An important perspective on Rowling’s new rubbish

10 Mar

I became aware yesterday of this article by Adrienne K. at Native Appropriations (h/t Shakesville), and recommend you read it (these two earlier articles of hers she links to at the end are also well worth a look). She’s been writing about this since June 2015 so it’s probably negligent of me to only become aware of it now, but regardless.

I don’t think I’m really qualified to comment on how to respectfully handle writing about Native Americans in fictional milieu, so I don’t want to say much about it myself. She raises a lot of important issues I wouldn’t have thought of. My first thought was that it’s probably impossible to win, because the most likely alternative is to not include them at all and it’s probably better to acknowledge that indigenous peoples existed and mattered, but that’s an incredibly low bar to set and, as Adrienne points out, misrepresentation may well be equally problematic if not worse (e.g. let’s not forget what happened with Stephenie Meyer, and that now a lot of people only know about the Quileute tribe because of her bastardised werewolf mythology).

Likewise it’s not really fair to say “well, if you don’t want to be misrepresented, you’d better volunteer your time to explain everything to any author who decides they want to write about your culture”, that’s an undue burden to place on anybody… but what’s the alternative, encouraging them to do shoddy research and misrepresent you in problematic ways? Once again, marginalised people(s) just can’t win. I don’t know what the answer is.

But please don’t put too much stock in my whitesplaining of this, go read the original articles.

Quick edit to add: here’s another really good article on this, by Chris Lough at Tor.


Posted by on March 10, 2016 in mitchell


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6 responses to “An important perspective on Rowling’s new rubbish

  1. drashizu

    March 10, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    Ugh. One of my least favorite parts of her writing (and, to be fair, a LOT of urban fantasy) is the “clever” insertions of the author’s fantasy creations into “real” history. Or something resembling a gross oversimplification of real history, anyway. It’s never well-researched, it’s hammered into place about as subtly as a nail into plaster, and it runs roughshod over the actual nuance of the historical circumstances that existed to bring about the real-life version of those events in the first place.

    This is just like that, only 10 times worse.

  2. mary

    March 10, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    I read Debbie Reese, who is a treasure. Yes, as a white woman, I’d be terrified to try to write something from a Native perspective! But it’s absolutely essential not to leave out the voices of dispossessed and marginalized peoples. How, then, can white readers and writers be most supportive?

    One thing I’d suggest, as a very white writer and a librarian, is to seek out writers from those communities and read their works. Then, there’s always research! But this brings me to the point that hopped into my head the minute I heard about this-

    In the “Potter” books themselves, there are loads of rather offensive stereotypes. Take the leprechauns at the Quidditch match in “Goblet of Fire”, the anti-semitic stereotypes in the descriptions of both Slytherins and goblins, and so many more. A writer who makes use of cliches like these in her stories is almost bound to be offensive when tackling marginalized communities.

    It’s a shame, because I do think Rowling is talented and means well. But she doesn’t seem at all reflective, and her works aren’t especially deep. She just writes off the top of her head and puts it out there – at least, that’s the impression her writing gives me. There are strengths and weaknesses to that approach. The weaknesses become very obvious when she tackles sensitive subjects like racism and bullying.

    • mcbender

      March 11, 2016 at 1:23 am

      You have a very good point that it’s far from the first insensitive and offensive stereotype she’s used. I’ve also discussed before (and will undoubtedly do again at some point) the casual bigotry inherent in the way her writing treats nonexistent categories like Muggles, so it’s probably expecting too much for her to handle real-world issues when she doesn’t even grasp the form of the problem.

      As to whether she means well… yes, she certainly seems to. Or let me put it this way, I think if I were going to judge her solely by her Twitter output and selected statements from interviews I’d probably really like her. But then there are so many other things she’s said that are so short-sighted and clueless, and her writing definitely reflects that side of her (I think I remember baeraad at one point arguing something like that she has an intellectual sense of being or wanting to be progressive/leftist/feminist etc, but an internalised authoritarian conservatism that comes out in her writing). I’m not a psychologist so I don’t want to speculate too much, but I suspect she’d be a fascinating case study.

      • sellmaeth

        March 11, 2016 at 7:24 pm

        I could be wrong but I really don’t think Rowling is extraordinary. There are probably many people whose progressiveness is only on the surface. We all get lots of subtle sexist, racist messages every day, and if you don’t examine those and reject them, they end up … somewhere. And every now and then, they float to the surface.

        The author of the linked article said she was disappointed by Rowling’s silence on the matter … I personally think it’s a good thing. I’m not good with criticism myself, and if I feel hurt and would get aggressive, I often choose to say nothing. So, I see it as a sign that Rowling is thinking about this.
        An ignorant, aggressive response, or a “Don’t like don’t read” comment would be much worse.

  3. DawnM

    March 11, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    So many charming comments over at Adrienne K’s place! I think my bingo card is all filled up.

    Indigenous people don’t die from racism anymore? Check
    Other people are more affected by hate crimes than you, stop complaining? Check
    Genocide is a normal part of history, suck it up? Check
    The English hated everyone, don’t take it personally? Check
    It’s not appropriation if it’s fiction? Check
    My privileged right to information trumps your marginalized right to privacy? Check
    Your persecuted religion is just like any other myth? Check


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