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.
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.
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.”