I warn you now- I'm going to be talking about Harry Potter here. I'm going to be talking about Harry Potter book 7. If you haven't read it and you don't want it spoiled a little bit, you might want to stop reading now. I'm not planning on giving away any major secrets, but I'm going to talk about the ending, and I'm not going to be held responsible for ruining the book for other people.
I'm not kidding.
Okay. If you're still reading, I assume you're either fine with spoils or you've already read the book.
Over in this thread at Thinking Girl, there was some talk about how the world of Harry Potter (or, at least, the wizarding world) don't seem to have race issues- they have species issues. From the standpoint of the story, that's great- it lets the author play around with and discuss bigotry without directly pointing fingers at her readers- it can let her raise awareness and get people talking about issues of racism through the analogous treatment of the magical creatures in her world. I don't think that's particularly controversial, and I think that it works well- seeing how the wizards treat the centaurs, goblins, and the house elves as second-class citizens has pretty clear parallels to the treatment of non-whites in the muggle world.
I really appreciated the way that Rowling was handling this through most of the books- There were characters with varying levels of prejudice against the magical creatures, and the creatures themselves had differing levels of animosity towards wizards as a result. I thought it was really well thought out and executed- I loved that even the "good" characters were still guilty of speciest attitudes, in the same way that even well intentioned and progressive people are guilty of racist and sexist attitudes sometimes.
I was feeling this way, right up through the end of the last book. Now? I have to be honest, I'm a little annoyed. All the way through the books, she's made it clear that This Is A Problem. She had Hermione start SPEW, and she made it really clear through Hagrid that the poor treatment of the centaurs was leading up to a potential war. It was very clear that there's a double standard, and that it's sort of a dark splotch on the wizarding world. I kept waiting for something to happen- and then she just lets the whole thing fade away.
By the end of the book, the house elves join the battle, but nobody but the SPEW members gives a second thought to the ways that they're treated. The Goblins still get cheated. The centaurs join the battle for no discernable reason, despite the fact that their grievances are never even acknowledged.
And it's not like there weren't plenty of opportunities to have species/race discussed. I don't expect Harry Potter to solve all of his world's problems, but even a simple understanding of what is happening and the acknowledgement that it's wrong would have been a good start. Take, for example, the point when Harry makes the deal with Griphook to break into Gringotts. There, Bill warns Harry about making a deal with goblins, explaining that they have very different ideas of ownership, and that Harry would do well to remember the strained relationship between wizards and goblins.
At the beginning of their deal, Harry's bargain with Griphook is that he'll give the goblin the sword of Gryffindor back if Griphook will help them break into one of the vaults. Harry knows that they really need the sword to destroy the horcruxes, though, and plans on keeping the sword until after they destroy them, at which point he will give the sword back to the goblins. Hermione rightly points out that this isn't fair, and it's clear that the goblin will see this as welching on their deal. Instead of having Harry and Ron realize that this is true, and that it's just another example of a wizard backing out of a deal with the goblins (like Lugo Bagman did), Rowling has Harry lose his grip on the sword and has Griphook grab it and run away with it.
That was particularly unsatisfying to me- it felt like a copout. Harry had every intention of cheating Griphook out of his end of the deal, and rather than have Harry deal with the consequences of this action, or having him come to the realization that it would be wrong to cheat the goblin, she created a situation where Harry never has to think about what he's planning on doing. She gives him an out from dealing with the very significant species issues that he's confronting. In the end, Neville pulls the sword out of the sorting hat, anyway- which means that Griphook wasn't able to maintain possession of the sword, but she never addresses how this effects human/goblin relations, which are, from all appearances, pretty strained.
Like I said, I didn't expect Harry to solve the problem of speciesism in the Potterverse, but I really expected some kind of progress to be made. I expected some characters who "didn't get it" to... well... get it. There are some minor instances of characters who might have gotten it- Bill makes a comment of being friendly with a few goblins (although I don't take that very strongly, since he works closely with goblins in his position at Gringotts, and his comment stank strongly of the "I'm not prejudiced against group X, why... I have friends who are X!" sort), and Ron brings up the house elves (which is negated by the fact that he was one of the founding members of SPEW, however reluctantly). It would have been nice to see Harry understand his mistreatment of the goblins, or maybe have some of the characters call someone on using slurs against the centaurs, or... I don't know... anything, really.
Ultimately, the issue of species just seems to have faded away. For all that Rowling repeatedly brought it up, it never really takes priority, and there's absolutely no real resolution in terms of action taking place. As far as I can tell, by the end of the book, the wizarding community still treats the magical races like lesser beings, and status quo has been maintained. For me, that aspect of the book was particularly unsatisfying, and I really wished that she had made a bigger deal out of what was happening there.