This probably sounds like I’m reaching, but reach with me.

The Harry Potter franchise has enough fans to gross over twenty-four billion dollars worth of revenue. I know that millions of kids across the country were waiting for their letter to Hogwarts and that many of those kids grew into adults dedicatedly waiting in line or online for the final books of the series. Harry Potter told a whole generation that anything is possible, that hard work pays off and friendships are valuable and last lifetimes. It was a story about the underdog, about privilege, about choosing the person you become. Harry Potter taught a generation that magic was real.

Harry Potter’s popularity paved the way for the Young Adult literature craze. Thanks to Harry Potter, Twilight took off, Hunger Games took off and thanks to those books, Vampire Diaries and Divergent are thriving on the shelves and on screen. It brought tremendous visibility to Speculative Fiction and YA Fantasy is now a genre that both children and adults are voraciously consuming. JK Rowling and her characters are household names.

Now imagine if Harry, Ron or Hermione was a child of color (and nothing particularly significant about the story changes). Then brown kids and non-brown kids would have spent their childhoods understanding that you don’t need blue eyes and blonde hair to save the day. They would’ve learned that it’s okay to form friendships with people who don’t look exactly like you.

It may have inspired a Black or Latino main character in Twilight. It may have meant the Black kids in Hunger Games could’ve lived. It might even mean that Divergent’s main character Beatrice could’ve been dark skinned. If JK Rowling had dared to write the other more boldly than just Dean Thomas or Padma and Parvati Patil, her readers could’ve grown up and fought the adults twitter slamming Hunger Games for making Rue Black. This generation could’ve avoided the xenophobia running rampant behind the Michael Brown case.

Children are a blank slate. The more we expose them, the more diverse they become. We could expose them with textbooks, conferences and lectures, or we could write more books with Dominican dragon riders, gender non-conforming aliens and asexual sword wielding princesses.

Let’s be honest about which one sounds more awesome.

 

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Currently, there are colleges teaching Harry Potter, which is amazing. Fantasy fiction holds one of the many keys to shutting down racism. Again, I could be stretching but please keep stretching with me.

There is a great divide in literature. Literary fiction enthusiasts look down on genre writing, often forgetting that Science Fiction and Fantasy have provided some of the most powerful observations of our society. When I studied writing in college, I was normally the only Speculative Fiction writer in my classes, and one of few queer people of color. All my teachers referenced the work of dead White people but I wanted to write like the greats I admired (Walker, Baldwin, Baraka) so I had to take African American Lit courses as well. I also had to read outside sources to introduce myself to Speculative Fiction. No one was going to teach this, because none of the greats were writing Fantasy, right?

Wrong. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is about the ghost of a baby who comes back to haunt her mother. That’s Fantasy.

Octavia Butler’s Kindred is about a woman who travels through time. That is Science Fiction.

I read Kindred in my African American lit course, because it covers racism, mixed race couples and America’s history in the Slave Trade. So does Fledgling, along with genetic engineering, Black family structure and polyamory. Plus, it has vampires. What’s not to like?

But I didn’t read Fledgling in my class and Fledgling is normally shelved with Science Fiction. Kindred is often with Literature. Or African American Literature, just like Beloved. If you want to take a literature course and read Black writers and characters, you can’t just take any lit course. If you want to study African American history, you can’t just take a regular history course.

Why is that? It’s like somewhere along the line, White people forgot that our history is their history too. In the movie of Slavery, White people co-starred and had a lot of screen time. But yet, our history is othered and our stories are othered. What if they weren’t?

What if in the middle of reading Steinbeck and Faulkner, we read Toni Morrison, whose books have also gotten the title of Great American novel? The introduction of Harry Potter into the classroom, normalizes Science Fiction, which means that perhaps Fledgling might make it into a few syllabi as well, which would help normalize Blackness.

The more we normalize Blackness, the less people will fear it. The less people fear it, the safer our world becomes for the other, who won’t be quite the “other” anymore.

 

CAI2
Photo by Silah Nelson

 

Cairo Amani

QPOC Speculative Fiction Activist

“By day, Cairo works for an educational Hip Hop company by night, she writes Science Fiction and Fantasy stories showcasing QPOC characters. Her fiction has been published in 3 Elements Review, The Finger Lit mag and Futurological press. She is a staff writer for Elixher Magazine and has also written for Autostraddle, Dropped Pebbles and the B Envelope. You can contact her here. She’d love to hear from you.”

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  • Everything about this post gives me life! One, because I’m a die-hard Potter fan and two–you’re making an exceptional point. It seems like nothing to most people but normalizing blackness in film, television and especially literature removes the stigma, and solidifies universal commonalities. I would’ve loved if Hermione was a cute little girl of color–are you kidding me? I was 18 when I started reading HP and I still would’ve been all over that. I mean aside from the badassness that was Angelina Johnson, I really didn’t have anyone to connect with on a deeper level. Seeing ourselves as full characters instead of afterthoughts allows us to be ourselves 100% and also encourages others to move beyond their limited perspective on blackness in order to embrace true diversity. Great piece!

  • Thank you for reading and for this thoughtful comment. “Afterthought” is so on point. It’s frustrating, degrading and another one of the many ways society teaches us that we (WOC, POC, QPOC) are worthless and unwanted. We need to give little brown children characters they can ACTUALLY grow up to be.

  • As a Harry Potter fan, I didn’t mind that any of the characters were white. I related to Hermione because was a smart bookworm who got bullied sometimes like I did. It wasn’t until I got bored of reading the same old speculative fiction with vampires and the like that I wanted to read fantasy fiction featuring people of color.This year I discovered sword and soul, a genre featuring black men and women armed with steel and magic in alternative version of Africa. I wrote about this and my experience with fantasy fiction in general in a Black Girl Nerds article: https://blackgirlnerds.com/repainting-imagination-black-fantasy-authors/

    The number of black characters in fantasy fiction and sci-fi today is growing, but we need to raise awareness about these books and past sci-fi and fantasy works by black authors. Not many people know about the black author Charles R. Saunders, who created and wrote stories for the male African warrior Imaro in the 80’s and the female African warrior Dossouye in 2006, among other things. Today, he is known as the father of sword and soul, but most people have never heard of sword and soul.

    I’ve been promoting sword and soul books and black urban fantasy authors on my blog artsandyouthlove (see the section fantasy fiction people of color). Feel free to check it out if you want. This was a great post!

    • Hi Serena! I actually read your article while perusing before I submitted. You’re completely right about raising awareness. I also consider this article a call to action for white writers and established popular artists. As an activist, I got tired pretty fast of educating non-poc on poc issues. It’s everyone’s responsibility to normalize blackness.

      Harry Potter is just one example of a popular book that could’ve featured a POC. JK rowling can now write pretty much anything. It’d be dope if she took on writing the other.

      Sword and soul is a wonderful genre–i’m also interested in knocking down those walls/boundaries. In the same way that we have Literature and then african american literature–I would love to avoid having Fantasy and African american fantasy. its this weird Literary Jim Crow

      Thank you for reading, I will check out your blog this weekend!

  • DLo

    I would love bigger characters of color in those movies (Like in Percy), but I would really love to see someone with a huge budget bring a Nnedi Okorafor book to life. Or even try to do one the Kane Chronicles in a large format.

    • Agreed!! Someone did a cool trailer of Octavia Butler’s Parable series https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfEH2TjIvMA

      We have to keep dreaming. Then we have to keep doing–and everything will come!

      • Demetrius

        We are on the same page because I made Sherlock Holmes young black British in The Sheridan Hope Thrillers. The Diogenes club pf geniuses in my story is diverse with a woman and various races and not all white males as in Doyle’s stories. I also made them more thriller than mystery.
        google “Sherlock Holmes and Mister Tibbs” to see what I wrote on black Virgil Tibbs

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  • Nadine Cauthen

    Great post and great job making the connection. I agree wholeheartedly. By the end of undergrad I had my fill of learning about Euro writers. This is not to say I don’t enjoy different genres. I just wanted to hear the voice of others without having to take a specific class. I too wondered why there has to be such a division. Everyone needs to learn and hear the voices of others for many of the reasons you mention in your post. As someone who is now getting a teaching cert I will look to add some of the writers you mention. And I will look to introduce them to nieces and nephews. Thanks again!!

    • Hi Nadine,

      Thank you for reading and thank you so much for choosing to diversify your future curriculum! This makes me really happy!

      -Cai

  • I feel exactly the same way about everything you said in this post. Thank you!

  • Kenyoda-Kenyeda Adams

    Yes to all of this! This was a great piece!