Curator’s note: We continue this week’s look at race and popular media texts with phoenix-ace’s examination and critique of the ostensibly ‘radical’ racial and ethnic politics of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Its hard for me to take that seriously. I get why someone might agree with that, but I just can’t. After watching someone say that Harry Potter made it easier for them to see what was wrong with situations like Ferguson, I get really frustrated by shit like this.
“The Potter books are incredibly diverse!”
Yeah, so diverse that PoC have a few lines in the background, all of the main characters are white, etc. This is my main point of contention.
I guess it’s because, according to Potter canon I’d be a “mudblood” (regardless of my parents ties to the “establishment”). I had the hair issues, the issues with being black in a school where the default standard was white. I’m sure many people in the books can say the same. Dean Thomas, the Patil Twins, Angelina Johnson, Lee Jordan, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Cho Chang, etc. I’m sure they all got to endure a society steeped in both racism and pure blood supremacy (especially if they had to spend time with Muggles). The biggest mistake Rowling made, imo, is to make every “important” character white. All this did was allow people to turn race into an allegory that made them comfortable, and there’s nothing radical about that. Much like I feel it was a mistake to alluded to LGBTQ issues with magical creatures. That’s how you can have actual racists and homophobes in the Potter fandom. They aren’t being made to challenge their views, “racism” isn’t wrong, “blood purity” is, right?
Instead of focusing on someone like Dean Thomas (who actually endures what happens when you cant prove you have the “right” blood status in Voldemort’s society…and who’s role was not only reduced for the movies, but the actual books themselves), they just show the experiences of people of color being endured by white people. And so what if the Golden Trio each had to give up something for their activism? So did all the people who had to run because their society threw them to the wolves (literally in some cases). What about the people of color who had to blend in with Muggle society and thus had to put up with being excluded from both worlds? What about the people who didn’t have a choice? What about people like Hagrid? What about the Squibs? How is something radical if it ignores these people?
And how exactly were the Potter books ”radical” in regards to people who’s existences are already “radical” by default? We didn’t need a special allegory to tell us why people like the Death Eaters were wrong…we lived that shit, and we still do (something I’m sure many of you are aware of due to following people of color on Tumblr or other platforms). We know how inept people like Cornelius Fudge are. We know why Umbridge is so evil. We’ve had teachers, hell, we’ve had people in all levels of administration who thought just like her and relished in making our lives miserable. People like Umbridge have literally chased us out of academia! Is it truly radical to show members of the Ministry in bed with Voldemort when many of us have a history of seeing authority figures hide under Klan robes and Nazi uniforms?
Much like The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter books aren’t radical to anyone who actually has to live in a society where their lives are judged as less valuable due to their skin color, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. People on the receiving end of terrible, classist policies already get why it was so bad that people like Lucius Malfoy could buy his way into Ministry politics. We ARE the “mudbloods”, the “tributes”, we were the “foreign hordes” in Columbia, we’re the ones sent from Fable Town to the “Farm” because we can’t “pass” for the default human.
Its just another story that makes our experiences palatable to people who’d just scoff at it and say we were over dramatic, and that’s helpful but it shouldn’t have to be, and that’s where its frustrating. You shouldn’t be proud of the fact that you needed to see fictional white people running from other fictional white people (while being called fictional slurs and being disenfranchised by fictional laws) before you cared about what was happening to us. I can’t blame these stories for that, but the fact that they are so willing to erase us (and other marginalized groups) while using us for exposition is a part of the problem (I’m not saying that the authors of these stories are intending to do that).
I love these stories, but I’m not going to credit them for a form of radicalism that is only available to people who’s existence isn’t automatically seen as detrimental to the establishment.
The problem with using allegory is that, more often than not, it becomes a part of the problem; if people can praise your books for whitewashing issues to the point in which they can actually empathize with the protagonists, then you are really just contributing to the status quo, and that is not radical.
“‘The Potter Books are Radical’,” ©phoenix-ace, originally posted September, 2014