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In the Potterverse, there is definitely some sort of elitism that occurs between the 'pure-bloods' and muggle-borns or even half-bloods. There's also a specieism that occurs that we see between various creatures, especially between Wizards and other sentient creatures like the giants and centaurs. Considering that there is this prejudice that exists in the Potterverse, do we see any instances of cultural racism as well?

Just an idea - part of the purpose of the Tri-Wizard tournament was to promote greater international bonds between wizards. Might be something worth investigating...

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  • Considering this question (scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/88022/…) I don't understand the negative response - please don't just downvote but explain why you downvote! Jun 13, 2015 at 3:32
  • @Slytherincess fair enough - sounds like a good policy for me to adopt too ;) Jun 13, 2015 at 4:46
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    Well, I suggested it because I really think it benefits the user asking the question -- more often than not you will get more answers, and more quality answers. This is always a good thing! Also, I meant to say that my comments regarding choosing answers were in no way meant to impugn cde's answer. :) Jun 13, 2015 at 4:50
  • @Slytherincess well hiss hiss to you too
    – user16696
    Jun 13, 2015 at 5:02
  • 2
    @cde -- Yes, yes, indeed! Boo! Hiss! :) Jun 14, 2015 at 16:33

3 Answers 3

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No evidence for it

Wizards of Britain -- even the very best of them -- are well known to harbour at least three kinds of bigotry: blood purity, speciesism and muggle discrimination.

Blood purity is the cultural myth that wizards whose ancestry is "pure", without any non-magical contamination, are superior to everyone. Half-bloods are tolerable; muggleborns are not.

Speciesism is the rampant and dominant perspective among wizards that humans are the apex sophont race in the world and that elves, goblins, centaurs, giants and so forth are of lower rank. This -ism is truly institutional in that there are laws governing what elves and goblins can do (they can not use wands, for example) and "creatures of near human intelligence" like centaurs are treated like magical beasts, and there is a department in the Ministry to manage them.

Muggle discrimination is a more generalised derision of anything to do with muggle culture, muggle civilisation, muggle learning, etc.

Cultural Racism, is essentially a new word for ethnocentrism, the perspective that one's own ethnic group is the apex group and all others are subdominant.

The scene where we supposedly see cultural racism / ethnocentrism in action:

‘Hey, Johnson, what’s with that hairstyle, anyway?’ shrieked Pansy Parkinson from below. ‘Why would anyone want to look like they’ve got worms coming out of their head?’

Angelina swept her long braided hair out of her face and continued calmly, ‘Spread out, then, and let’s see what we can do ...’

Order of the Phoenix - page 261 - Chapter 14, Percy and Padfoot - Bloomsbury

The scene apparently takes place during a quidditch match (we really only ever see Angelina Johnson in the context of quidditch).

Slytherincess's answer relies on juxtaposing two random facts before leaping to the incorrect conclusion that Pansy is an ethnocentrist.

Random fact 1: cornrow braids are very frequently worn by people of African descent Random fact 2: Pansy mocks Angelina's "braids"

The problems here are many.

First, we don't know if Angelina wears cornrow braids or not. The book doesn't tell us. The movie director has artistic license to give her any kind of braid (or any other kind of hairstyle!) they wish. We are being led to the respondent's conclusion through the artful insertion of a certain assumption that in itself is not entirely correct.

Second, cornrow braids (and indeed braids of any kind) are not the sole province of "people of African descent". Cornrows were worn in ancient Rome and Greece and (very likely, given archeological finds) even back well into neolithic times in Europe. Braids (and other "wormlike" hairstyles) are not unknown in Europe through later and modern history as well. Any kind of hairstyle with multiple braids "looks like worms". Any long hair that isn't combed for a few days "looks like worms" too.

Third, we are given no hint in this exchange, or anywhere else, that Pansy herself is actually an ethnocentrist. Let's not mince words: Pansy is a bigot, and her bigotry is blood purism; she is a pureblood and despises blood traitors and muggleborns alike.

Fourth, Pansy is very clearly focusing on Angelina's hairstyle, not her ethnicity in and of itself.

The conclusion is false because it arises from ultra-recent 21st century perspectives, expectations and assumptions, relying on tangential data and offering no evidence from within the wizarding world itself to support the claim.

Conclusion: That scene does not prove ethnocentrism or cultural racism, either on the part of the character in question, or within wizarding British culture in general.

The fact that we know that wizards are, in general, fairly bigoted (as described above) and that their bigotries are prominently displayed and sometimes addressed; and that we are never introduced to cultural racism per se in in the books speaks volumes for the answer to the query being NO.

Rationale: The fact that this happens during a quidditch match speaks far more to Pansy being a rabid Gryffindor detractor than anything else. She is engaging, as all true sports fans do, in a little "trash talk", a little psychological warfare in order to put the opposing team's player off her game. And while Pansy is certainly a piece of work -- a bigoted one at that, given her rabid blood purism -- it simply can't be demonstrated that her comment is borne out of any kind of ethnic or cultural bigotry on a personal level. Neither does this interaction demonstrate any kind of widespread ethnocentrism or cultural racism within the broader wizarding culture of the UK.

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At Dictionary.com, there were several definitions for race, including:

  • An arbitrary classification of modern humans, sometimes, especially formerly, based on any or a combination of various physical characteristics, as skin color, facial form, or eye shape, and now frequently based on such genetic markers as blood groups.

and

  • A socially constructed category of identification based on physical characteristics, ancestry, historical affiliation, or shared culture: Her parents wanted her to marry within her race.

cde mentions elitism due to blood status, but I want to expand. The first Dictionary.com example definition is interesting in that it identifies blood groups as a basis for an individual to belong to a specific race. In this context, Voldemort's blood purity campaign could qualify as a form of cultural racism. Voldemort wanted pure-bloods to reign supreme and lord over half-bloods and Muggleborns, and he discriminated against them openly. Further, he was willing to kill witches and wizards who were not pure-bloods with impunity.

In Order of the Phoenix, Pansy Parkinson, a white Slytherin girl, taunts Angelina Johnson, a black Gryffindor girl, about Angelina's braided hair. It is common for individuals of African descent to wear their hair in "cornrow" braids, a hairstyle rarely seen in other races. From Order of the Phoenix:

‘Hey, Johnson, what’s with that hairstyle, anyway?’ shrieked Pansy Parkinson from below. ‘Why would anyone want to look like they’ve got worms coming out of their head?’

Angelina swept her long braided hair out of her face and continued calmly, ‘Spread out, then, and let’s see what we can do ...’

Order of the Phoenix - page 261 - Chapter 14, Percy and Padfoot - Bloomsbury

As cornrow braids are very frequently worn by people of African descent -- certainly more so than any other race here in the United States -- Pansy's taunting of Angelina's hair could qualify as Pansy exhibiting racism against Angelina's shared culture, which qualifies as cultural racism, which meets the second definition of racism from Dictionary.com.

Yes, cultural racism is present in Potterverse.

I realize Pansy's taunt does not specifically cite cornrow braids; J.K. Rowling just notes that Angelina has "braids". However, Pansy's specific description of Angelina's braids looking like "worms" would be more consistent with cornrow braids than, say, just two braids, ala Pippi Longstocking. For the record, I do not think cornrow braids look like worms or are unattractive in any way. I am merely talking semantics. Just so that's clear.

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  • Makes you wonder, can xenophobia, outside of real world cultural differences, be considered racism? Could someone like Pansy, completely removed from real world racist upbringing, be considered actually racist, instead of xenophobic? I mean, she (I'm assuming since she's not a muggles born) insults Angelina for being different instead of for being black. It's a subtle if pedantic difference.
    – user16696
    Jun 13, 2015 at 5:08
  • @cde - Well, on a canonical level, Pansy is a generational pure-blood; hers is one of the Great 28 (I'm not remembering its exact name) pure-blood families in Potterverse. Dictionary.com defines xenophobia as: an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange. I didn't interpret the passage from OOTP as Pansy demonstrating fear. She was aggressively taunting Angelina, and took the initiative to hone in on one of Angelina's characteristics of shared culture -- her braids. I see plain racism, but, to be fair, it is not completely overt. Jun 14, 2015 at 15:31
  • Xenophobia, like homophobic, does not strictly mean fear.
    – user16696
    Jun 14, 2015 at 16:49
  • what cde said. You ignored the "...or hatred" part of the xenophobia definition. Personally I think it is a stretch to say that Pansy's taunting is definitively racist. It might not even be xenophobic. It could simply be kids taunting because well, they're kids. Jun 14, 2015 at 16:51
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Elitism of blood purity is called racism... in the US this was codified as the One Drop rule https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-drop_rule

As for cultural racism, the general antimuggle sentiment among the so call pure blood would classify.

If you are asking about examples of overt racial bias in universe, there is nothing blatant. In universe probably having the Irish kid being good at explosives. The closest that comes to it is lack of inclusion of non-anglosaxon characters or bad casting out of universe. If you believe that having a mostly white cast in England is racist anyways.

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  • I've clarified my question somewhat - you may wish to revise your answer Jun 13, 2015 at 3:46
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    Updated. Of course this is subjective, some people see racism everywhere and some nowhere
    – user16696
    Jun 13, 2015 at 4:02
  • Good points made Jun 13, 2015 at 4:05
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    "Inclusion" is a red herring. Even a cursory examination of UK and Ireland census data for the 1990s sufficiently demonstrates that "anglos" are very likely the "underrepresented" ones. That is, there simply weren't that many non-anglos in the UK at the time and we are probably shown far more individual South Asian, East Asian and black students in Hogwarts than there likely would be in reality based on general population at the time.
    – elemtilas
    Jan 24 at 0:14
  • @elemtilas - A cursory examination of the census shows that 6% of people reported themselves as belonging to groups other than White (comprising White British, White Irish, and White Other). The following student characters are mentioned as being BAME: the Patil twins, Lee Jordan, Angelina Johnson, Cho Chang, Blaise Zabini. Now, there is a good deal of evidence pointing to approximately 10 students per year per house on average. That would come to about 2.1%.
    – Adamant
    Jan 24 at 1:41

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