It’s that time of year again, Black History Month. Beginning every February in the United States, the country sets aside 28 (or 29 in a leap year) days to celebrate, discuss and engage black history. Innocuous enough. And yet what seems to happen every Feb. 1st, is the beginning of a 28-days long ritual of whining (how come they get their own month?), misconceptions and endless micro-aggressive racial faux-pas. And this isn’t just from the usual skyboxes of white privilege; there are black people (some of them noteworthy) who wade into…well…the stupid. So here are a few tips to better understand the month, both for those who have to endure the stupid and for those who might be enticed to engage in the stupid.
“…many Negroes and Mulattoes the property of Citizens of these States have concealed themselves on board the Ships in the harbor … and to make their escapes in that manner … All Officers of the Allied Army … are directed not to suffer any such negroes or mulattoes to be retained in their Service but on the contrary to cause them to be delivered to the Guards which will be establish’d for their reception …Any Negroes or mulattoes who are free upon proving the same will be left to their own disposal.”–General George Washington, October 25, 1781.
That time Washington had Patriot troops surround Yorktown to stop slaves huddled with the British from escaping. Wouldn’t know much of that watching Sleepy Hollow, where Washington wasn’t just a Founding Father, but a Savior of the Apocalypse and venerable Saint–“the good guys” in a war against evil where the Patriots are (literally) on the side of the angels.
I like this show. But sometimes it makes me wanna throw up in my mouth a little.
This morning, as I was thumbing through the hordes of #OWS tweets from yesterday (Happy Post May Day!), I came across one from Orbit books. “Read about how fantasy authors steal ideas from history,” it said, and directed me to an article by author Karen Miller (KE Mills) of the Rogue Agent series titled, “Stealing from the Fantastic Past.” Great, I thought! I’m a historian-apprentice, I like fantasy, don’t mind a little theft, this should be interesting. And it was. Miller contends that some of the best fantasy novels are those that study and draw from our historical past, and suggests other writers might find it (history) a useful resource. Overall a worthy article and one I can agree with for the most part–though the academic in me cringes every time a student refers to the graphic novel turned over-the-top CGI sword-and-sandal flick 300 in a paper, mistaking a clear bit of Frank Miller (no relation to author Karen Miller) Orientalist vs Occidental fantasy for history. But, that’s a minor quibble, and a whole notha’ blog. What did make me frown and slow-chew in the middle of my bowl of morning Kashi and organic blueberries, however, was this:
Those who critique and comment on the fantasy genre often wonder why so many authors choose the European medieval period as an historical period to plunder.
I can’t answer for anyone else, but I know why I’m drawn to Europe’s sprawling history: the period spanning from the final collapse of the Roman Empire and its partition into the Western and Eastern empires, through to the installation of Henry VII on the throne of England, gives us some of the most fascinating, dynamic, cataclysmic and downright exciting events the world has ever seen. There were religious, political, social and economic upheavals, the rise and fall of dynasties, conquest, epidemics . . . and the devastatingly personal journeys of men and women born into wealth and privilege, or who found their ways to it by marriage, circumstance . . . and murder. Add magic to the mix, the element of supernatural surprise, and why wouldn’t a fantasy writer leap at the chance to explore and reinvent that incredible past in fiction?
Okay. So where do I begin….