Site icon Troy Media

A tempest in a cultural appropriation teapot

Reading Time: 4 minutes

All novelists are liars.

Thieves, too. So said the late Mordecai Richler.

My friend and I were in the dark at the back at the Bovine Sex Club on Queen West, waiting to see the Minneapolis punk band Off With Their Heads. My friend had just told me the story of how, years ago, he organized a debate at the University of Toronto between Richler and a brilliant feminist academic. The topic: cultural appropriation.

Richler had insisted that the academic go first. He even suggested she get more time than him.

The assembled students were all on her side, my friend said. When she finally finished, Richler – perhaps the greatest novelist and writer this country has produced – all but shrugged.

Cultural appropriation, he said, wasn’t just defensible. It was, he said, absolutely necessary. To write great stories, Richler said, writers must adapt and adopt cultures – the language and the idiom, the symbols, the stories and the words – that aren’t theirs.

In this way, Richler said, all the best novelists are thieves. They are liars, he said.

The students erupted in wild applause, said my friend, himself a former National Post columnist with a liberal pedigree. Richler walked out to a near-ovation, off to go drinking.

My friend was relating the Richler tale on the very afternoon another friend, Steve Ladurantaye, was in the news because of cultural appropriation. His employer, the CBC, had removed him as managing editor of The National.

His sin: to joke, in a tweet of a half-dozen words, that he would make a donation to a fictional Cultural Appropriation Prize that other prominent Canadian journalists had conjured up. His tweet was in jest but the response was anything but laughable. Almost immediately, a tsunami of rage descended on the writers, prompting deletions, apologies, retractions, demotions and resignations across the Canadian media demimonde.

Ladurantaye – who, among other things, signed up plenty of minority and indigenous writers for the CBC’s new opinion space – was out.

Columnists aren’t supposed to write about things in which they’re personally involved. But after kicking off this column with the Richler story – one about culture and one I plainly appropriated – what the hell. So here are five points to consider:

But do you think that we can get just one of the presently-offended multitude to help us oppose it? Do you think we can get one of them to write an op-ed or a letter to the editor, opposing the delivery of neo-Nazi material to people’s doors? Do you think we could get just one of them to consider, just for a moment, that the promotion of actual anti-Semitism and race hate merits their attention?

Not on your life. In the deepest Annex, or down in the conference rooms at CBC, cultural appropriation is more important than, you know, any of that stuff. Holocaust denial? Nazism? Real racism? To them, those things aren’t as important.

Mordecai Richler, wherever he is, is laughing his ass off.

Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator. 

Warren is a Troy Media contributor. Why aren’t you?

© Troy Media


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Warren Kinsella

Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.

Exit mobile version