Monica Doumit: JK Rowling pile-on is a distraction

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There’s no logic or self-awareness evident in the recent accusations of racism against JK Rowling, says Monica Doumit. PHOTO: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

What does not help in addressing inequality

J.K. Rowling, author of the incredible Harry Potter series, has found herself in the middle of accusations of transphobia in recent weeks, with many urging that the books be ceremoniously burned.

The controversy came about because Rowling retweeted an article that referred to “people who menstruate” – a politically correct term that aims to be inclusive of transgender men who still get their period – and wrote:

“I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

She was obviously making light of how far the inclusive language push had come, such that it now seemed to not only exclude the word “women,” but to erase it from the vocabulary all together.

“Predictably, Rowling was immediately jumped on by the Twitter Police who accused her of being transphobic”

A teaching resource produced by US activist group Trans Student Equality Resources. Photo Source: Trans Student Equality Resources

Predictably, Rowling was immediately jumped on by the Twitter Police who accused her of being transphobic, a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, and responsible for an increase in suicide attempts from gender diverse youth.

Despite calls for her to do so, and a pile-on from the cast of the Harry Potter films who owe their success to her writings, Rowling didn’t apologise but sought to highlight the contradictions that present themselves in the identity movement if biological sex is dismissed as irrelevant.

“If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased’, Rowling wrote.

“If sex isn’t real,” she wrote, “there’s no same-sex attraction.”  “If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased.  I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.  It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”

She has a point.  It doesn’t seem possible on the one hand to argue that biological sex is irrelevant to a person’s identity while at the same time insisting that the presence of same-sex attraction is fundamental to the same.

But logic has never been the strong suit for those who wave the identity flag.

Undeterred, the Twitter Police moved on to the next charge against Rowling, this time one of historical racism.  The allegation is that, in the 1999 book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling named one of the characters Cho Chang, which is now claimed by many – including the actress who eventually played Cho in the movies – as a racist stereotype against Asians.

“Logic has never been the strong suit for those who wave the identity flag”

It’s hard to consider Cho’s naming as racist.  Chang (with the alternate spelling of Zhang) is the third most popular Chinese surname and Cho, although not a first name itself, is the phonetic spelling of Qiu, a first name which means ‘autumn.’  Whatever of Rowling’s intentions, I’m not sure that choosing the name Qiu Zhang would have protected Rowling from the allegations of racism that now follow her.

But here again, there is a woke irony that comes into play.  Apart from mentioning that Cho had black hair, there was no reference in any of the Harry Potter books to her ethnicity and so, in order to make an accusation of racism against Rowling, those making the accusation needed to first utilise a racial stereotype themselves and assume that the character Cho Chang had to be Asian.

Protesters in Minneapolis gather around the police station entrance earlier this month. Rowling’s accusers see an opportunity to link her to racism, says Monica Doumit. PHOTO: CNS/Carlos Barria, Reuters

Again, logic isn’t anywhere to be seen.  Nor self-awareness, for that matter.

I don’t think her accusers think Rowling is racist.  I think they don’t like her views on transgender-inclusive language, but saw an opportunity to attack her with racism, which is more topical than transphobia at the moment.

The problem with the form of identity politics that exists largely to generate outrage on social media is that it detracts attention from the real problems of racism that occur every day.

The protests that have occurred in the United States and across the world these past couple of weeks are an overflow of deep divisions that have occurred for too long; the expression of frustration and even helplessness over the entrenched disadvantage that sees African Americans, our own First Nations peoples and many other indigenous cultures with a lower life expectancy, higher incarceration rate, and generally lower wellbeing than their white counterparts.

Addressing the root causes of this and “closing the gap” is not going to be assisted by insisting that everything is racism (or sexism, or homophobia, or transphobia.)  If we are going to heal the divisions that are so manifest right now, then we need to be aiming for unity, not trying to sow division wherever we can.

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