As Harry's understanding of the Wizarding world expands, he comes into progressively more contact with non-human beings and the ways in which his society actively discriminates and disempowers them. In addition to looking at the non-human beings that share Harry's world, Order of the Phoenix also examines the way that racism and prejudice among humans function through Voldemort's rise to power and in the very systems that organize Hogwarts itself. By exploring these different modes of prejudice, Order of the Phoenix makes the case that prejudice and discrimination exist everywhere, even in the most innocuous or unexpected places--and that the best way to combat them is through exposure, developing compassion and empathy, and learning to humanize those who are different.
At the start-of-term feast, the Sorting Hat takes a newly political tone in its song and insists that though it's bound to do its job of sorting students into different Houses, it doesn't actually think that this is a good idea. As the Sorting Hat tells it, this practice of dividing students up (and then adding an element of competition, as with the House and Quidditch Cups) naturally creates divisions, which keep students from engaging with each other as a united student body and as equals. This plays out in a variety of different ways over the course of the school year. Umbridge is able to easily capitalize on the divisions between houses and mobilize the Slytherin students--who, according to the Sorting Hat, are pure-blooded and ambitious, qualities that Umbridge values--to help her carry out her campaign to bring the school under Ministry control. However, even Harry is surprisingly suspicious of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff students who show up for the first meeting of Dumbledore's Army, suspicion that the Sorting Hat would likely suggest stems from the fact that Harry has never been encouraged to see those students as anything but adversaries. By illustrating how superiority and suspicion flourish among children at Hogwarts thanks to the school's organization, the novel suggests that suspicion and superiority are learned through social systems--and if left unchecked, can evolve into all manner of evil when those children grow up.
Harry begins to take some of the Sorting Hat's advice to heart when Hermione encourages him to form Dumbledore's Army, a secret Defense Against the Dark Arts society. It includes students from Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, and Ravenclaw, and unites them in the shared goal of learning genuine Defense Against the Dark Arts, not the theory-based curriculum that Umbridge teaches. Harry's experiences with non-Gryffindor students through the D.A. helps him to humanize his classmates in other Houses and learn to respect them. Though short-lived, Harry's brief romance with Cho Chang makes it clear to Harry that girls in other Houses are acceptable romantic partners, while Harry's friendship with Luna Lovegood, an eccentric and bullied Ravenclaw student, helps him expand his conception of who deserves pity, kindness, and respect. All of this suggests that spending time with people who are different is an effective way to begin to think critically about these differences and how to overcome them in pursuit of a larger goal. This idea maps onto the adult resistance group the Order of the Phoenix as well--which, in addition to including people who attended Hogwarts as Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs, also includes the former Slytherin, Snape. This camaraderie offers hope that, over time, Harry and his friends will be able to continue to expand their communities and look past their differences.
When it comes to the non-human beings that Harry engages with, the novel presents a much grimmer state of affairs. It mostly takes great to care to detail the ways in which the current adults in charge (namely, Cornelius Fudge and Umbridge) are so afraid of change, difference, and giving up power that they're willing to abuse, insult, and legislate against beings who the novel suggests are as intelligent and worthy of respect as any human. Once again, the novel suggests that this fear of difference is something developed in childhood that, if left unexamined, festers and grows. For example, Ron remains dismissive of Hermione's Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare--having grown up in the Wizarding world, Ron believes that the house-elves' lot in life is normal and not worth challenging. This is a belief that, the novel suggests, Ron has the capacity to overcome as he continues to befriend house-elves like Dobby and learns to see them as deserving of respect and dignity.
While the novel's young characters are overwhelmingly shown to be capable of questioning these assumptions and coming to the understanding everyone—human and not—deserves respect and rights under the law, Umbridge represents what happens when children are never asked to evaluate their preconceptions. Umbridge is known for hating "half-breeds," like the werewolf Remus Lupin, and for passing legislation that makes it very difficult for werewolves to get jobs. She fires Hagrid primarily because he's half giant, and she loathes Dumbledore in part because Dumbledore supports the rights of all beings and wants to include them in Wizarding society. With this, the novel suggests that the potential for a more inclusive future--both in the Wizarding world and in the reader's world--rests in the hand of the youth, not the adults in charge. By putting aside their prejudices and working together, Harry and his friends offer readers of model of how to fight for fair and equitable education models, treat people who are different--whether because of race, ability, or religion--with respect and empathy, and ultimately, protect their rights under the law. Challenging racism and discriminatory practices, the novel suggests, is the most effective way to stand up to evil.
Prejudice and Discrimination ThemeTracker
Prejudice and Discrimination Quotes in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I sort you into Houses
Because that is what I'm for,
But this year I'll go further,
Listen closely to my song:
Though condemned I am to split you
Still I worry that it's wrong
Though I must fulfill my duty
And must quarter every year
Still I wonder whether Sorting
May not bring the end I fear.
"I do not wish to criticize the way things have been run at this school," she said, an unconvincing smile stretching her wide mouth, "but you have been exposed to some very irresponsible wizards in this class, very irresponsible indeed—not to mention," she gave a nasty little laugh, "extremely dangerous half-breeds."
"I know her by reputation and I'm sure she's no Death Eater—"
"She's foul enough to be one," said Harry darkly and Ron and Hermione nodded vigorously in agreement.
"Yes, but the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters," said Sirius with a wry smile. "I know she's a nasty piece of work, though—you should hear Remus talk about her."
"Does Lupin know her?" asked Harry quickly, remembering Umbridge's comments about dangerous half-breeds during her first lesson.
"No," said Sirius, "but she drafted a bit of anti-werewolf legislation two years ago that makes it almost impossible for him to get a job."
"'Hogwarts is a school, not an outpost of Cornelius Fudge's office,' said Madam Marchbanks. 'This is a further disgusting attempt to discredit Albus Dumbledore.' (For a full account of Madam Marchbanks' alleged links to subversive goblin groups, turn to page 17)."
"Bitten by a werewolf, poor chap. No cure at all."
"A werewolf?" whispered Mrs. Weasley, looking alarmed. "Is he safe in a public ward? Shouldn't he be in a private room?"
"It's two weeks till full moon," Mr. Weasley reminded her quietly.
"Herd?" said Lavender in a confused voice, and Harry knew she was thinking of cows. "What—oh!" Comprehension dawned on her face. "There are more of you?" she said, stunned.
"Did Hagrid breed you, like the thestrals?" asked Dean eagerly.
Firenze turned his head very slowly to face Dean, who seemed to realize at once that he had said something very offensive.
"I didn't—I meant—sorry," he finished in a hushed voice.
"Centaurs are not the servants or playthings of humans," said Firenze quietly.
He could abandon the plan and simply learn to live with the memory of what his father had done on a summer's day more than twenty years ago...
And then he remembered Sirius in the fire upstairs in the Gryffindor common room... "You're less like your father than I thought...The risk would've been what made it fun for James..."
But did he want to be like his father anymore?
Still pointing her shaking wand at Magorian, she continued, "Law Fifteen B states clearly that ‘Any attack by a magical creature who is deemed to have near-human intelligence, and therefore considered responsible for its actions—'"
"'Near-human intelligence'?" repeated Magorian, as Bane and several others roared with rage and pawed the ground.
"Sirius did not hate Kreacher," said Dumbledore. "He regarded him as a servant unworthy of much interest or notice. Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike...the fountain we destroyed tonight told a lie. We wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward."