Thursday, January 21, 2016

My Thoughts On A Black Hermione Granger and Race In The Harry Potter World

Unless you live under a rock, you've probably heard about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - a London based play for this summer that features middle-aged versions of 'the golden trio.' The actress playing Hermione is Noma Dumezweni, a black woman. The internet has kind of blown up over this - the people that like it and the people that hate it - and, originally I wasn't even going to weigh in on this.

But then I, with all this fresh in my mind, started reading The Deathly Hallows and, early on, came across this.

[…]Kingsley, bald, black, broad-shouldered[…]

And it got me thinking about the people in the Harry Potter books that are described as black. There are a few that I thought of immediately (Blaise Zambini and Lee Jordan specifically) and a few others that I remembered after looking the subject up on the internet (Angelina Johnson and Dean Thomas for example).

Now, I have read some books where skin color is never mentioned - but by the different names and places that are represented, it seems obvious that not everyone is white. An example of what I'm talking about would be Cho Chang and Padma and Parvati Patil. With the names alone, it's a pretty common assumption that they are POC.

However, there's a thing called 'white is the default color.' What this means is that if the characters skin tone isn't mentioned, you probably picture them as white. I do this. I hate that I do, but it's the truth. I think most people do this. I just heard from an Asian woman that she does this.

But I've noticed that I'm less likely to do this if skin color isn't mentioned at all in the book. If this one person is singled out as being 'black', I'm more likely to picture everyone else as 'white' that I would be if skin color had never been mentioned.

So, Harry Potter - as the story is narrated from his perspective - obviously notices skin color - though, oddly enough, only if they're black. (What's up with that?) I do think that if Hermione had been black, Harry would have noted it at least when they first met. As is was, her skin color was never mentioned.

Which, coming from a white eleven year old boy, I would imagine that, if she was the same skin color as he, he would have never felt a need to mention it.

And, yes, I do believe that Harry is white. I have two reasons for that. First of all, it is rare to have a POC with red hair. Not impossible. But rare enough that I would imagine it unlikely to happen in this case. And, because of this picture:

So, it is grey-tone, but it seems obvious to me that James has approximately the same skin tone as his friends - and a rather pale one at that. Which would all, obviously, mean that Harry is white. Which does explain why he seems to believe that 'white is the default' and not worth mentioning.

Now, there was another picture I wanted to share with you - but I've been unable to find the image online. Anyway, it's the one from chapter nine of The Deathly Hallows titled 'A Place To Hide.'

It is a picture of Ron, Hermione and Harry. Once again, much like the picture of the Marauders, they all look to be the same race. And that looks to be Caucasian.

All that being said, if you'd ask me if I think Hermione is white, I'd say I don't know. Because her skin color was never mentioned, I don't know. I do think, however, that Rowling intended for her to be white. I know she's said she loves the idea of a black Hermione, which is great, but I can't shake the impression that when she was writing, she was writing with a white Hermione in mind.

There are arguments to be made for her being black - honestly, her untamable hair has long made me think that she could be black. There's also the fact that she does have brown eyes and hair. It would also cast both her work for SPEW and her marginalized status as a muggle-born in a different, more serious, light. Is it impossible? No. Is it probable? I really think that depends more on the way a person looks at it.

I do think this is an interesting way to go and I am very happy to see some real POC representation in the Harry Potter world. (For a distressing look at how long the Harry Potter movies would be if only POC spoke, click here.)

And now, I will leave you with this lovely picture. (Isn't she so pretty? There are a lot of fanart for black Hermione, but this one is probably my favorite.)

I'd love to know your thoughts!