Samantha woke up in a cold sweat the morning of her first day of high school, she was horrified. Her best friend, Alexis, had slept over the night before. “What’s wrong?” Alexis groaned, half asleep. “Nothing Alex, just a bad dream.” Sam knew her best friend could never truly know her apprehensions. Sam was entering a new school, with a predominately white population. She loved her best friend and was happy she was so supportive, but she knew Alex wouldn’t understand the fear of being black in an area filled with white people. Samantha moved 3 times during her childhood, and all 3 moves were due to racism towards either her or her parents. All she wanted was for her first day of school worries to include her outfit and what she was going to eat for breakfast, not whether she was going to be treated differently based on the color of her skin. She took a break from reading Harry Potter, which often acted as her safe space in times of grief and decided to join Alex in watching TV to try and settle some of her anxiety. All this did was make her feel worse. An hour into the show, she realized that not a single character was black. She felt defeated, and she went to her first day of high school feeling like the world didn’t accept her. She wondered if she’d ever feel equal to the majorities that surrounded her. The fictional minorities present in Harry Potter are important for educating majorities and integrating real minorities into society.
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The minorities J.K. Rowling created in Harry Potter are comparable to some of the minorities we have in our society. The comparison between wizarding bloodline and race is the most notable. From early on in his Hogwarts career, Harry is subjected to seeing the mistreatment of his peers based of their race: “’You’ll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there’” (Rowling, SS, 2013, p. 108). In the wizarding world it is the societal norm that those born into purely-wizarding families are pure-blood, and those born as wizards in non-magical families are known as muggle-borns. Mudblood is a racial slur that many prejudiced pure-bloods use against muggle-borns. The pure-bloods are also prejudiced towards muggles, which are non-magical humans, and towards other mythical creatures. When it comes to the race battle in Harry Potter, “Voldemort and his Death Eaters base their discourse on a hierarchy of races: at the top are the Pure-Bloods, in the middle the Half-Bloods and at the bottom the muggles and other races like the elves. Those who are not considered pure are seen as slaves, and the Pure-Bloods have the right to kill them.” (Lacassagne, 2016, p. 328). This is comparable to our races in reality because race is often compared to a hierarchy, with white people being at the top: ”The wizarding community’s movements towards a more stratified social hierarchy is similar to that created in America’s history. The slaves that were brought to America were essentially thought to be less than human, or less superior, than their white equivalents, an idea that was publicized to keep slaves in a subordinate position; likewise, false beliefs about Muggles, and subsequently Muggle-borns and half-bloods, were spread to assure that a certain hierarchy was maintained” (Walters, 2015, pg. 16). In this hypothetical hierarchy, the farther you go down the more mistreatment you’ll find. This is just like the hypothetical hierarchy of races in Harry Potter. Societal ideals that prioritize one group over another are ones we see in more then just race in our society. We also see these hierarchies in sexual orientation and sometimes even gender. Since the hierarchy in Harry Potter leads to one group being seen as better then the others, this often leads to improper treatment.
In Harry Potter, minorities deal with unfair treatment simply based off who they are. As previously mentioned, the treatment gets worse the farther you move down the hierarchy. The pure-bloods are treated with respect, the half-bloods are recognized for having half wizard blood while also being recognized for having half muggle blood, the muggle-borns are disrespected for their lineage, the muggles are disrespected for not being wizards at all, and all the other creatures in the wizarding world are treated like slaves that act at the wizards disposal. Any of the wizards who have muggle blood are typically mistreated by other students while they are attending Hogwarts. This mistreatment occurs even in the professional setting, wizards who show support towards muggles in the Ministry of Magic are often mistreated. The wizarding community very much bases how you’re going to viewed off your blood and the wizards expect this because “biases towards blood status are not recent developments but ones that have been carried out through wizarding history. Like a ubiquitous and unsubstantiated myth, the majority of the magical community is resistant to questioning the biological support of blood classification, despite the lack of evidence that they are founded on, because those classifications became such a significant way of identifying oneself and others, and of supporting social hierarchies. There can be no doubt that undeserved hatred and violence towards Muggles and HBMB wizards continued to be a problem in the Harry Potter series, especially as pureblood enthusiasts gained popularity and exaggerated ideologies about Muggles and HBMB wizards were circulated” (Walters, 2015, pg. 22). The magical creatures are treated like they belong to the wizards, even though many of them are more powerful then the wizards. Since they are treated so badly, they are often looked at as lesser beings despite their powerful abilities: “The moral relationship of humans with lesser creatures is a recurring theme in the Harry Potter series, but by this very fact, it also winds up presenting an uncomfortable obstacle Rowling must navigate as she crafts humorous scenes that often involve the exploitation and sometimes pain of lesser creatures” (Heilman, 2009, p. 164). The pure-blood wizards find it justifiable to completely berate the magical creatures just because they are societally considered lesser, and they think that makes it morally okay. House-elves are creatures with several magical abilities, yet they have acted as literal slaves for wizards for centuries: “’Kreacher is what he has been made by wizards, Harry,’ said Dumbledore. ‘Yes, he is to be pitied. His existence has been as miserable as your friend Dobby’s. He was forced to do Sirius’s bidding, because Sirius was the last of the family to which he was enslaved, but he felt no true loyalty to him. And whatever Kreacher’s faults, it must be admitted that Sirius did nothing to make Kreacher’s lot easier’” (Rowling, OOTP, 2013, p. 832). Wizards demand house-elves to complete awful tasks, and because their race is conditioned that they serve wizards they oblige to the preposterous commands. The mistreatment displayed to these groups in Harry Potter is even somewhat like it is for the minorities we see in reality.
Minorities in Harry Potter are treated with similar prejudices as they are in our society, and these prejudices encourage the minorities to band together to become stronger. Harry Potter shows many examples of minorities getting verbally attacked for who they are and of pure-blood wizards being discredited for positively acknowledging muggle-borns: “This harmful treatment towards Muggle-born and half-blood characters is similar to the discriminations faced by multiracial relationships, and in both instances problems of injustice and violence may occur, even though the description of half-bloods and Muggle-borns (henceforth referred to as HBMB wizards) as “dirty” are clearly debatable; the character Morfin Marvolo, though a more extreme example of a pureblood traditionalist, abuses his daughter for having a crush on a Muggle” (Walters, 2015, pg. 18). In our reality, people from the dominant race are often looked down upon by those who believe that race to be superior if they engage in a close relationship with someone from the minority race. This is also apparent in the wizarding world, a pure-blood can be mocked and even physically harmed for showing interest in a muggle-born. Since advocating for equality can literally lead to safety concerns for the majorities, it’s easier for them to resort to the hatred that society accepts as viable for the majority. The minorities in Harry Potter obtain a lot of built-up tension towards the majorities because of the way they’re treated: ”’As the Dark Lord becomes ever more powerful, your race is set still more firmly above mine! Gringotts falls under Wizarding rule, house-elves are slaughtered, and who amongst the wand-carriers protests?’” (Rowling, DH, 2013, pg. 488-489). This is also something we have seen in reality, especially in our recent society. The mistreatment of creatures and those with less magical blood in Harry Potter resembles many events we have seen unfold involving minorities. The 2016 Pulse shooting, the Holocaust, and even the recent shooting of a synagogue in Pittsburgh are all examples of mistreatments towards minorities in our reality. These events are typically committed by people who are at the top of the hypothetical hierarchy and are endorsed by those also at the top. The ones opposing these events are typically members of the same minority, or even members of other minorities. This also happens in Harry Potter, ”Another aspect of the author that is apparent through Hermione is her dedication to the rights of other beings, minorities, the poor – Rowling used to work for Amnesty International in London and was involved with the problem of human rights in Africa. In the novels Hermione fiercely fights for the rights of the House-Elves, which does not reverberate well with her colleagues.” (Krunoslav, 2009, pg. 290). J.K. Rowling has worked the support minorities that are treated as lesser beings, and that value shows in her writing through Hermione. Hermione is a muggle-born who uses what privilege she gets from being a witch, though it’s small due to her bloodline, to help other magical minorities that don’t have the voice to speak for themselves. The existence of these minorities in Harry Potter is very important when it comes to the confidence of minorities in reality.
Representing minorities in media is important for helping them to feel like they have a place in society equal to majorities. Minorites being able to see themselves represented in popular media allows for the confidence to stand-up against harmful acts against them like Hermione was able to do for the minorities in the wizarding world. The lack of minority representation has even been shown to be detrimental to them: “Specifically for the members of minority groups, seeing oneself reflected in the media is crucial, particularly in the face of prejudice, discrimination, and the constant barrage of invalidating comments and actions. In fact, there was a recent study featured in the media this summer that finds evidence of a self-esteem boosting effect of television for white boys, but self-esteem damaging effects for white girls, black girls, and black boys. One primary reason? White boys see lots of white boys and men in the shows they watch. And, not just that, but they regularly see these characters and actors in positive, powerful, and central roles. This is less so the case for other kids” (Grollman, 2017). The majority groups gain confidence from being able to see themselves in media, while the minority groups are losing confidence because their existence is erased from media. It’s incredibly important for minorities to be represented in media because “Though less frequent for members of minority groups, to see a face or body that looks like your own is powerful in its effect to simply validate you as a worthy human being” (Grollman, 2017). Minority representation in media is important for helping minorities feel like they belong, but it is also important for majorities.
Majorities benefit from seeing minority representation because it educates them on the existence of minorities and helps normalize minorities in society. When you’re in a group of people that gets plenty of representation and doesn’t have struggles that pertain to being in that group, it’s easy to disregard that those groups exist. Minority representation in the media makes the majorities aware that the minorities are existing and functioning members of society: “The visibility of minorities in the media is an extremely important arena of representation, one that has been extensively studied and debated. For example, each year the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) analyzes the representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in film and television each year. The positive portrayal of women, people of color, immigrants, LGBT people, same-gender couples, interracial couples, working-class people, people with disabilities, fat people, and so on is crucial so that people are aware of diversity, but also appreciate and celebrate that diversity” (Grollman, 2017). Media showing an equal number of minorities as majorities makes it easier to normalize the existence and actions of minorities. This is also important when it comes to politics and law-making. The United States Congress is primarily made up of white middle-class heterosexual men. Yet everyday these men are making important decision that impact the lives of everyone in the nation. These men often are only interested in the needs and desires of those like them, yet they are also making decision on behalf of people of color, working-class and poor people, LGBT people, women, and other disadvantaged groups. (Grollman, 2017). The presence of minorities in media educates even political officials of the diversity they’re lacking in their knowledge. The more representation we have in our media, the easier it’ll be to have minorities looked at as equals on all fronts. Disadvantaged groups being important in media poses the question of what role does Harry Potter play in all this? Harry Potter, while it’s minorities are fictional, expresses that they do exist. It also expresses how mistreatment of these groups needs to be abolished.
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With Harry Potter being an international success, the presence of minorities gives light to how they deserve to be integrated into mainstream society and how oppression is unnecessary. For many, even the existence of fictional minorities will help with confidence. Seeing groups that are degraded and belittled rise above the hatred and come out on top will give exuberant amounts of confidence to anxious oppressed individuals. It shows that hatred towards disadvantaged groups does exist in the world and gives hope that it’s defeat is possible; “First, literature can be a precious sociological resource for developing a better understanding of our world. The complexities of all the characters (think, for example, of Snape, arguably the character who most illustrates the power of love and redemption), their ambivalences towards the struggle against war and violence, the difficulty of maintaining the balance between self-control and external constraints and the processual character of social reality – all of these can be explored through a reading of Rowling’s oeuvre” (Lacassagne, 2016, p. 331-332). Seeing characters fight against mistreatment of minorities in popular media encourages those in majorities to do the same, especially with a character like Severus Snape. There is a lot of debate on whether or not he is redeemable, but none the less he is a good example of someone fighting for the little guy even if it wasn’t an outward fight that made a big statement. Snape belonged to groups very high up on the hierarchy and was even praised by the leader of this hierarchy. For him to be secretly fighting against it sets a big standard for majorities witnessing this media to stand up for minorities. This type of indirect representation also acts as a simplistic way of educating; “Indeed, this young generation will be the first not to know, or have known, direct witnesses of the Second World War. They will not meet camp survivors as previous generations did. Thus, we are faced with an unprecedented challenge of memory transmission. How do we explain the Holocaust to contemporary youth, especially given the unspeakable nature of such atrocities? How do we explain the discourses of exclusion upon which the Holocaust was predicated given North American society’s perception of itself as promoting pluralism? How do we explain the emergence of such extreme decivilising processes and behaviours?” (Lacassagne, 2016, p. 320). The Harry Potter series offers a lighter alternative representation of some of the most gruesome events in our history. It’s a way to express the horrifying examples of discrimination that have happened in societies past, without having to bring up sensitive topics. This representation, although not as direct, is incredibly important in our society because it shows how harmful bigotry is. After all, “’We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.’” (Rowling, DH, 2013, pg. 440).
Harry Potter sets a precedent for the important of representation in media and shows how unnecessary bigotry is in society. The minorities in the story may be fictional, but they still accurately exemplify the experience of being in a minority group. With Harry Potter still making it’s way into the hearts of millions, the story is still eager to inspire more open-hearted people. With any luck, the story will succeed in showing even more people why it’s important to recognize minorities and stand up for their right to equality.
- Farr, C. K. (2015). A Wizard of Their Age : Critical Essays From the Harry Potter Generation. Albany: SUNY Press. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.etown.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=937624&site=eds-live
- Grollman, E. A. (2017, March 01). The Importance Of Representation: Voice, Visibility, And Validation In America. Retrieved from https://egrollman.com/2012/09/24/representation/
- Heilman, E. E. (2009). Critical Perspectives on Harry Potter (Vol. 2nd ed). New York: Routledge. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.etown.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=234468&site=eds-live
- Krunoslav MIKULAN. (2009). Harry Potter through the Focus of Feminist Literary Theory: Examples of (Un)Founded Criticism. Journal of International Social Research, 2(9), 288–298. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.etown.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=hlh&AN=45126533&site=eds-live
- Lacassagne, A. (2016). War and peace in the Harry Potter series. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 19(4), 319–334. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.etown.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=2016397024&site=eds-live
- Rowling, J. K., & GrandPré, M. (2013). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic.
- Rowling, J. K., & GrandPré, M. (2013). Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York, NY: Scholastic.
- Rowling, J. K., & GrandPré, M. (2013). Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic.
- Rowling, J. K., & GrandPre, M. (2013). Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: By J.K. Rowling. New York: Scholastic.
- Walters, T. L. (2015). Not So Magical: Issues with Racism, Classism, and Ideology in Harry Potter. Retrieved from https://commons.nmu.edu/theses/42/
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