by MURAD HEMMADI
Originally published: May 13, 2017
A Twitter timeline is a dangerous thing to scroll through at bedtime. On Thursday night, I watched former Maclean’s and National Post editor Ken Whyte pledge to seed a $1,500 “appropriation prize.” By the time I put down my phone, just three hours later, the pot was up to $3,500. The contributors: a selection of the editors and senior-most staffers and writers at some of the largest media organizations in Canada. They are all white.
The context: In the latest issue of Write, the magazine of the Writers’ Union of Canada, editor Hal Niedzviecki urged the white, middle-class people who make up most of published Canadian literature to “explore the lives of people who aren’t like you.” The piece, titled “Winning the appropriation prize,” was criticized on social media for denying and advocating cultural appropriation, and in relation to its inclusion in an issue focused on the work of Indigenous writers. Niedzviecki then resigned.
Once reported on, the incident brought forth what has become a predictable response from white Canadian media. Columns were written and scathing tweets were sent, to the effect that this was an affront to free speech and another sign of “the left” gone too far. And Whyte set out to organize his prize, presumably taking his inspiration from the title of Niedzviecki’s piece. Watching the names—some of the top names at the National Post, Rogers Media, and CBC—pledging their $100 or $500 to his cause, my stomach flipped. It was a reminder, once again, that too many white decision makers in Canadian media don’t seem to listen when people of colour and Indigenous people are talking.