James Madison University

Psychology Major Publishes Analysis of Racial Dynamics in the Wizarding World

By: Jordan Pye
Posted: October 20, 2011

PHOTO: Chirstina ThaiWhen a fan asked her about the political allegories in her book series, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling said, “I wanted Harry to leave our world and find exactly the same problems in the wizarding world.”

By exploring this idea, one senior psychology student, Christina Thai, put her love for Harry Potter to use in a comparison of how societies perceive people of mixed racial backgrounds. Her work will be published in “A Wizard of Their Age: Critical Essays from the Harry Potter Generation,” a compilation by students who applied concepts in the series to their own fields of study. Thai’s chapter is called “Harry Potter and Blood Status: A Psychological Look at Blood Stratification in the Wizarding World,” which she compares the racial dynamics in Harry Potter’s wizarding world to the historical relationship between European Americans and African Americans in the United States.

“I wanted to write this paper because Harry Potter made me into who I am,” Thai said, adding that she has read and re-read the series as new books and movies debuted. “I started reading the books when I was eight and I can remember when my teacher read it during snack time. I fell in love.”

Thai, a native of Fairfax, Va. with a second major in biology, found inspiration for the topic during her first semester of research in the Cultural and Racial Diversity Studies lab with Dr. Matthew Lee. After studying racial identity and discrimination, Thai built upon alumnus Candace Vanderpoel’s honors thesis research on hypodescent among African Americans and Asians. This concept is the belief that a bi-racial person has both minority and majority race heritage, but their minority identity overshadows their majority status, so their community considers them a minority.

Thai translated this idea to social hierarchy in the Harry Potter series, where witches and wizards of “pure blood” descent have a higher status than Muggles, who have no magical heritage, and the “mudbloods,” who have a mix of wizard and Muggle parents. Harry himself had a wizard father and a witch mother who was born a Muggle. Thai mainly focused on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the series where Voldemort assumes power of the Ministry of Magic and enacts laws that promote pure blood status and discriminate against Muggles and mudbloods.

“There was a lot of usage of derogatory terms that people used to distance themselves from those [they considered] beneath them, like Mudblood, to show superiority by assigning a word to discriminate against them,” Thai said.

She also found similarities between Southern slave owners’ calls for citizens to “do the right thing” by capturing escaped slaves, and the “Snatcher” wizards dispatched by Voldemort to bring him mudbloods and the “blood traitors” who sympathize with them.

Because of extensive knowledge of the series, Thai said the paper was the easiest she had ever written, and lots of fun.

“I think after writing this paper it solidified in my mind that doing research and being a professor is better suited for me than med school,” she said, adding that she plans to continue researching hypodescent as the topic of her own honors thesis.

 “Harry Potter has been with me longer than any other thing,” Thai said. “It’s the epitome of my childhood.”