Giving Cho Chang a Voice

Let me start by saying that (as anyone who knows me knows) I love the Harry Potter series. I do. I really, really do. That being said, I read the books while knowing full well that there are some flaws. Easily overlooked flaws. A friend of mine emailed me this wonderful video of slam poet Rachel Rostad performing her piece “To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang.” It’s an inspired and hard-hitting piece that makes several excellent points about portrayals of people of color in the Harry Potter series. Rostad, who is a fan of the series, offers an intelligent critique of Rowling’s popular stories and points out several problematic aspects of the Cho Chang character, drawing the audience’s attention to the fact that there are some flaws we should be aware of (even if we love the books). I will include the full text of her poem at the end of this post (taken from Rachel Rostad’s Facebook page) in case you’d like a visual.

Additionally, Rostad posted a very thoughtful and thorough video clarification/response today which is also very worthwhile. Here it is:

Hats off to Rachel Rostad for her excellent performance and for having the guts to critique a series that is beloved by many (including her)! It’s a hard thing to do, but this woman has something to say and she says it well.

As promised, here’s the full text of the poem:

“To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang” by Rachel Rostad

When you put me in your books, millions of Asian girls across America rejoiced! Finally, a potential Halloween costume that wasn’t a geisha or Mulan! What’s not to love about me? I’m everyone’s favorite character! I totally get to fight tons of Death Eaters and have a great sense of humor and am full of complex emotions!

Oh wait. That’s the version of Harry Potter where I’m not fucking worthless.

First of all, you put me in Ravenclaw. Of course the only Asian at Hogwarts would be in the nerdy house. Too bad there wasn’t a house that specialized in computers and math and karate, huh?

I know, you thought you were being tolerant.
Between me, Dean, and the Indian twins, Hogwarts has like…five brown people? It doesn’t matter we’re all minor characters. Nah, you’re not racist!
Just like how you’re not homophobic, because Dumbledore’s totally gay!
Of course it’s never said in the books, but man. Hasn’t society come so far?
Now gays don’t just have to be closeted in real life—they can even be closeted fictionally!

Ms. Rowling. Let’s talk about my name. Cho. Chang.
Cho and Chang are both last names. They are both Korean last names.
I am supposed to be Chinese.
Me being named “Cho Chang” is like a Frenchman being named “Garcia Sanchez.”

So thank you. Thank you for giving me no heritage. Thank you for giving me a name as generic as a ninja costume. As chopstick hair ornaments.
Ms. Rowling, I know you’re just the latest participant in a long tradition of turning Asian women into a tragic fetish.
Madame Butterfly. Japanese woman falls in love with a white soldier, is abandoned, kills herself.
Miss Saigon. Vietnamese woman falls in love with a white soldier, is abandoned, kills herself.
Memoirs Of A Geisha. Lucy Liu in leather. Schoolgirl porn.
So let me cry over boys more than I speak.
Let me fulfill your diversity quota.
Just one more brown girl mourning her white hero.

No wonder Harry Potter’s got yellow fever.
We giggle behind small hands and “no speak Engrish.”
What else could a man see in me?
What else could I be but what you made me?
Subordinate. Submissive. Subplot.

Go ahead. Tell me I’m overreacting.
Ignore the fact that your books have sold 400 million copies worldwide.
I am plastered across movie screens,
a bestselling caricature.

Last summer,
I met a boy who spoke like rain against windows. –
He had his father’s blue eyes.
He’d press his wrist against mine and say he was too pale.
That my skin was so much more beautiful.
To him, I was Pacific sunset,
almond milk, a porcelain cup.
When he left me, I told myself I should have seen it coming.
I wasn’t sure I was sad but I cried anyway.
Girls who look like me are supposed to cry over boys who look like him.
I’d seen all the movies and read all the books.
We were just following the plot.

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