NUwitches
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NUwitches

Drawing by Sophia Canning

#BlackGirlMagic (2)

decolonizing our imaginations

Today’s all about Black witches, real and imaginary alike.

What we’re reading

Oh, also, before we get any further into our discussion of Harry Potter, let’s establish right now that sometimes our favorite stories are written by terrible people, transwomen are women, and that’s the end of that.

racism, representation, and finding yourself in the text

Waaaaay back at the beginning of the semester, we talked about reading against the text — looking for meanings that the authors might not have intended, but that readers find important or empowering.

I usually use this video for that conversation, but since I decided to do an entire day on Hermione and why Black witches a) exist and b) are important both in and of themselves and also to how we think about witches, gender, and religion broadly, I saved it for today. Here you go.

Hermione Granger: setting bitches on fire for great justice since 1997

(FTR: the video is based on this piece from Buzzfeed.)

The books aren’t written with Hermione as the protagonist, but the video — sarcastically but still — shows us how much her character drives the narrative. Here’s the thing, though: you don’t have to read against the text to imagine Hermione as Black. Even Rowling agreed.

But when a Black woman was cast as Hermione in The Cursed Child, many white fans lost their collective minds.

And many artists who drew Hermione faced a lot of hate.

So, several things.

1) the existence of Black characters does not erase the existence of white characters.

BUT it tells us something important about American audiences that they ASSUME a character is white unless explicitly told otherwise. This is because in what’s now the US and many other places, whiteness is unmarked, assumed “normal.” (Again: this is what we’re talking about when we talk about white supremacy — the valuation of whiteness over all other races, the assumption that whiteness is the default.) So unmarked, in fact, that some white consumers take it as a personal affront when beloved characters turn out to be Not White — even when explicitly described as such.

2) making a character Black is not “reverse racism.”

Racism is systemic oppression, meaning US systems and institutions privilege whiteness over other racial expressions. An individual white person can be discriminated against on the basis of race, but there are no SYSTEMS in place to reward that discrimination.

“Reverse racism,” in short, is not a thing.

3) representation matters

Seeing yourself and people like you in stories is powerful magic. So the fact that Black readers, especially Black women, can see themselves in Hermione really matters, as Alanna Bennett explains in the piece you read for today.

Bennet, “A ‘Racebent’ Hermione Granger”

As Bennett says: a “racebent” Hermione helped her question protagonists as white-until-proven-otherwise.

“Hermione’s story was always one involving a young girl living in a world aggressive towards her for her very existence.”

Bennett says seeing Hermione as a Black woman fighting back and winning against an oppressive “blood politics” inspired her — and that seeing Hermione as Black is an important act of reclaiming and resistance.

Bennett’s written more about Hermione, if you’re interested.

What stood out to you about this article? What do you think Chireau, Romberg, and the other theorists we’ve read this semester might make of Hermione as Black?

Thomas, “Hermione Is Black”

This is a chapter from Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’ The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games (NYU 2019).

Here, Thomas helps us think more deeply and more expansively about this characterization and about fandom. She raises important questions about the absence of named Black characters in Harry Potter, whether Black witches had been subject to chattel slavery in this universe, and how Thomas herself blended Hurston (whom you read) into her HP fanfiction.

She emphasizes that writers of fan fiction exercise “interpretive agency” — that they “restory their worlds” (154) and that because characters are assumed white, Black readers, writers, and fans “are always narrating the self into existence” (152). What does Thomas mean by this?

At the same time, Thomas shows us that fandom is not a race-blind utopia. She shares her experiences with anti-Blackness in HP fanfiction spaces: as a Black woman in fandom, she says, she was as both hypervisible & marginalized (149). Too often, Thomas argues, marginalized people are imagined as “the monstrous, the invisible, and the always dying” (165). Learning to see Hermione as Black allows readers to “decoloniz[e] our fantasies and our dreams,” Thomas says (169).

Why is this decolonial work important? In part, Thomas insists, doing this work of “collective restorying” means “liberating magic itself,” (164, 169).

Hopefully you’re seeing ties between Thomas’ project and Plaskow’s reimagining of Lilith, Vera’s “Seam of Skin and Scales,” Doyle’s Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers, and Grossman’s Waking the Witch. What does Thomas add to these other kinds of “restorying” projects?

I’m sure you’re also hearing resonances between Thomas’ work and Audre Lorde calling on Mary Daly to include African goddesses in her concept of the Goddess.

Lorde, “Open Letter to Mary Daly”

You can also appreciate by now that Thomas’ work and Bennett’s work add important nuance to our consideration of what Thomas calls “collective restorying” and “interpretive agency” because many authors who write about American witchcraft don’t critique whiteness or white supremacy — and a witchcraft / goddess worship / magic use system that does not critique white supremacy cannot and will not be liberatory, especially for practitioners of color. We’ll talk more about this on Friday when you read about the Hoodwitch, so stay tuned.

Bell, “How Hollywood Has Failed Black Witches”

How do pop culture depictions of Black witches distort the histories and practices of actual Black witches? Why do these misrepresentations matter? How would the Black witches interviewed for this piece prefer to be depicted in pop culture?

Samuel, “The Witches of Baltimore”

By now, nothing in this article will surprise you. But I think it’s important that you get to see the faces and hear the voices of the folks — here, especially Black women — who are reclaiming and reimagining Conjure and African Diasporic Religions.

“these African traditions empower women. They’re empowering you to have a hand in what you’re doing — to create your own magic.”
(Tamara Young, quoted in Samuel 2018)

It’s also worthwhile to ask yourselves how Chireau might respond to this article — are Conjure and Christianity “all mixed up together” for the women in this article? Is Christianity about going to church? Or is it something different, something more?

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Megan Goodwin

Megan Goodwin

author of _Abusing Religion_, co-host of “Keeping It 101: A Killjoy’s Introduction to Religion Podcast,” and wikipedia-certified expert on (ugh) cults