Featured Image from: Polygon
When it comes to genetics, you can’t really choose your race, sex, or the physical health you’re born into. It’s a lottery, and some people can be born into rich families but have poor health, while others are born in poorer areas but rarely ever have to see the doctor. I’m a woman born in the United States born to a Latina father and a white woman with Italian heritage. None of these things were my choice when I was born (that’s not to say I wouldn’t change anything, though), but just by saying these things, I can already name two groups that would seek to oppress or think themselves better than me: misogynist groups that believe women are inferior to men, and white supremacist groups that believe they are better than other races.
It’s not just a small group: a significant portion of people hold prejudices against people with different races, sex, and genders that it’s affected the way we live. A white upper-class male, for example, would have an easier time going to school and getting a good-paying job than a colored woman who lives in an impoverished area. Some would think that, because of this, that man is “better” than the woman simply because what he was born to is much better than the life she was born into.
Back when I was in high school my biology teacher taught genetics, she always wrapped up her lessons talking about the implications of it in real life. A portion of us will go on to become doctors, and it’s unlikely that one person in her class will become a geneticist that will change the world, but all of us will be judged by our genetics and other factors we cannot control. It’s a prevalent issue, one you can see in several works in literature. And while I’m still earning my degree, it’s a lesson I want to teach my students one day, one that would be interesting if I could explain it with a series they could understand, the Harry Potter series and the way they portray blood purity and supremacy.
In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, it would appear that without scarcity of resources, you would imagine that there would be no need for fighting or discrimination. But it seems that while no one seems to be prejudiced against race, many are prejudiced against those who do not come from purely wizarding families. Blood status is the concept that families have varying levels of magically-gifted members. Those who can say they have no Muggle (non-magical people) family relatives think they are better than those who have Muggle relatives or are a descendant of a Muggle family themselves.
And the obsession about blood status has been so severe for some people that there have been two recorded wars in the series: the first one saw Gellert Grindelwald try to make wizards come out of hiding and rule over Muggles, while the second one saw Voldemort try to cleanse the wizarding world of Muggle-borns.
Creating Hierarchies in Harry Potter
In the first three books, J.K. Rowling introduces us to an unwritten hierarchy many elitists practice: at the supposed top, you have the purebloods. They have no Muggle or Muggle-born relatives (or they claim not to have and ignore family members who practice as such) and think themselves better than those who aren’t pureblood. They consider themselves royalty or wizarding elite and believe muggle-borns should not be welcomed into the wizarding world.
Not all purebloods, see it this way, though they are labelled blood traitors by people who do. Others, such as most of the members of the Black family, go to extreme lengths to keep their family pure like disowning squibs and their pureblood family members who marry Muggles, non-pureblood wizards, and blood traitors, as well as practicing inbreeding and marrying distant pureblood relatives.
And then you have the half-bloods, wizards with one pure or half-blood parent and one Muggle parent (Lord Voldemort and Severus Snape), wizards with one pure or half-blood parent and one Muggle parent (Harry Potter and Nymphadora Tonks), or those who might be considered pureblood by having magical parents and grandparents but recognize their Muggle ancestors (Harry Potter’s children, who are descendants of Muggles through their paternal grandmother). While some purebloods look down on half-bloods, some half-bloods also look down on Muggles and Muggle-borns.
After half-bloods are the Muggle-borns, wizards born from Muggles. According to the series’ lore, they either got their magic from a distantly related squib, or they just randomly got their magic. Since a wizard doesn’t fully recognize their powers until they’re invited to Hogwarts at the age of 11, they grow up with a Muggle way of thinking, which doesn’t sit well with the purebloods. They call them “mudbloods,” which is the equivalent to the n-word we have in real life. In the second wizarding war, Muggle-borns were forced to register as Muggle-borns under the ministry, but in doing so, they were arrested for supposedly stealing their magic from another wizard.
And at the bottom of the hierarchy are the Muggles, squibs, and half-breeds. Muggles are the humans, while squibs are the opposite of Muggle-borns, a person born to two wizards but has no magical powers. And half-breeds are the result of a wizard and another humanoid magical creature such as giants, Veela, and centaurs.
In this hierarchy, it was believed wizards and witches in families that did not marry Muggles or Muggle-borns are inherently better than wizards or witches who have. As a result, they see those who are as impure or unworthy, often oppressing and bullying those beneath them and teaching their children to practice the same beliefs at a young age.
Elitist purebloods believe that magical people who enjoy non-magical company are weak and the dirtiness of Muggles and Muggle-borns will make them equally filthy “blood traitors.” Some extremists, such as Bellatrix Lestrange, have been known to even hurt those she sees beneath her and disowned her own sister after she married a Muggle-born, living up to her family motto, Toujours Pur, or “Always Pure.”
And when you look at real-life events such as World War II, slavery, and modern-day racism, sexism, and ableism, you can see that while blood status is a problem in the fictional wizarding world, it’s not without a real-life basis.
Applied in Real Life
Reading this, can you see a bit of parallel between the real world and the series? That’s because J.K. Rowling wrote the book’s pureblood arc to reflect the way prejudice works on people whose only crime is to be born to different people.
In the 17th century, people believed it was okay to be racist and accept white supremacist beliefs because of “scientific racist,” the belief that white people were genetically better than people of color. And this, in turn, has affected the United States even before the civil war until the present day. In some parts of the country in the 1890’s, non-white people were not even considered citizens and were excluded from politics and most jobs.
White supremacy continues to be an ideology that exists to this day. With the Ku Klux Klan and other organizations claiming the white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed person as the perfect race, they look down on people and even cause physical harm on others who do not match their description. And all that person did wrong is be born to a different ancestry.
In the Harry Potter series, Professor Albus Dumbledore said something along the lines that it didn’t matter what a person was born as, but the person they choose to be. It’s a lesson that I think biology teachers in the future should teach their students. Not everyone will go on to have a career in genetics, after all, but everyone’s genetics will have a say on how they live their lives – and how others may treat them.