In Teen Titans: Earth One, Raven is Navajo … but not really

Last night, the Watson to my Holmes, T Hueston, sent me photos of Navajo Raven from Vol. 1 of Teen Titans: Earth One. The next words out of T’s Skype mouth were:

“Yeah, I mean, I’m not saying that the idea is bad, but they probably should have done more research.”

Teen Earth One

Raven is the startled-looking teen in the background.

 

Well, this made me curious. Let’s be honest, it’s beyond difficult to find Native American protagonists in comics, film, fiction, and TV. We desperately need more representation (for crying out loud, can somebody recommend wendigo anything with Native American protagonists – I’m still looking). But representation alone isn’t enough. For example, when I see an Apache character who is a mismatch of stereotypes, it’s rather awkward and alienating. I asked T, who is Navajo, to elaborate their opinion about Raven. Here’s what T had to say:

“I like the idea of having a Native American superhero who is not defined by their ethnic group, and I am proud to have a Navajo representation in the DC Universe; however, I see [Raven’s character] as a wasted opportunity to explore unique aspects of Navajo culture, as Raven is not presented as a Navajo but rather a generic Native American.

For instance, she is not wearing Navajo jewelry, but rather jewelry from other tribes. Navajos are not like other tribes and do not have specific mythology that focuses on animals, but rather on the Gods or Yei, and specific spirits or figures.

She studies under her shaman grandfather but Navajos do not have shamans, they have medicine men and women, who both have specific jobs they perform (medicine men do more song and stories, and medicine women do more plant-based healing and are knowledgeable about plants).

Beyond that, she does not look like a Navajo. Specifically, [Navajo people] are known for their squash blossom necklaces, hanging turquoise earrings and velvet dresses, and unromanticized round faces and bun hairstyles.

If DC wanted to depict a Navajo, they should have spent some time doing research to make the cultural identity feel authentic, especially to persons with Navajo heritage. Instead [Raven] feels like an attempt to pass off a Native American stereotype under a tribal name that doesn’t belong.”

 

I sincerely hope that DC and other creative platforms include more Native American protagonists in their products. However, it’s important to move beyond stereotypes. We are people with unique, varied histories and complex lives.

Thank you for reading. And thank you, T, for your fantastic contribution to this post!

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2 thoughts on “In Teen Titans: Earth One, Raven is Navajo … but not really

  1. Hmm. I do worry about this kind of thing in my own work, since I write fantasy but like to draw elements from real cultures and places. My protagonist’s homeland is kind of a splice of Nepalese and Inuit influences, plus totally made-up stuff, and I’m never sure how much the influences are evident and what, if anything, someone native to those cultures might take offense with. Fortunately I have the benefit of a secondary world, which means I don’t have to name-drop anything reality-based in the story itself.

    As for this comic… To do so little basic research that a reader with even a passing familiarity with the culture will shake their head in disappointment…. Tsk.

    • That’s what I love about secondary worlds – they definitely give you room to be imaginative. T and I do something similar with our comic. We don’t want the fantasy setting to represent a specific real-world culture, so we (mostly T, being a history buff) draw on lots of different influences and mix in plenty of imagination.

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