Zach Poitras is an aspiring Canadian comedian who is now getting global recognition — but not for cracking hilarious jokes. Instead, he is the subject of a larger conversation about cultural appropriation after being disinvited from performing with comedy group because of his hairstyle.
It all started a few weeks ago when Poitras was asked to perform a bit for the Snowflake Comedy Club at a bar called Coop les Recoltes. However after spending time preparing, Poitras found out that some members of the troop had actually reneged his time-slot allegedly because of his dreadlocks.
The bar’s “inclusiveness policy” was apparently at the center of the decision.
On Jan. 11 François Touz, another comedian, exposed the situation to his Facebook friends, quoting the explanation that the Coop les Recoltes initially provided to Poitras. Touz even posed a question to the other comedians performing at the Coop les Recoltes event about whether they would still like to support the club after it had excluded an individual performer.
The post sparked debate and more than a hundred reactions, including comments from those who admitted that it is a “very complex issue.” But the post also prompted a response from the Coop les Recoltes on Sunday.
“The Coop harvest is a safe space, free from oppression reports. We do not tolerate any discrimination or harassment within our spaces,” the post read. “In the comments, we are blamed for affirming ourselves as an inclusive space, while we dare to exclude one person.”
The organization’s post went on to explain its definitions of cultural ownership and appropriation in juxtaposition to cultural exchange. The Coop les Recoltes eventually concluded that Poitras’s hairstyle was an example of cultural ownership, which is a “vehicle for racism.”
“Cultural ownership is not a debate or an opinion; it is a form of passive oppression, a privilege to deconstruct and, above all, a manifestation of ordinary racism,” they wrote. “We are an inclusive space for marginalized people, which means that we are an exclusive space for people who reproduce systemic oppression. The application of our policy of inclusiveness in relation to cultural appropriation means that we recognize cultural ownership as a form of racism.”
On Thursday, Poitras himself finally interjected with his own opinion on the incident and the resulting media attention. He even admitted that after speaking with the co-op “there is no real conflict between the two sides.”
“I think people are getting a little too fragile with some things. And I’m talking about both sides. On the one hand I’m forbidden to play because of my hair (not my words) and the other one tells me to Sue the place. Calm down, please,” he wrote.
In fact, the comedian admitted that the controversy should inspire meaningful conversations as opposed to aggressive debate.
“I do not think it is up to us white people to decide what is racist or cultural appropriation. The only good reaction is to be sensitive to their feelings about it,” he continued. “Because if we have the debate right now, it’s that there are clearly of people who have a malaise with it. Not all of them, but some. Personally, I do not agree with the opinion of these people in relation to the dreads. And that’s right. In life, we can’t agree with everyone on everything.”
Neither Poitras or the Coop les Recoltes immediately responded to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for additional comment. However, the bar did publish an additional statement to their Facebook page writing, “We do not want everyone to agree with our positions, but we encourage all those who wish to continue to debate or unite for the various social struggles to do so in respect.”
As for Poitras, he just wants to go back to making people laugh.
“Since I am now a ‘world known’ Comedian, but nobody heard one joke from me, I’m going to write,” he wrote. “Because all I want is to make people laugh.”
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