Over at Pottermore, J. K. Rowling has been releasing background information and history about magic in North America, and … okay, I loved the Harry Potter books, and I have a lot of respect for Rowling as a person, but this is a mess.
Others are talking about this far better than I could.
“‘The Native American community.’ Oh man that loaded “the.” One of the largest fights in the world of representations is to recognize Native peoples and communities and cultures are diverse, complex, and vastly different from one another. There is no such thing as one ‘Native American’ anything. Even in a fictional wizarding world.”
-From the Native Appropriations blog post Magic in North America Part 1: Ugh
“We’re marginalized in real life and we’re marginalized in media. To have a powerhouse like Rowling (though any non-Native author really) profit off our continued erasure and harmful representations is something I am totally not here for. The argument that it’s “fiction” is worthless to me. If we (as consumers) had diverse representation of Native people the same way white people do, Rowling’s latest wouldn’t be so problem, because consumers would have other representations to base opinions off of. As it is, so much of the Native narrative is romanticized and fantastical and now one of the world’s most successful authors has thrown her mighty magical empire against our fragile reemergence from near-total cultural genocide.“
“Pretty sure [Rowling] would never have dreamt of reducing all of Europe’s cultures to “European wizarding tradition”; instead she created Durmstrang and Beauxbatons and so on to capture the unique flavor of each of those cultures … [H]ow much more delightful could Magic in North America have been if she’d put an ancient, still-thriving Macchu Picchu magic school alongside a brash, newer New York school? How much richer could her history have been if she’d mentioned the ruins of a “lost” school at Cahokia, full of dangerous magical artifacts and the signs of mysterious, hasty abandonment? Or a New Orleanian school founded by Marie Laveau, that practiced real vodoun and was open/known to the locals as a temple — and in the old days as a safe place to plan slave rebellions, a la Congo Square? Or what if she’d mentioned that ancient Death Eater-ish wizards deliberately destroyed the magical school of Hawai’i — but native Hawai’ians are rebuilding it now as Liliuokalani Institute, better than before and open to all?”
-N. K. Jemisin, It Could’ve Been Great
“It’s fear of erasure, another white story brick built on top of 400 years worth of erasure and destructive lies … If you think the work this does is harmless, ask yourself how many years of Native North American history you took in school. How many native people have taught you about our real histories? How much of what you know is from Hollywood, or non-native authors?”
There’s also a lot of good discussion on the #MagicInNorthAmerica hashtag on Twitter.
I recommend reading the articles and discussion. Listen to why people are angry and upset. Try to recognize that this is part of a larger problem against people the U.S. has a long and ongoing history of trying to erase.
And please don’t be one of these fools. (Sadly, this is just a small sampling of the backlash.)
Colin: Sure it can! If you base your fantasy story on actual, you know, history, as opposed to racist stereotypes and ignorant generalizations.
April: The word you’re looking for in this case is “misrepresented.” I think it’s fair for people to ask for more than to be portrayed as homogeneous stereotypes or else erased altogether.
Jason: Thanks for this. It’s okay everybody! A white dude has arrived to tell you your anger isn’t real, and you’re all overreacting.
Jessie & Emily: And everyone else making the weak-ass “It’s just fiction!” argument. Y’all just blew out my ignorance-meter. Story is one of the most powerful things we have. Stories save lives. People go to war over stories. Fiction can change a person’s life and change the course of history. So, yeah. Just don’t.