Magic? Sounds Legit. Black Lancelot? *ZOMSMFREAKOUT*!!

Can we, just once, have a person of color playing an established character and not have a bunch of assholes crawling out of the woodwork to tell us how much this ruins things for them?

For all my Tumblr reader fans (Tumblrians? Tumblites?), let me start by saying that I adore your beloved social medium, but I haven’t really had the time to sit down and learn how to use it, so for now this blog is just crossposted there. When I have time to learn the culture of Tumblr and use it effectively, then I’ll be more involved.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t read Tumblrs (is that even right?) by streaming them to my gReader. And it was in the course of doing so that I came across this:

Before I say a word, know that I’m not a racist. I simply think that changing the ethnicity of classic characters just to prove how not racist you are is a cheap thing for production companies to do. I mean, Lancelot was not an African. Not in one story or piece of art was he depicted as anything but an English born white man. Do you have any idea how rare Africans were in England in those days? Only just recently has the first skeletal remains of a black man been found and from the condition of them, he was most likely a slave and not treated very well. I know Lancelot isn’t real. Unlike Mulan, he really is from a fairy tale… but c’mon. I know I may sound like I’m taking this stuff too seriously, but why bother getting into a TV series if you’re not going to let yourself really get into it.

This makes me want to dunk my head in lye and jump off a cliff. You’re telling me that the race of a fictional character is so jarring that you are unable to immerse yourself in the show? Really?

As to there being very few Africans in Europe during whenever-the-fuck-you-think-Arthurian-times-were (generally sometime around 600 AD, though the romances which invented Lancelot portrayed that time as basically being just like the time they were written in), and those very poor, here’s a lovely article on black people in Europe through history with links to more documentation. Educate yourself, totes-not-a-racist-who-probably-isn’t-reading-this. And as a final note, he’s usually portrayed as a French, not English born man, and his race is rarely mentioned in any of the romances in which he features.

Promotional picture of Lancelot from "Once Upon a Time"

Yea, I can see why it would be difficult to imagine a black fairy tale character.

Jess’s commentary is pretty spot on:

Isn’t it hilarious when you think about the fact that Lancelot didn’t exist? You know who else didn’t exist? Basically every character in this series! Do you know what else didn’t exist? Magic…magic totally didn’t exist. And people couldn’t turn into dragons. And there are no such things as wraiths. There’s a lot about this show that could be complaining about, but you’ve chosen to complain about the fact that Lancelot isn’t white.

Exactly! You are aware that even if you think that magic is real, it is not a part of your daily life in nearly the same fashion as it’s been portrayed on that show, right? So, dragons=yes, but black Lancelot=”I can’t buy that shit”?

I had a related discussion once when I was reacting to an episode of Science Friday where they were talking about how, in the Spider-man movies, the filmmakers went to great lengths to make sure that, for example, there was a *thunk* sound when Spidey landed on something. It seems ridiculous when you consider that the person who landed is a superhero created by a radioactive/genetically engineered spider, but it seems that we are more willing to accept the big lies than we are to accept incorrect small details.

That being said, this is part of a recent history of freakouts over traditionally white characters (or ones assumed to be) being played by black actors. Remember the freak out when Heimdall was announced as Idris Elba in Thor? Or the people who said that they couldn’t feel bad for Rue in The Hunger Games because she was portrayed by a black actress (despite being black in the book)? Yes, people said they couldn’t feel bad about a child being stabbed if she was black.

It’s time people stop saying shit like this and premising it with “It’s not that I’m racist.” Yes, yes you are racist, or at least the thing you just said was. I recognize that you can not be a racist, but occasionally say racist things without realizing it. If you think racism is bad, that’s great, but you can’t go around questioning casting choices because you never imagined a character’s race to be that way.

34 thoughts on “Magic? Sounds Legit. Black Lancelot? *ZOMSMFREAKOUT*!!

  1. Don’t forget when people learned the Idris Elba was going to portray Heimdall (“the White”) in Thor: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2010/12/fear-of-a-black-heimdall.html

    Don’t forget, too, what people said when they realized that Rue – from The Hunger Games was also black (even though Rue’s description in the book heavily implied that she was black): http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2012/03/some-hunger-games-fans-cry-foul-over-black-actress-cast-as-rue

    Some people are invested in the fantasies they make; true, not in the overtly fantastical parts, but definitely on the more subtle parts – the parts that could be true… If only the fact that they’re completely fictional were left out, that is…

      • So my mother is listening to Hunger Games on audiobook. Out of curiosity, I asked her to describe what she thought Rue looked like.

        …She described her as blonde *headdesk*

        Still, missing the description in the text is one thing. Saying that a little girl’s violent death is less sad if she’s not white… that’s something else again. Sick doesn’t begin to cover it, but I don’t know any words strong enough.

  2. I OBJECT TO THIS CASTING!!!

    …because Lancelot was supposed to be ugly, and that is one ridiculously gorgeous man. *drools a little*

    Srsly, ok, I agree that the “original” Lancelot was almost certainly not black. Possible, yes; probable,no. I am aware of this. I am also aware, however, that the King Arthur stories are and pretty much always have been open-source myth. (Wasn’t Lance, like, not even in the oldest version we know of?) It’s been changed by everyone who’s taken a stab at it; it includes magic and miracles and abundant anachronism and some fairly dubious history. Changing the race of a character is really kinda minor when you look at the overall evolution of the myth.

    And… I don’t even know how to start addressing the larger issue. Yes, a lot of well-known characters are white. Most of ‘em, in fact. And I can understand a fan getting upset about someone changing a beloved character, except that… in the vast majority of cases, the character is not white for a reason. The creator didn’t sit down, weigh their options, and decide that whiteness was essential to this character’s concept and personality. Usually, a character being white simply signifies that race is not essential to this character’s role in the story, so the creator just made them the “default” race. (Or because the story was written in a time and/or place where racial diversity just wasn’t a thang – Vikings didn’t visualize their gods as black, because, well, Scandinavia. And that’s cool and all, but if we’re doing a modern re-imagining of an old story, there’s no need to be bound by the original creators’ limitations as long as it doesn’t drastically change the story itself.)

    And that’s the problem – whiteness really shouldn’t be the default. It is, currently, in popular entertainment, though. You need a reason to be black, or Asian, or anything else. You don’t need a reason to be white – it’s the choice for the “normal, everyday” character. Except… there are normal, everyday people of all races. And media kinda needs to reflect that, and sometimes that means taking a character who is only white because there wasn’t a pressing in-story reason to have them be any other race, and casting a non-white actor to play them.

    And yeah, I’ll admit when I see a black actor playing a character that I “expected” to be white, it does surprise me, and can sometimes change my perception of the character (but more in the “huh, I wonder what this interpretation will be like?” sense rather than the “OMG ruined FOREVERZ!!”) Which, in turn, prompts me to think about why I had that expectation in the first place, why my perception changed even a little bit, and whether or not a race change actually changes anything essential about the character. And I think all that is a good thing.

    • …because Lancelot was supposed to be ugly, and that is one ridiculously gorgeous man. *drools a little*

      Right there with you. As was pointed out on the G+ version of this conversation, the best comment so far as been:

      “People complaining about Lancelot being black.

      I’m sorry, you misspelled “thank you God for gracing my television screen with more of Sinqua Walls’ perfect face.””

      I am also aware, however, that the King Arthur stories are and pretty much always have been open-source myth. (Wasn’t Lance, like, not even in the oldest version we know of?)

      Yay, I get to use my otherwise useless Arthur scholarship!

      So, yes, the Arthur stories were kind of open source in the sense that they were incredibly popular, so storytellers all over the world would jigger Arthur and his knights into every tale they could because the same story was more exciting when set in Camelot rather than in Cardiff. Even going as far back as the Welsh folk tales, many of them were adaptations of other tales that relied on sketchy and tenuous connections to other documents to occasionally claim they were history, though it was like David Barton trying to link the Bible to Every Good Thing EVAR. Geoffrey of Monmouth famously did this with his Historia Regum Britanniae, which listed Arthur as a historical king instead of a myth based on his sources, including a lot of Bardic oral tradition that he expanded on.

      However, that also kicked off a new interest in the Arthurian stories, but in this case instead of being 7th century myths about a contemporary ruler (or somebody who could have been), they were 12th century romances about a historical one, and here is where we have the introduction of Lancelot. Originally, many of the stories related to Lancelot were instead stories of Gawain, who was often considered the best of Arthur’s knights. The problem is that Gawain in those stories was polyamorous and dedicated both to women and to the Goddess in many tales. In fact, he was sort of inextricably linked to female power structures, making him a problematic hero in 12th century Europe, especially France, which started with Baldwin of Boulogne being crowned the first King of Jerusalem during a wave of Crusade fever. So a good Frenchman, Lancelot du Lac, was invented to replace Gawain as a love interest for Gwenivere and as Arthur’s right hand knight. Gawain was relegated to a much reduced role as still an amazing knight, but one who lets his lust get the better of him. His dedication to women was re-symbolized with a picture of the Virgin Mary that he kept on the inside of his shield so she might give him strength in battle.

      I really ought to write a more lengthy extrapolation of this, but maybe another time. For now, there’s your literary history for the day. %)

      • Most interesting discussion of Lancelot and Gawain I’ve ever seen! I’d love a more lengthy extrapolation!

      • Thank you! I try to do literary criticism when it’s related to stuff, so keep an eye out for more Arthurian references, since they can apply. Also, if you like this, I highly recommend any Arthurian book by John Matthews, especially At the Table of the Grail. Lots of interesting stuff along those lines.

      • Wait, Gawain and Guinevere? What story is that? I’ve heard Bedwyr and Gwenhwyfar, and I know that the Lancelot angle dates back only to The Dung-Cart Knight, but I don’t recall hearing Gawain/Guinevere. Nor Gawain as dedicated to the Goddess, but then, I don’t recall reading any versions that hadn’t been Christianized.

        (Just discovered this via KristyCat’s link in the comments here. My chief objection to OUaT’s Lancelot is that he disappears so quickly. One does not simply fridge vital Round Table knights. They could’ve fridged Galahad if they were desperate – dull Puritan that he usually is….)

      • Gawain and Guinevere show up a lot in pre-Vulgate Arthurian stories, as well as many of the early French verse stories, post “Erec et Enide” but before the Prose Lancelot. Bedwyr was previous to that as the queen’s lover, but as Gawain rose to be the best knight (before becoming basically a bully in the Vulgate Cycle and later to Mallory), it was assumed that his might equals his virtue and would therefore be the one most likely for the queen to fall in love with. The best knight always gets the queen in these stories, and Chretien de Troyes just managed to create the latest incarnation of that.

    • “And media kinda needs to reflect that, and sometimes that means taking a character who is only white because there wasn’t a pressing in-story reason to have them be any other race, and casting a non-white actor to play them.”

      Precisely – just what I was thinking. This is something I ran into, and liked very much, when I read about “Torchwood: Miracle Day”. The American male lead was originally supposed to be white, and the American female lead was supposed to be black. In the end, they’re the other way round. End of story.

  3. Pingback: Joss Whedon *pause for riotous clapping* | Reasonable Conversation

  4. Pingback: PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical « shattersnipe: malcontent & rainbows

  5. Pingback: Stories With Pirates In | Lynley Stace

  6. (In other news, I finally got to see the episode in question. I was all “OMG OMG IT’S LANCELOT DID YOU SEE THAT IT’S TOTALLY LANCELOT and he’s BLACK and he’s HOT and it’s AWESOME and waitaminute I read about this!!” Because that is how I react when I’m watching tv, sad to say.)

  7. I just find it extremely insulting that today’s fashion is to change white characters into black, heterosexual characters into homosexual characters. It’s so antiracism. A good example is the new Spider-Man in the comics. The old white, heterosexual Peter Parker was killed off and replaced with a half black, half hispanic possibly (as the writers say) gay teen. I have nothing against gay people, and I’m not a racist. I just know what kind of a shitstorm would arise if a black character would be changed to a white character or a gay character would be suddenly portrayed having a heterosexual relationship. The thing is… being a white, heterosexual man in the 21st century is looked down upon… it was never supposed to go this way. Where’s the equality?

    • And I find it insulting that people assume that because a character was originally portrayed as white and heterosexual that it’s somehow a statement when they aren’t. As Foz Meadows, who linked to this post, pointed out, “Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical”. Just because white, heterosexual men tended to make the majority of entertainment that has been held up as an example by white, hertosexual men as valuable for hundreds of years does not mean that the characters being presumed to be white and heterosexual are necessary for their story arcs, or that story arcs that don’t necessarily relate to being white and heterosexual shouldn’t be explored with these characters.

      As to Spider-man, yes, in the Ultimate Universe, Peter Parker was replaced with Miles Morales. First, let’s keep in mind that nobody touched Peter on Earth-616, so it’s not like the Spider-man that people actually read has been changed. However, the point of the Ultimate Universe was to experiment with new characters and ideas without having to screw with standard continuity, so this change is entirely appropriate. Also? Miles Morales is far and away a better, more interesting character than Peter Parker, and his power set is really clever. Do you feel just as bad when a white, straight character is replaced with another white straight character? Did you have the same reaction when, for example, Hal Jordan turned into Parallax and was killed by Kyle Rayner? Or would that only have been a problem if Kyle Rayner was a racial minority and possibly gay? Super heroes die and are replaced by other people all the time, and there’s no reason why the replacement being another race should be an issue.

      ” I just know what kind of a shitstorm would arise if a black character would be changed to a white character…”

      You mean like Katniss Everdeen? Cleopatra? Alicia Nash (who has the benefit of being a real person from El Salvador portrayed as white in a movie)? Brandi Bosksi (ditto, except black)? Eben Olemaun? Ben Campbell (another real, Korean person)? Fucking Goku? Katara and Sokka? Irene from the movie Drive? Tony Mendes (who maintains a hispanic name, is a real person, and is played by Ben Affleck)?

      I can keep going to list characters that were minorities and then, somehow, were changed to white in the course of filming. That’s not even counting white actors picked to play minority roles (Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s being one of the best examples). Strangely, I heard of absolutely no shitstorm when these choices were made and I think Argo won some sort of award last month or something?

      “…being a white, heterosexual man in the 21st century is looked down upon…”

      You’re right. If only white, heterosexual men had any respect from people, they might still be able to be elected to public office, which we know never happens any more. You might be able to turn on the TV and see a white, heterosexual man on a show again, which is so rare these days. And maybe when a role that is traditionally played by white, heterosexual men is cast as anybody else, somebody, somewhere might speak out, entirely unaware that the vast majority of films not only involve, but actively star just that demographic. Thank you, citizen!

      Obviously, I’m being sarcastic above, but let me be serious for a second. When you ask “Where’s the equality”, it comes off as horrendously blinkered because what you perceive as being “looked down on” is actually “not given immediate and unquestioning reverence”. Seriously, look at your example: white, straight men are looked down on because fictional characters that are generally portrayed as white, straight men are being played as minorities. That’s not what I would call the height of oppression, it’s what I would call a whine about losing privilege.

      Trust me, white straight men will never be searching for jobs in Hollywood, and that movie studios and television networks and comic companies are recognizing that people who are not White Straight Cis Male Christians actually have stories to tell is a Good Thing and in no way does it “look down upon” anybody.

      • Actually, there was a large shitstorm about Katara and Sokka, and the Uncle, and the rest of them, though it did not do anything and the studio proceeded business as usual. There were people boycotting that movie, our family included. But generally, yeah, it pisses me off but does not seem to generate the same level of outrage in public.

    • …I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that you didn’t actually MEAN to use the word “antiracism” as though that were a bad thing. Let’s pretend you said “reverse racism.” (Which is not actually a thing, and it still makes you look ignorant, but it doesn’t make you look EVIL and ignorant.)

      You are right that if a character who added diversity to a cast were changed in a way to decrease said diversity, that would prompt a negative reaction. That is not, however, because “white, straight men are looked down on.” It’s because we as audiences recognize that diversity is a good thing, and decreasing diversity is a bad thing.

      White, straight men are not looked down on. First of all, the vast majority of people in positions of power (political, financial, cultural) are white, straight men. They’re still running the show. People are still looking up to them as leaders. Exceptions to this rule are lauded and celebrated, because they are rare – because for someone who is non-white, or female, or gay, or all of the above, to get into a position of power means that they have beat the odds. They’re celebrated precisely because white, straight men are still society’s default.

      What you are experiencing as being “looked down on” is actually a leveling of the playing field – a loss of privilege. Which, yes, can feel like being looked down on if you’re not used to it, but try to take a moment to look at it from an outside perspective.

      For years – decades, centuries – the white straight male has been society’s default. Sticking only to art and media, characters are assumed to be white, straight men unless explicitly stated otherwise. And creators rarely think to make a character anything other than a white, straight man unless they have a specific reason not to. So non-white characters tend to be limited to works that somehow explore their ethnicity, specifically. LGBT characters tend to be limited to works where their sexuality or gender is a major plot point. Women tend to be limited to roles that are either highly sexualized or specifically intended to challenge and highlight gender roles (or both.) But if you just want a “regular” protagonist, someone that pretty much anyone can relate to, to tell a story that isn’t specifically about any of the above things – you use a white, straight male.

      So take Spidey, for instance – Peter Parker was intended to be, as a contrast to other popular superheroes at the time, an Everyman character. Not a refugee from another galaxy, not an heir to a mystical kingdom, not a billionaire playboy. Just a dude – funny, smart, occasionally dorky, but ultimately normal, until he got his powers. And so the writers made him – survey says – white, straight, and male. Because it never occurred to them to make a “normal” character anything else.

      But the thing is, “normal” doesn’t just mean white, straight men. “Normal” people can be any race, gender, sexuality, etc. When comics and tv shows and books, etc. don’t reflect that, however, it reinforces the idea that whiteness and straightness and maleness is how everyone is supposed to be, and anyone who deviates from that is “weird” and “different.” And that mindset is a PROBLEM in our society.

      So the writers decided Spiderman was due for a reboot. This is, in and of itself, not strange – comics pull that all the time. (I’ve lost track of which version of the X-Men we’re currently on.)

      Now I want you to ask yourself a question for a moment. If this reboot had replaced Peter Parker with another white, straight guy – would you be upset? Or would you consider that “normal?” If you say you’d still be upset, well ok, but I’ll be interested to see the protests you’ve raised over other legacy superheroes.

      But I’m guessing you’re upset not because Parker is being replaced (which, again, is par for the course in superhero reboots), but because he’s being replaced specifically with a non-white, possibly non-straight person. And while you, yourself, may be “not a racist,” that is a racist mindset. It is a mindset that says you need a reason to be black or gay; you don’t need a reason to be white and straight.

      We’re not trying to put down white, straight men. I like white, straight men. I married one. If there were NO white, straight men in media, I would be unhappy. But right now, they make up the vast majority of characters. That is disproportionate, and it needs to change. If we greatly reduce the number of white straight male characters, there will STILL be a lot of white straight male characters out there, but there will also be more room for other character types too. That is a good thing. So yes, when a character is being reimagined or rebooted, I do hope the writers will take a moment and go “is there a compelling reason to keep this character white, straight, and male? Or could they be just as easily another race, another sexuality, another gender?” And that they will take that opportunity to introduce some diversity, and get away from the assumed “default.”

    • What kristycat said. Being a straight white male, I second that privilege is hard to feel. Feeling it being taken away is easier, and feels just like being marginalized. That’s because being wrong feels just like being right (it’s realizing that we’ve been wrong that hurts, and so we prefer not to do that).

  8. Pingback: PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical | tumblr backups

  9. Thank you for posting this, and the comments were also very informative.
    As a Russian immigrant living in US, I get really frustrated by the sentiments expressed about race and gender.
    In Russia, a lot of fairy tales have female protagonists where the girl does all the heroing and rescues her dude, and everyone is cool with it. Also, during USSR times, there was a deliberate emphasis on diversity, and so I feel like I’m more familiar with myths and stories of the world than people in US, which should be the reverse, in my mind, given the heritage diversity here. But try to buy a fairy tale story book – and it will be most likely the “white”, European variety. If you want something else, you have to look for specific “ethnic” genres.
    I do get as frustrated when an “ethnic” -cringe- person gets a whitewash as when a white person gets an “ethnic” -cringe again- tint. (Don’t even get me started on The Last Airbender. My son and I still get frothy at the mouth about the movie.)
    My frustration with the latter is this – why the hell do you Americans feel great by making a traditionally white person black when you are STILL using a freaking “white” story? There are a TON of phenomenal, fantastic folk tales – come ON, Anansi? Kirikou? – that can stand a little highlighting, but nope, we’re gonna take a Snow White and make her African and feel like we’re oh-so-progressive.
    I mean, if we’re talking cosplay – it’s cool and fun and who the hell cares what ethnicity is the cosplayer – the costume is what’s important. And if there were more ethnically diverse stories with ethnically diverse characters (and hey, some Russian tales would be cool, too, just sayin’) I probably would not feel as sharply about this issue, but there aren’t and I do.
    On a completely side note, there is a Russian cartoon about a little raccoon who learns a lesson that you make friends if you smile, and totally randomly it’s set in India. With Mama Raccoon wearing a sari, ’cause, hey, why not? That never bothered me, growing up, and I registered it, but never, you know, REGISTERED it. Soviet sci-fi is always pretty racially diverse, especially from 1960′s. So, culturally, I don’t get all, “OMG, they’ve included a black man!” because why shouldn’t there be one or two or statistically proportional to the world population?
    What gets my goat is that after decades of the same stories the excitement is not in actually, you know, different stories, but in the fact that Lancelot is Black. Like, we should be freaking out about other things. But maybe I still don’t get it (which is definitely a possibility), because Americans, I love living here, but culturally, you baffle the crap out of me.
    And on a totally totally unrelated note, I had no idea there was ever any doubt as to ethnicity of Rue… I can’t even imagine people missing that part. So sad and frustrating.
    Oh, and I am well-aware of the current state of nationalism in Russia. That’s why I don’t live there anymore ^_^

    • Okay, I had to chuckle about “Raccoon in Russian cartoon”, because raccoons are native to North America. But then “raccoon in India”? Now we’ve just gone into weird–raccoons are NOT AT ALL adapted to heat! They’d all migrate to the hills as fast as they could go, and then Mama Raccoon would have to find something warmer than a sari to wear. Red pandas would have been a MUCH better choice, and they’re every bit as cute.

      The rest of the commenters have done an admirable job pointing out how privilege is hard to see when it’s your own. I have nothing to add to that but my congratulations for being so articulate. I’d probably be sputtering in incoherent rage if such a blinkered, ignorant comment made its way to me.

      • yeah, it seemed like a really random choice, more of a “you can be anything” mentality of USSR than anything, but still, it was kind of nice to realize the lack of rigidity of “casting”, so to speak.

      • India has more than one climate (hint: they have mountains! Snowy ones!) and raccoons do indeed live in very hot climates in North America.

    • Thank you for the comment and the perspective! I agree with most of what you say, and will even grant that it can be a problem to cast minorities simply for the specticle of casting a minority in a traditionally white role. That being said, I think what we need to do is look at race and whether it’s important to the role. If it is, keep it as is, but if it’s not, there’s nothing wrong with casting a race that isn’t usually represented, especially if it has no effect on the quality of the product. Idris Elba did an astounding job playing Heimdall, there’s no real reason why the character had to be white, so we’re left with both representation and a great film.

      And you’re right, I would love to see some Russian stories make it to the big screen, and some more diverse tales and characters in general. A weird part about American culture is that we tend to like seeing the things we’re familiar with, so they would rather tell Cinderella over again (only this time, TWIST, she’s in modern high school! And an amputee! And a boy! Who can only talk in rhyme!) than search around for something different. It’s one of the reason I like Miyazaki films: they always draw from wonderfully unique stories.

      Finally, let me say that Americans baffle the crap out of me, too. That’s part of the reason why I write this blog, especially from an American perspective: because I’m hoping that somebody, somewhere will realize how ridiculous we are on a regular basis.

      • LOL As an American raised first in Japan by a Japanese nanny before coming over here, yep we’re silly as all get out. As are the Japanese and all the other humans. Nice to be aware of it both for mind-opening value and for entertainment value. Take the best of all cultures and abscond with it! I love this particular post and many of the responses thereto. Also, God, thank you for giving me more of Sinqua Walls’ perfect face, as noted above. ^_^

      • “they would rather tell Cinderella over again (only this time, TWIST, she’s in modern high school! And an amputee! And a boy! Who can only talk in rhyme!) ”
        BWA-HA-HA! The visual! Oooh, the visual!
        Anyway. It’s actually not just stories, but other aspects, like food (chains vs. local cafes), but that’s a broader topic.
        I mean, sure all nations have their quirks, and it’s great to have people point them out in an informative and constructive way (humor helps, too, of course). When I try to explain some things about Russia to my American husband, often times I just go, “Uuuuummm… just take my word for it,” because there ARE reasons for why we do things, they are just really convoluted. But at least we admit that we’re ridiculous. A quote from a famous Russian poet that gets trotted out a lot is “You cannot understand Russia with a brain, you can only believe in it,” as if it’s a religion or a theory ^_^
        Representation is such a hard topic for me, mostly because I did not grow up with the issue of race – multicultural and multinational, sure, but it was very different. If a movie was set in Caucasian mountains, no one would have thought that anyone of not Armenian, Azerbaijani or Georgian ethnicity should play all roles, even if the ethnicity had no relevance to the story and people of other ethnicity lived in that region for ages. So I just thought there would be some African-based stories here, because I guess I judge everything on my own example? But even the “traditional” American stories, both Native American-based and stuff like Uncle Remus is very scarce. I would love to know why. I tried finding good books about Paul Bunyan etc, but there are not many that are written with kids in mind. And it weirds me out.
        Anyway, I feel like I’m hijacking the topic of this conversation, which is essentially the really lovely face of Sinqua Walls ^_^

    • I can’t figure out how to use this reply system properly so I’m replying to the wrong comment of yours (I apologize). I think you mentioned elsewhere that you wondered why there weren’t many stories that weren’t “white” in the USA (specifically, you mentioned American Indians and African American stories). I’m definitely not an expert on this so anyone who knows more should correct me on this, and I apologize greatly if I misunderstood what you were actually asking, but your comment had me thinking about a number of things so I ended up writing a lot.

      I think part of the problem is that many of the cultures of American Indians, and even to an extent the stories that would have come with African people who were brought over and ultimately enslaved, came from people who had rich oral histories.

      That is to say, some of the most important stories were often passed down in word or song, and not necessarily written down. This isn’t the case across the board but certainly was the case for at least some of the tribes. The stories that come with oral histories can go back a very, very long time, but it also relies very strongly on people continuing to teach the stories to each new generation, and that generation to do the same to the next. It could have continued in that manner but add in decades/centuries of people being subjugated and actively punished or harmed for speaking their native language or displaying obvious signs of their ancestry or culture, and a lot of that rich history was lost. It’s just another tragedy that’s tied into the overarching tragedy of their histories in the US.

      There are a lot of American Indian languages that are on the brink of extinction or have already more or less been lost because, the same as happens with ANY culture or ethnicity, as the generations pass many times the younger people start to lose their direct touch with tradition, and the only people who remember anything can end up being the elders who might not be able to pass on this knowledge to someone reliable before they die. (Further complicated because some of the languages never really had an alphabet before and one had to be created in order to record it for posterity.) Plus, the stories that DO exist could have ended up being more closely guarded after such a length history of having everything else that was culturally important be denigrated and dismissed by those in power.

      This isn’t to say there are no stories left or that no modern American Indians or African Americans have any touch with their ancestry or none of the languages exist anymore, etc, because that would be untrue. But if you’re wondering why you don’t see a lot of “non-white” fairy tales or traditional stories permeating American society as a whole, particularly American Indian or African American, I suspect this might be part of the reason.

      Media also plays a role. Disney is a powerful tool in children’s understanding of fairy tales, or at least has been since when I was a kid. For many children, those movies are how they learn the fairy tales. But Disney’s renditions of both fairy tales and real life figures were drastically changed to conform to their Disney Model of Storytelling. The sorts of thing that make Pocahontas be a buxom, beautiful woman who possibly falls in love with John Smith and later travels to England as an envoy, rather than her being a young girl who saved his life and ended up years later being captured and held for ransom in Virginia. Disney does the same thing with modern stories. They take, for instance, stories written in Japan and change them when they acquire the English rights, making them into a similar plot or bias of the same story they’ve told over and over. Probably because they know that the model sells, and they know they won’t get sued or complaints if they keep doing the same thing over and over.

      I think a lot of things in the US ultimately come down to money.
      Don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means blaming Disney for everything, I merely mention it as an example of how part of this issue relates to how kids are raised in American society, the role models we have since childhood, and the biases we end up developing whether consciously or subconsciously as a result. Kids only know what they’re taught, after all.

      And finally, I think one of the biggest issues is that history is told by the winners. There is a clear bias in history overall on the part of men and particularly white men. Whether or not it was a concerted effort or merely what they thought to write down, the result is that if you go according to American schoolbooks at least, you might get the impression that women, for instance, have always done nothing but have kids and sit around being useless, with a few rare examples now and then. But in fact, women were everywhere (http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/psa-your-default-narrative-settings-are-not-apolitical/) I think this same thing happened to people of color as well. I mean, even the fact that we have a phrase “people of color” ties into that, because that’s grouping together a whole bunch of extremely varied people, cultures, languages, and ancestries, into one short phrase just to differentiate them from the default whites. Or the fact that we specify African American or Asian American and so on, but white Americans are just American and not Caucasian American or European American (which most of us are by ancestry).

      This bias toward assuming that the default American is white is perpetuated both by our media and by the expectations elsewhere. I spent several months in Fiji and I was there with a friend who was by ethnic descent south Indian, but she had been born and raised in the US. The country is basically half Indo-Fijians (people who descend from India but are born and raised in Fiji) and half native Fijians, with mostly tourists and a few scattered Europeans who lived there sporting lighter skin tones.

      When I walked around with my friend, everyone automatically assumed that I was European or American because I’m quite pale. But when my friend told them she was American too, they wouldn’t believe her. “Where are you from?” they would ask her, and when she said the US, they would say, “No, where are you REALLY from?” It was extremely frustrating for her, especially since even back in the US she didn’t always feel like she belonged. On the flip side of this, when we went to a city where tourists basically never went, I was met with stares and gawking by people when I walked by. A little kid reached out and touched my bare skin as if to check if I felt the same as everyone else, and then snatched his hand away at something his parents said. He’d probably never seen such a white person in his life. Judging by the reactions of the other people we saw neither had anyone else in town.

      I guess the point of this rambling comment is that race and racism are some very complicated issues that transcend more than one country and more than one perspective, and these in turn affect oral and written histories and stories within the prevailing culture.

      I think it is something that is especially visible in the US in part because we are an extremely broadcast-oriented society. American culture (in general) tends to be kind of boisterous, outspoken, unfettered by restraint. This might be in part due to the very essence of the country’s foundation stressing basically that everyone has the right to be who they want to be, think what they want to think and say what they want to say, and everyone else should back off. This can manifest as entitlement, selfishness, egoism, ignorance, rudeness and more, but it can also become enthusiasm, friendliness, acceptance, and more. It depends largely, of course, on the person and context.

      But when you take that into account and also consider that so much of what we do ends up televised and sent to the media or dramatized for movies, and that in turn is broadcast to the rest of the world, it results in a very loud message sent out that might be misleading at times. People outside of the US might develop a very strong understanding of the country based on what we’re constantly telling everyone else we are, and that understanding may be quite at odds with the reality, and other times it might be quite similar. While we’re broadcasting this out to the rest of the world, we’re also broadcasting it within our borders, and that in turn affects how our own children are born and raised, and what beliefs they integrate, and what understandings of the world they develop. This can mean biases are underscored over and over, and while each generation seems to be getting a bit better than the last at acknowledging and addressing this, there are still a lot of things we don’t even realize we’re doing because it’s so strongly the norm.

      Have you ever listened to American nursery rhymes? Some of them are extremely dark and yet kids jump around chanting them cheerfully. “Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall DOWN!” is a favorite rhyme, and kids happily drop to the ground giggling at the end, but it’s about the black plague and all the people dying.

      I took some Russian and it was funny to see the idioms compared to how we would translate it. For instance, Вот где соба́ка зары́та was translated as literally “so that’s where the dog is buried!” but for us the meaning would be “that’s the essence of the matter; that’s where the problem is” and the closest idioms might be “that’s the crux” or “that’s where the shoe pinches”. The same with Japanese (the nail sticking out gets hammered down) vs the American (the squeaky wheel gets the grease). They’re looking at the same topic but the perspectives are completely different.

      But they don’t tell us the true meaning of those rhymes as kids or lead us to analyze comparisons of our idioms versus another country’s or language’s—we just learn the rhyme/idiom and have no idea what it means until we’re far older. We also rarely hear the true history of our country—you’ll probably find a lot of people who don’t realize the truth about Columbus. But this isn’t only in America where there’s revisionist history within its borders; it’s fairly human for those in power to prefer making it seem like they got there the best way they can spin it.

      Sorry this was long but I guess in all my rambling my thoughts were:
      1) American society in general tends to both glamorize and demonize things because it broadcasts a more “interesting” or controversial message which makes things sell more, and this can result in confusion even for people born and raised here, so it’s not a surprise to me should that occur for others who weren’t
      2) American society in general tends to “dumb down” things for children, glossing over dark plots and homogenizing it into a very simplified storyline (like completely changing The Little Mermaid’s ending when making it into a movie, and yet as a kid I remember how much I loved Disney’s The Little Mermaid and how traumatized I was when I saw an animated Little Mermaid that was more accurate to the actual fairy tale)
      3) Humans in general seem to relate best (or even feel most comfortable around) what they know, so I think subconsciously that builds into their understanding and expectations of others
      4) Some of the traditional ancestral cultures in the US have met with a lot of resistance throughout American history, and as a result there are a lot of things that have been lost, hidden, or denied
      5) History is greatly skewed by the writer’s biases and this can affect even the modern understanding of the world
      Relative to many of the other countries in the world, the US is pretty young, so part of this may also be attributed to growing pains (for lack of a better term) and the fact that from its inception it was land essentially stolen from native people by immigrants who appropriated the country for their own. Ironically, some of those same immigrants have descendants who take issue with immigrant or perceived “other” cultures and ethnicities who have since moved to the same land.

      This one section of land has, in a relatively short time period, seen a lot of upheaval in the demographics of the population, and the overall cultural identity itself is constantly changing. While it’s still predominately white, there are a lot of non-white people from all sorts of backgrounds who have moved here or were born and raised here and are just as American as anyone else. Their cultures have affected the culture that was there prior to their arrival, and things slowly blend together. American culture really is an amalgamation of many others, and that is the essence of “what is American.”

      But some of the people who have also been born and raised here don’t seem to have yet figured out that this is the case, and they operate under delusions of what it “really” used to be like and want it to return to those “golden days.” Being that these types of people are usually white, they also are the same type of people who have been in power for a long time and who were in the position to see to it that anything that didn’t fit their very limited view of reality didn’t get properly recorded in history and therefore, with enough lapse in time and oral history, can be seen as to have “never existed.” This lack of diversity, honesty, and objectivism in localized history ends up only perpetuating all the worst stereotypes and ignorant beliefs while simultaneously reassuring those who want to believe the same as the people who once decided it was appropriate to commit genocide or enslave an entire group of people: the idea that somehow they are inherently “better” and anything that challenges this premise is inherently “wrong.”

      As for myself, I don’t understand them. I’m born and raised in the US. My family has been here for generations. I’m white and I’m European by descent. And yet I can very easily say that there are a lot of things that are contradictory, humorous, or appalling about the US, and I don’t understand at all the way some of my fellow Americans react so dramatically and terribly to the idea of diversity, race, cultures, or even acknowledgment of our true history. Truth be told, I find it to be an embarrassment that we both can call ourselves American by birth and growth, and I cringe when I see how inappropriately and cruelly some people can act in what they claim is the name of America or by unspoken “rights” they bestow upon themselves simply for something as stupid as being born white.

      • Thanks for your perspective, and for the most part, I see what you are saying, except for one thing – the belief that there are not many Native stories left.

        When I was growing up in USSR, I had, among other things, this set of encyclopedia-size story books – one was Russian and Soviet folk tales (from nations that were part of USSR, from Lithuania to Ukraine to Uzbekistan), one was European folk tales, and one was Tales of the World, which had all other regions. Granted, there still seems to be the skewing towards Europeans, since they basically got one and a half books (because, in case y’all don’t realize, a lot of densely populated USSR is in Europe, and Asian parts are comparatively lightly populated, except in Near East), but at least there were a ton of African, Australian, Asian and American stories in the third book. I tended to gravitate toward Asian ones, but I think it may have been the translations.

        Point is, when I go shopping in a Russian bookstore, I will see, in sci-fi/fantasy AND literature sections, both our native books and translations from other languages (though to be honest, aside from Murakami, there won’t be any Japanese fiction, maybe because Russians and Japanese are still pissy at each other).
        They will likely be separated into categories in literature, but, depending on the size of the store, not in sci-fi/fantasy. It will be a big mish-mash.

        Here, good luck trying to find a sci-fi/fantasy novel that is a translation. I’ve seen The Night Watch in Borders once and almost peed myself from surprise. Especially since it’s such an unfit novel for translation (even my brother, who was very young when we moved here, does not really “get” it), and probably was only translated and published here because of the movie.
        There are a ton of stories to be published, but because – and here is my theory – US is in love with “maximum profits”, they are not likely to take chances on something that does not appeal to widest audience. They don’t like to take chances on things. Even the Miyazaki films often take forever to get released on big screen here, and many do not. And then they make judgements based on popularity, but then they take that popular thing and try to change it to fit their standard (hence that failed attempt to make Princess Dora and the current debacle with Disney’s Brave beautification).

        Until we, as consumers, keep to status quo, things will remain the same. In this country the only way you can be heard is through your wallet, sad to say.

        I get that things tend to get dumbed down in all cultures, but in US, things tend to get REALLY dumbed down. Because, hey, lowest common denominator dealio.

      • It is very common for white people in America to think that most Native cultures have lost their stories and histories, but this just isn’t the case. The same with African-American people: their stories and histories continues to be shared. The problem is that there IS an enormous cultural bias against those stories.

  10. Pingback: Journal 4: A Song of Ice and Fire/A Game of Thrones, Misogyny, and Audience | Creative Writing: Fiction Seminar

  11. Black Lancelot definitely seems pretty weird, especially when there were other characters where a race swap would make much more sense. For one, Pinocchio – I mean, c’mon, wood is (generally) already brown!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s