The case for a black Hermione Granger
Growing up with the Harry Potter series, I automatically connected with Hermione Granger. It didn’t matter that she was a white, British girl with magical powers. She wasn’t just the convenient female sidekick; Rowling had crafted a character that was not ashamed of her talents, nor was she afraid of standing up for herself. I wanted to see Hermione in myself, though the debut of the first movie confirmed that she was not a black girl with a halo of wild, kinky curls.
I could (and still do) identify with Hermione’s intellectual curiosity, the unmatchable comfort she found in books and the dark of the library, being viewed as someone who didn’t belong, and not having the sort of look that attracted boys and made them fall at your feet with awe and wonderment. Like Hermione, I consumed books with an unrelenting appetite. I’d go to the library and check out books by the stacks, read the pile in a week, and return to the library for more. My father didn’t believe I’d read every single book until I described the narratives of each title.
I wasn’t considered bossy but boys I liked, if they even realized I existed, only knew me as intimidatingly bookish, perhaps uptight, a bit of an outsider no matter how many awards I won. Hermione and I were both bookworms with uncontrollable hair. Because Hermione was born to muggles, she was often, like me, reminded her our status by bullies and scared boys who delighted in repeating the racist ideologies of their ignorant parents. Hermione understood the inherent power of knowledge, that books can provide education and enlightenment that can be put to practical use beyond the walls of a classroom.
The Harry Potter fandom has always taken Rowling’s books and created alternate, expanded worlds from the characters. One of the theories put forth in the Potter-verse is a simple one: Hermione could be black.
Fans have taken to Tumblr to create art that casts beloved Harry Potter characters as minorities. And there’s a compelling case that Hermione Grange could believably be something other than white. As Alexandria at Black Girl Dangerous points out, physical descriptions of Hermione never specify her race, only emphasizing her bushy hair and big teeth. Is it really that hard to conceive of a Hermione whose bushy hair resembles the natural hairstyles worn by black and/or mixed race women?
Although Rowling makes certain to explicitly point out which characters are non-white (Cho Chang, Dean Thomas, the Patil twins), lack of concrete, nuanced details concerning Hermione’s racial background present a compelling case for racebending. JK Rowling has never directly addressed fandom’s race-based re-interpretation of Hermione, but that doesn’t mean the idea is totally insubstantial. After all, readers never knew Dumbledore was gay until Rowling revealed it after the completion of the series. A black Hermione may not have been Rowling’s initial intent, but such an image undeniably reflects resilience and adversity in the face of intolerance and injustice.
The concept of a Black Hermione extends to a larger issue that many fandoms have questioned: diversity in literature. It’s no secret that the mainstream publishing world suffers from a lack of equal racial representation. The social media-born literary campaign, We Need Diverse Books, was formed out of the urgent and timely need to tackle diversity in all aspects of the industry, in order to accurately and equally reflect the experiences of all children and young people of color.
Embracing a non-white Hermione is a radical act, one that dismisses a character portrait influenced by dominant cultural logic. Writing for The Huffington Post, Zeba Blay says, “A black Hermione Granger isn’t just a chance to see something new, but an opportunity to create a more complex reading of the book series, which has political themes that draw parallels between the Death Eaters and racist hate groups.”
Unlike Harry, Hermione’s parents are not wizards. To wizards who are bloodline purists, Hermione is a representation of all that is wrong with the wizarding world. The obvious example is Hermione’s antagonistic relationship with Draco Malfoy, who is not only a classist prototype of his Death Eater father, but a racist. The Death Eaters adhere to a philosophy of bigotry and discrimination that uncannily resembles the poisonous ideologies of virulently racist groups.
A black Hermione Granger makes her activism, her commitment to the house-elf liberation group, S.P.E.W., her readiness to join Dumbledore’s Army and drop out of Hogwarts with Harry and Ron to fight Voldemort, even more layered, digging deeper into the socio-political themes of the series. Hermione is truly an outsider, straddling the Muggle world and the wizarding world.
For a young girl who had been teased and degraded for her blackness, the very same blackness that others deemed “not black enough,” Hermione Granger was a lighthouse in the storm of adolescence. Whether or not Rowling intended for Hermione to be black, the fact is this: We need more stories of people in color in books. It is time for a black Hermione Granger.
[Image via Disney]