Sunday, August 19, 2007

Muggles, Mudbloods, and other objects of bigotry

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
August 19, 2007

No one likes to think of themselves as bigots, but unfortunately bigotry remains a present challenge to our society. Discussions of immigration policy, national security, even marriage often contain veiled and not so veiled statements about “them.” “Them” is code for those we deem undesirable; those who would steal our jobs, pollute our culture, waste our tax payer dollars, or undermine our morality. Yes, bigotry remains a problem in our day.
I happen to be a big Harry Potter fan, having just finished reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” and as I read I couldn't help but hear the book's author speaking to this very issue that plagues our world today. Supposedly this is a series of children's books, but they are much more, for many adults have found not just hours of enjoyment, but deep meaning in this increasingly mature series of books. The books offer insight into such virtues as friendship, loyalty, being true to one's self, and the importance of standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
J.K. Rowling seems to have understood the old adage that truth must be caught rather than taught, and therefore it's quite possible to read these books, especially the final volume, as a protest against the rising tide of bigotry in our world today.
In the case of Harry Potter's world, the bigotry comes from the wizarding world's “Purebloods,” and it's directed against “Muggles” (non-wizards) and “Muggle-borns” or “Mudbloods,” as radical “Purebloods” love to call them. “Mud-bloods” are wizards like Hermione Granger and Harry's mother, Lily, who're without any apparent “wizarding” ancestry. Their “powers” are therefore seen as somehow illegitimate - even stolen.
This bigotry among wizards might be traced to the fact that they must live in the shadows, something many resent. But it's also born of a sense of superiority, and as we all know - “might makes right.” Their desire to keep things pure leads some radicalized “Purebloods” to engage in a policy of oppression and even murder. And those “purebloods” who sympathize with these “lower beings” are seen as traitors - “blood-traitors” - who must be marginalized for their love of “Muggles” and “Mudbloods.” But even our heroes must learn something about bigotry, and it's the “Muggle-born” Hermione Granger who is their teacher. She helps her friends see other non-human beings - like the house-elves who are essentially slaves - as having dignity and honor in their own right.
If any of this sounds familiar, it should for this morality-play sheds light on our own histories and experiences. A fanatical concern for racial purity stood at the heart of the Nazi's Aryan ideology, but they're not alone in history. Consider our own American legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and the Trail of Tears, just to give a few examples.
Yes, this isn't just a series of fantasy stories meant for children (indeed this is a series of books that has matured with the original readers of the series). It is a word of wisdom that we can learn from as we deal with a world that's becoming increasingly diverse and yet increasingly intolerant. Indeed, it can be said that bigotry is on the rise everywhere in the world today. Here in America the traditional recipients of bigotry - African-Americans, Roman Catholics, Asians, and Jews - have been joined by Latinos, gays, Muslims, and immigrants of all stripes, but especially those who hail from Mexico and Central America.
It seems that we regularly read and hear laments about the threats to American security and culture from those who are different. Despite the fact - with the possible exception of Native Americans - that there is no such thing as a truly “blue-blooded American” - we all stem from immigrant stock - some believe themselves to be more American than others.

But such bigotry is never right and is often a pretext to discrimination and to violence. It is, in fact, repugnant to what's right and honorable and decent, and contrary to the teachings of my own faith tradition. Which is why, of course, we should heed Harry's message and stand up for what is right!
Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church of Lompoc (lompocdisciples.org). He blogs at http://pastorobobcornwall.blogspot.com and may be contacted at lompocdisciples@impulse.net or First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93438.

August 19, 2007

2 comments:

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

The racism, even speciesism, also shows up in the wizarding world's attitude toward enslaved house elves, goblins, giants, etc. It's probably not surprising that it's the "mudblood" Hermione Granger who is one of the most sensitive (and outraged) about this injustice. Ron finally wins her heart when he thinks to free the Hogwarts house elves from the kitchens so that they can escape before Voldemort's forces attack.

Pedro Morgado said...

Please, don’t let J. K. Rowling kill Harry Potter. :)

Please, save Harry Potter.