Harry Potter and “Diversity”

I used to be a pretty big Harry Potter fan until the books really started getting popular.* Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the books and movies, and the books did inspire some of my writing, but I never got as involved in the fandom as many others in my age group.

What bothers me most about the Harry Potter fandom is the push for “diversity” among the characters, or the laments by some fans about the lack of “diversity” in the characters or situations. A few years ago, J.K. Rowling announced that Albus Dumbledore was gay. My reaction was, “So what? Who cares? Why are we talking about this now, after the books have been published?” Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the series at all. In a similar vein, we heard that Hermione Granger could have been black, because she was described in the book as having frizzy hair. Her skin color was never mentioned. Also, J.K. Rowling has said that Hogwarts was home to Jewish and LGBTQ students, although there’s not much (if any) mention of them in the books.

Honestly, I’m not sure why all this diversity stuff matters, especially in a book series that’s already been published and read by millions. I paid no attention it when I read the books when I was in middle and high school. I doubt it would have mattered to me if Hermione was black or if there were LGBTQ students. I wouldn’t have thought any differently about the series. So why is J.K. Rowling trying to go back and insert “diversity”? Can we not just enjoy the series for a spectacular plot and well-developed characters, not to mention that it got a whole generation of reluctant readers to actually pick up a book, rather than pick it apart because it’s all of a sudden not “diverse” enough?

I hate reading J.K. Rowling’s Twitter account because I strongly disagree with most of her social and political views, and it bothers me that those views have such importance and hold such weight in the minds of some of her fans. But that doesn’t make me dislike her books. Same with Stephen King—I love his books and always will, but his Twitter account and political views infuriate me and make me want to wring his neck. Sometimes his views and opinions influence his books, and sometimes they don’t. A good author can write from perspectives other than his own and pull it off well. It seems to me that Rowling and King do this… so what is the problem?

It is hard to avoid progressivism and “diversity” in the New York City publishing world, but I fail to see the point of picking apart already-published books just to make sure that they are conforming to the trend of the day, which is to make sure everybody and everything is “included,” lest we “offend” someone. New books with “diverse” characters are being published every day, especially those geared toward young adult audiences. Maybe someday in the near future, we will have another wildly popular series like Harry Potter but much more representative of all kinds of people. Until then, let’s wait patiently and not overanalyze a beloved series.

*I’m kind of weird because I tend to dislike things that are extremely popular (for no real reason other than that they are popular), so the more popular Harry Potter got, the more apathetic about it I became.

4 thoughts on “Harry Potter and “Diversity”

  1. I think diversity in fictional worlds is important. When I was growing up, television and comic books were pretty much completely white and straight and (at least for comic bools) male-centered. The way things are now is better (well, I guess I’m talking about comic books — I have no idea what’s going on with TV these days).

    But I completely agree about rewriting existing works (or even just commenting on them, as Rowling does). In one of the recent Star Trek movies it was revealed that Sulu is gay, and a lot of people were surprised that George Takei (who played Sulu for decades and who is gay) disapproved. It made total sense to me — Sulu is a character who has been, over those decades, clearly established as being straight. As Takei said (paraphrasing), “Gay characters are great, you should have some, so go make some up.” Exactly.

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    • I think my real beef with diversity is that it often seems forced, like the publishing companies are trying to get authors to write from the experience of diverse characters when the author may not have any knowledge or authority of how people from other cultures, races, etc. live and what their worldview is like. It’s fine to include “diversity,” but only if you feel comfortable doing so.

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      • It occurred to me after I posted my first reply that I didn’t really get to the most important (to me) point, which is the text itself. That’s the key.

        So, Dumbledore is not gay, because (from what I’ve read) the text doesn’t assign him a sexuality. Fictional characters, unlike real people, have only the attributes they are assigned in the text (for example, regular people all have a height — but characters are only tall or short if it says so on the page).

        (I’m leaving out implication, which is a separate question — like all the characters who could be read as gay back when it was the love that dares not speak its name. That doesn’t seem to apply here.)

        On the other hand, based on what I’ve read, Hermione doesn’t have a race, because the text doesn’t give her one. So, she could be played by any actress of the appropriate age.

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