Hermione is Black and Why That's AWESOME
These days being a Harry Potter fan is a never-ending gift. A few years before J.K. Rowling swore there'd never be a 8th book, but that was only partially true. While not in book form, she did write a play called Harry Potter and The Cursed Child that will pick up 19 years after the end of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.
Most people are just thrilled to get a new installment of the beloved series, but some people are upset that Noma Dumezweni, a Black actress, was cast as Hermione and are taking to the internet to vent their frustration. I'd personally like those people to shut up, so I've got a few things to say to them.
First of all, J.K. never said Hermione was white. The only physical descriptions you ever hear about Hermione is that she had brown, frizzy hair, brown eyes, and freckles. These are all characteristics that Black people can have. There's this underlying assumption in literature that a character is white unless explicitly stated otherwise, but that's not only problematic, it's utterly ridiculous. White should not be the default.
Second, authors don't get to cast actors for the movies based on their books. The fact that Hermione was originally cast as white says more about Hollywood than it does about Rowling. Hollywood has a history of whitewashing films, so there's a long history of white actors being cast as non-white characters (see here and here for starters). So just because a character was cast as a white actor does not mean that character is actually white.
Third, I want to ask these people to think about what they're really saying when they whine "but Hermione is supposed to be white." Enjoying any kind of fiction requires a suspension of disbelief; otherwise it would be impossible to derive enjoyment from it. You can't enjoy Game of Thrones if you don't---at least for the time spent reading or watching---believe that there are 7 kingdoms in a place called Westeros and a gazillion people are vying to rule.
We already have a suspension of disbelief with Harry Potter. We believe there's a magical school called Hogwarts and the kids who are enrolled there received their letters of admission from owls. We believe kids go to this school to learn how to do magic and that an evil overlord is trying to rule to magical world and these kids have to stop him. We believe Hogwarts students can take classes in divination, transfiguration, potions, defense against the dark arts, and charms because these are "real world" skills they'll need in their navigation of the magical world as adults.
So to these people crying woe-is-me over Black Hermione, I ask, "You mean to tell me you can believe all that, but you can't believe the smartest kid at Hogwarts is a Black girl?" Come ON. You've got to be fucking kidding me. Hermione isn't "supposed" to be white. She's supposed to be a badass witch, a genius punches Draco in the face, and a loyal friend who saves Harry's tail more times than we can count. Last I checked, her magical powers didn't come from white skin. Hermione can be both Black AND awesome, and anyone who believes otherwise is hard pressed to call themselves a true fan.
Fourth, Hermione being Mudblood actually makes more sense if she's Black. Fiction has been scientifically shown to foster empathy in readers, so if you want to show kids how prejudice is bad, give it to them in story form. I believe that's exactly what Rowling was doing when she introduced the concept of Mudbloods, or magical kids who aren't the product of two magical parents, into the story line. She could have easily left that out, but she chose to put it in.
As anyone with eyes can see, racism is alive and well, so it's no small irony that the people who claim to only love a white Hermione love a Mudblood character. I'm sure these are the same people who despised Draco for making Hermione cry after calling her a Mudblood, never stopping to think that they're the real life Draco Malfoys who treat Black people like they're lesser-than just for being Black.
Fifth, media at large---be it books, movies, or music---is whitewashed. There are white people everywhere you look. If people don't like thinking of Hermione as Black, they need only look to The Hunger Games, Twilight, Game of Thrones, or a million other fandoms where the characters are predominantly white and where people with other skin colors are hardly more than an afterthought. If you want solidly white fandoms, you can certainly find them. But what about people who want diverse fandoms? They've got significantly fewer options.
Considering the abundant options people have for white fandoms compared to the much fewer numbers of non-white or diverse fandoms, the people who say Hermione is "supposed" to be white is a lot like the kid in kindergarten who tries to steal all the toys then complains when another kid gets one of the few toys he didn't get.
That kid needs to grow up and so does everyone who's angry that Hermione is Black. If you feel threatened by attempts at equal representation in media, the problem is you.
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