I am writing this letter from a place of privilege. A similar place of privilege from which you have written 7 Harry Potter novels, 3 short supplements to those novels, countless short stories and further explorations of these novels, coauthored a stage play based on these novels, written a film, and written 5 novels for adults.
In writing this, I speak ONLY for myself, as a reader and unimpressed fan.
Although you write from a place of privilege, your volume of work and your productivity is admirable. The relationships you made with the cast and crew of the Harry Potter movies is admirable. Your charity work is admirable.
Your ability to connect with readers on so many platforms (novels, movies, plays, websites, etc) is admirable. You, JK, are a force to be reckoned with.
And reckon with you I will.
I cannot get on board with your writing about North America, Indigenous people and their beliefs, and your BLATANT (and quite frankly embarrassing, for you) disregard of British colonization and violence. (For a succinct article on Rowling’s “Magic” Racism, see here – it also points to the issues surrounding the original series)
I am just one of a growing number of people who are “adulting” in the wake (and constant revival) of Pottermania who take issue with some of your recent work and statements (and actions).
It is REALLY hard for me to criticize the woman who, for over a decade, I aspired to be EXACTLY LIKE. But critique you, I must, if only to decolonize my bookshelf. As a kid, I would sleep in my Hermione Granger Halloween costume for weeks after I ate all of my candy. I broke countless brooms pretending to play Quidditch with my younger brother. Fred and George helped me cope with a series of deaths when I was twelve, and Luna and Hermione reminded me that it was okay to just be nerdy, quirky me when I started junior high.
I am, no question, a SUPERFAN of Harry Potter. As a student of literature (the kind that is supposed to impress people at dinner parties and conferences) part of me is embarrassed to admit that few other works have influenced me in the way that the Harry Potter books have. As a superfan who grew up with their life shaped by Harry Potter more than interactions with other 8 year olds, I am sad to say that you have failed me.
Something Harry Potter has done that nothing else ever has, is grow with its readers. I was almost the same age as the protagonists as the movies came out. I was seventeen when The Deathly Hallows: Part II premiered and sent me and my friends into adulthood. I thought it was over, and yes, I mourned the loss of a huge part of my life.
It didn’t end then, however. Pottermore came out, fan fiction still thrived, and soon I was “gifted” with short stories on Pottermore and the promise of a stage play and more movies.
Honestly, I didn’t mind the Cursed Child, and I liked Fantastic Beasts. I wonder, though, if I adored them for their merit, or because they are tangible proof that my childhood is not over or that the kid in me hasn’t died.
I mean, the fucking Thunderbird. And Johnny Depp‘s terrible cameo. (But I digress)
One question I keep asking myself is: I have grown up with the Harry Potter universe, but has it grown up with me?
Going back to the privilege I mentioned at the beginning of this letter, we both have it. White, straight, cis-gendered women who fit conventional ideals of womanhood pretty easily. We are both educated and the areas in which we do not have privilege are protected and validated by the stronger privileges we hold.
When I was younger, I learned a lot about life and myself from Harry Potter. There’s a hell of a lot of good stuff in there, and I can appreciate those things even as an adult. No text is perfect and issues of identity and representation in fiction are fraught and frankly, pretty scary. I think you did pretty great with the Harry Potter books, and even the movies. Not only did they bring a little magic into my life, but they gave me tools to engage with other works of literature.
However, when I left the theatre in tears after watching the Deathly Hallows part II, I was ready. I was ready to write my diploma exams and ride off into the sunset with my high school diploma in one hand and my university acceptance letter in the other. In university, I learned about literary criticism, postcolonial literature, and most importantly, for the first time, I learned in-depth about Canada, Britain, and the United States’ horrifying Colonial past. I like to think that once you learn about colonization and imperialism that they are impossible to forget, but it doesn’t seem like they are. Surely, you’ve read tweets and blog posts critiquing your colonization of Skin Walkers and the Thunderbird, SURELY at some point you’ve acknowledged Britain’s role in the genocide of indigenous people in Canada and the US (or rather, single-handed, systematic intention of murder).
By staying silent and continuing to perpetuate colonial ideals, you remain complicit in genocide, effectively “approving” of it.
One thing I loved about the Harry Potter novels was their fixation of book culture, libraries, and research. I owned a book about all of the mythology and history that informed the series when I was younger, which implanted a passion for research, libraries, and knowledge.
Why did you just give up on well-thought, well-researched (Well-consulted) writing when you decided to write about North America?
Here in Canada, we recently had a literary scandal in which some of our most respected and intelligent authors signed a letter without taking into the consideration of its implications OR how poorly written it was. You did the same thing when writing about Indigenous people and wizards in North America.
The difference? With some of the signatories, there was no difference, no discourse. But some of them took their names off of the letter after much consideration, apologized to the communities they hurt, listened to critique and learned. They promised to do better next time.
You did none of this. You remain complicit in racism, colonialism, appropriation and white supremacy.
Quoted in a HuffPost article, Amy H. Sturgis said, “Some of her descriptions — the claim that the Native American wizarding community was ‘particularly gifted in animal and plant magic’ for instance — refer less to Native American cultural traditions than to stereotypes of the mystical Noble Savage that have been used for centuries by non-Natives to make Native Americans seem exotic and Other.”
It isn’t that I hold writers-celebrities to unattainable standards of perfection. But I do hold you to the same standards of “being a decent human being” that we do our friends and colleagues.
I want to see you acknowledge critique, learn from it, and apologize. I’m not saying you’re a terrible person, but I am saying that it is an utterly terrible thing to disregard your own readers’ voices when they say you’ve hurt them, that you’ve not only appropriated their culture, but torn it up, swallowed it, and spit it back in their faces as if they should be thankful that you even considered representing them in your “world.”
I’m not asking you to stop writing. Exactly the opposite, actually. You are a writer and therefore you understand the sheer POWER of words. What you have failed to realize is the power of words in the hands of someone with as much privilege as yourself. I can often separate the physical book from the author, but your twitter account, website, and Pottermore are more a part of you than they are of the Potter world. And some people think that this inability to let go of the Harry Potter world is, in fact, ruining it.
With your power as an internationally renowned and respected writer, you can make a difference. But first you need to listen. No more tweets, retweets, or short stories. Listen, reflect, respond, and then write. We all make mistakes as writers (and people), and nobody should be defined by their mistakes. However, when you refuse to acknowledge these things as mistakes, or listen to the people harmed by them, that reaction (or lack thereof) sure as HELL defines you.
HOW, JK, can you sit on your computer and BLOCK @NativeAppropos when Donald Trump is president Elect and there is the NODAPL crisis in Standing Rock. Here is a page indicating more people you blocked instead of responding to criticism.
You are NOTORIOUS for your engagement with fans on twitter. More than any other author or celebrity I can think of. Why remain silent and passive aggressive on this?
Marginalized groups are under absolutely NO obligation to educate you on your missteps (and you have google), but many people have tried to show you where you went wrong and point you towards better ways of writing and engaging with cultures other than your own. You have ignored this.
At the very least, you MUST know that if your version of indigineity had ANY relevance AT ALL, that the descendents of your American and Indigenous Witches and Wizards are on either side of the conflict. The European immigrant that existed “so peacefully” in your narrative with the North Americans they encountered are brutally assaulting people who are peacefully protesting to protect their water supply.
They aren’t just warriors for water, they are warriors for their culture, their ancestors, and the planet that we ALL take advantage of. Whether we recognize it or not, they are also fighting for those oppressing them, aiming to ensure that even those who tear gas them, have a planet to call home and clean water in the future.
It is so difficult for me to wrap my head around the face that you work with so many charitable organizations, speak out against misogyny and racism, and yet… you’ve fallen silent on this issue.
We grew up with Harry Potter.
Only to look back, having gained all of this insight and strength
and try to reconcile the past.
So before I leave the Harry Potter franchise to focus my efforts on writers who can accept critique and learn and grow as writers and humans from mistakes, I tell you this:
LISTEN. Not to me, but to the indigenous peoples of North America that you have negatively affected. In your upcoming writing and movies TRY TO DO BETTER. Work with indigenous writers, artists, and elders to better your understanding. Use your incredible power as a writer to face complicated issues of 1920s New York and the importance of animal conservation.
Just please, listen, and reflect. You CAN do better.
To anyone else who is reading this, I encourage you to donate money to Standing Rock and just watch Fantastic Beasts online. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed when I took off my critical pants and went to it with my partner, but revisiting it I am finding a lot of issues.
Here is a call-to-action from the decolonization group at the U of C’s English Department, with information on where to donate, and an open letter to sign if you are so inclined.
And in the meantime, here are some fantastic books by Indigenous authors to buy and read instead of your traditional holiday HP binge:
- 14 Aboriginal Women Writers to Read this Summer (Room Magazine)
- 15 Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Read (Muskrat Magazine)
Can’t quite ditch the Potterverse yet?
- Listen to a feminist, academic, and critical podcast about the Harry Potter world by Canadian Scholars (Come for Granger Danger, stay for Jewatch) Their twitter account is also incredible (@ohwitchplease)