Black Wizard History Month 2019 Round Table

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Every February at Black Girls Create we celebrate Black Wizard History Month, a celebration of the Black characters of Harry Potter, Black Potterheads in fandom, and magical Black folks everywhere. This year our month-long turn up included live tweets, a live show of our #WizardTeam podcast, and fanfiction hosted through our Hogwarts BSU project.

Fanfiction is a large part of fandom, and in many cases can be a place for marginalized fans to see and write themselves into the stories they love. Hogwarts BSU is a project specifically for Black writers and artists to write stories centered around Black characters, history, and magic in the wizarding world. As a way to wrap up a jam-packed month, we decided to host a round table with a few of the writers of the pieces that came out during this year’s Black Wizard History Month.

How did you get into Harry Potter?

Bianca Ramos: When I was in 7th grade, my younger cousin was assigned books 1-3 in school. It was during the conservative Christian outrage and my family asked me to pre-read them for him since I was a "reader." I knocked them out quickly and was hooked.

Delia Gallegos: Growing up, the books always peaked my interest in the library, even though I was only 5 or 6 years old. Our household was pretty religious, so my mom was wary about letting me read them. One summer, my cousin lent me Sorcerer’s Stone while we were at my grandma’s. I only got a chapter in but I knew I HAD to read it. After a lot of begging on my part, my mom relented and agreed to let me read it under the condition that she could read the first one out loud to me. The rest was history!

Constance Gibbs: I started reading Harry Potter when I was in sixth grade and someone was reading Chamber of Secrets. I can’t remember if I read that one first or if I went to Sorcerer’s Stone, but I read all three that were out at the time and had my grandma take me to pre-order Goblet of Fire, which was about to come out. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Porshèa Patterson: In 6th grade, my then-bestie told me about the series but had already lent the first book out. That summer I picked up the books from the library after learning I'd never see this bestie again due to me changing schools. Thus, Harry Potter became my new best friend.

Have you read fanfiction before? What draws you to it? Or what kept you away from it?

Bianca: I didn't read fanfiction before getting into everything going on here at Black Girls Create. I don't know why. I guess I just never found myself on that side of the internet. Now I think I’m more open to it.

Delia: I’m a long-time fanfiction reader. I first started after the 5th book came out. At the time, it was just a matter of Harry Potter sparking my imagination and there being no material to satisfy it. So, I turned to the internet. Now, engaging with Harry Potter and the fandom in a creative way is almost second nature to me.

Connie: I didn’t start reading Harry Potter fanfiction until sometime after the series was over because I didn’t want to spoil the series as it was coming out. I think I tried in 2007, when the series first ended, but it didn’t stick. But a few years later, I read a few post-series stories. Usually shippery ones involving Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione, but I went through a big Lily/James Marauders Era phase and I occasionally read Remus/Tonks. For the romantic stories, as we discuss on #WizardTeam often, there wasn’t a lot in the text, so it’s nice to see others’ varying but often similar interpretations on how the canon relationships could have gone with more effort put into developing them. Plus I’m a fuzzy Hufflepuff.

Porshèa: I'd started reading fanfic during the lapse between books 4 and 5, began integrating them into canon thanks to some very vivid dreams, then promptly stopped reading because there were too many books to go for me to have those problems.

What made you want to start writing fanfiction?

Bianca: I was inspired by revisiting Harry Potter through #Wizard Team, by the short stories on the site, and the complete gas up I received when I shared my ideas in the Slack. The team is a wonderful place to bounce around ideas and everyone is really supportive.

Delia: I was really young (probably too young, admittedly) when I started reading fanfiction. I started writing it on a whim. It was very much, “Hey I want to do that, too!” so I did. Being that young, you really don’t care that you don’t know how to plot a story or that you haven’t even really finished learning about grammar. You just do it because it seems fun.

Connie: I’d never written fanfiction before Hogwarts BSU/#Wizard Team. I was content to lurk in whatever fandoms I was reading fic for. I think wanted to give it a try because of something Robyn and Bayana said on #WizardTeam, and that’s where my first fic, Do Black Wizards Nod, came from. The idea of whether the Black students give each other the nod and how they would deal with that. Then I kept getting prompts or fic bunnies and it feels so much easier than when I try to write original works.

Porshèa: I've recently taken to writing fanfic because I want to fill in the holes within the fandoms I love. I'm empowered to do so because of the community that BGC has curated, the validation of headcanons, and understanding that we're the best at crafting stories from our individual lenses.

What was your inspiration for your piece?

Logo for the National Association of African American Wizards, conceived of by Bianca Ramos. Image by Bayana Davis.

Logo for the National Association of African American Wizards, conceived of by Bianca Ramos. Image by Bayana Davis.

Bianca: The complete ball drop that was History of Magic in North America and J.K. Rowling ignoring valid criticism. Like most American fans, I was excited to see the wizarding world expand to include us. However, the fact that racism — RACISM — something that plays a major part in the development of the three largest countries here, isn't even recognized on a small scale is insulting to readers. You can't tell me that a country with a history as bloody and messed up as the U.S. has wizards of every racial background being besties. It's not realistic. I also understand that maybe J.K. Rowling felt unqualified to talk about it, but I believe it can be done in a way that is both careful and makes sense.

Delia: I’ve been preaching the good word of Deanmione since February 2018. Since coming aboard the ship, I’ve been surprised to find that I am pretty much the only person sailing on it. The existing fanfic of the pairing is sparse. So when To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before came out on Netflix, I fell in love again with the story (I had read the book) and the gears in my head started turning. Then, when #WizardTeam started on Half-Blood Prince, I realized that was the perfect fit.

Connie: I’ve written a few things now, but I like thinking about the Black students forming a group and watching out for each other. I was never part of a BSU, but in high school and college I went to predominantly white schools and found myself most comfortable around my peers of color. In high school it was just natural, gravity, but I think in college I sought it out more deliberately. So I could relate to Blaise’s desire to find/start a group to help him feel less alone on campus. I remember that feeling, though I can’t say I consciously channeled it when I wrote Umoja. Other inspiration included the idea of honoring Kwanzaa in a way that helped me connect with the holiday more than I do in real life, and finding a creative way to use each principal to tell a story. And further inspiration comes from Delia and the rest of the team being instigators.

...if you want something written about Black wizards learning within the wizarding world to be done well, you’ve gotta roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.
— Porshèa Patterson

Porshèa: The inspiration for my piece comes from the wandless magic conversations throughout the books — specifically when it comes to powerful wizards and house-elves — the disappointment that is Magic in North America, and Uagadou. All of the missing elements in these spurred me into writing, because obviously if you want something written about Black wizards learning within the wizarding world to be done well, you've gotta roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.

What are some things in Harry Potter canon that you would like to explore or fix?

Bianca: As mentioned before, we can fix History of Magic in North America. I think that exploring the wizarding world here could be pretty awesome. I'd love to see stories of Indigenous wizards, Mexican wizards, or a story of Japanese American wizards and wizard immigrants (especially if they are written by someone in that community). Why did they decide to come here and what have they experienced and endured since? Also, we need to get rid of that "Cursed" play and Dumbledore and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day prequels.

Delia: I started as a Harmony shipper, believe it or not. I read others, but that was my OTP. I was just so underwhelmed by the romance in the books. Since the series finished, my biggest sore spot has been the Epilogue. They went through so much trauma. How did they work through it to get to that happy ending? How on EARTH did Hermione end up with emotionally stunted Ron (sorry Ronmione shippers, it’s all love)? Why is Harry not the DADA professor? I'd also love to fix Leta's story. I wish she could have a fully fledged story that isn’t based in tragedy. A story where she lives and is happy. She deserved better.

Connie: Like Bianca said, the global wizarding community is one thing I wish we could fix in canon. Jo did such a poor job of thinking of anywhere outside of Europe and it really hinders the story when considering how global both the fans and the Muggle world, even in Britain, are. I also wish we could remove Fantastic Beasts and Cursed Child from existence. I wish Fantastic Beasts starred an actor of color for Newt and that it was romps in the jungle searching for beasts and perhaps treasure. I wish they were adventure stories set in the ‘20s a la Indiana Jones or the Mummy franchise and not…what it is.

Porshèa: While there's a lot that needs to be fixed — see everyone else's answers — I think I only have the patience to 'fix' the ways in which Black American communities practice magic, the integration of magic and modern tech — because there are too many Muggle-borns for this to NOT be a thing — and wizarding higher education.

Are there Black characters in other media you would want to write fanfiction for?

Bianca: As of right now, no.

Delia: I don’t really see myself writing outside of my own original work and Harry Potter fanfiction. Potter is the only world besides those of my own creation that I know well enough to write in. But who knows!

Connie: There have been so few Black characters that I relate to, and I find myself not reading fanfic leading them very often. I’ve read only a few characters that were Black in other fandoms, Abigail Mills from Sleepy Hollow and Chidi from The Good Place more recently. I think I also read some fic starring Tucker from Danny Phantom (throwback!) who the fans thought had good chemistry with Danny’s sister Jazz. But there are few characters in other properties I feel drawn to enough to write, which really makes me sad. Hopefully I get more characters to want to play with and can expand my fic reading beyond shiny white people problems (or anime characters, as was my fanfiction beginnings). Perhaps some day I’ll be drawn to Doctor Who fic for those Black characters, but it hasn’t quite happened yet.

Porshèa: There is a character from the A Song of Ice and Fire series that I relate to heavily, though we know very little about her. My goal is to start on a fanfic for her after completing the Founding Home series.

Do you think Black characters get enough love in fan spaces? Why or why not?

Bianca: It depends on who the story was written for. In predominantly white stories with white main characters, Black characters are usually thrown in as an afterthought, and it shows. The same goes with color blind casting and not adjusting the story to make sense for a person of color. On the other hand, you get stories written for Black characters and characters of color like in Scandal or Pose and there is this level of care that is woven into it that changes how the characters are viewed. Fans can't help but fall in love with a fully fleshed out character.

Delia: You can read Mel’s Critical Companion piece from this month for the long answer. The short answer is, no. At best, in fandom, Black characters are often overlooked, save for when they serve a headcanon for a white character. At worst, they are overly harshly scrutinized or rejected, even though they are often one character of color out of dozens of white ones.

At best, in fandom, Black characters are often overlooked, save for when they serve a headcanon for a white character.
— Delia Gallegos

Connie: Definitely not. I get sad when I think about how I perhaps perpetuate this lack of love by not talking about those characters enough or, more to the point here, not reading fic starring them. But also, those characters only have a few stories on the fanfic websites or don’t get as much screen time or development to work with. Or perhaps they’re not put in situations I want to think on too often, leading me to not even go looking for “fix-it” fic where writers fix whatever bad thing happens to them. And I think the stories I like with predominantly Black characters are in recurring works where I’m waiting to see where the actual author takes them. There may be something to the idea of me just being happy they exist and not wanting to mess with them too much. Two book series I think of are the Shadowshaper Cypher by Daniel José Older and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. The worlds are so new and I’m just so happy to get these great characters that I’m not looking for anyone else’s take on them just yet, but maybe that will come down the line. In more established franchises, I definitely think Black characters don’t get enough love in the fandom nor by the writers/producers.

Porshèa: What they said. I do love that the actors who portray the token Black faces call out the Black fan appreciation they get, especially when Luke Youngblood and Alfie Enoch pointed out that they'd realized that the Black fans made a point to seek them out within the films during BGC-led panels at LeakyCon.

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What is a character or theme in Harry Potter that you want to write about or explore in the future?

Bianca: I have a list of things that I would like to write about in Harry Potter, and it seems to grow everyday. New schools, founders, and histories. I'd also like to flesh out some characters like Mrs. Zabini.

Delia: I think even after To All the Wizards I’ve Considered Before is finished, there will still be more to be told of Dean and Hermione.

Connie: I’m interested in exploring more Blaise/Desiree as a flourishing Black couple in the wizarding world and what challenges in their relationship they may have to overcome. Also just showing Black love cuteness. I think beyond the BSUverse, Robyn and I keep trying to come up with some post-First War detective story, perhaps involving an original character or Kingsley.

Porshèa: After Founding Home, I'm going to (someday) flesh out my Parvati, Lavender, and others boss witch writers story, and my Dumbledore and Prince ‘90s fashion-off story. More after that, maybe?

Make sure to read our guests and other writers’ pieces on our Hogwarts BSU page. If you have fic you would like published, or if you would like to participate in Black Wizard History Month in the future, feel free to check out our submission guidelines or hit us up at weblackandnerds@gmail.com. Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you next February and all the months in between!