"Magic Is Privilege": The Insidious System At The Heart Of Harry Potter

Every year, the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) delves into the themes and ideas of science fiction and fantasy. And this year, according to attendee Cecilia Tan, one big topic was the idea that Harry Potter's Wizarding World is "a metaphor for racism."

Tan writes:

The attitudes demonstrated by the Malfoys show that it is not only racism but classism at work, as the Malfoys believe not only in inherent magical superiority but that only those with elite knowledge of magic, who know "our ways," should be educated at Hogwarts. ...

[T]his basic idea struck me so strongly I realized that the next time someone I'm talking to is struggling to figure out what privilege exactly IS, I'll be able to use Harry Potter to explain it. In particular the idea of Harry (and other Muggleborns) as an under-privileged class, who arrive at Hogwarts without the advantages that the children raised with magic (with privilege) have. The privileged kids already know how to navigate the magical world, which is a huge advantage. This is akin to how kids who speak English as their first language have a huge advantage over those who don't. Both Kokorsku and Ruscio also talked about how in the Wizarding world there's a classic inversion of the power structure, in which the powerful/privileged (the magical) believe or act as if they are the victims as justification for keeping the less powerful (the non-magical) oppressed or ignorant. (i.e. the Nazis often portrayed themselves as the victims of the "powerful" Jews.) Even the "good" characters like the Weasleys accept and perpetuate this stance that Muggles are kept ignorant/oppressed for the greater good.


We've talked before about the weird elitism in stories about inherited magic, but there's no understating how strange it is to have a system where one class of people, by birth, have a set of abilities that other people don't.

Read more of Tan's "intellectual epiphanies" from ICFA in her blog.

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