The Robert H. Jackson Center’s Young Readers Program uses literature to engage young people with their world by inspiring them to read and hone their analytical skills and writing ability. This year, the Jackson Center invited Dr. Allida Black to speak to students on Friday, May 17, 2019 about the relationship between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the work of groups such as Amnesty International, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series. The annual essay contest was an opportunity for students to explore each year’s related theme and to be prepared to engage more closely with the speaker’s remarks.
Below are the 4 winning essays, which each answer the question: How is denying another human being’s basic human rights damaging to both the oppressed and the oppressor? Consider the differences between people or groups such as Harry Potter and Lucius Malfoy; Hermione Granger and Sirius Black; Dobby and Kreacher; and/or real life examples such as slaveholders and abolitionists.
Abrielle Monaghan, Grade Seven, Persell Middle School with Grace Johnson
Though the Harry Potter series is fictional, it shows issues that apply to the real world. Human rights are something that someone should never be denied. When they are, it affects both people in the situation, often negatively. Yet, the oppressed always seem to prevail over the oppressor. If you think about it, there are a lot of examples of dehumanization and objectification in Harry Potter. Lucius Malfoy towards Dobby, for example. Lucius takes Dobby for granted and treats Dobby extremely poorly; to the point where Dobby punishes himself directly for doing something he was not allowed. He believed that he was appalling and deserving of physical punishment if he said or did something disagreeable to the Malfoys, just because that’s what the family always told him. As they constantly damage Dobby’s self-worth, Lucius Malfoy and his family gain more power over him and feel better about themselves. Though, when Harry tricked Lucius into freeing Dobby, Lucius was utterly embarrassed and furious. The truth of how Dobby was treated was spread and from then on, Lucius was seen as an awful and cruel man, while Dobby was reminded that he had rights and could do so much more than he was allowed to with the Malfoys. While Lucius and his family were always thought of as awful, Dobby had a good life and never once let his rights be taken away again. Dobby came out of this situation strong and happy, while Lucius came out of it embarrassed and with the permanent reputation of being a vulgar man.
There are many examples of this same treatment throughout the series, such as Umbridge towards Harry or Draco towards Hermione, but nothing was worse than the brutality of Voldemort towards Harry. Voldemort was angry: angry that Harry somehow beat him when he was a baby, angry that Harry was recognized for it, and angry that he had been killed after his goal was to kill Harry. So, seeking vengeance against the boy, Voldemort made it his mission to make Harry’s life dreadful. He sent people to torment Harry during his time at Hogwarts and he constantly made plans to try to take Harry down. While Voldemort did this, he also harmed a lot of other people. Although this was a cruel thing he was doing, somehow Voldemort felt some sense of enjoyment from it. He continued to ruin peoples lives, and it got to the point that everyone was either scared of him or absolutely despised him. People ended up terrified to even say his name, calling him “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” or “You-Know-Who.” But Harry was not scared of him and worked his hardest to triumph over Voldemort, eventually succeeding and killing him, proving that deep down Voldemort was actually a weak man who had no actual powers other than intimidating everyone in the Wizarding World. Voldemort had sick goals that only benefited him, but instead, he ended up dead, proving that good always prevails over evil.
Evidently, there is not a situation in which the oppressed does not prevail over the oppressor. If you have good intentions, even if you are constantly being harassed, you will always end up happier and in a better situation than whatever evil is going up against you. Also, the good always keeps a positive reputation along with a satisfactory life. When someone’s human rights are denied, it affects both people in the situation, but it almost always hurts the oppressor more, showing that people who are moral and kind will always lead a better life than anyone who acts differently.
Olivia G. Beach, Grade Six, Persell Middle School with Tim Anderson
In the last book of Harry Potter, we see Dolores Umbridge taking muggle born and half blood witches and wizards wands away. She claims that they are not witches and wizards and that they stole the wands. No one tells Umbridge that she’s wrong to do this. A lot of the people wizards listen to are pure bloods and they have told the rest of the wizarding world that muggle borns are not true witches and wizards. A majority of the wizarding world is prejudice against muggle borns and sometimes half bloods and that’s why nobody stopped Umbridge. In the real world, we used to be very prejudice against African Americans. It started when we took them from Africa to be slaves. Then after the civil war, when the north took down the south and African Americans no longer were slaves, at least the south still treated them awfully. They couldn’t go to the same schools as white people, or the same restaurants, or use the same water fountains, or bathrooms, and sometimes they split up cities into the black side and the white side.
This was all because of their skin color, like in Harry Potter it was all because of their parents. One person who is prejudice against Muggle Borns is one of Harry’s worst enemies, Draco Malfoy, a pure blood. He calls one of Harry’s best friends, Hermione Granger, a very cruel word for muggle borns. He calls her ‘Mudblood’. The only reason Malfoy calls Hermione this is because she has non magical parents. There is no other reason. Hermione is smart, brave, and witty. She doesn’t deserve it. Draco Malfoy learned this prejudice behavior from his father, Lucius Malfoy. He calls Hermione a mudblood too. This is like how we called African Americans ‘Negros’, just because they had a different skin color than most of America. Though Muggle borns can do anything other witches and wizards can, it used to be that African Americans couldn’t do things white people could. There were white only restaurants, white only schools, white only stores, white only drinking fountains!
We were awful to African Americans. But we got better, with Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and other civil rights leaders. I hope that now, with Voldemort and the Death Eaters taken down and Dolores Umbridge in Azkaban, that witches and wizards will realize that Muggle borns are just as magical as any half blood or pure blood.
Branden Dutchess, Senior, Warren Area High School
The Struggle of the Oppressed Within Harry Potter
In the world of witchcraft and wizardry that is the Harry Potter Universe, which was created by J. K. Rowling, the whimsical childhood fantasy of many a reader is indulged in a tasteful manner through which adults and children are able to both experience what a world full of magic would be like. This seems innocent, but looking deeper into the world that Rowling created, the reader is able to find many examples of those who are oppressed in a manner that is similar to struggles that many face in the real world.
At its most fundamental level, the wizarding world and muggle world exist within their own spheres of influence. The wizarding world hides their true nature from ordinary individuals because they fear what finding out the truth would do to those “muggles” who oversee the world that is not part of the wizarding one. This fear leads to very blatant discrimination and systematic oppression, especially early on in novels like the Sorcerer’s Stone, in which children who have one muggle parent and one magical parent are known as, “mudbloods”. This term comes to be known as a word that bears great resemblance to a racial slur and people like the Malfoys look down on those who are not, “Pure Bloods”, which are wizards who have parents that are both wizards. This discrimination bears a striking resemblance to that of the discrimination that was wide spread throughout the United States and many other countries in the mid 1900s. Both in the fictional world and the real one, people were being lumped together and treated differently because of their origin/race and this was perfectly acceptable behavior. This horrendous treatment hurts both the oppressed and the oppressor because the oppressed are not the only ones that suffer in this situation.
Nelson Mandela once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite”, and this quote carries weight even into the wizarding world of Harry Potter. People like Draco Malfoy are taught at a young age that they are superior to other wizards simply because of the blood that runs through their veins and that they have the right, and the privilege, of treating others as lower than themselves. This leads to Draco becoming someone who translates the lack of love he received from his father into the hurt he caused to many of those around him, especially Hermione whom he attacks a lot early on. The ability to heal is shown in the change that Draco goes through during his time fighting alongside his classmates. He matures into a man who comes to respect the feelings of others, even if he disagrees with their cause.
Kaide Anderson, Senior, Warren Area High School
Denying anybody the God given rights that were bestowed upon them at birth will have negative effects on everyone involved in the situation. No matter their race, nationality, or species, all living, conscious beings deserve to be treated with the same respect that you would give someone of your own bloodline. No matter purebred, half-breed, or muggle-born, we are all capable and deserving of respect and our right to use our free will on our own accord.
Just remember the look that Dobby the house elf had spread across his face when he was given a sock. A simple article of clothing, made from cloth and threads, made such a little creature happier than any words or acts of love ever could have. It astounds me that he had the thought process that the only way he could be free was to be given clothing. Nobody should ever have to be treated so poorly that they feel their life is worthless and pointless, and they don’t matter. But in some instances, that is a reality. I’m sure there were slaves in America during the 1800s that felt that their only purpose was to serve their master, and die by his hand if that is what their master decides. No human, elf, or anything in between should be stagnant in their fight for freedom.
There will always be people like Lucius Malfoy who want to belittle and destroy anyone’s self confidence so they can manipulate them into fulfilling their wishes with little to no backlash. And at some point, those under there control WILL rise up and take it upon themselves to fight back. Although, as long as this world has Harry Potters, Abraham Lincolns, and Hermione Grangers, there will always be a spark of hope that will keep the values of freedom and free will alive, in everyone’s hearts and minds. If you don’t feel that there is anyone there to be the spark of hope in anyone’s heart and mind, then BE that hope. Be that belief. Be the rock that someone has to stand on to sturdy themselves and fight back against oppression and iron-fisted masters who will not have power over them anymore.