The Continuing Struggle for Representation in the Wizarding World
Earlier this week, Pottermore released the latest writing on the History of Magic in North America and made clear that after the last installment JK Rowling either disagreed with the critiques from readers or ignored them completely. In her latest piece, JK Rowling describes the history of Ilvermorny, the only wizarding school of note in a country roughly the size of all of Europe - which manages to have three distinct wizarding schools - but I digress. Ilvermorny’s history begins not with Indigenous Americans, but in Europe, Ireland specifically. While the story is entertaining and well-written it seems to be written without the heart or imagination that made the wizarding world so inviting to millions of readers in the first place.
On #WizardTeam we often talk about what isn’t there, the backstory of Vernon and Marge to make them two of the most abusive and miserable people in the history of literature, the decisions Harry doesn’t make as much as the decisions he does. We talk about the clues of Hermione’s blackness in the absence of explicit language. How Blaise and Dean may have connected over similarities that greatly overpowered their differences. Hints to Dumbledore’s homosexuality that had previously only existed in Rowling’s imagination.
We should not have to fill in these blanks when it comes to her newer writings as it should be clear that not only have POC been present throughout the entire history of America, they were present even before that history began. It is deeply troubling that in terms of this new canon, Native American contributions to the wizarding world have been treated as an afterthought, used as the seasoning to bring flavor and color into a story that revolves around a European character.
It is clear that we expect more from Jo as devoted fans and giving patrons, but what is unclear is if it is fair to place these expectations on her as a creator. After Ilvermorny, I have come to the conclusion that it is not only fair to expect inclusion in this world, it is owed to us. In writing Harry Potter, Rowling had a specific story to tell and in all of her proclamations that the story concluded with the Deathly Hallows, she also proclaimed that the Wizarding World occupied a fixed time and place. In coming back to this world with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Rowling has not only brought in a new time period and culture, she has brought with her an existing audience with their own identities and cultures that coincide with this world in a variety of ways. When we proclaimed that we were the “Harry Potter Generation”, we proclaimed it worldwide. Across countries, cultures and identities we stuck a flag in the ground of a place built from Rowling’s imagination, and she welcomed us with open arms.
“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
In doing so, she promised us that the Wizarding World would always be our home and always be welcoming. Her continued dependence on telling this story through a Eurocentric lens is anything but welcoming. She gives voice to magical creatures while neglecting to mention Native American wizards by name. She speaks of the hardships faced by an Irish immigrant to the new world yet doesn’t expand on the hardships Seraphina Picquery undoubtedly faced as a black woman in the segregated South with ambitions enough to become President of the MACUSA eighty years before Barack Obama became the first Black President of America. What effect did Rappaport’s Law have on Muggle-born witches and wizards? How did going to an integrated school affect, not just the lives of students at Ilvermorny but their relationship to the wider world? These are stories that deserve to be told and celebrated and not an afterthought.
“My heroes are always people who feel themselves to be set apart, stigmatized or othered. That’s at the heart of most of what I write.”
Harry Potter has become one of the most widely purchased properties in entertainment history, worth over $15 billion, over 400 million copies of the series sold worldwide, translated into 67 different languages.That success is not achieved without people of color. We buy the books (multiple copies sometimes), we own the movies, we visit the theme parks, we have branded ourselves because of our love for this story. While being left out of the original text was disappointing it was also understandable, this was a story told by a woman coming from a particular worldview and writing to an anonymous reader that did not exist. Now not only do her readers exist but we are vocal and easily recognized. We can be broken down by marketers into endless demographic groups, we exist and yet we are not shown in this world. This erasure of POC from the narrative after we have shown ourselves to be deeply connected and involved in this series only serves to actively alienate us from a world we so long to be apart of.
We have taken Harry Potter, a green-eyed boy from Godric’s Hallow into our hearts. This is why it hurts so much when it feels that JK Rowling hasn’t taken us into hers.