Why Hermione Was Black All Along
by Amanda Gorman
I am one of those believers that Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series is Black. Yes, I said it. Everyone thought I was crazy, or, worse, ‘pulling the race card’, when I said this. That is until Noma Dumezweni, a beautiful dark-skinned actress, was cast as Hermione in the original West End run of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Even J.K Rowling, the queen, the all-knowing, wrote:
How awesome is that?
The only thing is I wish I need not say more. But the thing is, I must. I remember telling one of my best friends (and yes, if you are wondering, she’s white) that I thought Hermione could be black, and she raised an eyebrow at me. “Hmm…I always assumed she was white, like me,” she said.
How many of you thought Hermione Granger was black? It’s ok, if you did, be honest. It’s probably a lot of you.
Maybe a better question is why do you think Hermione Granger is not black? Probably because you think she is white. Why do you think she is white? Because of the movies. Why did they cast a white person as Hermione in the movies? Hermione’s skin color is never described in the books. The closest thing we get is in The Prisoner of Azkaban, where Rowling writes: “They were there, both of them, sitting outside Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor — Ron looking incredibly freckly, Hermione very brown, both waving frantically at him.”
If literally Hermione is described as having really frizzy hair and being ‘very brown’, why do we assume her to be white? As readers, we experience a white default. We automatically think of the characters to fit a white standard. Tell me when is the last time you opened a book and from the get-go, without being told by any hints, thought the character was black?
If I read a book and it says “Jane walked down the street”, I’ll automatically see Jane as white. We constantly see characters in books as white unless it is said plainly that they’re not, and even then there is some controversy. This is what happened with Amandla Stenberg in The Hunger Games, fighting the racist outcry of prejudiced people saying they didn’t want Rue to be a Black girl. Although it says explicitly in the book that Rue has dark skin, readers still refuse to see a character they love as anything but white. Why do we give preferential treatment to a white mindset? Why can’t non-white girls be heroines?
I’m a writer. I couldn’t live without my pen. But even I didn’t write stories with non-white characters until 7th grade, and even then they had really light skin. I didn’t mean to be biased; I had just never in my life been exposed to books where the characters weren’t white. So subconsciously I thought: “Well, guess black girls can never save the day.” Now I’ve gotten over this and write books about all sorts of people, but think how many readers out there are inadvertently soaking in this prejudicial message.
This calls for a serious evaluation of the way we read literature and make presumptions about characters.
Emma Watson, the OG Hermione herself, said after a preview of The Cursed Child: “Having seen it, I felt more connected to Hermione and the stories than I have since Deathly Hallows came out, which was such a gift. Some things about the play were, I think, possibly even more beautiful than the films. Noma was everything I could ever hope she would be. She’s wonderful.” Emma could accept, embrace, and praise a black Hermione. My question is why it takes some other readers so long to do so.
Even if J.K. Rowling did not mean for Hermione to be black, Hermione still represents a lot of the black experience for colored girls. She is called a mudblood, a prejudicial slur for muggle-born witches and wizards. She has the M word to bother her, while black girls have the N word to deal with, a word with close ties to our oppression. On this level we can connect deeply with Hermione.
Not to mention that she had that unforgettable frizzy head. Black girls are known for our napturalicious curls, and for standing out because of our big, thick afro. Hermione even goes through the trouble of magically straightening her hair for the Yule Ball. How many Black girls have straightened their hair with relaxer for some event because our natural, kinky hair is not seen as acceptable or beautiful?
Oh, and let’s not forget that she fights for the rights of house elves, impish creatures that are slaves in the magical world. Many Black girls like me are descended from slave ancestors who had to wait and fight for freedom in a world that refused to give it to them. Hermione cares about freedom, a right that Black people take very seriously.
So is Hermione white? Is she black? Hermione can be white to you. But she’s black to me. She also can be a latina to you, or Japanese. What I’m trying to say is that we need to expand the strictly Eurocentric way in which we define heroines. Beloved characters can be black, brown, white, green. Let’s read between the lines and encourage books that praise the beautiful diversity of great women that live in this world.
Now, more than ever, with violence causing havoc and fear in the POC and LGBTQ community, we must remind ourselves how essential representation is for truly inclusive, fair, and equal society. This starts in our homes, our conversations, and interestingly, in the stories we tell. A story where a black girl is given the freedom to be brave, intelligent, and compassionate brings us one step closer to making such tales realities.