Sunday 20 March 2016

Nerd Church - The Pottermore Controversy

UPDATE May 2017:

My thoughts on this topic keep changing quite a bit.

I've edited this post more than once, and instead of stressing about changing it again and again to keep up with my views, I've decided to just leave it as is, and point out that my opinions on this are ever-evolving.

I would also like to point you to Debbie Reese's round-up of Native individual's responses to the Pottermore controversy, since their voices are the ones that count here.

Note: There will be no yelling, screaming and/or shouting, on this blog.

I know that cultural appropriation and diversity are very sensitive topics. But on this blog everyone is going to play nice and respect each other.

Got it? Play nice.


The Situation...

Okie dokie then, in case you haven't heard: J. K. Rowling released short essay-style pieces on the History of Magic in North America on Pottermore - the Harry Potter extended content website.

This is kind of a promo-style tie-in with the upcoming 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' film.

So, part 1 discussed magic in North America in relation to Native American peoples. And then some corners of the Internet exploded a bit into various directions of verbal (is it still verbal if it's through a keyboard? Not sure,) shrapnel.

The main issues that people seemed to have with the depiction of Native peoples in this writing were:
  • The lumping together of all Native American peoples as one people and one culture.
  • The perceived 'Euro-centric' nature of the piece and the perception of the piece as presenting Westerners, Europeans, etc. as superior. (European wizards have wands, Native American wizards do not.
  • The use of tales and customs indigenous to some Native American peoples, with little to no understanding of their meaning to the tribes who believe in them.

This last point seems to be the most important - and the one which needs most urgently to be fixed.

Cultural Appropriation

Is it OK if people take an aspect of one culture and transplant it into their own? Like, by using it in books, films, music, etc... Sticky subject.

I personally think that it's not offensive to use aspects of different cultures in your own - as long as you try your best to be respectful and understanding within that.

Key word: RESPECTFUL. If people from that community feel they've been disrespected, please listen to them.

I think it's important to understand that people express themselves through a variety of different aspects of different cultures - and not just those they grew up in. But, I think it's also important to understand that cultural symbols (etc.) have importance embedded in them from their origins.

coloured sweets

Maybe that sounds a little contradictory, or a little vague, but there you have it. Honesty is often wibbly-wobbly and vague.

Obviously, I understand if people do take offense to the Pottermore stories. As I say so often that I may as well record it and play it back to myself: we all have different opinions.

Otherwise we'd all be the same person - which would be pretty weird, and completely impractical. All of us with the same name in our undies? Not going to end well.


Honestly, I get it that people are pi**ed off at this. They feel that they've been misrepresented, and that sucks.

But is there a danger that this will put authors off from including characters who are not of their own culture? The fear of 'getting it wrong' could mean we don't end up 'getting' any characters who aren't white, heterosexual, able-bodied, without mental health problems, etc. etc.

We want diversity in literature - in comics, in YA, in fantasy, in everything!

That means that there are going to be some moments where we don't agree with the representation being put out there.

Discussion is fine, of course - that's the way forward, the way to end up with fair representation for everyone. We can shape stuff together if we just discuss things calmly.

And yes, damn straight - that means that if you are offended, you SAY IT.

Keep it Civil

But people can get overly-aggressive.

If you express your anger as disappointment, in a reasonable way, you are more likely to find people accommodating than if you eff and blind at the world (or worse - guys, we've all seen what the internet can do.)

Righting Red's post 'Magic & Marginalization: Et Tu JK? :(' is a fab example of how to put your views across eloquently, strongly, and without acting like a jerk.

All sides of all debates have people who find their anger slipping into their fingertips, and then onwards to the keyboard keys. Then, before you know it, the button has been pressed, the message is out there, and the damage is done.

I personally prefer civil and respectful discussion.

But then I'm not going to judge people who this affects directly, and who feel genuine hurt at this. PARTICULARLY since they still haven't had the apology they deserve.

If they wanna shout, that's none of my business (but no threats are ever warranted guys.)

I'm not telling you that you can't shout - I'm just saying that often the best results come from not shouting.

In Defence of J. K.

Let's be open here: I seriously doubt that J K Rowling was being malicious or in any way purposefully disrespectful. It just doesn't seem like something she would do. Which means that this was a mistake.

It shouldn't have happened. She should apologise.

But at the end of the day, this was an unintentional offence. She didn't mean to upset those who have been upset.

Again though, an apology would be good.

If anything, (and contrary to the vibe from some on the ever-flammable Internet,) she meant only to include and acknowledge Native peoples in her Wizarding World - not to use them as a means to further her profit (why the hell would she need to increase her profit by taking advantage of the cultures of Native peoples? In case you hadn't noticed, she has a lot of profit already.)

And, I'm going to say this, even though I know it annoys some people: J K Rowling's world is not our world.

This world may have a huge resemblance to our own - but last I checked we don't have Wizarding schools. So it's got to be a world that's just a little bit adjacent to ours. That means J K Rowling has authority to use that tricksy little thing that is artistic licence.

That said, fiction does have a huge bearing on events and attitudes in our own world. And authors need to be aware that's 'it's fictional' isn't a get-out-of-jail-free-card - what you write will affect people's perceptions of things in this world as well as in yours.


There's lots of opinions on this (again, that's fab! Opinions are great. Just don't act like a jerk.)

If you want to see some views of people from various different Native American communities, then check out American Indians In Children's Literature's post 'Native People Respond to Rowling.'

This is a great post that collates a variety of opinions from people who are clearly a lot closer to this issue than I am - so give it a look-see.

Seriously - look at the views of Native American peoples. Because I'm not even American, and this post is basically just me trying to make my own thoughts make some sort of sense (which maybe they don't, who knows.)

So, to summarise: I think it's ok to use other people and cultures in your book, but you have to DO YOUR RESEARCH, AND BE RESPECTFUL. And people from those cultures? They have the right to feel however they want about this.

Nerd Church is a weekly post where I discuss various 'issues' of different sorts. Feel free to continue the discussion, but please link back here. :)

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  1. I agree with you 100%, I do not think that it's offensive to write about a culture that you want to learn more about. I think that if we keep bringing upon this idea of cultural appropriation, then that will only drive writers away from wanting to write about different cultures, and like you said, make less diverse books. I personally didn't think that anything that Rowling said was offensive, but then again I am not Native American so I can't really judge. However people do need to remember that it was fiction and not a representation of real Native American people. Sorry for the long comment, I just have a lot of feelings haha!

    1. Don't be sorry for the long comment - I agree!

      I think that we have to walk a very fine line - all of us, because we all consume the culture and media that's out there. So we all need to be involved in discussions of diversity.

      I think intent is very important - like I said, I also think it's fine to disagree with the representation. As long as you're polite, civil, and explain your views.

      It's only through getting it wrong that people are going to get it right. And I don't want people being put off from including a character of a different ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, whatever - from themselves.

  2. ohhh, I LOVE this post. *nods* I haven't read the essay, mostly because I just never got around to it, but gosh did I hear the blow-up over the misrepresentation. I mean, I don't doubt that JK Rowling got it wrong. She isn't American and it's very hard to properly represent a nation without BEING in it, right? But tbh, I thoroughly agree with what you said about these kind of things scaring off authors from even tRYING. I feel so bad that the diversity-movement has sort of turned from "let's encourage people to write diversely!" to "how dare you write that if you haven't lived it"...I mean, if you haven't lived it, you'll probably not write it as authentically as someone who HAS lived it will. But that doesn't mean we should stop writing! Books would suck if authors only wrote 100% what they knew personally. :(

    1. Exactly! I'm pretty sure J K Rowling has never been a teenage boy-wizard, for example ;)

      I personally didn't think there was anything offensive in what she wrote - but then, I'm British and don't have a clue about what Native American peoples might believe.

      Like I said, I'm pretty damned sure she wasn't *trying* to be offensive - and intent counts for a lot as far as I'm concerned.

      That doesn't mean that people can't disagree and point out the failings with what she wrote - it's just, what's with all the hate? Y'know? You can express yourself without getting so nasty about it. She tried, goddammit!

      Thanks for stopping by :)


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