Art is not made in a vacuum. Literature is not made in a vacuum. They are influenced by the culture, current events, and yes prejudices of the time. Let’s do a little academic exercise and compare the controversy about Huck Finn (the use of the n-word) to the controversy with JK Rowling and her inclusion of Native Americans in the “Magic in North America” series.
For those of you who don’t know, JK was asked by many Native Americans to not include them in her “Magic in North America” series. She apparently said “fuck that noise” and did it anyway and it turned out about how you’d expect. Now she’s facing pushback from many Native Americans & Native American groups because they told her not to do this.
Her supporters have taken to throwing out “it’s just fiction” to anyone who criticizes what she did. “It’s just fiction”, the unsaid part of that being “it doesn’t matter”. Anyone who has taken any kind of literature or art class knows that’s not true. Art, architecture, literature, music, movies, all of that has a major influence on society. Now, let’s pause here for a second and go over to our good friend Huckleberry Finn.
Anyone who has even heard of this book knows that the major controversy is should you or should you not say the n-word when teaching it. Many people say you shouldn’t (I’m one of those people) because even though it was “okay” then, it isn’t now. Supporters of n-word usage say that you should say it because back then it was okay and you have to look at it from that perspective. In this case “yes it’s ficton, but that word is important because of context”.
So, in the case of JK Rowling where she offended Native Americans, “it’s just fiction, it doesn’t really matter”. In the case of Huck Finn where Twain used a racial slur, “it’s important to view everything in proper context and teach it that way”. What do we learn from these two cases? Context only seems to matter when it comes to white people and their “right” to be offensive.