One of the things that’s cool about Harry Potter is that because J.K. Rowling is kind of a crazy person who’s work attracts other kind of crazy people, and the world built there is so deep and detailed and has all of these crazy layers that we don’t even know about. Anytime the woman speaks about her seminal work, she reveals more details that drop like an a-bomb and is all like, “did you not perceive this? Huh, I thought it was obvious!” It’s crazy, but because of these layers it’s easy to extrapolate a lot of half baked symbolism and themes from the books.
Prejudice is one of the easiest but I’m going to focus specifically on the language used to articulate that prejudice. About halfway through, The Deathly Hollows, Hermione declares that she’s “Mudblood and proud!” This is after Bellatrix Lestrange has carved the word into her flesh. It’s horrifying, and mean, and it goes back to book 2, where Ron freaks out on Malfoy for calling Hermione Mudblood. When Snape called Lilly by the name, it ended their friendship.
A squib is someone born to magical families who don’t have magical powers. It’s a shameful secret and most squibs live sort of strange half lives, sort of in the Wizarding World and sort of in the Muggle world.
So a few months ago, Mary and I were talking about Harry Potter, which we do from time to time, because we really love it, and we’re the kind of people who drift off on weird analytical tangents about this universe. (Potter fandom is one of the two that Mary considers herself a full participating member of. The other is Coheed.) And I mentioned Mudblood as a term and specifically Hermione’s decision to take it back.
“It’s like she’s a gangsta rapper, and Mudblood is like the n-word. It’s this horrible thing that only really terrible, prejudice people say, but then she takes it back and it’s cool for her to say it.” (This may the only instance in which Hermione Granger is “like a gangsta rapper.”) Mary sat with this for a second and nodded.
“Then squib is like fag.” She said. I looked at her. “It’s so much more socially acceptable to say, but it’s still really offensive.”
We didn’t go much further into it than that, but as I was rereading Harry Potter lately I decided to explore this topic a little bit more. I mentioned this conversation to Mary again and that I wanted to build a post out of it and she said, “Um, OK, so do that. What’s stopping you?” (I’m making her sound super supportive, which she is, but there was definitely just an air of “What are you an idiot? Why are you telling me this?”) Actually what I was hoping for was more insight from her but it wasn’t coming. Way to be helpful sis!
Anyway, I did some thinking about it and I realized that words themselves aren’t the only aspects of Mudblood and Squib that are similar to the N and F words. Look, I’m a straight cis-gendered college educated wealthy white American Christian woman. I am dripping in societal privilege, so I can’t fully understand what it feels like to be discriminated against. I have literally never had that experience, I can’t understand it on an emotional level. But, I have read about it, so I can understand it from a sociological perspective. (Am I allowed to say that? That’s PC right?) And from a sociological perspective, the experiences of Muggle Borns and Non Magical People from Wizarding Families line up with the experience of black people and homosexuals respectively.
Muggle borns, by the time the story rolls around, live well in the mainstream Wizarding World, yes there are powerful influential people trying to block them and when those people get more power their rights are limited, but mostly, person to person, it’s not a huge part of society. But it’s not completely gone. It’s remarked on, people mention, “oh but Hermione is Muggle born, Snape is Half-Blood,” etc. It’s a part of their identity, not just internally and not always celebrated. That’s a lot like minority races in Western culture. (Again, I don’t know personally, just sociologically and historically. CAVEATS!) Meanwhile, Squibs live these quiet unassuming lives. The two real squibs that we meet in the series, Filch and Mrs. Figg are both living on the fringes of the magical world. Mrs. Figg lives with Muggles, but is in contact, and Filch “passes” as a regular wizard working at Hogwarts. I’m sorry, that’s one of the gayest things I’ve ever heard. And by that I mean, people who lived their whole lives quietly, never addressing their sexuality.
Anyway, just something to chew on there about language and discrimination and magic.