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.

3 thoughts on “What Girl Wizards And Tech Unicorns Have In Common”

  1. Great article. Would recommend Octavia Butler as one of the few writers who has had the imagination to bring girl wizards and technology together.

  2. Pingback: Hello, Fellow
  3. I loved this blog and totally agree with your mindset. My interests I have to admit was not too dissimilar to many girls that end up in science. Then my cousin came to England on the QE2. She was a few months older than me at 10yrs and we talked excitedly all night and every night and promised ourselves we would build and programme the first robot. We drew sketches of our precious prototype. When I trace my life back to aged 11 I told my teacher I wanted to be a scientist or astronaut and she thought I was deluded. However I was totally obsessed with witches and casting spells at school and wanted to change the world. I drove my mum mad with my questions and star gazing. I used to watch with keen interest “Shazam”, “bewitched”, “I dream of Jeanie “and the “Tomorrow’s people”. My favourite pastimes were star gazing and sitting on my back doorstep with my siblings commanding the trees to sway in and out of the wind. I thought I possessed the power to do anything. I was invincible. My epiphany came when at school I learnt my first law of chemistry “matter cannot be created or destroyed” how awesome! Quite bizarrely mum reminded me years later that inspite of our convoluted lives I had managed to obtain a degree in maths stats and computing and my cousin gained a degree in computer science from McGills. We both learnt AI programming but we both did not remain in academia. We just keep our degrees in our back pockets for a rainy day!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.