J.K. Rowling, author of the immensely popular Harry Potter series, is making a foray into the New World — and some readers are rather less than happy. The first of a four-part series on History of Magic in North America came out on Tuesday, and the Social Justice Warriors are already attacking it full force.
Adrienne Keene, a member of the Cherokee Nation, was not pleased to see part of her heritage published in a popular fictional universe. She attacked Rowling’s inclusion of the Native American legend of the “skin walker” — which Rowling claimed was an effort by non-magical people to demonize witches and wizards. Keene angrily declared that people who aren’t members of the tribe should not concern themselves with Native American lore.
What you do need to know is that the belief of these things (beings?) has a deep and powerful place in Navajo understandings of the world. It is connected to many other concepts and many other ceremonial understandings and lifeways. It is not just a scary story, or something to tell kids to get them to behave, it’s much deeper than that. My own community also has shape-shifters, but I’m not delving into that either.
What happens when Rowling pulls this in, is we as Native people are now opened up to a barrage of questions about these beliefs and traditions (take a look at my twitter mentions if you don’t believe me)–but these are not things that need or should be discussed by outsiders. At all. I’m sorry if that seems “unfair,” but that’s how our cultures survive.
The other piece here is that Rowling is completely re-writing these traditions. Traditions that come from a particular context, place, understanding, and truth. These things are not “misunderstood wizards”. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
These claims of “cultural appropriation” are particularly rich, as Rowling’s world is clearly fictional and never meant to minimize the cultures which she includes in it. Part of the fun of Harry Potter is EXACTLY the cultural “appropriation.” Rowling takes real-world cultural artifacts — from Bible quotes to Latin incantations to mythical creatures like Centaurs — and makes her fictional world that much more immersive and believable.
This blending with the real world is a great deal of what makes Harry Potter so artful — and likely one of the reasons it became so popular. It’s similar to the cult followings of Supernatural and other such shows, which bring in multiple perspectives in a fictional world. Such presentations of culture are not disrespectful, indeed quite the contrary.
To a hammer, everything seems like a nail. If you’re looking for ways to get offended, you’ll find them. Get over yourselves — it’s not colonialist, it’s just fun.
You can’t just claim and take a living tradition of a marginalized people. That’s straight up colonialism/appropriation @jk_rowling.
— Dr. Adrienne Keene (@NativeApprops) March 8, 2016