Is Harry Potter Racist?

How the wizarding world is built on white supremacy

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

The formula for the “on purpose” racism in Harry Potter is very simple.

Muggleborns= people of color.

Mudbloods= a dehumanizing slur for people of color.

Magical beings that are not wizards= people of color.

Muggles= people of color.

Wizards= white people.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. If you read Harry Potter as a child, like I did, you might not have come up with this exactly formula, but children still understand the idea of Othering, particularly when they are Othered themselves. When I was in third grade and reading The Prisoner of Azkaban, I did not think to myself, “Wow, Muggleborns are basically like people of color”, but I knew that the way that they were treated was not right. By the time that I read the seventh book for the tenth time (sometime in high school, it came out when I was 16), I was beginning to form conclusions about the fascism of the wizarding world and how racist it actually was. In the seventh book the fascism and racism is blatant, on purpose, shoved in your face, JK Rowling telling us that wizards are just as horrible as us, that their society is just as racist and terrible as ours. This is done through Nazi tropes, Muggleborns being rounded up and paraded into the Ministry of Magic, having their histories examined, and then being cast out of the world entirely, their wands snapped. We are supposed to equate this treatment to the return of Voldemort and not look critically at how the wizarding world operated before his return.

Like America, the wizarding world of Britain was built upon white supremacy, or rather, wizard supremacy based on blood purity. The only school for wizards in Britain is built on wizard supremacy based on blood purity. Only wizards are allowed to attend Hogwarts; other creatures with magic are not. And in the beginning, the founders only took pureblood wizards. Eventually, wizards would have died out if they had not begun to marry Muggles, but, just like systemic racism, it became ingrained in wizard culture that purebloods were above half bloods and Muggleborns. Just as America has been reckoning with its white supremacist roots, the wizarding world must do the same. However, the only problem is that it doesn’t.

We can pretend that after Harry wins, that after Voldemort is vanquished, that everything goes back to the way it was, and we can pretend that that is a good thing. But it isn’t. After Voldemort falls, if things go back to the way they were before his return to power, we go back to wizarding world divided much the way that America is on race. We go back to a world where, in the mid-90s, the password for the Slytherin common room is Mudblood, which can be seen as a very loose equivalent to the n word. (Again, this is very loose. As always, if you can say one word but not the other, which word is the worse one?) We go back to a world in which goblins have antisemitic tropes, in which house elves are slaves, in which the Fountain of Magical Brethren shows “lesser” creatures looking up at witches and wizards in misplaced admiration. We go back to Ron not understanding how his views of giants are bigoted and how Muggle Studies is an elective. We are plunged back into a Hogwarts curriculum that does not bother to study its own racist upbringing, where Hogwarts still continues to sort students into houses based on racism. There is no critical thought as to how Voldemort rose back to power so quickly and how the wizarding world at large could keep it from happening a third time.

America reckoned with the rise of Donald Trump, who is an open white supremacist. He spent four years doing everything in his power to dismantle the work of a Black president simply because he was Black. His racist remarks and policies are too numerous to bother listing here. America thought, particularly after George Floyd, that perhaps Biden would win in a landslide, but he did not. Trump has a large and very solid base, and that base is racist. They may not all be white supremacists, but they are okay with racism as long as it benefits them, and it benefits them when a white supremacist is in the White House. We tend to think of these people as hicks, living in trailers in the boonies with their huge collection of guns and their MAGA hats, terrified that some liberal is going to take their guns away and firmly believing that immigrants are what’s wrong with this country and that no one deserves a handout while they get their insurance from the Affordable Care Act. It’s easier to think of them that way, as Other. But Trump’s base is not all like this, just as Voldemort’s base is not all fascist Death Eaters. I personally know many people who voted for Trump a second time and they are not the rednecks that we want them to be, hugging their guns and bemoaning diversity. They are people like Ron Weasley.

Ron is the type of person who does not believe that he is racist, even though he is. It is not his fault, necessarily. As a white woman, no matter how much anti-racism work I do, I will always benefit from white supremacy and systemic racism, and Ron is the same way. His entire life, even though his family is “a bunch of blood traitors”, he will always benefit from systemic blood purity. He is not a pureblood, but at this point in history, there are hardly any purebloods left, and coming from a family that is entirely wizards is enough. Ron Weasley is the embodiment of the problem of white privilege in America and what forms the GOP base; he believes that he does not have privilege because he is poor. This is the crux of discussing white privilege in America; there are huge swathes of the country who do not believe in white privilege because they are white and poor, and therefore life has not been easy for them. “Where is my white privilege?” they ask as they do not have enough money for food, for rent, as they work three jobs to keep a roof over their heads. “I don’t see it.” But what we fail to realize when it comes to the discussion of white privilege is that we have the idea of it wrong. White privilege does not mean that your life is easy. White privilege means that your whiteness is not one of the reasons that your life is not easy.

Ron is safe in his privilege. He does not believe that he has any because he is poor, and he does not think about his microaggressions, his bigoted views. The problem with this is that the only person who challenges him on these views is Hermione, and even she eventually gives up. There is no one in the wizarding world who is actively doing anti-racist work. None of the teachers at Hogwarts are, no one in government is, none of the kids are taking the initiative to better themselves. Ron can remain complacent in his privilege, as can everyone else. Ron can look at Draco Malfoy, who is openly racist, and say comfortably, “I can’t be racist because I’m not like him. He’s racist. I think everyone is equal, so I’m not racist.” He does not look at how he benefits from systemic racism. No one does. Everyone is churned out of a school that was built on systemic racism nearly 1,000 years ago that has a curriculum that refuses to look seriously at its past, so why would anyone bother to put in the work of being anti-racist? You can’t work to be anti-racist when you do not have the tools to acknowledge your role in systemic racism at all. So the larger problem with the wizarding world, particularly after it goes back to “normal”, is that it goes back to its racism. America is reckoning with this now, as we almost saw Donald Trump secure another four years in office, as Black Lives Matter continues to take to the streets, as progressive politicians do their best to point out the country’s systemic racism while half of the country sits comfortably and says, “We don’t need to change.” The wizarding world is entirely that second half, and therefore no progress is made. After Voldemort’s second rise and fall, the wizarding world does not bother to look at how he rose to power again and how to prevent it, what systems were put in place that allowed his second rise to happen. They just celebrate that he is gone and go back to their comfort.

We’re meant to read the ending as a feel good story. Harry defeated the wizard Nazis, the wizard fascists. Muggleborns were no longer being rounded up and cast out. Harry helped avoid the Holocaust, which is where this blatant imagery was going. Harry saved the day, overthrew the fascist government, and things went back to normal. But the “after” normal is still racist, and I don’t think that JK Rowling intended for it to be. She spent seven books building it up, drilling it into our brains that the wizard world is racist, just like our world here, but she expected that after Harry won, that it would be better. It’s not. Racism does not end when we look at each other and say, “I believe that you are equal to me.” Racism ends when we work to dismantle the systems of white supremacy, when we look at ourselves and see our privilege and work to be anti-racist. It is long, difficult, exhausting work, and it must be done by those with privilege, those like Ron. Here in America we have over 400 years of history to reckon with, to look at critically, and to dismantle the systems borne from it. The wizarding world of Britain? They have 1,000 years.

So yes, Harry Potter is racist. Part of it is meant to be, to teach children about the dangers of racism, to help them be more accepting adults. But the wizarding world as a whole was built upon blood supremacy, and JK Rowling did this (whether on purpose or not) because she lives and inhabits a world built upon white supremacy.

I have a lot of takes on Harry Potter. Gandhi said it best: Write the takes you wish to read in the world.