My big issue with all of this “after the fact diversity” that we’re seeing around JR Rowling and the Harry Potter series is that she’s getting so much credit for doing basically nothing with regard to representation.
There’s no reissuing the books with covers where more characters are characters of color. There aren’t any additional chapters showing Albus Dumbledore as gay in any capacity (and seriously, the idea of a gay man pining nobly into old age after the one who got away is just an excuse to not have to address any of his relationships omfg).
JKR still wrote 99% of the Harry Potter cast as white and straight. She still didn’t describe the characters in a way that made them prominently POC or LGBTQ. Dumbledore is gay offscreen. You literally have to read between the lines to start to suspect that maybe he wasn’t straight. Blaise Zabini was revealed to be Black in book five and then we never learned anything about him or got to see him as a character.
Almost all of her diversity comes after the fact and I don’t think that she should be getting praise for any of it. Especially because fandom has done most of the work on diversity for her. Like… She didn’t think up Black Hermione. That wasn’t even in her mind until fandom’s headcanons and the sort of universal idea of the character being Black the entire time hit her airspace and then she swans in to be like “oh well, I never made Hermione white in canon so I’m cool with this”.
And with this recent thing: JKR may have made Hermione’s race ambiguous (I guess) but that’s not a good thing. She still okayed illustrations in the books where Hermione is white and championed Emma Watson as the character. She still absolutely wrote the character while thinking that she wasn’t a character of color and that’s obvious as hell.
I get that before Harry Potter got huge, she may not have gotten to have control over the images of the characters she put out. But Pottermore? Fantastic Beasts? Things that came out after the HP series took the world by storm and that still are super white and super far from diverse? She definitely has more clout now than she did before and people know that HP will sell bank. So she could be demanding more in-text diversity. But she’s not. Not until the text is completed.
Unlike most creators of things, JKR isn’t a jerk about racebending becoming canon in new versions of her canon (like Frank Miller ugh) but she still didn’t do any of the legwork. She still didn’t write a Black British Hermione dealing with racism on two fronts. She still didn’t sit down and on her own go “Hermione is Black”.
I started the Harry Potter series when I still lived in the Virgin Islands. Which was like 2000/01. Maybe. I did read Hermione as Black when I was very small because I told myself that she had hair like mine and loved to read like me so why shouldn’t she actually look like me. (This is a similar story to what many Black fans of Harry Potter say who read Hermione as Black, btw.)
But JKR didn’t do that. She didn’t give me representation and she certainly didn’t intend for anyone to read Hermione as Black when she set out on the series.
Fans did that. Fans interpreted Hermione as black. They wrote meta. They did fan art. They did fan casts.
And she’s just rolling along collecting praise for it like she’s ever written meaningful diversity into the Harry Potter series instead of totally transparent allegories for oppression.
I’m not going to get super excited for her being all “well I’m cool with racebending in canon and otherwise because I left Hermione’s race ambiguous” because that sort of ambiguity only hurts fans of color. It’s not even close to positive representation and I think that JKR needs to chill and look at actually writing about characters of color and incorporating them and LGBTQ characters into her HP works rather than mentioning them after the fact and getting ally cookies for it.
I’m beyond pleased that Hermione will be Black in the upcoming play, but I don’t think that JKR really deserves much (or any) of the accolades she’s receiving for it or her tweet.
8 thoughts on “On JK Rowling’s thing about after the fact diversity”
Yes, the way she did this, with Hermione and Dumbledore, smells a bit like CYA, after the fact, no matter what her original intentions were.
Exactly! She may mean well and it is wonderful that she is supportive of racebending, but she couldn’t actually diversify her own canon until the series was done. I don’t see why we should be patting her on the back for it!
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You say that she’s getting credit for “after the fact diversity” but I see it differently. All she did was say that she’s OK with the interpretation of Hermione as black and fans showed her grattitude. J.K. Rowling’s validation of their interpretation means a lot to those fans.
Now you may say that this validation shouldn’t mean this much, and that even if she was against it they should have the freedom to imagine her however they want – and of course, I agree – but even though fans made those interpretations of Hermione and the HP series, she CREATED Hermione and the HP series in the first place. None of it would be possible without her. Those fans understand that.
At the end of the day, the books are what they are, with all those imperfections, but they’re still awesome, and for that, JK Rowling’s word still means the world to them.
Hey! Thanks for commenting!
Now obviously I disagree with you, which is okay because my experiences aren’t yours. In my experience as a fan of the Harry Potter series and as a writer all on my own, I am very focused on what diversity means to me. I’m also super aware of what it takes to incorporate meaningful diversity into my own works.
And JKR doesn’t seem like the type of person that understands what it means to be aware of diversity in her writing. It comes across as something that she doesn’t have to include in her work, especially when she can use allegories for racial inequality instead.
I’ve written about Harry Potter on my blog prior to today and I talk about diversity in the series all the time. What it boils down to is that JKR really doesn’t have much diversity in her series. Her cast of characters is MASSIVE and yet less than ten characters are explicitly described as characters of color in the text. Dumbledore is the only LGBTQ character and that’s not made known in the text. Just about the only thing that she does handle well is the representation of (white) women and people with disabilities and even then there are issues.
I have no issue with fans who are like “oh my gosh, JKR likes the idea of racebending”. My issues are with JKR herself acting as if her canon is diverse the way she does in the tweet used as a header image and with fans acting as if her support of racebending makes her this ultimate champion of diversity. Sure, she gets credit for creating the characters in the first place, but I think that’s where the credit should end as far as diversity goes.
Yes, she created an amazing world and some iconic characters that literally changed the way that publishers marketed to children and their parents. Yes, she provided us with a series that covered racism and war and very dark topics in a way that was accessible for children.
But at the same time, she was telling this story with a predominantly white cast where everyone was straight. And she has no intention of updating or adding to her textual canon in a way that changes that.
I can see where you’re coming from and I understand what would make you think that way, but I just don’t think anyone should give her heaps of credit for diversifying her world without actually diversifying the text.
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I’m gonna kiss this post.
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[…] about eight characters in your original series that you imagined as characters of color – and no, claiming that Hermione was left ambiguous on purposes and her racebending about a decade aft… – and most of them don’t have anything resembling backstories or […]
[…] It just never shows up in her works until years after the fact (as the Dumbledore reveal was a full decade after the first Harry Potter book was released, as was her later “white skin was never specified” reveal with Hermione). […]
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