Harry Potter + Racial (in)Equality

   By: Bailey Perryman 

    Over the last decade, Harry Potter has become a household name. You can go into the house of any family in any First World country, as well as the majority of Third World countries, and the people therein will know the story of Harry Potter. The epic seven book series, written by J.K. Rowling, details the adventures of the wizard Harry Potter and his friends as they fight for good and justice.

     Scores of fan-fiction novels have been published, internet spoofs created and film-makers are putting the final touches on the last installment of the series. Many people have remarked on the great steps that this book has taken for our youth culture. In an era that saw some of the lowest reading levels since literature became widely available, Rowling and her portrayal of young wizards battling evil got our kids to read quality literature that emphasizes child empowerment. But what is Harry Potter missing?

     Race. There is little racial diversity in the whole of the series. All of the heroes in the book are of Caucasian decent. The teachers in the school are Caucasian. Anyone mentioned with any importance is white. What happened?

    While Rowling has been applauded, and rightly so, for her steps in gender equality (Hermione Granger being a predominant heroine throughout the series and Minerva McGonagall an exemplary professor at the school) and to a much lesser extent gay rights (as the knowledge of Headmaster Dumbledore’s sexual preferences became public a few years back), she completely ignores the subject of racial equality. It could be argued that she alluded to the subject through the character of Hermione who during one novel begins an equal rights movement for house elves, but that seems more to fall into the category of speciesism.

     For a series that is so globally consumed in so many different forms, to be so obtuse seems negligent at best. The small handful of minor characters of a different race in the stories hardly makes up for their neglect in the main characters.  The sad truth is that these novels tell the same story as so many before them: a white male will save the day. Don’t worry minorities, Anglo-Saxon men have the world’s problems in hand.

     Perhaps it is asking too much for a young adult series to comment on so many aspects of culture today, but as prevalent as the topic racial equality still is in common the popular culture vernacular, it seems like Rowling could have at least a hint of racial diversity. To her credit, though, she does keep to the Caucasian theme even in her villains. It must count for something that she at least didn’t make just the villains of a different ethnicity.


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