The Problem with Ilvermorny and White People

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There are a lot of problems with JK Rowling’s venture into writing about America, and most of them have been amply attacked elsewhere. However, I believe that the central problem of Rowling’s work is far from a new issue. It is, in fact, a problem that has existed across multiple disciplines for centuries. It is the idea that history began when white people arrived.

Magic in North America before colonization was mostly “herbal,” and “scattered.” Not until white people arrived did anyone think to have a school. Not until white people arrive does Rowling offer us any solid historical information at all in her alternate timeline.

Rowling’s perspective is fundamentally colonial. The narrative is that colonization resulted in education and infrastructure on a continent that was just scattered barbarians before Europeans showed up. She completely ignores the fact that her heroine, Isolt, is an invader, who arrived in the territory of a Native American tribe, hunted their animals, and built a house on their land. This is tacitly justified by Isolt’s fear and need for safety–but by fleeing to Massachusetts and settling there, she endangered everyone around her. She must have known her crazy evil aunt would try to follow her.

Rowling never mentions tribal differences, never suggests that some people may have been more open to the idea of settlers than others. She does not drop references to ancient magical schools deeper into the continent, in areas like the Southwest where non-nomadic Native Americans lived. This is because Native Americans are irrelevant to the history she is telling. The History of Magic in North America is about white people, and everything else is background curiosity.

 

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