Quarterly Almanac

Characters Are Not A Coloring Book Or, Why the Black Hermione is a Poor Apology for the Ingrained Racism of Harry Potter

Characters Are Not A Coloring Book Or, Why the Black Hermione is a Poor Apology for the Ingrained Racism of Harry Potter is an essay by Mimi Mondal that originally appeared in the second volume of The Book Smugglers’ Quarterly Quarterly Almanac in September 2016.


Characters Are Not A Coloring Book Or, Why the Black Hermione is a Poor Apology for the Ingrained Racism of Harry Potter

Mimi Mondal

Like many people of my generation, I grew up on Harry Potter. As an introverted, class-topping little girl, I identified hardcore with Hermione Granger. I had sorted myself into a House (Slytherin, unfortunately) long before there was Pottermore. I had all the spells at the tip of my tongue, just as I knew all the minor characters, subplots and plot holes by heart. My best friend was a Harry Potter fanfic writer for years, and although I never wrote any fanfic myself, the online Harry Potter communities were my first experience of fandom, which was my first experience of LiveJournal, which in turn was my first experience of the international SFF community.

I wrote J.K. Rowling a snail-mail letter, addressed to the Bloomsbury office in London, when she killed off Sirius Black in The Order of the Phoenix, telling her how that was uncool and, frankly, here’s a list of much better things she could’ve done with the story instead. I was one of the kids who felt entitled to tell Rowling off on such matters, because I knew about Harry Potter as much as anyone possibly could; because I had speculated about possible futures of the story more than she herself may have (ha!); because Harry Potter was a core part of my childhood… and how could she just have casually violated that? (Or no, “felt entitled” would be the wrong description, because no one ever feels entitled to do anything. The best part about the entitled is that they feel offended by other people doing their thing, which they refuse to believe can rightfully be those other people’s thing to do.)

I have felt as possessive about the Harry Potter canon as anyone I’ve ever met, so once again, when people are talking about Noma Dumezweni being cast as the adult Hermione, and the possibility that Hermione may not have been white in the first place, I can feel my (non-existent) entitlement begin to tickle. I have always been Hermione among my friends; it’s the rare character in which I saw myself reflected, validated in fiction; the character whose triumphs and losses were my own—surely no one else can have the last word on whether a black Hermione “feels right”? If it doesn’t feel right to me, there’s no way that can be retconned into the canon. That’s violating my childhood. I won’t have it.

Except that I was never a white girl myself. Through all my childhood years of hardcore Pottermania, I was a brown girl growing up in Calcutta, India.

Growing up in Calcutta in the early 2000s, identifying with fictional characters was a relatively simple thing. Unlike children of color in Western countries who clearly experience their minority status, I grew up surrounded by other Indians. We had our Indian books and films, sometimes in our native languages, in which everyone was Indian; and then we had our foreign books and films, in which no one was Indian. And, in a smaller city like Calcutta, we hardly met any white people, so there was no paradigm in which we felt unmistakeably different from them. White people were allegorical, just like fairies or anthropomorphized animals were allegorical. My friends and I had no problem identifying with Cinderella, Peter Pan, Elizabeth Bennet, Sherlock Holmes, or any other white character that we read. Each of us had a Friends protagonist that we identified with, a Backstreet Boy or a Spice Girl that was SO us, so it was only natural that everyone was a Harry Potter character as well.

As an adult, I have learned there were larger dynamics to this placid identification—the way we Indians, or South Asians, see ourselves as a minority at all; the way British colonization had treated us, which was very different from the way colonial subjects were treated in Africa or elsewhere in the world. Of all the races of color, we South Asians probably speak the most “flawless” English. We still proudly brandish our British laws, British institutions, British way of life—among them, elite boarding schools and school uniforms, just like Hogwarts. Our greatest class aspiration is to be able to pass as just-slightly-darker white people. During my stays as an adult in the UK and the USA, I’ve found my fellow South Asians largely reluctant to identify as a community with black, Latinx, or (non-south) Asian people. My fellow South Asians refuse to “see color”, as if only if we do it collectively and hard enough, color will also refuse to see us.

Not seeing color was the way I was brought up, and a large part of not seeing color is to get uncomfortable and gently sidestep the people and texts that do see color. People who don’t see color are usually a more benign lot than outright racists—they’re “well-intentioned”, if anything. It wasn’t like I never encountered any text with a mixed-race cast of characters, but I didn’t know how to engage with them, so I didn’t. The rare white-authored texts with substantial Indian characters, nearly always portrayed with ignorance and bias, I put aside as books that I didn’t like very much—The Jungle Book and Kim by Rudyard Kipling, A Passage to India by E.M. Forster, The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre. I was cool with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, in which Captain Nemo is an Indian man, but his race doesn’t affect anything else in the story. Or Wuthering Heights, where there’s a tiny suggestion that Heathcliff may have been an Indian prince, but ditto for the rest.

This adamant refusal to see color is the reason why I didn’t feel awkward with Harry Potter at the age when I started reading it; the reason why I can no longer read it without cringing. And color isn’t even the only thing that Harry Potter refuses to see. Sexuality,  religion—you name it. Harry Potter isn’t an offensive text, but it’s equally inoffensive to the homophobic, xenophobic readers. And maybe those are the things that we need to talk about, when we are shocked that the fandom we loved so much as children also managed to nurture the people who are so hateful towards our mere existence.

The inescapable fact is that most minorities never really did exist in Harry Potter, except in a tokenistic way, or retconned into the narrative afterwards. Much before the controversy over the black Hermione, there was the controversy over the gay Dumbledore—one that played out pretty much along the same lines. Nothing in the books suggests that Dumbledore couldn’t have been gay, but nothing in them actually establishes, leave alone defends, his homosexuality either. You can read the vaguest hints of a homoerotic friendship with Grindelwald, but the fan-fiction community had been shipping everyone with everyone else for years, and I can never be sure of what might have been an intended hint in the books. (Sirius Black and James Potter were definitely homoerotic too, right? Non?) In the actual books, Dumbledore was just the generic unpartnered male. I’d have never known, if I didn’t read the “official” announcement on Rowling’s website, that she intended him to be gay.

Nor would I have suspected that she intended Dean Thomas to be black, until I watched the first movie. Dean morphed early enough, and remained insignificant enough since then, for not many fans to object to his non-whiteness (his biggest function in the books being dating Ginny Weasley, and getting dumped at a convenient enough point for Harry to present himself as the superior alternative). The same goes for Angelina Johnson, who doesn’t have any function at all, despite being a kickass Quidditch player, captain, and rudimentary feminist.

Who are the other children of color at Hogwarts? Lee Jordan, with his dreadlocks and distinct Caribbean vibe, the cheerful black friend whose only talent is to comment on the microphone with a blind, almost comical, allegiance for the side he supports. Lee is a prankster and almost an accomplice of Fred and George Weasley, but never entirely; he isn’t welcomed into the family like Ron’s friends are. Blaise Zabini, as one of the beta readers of this essay pointed out, and I won’t be surprised if you hadn’t noticed either, because it wasn’t ever mentioned in the books. Cho Chang—Harry’s first love interest, a name that had struck me as a pleasant surprise when I first read it, and who was played by a Chinese actor in the movies (a fact that we should be thankful about, it seems, considering the rampant whitewashing of characters of color all over SFF filmmaking), and who conveniently doesn’t do a single thing in the books that a white girl wouldn’t. Parvati and Padma Patil—fraternal (originally identical) twins, each in a different house,  which could have been such an interesting plot device, but instead their greatest achievement is to be Harry and Ron’s reluctant and eventually exasperating dates to the Yule Ball. And what the actual fuck were those Yule Ball costumes? Remind me to never shop at the charity store that those travesties came from.1

Fun trivia: Ever notice that not even a single time are the words “Chinese” and “Indian” used in the Harry Potter books? Not even to describe food, leace alone these actual characters. (What would the British do without Chinese or Indian food?! But no—no one in Harry Potter eats anything apart from the standard pub cuisine.) Bet you didn’t.

No one in Harry Potter speaks a different language, or even a broken English, apart from the Europeans—the French and Bulgarian school contingents; the German wandmaker. No prizes for guessing that we never run into Cho’s or the Patil sisters’ parents casually on Diagon Alley. Their parents are all Muggles anyway, right? Because if they weren’t, Rowling would have to deal with the possibility of non-white, non-English magic, which she has started acknowledging only recently with Native-American magic in North America, and already managed to make a number of people unhappy. Dean’s father wasn’t a Muggle, but he was also conveniently swiped off “in the war”, and Dean brought up by a Muggle mother and stepfather, so that we don’t have to bother ourselves with black-people magic either. At least one of Blaise’s parents (or an earlier ancestor) should be black, but we never learn whether it is the famously beautiful witch who has been widowed seven times, or one of the unfortunate deceased, since we have no idea about Blaise’s race (or even his gender) for most of the series, even though a non-white pureblood Muggle-hating Slytherin should’ve been a damn interesting character in this world, again.

No one in Harry Potter is Muslim or Jewish, and I’m beginning to think that’s because these communities are stereotyped as being more rigorous about their religious identities than Hindus or the Chinese. What is the stand on religion in the British wizarding community, anyway? Why do they hold those Christmas celebrations at Hogwarts—opulent enough, only without any explicit religious ceremony—but there’s never any Eid, Passover, Diwali, Chinese New Year?

My problem with Harry Potter is that only the white people win, or rather, no one who wins is of any other race, which is exactly the kind of pattern that colorblindness convinces us not to see. The people of color in Harry Potter aren’t villains either, they’re just overall nobody important—annoying dates, unsatisfactory boyfriends, and maybe some of you even remember the part in The Order of the Phoenix where Harry described kissing Cho as snogging with a hosepipe? No matter that that girl had recently lost her boyfriend (also a white hero, of course), and maybe that confused rebound was the only reason she ever agreed to get together with Harry. In a world where everyone is falling over each other to get Harry Potter’s attention, somehow a girl who isn’t hysteric about Harry Potter but still chooses to treat him with consideration isn’t worth praising for her clearsightedness at all. She’s only depicted in detail in The Order of the Phoenix, and only as the girl who just can’t shut up about her now-inconsequential heartbreak and accept that she’s leveled up by nabbing the mighty Harry Potter. (And, of course, Harry gets to dump her. That’s totally not contradictory to the earlier detail that Cho had hardly ever given him the time of day before she was cracked open emotionally by the death of Cedric Diggory and the return of Voldemort. Because in what world does a woman of color get to reject a white-hero paramour? She should be grateful that the white guy deigned to be romantically interested in her at all. Damn, so liberal, that guy!)

My problem with Harry Potter is that the Dursley family, despicable characters beyond doubt, are never seen to complain about their Pakistani neighbors, although they are exactly the kind of people who complain about their Pakistani neighbors, the kind of people who hurl “Paki” at every brown person as if that’s an insult, the kind of people who vote for Brexit or Making America Great Again. (One in every twenty people in the UK is a person of South Asian descent.2 There are very few white people anywhere on that island who don’t have a South Asian neighbor. Some small town in Surrey, within commuting distance of London? There should probably be more South Asians living there than there would be whites!) But no, the objects of the Dursleys’ scorn are only other white people—the eccentric wizards who come across as less than “respectable”, the batty old spinster down the street who lives with cats.

My problem with Harry Potter is this. The first three or four books into the series, we fanfic speculators had observed that there were far too many children in this world and too few adults—what did all the kids graduating from Hogwarts every year do afterwards? There could only be so many Ministry of Magic employees, St. Mungo’s employees, Hogwarts employees, professional Quidditch players, magical-creature tamers, Daily Prophet correspondents, Diagon Alley shop-owners, or isolated reclusive wizards, who lived in Muggle neighborhoods and never seemed to do much for a living. Were all wizards not employed in wizard occupations independently wealthy, or did some of them choose to get Muggle careers and live as Muggles, simply because there weren’t that many magical jobs going around? Rowling tries to address this void by giving the main characters a nineteen-year jump in the epilogue of the series, so let’s check which kids we saw grow up into the adult life—Harry, Ron and Hermione, obviously; all of Ron’s siblings; Draco Malfoy; Luna Lovegood; Neville Longbottom. See a character of color on that list? I don’t.

Angelina Johnson is the only character of color who finds mention on that list, and that’s because George Weasley happened to marry her. The last I heard of George, he was running Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. (Although he is somewhat significantly absent in The Cursed Child, so I don’t even know any more.) Does anyone know why the extremely competitive ex-captain of the Gryffindor quidditch team has been happily serving as a hausfrau, while her white sister-in-law goes on to be a professional player, and then the editor of the sports section of the Daily Prophet? During a public appearance in 2007, Rowling had mentioned in one line—because that’s all that deserves—that Cho Chang married a Muggle.3 Tell me why, by now, I’ve stopped being surprised.

My problem with Harry Potter is especially this—even in The Cursed Child, the story with which Rowling is waging these noble race wars and collecting praise from liberal white people all over the Internet, in the text itself there isn’t a single non-white character who’s actually likeable or even substantial. George Weasley is absent altogether, his Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes now mysteriously run singlehandedly by Ron, so there’s no opportunity for Angelina to show up. The off-the-page Padma Patil, existing only in an alternate timeline, is a joke—not only for her stereotyping, but more so for her obvious function in the story as a vehemently undesirable alternative to Hermione. And of all the children in The Cursed Child, I did not find anyone more cursed than the off-the-page Panju Weasley, loaded with a name that no Indian in history has ever had, since it happens to be a somewhat derogatory diminutive for the Punjabi community.4 If anyone named Panju Weasley can abstain from becoming a patricide, in the main timeline or any other, I don’t see why others named Albus Severus Potter or Scorpius Malfoy presume to have a chip on their shoulder.5

Since Rowling forgets to tell us what the children of color in the original series became as adults (in the original timeline, seeing that now we have many), allow me to take you on a thought experiment. Let’s take a look at the actors who played them in the movies—kids whom we have watched growing up, only a few years behind the characters they potrayed. The actor who played Harry Potter became a sex symbol even before the movies were completed; he starred in a highly successful West End production of Equus, followed by a string of moderately successful Hollywood movies. The actor who played Cedric Diggory went on to play a sparkling vampire in the Twilight movies, a part that has probably surpassed his Harry Potter role in popularity. The actor who played Hermione Granger, creepily enough, became a sex symbol younger than everyone else. In subsequent years, she modeled for Burberry; starred in the highly acclaimed movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower; and currently serves as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador—one of the most easily recognizable celebrity feminists of our time. The actor who played Padma Patil was beaten up by the men of her family for having a non-Muslim boyfriend, called a prostitute, and nearly smuggled back into Bangladesh for an arranged marriage.6

One more time. Let’s compare the careers of Emma Watson, whose real life is a close parallel to Hermione Granger’s, and Noma Dumezweni, whose isn’t. Watson—daughter of white lawyers (Hermione is a daughter of dentists); educated at an elite private school in Oxford (Hermione is educated at Hogwarts); a hockey player since childhood (breaking female stereotypes, just as Hermione did with her academic prowess); a social activist (just like Hermione with her Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare); undoubtedly encouraged by everyone whose opinion she actually cares about to feel as competent as any man. Compare to Dumezweni—daughter of black immigrants from Swaziland who escaped to the UK from the apartheid in South Africa; a non-native speaker of English; a single mother in her late forties; an actor highly skilled and barely known, despite the fact that she won the Laurence Olivier award a decade ago; someone who describes herself as “I’m a great company actor; a great supporting actor.”7

Spot the dissonance yet? The young Hermione Granger blended comfortably into the young Emma Watson, as did most of the white children in Harry Potter into the actors who played them, and that’s the comfort all of us fans had come to associate with the Harry Potter franchise. The adult Emma Watson still feels like Hermione, with her feminism and her degree from Brown and her successful post-Harry Potter acting career. The person who decisively doesn’t feel like Hermione—to me as well as to the racist readers—is Noma Dumezweni.

Rowling may have given Hermione frizzy hair and no particular skin color, but Hermione of the Harry Potter books is definitely not a black girl. She cannot be anything but white, not because Rowling told us so, but because Rowling managed to show-not-tell the hell out of that inevitability. The world of Harry Potter is a world where “tiny wizards run headlong through a wall at a busy London commuter station”,8 just as it’s a world where characters who are doubtlessly people of color always turn out to be inadequate when measured against their white peers, melt meekly into the background, or aren’t even visible where they should be. Even colorblind texts sometimes just “happen to” show a person of color playing a more significant function than white people—Twenty Thousand Leagues, for instance; or every Hollywood movie with a non-white villain—but Harry Potter isn’t one of those texts.

Consistency in worldbuilding does not only emerge over the laws of physics or which magical creature can do what; it is also felt through the unspoken patterns of social interaction between the characters, and the status quo they uphold. If you’re trying to retcon a black Hermione into Harry Potter, you may as well throw in a few hobbits or sparkly vampires.

Or maybe you can retcon a black Hermione into Harry Potter, except that casting Noma Dumezweni in the play isn’t what is called a retcon. Retcon—the device of altering already established events in the canon—is familiar enough to us from superhero comics, but there’s a difference between a retcon and an unfaithful adaptation. A retcon introduces a retrospective change by offering a plausible (for a certain value of “plausible”) explanation for why this change is not contradictory to the canon. If the change absolutely cannot be reconciled with the canon, the explanation often happens to be that the altered events took place in an alternate timeline that has no relationship with the original.

The Cursed Child abounds with retcons and alternate timelines, but in none of those is Hermione a black girl or woman. The existence of Delphini Diggory is a retcon; the existence of Panju Weasley is an alternate timeline. Hermione, however, is the same Hermione as before. She isn’t black in the text of the play, just as she wasn’t in the original books. There may be a later production of The Cursed Child in which Hermione is played by a white actor (although, having read the play, I cannot imagine why it would merit a later production), and all the “stains” of blackness will magically disappear.

So let’s get this straight—the debate we’re having here is not, in the first place, about Hermione being black, although Rowling and her supporters are also channeling it in that direction; but about a canonically white Hermione being played by a black actor. Having grown up in India, I don’t find the idea of a character being played by an actor of a different race problematic in itself—all my life I’ve seen the works of Shakespeare or other English-language writers performed by fellow Indians, without assuming any race change in the original text. And most white people also don’t find that idea problematic, as long as it’s a white actor playing a character of any other race. When Noah Ringer plays Aang in The Last Airbender or Jake Gyllenhaal plays Dastan in Prince of Persia, no one assumes that the characters were rewritten as white.

In a truly colorblind world, no one would be talking about a black Hermione—because the Hermione of Harry Potter isn’t and has never been black; she’s Rowling’s wishy-washy vision of a figure in a coloring book, one that can be filled in with any color you like. Except that figures that can be filled in with any color you like are essentially a white person’s fantasy, because they are the ones who are allowed to play any of us any time they want. We aren’t allowed to play them without changing the entire canonical description of the character into someone of our specific race; and that’s the racist equation Rowling is feeding every time she defends her right of having written a black Hermione. She’s completely unabashedly basking in the praise and diversity-friendly cred of having written a black protagonist without writing a single word of a black protagonist, merely agreeing to cast a black actor to play the character. Seriously, white-supremacy apologists, how many different kinds of wool do we need to be pulled over our eyes before it’s finally enough?

On the other hand, the Harry Potter series—the “true” words of Rowling, as opposed to apocryphal fanfic speculation—had been my lifeline for years, and I can’t bring myself to end this essay on a renouncing declaration, because I know I will be hanging around at Pottermore, muttering and cribbing. (Dare I bring up the analogy of how the “cursed” children feel about the parents who wish they were someone else? You created us, Rowling; sorry we didn’t turn up like the fans you were primarily writing for. Sorry for being the wrong color. Sorry for managing to see the things in your stories that you refuse to acknowledge are there. Time for doing some Act-Four-Scene-Five-style soul-searching, maybe?)

So here’s the thing—I’m angry and heartbroken with the way Harry Potter has turned out till now, but I will still lap it up gratefully if, in any of these further continuations of the series, the kids of color who weren’t so cool at school do show up as successful and desirable adults. I’m sure Dumezweni is great, and everyone who has watched The Cursed Child enjoyed her performance, but I don’t want this ridiculously see-through excuse of a black Hermione. I want an Angelina Johnson who gets to do cool things as an adult, and I want someone to cast Dumezweni or any other talented, underrated black actor to play her. I want Cho, Dean, Lee, Blaise or the Patil sisters to come back, and turn into new major characters.

I want the racists in my stories, and I want the racists to lose. I want people like the Dursleys to call people like me Paki, nigger, gangster, terrorist, job-stealer, the proverbial dogs that their country is going to, and then I want to see them eat their words. I want to see the Death Eaters swelling with ancestral wealth built over centuries of slavery and colonialism—because aren’t they all old British aristocrats, and how else did those people get rich?—and mouthing their ancestral slurs. (Do you really think Draco Malfoy would’ve let Hermione off with just “Mudblood”, if she happened to be black?) I don’t want Mudblood to be a half-hearted allegory for gay, non-white or any other minority, I don’t want house-elves to enact a half-baked allegory of slaves, because minorities are not allegorical in this world, they’re not equal to the straight white people, and I’m sure Rowling knows that as well as I do.

So there, I have once again exercised my possessiveness about the Harry Potter canon to suggest to its author what she should do with it. My childhood letter addressed to Bloomsbury was never replied—I’m sure that was more because Rowling received thousands of such letters every day, and less because a little brown girl in Calcutta, India wasn’t the default reader she was writing for, although I’m also sure that she was writing for all children. But Harry Potter had been a core part of my childhood, just as it was for any white child; and I hate to discover myself more and more rejected by it on each subsequent read. In the Harry Potter world a girl like me doesn’t win, and I want to win, because I thought I was Hermione too. J.K. Rowling, this time are you listening?


MIMI MONDAL lives between Calcutta, India and Philadelphia, PA. She has been an editor at Penguin India; a Commonwealth Scholar in Scotland; and an Octavia Butler Scholar at the Clarion West Writing Workshop. Her first collection, Other People, is scheduled to be published in India from Juggernaut Books.


  1. A fact that Buzzfeed India Editor-in-chief Rega Jha elucidates on to great length in “Let’s Never Forgive the Grave Injustice of Padma and Parvati’s Yule Ball Outfits”, Buzzfeed, 3 March 2016. Accessed from https://www.buzzfeed.com/regajha/harry-potter-and-the-prisoners-of-bad-fashion?utm_term=.ynrQDva9j#.gvDaAv3qJ on 31 July 2016.
  2. Acknowledged by the Daily Mail, the newspaper Uncle Vernon favors. If you add the other non-white minorities, that takes it up 14 per cent, says James Chapman in “Ethnic minorities ‘will make up one third of the population by 2050’ as Britain’s melting pot continues to grow”, 5 May 2014. Accessed from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2620957/Ethnic-minorities-make-one-population-2050-Britains-melting-pot-continues-grow.html on 31 July 2016
  3. A report of this event can be found on the Times-Picayune, 18 October 2007. Accessed from http://blog.nola.com/living/2007/10/new_orleans_students_give_rowl.html on 31 July 2016.
  4. Another reader, Krupa Gohli, seems to have Googled and discovered that Panju is the name of a riverine island north of Mumbai, and expressed so in a Buzzfeed article titled “What The Hell Is A Panju?” And Other Questions I, A Brown Potterhead, Have For J.K. Rowling”, 4 August 2016. Accessed from https://www.buzzfeed.com/krupagohil/harry-potter-and-the-casual-racism?utm_term=.st3ND4GgW#.ibj8oR3n5 on 7 August 2016. In all my visits to Mumbai, I’ve never heard of this island, so I’m really intrigued to learn why Rowling considered it an appropriate choice for Ron and Padma to name their child. Unless, *horror horror* she couldn’t even be bothered enough for this character to run a simple Google search about “Indian male names”
  5. I am not the only person up in arms against Panju Weasley, because all of Rowling’s South Asian readers are aghast. Earlier, when she got away with misusing Parvati and Padma in both the books and the movies, we had been uncomfortable but too young to express our discomfort in words. For a taste of what others are saying, check out “Potterverse and its disservice to the South Asian community (‘Panju’ Weasley? Really?)” by Shivani Patel, Hypable, 3 August 2016. Accessed from http://www.hypable.com/panju-weasley-cursed-child/ on 5 August 2016
  6. A report of the assault on Afshan Azad can be found on the BBC website, titled understatedly “Harry Potter actress’s brother jailed for attacking her”, 21 January 2011. Accessed from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-12248091 on 31 July 2016. A large part of the Harry Potter fandom never even heard this news, and many of those who did no longer remember it
  7. As reported by the Guardian, which featured an interview with Dumezweni after the Cursed Child casting was announced, 26 February 2016. Accessed from https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/feb/26/noma-dumezweni-hermione-harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child-palace-theatre on 31 July 2016.
  8. As one more well-meaning, “incidentally” white, defendant of colorblindness, Grace Dent, points out in The Independent, 6 June 2016. Accessed from http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/if-you-think-noma-dumezweni-doesn-t-quite-fit-as-hermione-then-jk-rowling-is-right-you-re-racist-a7067726.html on 31 July 2016


  • Gerd Duerner
    December 21, 2016 at 5:10 am

    If I read your allegory right, we are Harold with the Purple Crayon to you?
    There’s certainly food for though there, because no one but Harold could want to live in his world.

    However, I admit never to have cared as much for Harry or to have read as deeply into it. I do see the old problem emerging, though, if Rowling doesn’t write characters of colour shes’ called out for it as much as for any flaws in her writing about characters of colour – I feel it’s situation in which she can’t win, because she isn’t a so called Person of Colour herself.
    Were she to write the characters you want to see in major roles, they would as you pointed out so nicely still be white characters, only doing dress up.
    The real alternative would naturally be to find some Indian (or whatever other ethnic) authors version of HP, or better yet original story to publish.
    Because obviously colour-washing is no working answer to white-whashing if the writer behind it is still a white person.

    I’m afraid your social/culture aware version of Harry Potter would not be able to sell even a smitten of the original series, even if it would be a worthwhile writing experiment.
    And a nice change from badly written porn fanfics. 😀

  • Anonymous
    December 21, 2016 at 5:35 am

    “Were she to write the characters you want to see in major roles, they would as you pointed out so nicely still be white characters, only doing dress up.”
    Only if they’d been written with all the depth of a roadside puddle. When you write a character, you bring the entirety of that character’s history and life experience to play in the portrayal. Race, culture, religion, health, financial & social status/security – all these things and more determine how a character acts and interacts with your fictional world. So, no, an Irish girl with black Nigerian immigrant grandparents will not bring the same things to the table as an Irish girl with white Irish-born grandparents – even if those two characters follow the same story arc.

  • Celine
    December 21, 2016 at 5:43 am

    Sorry! That above comment was me. Was on phone and didn’t know how to log in.

  • Mo
    December 22, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    “ingrained racism of Harry Potter”? You have GOT to be kidding me. I am so sick and tired of you race-obsessed RACISTS inserting this nonsense into every fandom there is!

    There IS no racism in Harry Potter! Stop with your false accusations! Good grief, I am so sick of you racists!

  • Sarah
    December 22, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    Calm down. That is not how anything works. A false accusation of racism does not make someone a racist any more than a false accusation of rape makes someone a rapist. You sound ill.

    While the HP books may not feature anything that matches your definition of racism, the author is not wrong when she highlights a lack of meaningful, diverse characters. For some readers, this is disappointing, and retconning diversity of sexuality and race into the books does not fix the problem. Wanting a reflection of your lived experience is not an obsession– it’s a reasonable expectation. Please don’t yell and disparage other readers when their desires clash with yours.

  • C
    December 25, 2016 at 9:50 am

    Just a thought, re the feelings that the death eaters are necessarily racist. I get that the Dursleys should be racist (fits with their personalities, contextually appropriate, etc.), but Blaise seems to imply that the death eaters care more about being a pureblood than race. Personally, I’d love to see Death Eaters that don’t care at all about race and some death eaters that are racist. The reason is because, if not all Death Eaters are racists, then maybe some non Death Eater wizards are racist. I’d love to see a bit more complexity on both sides, where race and sexuality are things that both sides deal with.

  • December Wrap-Up | if the book will be too difficult
    December 31, 2016 at 8:04 am

    […] Mimi Mondal writes on non-white characters in Harry Potter at The Book Smugglers […]

  • Gerd Duerner
    December 31, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Ah, but if the irish girl with Nigerian immigrant grandparents is written by a white authoer may not even where exactly to place Nigeria on the map, much less what cultural ballast the grandparents may bring with them, or how it may feel to grow up being of Nigerian descent in a for your peers foreign country… you see the problematic piles up and up, when all J. K. Rowling ever wanted was to spin a good yarn for kids.

  • Tuesday Links! | Gerry Canavan
    January 2, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    […] * Characters Are Not A Coloring Book Or, Why the Black Hermione is a Poor Apology for the Ingrained Ra… […]

  • New Year’s Links! | Gerry Canavan
    January 3, 2017 at 10:01 am

    […] * Characters Are Not A Coloring Book Or, Why the Black Hermione is a Poor Apology for the Ingrained Ra… […]

  • 10 Songs that Kept Me Believing through 2017 by Mimi Mondal – Headlines
    December 17, 2017 at 8:50 am

    […] next Smugglivus guest is Mimi Mondal – writer, poet, editor, essayist – whose essay Characters Are Not A Coloring Book Or, Why the Black Hermione is a Poor Apology for the Ingrained Ra…, we published last […]

  • 10 Songs that Kept Me Believing through 2017 by Mimi Mondal – Fanuendo
    December 17, 2017 at 9:03 am

    […] next Smugglivus guest is Mimi Mondal – writer, poet, editor, essayist – whose essay Characters Are Not A Coloring Book Or, Why the Black Hermione is a Poor Apology for the Ingrained Ra…, we […]

  • Anonymous
    June 24, 2018 at 4:46 am

    Maybe you read a different edition of the book than I did, but in my copy it clearly describes Dean Thomas as “Black”. It is also very possible that there are other wizarding schools in the Middle East or in Israel, where you would likly find the many Muslim and Jewish wizards you seem to think Hogwarts lacks. I don’t think its far fetched to think a boarding school in Scotland would have a significant population of white children who celebrate Christmas. There are many points of view and locations within the wizarding world that the books could have been written from, but she wrote them from the perspective of where she was living at that time. The point of the books is for readers to enjoy the story and allow their imaginations to fill in the details of each character, not to hammer the reader with PC descriptions that remove the chance to create their own fantasy. You expect just because its a wizarding school they must serve ethnic foods because “where would they be without it”? A boarding school in Scotland probably wouldn’t serve Chinese food or Indian food very often if at all, maybe because the house elves weren’t good at cooking it. Point is, people are reading way too deeply into a story that was likely never expected to reach anywhere further than than a few corner bookshops in the UK. Its popularity and worldwide translation now means everyone wants the story to be about them and have characters like them, and when they dont have the imagination to just make it however they want in their head, they resort to picking apart the language trying to find every place the writer went wrong by not including every possible gender, race, religion, belief, etc. The story is about magic, and magic has no race, gender, religion, or orientation so stop trying to turn it into a discussion about that, because that never was and never will be the point of fiction and fantasy.

  • #Potterweek: Race in Harry Potter | Common Room
    July 30, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    […] Mimi’s piece of race in Potter: Characters Are Not a Coloring Book […]

    October 5, 2018 at 3:40 pm

    The dark lady of Anglo saxonian Germanic tribalism ie Rowling missed that ,Funny how voldemort kills charity Burbage for her activism for mixing muggles and wizards despite the fact that (white wizards must only mix of marry with White muggles) and yet the Death eaters would gladly accept any pure blooded non white wizard and mix only with them regardless of race rather than marry a white muggle with a white wizard….Not to mention avada kedavra and nagini and all other non Hellenic names are negative and villainous in depiction…
    I wish a spell like truth revealum or a veritaserum could be used on Rowling so that she spits out the truth and confesses that she’s a Anglo amazonian Germanic nazi supremacist

    October 5, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    The dark lady of Anglo saxonian Germanic tribalism ie Rowling missed that ,Funny how voldemort kills charity Burbage for her activism for mixing muggles and wizards despite the fact that (white wizards must only mix of marry with White muggles) and yet the Death eaters would gladly accept any pure blooded non white wizard and mix only with them regardless of race rather than marry a white muggle with a white wizard….Not to mention avada kedavra and nagini and all other non Hellenic names are negative and villainous in depiction…
    I wish a spell like truth revealum or a veritaserum could be used on Rowling so that she spits out the truth and confesses that she’s a Anglo amazonian Germanic nazi supremacist

  • The Return of Five & Dime Friday: my five cents – Dispatches From Wonderland
    November 19, 2018 at 11:52 pm

    […] has taken up the gauntlet and fulfilled the idea’s promise with their Quarterly Almanac. Last September’s piece by Mimi Mondal on the poor apology that Hermione Grainger’s sudde… for the ingrained racism that infests the Potter books (something which is still being discussed,, […]

  • JK Rowling and the Retroactive Representation of Minorities – Alasdair's Blog
    December 16, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    […] “Characters are not a Coloring Book or, Why the Black Hermione is a Poor Apology for the Ingrained Racism of Harry Potter”  https://www.thebooksmugglers.com/2016/12/characters-not-coloring-book-black-hermione-poor-apology-in… […]

  • mirax
    January 18, 2019 at 5:59 am

    I really like your writing, very eloquent but I disagree with some of the points here. I have to state I hate most of the retconning JKR is doing like Dumbledore being gay or Hermione being black without a single hint of it in the books (mind, the problem is the lack of hint, not the fact that they could be gay or POC). I specifically laugh at the latter when she states it was never specifically mentioned she is NOT black. Well yes, but it was also always specifically mentioned when someone WAS of colour: see Dean Thomas (I’m almost 100% sure he was mentioned so from the very beginning…), Lee Jordan or Shacklebolt (see, here is your missing POC hero making a carrier).
    One of the things I wanted to reflect on is this part: “I don’t want Mudblood to be a half-hearted allegory for gay, non-white or any other minority” But the thing is: they are! And I think it is great this way. The way I see it, JK squeezed all the things we tell about each other in a derogatory way in the real world (gay, black, yellow, Jew, Arab, muslim, lesbian, fat, blind -eg someone wearing glasses-, lame), and she squeezed them into one single world: mudblood. I think in Harry Potter world these other insults “don’t exist”, are not used when someone wants to hurt the other, they are not loaded with meaning. In Harry Potter world if you want to offend someone, you would refer to their blood purity. You don’t call someone being a gay or fat or scrawny because this is not the biggest insult you can have. I fancy, the reason is because it doesn’t matter if you are Jew or black or lesbian. Nobody cares if you are muslim, half-legged or wearing glasses. What “racist” people in HP is caring about is blood (I put racist in “” for the lack of better word – it is not racism about colour). See how it was with the students from Durmstrang. The kids in Hogwarts kept distance not because they were from some Eastern-European hellhole (I say this because I AM from Central Europe and I know how some people in the West think about our countries, like some weird, maybe even inferior people 200 years behind them in technology and way of thinking), but because they were coming from a school that values pure blood and rejects everything else. When it turned out all those kids hated Karkaroff (the symbol of racism in the Harry Potter world), suddenly they were okay. And honestly, I really like it this way. That in the wizarding world you are not considered coming with a loaded background because of your skin colour – you have handicap (in certain people’s eyes) if you are coming from muggle background. I don’t mean to say that I like that muggle-borns are considered inferior ? what I’m trying to say is that I like that none of our discriminative terms exist in HP. They have their own.

    I also want to come back to the part about ethnic food at the school. If you look at how the wizarding world is depicted, I’m sure you will notice that they seem to be like 2 centuries behind the paralel muggle world. They use “horse” carriages, they are dressed like muggles in the 19th century, the most modern tool they use is a radio. The whole world looks very middle ages to me. Therefore I think it is perfectly fitting that they would serve “pub food” to the kids. Food from those tales and knight stories with boar roasting over open fire. Look at that school. Look at the thick brick walls and cold rooms, the winding stairs. It is screaming for heavy food. I would laugh out loud if they suddenly started to serve ramen or sushi ? Don’t forget that it is taking place in Scotland, so they serve traditional Scottish dishes.

    And the last point I want to mention is about celebrating Christmas but not celebrating e.g. Eid. Again, it is happening in Scotland where the traditional holiday season, holiday décor, and in general the official bank holiday is falling on the Christian holiday dates. It would be a bit weird if suddenly they would be off on Eid, don’t you think? Are they officially off on those days in the muggle world? I don’t think so. I also do believe Christmas in HP has nothing to do with religion. I always fancied religion doesn’t exist in HP. I don’t remember having seen angels mentioned in the books, and nobody every prayed. They don’t even have “God” in any form of their exclamations: it is always lines like “for Merlin’s sake” (and I gotta love this, it is genius, a world free of religions). Also, please know that Christmas was originally pagan winter celebrations that Christianity stole and took over, loading it with all the religious stuff (just as they did so with Easter). It IS possible to celebrate Christmas without the religious themes to it (I do it). You see it in the books: it is all about decorations and gifts. Nothing else.

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  • Jessica
    December 6, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    So wait, now we are supposed to WANT racism to exist in a totally made up alternate world just like it exists in the real world?

    I get your argument about the Muggle Dursleys probably being racist – in the Muggle (aka “real world”) I can guarantee people like them would have been racist. But wanting issues of the real world to be mirrored in the wizarding world, which exists totally separate from the “real” (Muggle) world? That just seems, for lack of a better word, dumb. They have their own issues similar to racism – pure blood, half blood, and “Mudblood”.

    Religion doesn’t factor in to the story because “sorcery” and “witchcraft” are against the tenets of pretty much every major organization around the world. Adding in that a witch or wizard is Jewish, Muslim or Christian would have been highly offensive to members of those religions. Rowling didn’t bring the race of her characters into the story because, as a white woman, she cannot speak to or about the experiences of non-white people and decided to be respectful. If she had, you could be pretty darn certain that she would have tons of people at her throat calling her “stereotypical” or “racist”.

    What bothers me most about Rowling is her trying to imbue these characters with “diversity” after the fact, when it became politically correct to do so. Many of the original books were written during the 90s, long before people were actively caring about diversity, and obviously she really didn’t either until the ‘00s hit and diversity became a hot-button topic. Her making Dumbledore gay or Hermione black was done on social media after the fact so as to “make up” for the fact that they were not described as so in the books, not because she originally wrote the characters with that in mind. What’s even worse is after she made this whole proclamation about Dumbledore being gay, there was a whole movie in the “Fantastic Beasts” series about Dumbledore’s past, and guess what? DUMBLEDORE AND GRINDELWALD WEREN’T GAY IN THAT ONE EITHER, even though she specifically stated that Dumbledore and Grindelwald had a relationship. If she had written those characters to be gay and actually cared, then I doubt she would have sold the movie rights knowing they intended to take that detail out because “China and Russia will ban the movie and we want their money”.

  • HPfan
    December 30, 2019 at 10:14 am

    “Cho Chang married a Muggle.3 Tell me why, by now, I’ve stopped being surprised.”

    Because you’re racist?

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  • DB
    April 22, 2020 at 11:21 pm

    I do hope you’re still actively checking replies on this article. I really appreciated it, as a fellow lifelong Potterhead. You bring a lot of love and nostalgia to this topic, which I think makes it all the more poignant. I have generally been disappointed in the way JKR has been poking and prodding at the universe following the publication of the last book, but the thing is we don’t get to choose how an artist treats their work. We can all shout about Dumblore’s outing being nothing more than “good publicity”, but we don’t get to make that truth. Dumbledore is hers (as was Sirius, despite all of our heartbreak), and whether she knew during or after the writing, she is within her rights as creator to reinterpret anything she wants as she sees fit, without us assuming it has an agenda. This is more in response to some of your other comments. People are free to criticize her implementations (as I have done, loudly), but assuming we know how she operates is just not fair.

    Following the Dumbledore thread, you criticize JKR for not making his sexuality more implicit in the books (I’m just assuming she “knew” while writing), vis-a-vis representation where it would be meaningful. We all know the situation JKR was in when she began writing the first book; she had no intention on being the author who would bring equal or even representative page-time in the world of YA fiction. She was writing a book about kids, for kids. She makes a feeble effort at including POC in the first few entries, either through description or name, which I truly believe shows there is a conscious effort there, although your arguments are for an ingrained racism, which I suppose surpasses that. Context is important I think, and I would be curious to see how the first four novels compare to other YA books coming out of the UK around that time, in terms of racial representation. At what point does too little (tokenism) become too much (the work losing its literary cohesion to consistently be representative). I will admit I have never read a published book which erred on the side of too much, but I can’t help but feel that a book like that would not reach printing in the first place.

    I always wondered myself if they had less-English food at Hogwarts (so you lost that bet). Even following the Scottish pub food tradition, inevitably there would be some sort of curry pie or fried rice. But can you imagine that? How precipitously that scene would have to be written, without it being torn apart for racial transgressions by critics, readers, not to mention editors? In GoF, there is a scene in the dining hall where a student from Beauxbatons approaches and asks Ron if he will be eating his bouillabaisse. Ron essentially says “gesundheit” (which is explicitly culturally insensitive, I guess), however this moment makes it sort of seem like Hogwarts doesn’t really serve much “foreign” food.

    I do have to say my one major issue with your essay is the exclusion of Kingsley. You may have read that character differently, and that’s totally fair, but to me he was the ultimate bad-ass of the second war. He was well respected by the other members of the Order, to the degree that they wanted him for minister! In combat he is consistently portrayed as holding his own, and he often takes actions to help and save those around him. I feel like he is JKR’s attempt at diversifying the adult players, later in the series when she knew she had more agency and responsibility. If the argument against Kingsley is “token black hero” or something of the sort, I would at least love to know your feelings and see him addressed more fully in your article.

    My final thought (and now I’ll come clean, I’m a white straight dude from NA raised by two gay women just for my personal context) which I present not in conflict with your article, but as an important aside I think: JKR tackles racism head-on in an abstract way far more fearlessly and openly than many of her contemporaries. Does it eliminate the predisposition of a white English woman to write like a white English woman? No, not quite, all the things you talk about are there. But it’s a clear effort by a woman who had nothing to gain by including the allusion. The first encounter of mudblood was published in 1998, before twitter or woketivism.

    Thanks again for the great article, I’ll try to find some more of your work now! And I apologize for the pile of thoughts I just left in your comment section, but there they are.

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