J.K. phoned it in. We can all say it. Folks were pretty excited when they first heard about new stories in the Harry Potter universe. First there was the announcement of Fantastic Beasts, and although the casting seemed a bit, er, homogenized for 1920s New York, most people were willing to look the other way. Next came the stage play The Cursed Child and the revelatory casting of a black woman as Hermione. Awesome, I thought, maybe Harry Potter isn’t as messed up with regards to race as I think it is (because I think it’s pretty fucked up and I’m not the only one).
But then, Pottermore released Rowling’s History of Magic in North America, and yo.
Forget the terrible set up, the categorization of hundreds of tribes throughout North America as a monolith, the weird refusal to acknowledge colonization, the Native magic constructed straight from a Cliffs Notes version of Disney’s Native American stereotypes, the assertion that OF COURSE Native Americans didn’t have wands, that’s a European thing (also: so, no other culture could seem to figure out that wands strengthen their magic but the Europeans? I mean…wow). Put all of that problematic BS aside (if you can, there’s a lot) and you still come to the one, central truth.
J.K. phoned it in. The History of Magic in North America is what happens when a fourth grader Googles information about his essay on Oklahoma the night before it’s due, ten minutes before his bedtime, and ends up plagiarizing the Onion and citing it as a credible source.
I am not a die hard Harry Potter fan. I did not wait in lines at bookstores at midnight to get a copy of the book. I didn’t dress up in gear from my favorite Hogwart’s House or wait in line to get into the Wizarding World a week after it opened and I only barely know what house I belong to (Gryffindor, every single time). But if I had dedicated hours and hours of my life to the fandom I’d be pissed.
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.
The Harry Potter Fandom should expect more.
Editor’s Note: For more info on this, see this post at Native Appropriations (and Tweets from Dr. Adrienne Keene), this post from Righting Red and Debbie Reese‘s recent Tweets and post about the topic.