dicta_contrion: (Default)
[personal profile] dicta_contrion
SO DAMN EXCITED about Noma Dumezweni as Hermione. Unequivocally really, really excited. I love the racebending headcanons and fan art on tumblr and love how widespread they've become. I love and very much appreciate that the writers and producers of The Cursed Child made this chocie, and I'm very excited for Hermione as a black woman to become an official part of the wider HP verse.

I'm also glad that JK Rowling came out in support of it. I haven't gone fishing for it (value my blood pressure, thankyouverymuch) but am given to understand that there was a substantial backlash to the idea that Hermione could be black, to which JKR said:

Which strikes me as important on a number of levels. That JKR is willing to wade into this and stand behind the choice and the actress, that she's explicitly refuting racist claims that Hermione can't be black for any number of bullshit reasons, and that she's affirming the fans who think of Hermione as black.

And I love these headcanons for a reason! They're smart and they're important and I see absolutely no reason why Hermione can't be black, and think some things about the series get way cooler if she is black.

But something about JKR's response is sitting uneasily with me.

Partly it feels like shades of Dumbledore again. "Oh, did I not mention? My books were full of representation, how did you not notice that?"

Partly it bothers me for the same reasons that the post-canon Dumbledore-is-gay proclamation bothers me: because if you're going to claim to have written representative characters, and you're going to claim brownie points for representation, you need to do the work of representation.

In the same general way that Dumbledore's sexuality changes the story, I can't imagine* that Hermione's race wouldn't change the story. There are some ways - like those mentioned in the headcanon above - that would give the story more depth and significance. But even if JKR is open to Hermione being black, I don't think she intended that originally** and there are parts of the book that read differently to me, not necessarily in a good way, if she's actually intended it all along. Things like

  • What it means that Hermione is Muggle-born. Her story is different if joining the wizarding world doesn't come with a switch from being part of a privileged group (white people) to a disadvantaged group (Muggle-borns).*** If she's white, she gains one kind of power when she joines the wizarding world but loses another, and that's an interesting trade-off and something that would seem to matter rather a lot, especially in those pivotal, formative years between 11 and 17. Her race doesn't make that story better or worse, more or less compelling, but it does seem to me that it would make it different, and in ways that wohave come up.****

  • Hermione's reaction to being called a Mudblood. In Chamber of Secrets Chapter 7, Draco calls Hermione a mudblood and "Harry knew at once that Malfoy had said something really bad because there was an instant uproar at his words. Flint had to dive in front of Malfoy to stop Fred and George jumping on him, Alicia shrieked, "How dare you!", and Ron plunged his hand into his robes, pulled out his wand, yelling, "You'll pay for that one, Malfoy!" and pointed it furiously under Flint's arm at Malfoy's face." (p 112, US Hardback) Ron accidentally hexes himself with slug-vomiting, they go to Hagrid's hut and tell Hagrid, who "looked outraged," Ron explains that "It's about the most insulting thing you could think of...Mudblood's a really foul name for someone who is Muggle-born" and that blood status has nothing to do with ability ("Look at Neville Longbottom--he's pureblood and he can hardly stand a cauldron the right way up"), Hagrid agrees and says "they haven't invented a spell our Hermione can' do," thereby "making Hermione go a brilliant shade of magenta." Then they joke about slugs and Hagrid's pumpkins. The next we hear from Hermione, she's on to a different subject: ""An Engorgement Charm, I suppose?" said Hermione, halfway between disapproval and amuseument. "Well, you've done a good job on them."" (118) The subject of Hermione being called a Mudblood isn't raised again for a while, and we don't get more insight into her reaction. But if we want to understand what motivates Hermione Granger and who she is, doesn't it matter? Is she flushing because she's embarassed, if pleased, by Hagrid's praise (as Emma Watson plays it in the movie) or because she's enraged or very upset? Is she seeing a type of discrimination she's already familiar with and not reacting because (bleak things to type...) she's used to it?*****  Is she keeping her reaction to herself and behaving as though everything's normal because it's upsetting or traumatic to learn that she's just as subject to epithets based on a socially constructed but supposedly immutable status in the wizarding world as she is in the Muggle world? Because she no longer knows if she can trust her friends to understand her? Or is she actually not having much of a reaction because she doesn't really have any context for understanding the weight of what the word means and how it's intended and what it can lead to? Again, this whole exchange isn't (imo) made better or worse if Hermione is black instead of white, and maybe this is a point that's left intentionally vague so that readers can interpret it as they see fit. (I think that's the generous to JKR interpretation?) But it does tell us something important about the character, especially in terms of....

  • What motivates Hermione to fight back. Hermione gives up a lot to fight back against Voldemort. Her parents, her childhood home, her education, and her personal safety, for starters. Why? In the movies especially, a lot of the answer is "because" and/or "because friendship." I don't know about you all, and maybe I'm secretly a shitty friend (? I'm not.) but I have some friends I'd probs offer a kidney to if they needed it, and I wouldn't give all of that up for somethig that didn't really, really, really meant a lot to me personally. That could be a belief in justice or an attachment to ideals, for sure, or because of an attachment to certain people; there were Christian resistance fighters who saved Jewish lives in Nazi Germany, there were white people marching with black people in the American South, and so on. Is that primarily what's going on with Hermione? Is she catalyzed to act because she already had a very strong sense of right and wrong, and this feels wrong to her? Is it able to remain at that semi-abstract ideological level because she's so new to this type of discrimination that she doesn't understand what all is it stake? Or does she fight because this is her first experience of discrimination and she finds it repulsive in part because it's an affront to a type of privilege she's been able to take for granted? Or does she fight because she already understands all too well how things like hate speech manifest in action and thinks that she might as well risk everything if she won't have all that much to lose once the Death Eaters get going? And if so is that an understanding born of research or of personal/family experience? To what extent, and how, and from what pool of ideas or experiences, can/does Hermione understand that the Death Eaters are coming for her and that her body, her life, is on the line? In a book series that's about a terorist group making claims about blood purity and the wars that they cause in the name of that ideology, isn't it kind of important to understand how and why each of those three characters chooses to fight back? Harry and Ron's motivations are pretty clear - Harry pretty much has to, and since he's our POV character we see much more of his response to it all, and Ron is part of a resistance fighter family. But Hermione's experience of race and racism, or the lack thereof, seems like it could really change our understanding of what motivates her. That's absent from the books as they're written, and that's a pretty big omission if Hermione was intended to be read as black.

  • Hermione's house-elf activism. S.P.E.W. is important to Hermione, to the point that she's willing to annoy and alienate everyone around her. Freeing the elves is so important to her that she decides that she knows what they need better than they do and starts trying to trick them into taking clothes/freeing themselves, even when she's told that they don't want that. It's so important to her that the moment she first kisses Ron is when he wants to evacuate the house elves from Hogwarts/shows that he shares her commitment. So, pretty damn central. But, especially in terms of her tactics, I read this differently based on her race. To be quite honest, this is one of those points in the series where I most strongly read her as white because, well, the whole "I know what you need better than you do and I'm determined to free you even though none of you are a part of this organization and you've explicitly said you don't want to be freed and my version of liberation would destroy your social structure and potentially have you kicked out of your homes" approach is some pretty textbook worst-of-white-feminism advocacy. If Hermione is black I'm less sure of how to read that. Reading the books with the assumption that she's white,** I see it as a kind of arrogance that Hermione needs to grow out of, a place in the text where she's lacking empathy and an ability to listen to others. I'm not sure how to read that moment if Hermione is black. Is it meant to suggest that experiences of marginalization are transferrable and that Hermione believes she knows what's best because she's acting from what is, or what she feels to be, a place of epistemic privilege?****** Is it meant as a renounciation of the idea of epistemic privilege, to demonstrate that a black Muggle-born witch could still be a bad ally and unwilling to listen to others? Is it a place in the text where JKR decided intersectionality is bullshit and thought that Hermione's class status in the Muggle world would give her this kind of arrogance even though she's a black Muggle-born woman?******* As a person who more or less buys into the idea that not having privilege can give someone more insight into the world, I read Hermione's activism as an important learning experience for her and a useful lesson, sort of a teachable moment where we learn that as much as people might care, you have to actually listen to the people you're trying to help if you want to be effective. If Hermione doesn't have the kind of privilege that comes with growing up white and upper-middle class, I'm really and truly not sure what to make of S.P.E.W.

  • Hermione's Yule Ball Experience. This is the one that has been sticking in my craw all day. The Yule Ball is the moment when Hermione becomes attractive. Harry's "jaw dropped." Parvati "was gazing at Hermione in unfalltering disbelief. She wasn't the only one either; when the doors to the Great Hall opened, Krum's fan club from the library stalked past, throwing Hermione looks of deepest loathing. Pansy Parkinson gaped at her as she walked by with Malfoy, and even he didn't seem to be able to find an insult to throw at her." (GoF ch. 23, p. 414, US Hardback) Ron pointedly ignores her in the moment, but it's clearly a tipping point in their dynamic, a key moment that makes her future husband sit up and take notice. This is the moment when Hermione becomes socially, sexually, and romantically desirable.******** Other women become envious. Men become sexually interested. Though Viktor Krum, international Quidditch star, has shown interest in her before, this is the moment when that becomes public. And what makes Hermione so suddenly attractive? She's standing differently and she has nice robes and her teeth are smaller and "She had done something with her haird; it was no longer bushy but sleek and shiny." At the start of the next chapter "she confessed to Harry that she had used liberal amounts of Sleakeazy's Hair Potion on it for the ball, 'but it's way too much bother to do every day.'" If Hermione is white, with white hair, this reads as basically a blow-out, which is a pain in the ass and takes a while and makes hair feel crunchy and I wouldn't want to do it every day either, but nbd because there's comparatively little social pressure for white women to blow out hair that becomes orderly in a ponytail or a bun. If Hermione is black, with bushy, frizzy black hair, I cannot imagine any way to read this other than as hair straightening, and as JKR suggesting that Hermione only became attractive and socially/sexually/romantically desirable when she straightened her hair. So if JKR intentionally wrote Hermione as black, or as open to interpretation as black, JKR also suggested that a black woman would only become attractive and have her Disney Princess Moment if/when she complied with eurocentric beauty norms and straightened her hair. She also would've suggested, I suppose, that hair straightening is burdensome and not something that a black witch would choose to do every day, but I don't think that negates the message, implied in the power of that moment at the Yule Ball, that Hermione's hair straightening makes her desirable.

I'm not sure where all that leaves me. Still feeling really very excited that Noma Dumezweni will be playing Hermione Granger. Glad that people are being asked to question the assumption that the default is white. Happy that the qualities I think of as being most associated with Hermione - incredible intelligence, loyalty, conviction, skill, and moral integrity (and, for/from the audience, relatability and lovability) - are being assigned to a black character. That a black actress was picked to play a character who has all those qualities, and in a role that will almost undoubtedly be commercially successful. This is a powerful, important thing, and exactly as it should be.

But also, not believing that JKR really meant to leave Hermione's race open to interpretation. Feeling like if JKR did mean to make Hermione's race open to interpretation, she didn't really do the work of thinking through how race would have affected Hermione in important ways - like the source of her ideological convictions, her motivations for fighting, and her conception of her own desirability. And feeling like this kind of post-hoc representation doesn't work. That you can't retcon race, or sexuality, or any other number of identities, because those aren't boxes you check, they're real identities that affect the way we see and move through the world.

Maybe my tl;dr here is that while Hermione should be black, and definitely should be able to be black, Hermione wasn't meant to be black, and retroactively superimposing blackness on her character isn't as simple as waving a magic wand. (pun totally intended) Making as though representation is as simple as changing a character's skin color after the fact undermines the complexity and centrality of having a marginalized identity, and gives white audiences another reason to embrace the idea of colorblindness instead of having to examine how racial experience change one's experience of the world. At some point it becomes an act of erasure instead of representation, by reducing race to skin color (or any other number of identities to other attributes) instead of exploring the ways that living with specific identities, in a world where those identities create or limit our opportunities, changes who we are, what we do, and why we do it. I still want Noma Dumezweni to play Hermione. I still want to have a black Hermione. I want that very much. I just hope that as the team behind The Cursed Child shape the character, they consider what that means, in all its complexity.

But I don't know that I really do final thoughts on this. I am, however, very curious to hear what other people make of the casting choice. Thoughts?

* "I" = white American, so it's entirely possible that I'm missing something about blackness or Britishness or British blackness/that that limits my ability to imagine how or why race would affect Hermione and her story.
** Among other things, as [livejournal.com profile] ani_mage pointed out, JKR makes a point of describing the ethnicity of her non-white characters, and it would be odd if she did this for every one of them but Hermione. And in general, JKR's descriptions follow along the lines of white human = default. So Krum is Krum but Fleur is half-Veela, Karkaroff is Karkaroff but Madame Maxime is half-giant, Neville is "the boy who kept losing his toad" and Cedric "wouldn't...have wanted to risk his good looks" but Anelina is "A tall black girl" and Cho Chang and Padma and Parvati Patil have names that strongly suggest an ethnicity. There's also the casting and re-casting of Lavendar Brown in the movies. If her whiteness was important enough that the actress had to be re-cast when she started to have a speaking role/became a love interest for Ron, I think it's safe to infer that JKR had an investment in having the movie actors reflect the characters as she'd imagined them, and that casting Emma Watson as Hermione reflects JKR's vision of Hermione as white.
*** Are Muggle-borns disadvantaged when they join the wizarding world, in the lull between the two wars? I think yes. At a minimum we know there are well-connected families who wouldn't want anything to do with them. The Malfoys and Goyles and Crabbes and etc. probably aren't sitting on money from nothing. On top of being politically influential, they probably own businesses, and between their political and economic power, I imagine that there are interesting/profitable/desirable employment opportunities and social venues that would be closed to Muggle-borns.
**** h/t to [livejournal.com profile] snowgall for an interesting conversation about this a while back that started me thinking more deeply about how white privilege would affect Hermione's motivations and characterization.
***** I imagine/based on what I understand from research this would also have something to do with class. If she's black and her parents are dentists and she presents as part of a professional middle class or upper-middle class family, maybe she wouldn't be exposed, or as exposed, or exposed as a child, to racial epithets?
****** Not the same as white privilege. Originating in Marxist theory and feminist standpoint theory, epistemic privilege is the idea that members of marginalized groups are able to see the world differently, and better/more completely, than people with more social privilege. (see: Feminist Standpoint Theory)
******* I mean arrogant here in both the colloquial and academic/theoretical sense. Because this isn't long and esoteric enough already, for more on arrogant and loving perception see: Marilyn Frye, "In and Out of Harm's Way" in The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory and Maria Lugones, "Playfulness, "World"-Travelling, and Loving Perception" in Hypatia Vol. 2, No. 2 (Summer 1987) 3-19.
******** This whole social construct is dumb and loathsome but shit's real so

Date: 2015-12-22 03:05 am (UTC)
gracerene: (HP: Glasses)
From: [personal profile] gracerene
OMG YES TO ALL OF THIS!!! I actually wrote half a post today on this exact same topic, but I was having a difficult time really expressing myself and finding some of the examples. I think you said everything much better. Because I love the idea of Black!Hermione, and I really do think that there are so many awesome headcanons for POC!Hemrion. But that tweet by JKR kind of annoyed me, because it seemed like JKR wasn't really taking ownership of the fact that she didn't do great with representation. Kind of like getting credit for something that I genuinely believe she didn't intend, and that I think would have altered how the character was written if it had been intended. Not to mention the fact that (as far as I remember) JKR seemed to mention in the books when a character was non-white or when they were in some way other, like Veela or giant. OH just read your notes, yes, you mention that. :)

One of my fav authors Maggie Stiefvater recently posted about a similar issue on tumblr when she noticed that a lot of people would draw the main characters from her recent series, and they would frequently only race-bend Ronan, who is the angry fighter kid. I like this point especially "When the fandom continually racebends Ronan and only Ronan, you’re giving me credit for representation that isn’t there; people coming from the outside believe that POC Ronan is canon. Please: Point out that the books are white. Keep holding me to better writing"

I love JKR's books (obviously) and I generally like her politics and how she uses her world to support them, but sometimes I feel like she uses her work to support (excellent) ideals that I don't necessarily see reflected in what she canonically wrote. Like with POC!Hermione, who'd race would affect her more than just by changing her skin tone. And with "The Wizarding World doesn't care about homosexuality" which would have been more believable if there'd been a single canon mention of any type of queer character inside the books.

Date: 2015-12-22 03:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
I'm glad that all made sense!! And I would still love to read your post, if you feel like finishing it! It's really interesting stuff to think about.

it seemed like JKR wasn't really taking ownership of the fact that she didn't do great with representation. <-- this, this, exactly, so much this!! Way to be so much more concise than I am remotely capable of being.

OTOH, Maggie Stiefvater's position on this sounds amazing, and I think that point is so important. Both of those points!!! (A) Very interesting (and sad and angry-making, if not shocking) that they would make the angry kid (and, the internet tells me, boy kid) black, and that that would be the most popular racebending. That's some fascinating insight into a collective subconscious/implicit bias. (B) The whole idea of accountability and wanting to be held accountable is HUGE. And I think makes things so much better than JKR's tweet because it acknowledges that the lack of representation is a problem that needs a proactive solution and provides a model for people to, instead of getting defensive, admit that they're not doing it entirely right. And we need those models! We need social scripts for people to say "I'm not doing as well as I could be, I want to do better, you calling me out is one thing that helps me do better and I appreciate it." And when she just says it - "The books are shamefully white-washed...there is no point sugar coating the present," that's really big!!

And to borrow a couple of those words, sugar coating is a lot of what JKR's tweet feels like to me. It does feel like "I wish I did better, but I didn't, but let's pretend." Not that useful, especially when it's changing the label and not anything else, re: both race and sexuality. And if she can get that far, I wish/hope she could get the rest of the way, from knowing something should be done to thinking more about how to do it.

(Also, thank you for pointing me to/linking to that post!!! Super interesting. And that might've been the tipping point on wanting to read The Raven Cycle...)

Date: 2015-12-22 04:31 pm (UTC)
gracerene: (HP: Glasses)
From: [personal profile] gracerene
Yes, exactly. I don't think JKR is necessarily trying to get brownie points for representation, and I do love that she tweeted in support of the casting and to call out the ridiculous people getting upset about it. But I think I'd be happier if she tweeted that, and then tweeted something like "That being said I I think myself and all authors could work harder to include more meaningful representation in our work." Or you know, something that both shows her support of alternate Hermione's, while also admitting her own culpability in not actually writing a racially diverse main cast.

By saying "Hermione is never explicitly stated to be white" she is implying a purposeful thoughtfulness to that omission that I believe speaks less to legitimate representation on her part, and more to the idea of "white unless stated otherwise" that seems evident in the series. Again, I don't think she's saying "I wrote Black Hermione" but there is an implication behind the tweet that I find uncomfortable, which I think comes down to, why can't JKR just admit that? Though of course, there are all sorts of other issues that could arise if she did, as people are ridiculous, and would likely take that as "Black Hermione is terrible and not canon". But as much as I think JKR is a huge supporter of equality, it would be nice if she could come out and admit the times where her explicit representation was faulty, instead of using obscure examples of subtle/implied/possible representation (Goldstein, Dumbledore, etc) as a defense. Admitting you didn't do as well as you could have isn't a weakness. It's only a bad thing if you make no effort to improve yourself. And it's sort of like, admitting you have a problem is the first step. How can we expect her to have better racial/sexual/religious representation in future works, when she doesn't see that her main characters are very white/straight/Christian, because she never "said so"?

Which is another reason why I love Maggie. Because she admits that the Raven Cycle isn't a good example of racial representation (though sexuality is there and awesome!(, and even though she's never explicitly stated that any of the main characters are white, she can admit that was the non-explicit assumption, and while supportive of POC headcanons, acknowledges that "The fandom has some energetic POC headcanons which are often taken as canon by those who have not read the books yet, but it would be grotesquely misplaced of me to take credit for POC representation where there is not." Because like you said. It's more than just changing skin color.

Yeah, I'm kind of in love with Maggie, I'm not going to lie. She just has a very intelligent and clear voice and she's incredibly talented. I would 100% recommend the Raven Cycle, as it was one of my favorite things that I read last year. And the final book in the series is coming out in March! Fulling planning on rereading all the books right before that. :) But let me know if you decide to give it a go, because I would def be down to chat about it! :D
Edited Date: 2015-12-22 04:33 pm (UTC)

Date: 2015-12-22 05:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
I almost couldn't wait to finish reading this because there were so many things I wanted to pull out and vehemently agree with. Like:
- By saying "Hermione is never explicitly stated to be white" she is implying a purposeful thoughtfulness to that omission that I believe speaks less to legitimate representation on her part, and more to the idea of "white unless stated otherwise" that seems evident in the series.
- I think I'd be happier if she tweeted that, and then tweeted something like "That being said I I think myself and all authors could work harder to include more meaningful representation in our work." Or you know, something that both shows her support of alternate Hermione's, while also admitting her own culpability in not actually writing a racially diverse main cast.
- Admitting you didn't do as well as you could have isn't a weakness

Yes, yes, yes, to all of this (to everything, but feel like I should't actually copy-paste the whole comment). That first point is huge and you've put it way more concisely than I did. Implying a purposeful thoughtfulness to that omission - yes. That's exactly it. And that's why it does feel to me like she's trying for brownie points instead of just saying "I support this interpretation of the text." It feels sneaky, like she's using/relying on people's implicit racism and the cultural norms that treat whiteness as the default in order to seem progressive.

And I totally agree with you about the importance of admitting that you could do better. I don't think I'd be feeling this way at all if JKR had said "I fully support interpretations of the text the better reflect my readers and am thrilled to have a black Hermione" or "In the 1990s, when I started writing these books, there wasn't room in children's books for Dumbledore to be explicitly gay or for the Golden Trio to be anything other than white, but I'm thrilled that that's changing. If I had it to do over, I'd love to have written more diversity into the series, and I'm very happy to have this opportunity to affirm that people with Hermione's intelligence and bravery come from all races and ethnicities." Or just something that said "I didn't do as well as I could, but I'm all about doing better and am glad for the positive response." Which was doable, it really was. Though then she'd have to stand by it, and I haven't read her later works so I have no idea how she's doing on that.

Much like WIPs, I'm going to bookmark the Raven Cycle and read it when it's about to be done. (Just added it to my Amazon list so I come back across it.) Will be sure to check it out and it sounds like I'll definitely want to chat about it!!
Edited Date: 2015-12-22 05:37 pm (UTC)

Date: 2015-12-22 06:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thethaumas.livejournal.com
Oh I hadn't seen that post by Maggie, thank you for linking it. Gosh it makes me love her even more. I only started reading her recently with The Raven Cycle (and I've been seeing Blue as mixed with a black dad this whole time for some reason) and have enjoyed her blog posts since, but had not seen this one. I am so pleased to see her asking to be called out to do better. What a good head on her shoulders.

Date: 2015-12-22 04:42 pm (UTC)
gracerene: (HP: Glasses)
From: [personal profile] gracerene
Her tumblr is a veritable treasure trove of awesomeness. :D

I know a lot of people have read Blue as mixed (and I'm quite fond of that headcanon, and some of the really klovely fanarts), and Maggie hasn't revealed her father yet, so that's still definitely possibly canon! Though we'll find out more soon in book 4!!!!!! So excited. :D

Date: 2015-12-22 03:48 am (UTC)
apples: (avengers - tony flying)
From: [personal profile] apples
hey! (I'm fragilehuge on tumblr but we haven't really talked anyway so I'm equally a stranger either way hahah)

but -- yeah, I agree with a lot of this, especially wrt the probability (and honestly? The obviousness) that JKR imagined Hermione as white while she was writing. If she'd thought of Hermione as black then she would have made it explicit, ya know? All of the examples you bring up show opportunities that JKR had (and didn't take) to explore how being would have black affected Hermione's character and choices and whatnot. And the hair scene. Yeesh. That doesn't read well if Hermione is black.

Mostly, though, I guess I don't read JKR's tweet as "Hermione has been black the whole time!" (not à la the Dumbledore revelation) but more like... "There's no reason Hermione COULDN'T have been black" (or "there's no reason I couldn't have written Hermione as black"). I don't think JKR gets brownie points for retroactive representation, because... that's not a thing lol... and the Harry Potter books AREN'T examples of good representation. Representation has to be explicit to be meaningful. But assuming that the Cursed Child isn't a total disaster, this casting of Hermione will be good representation. IDK. I'm kind of thinking of it like comics? Like, there are obviously multiple continuities in comics, and they're all canon and real and important facets of the same character. And things that happened in one universe get reimagined and changed over and over again... and that's how I see this? Dumezweni's Hermione is going to open up new ways to see the character, and I am sooo pumped about it. Like, fanfic often reimagines the source material to make it more nuanced or complex in certain ways. And hopefully the play is gonna do that for the books? I'm sure Dumezweni is going to be thinking about a lot of the same points you've brought up here while she's thinking about her characterization of Hermione (and her motivations etc). And that's awesome. Because, I mean, the books kind of need it? Obviously, I love Harry Potter, but some of the reasons I am so interested in HP fandom is because the books are NOT satisfying in a lot of ways. There are a lot of things JKR didn't think through all the way, and trying to think them through on my own or watching someone else do it with fic is.... more than half the fun (the rest of the fun is porn probably).

Anyway in conclusion I agree with your points and I'm also very very excited (though it seems unlikely I'll actually get to see the damn play because money and I live in the US but rlighreihgskdgh maybe they'll film it or something).

Though also something I think is frustrating is that with all this talk of ~~~representation~~~ and diversity in HP, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them still has.... an.... almost entirely white cast??? In New York.... in the twenties........ (I just checked IMDB and there's a british chinese actress playing some unnamed character and if you scroll down enough there's a biracial half-black half-white actress but lol I bet they have six lines between the two of them if that tbh. maybe i'm just cynical and bitter. but probably not)

Date: 2015-12-22 04:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
I'm kind of thinking of it like comics? Like, there are obviously multiple continuities in comics, and they're all canon and real and important facets of the same character. And things that happened in one universe get reimagined and changed over and over again - Oh, this is fab!! Finding this really really useful as a way to think of it. Thank you!!! Think I've had that kind of mental exercise going on, where it both is and is not canon, and this is a great way of understanding that.

Very, very fair, and I agree, that JKR's tweet is less "She was!" than "Well I never said she couldn't have been." Except I think implicitly she did say she couldn't have been. If you create a system where you don't mention the race of white characters, and then don't mention a character's race, explicitly or implicitly, then it's pretty reasonable for readers to assume, and for you to know they're going to assume, that said character is meant to be white. I mean, yes, JKR never wrote "Hermione Granger, a white girl with bushy hair and an armful of books," but I don't think that was intentional openness so much as treating whiteness as default.

Which, you know? Makes me extra annoyed at JKR. You don't get representation points if you don't do the work. You EXTRA don't get them if you're claiming them because of a loophole you created by treating whiteness as the default so completely that you could leave it entirely unstated.

I'd also bet that Dumezweni will be thinking about this as she develops the character - how could she not at least have an awareness of it, after all the kerfluffle? - but I'm less convinced that she'll be given room to express or enact those thoughts, vs being limited to what she can convey through action or expression. Which goes back to somethig you said - Representation has to be explicit to be meaningful. How explicit does it have to be? Is having a black actress play the role explicit enough to constitute good representation, or does the script need to address/indicate whether/how being a black witch is different from being a white witch? It's always felt to me like JKR is going for colorblindness in the wizarding world because it's just never talked about, but Hermione is Muggle-born and we pretty much know that she would've grown up with racism in one form or another. So if Hermione is played by a black actress, if Hermione is a black Muggle-born witch, especially if she's one who works in politics, but her race is never addressed, is that good representation?

And yeeeeaaahhhhhh, Fantastic Beasts. I was debating bringing that up and then this was already so long but....right? RIGHT? I share your cynicism and come the hell on. HARLEM. IN THE 1920S. AND EVERYONE MAJOR CHARACTER IS WHITE. Maybe it's not that surprising that I'm having trouble JKR as a defender of the importance of representation.

But for all of that...I'm still excited!! Another reason this wouldn't have been a good tumblr post, because I just don't have an over-arching bulletpoint-list-able feeling about this. I'm critical about a lot of it, and in the back of my head there's this running track of "Black Hermione!! Omg!! Amazing!! This is amazing!! I'm so excited!! Hermione is black!! Fuck yeah!!" Because...it's so exciting! And I think it's an important amazing choice! And I'm really excited!!! (and also hoping they'll film it, even if this is a lot of the reason why.)

Date: 2015-12-22 05:35 am (UTC)
apples: (avengers - tony flying)
From: [personal profile] apples
but I don't think that was intentional openness so much as treating whiteness as default.

Yup, I agree that Hermione was implicitly white in the books & implicit whiteness is... whiteness. I guess I meant, more, like -- JKR didn't write black Hermione, but her tweet points out that, well, she could have; she could have made a different choice wrt race & the core of the character would have been the same if she had. I definitely don't think that JKR should get any kind of special credit / brownie points for saying that she's cool with black Hermione, because frankly, what else could she have said???? "I'm outraged & actually very racist"??? Like. There was only one response she could have made. But I'm glad at least she said something pithy to silence any haters who want to hide behind "but JKR imagined/wrote Hermione as white!!1" because.... in the end.... so what??? So what if a character is originally imagined as white? That doesn't mean a character can't be RE-imagined, you know?? A character can be changed in certain ways and still be true to the essential core traits of that character! So the way I'm reading JKR's tweet is more like, even if book!Hermione is written as white, the core of Hermione's character is not tied to whiteness at all, and if ~20 years ago JKR had made a different choice, had imagined Hermione as black from the beginning -- obviously some parts of the book would probably be different, because being black would change Hermione's experiences, but the essential Hermione-y parts of her character? Would still be there. Obviously.

But the tweet is easier for me to read graciously because I'm reading it as a response to people being aggressively awful and asking JKR to justify it, not JKR looking for representation points. She doesn't get 'em.

but I'm less convinced that she'll be given room to express or enact those thoughts, vs being limited to what she can convey through action or expression

We'll just have to see, I guess. I'm hopeful because I feel like plays (good ones at least?) tend to leave a lot of room for the actors to make choices and interpretations, but obviously it will really depends on the script.

You raise interesting questions re: what's explicit enough. I simply meant: Dumezweni's race is explicit, because we can see her, and no one can see her and say, "Well, we just don't know if she's black or not," lol (compared to much of JKR's "representation" which is only implied... and can therefore be disputed). But your question is complicated and also gets into territory that I can't really speak to (I'm white). I just frankly don't know. I also have a feeling that the role is written as colorblind--the lines as JKR wrote them probably could support a white actress--but that doesn't mean that Dumezweni performing the role won't feel different than a white actress performing it. Part of me feels like... just having a black actress in the role is something, because a lot of the need for representation comes from a need for people to see themselves in media. But part of me also feels like, if you're starving, you're going to take what you can get, right? It'd be better to have a black actress who talks about her blackness on stage, but if you can't get that, a black actress talking about ANYTHING on stage is better than nothing. So. There are shades of good representation, always.

Ugh ugh ugh. And I'm still going to go see Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and it'll still probably be awesome, and IN MY HEART OF HEARTS I will still feel sad about what could have been. And you just KNOW fandom is going to totally ignore the few poc we actually do get in the movie anyway, but they'll spend six thousand years developing the personality of some hot white guy who makes eye contact with Eddie Redmayne for .2 seconds and doesn't even speak lol jesus.

Yes, I am excited too! I mean, if I wasn't excited, I wouldn't have any interest in analyzing the situation critically lol. My criticism is a sign of loooove and interest lololololol.

Edited Date: 2015-12-22 05:49 am (UTC)

Date: 2015-12-22 06:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com

So what if a character is originally imagined as white? That doesn't mean a character can't be RE-imagined, you know?? A character can be changed in certain ways and still be true to the essential core traits of that character! - So, I agree, but I think there’s a difference between fans reimagining a character and the author doing it. Fans who are engaged in transformative fanwork are often critiquing the original text and implicitly recognizing the lack of various kinds of representation in the source material. If a fan artists draws or a fic artist writes black Hermione, that’s corrective. That’s different than the author saying “Well, I might have meant it all along!” without talking about how that would have changed the story or without recognizing the lack of representation in the originals. Like [livejournal.com profile] gracerene said, "she is implying a purposeful thoughtfulness to that omission,” and one that kind of erases her own lack of awesomeness re: representation. So I think the author retconning her own characters and saying “there never was a problem, I did this on purpose” is a really different thing than fan interpretations that say “there is a problem and we want to fix it.”

Obvs, I agree that some parts of the book would be different if JKR had written Hermione as black, and I agree that the character would have the same potential but would she be the same? If two people start with the same capacities but one has access to stronger schools and receives more attention and support for teachers, which one is going to do better? Part of Hermione’s incredible academic success is that she has kick-ass study skills. She is the queen of planning and note-taking and scheduling her work in advance. That’s not an innate skill, that’s something that’s taught. In the U.S. it’s one source of racial education disparity. I haven’t been able to find anything conclusive about that in the UK, but there is data to suggest racial differences in educational outcome and experiences. (see here and here). We also know that the salience of race and the nature of racial stereotypes (and gender) changes academic performance. (here) So two things. (1) Knowing whether Hermione would have been affected would’ve required JKR to talk about Hermione’s blackness beyond skin color, as having been British, African, or Caribbean clearly makes a difference in educational outcomes, even by the end of primary school. (2) Would Hermione have seemed like essentially the same character, if she hadn’t known how to kick academic ass? I will absolutely concede that we’re pretty far down the rabbit hole at this point, that there have been a lot of conditional statements on the way here, and of course her raw potential wouldn’t be any different. But Hermione’s early characterization is so marked by both her ability to learn (and to structure her own learning so she takes things in quickly) and by her confidence in her intellect. Would she—in a racist world, with racist institutions—have made it to age 11 with that confidence and with those study skills if she was black?

About the explicitness of representation, totally see your point that Hermione as black is made explicit when she’s played by a black actress who we can see. That makes her blackness indisputable in a different way. But also agree that the lines are probably written to be colorblind. And that will still be different. And yes, shades of representation. My inner pragmatist agrees. But my inner idealist is unsatisfied. Even if the answer is “no, not at all” I want to know whether being a bi- or multiracial family affects the Weasley-Grangers and their children, I want to see the question addressed. I want to see black Hermione embraced and explored.

Date: 2015-12-22 06:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
I don’t actually know that I’m going to go see Fantastic Beasts. I’m not feeling a pull yet, and I am reallllllllly annoyed about the representation stuff.

BUT I do think the stuff you’re talking about is where we come in as fans.

you just KNOW fandom is going to totally ignore the few poc we actually do get in the movie anyway, but they'll spend six thousand years developing the personality of some hot white guy who makes eye contact with Eddie Redmayne for .2 seconds and doesn't even speak - well, that depends on what we do, right? It depends on what we write and draw and comment on and rec. So that one is up to us!! I am totally, completely, 100% with you in seeing criticism and analysis as a sign of love and interest!! And one of my fave things about that is that we get to decide where to put that energy. I am already on board to write Seraphina fic. But I guess then I’d have to see, and support, the movie, huh? Blargh.

Date: 2015-12-22 07:50 pm (UTC)
apples: (avengers - tony flying)
From: [personal profile] apples
So, I agree, but I think there’s a difference between fans reimagining a character and the author doing it.

Yes, of course, but what I was getting at is that the Cursed Child isn't a fanwork. It's a canonical part of the HP universe. So anyone making canonical contributions to a universe can and does have the ability to re-imagine characters. And they should. It gets stickier when it's a universe where the canon is generally accepted to be controlled by one person (JKR) and the people in control of some of the canonical works AREN'T her, but still. For instance the movies had creative input from other people and I'd argue any changes they made are still thought of as canonical in the minds of most people. Obviously there's arguments to be had about the "real" Ravenclaw colors or whatever but the movie!verse still holds canonical weight. Just as anything that happens in the Cursed Child will hold canonical weight. But I'm still also approaching this from a comics-canon perspective where lots of different things can all be canonical at the same time.

...that kind of erases her own lack of awesomeness re: representation

I agree that it would have been nice to see JKR make a serious post about her lack of representation in HP (in the same vein as that Stiefvater post someone linked above), but like.... yeah I'm not shocked she didn't. But I tend to assume that white people are going to be kind of shitty "well you know the problems aren't so bad now can't we just be colorblind" sort of allies, uh. That's no reason not to critique her and ask for JKR and others to be better, but I'm mostly resigned to that feeling of "well, you tried, but you didn't try very hard, did you?"

I want to know whether being a bi- or multiracial family affects the Weasley-Grangers and their children
yessss thiiiis omg. I'm sort of in fear of how they will cast the Weasley-Granger children honestly. We'll see. I'm honestly just sort of sitting here with restrained hopefulness about the whole thing. I'm trying to be optimistic. But I also don't want to be disappointed.

So that one is up to us!!

Of course! It's just frustrating to feel alone or mostly alone in your fandomy interests. I'm mostly just bitter because my other main fandom is the MCU and that's the worst fandom for erasing canonically extremely important black characters and obsessing over rando white folks for shipping purposes. MY favorite ships get just.... totally ignored for the most part (Tony/Rhodey and Sam/Steve omg if you watch the damn movies those are the CLEAR OTPS I JUST *hands*). I've read like all the Sam/Steve fics on AO3 because there are like... 12. I follow (what feels like) the 5 other people who are interested and talk about Sam/Steve. And the only fic I've written for the MCU is Tony/Rhodey I think (but I don't really write fic anymore). But that doesn't change the fact that 90% of the fan content generated in the MCU fandom is Steve/Bucky nowadays (and Steve/Tony before that). It just gets disheartening. Especially when people FUCKING TAKE FLIRTY LINES THAT HAPPENED BETWEEN SAM AND STEVE AND APPLY THEM TO STEVE/BUCKY JESUS CHRIST I'm sorry I'm fine I'm fine I'm fine it's fine.

Anyway. I'm just never optimistic about fandom. I'll sit in my corner talking about and reblogging posts about the characters *I* like, regardless, but sometimes it feels lonely. :/

Date: 2015-12-23 02:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
That MCU stuff sounds rough, I’m sorry!! I’d be frustrated by that too.

It does make me wonder if Fantastic Beasts puts us in a really interesting and kind of unique position. We pretty much know that this is going to be a fandom. There are a lot of fannish people who are invested in it, and a new generation of HP fans who might find a way in through that story. But we don’t have any fanon yet. No headcanons. We haven’t yet picked the characters who will appear a lot in fic, or what their connotations will be.

So, we get to be intentional about it. We potentially get to pick. To act collectively to make the poc characters important – probably more important than the creators of canon will. So maybe we should do that? Maybe that’s a place for optimism? I agree that the idea of trying to change pre-existing fandom is daunting and lonely. But a new fandom with new characters? Maybe that’s a place for intervention?

(And I’m not generally one for optimism! But finding this possibility exciting.)

Though, after that parenthetical, I’m going to be a tiny little bit optimistic again. I’m also not shocked that JKR didn’t do better, and I’ve seen the same pattern you’re talking about in white allies. But I don’t think it has to be that why. It often is, yes. But I don’t yet feel resigned about it yet. (Or at least, I don’t today. Ask again tomorrow, the answer changes.) Instead of being blasé, white allies can recognize that the energy we don’t have to use coping with the experience of racism can be used to try to articulate anti-racist ideas and stand up for anti-racist principles and action and hold other white people to higher standards. You can’t give up your white privilege, but you can choose how to use it. Maybe that’s optimistic, but I do it, and I see people around me do it, and any sort of change relies on a lot more people doing it, and doing it with humility, but it’s not impossible. So, yeah, it doesn’t surprise me that JKR didn’t do better, but I am heartened that people (like Maggie Stiefvater, if that post is anything to go by) are trying to do better, and trying to hold JKR to a high standard, and that there’s enough movement there for them to have cast a black Hermione at all.

Speaking of casting….the Weasley-Granger children!! I hadn’t thought about that. That’s a scary thought. Sharing your fear. Really hope they don’t make their kids all white.

Re: canon – I think people really disagree – in a lowkey non-contentious way, but still – about what is and isn’t canon. For me, the movies aren’t canon. Nothing but the text of the seven books (up to but not including the epilogue) is canon. When I’m writing fic, that’s the canon I go to. If I need to fill in another detail, I might go to extended canon (Pottermore, the movies, the reference books) but I’d just as happily and easily go to fanon. I don’t think, from talking to other fic writers, that I’m the only one who operates that way, if only because the extended universe type stuff is too damn hard to keep track of, especially when it keeps changing. So that’s part of where we may be seeing the difference between canon and fanon differently, in having different conceptions of what counts as canon. So I totally agree that Cursed Child isn’t a fanwork, but I don’t think it’s canon, either – that’s part of why I love the comic book metaphor so much. Or, I’m thinking of something like the Star Wars extended universe, where, like, Mara Jade is real, but she isn’t canon. Black Hermione is real, but she isn’t canon. Though then, I do think we end up back in the same place, where multiple things can be canon at the same time. And I’m still happy about black Hermione, but also still worried (as with the Granger-Weasley children, such a good point) that they won’t take the meaning and significance of that seriously.

Date: 2015-12-22 04:53 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thank you so much for writing this. I really enjoyed reading it, and agree with your points. I view the Yule Ball a little different though and wanted to share the way I read it. Curly hair is naturally extremely dry and that's what makes it frizzy. I imagine Hermione using sleakeazy just as a way to condition and define her curls so her before and after would look a little like this.

Date: 2015-12-22 06:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
I love this headcanon, anon, and it would be an awesome, and better, use of Sleakeazy's.

In GoF, JKR writes (the full hair quote) that: "she didn't look like Hermione at all. She had done something with her hair; it was no longer bushy but sleek and shiny, and twisted up into an elegant knot at the back of her head." (p. 414, US Hardback) So if we're talking about authorial intent, it could have been something like this:

or this:

which would've kept her curls (though where she would've found someone to braid her hair at Hogwarts is another question. Is there a spell for that? Who would have taught her? Are salons and barber shops a gathering space for black wizards? Or are there charms passed down through families? How do Muggle-borns figure that out?)

But I suspect - and this is based on my own cultural baggage and how I'm reading the text, so it's no more right or valid than anyone else's suspicion - that JKR was describing something more like this:

or this:

which would've required either straightening or a wig or a weave. And since we know it was sleakeazy's, of those three, probably straightening.

And we could have had glamour with natural hair!

But the way it was written still feels to me like it was going for eurocentric beauty norms, that it was about "taming" Hermione's hair, explicitly making it small and pulling it back. Though I like your reading of the text better!!!

Date: 2016-04-19 01:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zeitgeistic.livejournal.com
Angelina kept her hair in braids! She could've done Hermione's. :D

Date: 2016-05-07 03:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
She could have!!! But if she had been, I can't imagine they wouldn't have been way closer, for all the time they'd be spending together in a semi-intimate, casual space/way. There are so many ways black!Hermione could've worked beautifully in the books. Just wish JKR wasn't getting credit for having done it when v important details - like this one! - are missing.

Date: 2016-05-07 12:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zeitgeistic.livejournal.com
True. I'm writing Hermione in braids into my current WIP thanks yo this post, btw!

Date: 2016-05-07 07:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
That's awesome!!! So excited!! (Not least of all bc that means potential new fic from you!)

Date: 2016-05-08 12:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Aw, damn. For my purposes! Still excited about your Hermione!!

Date: 2015-12-22 05:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] khalulu.livejournal.com
Interesting comments everyone!

I don't get the feeling JKR was claiming to have represented a Black character with Hermione, more that she was saying, "Hey, it's possible, it doesn't actually contradict anything I said, and it's cool - go for it!" Which is kind of how I feel about it too.

In the books she deals with discrimination and bigotry by side-stepping most of the forms of it we see in our Muggle world - racism, religion, homophobia, even really blatant sexism just aren't shown in the wizarding world, and we see other kinds of discrimination instead - so the concept of bigotry is dealt with by analogy, for better or worse. (Though the Malfoys' sneers at the Weasleys for being poor and having many children seem to show classism at work.) Kids will probably identify with coming into the wizarding world from the muggle world, so they will see the blood purity obsession as bad.

The idea that werewolves represent people with AIDS is much more problematic, to me. Werewolves that don't get their wolfbane potion lose their human consciousness during the full moon and attack people. That is not what people with AIDS do.

She's just one person and she invented a huge world and I don't fault her for not thinking of everything. That's where the rest of us come in!

Date: 2015-12-22 06:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com

OMG, the werewolves. Isn't that awful? I am way, way not a fan. Writcraft wrote some excellent meta about this a while back, here, and there's really good discussion of it there, too. And I rambled on a lot there, so won't repeat, but YES I find that very very problematic.

I'm less keen on saying that one thing is more problematic than another. The werewolf stuff is both more and less blatant; if a reader don't catch the metaphor it's not much of anything, but if a reader does catch the movie it's awful. The race of a main character is less horrible and offensive, but it's something people are more definitely going to suss out for themselves. And you're right that JKR's overall reaction is to sort of hand-wave it all away (though that does make her inclusion of classism more interesting - why keep that?) but I've never been able to figure out whether that's her saying that her not dealing with it, or her saying that the magical world isn't bigoted. Mysteries. (And things I wish had been addressed.)

TOTALLY agree that that's where the rest of us come in!!! And that's one of my favorite things about fandom. So many minds working together to explore these texts....it's really, really, really cool. And I think really powerful!! I would not be at all surprised if the popularity of black Hermione headcanons had something to do with this casting, and that would be a really amazing thing, to see what can happen when people do get active about representation in fandom!

Date: 2015-12-22 10:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] khalulu.livejournal.com
Thanks for the link! Interesting stuff.

Date: 2015-12-22 06:09 am (UTC)
themightyflynn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] themightyflynn
Thank you for this! I've been trying to voice these same opinions, but it always comes out sounding horrible.

I totally agree that Hermione was written as white. This retroactive representation is incredibly annoying. Just the same as Dumbledore suddenly being gay was annoying. If she had wanted the character to be black, then she would have made it clear. It's an incredibly easy thing for her to say to the contracted artist for the books "she's the wrong race." Same with the movies. You don't get brownie points for allowing others to represent other races in your work.

And this all seems highly suspicious to me coming a few weeks after "Fantastic Beasts" got slammed for lacking diversity. It seems more a "I'm not racist, here's the proof" ploy than anything else.

Date: 2015-12-22 06:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Thank you!! And if I don't have much to say, it's because I agree. Especially about Fantastic Beasts. I don't know how long casting a play takes and I hope this was something that was going on before there was so much criticism of Fantastic Beasts (and I don't even know how aware of that JKR & co. are) but the timing does feel a little shady to me.

Date: 2015-12-22 07:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thethaumas.livejournal.com
prt 2 because apparently there are character limits. and both of these will be marked as spam since I never use my lj. lame.

I saw you talking about Fantastic Beasts and I think it is an important part of this conversation because in her tweet she's saying "hey Hermione could have been black! (but shh she totally wasn't)" and people are giving her credit for this casting choice like she had some sort of say but ignoring or forgetting how she wrote the screenplay for FB and chose not to write her mains as anything other than white. And yes, the two female leads she's revealed are apparently Goldsteins but I highly doubt we'll see them be any more Jewish than Anthony was in the series, as if them being Jewish in Brooklyn in the 1920s wouldn't be fucking important. Or how Anthony being Jewish while essentially wizard Hitler rose to power wasn't important. Are the actresses even Jewish themselves? Do we get to "take back" the gross stereotype of only bad witches being coded Jewish by having two important good witches being of a Jewish family in this series? No, I don't think we'll see that happen.

I think this comment isn't entirely coherent and I apologize, I probably should have waited to reply until I've had some sleep. OH WELL.

Date: 2015-12-22 02:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thethaumas.livejournal.com
(part 1 since apparently part 2 didn't get marked as spam aha) Hey! It's cassiafrankincense so we've already talked about this a bit but whatever I'm always ready to talk about being angry/disappointed (no I will never be that mom that says "I'm not angry, I'm disappointed" because I'm usually both) in representation in HP.

I had thought about all your other points before wrt Hermione's character depth/motivations both in terms of her race and just as character history things, but not about the Yule Ball scene until you made that post, and it is super gross if she was always intended to be black. (I've been trying to think of a way Hermione "getting pretty" for the ball could be worded in a way that's not so. nah. something like her hair being tamed in a way Harry had never seen and that brought out the shape of her face, or something about how she'd pulled it back and twisted it in a seemingly impossible knot that brought attention to her gleaming brown eyes and the shining earrings. Or something that doesn't imply her hair was straight and in its straightness she became attractive. (honestly though I never thought her hair was straight in that scene but in some weird up-do that required a lot of hair gel or something, not to disagree, but because that's how most girls wore their hair at dances when I was in school))

But yeah my reaction to seeing that tweet was the same kind of stomach-cold type of annoyed that I felt when I was sitting in my friend's dorm and she told me about the news of, "Did you hear that JK Rowling said Dumbledore is gay?" before I started ranting in heated anger. It just read as trying for gaining unearned "representation cookies" which, honestly, is what a lot of her tweets and canon additions have read to me as since she took to social media. I never really had much of an opinion of Rowling as a person, I didn't really care, she wrote books I loved and that was enough to know about her. The way she acts like because she wrote white as default means there's open interpretation for characters but cannot accept open interpretation for one character in particular and condemns fans of him just is so two-faced and gross to me (I'm talking about Draco's possibility for redemption/the fact that Draco fans exist and not because he's a "bad boy") and also no, you wrote white as default and intended these characters as white, yes it allows in ways for fans to have their own headcanons of the characters as other races and cultures but you don't get credit for that. You didn't do that. The fans did. I'm just disappointed so much by her that I've tried to block any way of seeing her tweets because I don't need to know how she's claiming she put representation in her series when she really super didn't. But oh man thank you to gracerene for linking that post by Maggie Stiefvater because the whiteness of The Raven Cycle has been disappointing and upsetting since I started it because I am in love with this series and these characters and I've headcanoned the lead female as mixed while knowing that wasn't the intent. And it's just, it's just so lovely to see an author saying that hey it isn't okay that they did the thing and they want to do better and it's okay if you tell them they did a thing that isn't okay because they want to learn, they want to do better. And gosh that makes my heart feel so much better.

Date: 2015-12-22 07:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
About the Yule Ball, I realise I didn't put the full quote in the post, just the part about bushy vs sleek and shiny, but in GOF IJKR writes that: "she didn't look like Hermione at all. She had done something with her hair; it was no longer bushy but sleek and shiny, and twisted up into an elegant knot at the back of her head." (p. 414, US Hardback) For the reasons mentioned in my notes, I've assumed Hermione was white so have pictured something like a french twist:

or a bun/knot:

But neither of those would work on natural black hair without intense straightening. And the description does lend itself to a description of Hermione's hair as being "tamed" but that has its own complicated history because of depictions of black women in media as wild and need of taming. So I don't see around the Yule Ball. If JKR intentionally wrote Hermione to be read as black, I don't see how we can read that passage as not, in a really critical moment, reinforcing the idea that eurocentric beauty norms are best and most desirable.

About the retroactive diversity and leaving it open to interpretation, I think Grace said it better than I could - that her tweet suggests that it was intentional, and that she's trying to retroactively claim that she meant it all along, and that pisses me off. I'd be much more open to her saying "I didn't do a great job then, but let's make that better now."

I'll be really interested to see if they do anything with Jewishness in Fantastic Beasts. It would not make a lot of sense to have wizards named Goldstein in NYC who weren't Jewish, but then, it doesn't make sense to not have wizards of color, and that's not stopping them. And JKR's general position seems to be about ignoring how racial identity matters/feels/is experienced, so...I'm not optimistic about that one. If she does make them explicitly Jewish I don't think it'll matter, that it'll be treated as another form of whiteness (which I think is fair in contemporary NYC but not in 1920s NYC). Have you looked to see whether the actresses are Jewish?

Date: 2015-12-22 07:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thethaumas.livejournal.com
Oh yes true! I'd forgotten she had it up anyway, but yeah no matter what it's incredibly problematic if she was supposed to always be black. Which is why I don't think she was at all.

That's why I'm so glad to see Stiefvater doing that, because with Rowling we get to see an author just doing it wrong and that's disheartening.

I do too. This article here (http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/195905/harry-potter-spin-off-may-be-a-very-jewish-one) goes on about it and they seem more hopeful for representation than either of us are. But yeah, from what I could find none of the actresses playing Goldsteins are Jewish at all. So no to portray of a good witch by anyone but a goyim yet again. But hey this time we do get a good black witch in the play!

Date: 2015-12-22 08:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cabinetcaligari.livejournal.com
Here's another not entirely coherent comment because although super interesting, this is LENGTHY and I kinda lost focus on what I wanted to say.

I think it mostly raises some questions for me.

First, like you pointed out already, how is it to be black in the UK? To me, tumblr seems to be pretty US-centered on several topics, including race. I think being part of a minority can evoke a certain set of basic feelings that are the same all over the world (like the need to find your own group and huddle together), but then there's a cultural and historical layer and that's where the differences come in. Like, is it a elitist minority? Do you have the slave past, or maybe you're regarded as less because of your religion? I can't speak for Britain, but in my country, Hermione would also very much fit as a Turkish young woman in a Western European country for instance. I agree with all people saying JKR probably made this loophole sort of on accident, but I like it in that way that there are more minorities than black alone, each with their difficulties, and you could all make them fit for Hermione in a way. They don't fit perfectly, but like you pointed out, being black doesn't either for her.

The second point I forgot :) I keep stumbling over how tumblr in a way doesn't represent the minorities in my country, and that's fine, but when a discussion is about an European country, with different minority groups and probably different representation problems, I would love to know more about the situation there, I feel like I can't really form an opinion about how race would form and affect characters in a set-in-Britain story.

But thank you for this discussion! I think it's really interesting, and I would like to hear your opinion on this, too. Part of me keeps saying to me that the problems aren't that different, or maybe black people encounter the same problems all over the world, but that I'm just not enough informed. Idk. It's a subject to handle with care, and I'm still searching how to handle it (and probably keep searching for quite a while if not my whole life).

Date: 2015-12-22 07:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
It's definitely lengthy!!! Got a little out of hand with the thoughts there. Thanks for reading and responding, definitely thought provoking!!

Like I said in the notes, I'm from the US and I absolutely think that affects my perceptions and assumptions; how could it not? But I have been doing some research and it seems like at least some of the same general issues that apply in the US also apply in the UK (for instance, educational inequalities (links in another comment above), racial profiling, employment discrimination, and problematic media depictions). Those issues will manifest differently, and I think you're very very right to point out that in most of the wold it's more complicated than talking about it as a black/white issue - I think partly the conversation has gone there because a black actress is playing Hermione and people, myself obviously included, fall back on that binary, which, not good, because it is more complicated.

About the idea that Hermione could fit in as a member of different minority groups in different countries, I'm less keen on that than you are, though I want to break it down more than that. Do I think that there are members of every group who could be like Hermione and have her intelligence and bravery and principles and integrity and loyalty and courage and dedication to justice? Absolutely, no question. Do I think that the character of Hermione as she was written could be a member of any of those groups? No, and I think that if we take the same character and say "she's a black British woman now" or a "she's a Turkish emigrant now" then we do a disservice to those groups by pretending that there isn't anything different about being black or being Turkish. This is where things have the potential to get dicey, because I don't mean to say that there are inherent differences between those groups. What I do mean to say is that different groups in different places face different obstacles or have different opportunities when it comes to accessing public goods and social opportunities. So Hermione's experience, at least in her first 11 years on earth (which, a pretty important and formative period of time!) would have been shaped by her race, nationality, migrant status, etc. If, instead of writing a character whose experiences include that, we take a character who was intended to be read as white and stick another label on her, we erase the real and important challenges and opportunities that come with belonging to a particular group or groups. If that makes sense? I hope? So even without knowing exactly how potential-Hermione would have been changed by having these different identities I think it's safe to say that there would have been some effect, and that responsible representation wouldn't gloss over that.

I do agree that tumblr is very US-centric. No question about it, and it's a bummer. For me, because I want to learn more about international politics, and while I make the attempt, most of my work is also US-focused so I don't know as much as I'd like and I wish there was more international info crossing my dash. For people who are not from the US because they don't get to see as much discourse about their own issues. And for everyone, because US-centrism is just...not good, in a lot of ways, and something that I think especially people in the US could do with moving away from. Wish I had a good answer to that one though.

Date: 2015-12-22 08:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cabinetcaligari.livejournal.com
Thanks again for the lengthy comment! I'm gonna check the links out, I suspected already there would be at least partially the same problems and challenges, but I didn't have sources to back that up.

About the 'Turkish emigrant' part: I completely agree with you Hermione isn't that versatile we can just easily label her any minority group. I think what I meant, is that certain information on Hermione is lacking, as you perfectly point out in your original post. What drives her to run SPEW, for instance? It feels to me we have only snippets of information regarding Hermione when we assume she's a PoC. And with the snippets we have, she could be black (although problematic as for the things you and other commenters point out). She could also be Turkish in a Western European country imho, regarding the snippets, but that would indeed raise a lot of questions too, and require a lot more background too than we have now. It would give a wholly different take but an interesting one nevertheless, I guess. (the reason I chose Turkish is that where I live, we have a lot of well-educated Turkish people, especially the newer generations, whose parents came here to work, but the children went to university. At my studies, we especially had a lot of Turkish girls. I know way too little about this group to really state things, but people told me that while the boys were generally having some problems with integration in society, the girls quietly worked their way up into the universities and now become lawyers, doctors, scientists... same with Moroccan girls, or so they say. A side note, but I found it a pretty cool development nevertheless.)

And another side note, but yeah, tumblr is quite focused on the US. I find it really interesting because I'm interested in foreign politics and this is one of my ways to keep updated with what happens in the US. But sometimes I wonder if the US also covers foreign news, and if so, what exactly do they cover? I am following your presidential race for quite a few months now and I think I know a thing or two about most of the candidates. European politics aren't covered that extensively, but then again, we don't have countries so big they're that determining for Western politics as the US is. And also, I like to say I'm broadly informed, but that's not really true at all, as I'm only really keeping up with European, US, Canadian and Australian politics. So that's maybe slightly better than the average US citizen, but I'm still hugely ignoring the rest of the world, and I feel pretty bad about that, as there's so much going on in the world regarding me too, like women's rights, climate activism, human rights, the list is endless. I just don't know where to start I guess?

Date: 2015-12-23 02:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com

It would give a wholly different take but an interesting one nevertheless, I guess. - This, exactly! I totally agree with the point you’re making here. Hermione can be any of these things, but it would raise a lot of questions about what motivates her, and those questions would need research and thoughtfulness. I am all for Hermione being a black woman or being a Turkish woman, I just want, then, a commitment to exploring what that means!

But sometimes I wonder if the US also covers foreign news, and if so, what exactly do they cover? - tbh, it’s pretty bleak. I don’ watch mainstream US news anymore because it makes me furious, but part of the reason why is that there’s very little, and very one-sided, coverage of international affairs, and that coverage is US centric. It’s a huge problem, especially since the US is still hanging on to a lot of power and such a big military, and it means that there’s very little domestic accountability or pressure on politicians, because people don’t know what’s going on. I hope that twitter might change that for younger generations, but I’m not optimistic. Wish I had better news there, but I think part of the reason tumblr is so U.S. centric is that US bloggers don’t know to look at international news and don’t understand what to make of it when they do. It’s a really dangerous, problematic state of affairs, imo. Some of that is because, like you say, the list of things to know about and learn is endless. But most of it is just a problem. :(

Date: 2015-12-22 10:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anemonen.livejournal.com
This is a super interesting post and an important topic. I don’t know enough about it, with the background I have, so I don’t have all that much to add. But I do think it’s an important point too that this is a British situation, and I’d love to hear inputs from someone British. That’s one of my biggest issues with Tumblr (outside of the lynch mob mentality), that American culture is sort of seen as the default and that Europe and European culture is uniform and an extension of that, which is not the case at all. So I’m certain that being black or belonging to any minority in US vs UK has as many differences as everything else.

That said, I’m certain your points about being marginalised and how that may affect your reaction to things and choice of actions are very much valid. So I think the bottom line for me is that I don’t think JKR intended to write Hermione as black or racially open to interpretation. (She’s basically said that she’s written a lot of herself into Hermione, has she not? I might remember wrongly.) But maybe she saw somewhere along the line that people interpreted her differently and decided to never specify? And I also don’t really see her comment as her retroactively superimposing blackness on Hermione, but rather her saying that she’s all for this interpretation and supports the casting, and also trying to shut down the racist criticism of it? I’m very happy to see the casting, personally (even though I’m torn about the play, since I find it rather exclusionary as not many people will be able to see it), and I think it’s good that they chose this direction.

Date: 2015-12-22 08:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Totally agree about US-centrism on tumblr - both that it's a thing and that it's not a good thing. There's a lot of flattening/ignoring nuance that goes on, and it's not good. I'd be interested in input from British people as well, and I'd bet have a more nuanced understanding of the whole situation than we can as people from other countries.

I think I'm with you on the bottom line, and that you're right that JKR has said she wrote a lot of herself into Hermione. But I do think she's doing more than just saying that she's open to interpretation. Grace said it better than I did, in comments above, but I think the way JKR wrote her tweet makes it sound like she intentionally left it open all along, like she sat down to write the books and thought "oh, I'll leave this open to ambiguity so that people can read Hermione however they want." I don't think that was the case, because there are so many signs that Hermione was meant to be white. So it does feel like retroactively trying to take credit for it, or to say that Hermione...not necessarily that she was black, but that she could have been read that way. But if she intended that all along, I think she needed to be meeting a higher bar in terms of really exploring and accounting for what that would mean for the character. I agree that she was trying to shut down the racist criticism, yes, and that that's very important. But I wish she'd taken a different tactic, and that instead of suggesting she created that ambiguity intentionally, she'd talked about the casting choice as a way to improve diversity in the HP universe - that she'd implicitly taken responsibility for the lack of representation in the texts and shown an interest in fixing it, instead of trying to make like it had been there all along.

I'm not sure I'm still making sense, so I'm sorry if this is a crazy ramble!! I think we agree on a lot of it. And I definitely share your hesitation re: the play in general. I'm very glad they cast Noma Dumezweni, but the whole play as a thing definitely feels exclusionary, which, that just sucks.

Date: 2015-12-22 11:00 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This was a Brilliant essay and it really made me think about 'proper' context clues on how to do/or not do representation.

and I definitely think people on Tumblr should see it, as it would add nuance to a currently very two-side argument, can I link it on tumblr? I'll give you full credit, and a link back so people can read it in full in your journal

Date: 2015-12-23 01:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Thanks anon!! And thanks for letting me know!

I'm very happy to have this post shared and to have more people in the discussion. You're welcome to share a link on tumblr. There's also a very mini version of this essay on my tumblr here, if you want to reblog something with a summary/pull quote already there. Either way!!

Date: 2015-12-23 02:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Thanks anon!! And thanks for letting me know!

I'm very happy to have this post shared and to have more people in the discussion. You're welcome to share a link on tumblr. There's also a very mini version of this essay on my tumblr here, if you want to reblog something with a summary/pull quote already there. Either way!!

Date: 2015-12-23 03:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] amorette.livejournal.com
Interesting post dicta! Thanks for sharing. I personally neither have an issue with black Hermione nor with JKR being okay with it, so we both agree and disagree on points.

The only thing I think is "wrong" (or I should phrase it as: I can see why some black people dislike the idea) with the black!Hermione theory is that it simplifies the experience of actually being black; that being black is not just a skin color. But my counterargument to that is, I've heard so many times that it doesn't make sense to overlay real-life structures onto the Potterverse (a view I mostly agree with, except when it's an intentional metaphor) and race as we know it in real-life society would be one of those structures. Also, race doesn't play in HP the way it plays in real-life, or at least that's my argument.

So, I guess my conclusion is what I said above :D I personally don't have any issues with Hermione being interpreted as black by those readers who want to, nor with JKR supporting that.

Date: 2015-12-24 03:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Hey!! Good points all, and I pretty much agree. I don't have any issue at all with Hermione being interpreted as black or played by a black actress or with JKR supporting that (though I wish she'd done it differently). And I've definitely heard the same thing, that real-life structures don't apply in the Potterverse, but I don't think that can be entirely the case for Muggle-born children in practice (inasmuch as you can have practice in a fictional universe) and there's something I find worrisome about extending the suspension of disbelief that far when young readers can take away the idea that race doesn't matter, instead of that race shouldn't matter. So I suppose I agree that that's how it's meant to be, but don't think that's an ideal take. Still really happy with the casting decision and JKR's support for it, just wish it had been done differently!

Date: 2016-01-07 01:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] itsraa.livejournal.com
thank you for this! i was off on a long vacation over break and kinda missed the whole deal while it was all over tumblr/fandom but i really needed this!

Date: 2016-01-07 03:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Thank you! Glad it helped!

Date: 2016-04-19 01:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zeitgeistic.livejournal.com
This is exactly why I need to keep up with LJ better. I am fascinated by this post and I'm going to finish reading it today at lunch. In the meantime, I popped by to tell you Happy birthday. :) I hope you have a lovely day!

Date: 2016-05-07 03:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Thank you x2!! V glad you found it interesting, and I appreciate the good wishes!! <3

Date: 2016-07-26 03:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fantasyfiend09.livejournal.com

JKR drew Hermione and Dean side by side, and only his skin is shaded. I think that's evidence enough of what race she envisioned for Hermione as she wrote.

She wanted to be inclusive, but she couldn't (for whatever reason) bring her characters of color into the lime light. There is a depth to Neville, Luna, and even Seamus that we don't get in Dean. She says she wrote a detailed backstory for him, and yet it doesn't make it to the page the way Luna's and Neville's backstories do. Her POC repeatedly feel like scenery instead of characters (except Angleina, who gets some personality despite her small page time). Jo gives her POC titles (Cho is he love interest and Kingsley becomes Minister) but doesn't give them the quirks and failings that make them interesting and loveable characters.

It's sad, because there are missed opportunities for the kind of inclusion and diversity I think she really wants for her work and her world.

Date: 2016-07-26 06:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dicta-contrion.livejournal.com
Oh, wow!! I'd never seen that image and definitely agree than an image from the artist's own hand is all the evidence needed of her vision. Thank you so much for sharing that!!

Agree with everything you've said, and I love the way you've put things. The distinction between titles and personalities is fantastic! And the lack of depth you're talking about really struck me in my quick DH re-read/skim yesterday, particularly around Dean's lack of dialogue. Dean is present in the Forest of Dean, at the escape from Malfoy Manor, at Dobby's funeral, and at Shell Cottage, including Lupin's announcement of Tonks' pregnancy. He has maybe two or three lines total, and that's to confirm that he doesn't know his blood status because his dad left when he was young, offer a hat and mutter thanks to Dobby as he's buried, and to look uncomfortable and shrug as Luna talks about Crumple-Horned Snorcacks for almost a full page. He doesn't ask questions, deliver exposition, or seem to have interests of his own. Unless silence is it, we don't see any of his reaction to being kidnapped and tortured and held prisoner. It's really quite stark. I wonder if (and doubt that) JKR is even fully aware of it, and what to make of those possibilities. I agree that it seems like inclusion and diversity are important messages to her, but then in her devotion to doing that sort of allegorically, she ends up neglecting her human characters, who would probably be most easily relatable to readers.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting! So many good, rich things to think about!!


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