January 01, 2008

Werewolves, skinwalkers, and stereotypes

Reading Characters as PeopleRob Schmidt of Newspaper Rock and Blue Corn Comics has gotten me thinking more and more about racial stereotyping in fiction. He deals predominantly with Native American stereotypes in pop culture, and he does a great job of pointing out why some things are bad. For example, a character who is Native American who is spiritual is not bad. But if all of the Native Americans are portrayed as spiritual, then that's buying into the New Age idea of the noble environmentalist--denying the characters the right to be people outside of their surface-level definition.

In Kitty Takes a Holiday, [Carrie] Vaughn introduces the legend of "skinwalkers," using primarily Navajo tales as a basis and depicting most of the "skinwalker" action as Navajo. (She also intermixes the words curandera and bruja, borrowing from traditions originating farther to the south.) And since I've been reading a lot of Newspaper Rock lately, I'm thinking in a more analytical fashion than I normally would. All of the Navajo characters encountered believe in skinwalkers--but so do the majority of the white people in the rural areas near Navajo country.

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