Mar. 20th, 2016

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Critics, Diversity, Whitewashing: Chaz Ebert: Where Are All the Diverse Voices in Film Criticism?

It is not enough to have reviewers who understand how to discuss film. We need reviewers who can speak deeply and with nuance because of their lived experiences. The trusted voices in film criticism should be diverse ambassadors who have access to the larger conversation. If we can’t recognize ourselves within the existing public discourse, we are implicitly being asked to devalue our experiences and accept a narrative that is not our own. Excluding diverse voices from the conversation de-emphasizes the value of our different experiences. It is critical that the people who write about film and television and the arts—and indeed the world—mirror the people in our society.


Work, Privacy: Now Playing in Your Headphones: Nothing by Lindsay Mannering

Short of building a fort around our dsks using empty shipping boxes and half-functioning umbrellas, headphones are the only "Do Not Disturb" signs we have left.


Queer, Dating, Latina: How to Date Your Future Latina Girlfriend by Lorena Russi

When people meet me, I often get confused for a white boy. Which, hey, on the accidental privilege scale, it could be worse. But in fact, I’m a Queer, Colombian woman. Das right ladies! I shop in the little boys’ section of H&M, watched the original Ugly Betty series in Spanish, and eat fríjoles. So, when potential girlfriends find out, they don’t usually care about any of this. They aren’t interested in my career as a professional soccer player, that coming out to Colombian parents was difficult, yet not impossible, or that my Spanish accent sounds like I’m Spaniard. At least not at first. Instead, I get asked a standard set of questions to test my level of “Spanishness”:

“Are both of your parents Colombian?
 “Yes.” 


“Well, do you even speak Spanish?”
 “Yes.”


“But you look Jewish?”
 “…Yes?”


Fat, Queer, Dating: Dating While Fat: 5 Things I Consider Before Commitment by Ashleigh Shackelford

In navigating a fatphobic, sizist culture, it’s very difficult to find a partner that is worth committing to when the world codifies your body as unworthy of love. In finding a potential partner, my experiences have allowed me to create questions to guide me in knowing who to invest in as a queer Black fat femme.

To be honest, dating while fat, Black, queer, a hood feminist, and a radical activist means either compromising parts of myself, or suffering through easing partners into gradually respecting all of my humanity. Living in a culture that defines my body as unhealthy, a problem, ugly, unhygienic, and unworthy of love makes it that much harder to find a potential partner to value all of me.


Friendships, Homes: How our housing choices make adult friendships more difficult by David Roberts

Our ability to form and maintain friendships is shaped in crucial ways by the physical spaces in which we live. "Land use," as it's rather aridly known, shapes behavior and sociality. And in America we have settled on patterns of land use that might as well have been designed to prevent spontaneous encounters, the kind out of which rich social ties are built.


Harry Potter, Racism, Cultural Appropriation, White Washing: A bunch of links about this topic. Basically, J.K. Rowling released the History of Magic in North America on Pottermore, and it became clear that the HP universe is even more white washed, racist, and badly developed than people thought.

NORTH AMERICAN MAGIC: THE WORST THING TO HAPPEN TO HARRY POTTER SINCE VOLDEMORT by Justina Ireland

While the rest of the Harry Potter books and movies show a casual disregard for inclusiveness and rely on token minority characters (when they appear at all), the History of Magic in North America is the literary equivalent of performing in black face, although I suppose in this case it’s red face. I discussed on twitter why Rowling’s history of Magic in North America was lazy, but it’s worse than that. While it’s easy for readers to hand wave away the terrible representation in the earlier works, and by extension the movies (which have the whitest London ever depicted since My Fair Lady), it isn’t easy to dismiss this newest work. Rowling cobbled together random bits of found folklore and woo-woo like a New Age practitioner trying for a fresh identity after their third divorce. This isn’t worldbuilding, this isn’t a fresh and new spin on well-known tropes for a deeper message. This is a literal laundry list of stereotypes about Native Americans that required no thought or deeper examination. It’s hurtful to Native Americans and harmful, spreading problematic tropes, but it’s also insulting to the fans who have spent their money and time on the franchise.


Magic & Marginalization: Et tu, JK? :( by Righting Red

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.


William Apess (Pequot) on Depictions of Native People in Stories

It is what Apess wrote there, in that paragraph, that matters to me in my work as a Native scholar who, 187 years later, is doing the same thing that Apess did in 1829. Through story, he learned mistaken ideas about his own people such that he was afraid of them.

Obviously, misrepresenting who we are was wrong in 1829, and it is wrong now.

What J.K. Rowling did yesterday (March 8, 2016) in the first story of her "History of Magic in North America" is the most recent example of white people misrepresenting Native people. Her misrepresentations are harmful. And yet, countless people are cheering what Rowling did, and dismissing our objections. That, too, is not ok.


It could’ve been great by N.K. Jemisin

You know, the thing I always try to remember when I’m borrowing from mythology is to be a shit-ton more careful with still-living traditions than I am with those long gone or transformed away from their roots. I feel relatively safe treading on the threads of Egyptian myth because there isn’t a centuries-long-and-ongoing history of using, say, the worship of Bast as an excuse to steal people’s ancestral land and children in the name of Christianity. But you know what? I’m still careful, even with “dead” faiths, because I don’t know how playing with these things might hurt real people. Nations have been built upon and torn down by the concepts I’m playing with. The least I can do is research the hell out of a thing before I put a toe in that ancient water.

It’s even more crucial for religions that are alive, and whose adherents still suffer for misconceptions and misappropriations. But these are easier to research, and it’s often much easier to figure out when you’re about to put a foot right into a morass of discrimination and objectification. All the evidence is there, sometimes still wet with blood. You just need to read. You just need to ask people. You just need to think.

And whether I believe in a thing or not, I always try to recognize that these concepts, these names, these words, have power. Power is always to be respected, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, present or past.


All of the following by Dr. Adrienne Keene:

“Magic in North America”: The Harry Potter franchise veers too close to home

So I get worried thinking about the message it sends to have “indigenous magic” suddenly be associated with the Harry Potter brand and world. Because the other piece I deal with on this blog is the constant commodification of our spiritual practices too. There is an entire industry of plastic shamans selling ceremonies, or places like Urban Outfitters selling “smudge kits” and fake eagle feathers. As someone who owns a genuine time-turner, I know that marketing around Harry Potter is a billion dollar enterprise, and so I get nervous thinking about the marketing piece. American fans are going to be super stoked at the existence of a wizarding school on this side of the pond, and I’m sure will want to snatch up anything related to it–which I really hope doesn’t include Native-inspired anything.


and


Native spirituality and religions are not fantasy on the same level as wizards. These beliefs are alive, practiced, and protected. The fact that the trailer even mentions the Navajo concept of skinwalkers sends red flags all over the place, and that it’s mentioned next to the Salem witch trials? Disaster. Even the visual imagery of the only humans shown in the trailer being a Native man and burning girls places the two too close for comfort.

We fight so hard every single day as Native peoples to be seen as contemporary, real, full, and complete human beings and to push away from the stereotypes that restrict us in stock categories of mystical-connected-to-nature-shamans or violent-savage-warriors. Colonization erases our humanity, tells us that we are less than, that our beliefs and religions are “uncivilized”, that our existence is incongruent with modernity. This is not ancient history, this is not “the past.” The ongoing oppression of Native peoples is reinscribed everyday through texts and images like this trailer. How in the world could a young person watch this and not make a logical leap that Native peoples belong in the same fictional world as Harry Potter?


Magic in North America Part 1: Ugh.

So, this is where I’m going to perform what Audra Simpson calls an “ethnographic refusal,” “a calculus ethnography of what you need to know and what I refuse to write in.” In her work with her own community, she asks herself the questions: “what am I revealing here and why? Where will this get us? Who benefits from this and why?”

I had a long phone call with one of my friends/mentors today, who is Navajo, asking her about the concepts Rowling is drawing upon here, and discussing how to best talk about this in a culturally appropriate way that can help you (the reader, and maybe Rowling) understand the depths to the harm this causes, while not crossing boundaries and taboos of culture. What did I decide? That you don’t need to know. It’s not for you to know. I am performing a refusal.

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.

August 2017

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