I remember when I was younger my friend recommended the “Harry Potter” series, and I was a little hesitant about reading them because they were so widely popular and I didn’t always like popular things. However, I finally caved when she bought me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for my Christmas present that year.
This began a love for Harry Potter when I was thirteen that I still have today.
But like all the books I love, it’s not above criticism.
I couldn’t help but notice that in the movies the part of Lavender Brown was given to Black actresses, but when JK Rowling gave her a part in the books she was replaced by a blonde white girl. There’s such little representation in her books, as a whole, that I don’t understand why she had to do that. There’s no reason Lavender couldn’t have been Black. In fact, that may have made her bond with Parvati less shallow and more substantial since the pair seemed to be such fast friends. It could’ve really strengthened the idea of two brown girls sticking together and helping one another navigate life. Instead, she’s just some silly girl that is only interested in snogging Ron with no substantial personality or contribution to the books (other than solidifying that Ron and Hermione have had tension between them since book one).
Also of the few Black characters the book has, one of them has the surname Shacklebolt which is in poor taste. Also we see too little of Lee Jordan, Dean Thomas, and Angelina Johnson for them to be anything other than the token black character.
The only Black student in Slytherin happens to be Blaise Zabini and his mother is this mysterious Black woman who has been remarried several times and there’s no mention of his father which seems to reinforce some very inappropriate stereotypes about Black fathers being absent in their kids lives. (News flash, white fathers abandon their kids, too.)
Cho Chang is a character that has two last names as her name which is very unfortunate as she is one of the only Asian characters in the entire series that’s mentioned. Not to mention her characterization isn’t very favorable. She is seen as crying at the drop of a hat, but no one seems to have much empathy that her boyfriend Cedric died the year prior to this. After Ginny breaks up with Michael Corner she says he “went to comfort Cho”. It just doesn’t sit right with me that Cho is seen as some kind of thoughtless crybaby who cannot stand the idea of being alone. She’s a Ravenclaw! I would’ve loved to see more of her creativity and intelligence.
Not to mention the one character that was mentioned as a part of the LGBTQ+ community was Albus Dumbledore, and there’s no evidence of that even in the book. Just because they’re including it in the Fantastic Beasts movies doesn’t mean it’s adequate representation.
Before Rowling put Tonks and Remus together – I always assumed that Tonks was nonbinary and Remus was one of those people that was either a closet gay or ace. Yet she made those two characters which were obviously part of the spectrum to me, straight and married.
As white authors, we need to do better. Yes, representation matters and it is important; but we need to do it tactfully and respectfully. Not everyone comes from a good family background, sure. But when your Black characters are the only ones with absent fathers and your Asian character has two surnames as a name, it really doesn’t paint you as a thoughtful author.
It was also offensive to me that Rowling wanted to say Hermione was black after the entire series was written because the character was not written that way. All the illustrations of Hermione were white and the actress playing Hermione in the movies was white. Not to mention she had gotten a “tan” over the summer the one year she had spent a summer in France. Had Hermione actually been black then that would’ve been problematic, too, seeing as she’s the one character that gets called a wizarding slur: “Mudblood”. She’s the only person who tries to save the house-elves which is a plot point that just seemed to disappear for the sake of convenience only to pop up in a one-sentence mention in Deathly Hallows which made Hermione kiss Ron. It didn’t even free the house-elves. I guess house-elves just enjoy being slaves. Haha, that’s hilarious.
I loved all the magic and all of the characters growing up, but now that I am older I think it’s important to recognize the flaws even with a series that I still deeply love.
Linda M. Crate’s works have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. She is the author of seven poetry chapbooks, the latest of which is: the samurai (Yellow Arrow Publishing, October 2020). She has also authored two micro-collections, and three full length poetry collections.