On Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Word That Shall Not Be Named

By Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D.

“Race” in the twenty-first century is ubiquitous. It influences our understanding of history and current events, school achievement and athletic success, and both interpersonal relationships and group dynamics. Yet, in many contexts and social circles, race is so emotionally threatening that for many White people it has simply become “the word that shall not be named.” Moreover, even those willing to name it struggle to find shared meaning in a word that means many different things to different people. But what if there were a magical parallel universe where these racial themes could be safely explored under the guise of wizards and Muggles and elves? At its best, by taking advantage of our suspension of disbelief, fiction can penetrate our psychological defenses and reach our core beliefs. J. K. Rowling understands this. She uses the Harry Potter series not only to entertain, but to provide readers with a real world moral framework that explicitly encompasses race-related issues. This essay will examine contemporary assumptions about race in the Harry Potter universe using two different levels of analysis. The first part will examine the series’ underlying racial ideology of col-or-blindness, while the second will examine the nature of racism and the psychological impact of enslavement, as portrayed by the characters.

The Racial Utopia

At first glance, the Harry Potter universe seems to have little racial tension. There are a handful of non-White characters, including fellow Gryffindors Lee Jordan, Dean Thomas, Angelina Johnson, and Parvati Patil, as well as Harry’s first romantic interest, Cho Chang.  …

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