships to the mainstream publishing industry which wants all the glory, no matter the costs to Indigenous communities. But in any case, there is the need to further alienate, further destroy bridges of cultural understanding, to continue the appropriation, and the lies which undermines actual, deserving, and meaningful indigenous writing. Clearly, from your perspective, indigenous writers … INSERT PATRONIZING PLATITUDES HERE.
Tiffany Midge is a poetry editor for The Rumpus, and an award-winning author of The Woman Who Married a Bear. Her work is featured in McSweeney's, Okey-Pankey, The Butter, Waxwing, and Moss. She is Hunkpapa Lakota. Follow her on Twitter @TiffanyMidge.