Thursday April 19, 2018
In April this year we published what instantly became a highly talked-about and best-selling book, The Working Class. Intent on changing the narrative about the education of children in poverty and from disenfranchised backgrounds, the book consists of over 40 contributions from across the educational spectrum.
One of the contributors is London-based teacher and writer Darren Chetty with a short poem entitled ‘Black Wizards’ Supplementary School’. Here he describes in more detail the thinking behind why he wanted to have this particular piece in the book:
My poem ‘Black Wizards’ Supplementary School’ in The Working Class is obviously about the Harry Potter series. I’m attempting to critique the Harry Potter books from inside the Harry Potter universe. Starting with the assumption that black children are equally likely as white ones to be magic, I begin to wonder why they are almost absent from Hogwarts. This is something I’ve touched on before in my essay for The Good Immigrant. “You Can’t Say That, Stories Have To Be About White People”. There I wrote the following about the Potter books.
“The books are seen by many as arguing for inclusivity and tolerance, tackling challenging themes such as racial purity and oppression. These themes are explored through fantasy figures such as wizards, giants and elves. At the same time, amongst the teachers and pupils at Hogwarts, there are very few people of colour and no clear explanation of why that might be. So a story that has so much to say about racism on an allegorical level at the same time depicts people of colour as marginal without exploring their marginalization.”
A more pithy, and yes provocative take might be to say that one of the themes within the Harry Potter series – and no doubt an unintended one - is that ‘white people are magic’.
In the poem I hypothesise that the lack of black children might be due to a) the Hogwarts admissions system, b) an unusually high rate of exclusions of black children or the c) hiring practices of staff at Hogwarts. In other words, the imaginary English educational institution of Hogwarts may be subject to the same issues as many educational institutions in the real world of contemporary English schools.
And thus, the same response may be required – the establishment of supplementary schools. This would seem a more hopeful reading of the series than concluding that ‘Black people aren’t magic’.
But I hope my contribution to The Working Class has a broader focus too, one that highlights the role of imagination in addressing racism and exclusion. Given the power of stories in general, and the huge impact of the Harry Potter series in particular, I hope we might also consider whether the reason for the lack of black children in the Potter books is actually a failure of imagination, one all the more disappointing given the hugely imaginative nature of the stories. I hope that as well as cultivating imaginative responses to absence and exclusion in fictional work, we might consider the need for imagination in dealing with real-world absence and exclusion and continue to ask how the two relate to each other.
Of course, one may counter that there are some black children and children of colour in the books and the films. This is true. But I think this very short film this might be more revealing of where the imaginative focus lies:
You can read more of Darren’s academic work here.