Your RaceWire Racial Justice Viewing Guide for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

By Guest Columnist Jul 15, 2009

by Anusuya Sivaram Since I’m possibly the intern most excited about seeing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince tonight, Channing asked me to give you guys a basic rundown of some racial justice themes we might see tonight, just like we did with Star Trek. I originally wrote this guide for internal use, but we’re putting it up for everyone to enjoy. Also, spoilers ahead — so for those of you who haven’t read all the books/seen the previous movies, read with caution. And for those who say that "there’s no race issues" in a fantasy movie about predominantly white teen wizards — maybe your crystal ball is dusty? As much as Jeff Sessions hates to admit it, there’s no such thing as ‘race-neutral.’ Themes of Racial Justice that appear in the 6th book specifically (and will hopefully come up in the movie): -The portrayal of terrorists/criminals. In the magical world of J.K. Rowling, Death Eaters, who are predominantly "purebloods" use terror tactics, as opposed to the pluralistic "Order of the Phoenix", who don’t. In contrast, our mainstream media gives more airtime to terrorists and criminals who are people of color, rather than white domestic terrorists/criminals. It’s an interesting reversal that perhaps needs to be contextualized more, given the allegory. It’s also an interesting historical shift as well. -Structural racism. The Ministry of Magic’s regulations on magical species (Centaurs, House-Elves, etc) that prevent them from using magic is analogous to structural racism in our Muggle World. Though this only plays a small role in Book Six, it’s interesting to see the reversal that takes place—from campaigning against the societal position of House Elves and other magical creatures, Harry and his friends start rely on these creatures (Dobby, Kreacher, Firenze), and seem to espouse their subordination as long as they are treated benevolently. -Merit based achievement vs. Favoritism. This is especially important with the arrival of Professor Slughorn (the formation of the "Slug Club", which rewards the privileged). Also the fact that Muggle-borns often have to work harder for everything than purebloods (Hermione Granger, though brilliant, simply doesn’t command universal respect like I think she should.), should be of some interest to us. This is also relevant under structural racism, as minorities (Muggle-born wizards) don’t have well-established avenues to recourse in the magical world (there’s limited infrastructure for Muggle-borns being introduced to the Magical world for the first time), and must rely on the benevolence of wizards. Harry’s status is also questioned–he’s just lucky, not talented, but reaps the benefits of his position, intentionally or not. -The origins of racism/discrimination. Tom Riddle (Lord Voldemort) and his origins are a major plotline in the novel. Rowling’s theory of discrimination mainly discusses individual racism, while structural racism is what ARC concentrates on eliminating. Also, Rowling emphasizes love as a way to combat intolerance (Dumbledore says this is the reason why Harry isn’t like Voldemort)–you can interpret this to mean pluralism is better than purity. Still, it’s important to recognize that while Rowling’s magical world is amazing (who DIDN’T want to go to Hogwarts when they read the books?), it’s still stratified, and faces the same problems of equity and pluralism that our world does. So what’s my take? In my opinion, the Harry Potter series is a classic WWII allegory, just like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, among other well-known fantasy classics. Just look at the characters: Hitler, as we all can guess, is Lord Voldemort. Both are leaders of movements for racial purity (Muggle borns vs. Pureblood wizards and purity in the Aryan race). Voldemort, like Hitler, uses terror tactics against Muggles and Muggle borns to achieve his ends. In the seventh book (where most of the allegory really comes out), he begins to advocate policies that strip Muggle borns of their powers, and "Muggle born registers", similar to Hitler’s policies against non-Aryans. The Nazis are the Death Eaters, who revere Voldemort, but are scared of him at the same time. The way Voldemort came to power was gradual, just like the way Hitler came to power, drawing off of misunderstanding and fear to rally support. Rufus Scrimgeour seems to be Stalin–he tries to fight Voldemort, but is definitely working for his own ends. Of course, there was no secret pact with Voldemort that we know of, sure, but Scrimgeour is not above sinking to Voldemort’s level to win the war. He’s reluctant to agree with Dumbledore (just like Churchill/FDR and Stalin didn’t see eye to eye), and seems to hope that the Order of the Phoenix (the Allies) will take care of the problem. The Order is also reluctant to espouse Scrimgeour’s tactics (much like Churchill’s statement that he’d form an alliance with the Devil if that would help him get rid of Hitler) Chamberlain, of course, is Cornelius Fudge. Appeasement never works when the stakes are high (and your adversary has a huge army and lots of resources). Churchill is Dumbledore (in my opinion; There’s also an FDR argument). Charismatic leader, can see 10 steps ahead of everyone else. People thought that he was an alarmist at first because of his beliefs about the rise of Voldemort/Hitler, but he was spot on. He sticks to his convictions—but we may be giving Churchill too much credit. FDR, for lack of a better comparison, is Harry. He enters the war late, but in a substantial role after being under Dumbledore/Churchill’s guidance for a while; he finally starts to make decisions at the end. Harry is the rallying point for anti-Hitler/Voldemort movement. Further Reading Associated Content’s take on themes of race in Harry Potter Another link on race themes in Harry Potter For all of you who need a refresher, Sparknotes’ summary of the book. That’s my take on the series—what do you guys think?