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Canon demonstrates that Snape was not a nice man, who bullied his students and embraced the Dark Arts, and who was a Death Eater. Canon also suggests that Snape held anti-Muggleborn sentiments as a youth:

‘There you go,’ he said, as Snape struggled to his feet. ‘You’re lucky Evans was here, Snivellus –’

‘I don’t need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!’

Lily blinked.

‘Fine,’ she said coolly. ‘I won’t bother in future. And I’d wash your pants if I were you, Snivellus.’

Order of the Phoenix - Page 571 - Chapter twenty-eight, Snape's Worst Memory - Bloomsbury

Yet there is evidence Snape might not hold such deeply prejudiced beliefs:

It was night-time. Lily, who was wearing a dressing gown, stood with her arms folded in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady, at the entrance to Gryffindor Tower.

‘I only came out because Mary told me you were threatening to sleep here.’

‘I was. I would have done. I never meant to call you Mudblood, it just –’

‘Slipped out?’ There was no pity in Lily’s voice. ‘It’s too late. I’ve made excuses for you for years. None of my friends can understand why I even talk to you. You and your precious little Death Eater friends – you see, you don’t even deny it! You don’t even deny that’s what you’re all aiming to be! You can’t wait to join You-Know-Who, can you?’

He opened his mouth, but closed it without speaking.

‘I can’t pretend any more. You’ve chosen your way, I’ve chosen mine.’

‘No – listen, I didn’t mean –’

‘– to call me Mudblood? But you call everyone of my birth Mudblood, Severus. Why should I be any different?’

Deathly Hallows - Page 542 - Chapter thirty-three, The Prince's Tale - Bloomsbury

Dumbledore explains to Harry why becoming a Death Eater might appeal to a teen or young adult:

‘As [Tom Riddle] moved up the school, he gathered about him a group of dedicated friends; I call them that, for want of a better term, although as I have already indicated, Riddle undoubtedly felt no affection for any of them. This group had a kind of dark glamour within the castle. They were a motley collection; a mixture of the weak seeking protection, the ambitious seeking some shared glory, and the thuggish, gravitating towards a leader who could show them more refined forms of cruelty. In other words, they were the forerunners of the Death Eaters, and indeed some of them became the first Death Eaters after leaving Hogwarts.'

Half-Blood Prince - Page 339 - Chapter seventeen, *A Sluggish Memory - Bloomsbury

The above are just a few examples to consider. Snape held an incredible amount of hate in his heart, yet also a tremendous love for Lily Evans. When Dumbledore asks Snape in Deathly Hallows whether Snape's doe Patronus means Snape still loves Lily, Snape answers, "Always." I don't think it's a stretch to assume that, had Lily returned Snape's romantic feelings (Which J.K. Rowling has said she might have done), Snape would have jumped at the chance to make a life with Lily, her bloodline aside.

But would this have been in spite of Snape's prejudices, or was the young Snape who blustered and bullied and called all Muggleborns "Mudbloods" merely a front to impress a group of friends (the Death Eater crowd) whom he wanted to be part of?

Q: So what I'm really asking is whether or not Snape was truly prejudiced. Was he? Or did he just behave in an outwardly prejudiced manner, hoping to impress the group of up-and-coming Death Eaters, or for some other reason all together?

I'm looking for an answer from canon -- the 10 Harry Potter books, Pottermore, or quotes, interviews, or tweets from J.K. Rowling. A subjective answer in the spirit of canon is totally welcome -- please don't hesitate to put forth thoughtful theories. I am not looking for any information from any wikipedia. I don't reward the Fastest Gun In the West, so don't feel rushed. Also, if you need me to look over an answer you've left me for a different question, leave a comment with a link to the answer.

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    The psychologist in you is showing ;) Aug 4 '15 at 0:38
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    I once read an interview with a former white supremacist, and he made a comment about how the kind of people who join hate groups tend to make exceptions for people they know personally; "Mudbloods are scum, except for Lily. Lily's cool." Aug 4 '15 at 0:42
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    Not sure I can give you the depth of answer you're looking for so, instead, three quotes for the 'yes (he was prejudiced)' camp from The Prince's Tale (DH): "'Does it make a difference, being Muggle-born?' Snape hesitated"; "'Doesn't your dad like magic?' 'He doesn't like anything, much,'" (seems to have a bad relationship with his (possibly abusive?) Muggle father); "'Wouldn't spy on you, anyway, ... you're a Muggle.'" Obv. you could be anti-Muggle, w/out being anti-Muggle-born witch but this kind of prejudice often doesn't cut that way.
    – Au101
    Aug 4 '15 at 1:46
  • @Au101 His father was abusive, yes. And how do you get he's prejudiced by answering the question honestly: that his father doesn't like anything, much. If I were to say that about someone does that make me prejudiced if it's true? Even if it's not true if it seems like it is that prejudiced or is it what I'm reading? It might be inaccurate or totally off but it doesn't mean I'm prejudiced or that I'm saying it because I don't like them. And the third quote could be easily explained as showing his disdain for how Petunia views him: it's known she thought very poorly of him.
    – Pryftan
    Sep 17 '17 at 16:13
  • @Au101 As for the first quote. It's possible. Or it's also possible he was trying to figure out what he was feeling. It was arguably something he was indoctrinated in from the beginning so the fact he's hesitating is a good sign rather than a bad sign: if he truly believed it with full conviction he would have not only not hesitated but he would have answered the other way around.
    – Pryftan
    Sep 17 '17 at 16:15
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Yes and no.

Yes

Snape was inside a peer group who were blatantly prejudiced and to avoid social ostracization (he had no other contacts beside Lily) he needed to conform to group expectations. This will always influence people no matter what their original opinions were. But the prejudice had already a fertile ground to grow on. He had an abusive Muggle father and was a lone child prodigy. Slytherin fostered all negative traits: exclusiveness, disdain, proudness and "be-over-the-rules-for-lesser-mortals".

Snape is elitist: He does not allow students in his NEWT Potion classes which do not have the best possible mark. Given his hatred of James it is no wonder that Gryffindor pupils are treated the worst; his behavior against Hermione (especially the "teeth growing" scene), is often inexcusable as a teacher.

No.

As many people, Snape is not black and white. Lily as a love interest is naturally a real pain for his attitude. It is clearly evident that he struggles vehemently with his prejudices (his reluctance to tell Lily if there is a difference to have Muggle parents, calling her friends "Mudblood", but never her until the fateful day.). It does not help that Lily is at least equal or even superior in his second passion, Potions, so he cannot see her as inferior person.

Given the history between them, Lupin got astonishingly well along with Snape (I think it really helped that he never joined the attacks committed by James & Co.). While Snape was often waspish, Lupin's good natured friendliness defused it. More: The Wolfsbane potion is extremely tricky to get right, but Snape never used it to punish Lupin. Sure, he squealed on Lupin (werewolf), but it happened after the Handbag-Snape and Marauder-Map episode.

Snape teaching Harry Occlumency is also a very interesting episode. The book gives me, personally, the impression that Harry is alone at fault for failing. He does not train, he does not take the lesson seriously despite Dumbledore and Lupin’s insistence, he craves to see more of the Ministry chamber and he gives exceedingly lame excuses ("I was never able to get a hand on it") when in fact he repelled Snape once. Given that we see that Snape was allied with him retrospectively, it is evident that he really tried to teach to the best of his abilities.

My verdict: Snape has strong prejudices, but is capable to overcome them when the need arises.

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    I would nuance the occlumency lessons. No, Harry did not repel Snape, he used Protego, not occlumency. And Harry is generally good at DADA. You are right that Harry did not do the efforts required to perform in occlumency. Not until HBP was Harry able to resist provocations. Nevertheless, Snape was taunting him the whole time, psychologically abusing him. In a way he behaved like a child taking a petty revenge. So, no, that's not only Harry's fault. Aug 4 '15 at 14:31
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    @bilbo_pingouin This is incorrect, in the book Harry was able to repel Snape twice. In the first instance which was at the beginning of their training Harry relives the first kiss of Cho and was so incensed that he managed to repel Snape and cause a weal on Snapes hand. In the second instance he was able to repel Snape after remembering a swarm of Dementors (The image faded to Snape mumbling) and only then use "Protego" to reverse the spell and break into Snapes mind. You are helpless and cannot act as long as you are under the influence of Legilimency, you need to throw it off first. Aug 5 '15 at 6:40
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    @bilbo_pingouin I'd consider the taunting part of the training - although it certainly was something that would also reflect Snape's thoughts on Harry. He wants Harry to being able to resist attempts to read him under stress, his taunting is only little stress compared to what Voldemort might put him through. Aug 4 '17 at 14:52
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    @ThorstenS. How do you get that you are helpless while someone uses Legilimency on you? As I remember it form the books, protego is exactly what stops Snape's hold on Harry's mind. I also faintly remember someone saying that legilimency can be used without the other party knowing, like while having a "normal" discussion. So I think you're mixing this with the Imperius curse, which might be used as well to force you to reveal something - yet in a way more obvious way. Aug 4 '17 at 14:55
  • @Darkwing Reread the Snape lessons, it is essentially the same claim of bilbo_pingouin. Legilimens can not only be used to check out for truth, it can be used more aggressively to invade the victims mind. In this state, which Snape prefers, the victim is flooded with memories and cannot see/hear anything from the outside world => helpless. Snape even says that Harry may do everything in his capability to stop the attack and Harry is, apart from the two times, completely unable to do anything at all. Aug 4 '17 at 15:22
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So what I'm really asking is whether or not Snape was truly prejudiced. Was he?

Yes, he is prejudiced for different reasons (but not so much for pure-blood), but who in the entire series isn't prejudiced in any way?

Many of his prejudices arise from experience during his childhood and are also often his own opinion and very little what he learns from family and friends (because there is nobody to discuss - political - opinions).

Or did he just behave in an outwardly prejudiced manner, hoping to impress the group of up-and-coming Death Eaters, or for some other reason all together?

Well, this comes in later, after his decision to follow the Death Eaters, and then it's surely a more outwardly manner, if he's fully convinced out of ideals that's something we can just interpret reading the books. I don't think he is so much prejudiced for pure-blood inside himself. He doesn't make any pure-blood related comments teaching his students. The reasons why he treats Neville and Hermione bad have no pure-blood origin, there are other reasons, same as favouring his own house above Gryffindor.

If I read the series with Snape's eyes then he's growing up in the muggle world, but he's a wizard. His mother seems to be the weaker part of the family. His father has the power. His father is likely abusive and neglects his family. He live in a poor area, which is no good address to decent people. It's not in the books, but if you have the this social background and you know you are different (a wizard), how would you feel? He feels prejudiced. He is prejudiced for being different, likely his mother is as well. They do likely things nobody else does at Spinners End. Furthermore he gets prejudiced for living in poverty, for living in the wrong street with all the wrong peoples (assuming they are criminal, assuming they are stealing, etc.). His mother isn't in the list of pure-blood families, she married a muggle, it's not even confirmed she was a Slytherin. But looking at her and his life, yes they may have liked to escape the muggle world, because it didn't treat them well. And Severus is dreaming of Hogwarts, getting away from his family and from Spinners End and in his words to Lily there's a lot of hopelessness to get a change at home. Leaving for Hogwarts seems to be his only solution.

So in the first questions from Lily, if it matters to be muggle born, it may also be an expression of his own thinking: Am I worth something in the muggle world? How will it be if a muggle born goes to the wizarding world? Will the muggle born be welcome? He may even have heard already of Voldemort as the war is getting closer including Voldemort's pure-blood ideas and the danger ahead for muggle borns? So his hesitation is honest, because the truth is, it matters, even though it shouldn't in an ideal world.

Severus chooses from my point of view Slytherin house, because Slytherin is "brainy" not "brawny", not because it's the house of the pure-blood.

He names himself "half-blood prince", to me an expression of not knowing where to belong. He's been neglected by the muggle world, cannot identify with the pure-blood world of Slytherin either (loner), is hated by the Marauders and is in love with a muggle born witch.

He's not accused by Lily for using the dark arts or knowing the dark arts or hexing other people because he can or calling everybody a mudblood every day. He's accused for hanging round with the wrong crowd of people and for "you -would- call anybody a mudblood of my birth". It doesn't mean he frequently called other people mudblood (but so did Draco Malfoy). Calling her a mudblood is just the event to set the separation of the two into action, but it's not an expression of ideals and prejudice towards muggle borns in general. Calling Lily a mudblood is an expression of humiliation, anger, resentment, embarrassment, fear and feeling helpless, doubts about where to belong and where to go and what to do to keep Lily as friend. He already knows Lily isn't on his side anymore, he asked her if they are still best friends and I would assume even if he pretended not to join the "wrong crowd" it wouldn't have helped. Lily made here decision earlier, he wasn't in her friendzone anymore.

So to make it short, Severus is thinking about all these things, but he's neither a pure-blood nor the ultimate order of phoenix supporter in first place. He can grow to both, because he's as half-blood in the middle of the society. He's treated badly in the muggle world and by the Marauders and in tendency prejudiced for being Slytherin. That's the reason he made the wrong decision in the younger years, not because he was in general prejudiced towards muggles, but finally needed a group to follow and proof himself and at a certain point in his life it's been the only people listening to him.

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    "pure" is not "poor".
    – user21820
    Dec 8 '16 at 16:33
  • 'but who in the entire series isn't prejudiced in any way?' I think it's fair to say Hermione wasn't prejudiced (unless you count when she calls someone a troll but let's be honest trolls really are thick). And perhaps Neville? And I'm sure there are many others. I can't recall Harry ever showing prejudiced feelings though maybe I'm forgetting some - and perhaps this goes for the others I've mentioned (and I'm sure there are more). Not saying you're wrong in that he is mixed btw and that he is mixed is a good thing because it means he doesn't believe it with full conviction.
    – Pryftan
    Sep 18 '17 at 21:45
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I believe the question is specifically about Snape's prejudice against muggleborns, not his tendency to be prejudiced in general (like his prejudice against Harry is a totally different story). So in terms of him being "racist" I actually believe the answer is NO.

Snape was not truly prejudiced, neither he was fully on board with the Death Eaters ideology. He joined the elitist group for other reasons.

Evidence against him being a true supremacist:

  1. He called himself Half-blood Prince. I mean, how would you imagine a person who sincerely joined Nazis and would call himself "Half-Jewish Soldier" or something?! Apparently he wasn't ashamed of his half-bloodness and didn't see it as his faultiness.

  2. He is a bully, can be prejudiced against students, play favorites and so on. We see him insulting innocent people left and right with sadistic creativity. He uses all means to destroy his opponent - their appearances, intelligence, social connections... Everything, except two things: blood pureness and being poor (if I remember correctly about the latter one). Never ever he even gave a hint while destroying someone's personality that bloodline matters somehow.

And now Snape stood again in the headmaster’s study as Phineas Nigellus came hurrying into his portrait. “Headmaster! They are camping in the Forest of Dean! The Mudblood--”

“Do not use that word!”

This is obviously reference to his fight with Lily, apparently after using the word and losing her, he gets triggered by others using it and presumably never use it again during his life (again, note how he never refers to blood pureness while insulting people). But think of it: the incident with Lily happened before he joined Death Eaters. Snape joined them already hating the word "Mudblood"

Evidence that he was true supremacist that I don't see as convincing enough:

  1. Calling Lily the M-word. First of all, it is obvious he did not want to insult Lily at all, but he still did. Showing us how people can say things they are not truly want to say or even believe when under the stress. Why he used the "racist" word specifically in this case? Well, I can see two plausible reasons. First, pureblood supremacy was equivalent of power in their group. He might not share the ideology, but in the situation when he was defeated and felt like showing at least some power, he impulsively choses to use the most "powerfull" language he could think of. Second, there were other people watching. If there were those from his "future Death Eaters" friends, he might feel the need to redeem himself after the humiliation, basically saying what he said just to show off.

  2. His hesitation before answering Lily.

“Does it make a difference, being Muggle-born?”

Snape hesitated. His black eyes, eager in the greenish gloom, moved over the pale face, the dark red hair. “No,” he said. “It doesn’t make any difference.”

People see it as proof that he shared the superstition and didn't want to confess. But I actually think he just didn't want to scare her, even though he knew that other people can be prejudiced against her.

  1. His attitude towards Petunia.

“Haven’t been spying,” said Snape, hot and uncomfortable and dirty-haired in the bright sunlight. “Wouldn’t spy on you, anyway,” he added spitefully, “you’re a Muggle.”

He uses "Muggle" as an offensive term here. But I don't think we can conclude that a 10-year old kid is a confirmed nazi in the situation. He doesn't like Petunia and he likes Lily. The only thing he has that Petunia doesn't and that separates her from Lily is being a wizard. And he uses it, irrespective of his actual views.

  1. He hates his Muggle father and can't wait to become a part of wizarding society. I do not see enough evidence though that he extrapolated his hate to all Muggles.

Why did he join Death Eaters if he didn't share their views?

He desperately wanted to be excepted. After his broke up with Lily, Death Eaters was the only group who would not only except him, but actually show him respect for his talents, give him a social status and the opportunity to develop his abilities - all of the things he never had before. Would the ideology matter much for him in this case?

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Well there is definitely proof that in his youth he was prejudiced. He hesitates before telling Lily her blood status doesn't matter (though technically he was sorta lying, because as there was prejudice against muggleborns at Hogwarts, being muggleborn did make a difference at Hogwarts in terms of how she'd be treated, so if you wanted too, you could simply view this as him hesitating about wether or not to tell her a good amount of people where going to hate her when she got there and finding a different answer, this is probably unlikely however), and he says to her sister she's just a muggle, in a derogatory way (however this just seems to show his distaste for muggles), and again on the train says 'who cares about your sister, "she's just a m-"' assumedly would finish to be muggle. He definintly had a negative view of muggles when he was younger, as his father was abusive and "didn't like much of anything." I think this parallels well with Sirius, as Sirius had a distain for Slytherins because his mother (a Slytherin) was bigoted (assumedly abusive, alike how Severus's Father (a muggle) was bigoted and abusive. Sirius and Severus are clearly parallels in the serious, especially with there coping mechanisms (regression and splitting most notably), you could probably switch there places in life and they's both probably follow in the others original path. Neither of them had any good relationships with there respected biases, at least not to our knowledge, Severus never met any good muggles and Sirius never met any good Slytherins (in the fandom he typically has a very positive relationship with his brother, but all we hear canonically is that his brother was the favorite and went down a path Sirius disapproves of, and we never actually see any good muggles in the entire series until maybe the end when Dudley has his little redemption arc, which also mirrors what we see of Slytherins in the series). Likely by association Severus hated Muggleborns, however he hadn't met any before Lily, which considering that after his original hesitation with her, we never see any real proof he doesn't like muggleborns, he may have gotten over his prejudice. He does according to Lily call other's of her blood mud blood, but that can easily be seen as him trying to fit in with his peers. Then he joined the death eater's, though according to JKR this is just because he was a desperate kid. At the end of his memories though we see two scenes that prove he isn't prejudiced (at least against muggleborns, nothing about muggles) anymore. He tells Nigellus not to use the word mud blood when he was calling Hermione that, and when Dumbledore tells him about Harry needing to die, which sets up a choice for Snape between Lily and the Light side, because he has to choose to either tell her son to sacrifice himself to kill Voldemort or keep quite and let Harry live. He chooses to tell Harry, and thereby choosing good over Lily, showing he isn't doing this just for Lily anymore. I'd probably guess by all this proof that for his opinion on muggleborns, it changed a bit after he met Lily.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Please edit this and add paragraphs; it's fairly hard to read as it is.
    – DavidW
    Dec 8 '20 at 21:14

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