What A "Racebent" Hermione Granger Really Represents
The beauty of the Harry Potter character as a woman of color.
Growing up, the discovery of Harry Potter was nothing short of a revelation.
It revolutionized the way I thought about the world, humanity, and myself.
And like many young girls at the time, I found myself relating quite a lot to the series' most prominent female character.
As a biracial girl growing up in a very white city, I found myself especially attaching to the allegory of Harry Potter's blood politics.
I related to her deeply, but like with so much of what I watched and read, I couldn't see myself in Hermione.
As I grew up I stopped comparing myself as much to Hollywood actors and tried to train myself out of seeing white as the default for fictional characters.
Call it maturation, call it learning to love myself, call it education; whatever it was, I started looking at my media and my stories through a more critical lens — and as someone learning to feel more comfortable speaking up when not enough of those stories are representing me.
And, somewhat miraculously, so did the internet.
For the first time, I was seeing Hermione's subtext brought out into text.
I was seeing parts of myself actually spelled out in this character I'd always related to.
It was beautiful, and it made sense.
What's more, it's hard to find an explicit mention of Hermione's skin color in the books.
She's often mainly described by her hair; if not her hair, then her teeth or a non-physical aspect. The only direct mention I could find, from Prisoner of Azkaban:
Hermione's story was always one involving a young girl living in a world aggressive towards her for her very existence.
And as Junot Diaz once said during an appearance on the FanBrosShow podcast, on the topic of representation:
“Look, without our stories, without the true nature and reality of who we are as People of Color, nothing about fanboy or fangirl culture would make sense. What I mean by that is: if it wasn't for race, X-Men doesn't sense. If it wasn't for the history of breeding human beings in the New World through chattel slavery, Dune doesn't make sense. If it wasn't for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn't make sense. If it wasn't for the extermination of so many Indigenous First Nations, most of what we call science fiction’s contact stories doesn't make sense.
Without us as the secret sauce, none of this works, and it is about time that we understood that we are the Force that holds the Star Wars universe together. We’re the Prime Directive that makes Star Trek possible, yeah. In the Green Lantern Corps, we are the oath. We are all of these things—erased, and yet without us—we are essential.”
The same goes for so many crucial aspects of Harry Potter.
All of this makes painting Hermione as a woman of color an act of reclaiming her allegory at its roots.
It's simply another Junot Diaz quote put into action:
"You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, "Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist? And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it."
Hermione Granger will always be an icon, no matter what color her skin.
The least we could do is provide her with more room to be that icon.
Maybe along the way more people will be able to see themselves reflected back at them.
Junot Diaz' quote about the imbedded nature of people of color in sci-fi and fantasy was originally said on the FanBroShow podcast. An earlier version of this post failed to cite the true, badass origin of the quote in question. You can listen to the full episode of the podcast here.