[Note from Ay-leen: Cross-posting P. Djeli Clark’s blog The Disgruntled Haradrim. Happy May Day everyone!]
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.
Filed under Essays, History
[Note from Ay-leen: Cross-posting P. Djeli Clark’s blog The Disgruntled Haradrim]
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.
For this President’s Day in the United States, we’re honoring the first black president in the Americas. No, not Obama – this guy was Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña, the first black and indigenous president of Mexico. Known as the George Washington and the Abraham Lincoln of Mexico, Guerrero was a leading general in the Mexican War for Independence, and abolished slavery in 1829, forty years before Lincoln would do the same. Not only that, but he came from the “las clases populares” aka the working classes of Mexico, and rose from there to become one of the most influential leaders in Mexican history.
Note: This was cross-posted with permission from Edwardian Promenade.
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.
Filed under Essays, History
ca. 1909. Sikhs from India at the Calapooia Lumber Company, Crawfordsville, Linn County, Oregon, 1905-1915. (Crawfordsville is about 30 miles north of Eugene, Oregon). (Photo courtesy of Stephen Williamson http://www.efn.org/~opal/indiamen.htm)
In California at the turn of the 20th century, a community grew in southern California with an interesting history: Punjabi-Mexican families of the Imperial Valley. This unique community stemmed from the effects of British colonialism, transnational labor immigration & American economic opportunity (and American anti-Asian discrimination laws). Many multi-generational families in the area today can trace their multicultural and multiethnic histories back over a hundred years, and refer to themselves as “Mexican Hindus”, “Hindu” or “East Indian” today.
Filed under Essays, History
Note: Jess Nevins’ entry on the Yellow Peril was just too fascinating to be abridged, and so it will be posted in two parts. Follow along next Wednesday for Part II.
Film poster for The Face of Fu Manchu, who is one of the best known examples of the Yellow Peril stereotype. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
The Yellow Peril. Although the anti-Asian stereotype of the “Yellow Peril,” the threat posed to the West by Asian countries and peoples, was made commonplace in the 20th century, the source of the modern Yellow Peril stereotype lies in the literature and cultural trends of the 19th century.
There are actually two different Yellow Perils. The first is of Asians as a group, and though usually applied to the Chinese or Japanese does not differentiate between nationalities and ethnic groups and has been applied to Indians, Vietnamese, and Slavic Russians. This stereotype, of Asians en masse, portrays them as a faceless horde of decadent and sexually rapacious barbarians. The roots of this stereotype lie in the historical threats posed to Western Europe from Eastern Europe and Asia: Visigoths and Huns from the 3rd through the 5th century C.E., and Mongols in the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. Although the practical threat of a Mongolian or Asian invasion of Europe was nil by the mid-15th century, the unexpectedness of the Mongolian attacks and their vicious thoroughness left a deep impression on the Western psyche, so that the stereotype of an Eastern threat to “civilization” remained common in the Western for centuries.
In contrast, the more modern Yellow Peril is an individual: the evil Asian mastermind who schemes to conquer the West. Although there are numerous sources for this stereotype, its origins lie in Italy in the 14th century C.E.
The memorial to the town of Africville. It reads “Landed Deeded 1848-1969. Dedicated in loving memory of the first black settlers and all the former residents of the community of Campbell Road, Africville and all the members of the Seaview United Baptist Church.”
Africville was one of Canada’s oldest black settlements. Founded by Black Loyalists who fled to Nova Scotia after the American Revolutionary War, the area’s African-Canadian population grew after the War of 1812 along the Bedford Basin on Campbell Road, which was dubbed “Africville.” Africville was never able to officially incorporate as its own town, existing alongside the city of Halifax.
Africville faced systematic discrimination through lack of positive development and government neglect. Again and again, Africville got the shaft in comparision with the rest of Halifax, which reduced the area into an industrialized slum by the first half of the 20th century:
Throughout its history, Africville was confronted with much racial isolation. The town never received proper roads, health services, water, street lamps or electricity. Simple things all towns received, they did not. The continuing issues and protests for water and sewage, clearly show the relationship between the city of Halifax and the Africvillians. The lack of these services had serious health implications for the lives of the people, and the city’s concerns for them was as existent as these facilities they demanded. Contamination of the wells was a serious and ongoing issues, so even the little water they did receive needed to be boiled before use. As the City of Halifax expanded, Africville became a preferred site for all types of undesirable industries and facilities—prison in 1853, a slaughterhouse, even a depository for fecal waste, from nearby Russellville. In 1958 the city decided to move the town garbage dump to the Africville area. While the residents knew they couldn’t legally fight this, they illegally salvaged the dump for usable goods. They would get clothes, copper, steel, brass, tin..etc. The dump was the final pin in labelling this area an official slum. In 1870 Africville also received an infectious disease hospital. (source)
Filed under Essays, History
Note: This is cross-posted with permission from Edwardian Promenade.
By the turn of the century, the color line in sports was firmly in place, but the charismatic and controversial Jack Johnson smashed this line with a firm one-two to the jaw. Though boxing had long roots, it was a fairly new sport to Americans in the 1880s, and though banned in many states, one law which was standard across the board was to deny black boxers the right to spar with white opponents. To circumvent this rule, many African-Americans traveled to France, where mixed-race bouts were not illegal, which is where solid contenders such as Johnson, Sam Langford, and Joe Jeannette built their reputations. This law was relaxed to an extent in the late 1890s, but black boxers were still barred from fighting for the world heavyweight championship. Jack Johnson refused to accept this restriction, and he worked hard to prove his mettle, winning at least 50 fights against both white and black opponents in 1902, and beating “Denver” Ed Martin over 20 rounds for the World Colored Heavyweight Championship in 1903.
Filed under Essays, History
Hawkeye was created by James Fenimore Cooper and appeared in Cooper’s five Leatherstocking novels, including The Last of the Mohicans (1826). Cooper (1789-1851) was one of the major early American writers, although he is known today primarily for Last of the Mohicans.
Set in 1757, The Last of the Mohicans is about Natty Bumppo, a.k.a. “Hawkeye,” and his adventures alongside his friends Chingachgook, a Delaware Mohican, and Uncas, Chingachgook’s son. Against a backdrop of the events of the French and Indian War (1756-1763), Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook battle Mingo Indians and the wily, evil Magua, and help Major Duncan Heyward, an officer in the British Army, and Cora and Alice Munro, the daughters of Colonel Munro, the commandant of Fort William Henry. At the end of the novel Magua, Cora, and Uncas are all dead, Heyward and Alice are engaged to be married, and Chingachgook and Hawkeye are mourning the coming demise of “the wise race of the Mohicans.”
Rejon the Ranchero from The Mexican Ranchero. Image from "American Sensations." Click for link.
Buena Rejon was created by Charles E. Averill and appeared in The Mexican Ranchero; or, The Maid of the Chapparal (1847). Averill (?-?) was a popular dime novelist. He is best known for his Kit Carson, Prince of the Gold Hunters (1849).
The Mexican Ranchero is set in Mexico in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, after the American troops have occupied Mexico City. The truce between the Mexicans and the Americans is broken when Raphael Rejon attacks a squad of American soldiers. Raphael Rejon is the “Lion of Mexico,” the “mortal foe” of Americans. The American soldiers burned his home, his parents died in the fire, and he and his sister were left both orphaned and homeless. Since that time Raphael and his sister, Buena Rejon, the “Maid of the Chaparral,” waged a guerrilla war against the occupiers; “hundreds of Americans…have become the victims of her unerring lasso.”