Tag Archives: African-American

Radical Dirigibles- Black Socialists, Anarchists, Reformers and Airships–Guest blog by P. Djeli Clark

[Note from Ay-leen: Cross-posting P. Djeli Clark’s blog The Disgruntled Haradrim. Happy May Day everyone!]

black CPUSA

Pictured above, members of an African-American acting troupe who journeyed to the Soviet Union to star in a film in the 1930s. The group was led by the young Louise Thompson Patterson and included amongst them the poet Langston Hughes

“Socialism is the preparation for that higher Anarchism; painfully, laboriously we mean to destroy false ideas of property and self, eliminate unjust laws and poisonous and hateful suggestions and prejudices.”–H.G. Wells

“Steampunk will never be afraid of politics,” declared writer and Steampunk Magazine editor Margaret Killjoy in a well-read 2011 article. In it, Killjoy pushed back against any notion that steampunk was merely about brass buttons and brassieres–though it’s that too. Tracing the long history of political thought, and political radicalism, in the genre, she pointed to the early works of Jules Vernes and H.G. Wells, and the more modern anarchist tendencies of Michael Moorcock and Alan Moore. Killjoy went on to declare steampunk as even inherently anticolonial; in its re-imaginings of our historical past steampunk was “antithetical” to colonialism, the latter being “a process that seeks to force homogeneity upon the world” while the former “is one of many, many movements and cultures that seeks to break that homogeneity.”

Indeed, steampunk (beyond even its literary creations) has sparked numerous discussions and debates on race, slavery, colonialism, gender, class and sexuality. More than any other genre of speculative fiction, it forces us to confront our more immediate past, and has an active cadre that launches criticism upon anything that appears to fantasize, apologizes or fails to acknowledge the disparities and inequities of these by-gone eras. It makes steampunk a fractured genre, where the donning of a simple article of clothing or a decision to write about some obscure bit of the past, can spark debates or whole blogs on racism, cultural appropriation, gender inequality and [insert-your-privilege-here]-splaining. And that’s a GOOD thing.

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Black Empire: George Schulyer, Black Radicalism and Dieselpunk–Guest blog by P. Djeli Clark

[Note from Ay-leen: Cross-posting P. Djeli Clark’s blog The Disgruntled Haradrim]

blackempire3232011Sometime in the 1930s, a black journalist is kidnapped in Harlem by the charismatic Dr. Henry Belsidius, leader of the Black Internationale–a shadowy organization determined to build a Black Empire and overthrow the world of white racial hegemony with cunning and super science. Journalist George S. Schulyer’s fantastic tale was written in serials in the black Pittsburgh Courier between 1936 and 1938 under the pseudonym Samuel I. Brooks. It quickly found a loyal following among African-American readers, who saw in Dr. Belsidius and the Black Internationale a heroic, sci-fi tale of black nationalism, triumph and race pride. The newspaper was surprised at the serials’ growing popularity, and pushed for more–sixty-two in all. Yet no one was as surprised at the story’s success than George Schulyer who, disdaining what he saw as the excesses of black nationalism and race pride, had written Black Empire as satire.

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Black Dispatches: Real-Life Superheroes in the Age of Steam(funk)–by Balogun Ojetade

Espionage—the act or practice of spying or of using spies to obtain secret information—has been with us probably since one of our first villagers looked over the hill to see what the other village was up to.

Espionage is one of the world’s oldest professions because as long as there is one person who has an advantage over another, be it military, agricultural, industrial, or even sexual, undoubtedly, someone will be skulking about trying to get their hands on someone else’s information or technology.

The most valuable thing in the world is not gold or diamonds, it is information.

Information of every kind has its own value depending on who wants it and why. Industrial espionage can alter the wealth of a nation and thus its capacity to compete commercially and wage war. A single act of industrial espionage elevated the United States to international economic eminence in less than 50 years. All it takes is one person to alter history, if they are in the right place, at the right time, with the right kind of information.

Having people in the right place at the right time was vital to both the Union and the Confederate armies during the American Civil War. Units of spies and scouts reported directly to the commanders of armies in the field. They provided details on troop movements and strengths.

The most useful military intelligence of the American Civil War, however, was provided to Union officers by “Black Dispatches” – a common term used among Union military men for intelligence on Confederate forces provided by black people. Let’s look at a few Black Dispatches and their invaluable contributions and acts of derring-do.

[Read “Black Dispatches: Real-Life Superheroes in the Age of Steam(funk)” on Tor.com]

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The Speculative Art of Kehinde Wiley — Guest blog by P. Djeli Clark

I first saw the work of artist Kehinde Wiley at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s still there. You walk in, and on the left wall is an immense mural of a figure that looks somewhat like Tony Starks (Ghostface, not Downey Jr.), on horseback crossing the alps–a reworking of Jacques-Louis David’s 1800 oil-paintingNapoleon Crossing the Alps orBonaparte at the St Bernard Pass.
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Anti-Fascist dieselpunk II- The Italo-Abyssinian War–Guest blog by P. Djeli Clark

Note: This is second in a two-part series, cross-posted with permission from The Disgruntled Haradrim. Check on Part 1 about Anti-Fascism and  the Spanish Civil War here. 

After my last posting on Anti-Fascist dieselpunk and the Spanish Civil War, which owed much to Steampunk Emma Goldman’s original blog, I began thinking about the other great anti-fascist struggle also lost in the shadow of WWII. In 1935, before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Mussolini’s Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia–one of the few African territories at the time not under European colonial control. The brutal attack on Ethiopia (then also called Abyssinia), which employed poison gas and flame throwers on civilian populations, was partly strategic, and also revenge–for an Italy still smarting from their humiliating defeat by Ethiopian forces at the Battle of Adwa in 1896. While the near impotent League of Nations remained shamefully complicit in their refusal to denounce Mussolini or allow arms to a beleaguered Ethiopia, outrage was heard from throughout the black diaspora. Ethiopia had long functioned as a symbolic political and cultural historical site in black popular culture, politics and thought; and the invasion by Italy was seen by many as an attack on the entire ”black world.”

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Anti-Fascist Dieselpunk and the Spanish Civil War–Guest blog by P. Djeli Clark

Note: This is first in a two-part series, cross-posted with permission from The Disgruntled Haradrim. Check on Part 2 about Anti-Fascism and  Ethiopia on Wednesday!

I was watching Guillermo del Toro’s excellent dark fantasy realism flick, El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) the other day, and it reminded of an excellent blog article I read on Emma Goldman and dieselpunk late last year. Huh, you ask? Yes, like a Third Stage Guild Navigator, my mind “moves in strange directions.” Stay with me, and I’ll connect the dots….

Guillermo del Toro’s tragic tale, told through the eyes of an imaginative little girl named Ofelia, is set during the brutal Franco regime in the wake of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), a conflict that is almost lost in the long shadow cast by WW2. Yet like Mussolini’s brutal campaign against Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War was one of the first battlegrounds against fascism. While Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported the right-wing General Francisco Franco, with weapons and bombing campaigns, the leftist Republican government was supported in part by France, Mexico and the Soviet Union.

Beyond nation-states, brigades of international volunteers also flocked to fight what they saw as a war against fascism. Some forty thousand men and women from fifty-two countries, many of them socialists, communists and radicals, traveled to Spain to join the International Brigades in support of the anti-fascist Republican government. Some 2,800 of them were from the United States, and served in what was called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

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Beyond Victoriana Special Edition Odds & Ends #9

Haven’t done one of these in awhile, but here are some pertinent links for sci-fi & steampunk-related events and causes…

First of all, this month in the US is African/African-American History Month. Beyond Victoriana has done features relating to this event in the past (check out our stuff on Black Victoriana in 2010 and African/African-American Heritage series in 2011) and this year I want to spotlight a venture by Alicia McCalla: The State of Black Sci-Fi 2012 blog carnival. She along with several other writers talk about where they see black sci-fi right now and where it is going. There’s a lot of food for thought on all of the contributors sites; so please check them out at the link. Plus, a shout-out to Valjeanne Jeffers’ post on why she loves steampunk and Balogun, the author of the steampunk/alt- hist book Moses: the Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, wrote about why he hearts steam too.

The annual Con or Bust Fundraiser is now open! Started by fans from the feminist convention WisCon to help raise money for people to color to attend SFF conventions, Con or Bust has raised thousands of dollars in support of a more diverse fandom since it started in 2009. You can read more about their history and go ahead and bid on some awesome stuff!

Did you know that Steampunk Magazine #8 has just come out? Well, if you don’t have a copy in your hands right this second, you can buy one or download the issue from their website.

A bit old, but the book Postcolonialism and Science Fiction is coming out, and i09 posted an excerpt from the introduction. I’m intrigued.

Emilie P. Bush, friend of the blog, has a children’s book coming out on Feb 28th: Her Majesty’s Explorer. The illustrations are adorable, and you can see them in the book trailer below.

Did you know that my intellectual comrade-in-arms Jaymee Goh is hosting a monthly series of interviews with people of color in steampunk? Already, she’s interviewed Native steampunk Monique Poirier, Maisarah Abu Samah, editor of the Singaporean steampunk anthology Steampowered, and author Stephanie Lai.

Speaking of interviews, I recently did one with Decimononic about steampunk jewelry. At first, I was honestly puzzled why they’d request me, but Jose and Irene are both jewelers from Spain who are running a series of interviews that explores the various ideas associated with steampunk and art. So I end up talking a lot about the historical formation of subculture, cultural appropriation, and my love of Russian things. Check  it out here.

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#91 Alonzo Herndon and his Crystal Palace–Guest Blog by Evangeline Holland

Note: This was cross-posted with permission from Edwardian Promenade.

Herndon's Crystal Palace Barber Shop

The amazing and outrageous dichotomies of life under Jim Crow were embodied in Alonzo Herndon. Each day, he traveled from his home to ride at the back of a street car to his barber shop in Atlanta, where he then entered the building from the rear entrance. When Herndon’s barber shop opened for the day, he shaved, clipped, trimmed, and otherwise pampered many of Atlanta’s most prominent white men in his flagship barbershop on 66 Peachtree Street. It may have shocked his customers to their toes to learn that their elegant and efficient barber had been born into slavery in 1858 and rose to become Atlanta’s first black millionaire and president and founder of the Atlanta Life Financial Group (then known as The Atlanta Benevolent and Protective Association). It would have also shocked white Atlanta even more to visit Herndon’s home, a Beaux-Arts classical mansion designed by his first wife, Adrienne McNeil Herndon, an actress and elocution teacher at Atlanta University.

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#89 Peter Sewally, the “Man-Monster” of New York City

One of the most scandalous cases in the summer of 1836 in New York City involved a wallet-snatching black prostitute who went by the name Mary Jones…but was later revealed to be a man named Peter Sewally. Sewally’s trial proved to be a spectacle that resulted in a newspaper frenzy as the competing papers New York Herald and New York Sun tried to out-do each other over reporting the most lurid details about Sewally and his transgressive deception. Sewally’s female image was also published as a popular lithography by yellow paper publisher H.R. Robinson (seen above). His case is a highlight in sex worker, queer, and African-American histories, and it all started on June 11th, 1836, when Robert Haslem reported his wallet being stolen while cruising the midnight alleyways of New York.

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#66 Fascinating Women: Madame C.J. Walker–Guest Blog by Evangeline Holland

Note: This is cross-posted with permission from Edwardian Promenade.

Madam C.J. Walker

I had to make my own living and my own opportunity! But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them!

Contrary to public opinion, Madam C.J. Walker did not invent the hot comb or relaxers, and neither was she the only African-American beautician during the Gilded Age. What the former Sarah Breedlove was, however, was incredibly intelligent–a savvy entrepreneur, pioneering businesswoman, and shrewd marketer, she turned African-American beauty culture into a multimillion dollar empire never before seen. In the post-Reconstruction period, black women were alternately neglected by the vastly increasing companies catering to women’s haircare, cosmetics, and beauty, or sold toxic concoctions by greedy companies which promised “lighter skin” and “straight hair”, but ended up creating more problems for black women desperate to conform to the very narrow standards of beauty of the late 19th century.

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