That Wil Wheaton Tumblrstorm

It’s very difficult to know what to make of the recent Tumblrstorm over Wil Wheaton’s use of the word “Spirit Animal”. I don’t know enough about Native American culture to know whether he’s actually caused genuine offence, or has fallen foul of yet more ill-informed internet outrage. I did notice the response from a Native American woman telling Wheaton he’d committed no offence and demanding that people who aren’t actually Native Americans stop trying to white-knight her culture.

Things like this make me wish I was better at being able to tell the difference between genuine, justified anger and empty self-righteous posturing. How much can you trust your own gut feelings when one party in an argument is saying the sorts of things you want to hear?

It’s never a good thing to give a signal boost to the wrong people, especially if you don’t know much about where they’re coming from.

What’s the best thing to do with this sort of thing, apart from the obvious one of not jumping in with both feet into a situation you know nothing about?

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One Response to That Wil Wheaton Tumblrstorm

  1. Tim Hall says:

    Reading discussion elsewhere, some of it prompted by this post, I realise I should have trusted my instinct in the first place.

    It’s been pointed out that Spirit Animals are not unique to Native American culures, but feature in tribal cultures from across the world, including pre-Christian northern Europe. Had Wil Wheaton used a specific term from a specific Native American nation, it might have been problematic. But he didn’t do that.

    Far from apologising in the wrong manner, his mistake was to apologise at all, when the accusations against him were being made from a position of ignorance.

    Perhaps the real lesson is “Just stay the hell away from Tumblr”.

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