Exploring Slytherin House from a Black Historical Lens

As a weird, goth-punk, nerdy, queer Black girl growing up in the projects, I always held a certain type of anger. I adored Black history and developed a keen sense of the socio-political challenges our communities faced. I also embraced dark subcultural elements, like darkwave and punk, an avenue where ‘darkness’ played out in the Eurocentric sense, and thus became a part of rebellion with white kids. Anything dark would resemble rebellion — Blackness included. This caused me to become isolated and a bit resentful towards the outer world.  

My tastes for ‘darkness’ extended to the Harry Potter universe. My personal obsession with Slytherin House is odd since they have been considered to be the ‘neo-Nazis of the Wizarding World.’ I attribute this good vs. evil paradigm to Rowling’s cultural methodology of character building. But the characteristics of Slytherin shouldn’t be considered bad. The idea of having your community’s best interests at heart and living without fear from potentially antagonistic forces should be a wonderful message to marginalized individuals. However, in the Harry Potter series, it plays out with questionable character attributes that tend to be polarizing.

Zora Neale Hurston — folklorist, anthropologist, author, and all-around bad-ass — grew up in a small Black town in Florida. This autonomous Black community cemented her belief that Black people did not need integration in order to gain equality. She believed that the means of our freedom was in our own communities and that to allow whiteness within it would undermine our efforts. The spirit of the Black community could only be maintained if we were given the space to govern ourselves, unapologetically. For me, Zora and her views are very Slytherin.

Or perhaps in Slytherin,
You’ll make your real friends,
These cunning folks use any means
To achieve their ends.

— The Sorting Hat, Sorcerer’s Stone

When Salazar Slytherin helped create Hogwarts, he was mistrustful of Muggle-born students because of tensions between the Muggle world (which at the time was considered dangerous and a threat to magical people) and the Wizarding World (which he felt needed to be protected from that very threat). He wanted the magical community to live separate from the Muggles and Muggle-borns. 

Slytherin House is modeled by the philosophy of ‘being the best.’ It’s members are often viewed as isolationist. Cunning, hardworking, logical, and a traditionalist, Salazar wanted his students to solve obstacles in their lives with apt strategy. Despite this knack for self-sufficiency and collective transgenerational preservation, they are criminalized. Sound familiar?

Similarly, Malcolm X advocated for Black people to defend themselves from the racism and prejudice they faced. “I don’t call it violence when it’s self-defense. I call it intelligence.” Malcolm was a controversial figure in his day, often seeming to butt heads with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders for his more separationist and headstrong views that eschewed Black integration into white society.

We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.

— Malcolm X, Organization of Afro-American Unity founding rally on June 28, 1964

Even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to some elements of this Slytherin philosophy. Several years after the “I have a dream” speech, King is reported as saying, “I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house.” He suggested that perhaps it was not as simple to imagine equality only by the acceptance of race. He ultimately came to the conclusion that the answer to his “dream” was a bit more complex, that integration wasn’t the end of the fight. 

Likewise to these real life schools of thought, Salazar thought that integrating Muggle-borns into the magical community wasn’t as simple as Gryffindor wanted it to be. Salazar took his “means” too far in the direction of prompting genocide, but the parallels are there.

As with Black people through history, Slytherins have internalized adaptability, intuition, and a resistance towards those who misunderstand them. Slytherins can come off as being cold or callous, but their ability to possess duality makes them quite unpredictable. This could read as the very real struggle of the Black individual groomed into the idea of assimilation, only to be tokenized and regarded as a ‘token of Eurocentrism’ to the masses or be forced to hide their true nature, while facing systematic disadvantages. 

The fatal flaw of the analogy of racism in Harry Potter is that the Wizarding World is colorblind. Anti-Blackness is a rhetoric not explored in Rowling’s world. So comparing Black history to Rowling’s incomplete metaphor was more about me finding myself in Slytherin House when the rest of the Wizarding World didn’t look like me.  

Every day, those like myself who live on the fringe are told to ‘change’ and to accept a society that has been intent on killing us. Slytherin House taught me that we should live our lives unapologetically, without fear — by any means necessary.

Monika Estrella Negra is a queer, Black punk/goth hybrid of mystery. Her first short titled “Flesh” is about a Black femme serial killer navigating the Chicago DIY punk scene (of which was included in the ‘Horror Noire’ syllabus). She has directed three additional shorts, ‘They Will Know You By Your Fruit’, ‘Succubus’, and the in production ‘Bitten, A Tragedy’. A writer, a nomadic priestess, spiritual gangster and all around rabblerouser – Monika has written essays for Black Girl Nerds, Grimm Magazine, is the author of a zine series (Tales From My Crypt), the creator of Audre’s Revenge Film and Black and Brown Punk Show Chicago, a 2018 Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grantee, and is aspiring to become a Meme Lord. Hailing from the Midwest, she now resides in Philadelphia, focusing on completing her Vengeance Anthology.