Harry Potter is, well, Harry Potter. You know at least a little bit about it. And probably, you’re aware that one of the four houses of Hogwarts, the all-important magical school, is Slytherin: a breeding ground of pure-blood sentiment and upper class snobbery, and the house of Voldemort, Harry Potter’s greatest villain.
A while back, the powers that be behind the Potter books created Pottermore, a website that’s supposed to act as a sort of way to interact with the books in a digital format. One of the site’s biggest selling points is that it includes a sorting quiz, engineered by JK Rowling herself. My generation grew up identifying ourselves by our Hogwarts house; the idea of knowing, as definitively as possible, what house you belong to, is a siren song.
Pottermore placed me in Slytherin.
I’ve never been the type to identify with evil characters; some people genuinely enjoy villains and monsters wholeheartedly, but that’s never been me. Being sorted into Slytherin was a shock. With the sorting, Pottermore did provide a letter about the core ethics of the house, which did help explain why I had been sorted into it. Slytherin, the letter said, is about selfishness and ambition, but that does not always translate to supervillainy. It can mean intense loyalty, to your family, your loved ones. It can mean many things. It is not a house where becoming evil is a guarantee; after all, we are all people. No matter our label, our choices are our own.
I have come to accept, and embrace, my “status” as a Slytherin, because I think it explains something about me that I have always struggled with. The reality is, I’m imperfect, in many ways. Not just because I’m human, and I make mistakes, but because I am a white, cisgender person who passes as straight, who had a privileged upbringing in the suburbs, sheltered in every sense. The older I get, the more I realized what a strange cliche my childhood was. How easy I had it, how blessed I was to live in such comfort, and ease. I never had to question what I believed in; racism really did seem like a footnote to old history; and struggles far, far away.
Slytherin is a metaphor for the old guard, the establishment of racism and how it is backed up with money, tradition, hatred. It’s a metaphor that can be applied to any number of hate groups, but it’s also a good metaphor for the institution of racism, of whiteness, of priviledge. In Harry Potter, the children of pure-blood houses are raised in pure-blood doctrine, then sent to Hogwarts. They are then filed into a house literally founded only for pure-bloods, intended to exclude others. The students in Slytherin, as would-be racists and blood purists, are treated as other by the students of the other houses, treated as evil when they are 11 years old. If you think about it, it’s no wonder that the children of pure-blood families grow up to carry on the tradition of racism and evil; they are brought up in a slow-cooker of bigotry, told they are other, and then able to see that in action as they are demonized by the people who their parents assured them would be mean, petty, and small.
When I say I identify with Slytherin, I don’t mean that my parents raised me to be racist. But the environment I grew up in encouraged a certain sense of self-pride, of superiority, the kind that implicit racism and upper-class snobbery is made of. I remember, as a child, that helping poor people was the right thing to do, yet wondering what they had done to make themselves poor. I remember “affirmative action” being something my white classmates feared, something that might keep them out of college. I also know that I didn’t realize how privileged I truly was; I was raised in an environment of McMansions and nouveau riche, and it was so common that I thought my own family was lower-middle-class. (We weren’t.) As I’ve grown, and been confronted with the actual reality of the world, I have grown, but I’ve had to fight against programming that was never intended by my upbringing, but happened anyway. The way the echo chamber made me someone blind to what was real.
I identify with Slytherin, now, because I think owning a complex, dark and, yes, evil house has been helpful to me in coming to terms with my own self, the ways I’ve stumbled, the things I’ve had to learn.
I have a vision for the Slytherin house, after the events of Harry Potter. A house compromised of the children of dead parents, of jailed terrorists, splintered. Some Slytherins, after all, opposed Voldemort; some did not. The house would no longer be monolithic, universal. There would be room for doubt, discussion…and growth. I see the house changing. Not without struggle, and pushback, in the same way we’re seeing pushback in our modern times. But I think the house of evil, of pure blood children, would hold itself accountable for the first time. Maybe I believe this because those kids, of the 2000s, would be the kids of my own generation. But I think, in the way that my own assumptions had their reckoning, that Slytherin would have its own reckoning. And things would be hard, and complex, but in the end…it would be better. It would work to be better.
Yes, I have too many feelings about a fictional paradigm for personality traits. Talk to me on Twitter or in the comments.
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