How to be branded racist by a Tweet
In an age when false tweets can easily be misconstrued as truths, I wish to make a public statement beyond 140 characters. -- Alan Twigg
Firstly, I wish to sincerely apologize to any person who was upset by the discord that ensued during a private function for Writers Union members in October.
When I responded to an Indigenous speaker as a colleague, organizers of this gathering of peers hastily intervened to eradicate any discussion or feedback—from anyone–so I particularly wish to apologize to Rebecca Benson, from Six Nations, who was therefore placed in an awkward position as TWUC’s newly appointed Equity, Membership and Engagement Co-ordinator. We were at an informal wine ‘n’ cheese stand-up affair. I was not aware in advance that Ms. Benson had been invited to give a formal address. Although I took issue with what I felt was overly doctrinaire about the new policy she articulated, I addressed her as a colleague and at no time were my words or manner the least bit racist.
We were in a private room in a hotel, not on a stage at the Writers Festival, but one male organizer, who was not a member of the Writers Union, felt self-elected to threaten me with removal if I persisted in trying to speak my mind. I strongly expressed consternation when it became clear to me that no freedom of speech was to prevail at a Writers Union function. I was therefore, ironically, prohibited from proceeding to voice a constructive suggestion that was to be the main reason for my speaking; an idea that was intended to benefit First Nations.
Soon thereafter one person, Dave Bidini, maliciously branded me as a racist in a Tweet. I believe Mr. Bidini has misguidingly and/or purposefully misinterpreted my criticism of the methodology that Ms. Benson was employing to communicate Writers Union guidelines. [It should be noted that criticism does not necessarily constitute dissent; although dissent should be tolerated, as well, within any union. I support completely the Reconciliation agenda, as would have been evidenced by the suggestion I was not permitted to make, and also by my track record as a writer and publisher.]
If anyone cares to read the thousands of pages I have written and/or published about and for First Nations cultures and Indigenous authors over the past 40 years, they can make a much fairer assessment of whether or not I am a racist, rather than entrusting Mr. Bidini’s incendiary tweet seemingly designed to generate more followers on his Twitter account.
When Dave Bidini was unable to substantiate why my critique of the speaker’s didactic methodology constituted racism, he subsequently proceeded to fabricate an outrageous quote allegedly gleaned from a brief parking lot conversation. He alleged in a Tweet that I feared Indigenous people wanted to “boot us off our land.”
In a Trumpian age, apparently many people are more than willing to believe in an outrageous lie.
If Dave Bidini did some research, he would discover I have published and written far more work to enhance and elevate the appreciation and understanding of First Nations culture than most of the other non-Indigenous members of the Writers Union. I am not entirely sure why I was made a member of the Order of Canada, but that might be one of the reasons.
The wonderful growth of appreciation and understanding of Indigenous peoples that we are now witnessing in this country is the result of constructive actions and some difficult conversations. I will continue to provide preferential treatment — at my own discretion, not because of any governmental dictum — to books from and about Indigenous societies, as I have been doing non-stop, in every issue of BC BookWorld, since 1987.
Today, there are at least 266 Indigenous authors in B.C. and I know that because I’ve written about every one of them.
Along the way I wrote and produced a CBC documentary, Jeannette Armstrong: Knowledge Keeper, of the Okanagan, in 1995.
In 2005, I published the first and only book entirely devoted to Indigenous authors of one province, Aboriginality: The Literary Origins of British Columbia.
In 2016, I had the honour of organizing the presentation of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award to Jeannette Armstrong, making her the first Indigenous writer in BC to be so recognized.
While I might not agree with absolutely every TWUC policy and action that has been taken during more than thirty years of membership, I understand that overall the work accomplished by TWUC has been vital and progressive. If someone says or does something that we find problematic in some way, well, historically we have always been welcome to voice our views within TWUC. That level of candour and honesty and engagement is important for the integrity of any union.
When criticism is disallowed, we move towards autocracy.
“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.” — Jonathan Swift in “The Examiner” (1710)