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Of course Hermione Granger is black – she always has been

Growing up, I never thought that Hermione could be any colour other than black.

Of course Hermione Granger’s black.

Forget being surprised that Noma Dumezweni, who will play Granger in the forthcoming play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, is black – I still haven’t got over the fact that Emma Watson, who played Granger in the films, is white.

Granger – unlike Harry Potter himself, or Ron Weasley, his best friend and Granger’s love interest  - is never given a skin colour in the books: she has brown eyes, frizzy hair and I, at least, always imagined her as black, partly because, when she wows her fellow pupils at the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire, she straightens her hair, which was, almost without exception, how in my part of East London, everyone’s older sister prepared for a night out.

So I was horrified a year later when Watson – exceptionally white, no frizzy hair, and without Granger’s prominent teeth – was cast in the role. How could Hermione be white?

But I think my horror wasn’t because I’d paid closer attention to what the characters looked like than the casting director of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, although I undoubtedly had, or because I felt a black female character had been erased from the story.

I think it was far more egotistical than that. As a child, I had brown eyes, frizzy hair, an overbite large enough for smaller children to shelter under during periods of heavy rain, was brighter than most of my classmates and was often obnoxious with it. I thought Hermione was black because she was the character I most closely identified with – I didn’t identify with her because I thought she was black.

My suspicion is that while among most Harry Potter readers there are plenty of people who identify with Harry, some with Ron, others with Fred and/or George, most of the diehard fans see themselves as a Hermione-type (this is why, although Harry Potter fans might worry about the longterm stability of the Harry/Ginny marriage, it doesn’t arouse strong feelings in the manner that the question of whether Hermionie should settle down with Harry, Ron, Draco, Snape, or if she should just go it alone and become Minister for Magic, already).

So my instinct is that – while some of the caterwauling about political correctness gone mad, and tokenism is undoubtedly racist – some of the surprise is that same sense of an unexpected difference between the series’ fans, and the character they see as closest to them.   

Now listen to the NS team discuss the Harry Potter series in our Harry Potter special.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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Richard Dawkins: We need a new party - the European Party

I was unqualified to vote in the EU referendum. So at least now we should hear from experts. 

It is just conceivable that Brexit will eventually turn out to be a good thing. I gravely doubt it, but I’m not qualified to judge. And that is the point. I wasn’t qualified to vote in the referendum. Nor were you, unless you have a PhD in economics or are an expert in a relevant field such as history. It’s grotesque that David Cameron, with the squalidly parochial aim of silencing the Ukip-leaning wing of his party, gambled away our future and handed it over to a rabble of ignorant voters like me.

I voted – under protest, because I never should have been asked to vote, but I did. In line with the precautionary principle, I knew enough to understand that such a significant, complex and intricate change as Brexit would drive a clumsy bull through hundreds of delicate china shops painstakingly stocked up over decades of European co-operation: financial agreements, manufacturing partnerships, international scholarships, research grants, cultural and edu­cational exchanges.

I voted Remain, too, because, though ­ignorant of the details, I could at least spot that the Leave arguments were visceral, emotional and often downright xenophobic. And I could see that the Remain arguments were predominantly rational and ­evidence-based. They were derided as “Project Fear”, but fear can be rational. The fear of a man stalked by a hungry polar bear is entirely different from the fear of a man who thinks that he has seen a ghost. The trick is to distinguish justified fear from irrational fear. Those who scorned Project Fear made not the slightest attempt to do so.

The single most shocking message conveyed during the referendum campaign was: “Don’t trust experts.” The British people are fed up with them, we were told. You, the voter, are the expert here. Despicable though the sentiment was, it unfortunately was true. Cameron made it true. By his unspeakable folly in calling the referendum, he promoted everyone to the rank of expert. You might as well call a nationwide plebiscite to decide whether Einstein got his algebra right, or let passengers vote on which runway the pilot should land on.

Scientists are experts only in their own limited field. I can’t judge the details of physics papers in the journal Nature, but I know that they’ve been refereed rigorously by experts chosen by an expert editor. Scientists who lie about their research results (and regrettably there are a few) face the likelihood that they’ll be rumbled when their experiments are repeated. In the world of science, faking your data is the cardinal sin. Do so and you’ll be drummed out of the profession without mercy and for ever.

A politician who lies will theoretically get payback at the next election. The trouble with Brexit is that there is no next election. Brexit is for keeps. Everyone now knows that the £350m slogan on the Brexit bus was a barefaced lie, but it’s too late. Even if the liars lose their seats at the next election (and they probably won’t), Brexit still means Brexit, and Brexit is irreversible. Long after the old people who voted Leave are dead and forgotten, the young who couldn’t be bothered to vote and now regret it will be reaping the consequences.

A slender majority of the British people, on one particular day in June last year when the polls had been going up and down like a Yo-Yo, gave their ill-informed and actively misled opinion. They were not asked what they wanted to get into, only what they wanted to get out of. They might have thought “Take back control” meant “Give control back to our sovereign parliament, which will decide the details”. Yes, well, look how that’s working out!

“The British people have spoken” has become an article of zealous faith. Even to suggest that parliament should have a little bitty say in the details is hysterically condemned as heresy, defying “the people”. British politics has become toxic. There is poison in the air. We thought that we had grown out of xenophobic bigotry and nationalistic jingoism. Or, at least, we thought it had been tamed, shamed into shutting its oafish mouth. The Brexit vote signalled an immediate rise in attacks on decent, hard-working Poles and others. Bigots have been handed a new licence. Senior judges who upheld the law were damned as “enemies of the people” and physically threatened.

Am I being elitist? Of course. What’s wrong with that? We want elite surgeons who know their anatomy, elite pilots who know how to fly, elite engineers to build safe bridges, elite athletes to win at the Olympics for Team GB, elite architects to design beautiful buildings, elite teachers and professors to educate the next generation and help them join the elite. In the same way, to decide the affairs of state, as we live in a representative democracy, we can at least hope to elect elite parliamentarians, guided and advised by elite, highly educated civil servants. Not politicians who abdicate their democratic responsibility and hand important decisions over to people like me.

What is to be done? Labour, the so-called opposition, has caved in to the doctrine of “the British people have spoken”. Only the Lib Dems and SNP are left standing. Unfortunately, the Lib Dem brand is tarnished by association with Cameron in the coalition.

Any good PR expert would prescribe a big makeover, a change of name. The “Euro­pean Party” would attract Labour voters and Labour MPs disillusioned with Jeremy Corbyn. The European Party would attract Europhile Tory MPs – and there are plenty of them. The European Party would attract a high proportion of the 48 per cent of us who voted Remain. The European Party would attract big donations. The European Party might not win the next election, but it would stand a better chance than Labour or the Lib Dems under their present name. And it would provide the proper opposition that we so sorely need.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition