It might seem peculiar that Rowling would go to the trouble to racially identify certain characters only to ignore their racial status for the remainder of the series, but this particular combination of behaviors is characteristic of contemporary neo-conservative racial ideology (Omi & Winant).
According to this ideology, race is assumed to be socially constructed and racial justice is pursued via a “color-blind” society in which everyone pursues the American/British dream by “lifting themselves up by the bootstraps” (i.e., a “just world” that rewards good choices and a strong work ethic). “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our [biological or God-given] abilities,” says Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 333), who later reminds Fudge, the Minister of Magic, that what people grow to be is much more important than what they were when they were born (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 708). Accordingly, for neo-conservatives, the belief that race (a biological or God-given characteristic) does not matter is typically grounded in one or both of two seemingly contradictory but actually compatible beliefs—that “we” are all the same (i.e., “humans” or “Americans” or “Muggles”) and that each one of us is a unique person.
–Robin S. Rosenberg, The Psychology of Harry Potter: An Unauthorized Examination Of The Boy Who Lived
Fans of a thing will wank themselves into a coma to make that thing look more erudite, more prestigious, and just all around more elevated than it really is. This is not a surprise and not a new phenomenon; fannish investment turns brains to mush and replaces higher functions with zergling behavior because at a certain stage of fannishness what you consume becomes your identity, and you spend both money and time toward this consumption as well as acting as unpaid marketing drones for it, incorporating it into your life philosophy and how you view the world. The synonym for this is “fucking pathetic.”
I’ve been over this before and it’s self-evidently stupid, so what I want to address is the kind of fan behavior that makes you do the opposite of being a fan of problematic things. This behavior comes in two types: ignoring that a problem exists (to wit: fans of Tolkien or R Scott Bakker) or pretending that not only does the problem not exist, the piece of media in question actively solves the problem it is perpetuating.
For the latter, see the fandom of Harry Potter, young adult at large, Joss Whedon, or romance.
There’s at least some honesty to the shit-eating roaches that say it’s okay for GRRM or Tolkien to be racist, sexist bores–these roaches flat-out don’t care and wear their bigotry on their sleeves. There’s something more insidious about the roaches who insist that JK Rowling or Joss Whedon is the Deity of Social Justice, here in their straight white glory to dispense equal rights for all people of color and queer folks by writing or creating shit that marginalizes the shit out of POC and queer people.
I probably don’t need to point out how neither does any of that, and if anything quite the opposite. You know how Firefly has no Chinese main character and how everyone of importance in Harry Potter is so white a bunch of them are actually red-headed stereotypes–but bring that up and your average social justice-loving HP drone or your average “Joss is so feminist and inclusive!” zergling bursts into a froth of incoherent rage?
What’s happening goes back to the deep fannish investment that drives people to identify with what they consume, sometimes because they’re genuinely that vapid and have nothing else to define themselves with, sometimes because they really, really love calling themselves “browncoats” and Firefly shaped their lives and perspective, okay (note: stay away from these people, some are contagious!). When this happens you feel that any critiques of these works are horrible personal assaults on your very moral integrity and sense of ethics. At this point you either flip your shit or you make up a load of dogshit to paper over the cracks of Whedon’s, Tolkien’s or Rowling’s galloping bigotry. Some common fall-backs:
- Tolkien was progressive for his time! His books are full of strong women! He told off some Nazis! (Actually, one of his gripes was that the Nazis made the noble Aryan spirit look bad.)
- Rowling includes an Asian love interest for Harry (who is perpetually weepy and has a gibberish, racist name)! Some minor character who never does anything (except be “racist” toward a red-headed white girl) turns out to be black! Dumbledore is gay! (Live in the closet, die in the closet.)
- Joss Whedon was responsible for Buffy! River Tam kicks ass! There are lesbians in Buffy! (Don’t some of them wind up dead?)
- Rue from The Hunger Games is black! (And is fridged specifically to motivate the extremely white protagonist. Very diverse, don’t you think? Almost as diverse as Far Cry 3, I would say.)
- Avatar: The Last Airbender is inspired by Asian cultures! (Remember that it’s actually made by two white American dudes?)
- Look how racially diverse YA is! Let me tell you all about White Author X, White Author Y, and White Author Z who include characters of color. Oh what’s that? I’m sorry, but white authors are all I read.
- Sookie Stackhouse is really feminist because Sookie is a Strong Female Character who loves to call other women bitches, sluts, and whores.
And so on. Basically these points are generally made based on extremely limited understanding of racism or feminism, or alternatively come out of desperate straws-clutching–and an eager, puppyish desire to congratulate white authors for being racially inclusive, male writers for being “feminist” and straight writers for being “queer-friendly.” It’s about setting a low bar so the writer, usually who belongs to a majority with oppressive privileges over that particular minority, can vault them without having to try and get applauded endlessly and mindlessly for being so awesome… even if what they write actually perpetuates oppression. It’s no coincidence that some of the YA whitewashing “controversies” were centered around books by white authors, fussed over by a fandom that rarely if ever is able to recommend works by actual writers of color–a fandom that finds “racial inclusivity” as repackaged and peddled by white people more palatable than, and preferable to, any other type.
As an aside? If you’re compiling a list of racially inclusive books and even 10% of it is white authors, you’re full of shit. If you’re compiling a list that is made up of this many white authors (and you are yourself a white author who loves to toot her own I AM SO INCLUSIVE horn), you’re full of shit and self-serving. Until the mainstay of your “racially diverse” recommendations is writers of color, you’re full of shit. Your flavor-of-the-week pseudo-progressive list of “diverse works” is full of shit.
What? Look for tidbits tossed from some huge, focus-tested corporation? Stare at these anemic, mechanical representations of lesbian sex?
Should we cringe when a new show comes out, mumbling that we hope it will have a “sympathetic depiction” of minorities and that we hope Straight White Male Writer won’t fuck it up? Should we eat scraps under the table?
They don’t love you. They will never accept you unless you remove everything good and interesting about yourself and replace it with their poison.
Capitalism takes everything we care about and turns it into a product.
–Porpentine, Creation under Capitalism and the Twin Revolution
The main thing for these people is that they get to have their cake and eat it too: they continue to consume exactly the same bullshit they always have for fun, they don’t need to leave their comfort zone, they don’t need to become more critical. They get to mindlessly keep on with Joss Whedon or Generic White YA Author #542312 and strut around showing how enlightened they are without ever having to do any work to earn those fauxgressive feel-good cookies. It’s unbelievably lazy and absolutely transparent.
It’s not even armchair activism. It’s several grades below that. It’s digging in your heels and screaming that this is your critical limits–that when it comes to the media you like you’ll construct political critiques only so long as you can contort them through illogic and mental gymnastics to make your fan favorite look good.
It’s the opposite of critical engagement, and you should very fucking well feel ashamed of yourself.
And look, I’ve done it too!