Just now, I stumbled across a Tweet posted by @Bookvibe that had a link to an article that spoke about a paper published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology by an Italian researcher. The researcher "report(s) that kids who read the series — which features a world in which elves, werewolves, goblins, poltergeists, and other fantastical creatures coexist — exhibited fewer prejudiced feelings toward stigmatized groups, when compared to kids who didn't read the books. " I can't seem to read the published article itself because I'm not affiliated with any organization that had access to the magazine (or I'm just confused and can't figure out how to do it) but the idea that Harry Potter can teach kids empathy and acceptance is something I've always stood by.
I understand that there are people out there who don't like Harry Potter for a multitude of reasons. One of which I hear time and time again is something about how the only reason Harry's still alive, or made it as far in (insert book title here) as he did, was because other people saved him. Well world, duh, that's kind of the point. No man is an island, it takes a village. Harry Potter is full of themes such as those. I guess the most blatant example of Harry Potter teaching kids empathy is the dynamic between Hermione and Draco. Was Hermione a little irritating sometimes? Yes. Were there moments when I just wanted her to be quite and stop ordering people to bed? Yes. Did that mean that it was okay to read about Draco calling her a Mudblood ( I don't even like typing the word) which is the equivalent to calling another person by a racial slur in the real world? No freaking way!! The world Mudblood isn't real, before Harry Potter was a thing, if someone shouted Mudblood from the rooftops, everyone would have looked around confused then carried on with their day. Reading Harry Potter allowed (or allows) children who have never thought about racism or bigotry in a true sense, to witness it and to want to stand against it. There's not a single person who read those books and agreed with Draco Malfoy's horrid taunting.
There are many other aspects of Harry Potter that had the ability to instill empathy into readers, Harry's abuse by his family, the Weasley's financial difficulties, SPEW and Hermione's hunger strike, the treatment of werewolves, not to mention the fact that Voldemort was essentially Hitler, the list goes on and on. In theory all of these ideas should be made "real" in a history class as children learn the horrors of racism, the holocaust, and the equality that we're all still fighting for, but the truth is, it may not. It isn't until we feel like we've been victimized, or those we love have been victimized that these concepts become real and we want to fight against them. If an author does their job correctly the readers know the characters, they love the characters, they empathize with the characters, and the readers may become better human beings because of it.