The wizarding world has many inherent prejudices, the most notable of which is pureblood prejudice against muggleborns and squibs. On a superficial level these view appear only to be a product of the nasty personalities of people like the Malfoys.
However this prejudice runs deep within wizarding society, so deep that pureblood families would rather breed themselves in complete degeneracy than broaden their gene pool with non-purebloods. Whilst we can write this off as pure pig-headed dedication to ideology. I believe that there is a much deeper, rational reason behind pureblood prejuidice.
- Why pureblood families continued to inbreed to the point of degeneracy.
- Where pureblood prejudice came from and how it developed
- The effects of seclusion on wizarding culture and stigma
- The genetics behind squibs/muggleborns and why they are hated by the pureblood supremists.
The Noble and Most Inbred House of Black
You don’t have to be a geneticist to spot that the lastsurviving members of Slytherin’s bloodline had more problems than just poverty and you don’t need a prophecy to see that the Blacks were headed in the samedirection before they died out.
What fandom and JK Rowling haven’t addressed is why would these families inbreed to thepoint of no return? Often we are given a most unsatisfactory answer: empty prejudice and misguided pureblood supremacy.
Prejudice is not logical; it does not require a justifiable reason. It is a projection of our ever present subconscious fears. However the prevailing prejudices within any society are not simply made up of individual irrationality and they are not always completely devoid of reason. Group prejudices can be greatly influenced by rational factors such as economics, natural resources and population density. Despite our devotion to ideology, humans are surprisingly pragmatic creatures.
A chilling example is the research done into the cause of the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. On the surface it appeared that the only motivation was pure irrational racism. However a very clever economist spotted that in the years leading up to the genocide, the average size of farms in Rwanda had shrunk steadily to a point where each plot of land could not sustain the people farming it. At the same time Rwanda was experiencing a massive population explosion due to increased sanitation leading more babies surviving childhood than ever before. The country was on the brink of having a major food crisis. The only reason this was never broadly publisized was because the genocide grabbed all the headlines. Even more disturbing: the massacre managed to effectively reduce the Rwandan population back to a sustainable level.
Is there perhaps also some kind of rationality behind pureblood supremacy?
Is there a logical reason why the Malfoys, Blacks and Gaunts would only marry other purebloods?
In order to understand pureblood supremacy and the reason behind this ideology, we have to explore its history.
Although Rowling doesn’t give us a detailed history of Magic, there is one particular seismic event in wizarding history that changed both the muggle and magical world. I am referring to wizarding seclusion in the 17th century. Where once wizard and muggle lived side by side and functioned together as part of one society, seclusion imposed a compulsory cultural ghetto for wizards.
Before cultural ghettoization, mixed marriage between wizards and muggles must have been common. Being a wizard/witch was not seen as a defining characteristic but rather a useful individual talent (like having a good singing voice). With the active participation of wizards in muggle society, prejudice against muggles would not have gain widespread favour simply because the familial and economic ties between wizards and muggles were so strong.
The Act of wizarding seclusion not only forcibly severed these ties; it also directly made muggles and muggleborns a very rational threat to the newly formed Magical society. Muggles have always outnumbered wizards and we can see from the paranoia displayed in the books that wizarding society has always maintained a siege mentality. In this context the prejudiced rhetoric of muggles being lower than dirt starts to sound less like supremacy and more like poorly disguised fear.
There is no question that seclusion provided the impetus for the pureblood supremacy movement to become accepted ideology in a significant part of the wizarding world. The pureblood supremacy movement which advocate shaving as little contact with muggles (and by extension muggleborns) as possible is both rational and pragmatic for the post-seclusion wizarding world.
But where did the original ideas behind pureblood supremacy come from?
Why do purebloods think that they are superior to muggleborns even though they both have magic?
The most likely answer is in magical genetics.
No Smoke Without Fire
In the essay Genetics and Evolution of Magic, I have explained how magic is inherited through two separate genes, imaginatively named A and B.
Each gene must have two different forms or alleles, one form being magical and the other form being non-magical. As Rowling stated: magic is “dominant”, the magical alleles must be dominant ("A"/"B") and the non-magical alleles are recessive (“a”/”b”).
To be magical you need magical alleles of both genes – so at least one A and one B. Muggles may have no magical alleles or they may only have one A or one B.
This diagram shows all the possible genetic combinations involving the genes A and B. All the brown mice are magical, all the white and all the black mice are non-magical.
You will notice that the two parent mice at the top have the absolute minimum number of magical alleles to be magic and
of their offspring: 7/16 are non-magical.
This means wizarding parents with the genetic combination: AaBb, have an almost 50% change of producing squibs.
Muggleborns are the most likely people in the wizarding world to have a genetic combination consisting of only one A and one B due to their muggle ancestry.
Magical alleles will always float in the muggle population because there is nothing that is actively taking these alleles out of the gene pool. However due to the sheer volume of non-magical alleles in the muggle gene pool, most magical alleles will occur only in single (A or B) and not double (AA or BB) form in muggles.
Muggleborns are produced when a child inherits one A and one B from each muggle parent.
Thus the vast majority of muggleborns will have the genetic combination AaBb (like the parent mice at the top of the diagram).
This does not make Muggleborns any less magically powerful, but it does mean that when two Muggleborns have children - statistically nearly half of the offspring will turn out to be non-magical.
In contrast to muggleborns, pureblood wizards in the modern day are more likely to have double sets of magical alleles due to their generations of magical ancestors. Thus there must be many purebloods with the genetic combination AABB. If both parents have AABB – there is no chance that they can produce a squib.
The Malfoys, the Blacks and the Gaunts may not have understood modern genetics but they had generations of accumulated observation. This basic observation is most likely the fire behind the smokescreen of pureblood supremacy.
The Tragedy of Argus Filch
Squibs are non-magical children of magical parents. Although these children have always existed, I believe that the term "squib" is a post-seclusion invention.
Before seclusion was imposed, wizards and muggle shared a common society and there was no divide between the two. Magical parents having non-magical children would not have been an issue. Non-magical children (or squibs) could simply find their own place in the common society shared by muggles and wizards. However after seclusion was imposed, a chasm opened between the magical and muggle societies. Non-magical children of magical parents were placed in a catch-22 situation. They could never fully participate in the magical society, but the alternative was to live in muggle society completely separated from their family.
For wizards in the post-seclusion world there is nothing more painful and tragic than having squib children because they cannot function in the exclusive society that their parents inhabit. The squibs who do attempt to function in wizarding society are treated appallingly because they are powerless and disenfranchised. No-one would want that for their children. The
only alternative is to lose your children to the muggle world, where they can at least function, but you cannot possibly follow because that would entail giving up your magic.
Thus the shame and stigma of producing non-magical children was only "invented" after seclusion took place, along with the derogatory term: squib. I imagine there have always been families who wanted only magical children to prove that their "magic runs strong" in the family, but in the grand scheme of things producing a non-magical child was not a social disaster.
It was only when wizards forcibly divided themselves off from mundane society that squibs and muggleborns (who are a danger to the international satute of secrecy) suddenly became an issue.
Given the tragic situation for squibs, I am not surprised that some families will go to any lengths to ensure that their blood remains “pure”, even if it means inbreeding to the point of degeneracy because even if your children start manifesting genetic disorders, at least you still get to keep them with you.