Over the weekend, the Tumblr-verse went crazy about the slam poem, To JK Rowling, From Cho Chang.
In it, college student Rachel Rostad uses Cho Chang’s role in Harry Potter to frame a discussion about the racist presentation of East Asian girls and women in the media, with particular focus on the common trope of Asian girls crying over white men.
However, the speech has been getting some criticism, especially over its assertion that “Cho” and “Chang” are both Korean surnames, not Chinese names. In response, the poet has posted another video discussing these issues which, if the Youtube numbers are anything to go by, has been seen by a lot fewer people.
She apologizes for the inaccuracies in her speech and for misrepresenting people, but makes several more excellent points about the way that East Asian women are represented in fiction. It’s a shame that her poem has become represented by these mistakes, as people are using them as a reason to ignore the actual message of the poem, and to avoid actually addressing the problems it explores.
It’s not really my place to argue what is and isn’t racist about Cho Chang’s portrayal, and I’ve been learning a lot by following both these videos and the discussion on Rachel Rostad’s tumblr. But arguments that Cho is problematic — because she cries all the time, because she’s made to seem “weaker” and more emotional in order to make Ginny seem better — have a lot of validity to them. This doesn’t mean that JK Rowling, or Harry Potter fans, are racist or sexist (at least, beyond the subtle, insidious, subconscious “isms” that plague even the most well-intentioned and conscientious of us). But it is still problematic, and it does say something about tropes, and how we expect both female characters and East Asian characters to be. And those issues are always worth challenging when we find them. Especially when we find them in things that we love.