Tag Archives: cultural appropriation

J.K. Rowling and the Cursed Colonial

It’s a great time to be a fan of J.K. Rowling’s wizard-based adventures (we’ll forget about Casual Vacancy – I haven’t gotten into the Robert Galbraith novels and won’t anytime soon):

We’ve got not only the stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child + the script-book accompaniment being released this weekend, but can also look forward to the beginning of a movie trilogy launching this November with the opening of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (based on what can barely be considered more than a short story).

And, of course, there’s all the shenanigans happening over on the Pottermore site with marketing ploys disguised as “backstory.”

It’s the last bit that’s keeping me—once a raging Potterhead—decidedly cool to all things Jo.

To recap: Rowling seems to be channeling Lockhart-like ego and real-world dismissiveness when it comes to Indigenous criticisms of her History of Magic in North America writings released as lead ups to the Fantastic Beasts films. While seemingly a staunch liberal supporter of inclusion and diversity, i.e. gay Dumbledore and Black Hermione, Rowling purposefully bulldozes (read: obliviates) very real spiritual and cultural understandings of the Native people she’s appropriating (read: stealing) aspects of her HOMINA stories from. Like the narcissistic Lockhart who’s well-loved the world over for writing books, Rowling’s global legion of rabid fans have harassed and trolled Native critics who (as many were fans of her magical work themselves) only asked that she try harder (or, you know, try at all) to be more sensitive, more creative, and less Euro-centric in her work based across the pond on Turtle Island. Generally known for engaging fans online, Rowling has simply blocked Natives out of sight and out of mind. Celebrity is as celebrity does, eh, Jo?

All that and I’m just… sad. Normally, I’d be napping in anticipation of tonight’s midnight release party, at which my daughter would join me (her first book release party!), as she is just as much a fan as I am. But this all feels like a party we’re not invited to and wouldn’t even want to attend if we were, because of Rowling’s arrogant and entitled stance against Native participation in her world.

So I wrote a poem instead. If you’re so inclined, you can hear me read it on SoundCloud.

J.K. Rowling and the Cursed Colonial: "Discovering" and "exploring" Native cultures for personal gain since 2016.

We’ve been here before:

White folks whoring –

I’m sorry, exploring

Brown territories.

Always expanding,

never understanding

our declarations

of Indigenous affirmations.

And like ships led astray across waters of

righteous infestation,

these pale people with their

morally-flexible navigation

wash ashore and

lay claim to our innovations

– lands, bodies, ideas.

Their fear

of being less

manifests

as “It’s mine”

while they evangelize

the gospel according to Harry.

 

We’ve been here before:

White destinies shaped by

brown erasure.

Greener pastures

await

on the other side

of the racial divide.

So we hide our kids, our wives,

our lives

from that white gaze that can’t see

past complexion.

 

We’ve been here before:

This desire for more

looks like lost Italians, found religions, bestsellers.

White quellers

silence Indigenous critique

while appropriating

everything

they never bled for.

White doublespeak

is staying silent

about brown struggles

while promoting racist depictions

as creative fiction.

That’s not applause you hear;

that’s us trying to free ourselves from the chains

of your good intentions.

 

We’ve been here before:

A history of magic in North America –

what we call Turtle Island –

began long before white tyrants

jumped the pond

literally

or literarily.

Colonial folks saw our medicines, our Nature, our matrilineal societies,

our independent democracies

and thought:

“Magic.”

Not unreal. Not unbelievable.

But powerful.

Like a rocket’s red glare

white allies fade into thin air

– disapparate –

when they see our flare,

only to apparate

into our mentions

with tools of oppression:

Guns, nuns, aggression, suppression,

Books.

These the only kind of white magics we can believe in:

Save the wizard; kill the Indian.

J.K. Rowling and the Cursed Colonial: “Discovering” and “exploring” Native cultures for personal gain since 2016. Image text says: “The Cursed Colonizer Killing Indigenous History to Spread the Gospel of Harry.”

We’ve been here before:

A white person gets rich off our images of yore.

Our images of now? Ignored.

You’re a culture

vulture.

That’s the house you’ll be sorted into.

Home of the cursed colonial –

on your door we’ll count coup.

We weren’t here first.

We were here

always.

No wands necessary.

It was your savagery got us into this mess.

You could fix it but there’s no profit in decency.

The true fiction here is that you care.

You don’t. We get that.

Remember: We’ve been here before.

 

But you’ve been here before, too.

#YesAllWhitePeople

Have the privilege of repeating their errors

over and over and over.

But

we see you.

And unlike goblins, giants, and house elves,

we’re real AF

comin attcha with 600 years of receipts.

And we’re ready to eat, so make space at the table.

Take your place at our feet, ready to LISSEN J.K. LISSEN

to OUR stories – OUR truths –

these are not myths

for you to play with.

The magic happens when we represent OURSELVES.

We are not part of your empire.

We are not entertained.

Our cafeteria tables are full.

Make no mistake, this is life and death for us.

And we know what real monsters look like.

RowlingMonster
Monster, Exhibit A

A good review of what’s wrong with Ilvermorny, the North American school for witches and wizards. Below are the four houses of Ilvermorny, whose images and stories are misrepresented and stolen from many a living Native tribe and tradition.

Ilvermorny Houses

Here I leave you with interpretations of the actual creatures as presented by Indigenous artists, past and present.

Horned-Serpent

A Horned Serpent in a Barrier Canyon (Utah) Style pictograph.

wampus

Wampus Cat by Murv Jacob (Cherokee). 

pukwudgie

“Pukwudgie Pipe” carved with only traditional tools made by the artist, Jonathan Perry-Aquinnah (Wampanoag).

 

thunderbird

Doll depicting Thunderbird and stars by Michael McLeod (Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians). 

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Magic & Marginalization: Et tu, JK? :(

Let’s establish something off the bat: I am a huge fan of Harry Potter.

  • I’ve written research papers;
  • I’ve written blog posts – heck the WordPress title of my blog is Walker Wrackspurt;
  • I collect books (paperback, hardcover, British/English versions, illustrated editions, digital books, audiobooks, coloring books) movie paraphernalia, costuming;
  • My daughter and I have spent the last year working our way through the series (we’re mid-way through Order of the Phoenix);
  • I spent way too much money at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida last year and REGRET NOTHING;
  • My friends and family know Harry Potter is a quirky but important part of my identity – many a HP-themed birthday party has been thrown in my honor;
  • I connect with people on the subject, even those who could care less or haven’t read the books/seen the movies, because it’s such an iconic pop culture topic.

Like most fans, I’m super-jazzed about the upcoming continuations on stage and in theaters.

But with this week’s release of History of Magic in North America, a collection of what will be four episodic essays as a lead-up to the Hollywood version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I’m having a serious crisis of fandom specific to the (mis)representation of Native people in Rowling’s new writings.

Here are some of the problematic passages released March 8:

In the Native American community, some witches and wizards were accepted and even lauded within their tribes, gaining reputations for healing as medicine men, or outstanding hunters. However, others were stigmatised for their beliefs, often on the basis that they were possessed by malevolent spirits.

And:

The legend of the Native American ‘skin walker’ – an evil witch or wizard that can transform into an animal at will – has its basis in fact. A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.

The Native American wizarding community was particularly gifted in animal and plant magic, its potions in particular being of a sophistication beyond much that was known in Europe. The most glaring difference between magic practised by Native Americans and the wizards of Europe was the absence of a wand.

OK so I pretty much copied and pasted the whole thing. It’s all problematic. Native women much smarter than me have already written the analytical whys and wherefores – please go read their criticism, as I totally agree with everything they say: Dr. Adrienne Keene on Native Appropriations and Dr. Debbie Reese on American Indians in Children’s Literature both give Rowling a piece of their amazing minds (my girl Johnnie Jae, founder of A Tribe Called Geek, has also been in the Twitter fray). And it being JK Rowling, you can imagine the kind of violent backlash these Indigenous women are receiving from fans who couldn’t care less about Natives or our issues (or our women, obviously).

For me the representation issue boils down to this: The mass media narrative around Natives is intensely problematic; if we’re mentioned at all, it’s within a stereotypical or fantastical sense, and very rarely goes beyond 1 or 2-D. Many consumers of this media have no idea we still exist as contemporary, multi-dimensional individuals, which makes these fantastical/fictional perpetrations very much a part of the problem in that NO ONE knows or cares to know any of the very real issues our communities face. Who cares about the epidemic levels of Native youth suicide when OMG JK ROWLING IS WRITING ABOUT MAGICAL INDIAN SKINWALKERS!!!

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 problematic, 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.

And I write this knowing full well I’m also a fan of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, which I’ve written about here. However, unlike Rowling, Meyer’s Native fantasies were expressed at the outset of the series, not as an afterthought (so I had a trigger warning of sorts: bullshit ahead! Not so with the Harry Potter universe).

Beyond this, I’m writing because as a fan, I’m so… hurt and disillusioned to discover a world I escape to so often and with people I love like my young daughter is now an unsafe space that takes the very real cultural histories, practices, and belief systems of a hyper-marginalized group of people and casts them into the realm of myth and fantasy. Ironic, isn’t it, that I’m disillusioned with a fictional world based on magic? As someone who carefully curates the pop culture I promote and allow my child to consume, I can’t in good faith continue to support one of my favorite storytellers. If I want to read a misrepresentation of Native people, I’ll just pick up the nearest K-12 history book.

While I (used to) look forward to reading the series with my daughter at night, I’m not eager to witness the disappointment I’m sure she’ll feel when I tell her the author of Harry Potter has decided Natives don’t deserve dignity or respect and that the values of Native people can be torn apart and packaged as a fictional commodity for profit. And you might think: Well, you can still read Harry Potter and be a fan of that series and boycott FBAWTFT. To that I say, no, I can’t separate the Rowling who wrote the problematic Native prose from the Rowling who wrote HP1-7. It’s like making room for The Wizard of Oz‘s L. Frank Baum, who wrote in support of Native genocide, supporting President Abraham Lincoln (and other ethically questionable leaders), or being OK with American history textbooks because everything except the little bits about Natives and other marginalized groups is accurate.

 

When heroes disappoint, the letdown is very real heartache. Yep. It’s just a book. Got that. But a large chunk of my life has been utterly devoted to the story and characters and I simply can’t help the betrayal I feel. Coming off of her awesome pro “Hermoine as a Black woman” storyline for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I was sure Rowling would embrace creativity and leave her white-washed, European-centric version of Native culture out of the canon. Or perhaps she’d develop a wizard character who just happened to be Native. 

As a lover of pop culture, I often have to check my Lakota feminist lenses at the door, or else spend the whole TV show or movie being angry and dissatisfied (I’m thinking of “The Revenant,” right now as a for instance). Sometimes I’m able to get past the ignorance and marginalization. But… Rowling could have done this so much better. SO MUCH BETTER. I’m not willing to give Rowling a pass here.

How To Argue Against Racist Indian Mascots: In *Honor* of the #SuperBowl

How many of you have been in the presence of someone using an (illogical and ludicrous) argument supporting racist ‪#‎IndianMascots‬?

This mascot honors Native Americans.

You’re messing with tradition!

Well I’m Native and I approve of this mascot.

STAHHHP!

By artist Bunky Echo-Hawk (Pawnee)

I’ve been at this for more than a decade, and many other amazing women for far longer than that (check out my heroes Dr. Adrienne Keene, Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, Suzan Shown Harjo, Amanda Blackhorse, among many others). Those of us in this battle know well the depth of fanaticism sports franchises and their supporters will travel to in defense of their precious team names and logos.

So while I’m aware a bazillion people disagree with me, I go forth with the following premise, for the sake of brevity: I’m going to assume good intent from readers. I’m also going to assume you understand the basics of racism and cultural appropriation, that you’re against these things, and hope you agree things that marginalize and dehumanize an entire race of people are wrong.

This is where the bulk of my non-activist friends reside when it comes to sports teams that use Native American-themed names and/or imagery: They know seeing a Washington or Cleveland jersey worn on game day makes them feel yucky inside, but when confronting a supporter, they lack the ability to explain their anti-mascot views effectively and succinctly.

How many of you have struggled to find the words to argue against these poor excuses for racism?

Well here’s a handy guide (produced by yours truly for Everyday Feminism) to help counter some of the most common statements from pro-mascoters:

[TW – racist images, words, phrases]

How To Argue Against Racist Mascots 

*A note about the Irish and oppression bit within the article, which many readers are using to derail the conversation: I apologize. I assumed readers would understand what I meant when I wrote “… the Irish… never experienced oppression or genocidal policies at the hands of the US government.” Because, I really do get what you’re trying to say when you write, “But the Irish HAVE experienced oppression and colonial-based genocide!”

Trust me. I get it. Your comment about historical Irish oppression is true. Immediate members of my family are Irish (I am part-Irish) and grew up dirt poor in major East Coast cities. They experienced lots of poverty-based oppression, and my statements in no way erases the struggle for any immigrant, refugee, or impoverished person. I studied the Sinn Fein movement during my undergrad and often compared it with those tactics used during the Wounded Knee occupation.

But the key part of my statement from the article is “… at the hands of the US government.” That distinction is huge because no federal laws ever oppressed the Irish specifically. I thought it was a clear statement, but obviously it wasn’t and the uproar has detracted from the main point about racist Indian mascots.

Were they oppressed in similarly horrific ways on their own soil of Ireland by colonial British rule? Oh yes indeed. They have an indigenous history very similar to Natives. But NOT here in the US.

In the United States:

  • The Irish were allowed to practice Catholicism and rewarded (in terms of employment and eventual political/religious success) for being Catholic – Native people were slaughtered for practicing their religion and only got the *legal* right to practice ours in the 1970s.
  • The Irish received immediate citizenship; Natives weren’t even considered legal people until we were granted citizenship in 1924 (although many states, like my home state of South Dakota, didn’t enact citizenship until the 1960s).
  • Unlike Natives, the Irish could vote, hold jobs, take office, and feel fairly safe in dominant culture, because no systemic oppression targeted them as a race (no federal laws barred them from these things – ever). The “Irish Need Not Apply” job ads were cruel, but not a federal employment policy.
  • Native still experience this kind of systemic oppression. We are still suppressed as voters, still at the bottom of every negative statistic. The Irish – considered by the US Census Bureau (a federal agency) as white people in America – are doing just fine, in terms of race.
  • The Irish’s proximity to whiteness has been a huge factor in their (continued) success in the US. This is what we call privilege, something Natives have never known, in any capacity, in colonized America.

So I return to my original statement “…at the hands of the US government.” The Irish never experienced colonial-based destruction on US soil, by the US government. The Irish have been powerful presidents, Supreme Court justices, senators, clergy and more. Natives have not. There is no comparison here, folks. If we want to start a movement to change the Notre Dame mascot, I am HERE FOR THIS, but do not make the claim that the Irish face the same or even similar racism and systemic oppression experienced by Natives.

So when we talk about Indian mascots (the original issue, remember?), the dehumanization is based on systemic oppression in the US at the hands of the federal government. To compare the Fighting Irish (a school founded and the mascot approved by many Irish Catholics) to an Indian mascot isn’t logical because the Irish have “never experienced oppression or genocidal policies at the hands of the US government” (original quote).

I hope this helps clarify the statement, and I apologize for not being clear within the article.