J.K. Rowling has played a pivotal role in a number of childhoods with her “Harry Potter” series. She provides a magical world to escape into, where those who are outcasted and mistreated by the world are accepted. Yet, her real-world ideologies on marginalized identities permeates throughout what she has created. Reading Rowling’s content means subscribing to her hateful rhetoric, and this needs to stop.
Across the students and staff at the fictional Hogwarts exists some less than ideal forms of representation. Cho Chang, one of the sole Asian characters in the franchise, is a Ravenclaw with little else known about the character. Kingsley Shacklebolt, one of the few Black characters in the series, has a name that can only be described as a combination of various Black history facts.
Another form of offensive caricature is seen with the goblins. They run the banks, they have large noses and are generally ugly. They are small, unpleasant to be around and all very old-looking. For those familiar with the history of antisemitism, this may seem uncomfortably familiar. According to NBC, the “greedy goblin bankers who run Gringotts Wizarding Bank look a lot like the hook-nosed, greedy Jewish caricatures that have been a hallmark of antisemitic propaganda.”
But, this characterization of the goblins cannot be removed from the series. It is their defining characteristic in this world. So much so that Hogwarts Legacy, the recent “Harry Potter” video game, centers the conflict of the game on a goblin revolt, which you, as the player, are supposed to halt.
Also, in these recent games comes the first transgender wizard in the series. Her name is Sirona Ryan, and, while not confirmed, she is coded as a transgender woman. Though if you have noticed the trends in Rowling’s naming conventions, you might have picked up on the “Sir” in her first name and the “Ryan” in her last.
Interestingly, the plot of the game and Sirona’s name were not created by Rowling. In fact, she does not have a writing credit in the game. This may seem absolving; however, I would instead argue it is far more damning. This form of discrimination is inherent to the “Harry Potter” series. It is part of its apparent magic. If the goblins are changed, and the characters are given more culturally sensitive names, then the series looks less familiar to its fans. The appeal of seeing stereotypical characters who, if you squint, aren’t that bad, only serves an audience that already looks like Rowling herself.
It is a lazy and offensive means of injecting character into a series that preaches acceptance, but quietly promotes stereotypes and harmful ideologies. Characters like Cho Chang and Kingsley Shacklebolt made white audience members feel inclusive and accepting of others different from themselves, but only if they followed a very specific role.
The goblins never needed to be unpleasant to look at or for the characters to be around, but if Rowling were to change them, adult audiences would suddenly be asked to think of the Wizarding World as closer to ours and break the illusion.
Child audiences, however, might not know better. Kids might exclaim “ew!” at a scene with a goblin and think nothing else of it. They might start calling their classmates goblins. Or, they might start thinking of themselves as goblins.
A report of media literacy from the Erikson Institute reports that children around the age of 5 are able to understand their own characteristics and accomplishments, and the emotions of others through their expressions. The report also notes that media affects a child’s attitudes towards gender stereotypes.
And if left unchallenged, these harmful ideologies stay with children, especially as they develop a fond attachment to the series that informed them. They quietly become the basis for perceptions of real people. It didn’t need to take multiple Twitter debacles against the transgender community for Harry Potter fans to realize there was something perverse and hypocritical within that series.
Rowling only has one perception of the identities of people outside her lived experience. She continually refuses to accept the lived experiences of others as valid, and instead either summarizes them as quirky background characters with funny names, or writes hundreds of pages explaining why they deserve your disgust.
We have to stop separating the art from the artist. “Harry Potter” is a representation of Rowling's view of the world. Hers is one that declares to promote acceptance but tacitly suggests stereotypes and exclusion. She deserves criticism not solely for her bigotry, but for how it’s been inseparably woven into her works and absorbed by millions of people, mainly young children. It may be hard to part with such an integral part of our childhoods, but this series represents ignorance more than inclusion.
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