So I made this post about the low-key racism in the Shadowhunters fandom. Then I thought, I really should make a post about the how the Shadowhunter-Downworlder dynamic is fantasy racism and meant to parallel real-life racism, because a lot of people seem to miss the metaphor when discussing characters in the show. Consideration of race and the effect on the narrative positioning is essential when it comes to examining actions and dynamics.
So, here we go.
In 1.03, we are introduced to the idea of species tension in the Shadow World.
ALEC: Downworlders are slaves to their impulses.
ISABELLE: Alec, you can’t just jump on all the Downworlders.
ALEC: Oh, that’s right. Seelies have their charms, apparently-
clear from a very short interaction that the Shadow World is split into
two ‘races’- the Shadowhunters and the Downworlders, with the former
having a very low opinion of the latter. I know fandom likes to use the Alec line as something humourous, but it really does reveal his racism.
JACE: Warlock gets around.
JACE: Warlocks usually require payment before they help anyone with anything.
Warlocks are held in slightly higher regard by Shadowhunters, mostly because they have the power to help them, for a price of course. Lack of name from Jace says it all really.
ISABELLE: I have Seelie friends.
MARYSE: Yes, I know about your friends. Isabelle, we stay seperate from the Downworld for good reasons. The wrong move, the wrong word, you think there’s such a thing as harmless rebellion? Who knows what offends these creatures? Maybe you told him- them- something they shouldn’t know, maybe you trod on one of their ridiculous customs without noticng it…….When someone upsets the natural order, everything falls apart.
Maryse is one of the most bigoted Shadowhunters in the whole series. This is her very first scene and it’s clear where some of her children have inherited their racism from. She dismisses the Seelies way of life, calls them ‘creatures’ (ew) and makes arrogant assumptions about the ‘natural order’ (eww)- calling these good reasons to degrade a species. Everything in here should creep you out.
ALEC: Bored, decadent vampires.
Fairly minor after Maryse’s racist spiel but the casual tone exposes the normality of Alec’s opinion. He just says it in conversation.
MELIORN: Perhaps the Accords don’t provide equal protection for all Shadow Realms.
You’d think they would, especially seeing the trouble the Clave goes to enforcing them. Audiences should sympathise with Meliorn here.
ALEC: The law is hard, but it is the law.
The infamous line! Here, it represents the supremacist attitudes of Shadowhunters- they force their outdated law on others. It is also used to justify their racist actions.
MARYSE: It’s not like Isabelle can do it.
It is implied no Shadowhunter will marry Izzy because she has been ‘tainted’ by her relationships with the Downworld. Wow, Maryse.
ALEC: No I told you at the Wolf Den, no more Downworlder business, we can’t be seen as interferring with a pack alpha dispute. How can you ask me-
Again with the isolation politics. What’s interesting is the ‘can’t be seen’- Shadowhunter culture is very much shame culture. It’s not just that Isabelle and Meliorn have a relationship, it’s that everyone knows about it. ( @amorverus discusses shame culture here)
CLARY: Bring it, warlock.
Oh, Clary. You know his name, just use it!
MAGNUS: And he hated the Downworlders, the gifts that we possessed that he could not have. He hated us enough to kill us all.
Envy, envy, envy. It’s enough to turn Valentine into a murderous racist.
VALENTINE: The Accords are a fallacy. Everything about them. Down to the blasphemous magic that binds us all to it’s stupidity.
JOCELYN: The Accords guarantee peace!
VALENTINE: We’re Shadowhunters, we don’t make peace with demons! Downworlders are half-demon. We are fufilling our destiny.
It’s interesting here to see how similar Valentine’s rhetoric is to ‘normal’ Shadowhunter speech, but he is condemned by his community. This doesn’t sound far off from what Maryse said in 1.05.
JACE: And not the sexed-up, romantic kind. The ugly, coffin-dwelling, blood-sucking kind.
Sadly, Jace’s opinion of vampires has not changed since 1.03.
MARYSE: There are rumours that local Shadowhunters have been interferring in Downworld affairs. But you two wouldn’t know anything about that, right?
Shame culture again! This is eerily similar to what Alec recites to Jace in 1.05. Again, I wonder where he gets it from.
LUKE: Wasn’t easy going from a revered Shadowhunter to a werewolf. Suddenly I was foraging for food, unable to control my own body. I lost my family, my friends.
Luke’s perspective is very interesting here as it reveals the adjustments Downworlders have to make. It also shows the extent to which they are truly hated- Luke lost his own family.
SIMON: Am I a vampire? [Yes]. Tell me this isn’t real! Tell me this isn’t happening! I’m repulsive! I’m nothing more than a monster!
The disgust for Downworlders has even transferred to a mundane.
ISABELLE: My family-
MELIORN: Despises Downworlders. That’s common knowledge.
Common knowledge? Considering the way the factions of the Shadow World avoid each other, the Lightwoods must really hate Downworlders for everyone to know.
LYDIA: Meliorn, the Clave has ordered that you be placed under arrest.
ISABELLE: What for?
LYDIA: Soliciting state secrets from a Shadowhunter on behalf of Valentine Morgentstern.
‘Soliciting’? Clearly Downworlders are viewed as the enemy. Meliorn isn’t even warned of his arrest (he isn’t given legal repreesntation either).
CLARY: Alec, the Clave has gone too far. You have to see that. Please, just let Meliorn go.
ALEC: I have my orders.
This links back to the whole law rhetoric. Is the fact that torture is an order really enought to justify the act? (answer: no).
JACE: You’ve given us no reason to trust you, Seelie.
Maybe Jace is just very forgetful when it comes to names. But seriously, Meliorn is risking his life here but sure, he’s secretly ~evil~.
LYDIA: Only a handful of people knew about the Meliorn op.
RAJ: And everyone knows she’s sleeping with him.
Healthy dose of racialized slut-shaming!
ISABELLE: You know what Lydia? You’re no better than Valentine. But at least he had the guts to tell Downworlders to their faces he wanted them all dead. You? Hide behind the law.
LYDIA: I don’t hide behind it, Isabelle. I simply follow it.
Shadowhunters really love the law.
RAPHAEL: Funny how those rules for Downworlders stop being such a big deal when you need our help.
Speaks for itself (drag them Raphael, drag them!).
ISABELLE: I don’t want Valentine to succeed.
IMOGEN: Well that’s the first sane thing I’ve heard from you.
ISABELLE: You know what’s insane? Thinking we have the right to treat a Downworlders life as worthless.
It is clear here at
Izzy’s trial that the life of any Downworlder is rarely considered noteworthy.
BLACKWELL: Graymark! Where are your claws? Don’t bother with that [seraph blade]. It only lights up for real Shadowhunters.
At least Blackwell is actually a Circle member.
MARYSE: And all for a Downworlder.
LUKE: It’s all right. You and I will be able to share our love openly one day
Again, interaccial relationships are frowned up when everybody actually knows about it.
MARYSE: No, the fact that he is a man, as you say, is the least of my worries. It’s that you chose Magnus Bane.
ROBERT: His reputation precedes him. And even for a warlock, he’s a bit of a lothario.
Again, it really all just speaks for itself.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, so please feel free to add some!