Wed
Apr 17 2013 12:45pm
“To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang”

Rachel Rostad poem To JK Rowling from Cho Chang

Rachel Rostad’s 2013 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational performance piece, “To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang,” was an indictment of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series; specifically charging her with tokenism, of adding minor characters like Cho Chang and Lee Jordan without giving them the same depth other characters got, in order to create the appearance of diversity without actually including any. It is a personal, impassioned performance, rather than a strictly cerebral approach, which gives it immediacy and accessibility. This isn’t just a discussion of structural biases, some lecture or intellectual analysis; this is someone who rightfully has feelings that stem from the text.

Being able to critique things that you enjoy is an important skill for anyone, regardless of media. True to form, Rostad has posted a follow-up video, in which she addresses some of the concerns people had about her poem. Her handling of criticism serves a dual purpose; it is both thoughtful on its own merits, and it underscores how others should be accepting of analysis and critique. What do you think about Rowling’s handling of the subject, and of Rostad’s poem on the subject?


Mordicai Knode is Slytherin to the core and has lots of opinions on how Gryffindor always wins the House Cup by unfair administrator fiat. You can follow him on Tumblr and Twitter.

25 comments
Ravenclaw_4_lyfe
1. Ravenclaw_4_lyfe
Nice video - and very measured and well reasoned follow up video! Certainly much more helpfull and thoughtfull than most people engaged in internet arguements.

My main problem: What's so wrong with Ravenclaw??
Mordicai Knode
2. mordicai
1. Ravenclaw_4_lyfe

Ha! Nothing is wrong with Ravenclaw; I think the statement is more that of course the Asian character-- stereotyped as brainy-- is Ravenclaw. Of course.
Ravenclaw_4_lyfe
3. RErnest
Just watching this WITHOUT the follow up video, it does seem like a direct indictment of JK Rowling... and that is IMO unfair. Luckily the follow up video does help to temper this performance and puts it in a better context. The only thing I would have liked to have seen in the follow up is the same passion in apology that she showed in this poetry slam. I could easily see some people criticizing the follow up for being simply a dispassionate reading of cue cards, since she reads everything so fast. I personally think she was sincere in the follow up, but I could also see people criticize it for its almost robotic recitation of lines (i.e., is she truly sensitive of the criticism and differences of opinion, or is she just paying lip service to it, just like she is criticizing Rowling of doing with Cho Chang?).
James Whitehead
4. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
@2mordicai, Cho was also the Ravenclaw seeker, so not just a 'brainy' stereotype.

I thought her response was better than her 'poem' but as Mordicai put it, those were her feelings regarding her issues with the Cho character.

I must say I didn't find Cho any more of a stereotype than Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnegan, the Patil sisters (Padma & Parvati) were. Or any of the numerous 'background' characters that our heroes(ines) interacted with.

@2RErnest, not sure how much passion she could have shown in her follow up. It was a different setting with different emotions. A lot more spontaneity the that poetry forum.

Kato
Mordicai Knode
5. mordicai
4. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
I must say I didn't find Cho any more of a stereotype than Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnegan, the Patil sisters (Padma & Parvati) were. Or any of the numerous 'background' characters that our heroes(ines) interacted with.
Isn't that sort of the point though?
James Whitehead
6. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Possibly. But what would have been better? None of them were 'transfer students' from other nations. They were all Brits , as far as I remember.

They weren't the main characters so there wasn't going to be a lot of room. Cho was well defined by the end of the series. Granted she was a bit wet for most of The Order of the Phoenix but she comes back to fight for Hogwarts in The Deathly Hallows; not bad for a minor character.

And, again, she was sporty as well as brainy; so not sure a bad character in my mind.

Kato
Ravenclaw_4_lyfe
7. DougL
So, instead a middle class white lady is supposed to realistically portray the lives of somone whose challenges she has never faced?

I don't get it, how would a Cho Chang painted over with a white mentality be any better?

Nobody received any depth save Dumbledor, Snape, the big 3 and Nigel a bit. Could she have made other character like Lupin or whoever of different ethnicities or religions? Yes, would they have been written any differently? No. If you are changing merely the colour of the skin but not the tone of the character how is that any better?

This is the same complaint that some women have with how men write women. Would you rather have that? Makes no sense to me, how on earth am I going to write a realistic Indian character? My very best friend is Indian and I know some challenges he faced growing up, but they weren't so much related to being Indian. I couldn't write any Indian character that wasn't him on paper.
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
@7, She does not say that. She asks why the FEW POC characters who do exist fit into sterotypes. She also points out that the name is atrocious, two last names of Korean origin for a character of Chinese origin.

And yes you could write an Indian character, if you did the slightest bit of reseach and had the tiniest inkling of imagination. See, Jacqueline Carey.
Mordicai Knode
9. mordicai
7. DougL

Well, re: Dumbledore, the poem explicitly addresses that; sure, we get some "depth" but only crypto-homosexuality. & regarding the rest of the minor characters...that only reinforces the point! Why not have a major character who isn't white person?
So, instead a middle class white lady is supposed to realistically portray the lives of somone whose challenges she has never faced?
Yes. That is exactly what she is supposed to do. I mean, come on, we are on Tor.com, a blog about science-fiction & fantasy. We read books by authors who definitely never faced a challenge of using a laser sword to fight their father the dark wizard, who pretty certainly never rode a dragon or used a spaceship's AI. We read protagonists who aren't even human; the idea that someone is The Other because of ethnic background or gender is outmoded.
Michael Grosberg
11. Michael_GR
I don't know where Rowling got the name "Cho Chang". I looked it up online and there are several possible explanations. But be it as it may, I simply find it hard to believe Rowling just came up with a couple of vaguely asian-sounding phonemes on the spur of the moment. If we know anything aobut Rowling is that she puts a lot of thought into names, and that she does extensive research and has enormous attention to detail. In The Casual Vacancy she had a description of computer hacking which was more accurate than anything you'd find in a William Gibson novel.

As for Chang seeming weak, I don't know what Rowling was aiming for but I never thought of her as a weak character. I saw har emotional outbursts as a new type of challenge for Harry to cope with - one which he wasn't very good at, naturally. 15-16 year old boys simply aren't very mature. Never saw it as an indictment of Cho's character, and certainly not as something representing an entire ethnicity. I can empathise with Rachel's wish that the only southeast-asian character in the Potter seris be more of a kickass, but I liked the character as it was.

By the way, was there a Jewish character in Potter? I don't remember any (they are a smaller minority in the UK than they are in the US so it's not very surprising).
Ravenclaw_4_lyfe
12. sofrina
i recall a jewish boy, anthony goldstein. ravenclaw prefect. i agree, rowling can probably whip out her notes and explain cho's name. and rostad does clarify in her response that she didn't do enough research on chinese names and had to condense her comment to what fit the scheme of her poem. it probably doesn't matter but i liked the touch of casting a scottish girl as cho and having that additional accent in the film. showing off more of the british spectrum.
James Burbidge
13. jsburbidge
Chang is certainly a reasonable Anglicised Chinese last name -- I had a classmate in primary school whose family were Chinese immigrants and whose last name was Chang.
Ravenclaw_4_lyfe
14. NiktheHeratik
I'm sure most of us would agree that Rosted has a point, but it's a stupid point. At its core, Harry Potter is the same as any other Children's story about school life. It uses the same stereotypes as stand ins for people the reader likely identifies from real life: "The Jock", "The Nerd", "The Rich Prig" are all similar to people you're likely to have met in school.

I'm not saying that it doesn't do other brilliant and interesting things, but up until the last 2 books, it's basically a Boarding school kids story with an Encyclopedia Brown mystery in the middle, and lots of cool magic and fantasy tropes sprinkled in throughout as setting and mythology.

Rowling does do more Characterization than Encyclopedia Brown, or Scoobie-Doo or The Wizard of Oz. But to try and shoehorn diversity into it, just for diversity's sake, or to add more character development just because you feel like she's giving the characters you identify with short shrift, is sacrificing the story-telling and core nature of the book for some kind of political purpose.

Rowling's job is to tell an entertaining story and try and make us care about the characters. If she doesn't have anything interesting to say about a minor character, then she's better off leaving them out. It's just stupid to make a checklist of things you'd have liked her to write about and twist her arm until she does it. If you want more Cho Chang, write some fan fic.
Steve Taylor
15. teapot7
> She also points out that the name is atrocious, two last names of Korean origin for a character of Chinese origin.

I used to work with a Cheng Chang who grew in Shandong province in China. That's about 300km across the water from Korea, so there may well have been a bit of back and forth immigration.

I doubt he'd consider his last name to be "atrocious", though I must admit I never asked him.
Mordicai Knode
16. mordicai
12. sofrina

With movies, there is always another interesting layer of creation. I've talked about this in regards to Twilight, of all things. Like, the werewolves in Twilight are from a made-up tribe of Native Americans, where Meyer sort of invented everything wholecloth, with little research. Problematic, at best. But then, the movies case Native American actors in the role, shot on reservations, & made actual characters out of them. It is interesting how that can work out.
Mordicai Knode
17. mordicai
14. NiktheHeratik

I think the point is that adding diversity just for appearances isn't a good solution; that is what tokenism is. The idea that the default would be white kids on an adventure is the issue. As you say, we're dealing with deep archetypes here...why can't any of those archetypes reflect the diversity of the real world? & at some point, those archetypes become destructive, like when you don't just have "Nerd" but "Asian Nerd" & that is the only portrayal of Asian people in your story-- though I should note that there are South Asian characters, too-- then it becomes an issue of "wait, is that just an Asian Stereotype?"

The solution is of course to have genuinely diverse works, with a genuinely diverse cast. No, no one is advocating a checklist-- why do people always insist there is some checklist?-- but rather a list of points that you acknowledged yourself are valid.
Ravenclaw_4_lyfe
18. AO
Names no longer tell the whole story and can be very misleading, ime. I'm of 1/8th Irish descent, but it's my father's father's last name and so I should have that last name, which is very stereotypically Irish. But my father adopted the Dutch last name of the man who was his step-father, even though we have no Dutch ancestry. Meanwhile, neither of those last names reflect the other 7/8th of my background in any way.
Ravenclaw_4_lyfe
19. Hanako
I'm KOREAN, and my last name was Cho. I have several Chinese friends. Chang may be understandable, but Cho? There is no explanation nor reason to that at all.

Admittedly, J.K. Rowling sucked at bringing diversity to the HP character cast (to be fair, it was set in Britain and according to most people, books for kids shouldn't have character racial diveristy because that "doesn't matter" in stuff like this apparantly), but she could've at least done her research right.

Honestly, in third grade I remember meeting Cho Chang in the series and thinking, I've never met any Asian person with that kind of name. There's just no excuse for that.
Ravenclaw_4_lyfe
20. Rachel C.
I don't know why everyone here feels like they have to defend JK Rowling. She had a token character with a terrible name that did a terrible job characterizing an Asian American woman. I for one thought Rachel Rostad's spoken piece was brilliant, brave, and right on. She expressed everything that was wrong with Cho Chang's character and how it related to the larger problem with how Asian American women are portrayed in books/media.

Good going Rachel Rostad! Thank you for voicing what was in many of our hearts!
Ravenclaw_4_lyfe
21. teshara
I'm not sure how much depth you really want in a character that the hero has a passing fancy for. They kissed awkwardly once and then she was a filler character.

Not every story can be Game of Thrones. The little details they're releasing now are for fun, but I doubt she had a backstory for every single character when she was writing the series. (Although if it was like Game of Thrones it would be a lot more badass and still be incomplete and that would be cool with me.)

While Cho was in Ravenclaw, and they're reputed by fans to have the best and brightest, they have Cho, who is a jock and her academic status is everactually discussed; and Luna, who's a crackpot. I love her too, but really. They're the best and brightest of their kind, not nessissarily the best academically. (and according to the books, not very good in potions as a whole. The top 2 positions are locked in with Hermione and Draco.)

Also, Cho is not Chinese American. Cho is Scottish. There is a very big difference between Scottish and American.

Also, we have no idea where Cho's family is from or where they got their name. For all we know they changed their name during the last century to avoid association with a non-ally during any number of wars. It was pretty common.
Mordicai Knode
22. mordicai
21. teshara

My concern is more: yes, Cho is a "passing fancy," a "filler character," exactly. Maybe your racial diversity shouldn't be totally embodied in minor characters, that is the point, the crux of it.
Ravenclaw_4_lyfe
23. Joeldipops
Rachel C. you lost a lot of credibility in thinking we're talking about Americans here. Your points may or may not be valid, but if you're framing this from a US centric perspective, they can't be trusted. Try again.
Mordicai Knode
24. mordicai
23. Joeldipops

While you are right that her terminology is off & her assumptions faultily American-centric (though, Rostad is American) I don't think that undercuts her statement, as those are tangential issues to the conversation.
Ravenclaw_4_lyfe
25. Xiaoshun Zeng
Hey everyone! I thought I'd pop in and let you know that all you people who are criticizing J.K. Rowling have no idea what you're talking about.

Examine the post linked here:
http://imnotdoingmyhomework.tumblr.com/post/48091653036/fucknosocialjusticewarriors-objectorbit

Wherein a Chinese person, from China, schools all the 3rd and 4th generation Chinese-Americans and white people who are complaining about Cho Chang's name being some kind of racist caricature.

Because, of course, Cho Chang is a perfectly reasonable way to romanize a number of possible Chinese names.

Because, of course, the non-Chinese-speaking Anglicized girl of Chinese descent whose poem we're talking about doesn't know squat about real Chinese culture, any more than I know about the culture of my great-great-grandparents.

Because, of course, the white social justice warriors who promote this kind of thing also don't know squat about Chinese culture and language.

Because you refer to a Scottish girl of Chinese descent as an "Asian-American", which is one of the most insulting things I have ever heard.

And I didn't even yet mention the blatant racism you (and the poet) are displaying. Because of course Cho Chang couldn't be the daughter of a Korean mother and Chinese father, who gave her a Korean name. Because, of course, Chinese people can only be Chinese, and can only have names from a tiny little list. Nothing else is allowed. Because her parents couldn't have been 5th generation immigrants to China from Korea who Sinicized their last name but kept giving their children Korean first names.

No, this whole idea that Chinese people can only have Chinese names is ridiculously, pathetically racist. It reduces the complexity of a huge, huge, diverse part of the world to "Chinese", and frames it all in a bizarre Western-centric worldview that really makes no sense.

I played cello with a Taiwanese guy whose last name was "Chiang", pronounced "Chang". Get over yourselves, people who are looking for offense everywhere.

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