Being offended is such a hot topic. So many people are ready to get mad about just about everything, including, being offended. People are upset that they can’t say what they want. They find it annoying it is that everyone is offended by things all the time.
I have to laugh a little. I find it amusing how worked up people can get, and by laughing about it, I’m able to laugh at myself. At my own urge to be offended or upset or angry about things.
If I offend or upset someone, I feel bad. Though I might feel defensive, and want to explain my intentions, I do my best to not get upset or mad at them. Their reasons for being upset are very valid, and very real to them. If someone is triggered or offended by something, well, they are allowed to be.
Working to see things from another person’s view point is something I actively try my best to do. I don’t always get it right. I feel like I’m always getting it wrong, actually. But I try.
One of the biggest realizations of how much I needed to work on paying attention to, and trying my best to understand other people’s view point came when I moved to the 98118 area code and was suddenly in a mixed demographic.
I came from a family of Okies, my grandparents from both sides came over to California from Oklahoma. We were never really well off, and my husband had a similar story of grandparents straight from Mexico. My husband and I would often feel the need to one up each other when it came to how poor we were growing up. How hard it was for a variety of reasons, how it shaped us both.
I still fall into this habit of one-upping people for my status as the MOST poor, from the WORST home town.Especially when I’m around so many people who have had so many opportunities, have done so many things I never imagined being able to do when I was younger. Going to college, that wasn’t something people in my family did. Nursing school is what the women in my family did. We were damned proud to be CNAs. Becoming an LVN or an RN, that meant you’d be rolling in dough, and that was a sacrifice to accomplish because of the commute.
And me, I was going to be the first to go off to college. Actual, big time, state college. After I got my AA at a junior college because even with government assistance, Fresno State was still too expensive. My brother joined the Marines because it was the only option he saw.
So, like so many people I know, I would get upset when people would push the idea of white privilege. It upset me, it felt like it negated my difficulties. Even with my husband, I had a hard time believing that things were any harder for him because he’s Hispanic. He was popular and gets along well with people in ways I cannot. We had friends who would jokingly call him the whitest Mexican they knew.
Yeah. You read that right. The whitest Mexican they knew. And we all laughed.
Because being white passing is such a great thing. Why did we think that was so funny? Why was it ever okay to say? And sadly, I thought nothing of it until a few short years ago. Now, I’m all about understanding how privileged I am, and being sympathetic to the feelings of those who are not.
Amusingly, when J.K. Rowling, got called out on her portrayal of Native Americans, my friends came to me to ask my opinion. I’ve been researching Paiutes, Miwoks and Yokuts for my series. I stupidly thought it would be so cool to make my main character a Pauite wolf shifter, based off their Eesha/Esa tales. I’m still regretting it because I don’t want to do it poorly or offensively. So, I’ve spent a good deal of time researching.
And not just researching facts. Because even in getting the facts right, I might still write something insulting to the people for whom this is their actual heritage. And they have every right to be offended and angry if I get it wrong. If I fall into an insulting trope, misuse their beliefs in an unacceptable way, I will step up and admit wrong doing. I still don’t know if I’ll ever feel entirely comfortable or confident with the story.
I have few connections with actual indigenous people. I have a hard enough time connecting with people who come from relatively similar backgrounds. Understanding a people who have been systematically abused, whose culture is so varied and different from my own, I’m bound to get it wrong in some aspects. But it’s been fascinating to read as much as I have, to prowl the Powwows.com message boards, to read through post after post at Native Appropriations, to read and research as much as I can.
I almost feel guilty of fetishizing Native Americans/Indigenous people because of how much I focus on them without really understanding them in a personal way. I know full and well that the books I read about the tribes I’m researching are often filtered through a non-native, and that I am painfully limited by my financial means and the reach of the local libraries. But it is my way, and my only way of accessing their culture.
So what do I think of J.K. Rowling writing about Native Americans? Well, what I think doesn’t matter nearly as much as what actual Natives think. But my friends reached out to me, because it’s something I often talk about.
I haven’t read the stories in question, but I do get the understanding she messed up. Not because she wrote about Natives and she isn’t one. I also don’t believe that they’re upset because she’s prominent and an easy target.
What bothered me, I realized, as a white writer attempting to make sure I give a nod to the people who first lived in the area my story is based in, who still live there, is that she had the means and the resources to reach out to and connect with actual people. She’s got money, she’s got connections, she could have easily gone to visit with some Navajo tribal members and asked if her use of skinwalkers was appropriate. She has the means, the ability make sure she wasn’t doing more harm to an already slighted people by writing what she wrote.
Maybe she did go and talk to and consult some people, I don’t know. But the fact that she, of the white, privileged and very well off, used an abused people’s history and culture in a way that further marginalizes and white washes it, and will very very likely make money of it. As non-natives, it’s not our place to decide how their culture works, explain their beliefs or make them fit into a context that works for us.
There are many other issues, which I don’t think I have any right to talk about, being non-native. But they should still be considered, and we should make an effort to understand and respect.
When people get offended, when they make a fuss about things, we should take note. There are a few people who like to cry wolf, but most people don’t want the conflict or difficulties associated with speaking up. It takes courage and guts to stand up and say something when you feel in your heart it is wrong.
Links to more articles about Rowling’s cultural appropriation:
The History of Magic in North America: https://www.pottermore.com/collection-episodic/history-of-magic-in-north-america-en
The post that started it all by Dr. Adrienne Keene
“Magic in North America Part 1: Ugh”
Further discussion on the topic, with more links to Twitter comments
“JK Rowling under fire for Native American ‘cultural appropriation’ in new stories”
“What J.K. Rowling’s New Story Can Teach Us About Cultural Appropriation”