What Girl Wizards And Tech Unicorns Have In Common

Back To The Future

1986 – the year I went to the upper school for big boys at Burnage High – could feel more like 1966 on any given day. Day Tripper rattled through the tinny speaker of my Mam’s transistor radio and Saturday mornings on children’s telly brought re-runs of Joe 90 and Thunderbirds. I half-expected to hear a huge voice booming a countdown across the living room floor when SpaceX launched their reusable rocket this week. It has to be seen to be believed: taking off from the launchpad in a cauldron of flame, this thing blasts off into outer space only to hurtle back to earth at break-neck speed, averting disaster by slowing to a crawl, lighting it’s motor like a blowtorch and landing on its tail. The future of my teenage dreams might have arrived, but we’re not quite at the point of zipping ourselves from London to Luanda like email attachments just yet. 

Chasing Beams Of Light

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – or so said the futurist Arthur C. Clarke in his 3 Laws Of Prediction. If that’s true, then there’s an invisible, inevitable tie that binds Harry Potter’s frizzy-haired Hermione Granger to SpaceX’s Elon Musk. It may be “only fantasy”, but the imagination to create the world from scratch in one’s own mind connects the possible to the impossible. There is something delightfully Potter-esque about a daydreaming young Albert Einstein’s chasing a beam of light in the summer sun leading to a breakthrough in quantum mechanics and changing all of our lives. Genius needs room for fantasy and playful creativity. The outcome may be broomstick-riding ingenues or the theory of relativity – and both are highly desirable. It was with some bemusement then (and not a little sadness) that a social media flame war about the character’s racial identity erupted over the casting of Olivier Award-winning English actress Noma Dumezweni as the girl-wizard heroine in the stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a short story set a generation after the novel ends. The author herself says it best:


IMG  So, what’s this talk of unicorns? The magical ponies of Dungeons and Dragons now share their name with a slightly nerdy nomenclature for Silicon Valley shooting stars worth a billion dollars or more – WhatsApp, Snapchat and any given app du jour living in pocket on your phone beside loose change and car keys. #BlackHermione matters, because she is the bridge. She creates the space for young people who look like her to imagine themselves in science-fiction, science and fiction. All the diversity initiatives in the world make not a jot of difference if we can’t make room for this principled little Muggle in our mind’s eye. As people of colour, we need to give ourselves permission to become wizards and stormtroopers and Annie and Rue – and to chase down those beams of light! Perhaps one day we’ll hear from the lips of somebody who was in the audience of this play one night and went on to unlock the secrets of Dark Matter, discover the next graphene – or start the next SpaceX from an under-resourced community basement in Moss Side.