A New Witch-Hunt for J. K. Rowling
J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, has released some new writing based in the same fictional wizarding world on her website, Pottermore, giving the history of magic in North America. She's doing this as a means of promotion for the new movie coming out later this year that's set in North America, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Rowling's mistake, apparently, was that she dared to write fiction that includes Native Americans. This sin is what's known as "cultural appropriation," which means that somebody does something that is associated with a culture that they are not themselves a part of. So the claim is that Rowling, as an English Caucasian woman, appropriated Native American culture by weaving them into her fictional story.
"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," Keene wrote on her blog Native Appropriations. "There is no such thing as one 'Native American' anything. Even in a fictional wizarding world."
The problem with Keene's logic here is that the "fictional wizarding world" that she's referring to is just that, fictional. Moreover, it's the creation of J. K. Rowling, not Adrian Keene. Keene doesn't get to dictate what happens in that fictional world. J. K. Rowling, as the author of Harry Potter and the creator of the fictional world that he inhabits, is the sole decider of what is true in that fictional world.
If Rowling wanted to create a world where the Native Americans were all a homogeneous blob indistinguishable from one another then who is Adrian Keene to say otherwise? She doesn't have to like it, but she doesn't get to say what Native Americans are in a "fictional wizarding world" that she had nothing to do with creating.
That said, nowhere does Rowling make such a claim about the Native Americans who inhabit her wizarding world, nor would she publish such sloppy writing in the first place. Rowling writes:
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.
Look at that, different Native Americans reacting differently to witches and wizards. It's almost like Keene is simply seeing what she wants to see as if she might have some kind of agenda. Rowling is merely giving a brief historical overview, thus painting in broad strokes, but still manages to clearly and succinctly make the point that not all Native Americans believe the same things. Keene continues:
"The problem, Jo (can I call you Jo? I hope so), is that we as Indigenous peoples are constantly situated as fantasy creatures," wrote Keene, who is Cherokee. "But we're not magical creatures, we're contemporary peoples who are still here, and still practice our spiritual traditions, traditions that are not akin to a completely imaginary wizarding world ..."
Let's leave aside the snotty "can I call you Jo?" nonsense and point out that we European-Americans are also contemporary peoples whose traditions are not akin to a completely imaginary world either. I don't let it ruin my day that I have yet to discover a magical world that will save me from my apparently miserable life à la Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc...
I suppose this is where I need to "check my privilege" as a white male and recognize that it's "different" for me, but really it's not. If you look to entertainment to validate your feelings about your cultural heritage, then, to steal a line from a great wizard, "I'm afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time."
The idea of fantasy is to take what we know and to make it fantastical. In trying to fit Native American culture, which she does not represent as homogeneous, into her fictional wizarding culture, Rowling is, if anything, giving representation to Native Americans. If she had simply ignored Native Americans Keene would be accusing her of contributing to the underrepresentation of Native Americans in popular culture, and of whitewashing North American history. However, because she did include them she's guilty of cultural appropriation. The best thing she can do is ignore the professional victims no matter how much or how loudly they whine on Twitter and continue to write amazing stories.