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 Magazineeditor 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.
Sometime 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.
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.
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-painting, Napoleon Crossing the Alps orBonaparte at the St Bernard Pass.Continue reading →
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
Note: This is cross-posted with permission from Edwardian Promenade.
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.
Note: This is cross-posted with permission from Edwardian Promenade.
Excerpt from the September 1913 issue of The Crisis:
Mr. Harris’s Grocery, Tacoma, WA
The characteristic of the Great Northwest is its unexpectedness. One looks for tall black mountains and ghostlike trees, snow and the echo of ice on the hills, and all this one finds. But there is more. There is the creeping spell of the silent ocean with its strange metamorphoses of climate, its seasons of rain and shine, until one is puzzled with his calendar and lost to all his weather bearings. Then come the cities. Portland one receives as plausible; a large city with a certain Eastern calm and steady growth. The colored population is but a handful, a bit over a thousand, but it is manly and holds its head erect and has hopes. Portland was the only place out of nearly fifty places where The Crisis has lectured that did not keep its financial contract, but this was probably a personal fault and not typical. Typical was the effort to establish a social center, to enlarge and popularize a colored hotel, to build new homes and open new avenues of employment.
Contributor in Sarah Hans's Steampunk World, Winner of the 2015 Steampunk Chronicle's Reader's Choice Awards for "Best Fiction"
Winner of SteamCon's 2013 Airship Award for Community Contributor
About Beyond Victoriana
The Nutshell Explanation Beyond Victoriana is the oldest-running blog about multicultural steampunk and retro-futurism--that is, steampunk outside of a Western-dominant, Eurocentric framework. Founded in 2009, Beyond Victoriana focuses on non-Western cultures, underrepresented minorities in Western histories (Asian / Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, First Nation, Hispanic, black / African & other marginalized identities), and the cultural intersection between the West and the non-West.