Many people think of the Harry Potter books as naïve children’s books that transport the reader to a fictional world free from racism, discrimination and other worldly ills. People who aren’t familiar with the series might even say that Harry’s society has few similarities with our own. However, one cannot deny the underlying theme of racism that is present in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Even Harry Potter himself isn’t safe from the bigotry and hatefulness of some people in his world. We see that hatred directed at such outcasts as the squibs, house elves, and mudbloods, whom all suffer at the hands of society’s intolerance for them.
Squibs are people that were born to magical families but can do no magic themselves. This causes them to be very shameful of this and try to hide it. It is a source of much embarrassment in the wizarding world if you are born a wizard yet are unable to do magic. As it is revealed in Book Two, the caretaker at Hogwarts, Argus Filch, is a Squib. A book about learning magic was found in his office, revealing to us that he’s been trying to learn magic later in life in order to erase the stigmata that he lives with. The fact that Filch is a Squib was not very well-known, and he chose to keep this to himself to avoid embarrassment and ridicule. It is no surprise that Filch is an angry, ruthless man to Harry and his friends. Deep down, he is probably sad that he cannot do magic and envies Harry Potter for his wizarding skills.
House elves endure a different kind of discrimination: one that they accept. For hundreds of years, house elves existed for one purpose: to serve their masters. They are subservient in their speech and actions, and they cannot be set free unless their master gives them a piece of clothing. House elves are not treated as equals. The plight of the house elf mirrors the situation of the African-American slave in America years ago. Both have been so beaten down by servitude that it is often unheard of for them to fathom or realistically hope for freedom. Dobby, a house elf in the service of Harry’s archnemesis Malfoy, is the penultimate example of this. He reaps tons of praise on Harry Potter for even suggesting that he doesn’t deserve how he’s treated. Harry, not a victim of the brainwashing of magical society, doesn’t understand that it is normal practice for house elves to be treated like this. Indeed, it is a tragically depressing scenario the house elves liven in. So tragic that Hermione takes on the cause to free them from their enslavement.
Lastly, the most prevalent example of racism in Book Two is the intolerance of so-called “purebloods” for the “mudbloods.” Mudbloods, sometimes called half-bloods, are those that are of mixed magical blood. That is, one or more of their parents was Muggle-born. Purebloods are members of the snobbish wizarding families that have existed for ages. They naturally despise mudbloods and think the world should consist of just purebred witches. Malfoy is a clear example of this idea. A pureblood from a long-established wizarding family himself, Draco looks down on Hermione (whose parents are both Muggles) and terms her a “filthy mudblood.” The fact that these close-minded wizards are willing to discredit others of their kind simply because of how they were born (something that they can’t control) is quite possibly the saddest part of the Harry Potter story.
JK Rowling cleverly shows us through her series that discrimination leaks in to any society, even one as magical as Harry’s. Harry not only has to worry about thwarting Voldemort but also must deal with close-minded, racists like Malfoy who stop at nothing to spread their sick beliefs. In this way, Harry’s world is not so different from ours. Squibs, house elves, and mudbloods alike are all belittled and thought to be inferior in their own world. No amount of magic can erase that.