in general tho i really like the racial diversity in spartacus. like, rome was really big. see:
at the time of spartacus (about 70 bce), the roman republic stretched from spain to the black sea, to the shores of north africa all along the med. so, including people we now would consider “white”, but, like, ethnic white. italian of course, or greek or croatian. like, the olive skinned, hairy, talks with hands, has a front room with plastic covered sofas kind of white. there were also white-white people, like gauls (you know, france). but also berbers. libyans. moroccans. syrians. turks. i’m getting carried away.
anyway, basically, the heart of the republic/empire was a very cosmopolitan, culturally and racially diverse place, and while it doesn’t really work to impose 21st-century racial categories on, you know, a 1st-century-BCE society, it’s fair to say that it was not as full of WASPs as tv would lead you to believe.
Description, from the Wisconsin Historical Society: “View from behind of a young woman wearing a t-shirt with the title Dungeon Mistress printed on the back while she plays an adventure game on a computer. In the background is a blackboard.”
I finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks two weeks ago. Yes, I’m about three years late and for good reason! I wasn’t ready to read the book. I knew there would be a lot of discussion about the anti-Black racism, xenephobia, ableism, and misogyny that I wasn’t ready to read about. Many of the folks in my life have shared how good the book was and encouraged me to read it as well. I didn’t have the same expectations of the book being a “good read,” but I also didn’t expect to have the reaction I had to the text.
Making a conscious effort not to read any written critiques or praises for the book, I began reading with a specific goal: How can I, someone who is benefitting from the misuse/abuse of Henrietta Lacks’ body, honor her without reinforcing the same oppressive experiences others have upon her and her family? How do I examine how I’ve benefitted from something heinous that I had nothing to do with but that allows for my existence today? As I read I was immediately questioning some things about the text. First, how was the text so comprehensive when it comes to sharing intimate and private moments Henrietta Lacks experienced when there were not witnesses? This book was said to be nonfiction, but some parts read as fictional to me. Half way through the text I wondered how do I see this form of data collection and methodology? Would I use this book as an example of “feminist ethnography” or “feminist research” and if I did would I support this approach? I think back to the forms of testimonio, oral narratives, that people of Color have shared. And then I remember the ways folks have tried to debunk our words and narratives. From Rigoberta Menchu, to the slave narratives, to youth questioning pop singer Rhianna’s experience with abuse, women of Color are often questioned, especially when we speak about our lives
When I remember my “Feminist Ethnography” class, and how, if I got the chance, would teach it similarly or differently, I considered if this book would be useful. How would I rationalize it being a “feminist” text if the methodology and data collection were so limited and unclear? Could this be a useful text to discuss some of those topics? There are many questions I still have unanswered from that class. Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers.
Then I read this critique An Open Letter to Those Colleges and Universities that have Assigned Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as the “Common” Freshman Reading for the Class of 2016 by Rebecca Kumar. I realized that I had the same questions and discomfort as did Skloot. Kumar specifically mentions parts of the text that I too had questions about their authenticity, such as a part of the book that Kumar describes as “voyeuristic.” Is it too fantastic to believe a woman knew her body so well that she knew there was a tumour on her cervix without having to feel for it with her fingers? What does this say about the ways women are expected to understand what is occurring in/to their own body? How does it set up the same situation the Lacks’ discuss of not questioning medical providers because they are doctors and know more? How does this fall into criticising alternative forms of knowing and knowledge, some of which Skloot calls “voodoo” and how Henrietta Lacks’ youngest daughter Deborah (and other family members) discusses Henrietta’s spirit being present?
When it comes to the questionable non-fiction parts of the text I too am troubled as Kumar. Upon sharing Kumar’s letter with folks in my network there were many racially white folks who have read the book and who did not agree with Kumar for different reasons. I had to admit that I was not surprised that many racially white people who praised the text would disagree with what a woman of Color was stating. Her points require us to examine our own ethical philosophies and ways we consume the bodies and narratives of women of Color. When women of Color speak about racism and misogyny and oppression we need to listen and not just focus on debunking their positions and statements because they make us uncomfortable being self-reflexive.
How did Skloot come to decide/know (I can’t tell if it was her choice/decision or if she found this out from someone else) that Henrietta Lacks’ husband had been cheating on her and thus transmitting various sexualy transmitted infections, such as syphilis? From what I read Skloot had limited interactions with David Lacks who was aging and ill. How did she come to this conclusion or did she decide that on her own? I’m not comfortable with a racially white woman deciding that a Black man’s infidelity was the reason for certain illnesses and outcomes especially when she had the opportunity to ask him directly. This goes back to believing what Black men say when they speak.
Also Skloot mentions a recorder she used, but never mentions it early on in meeting with the Lacks family. How does she get long conversations with the Lacks men long before they have consented to being recorded? Does she “sneak” the recorder and record the conversation in her pocket? If so, is that ethical? Is that what the Lacks family agreed to? How is this a misuse of obtaining information from living human subjects? Does she ever obtain consent to using those recordings?
Finally, the discussions of racism and race are odd for me to read. Not because I didn’t expect them, but because Skloot doesn’t discuss this at all in the text from her perspective. Instead she leaves it up to the Black folks in the text to bring up race and racism. This gives me the impression that she is “post-racial” and doesn’t think about how her whiteness may impact this narrative or how she’s normalized her own whiteness. She’s surprised how folks she contacts know she is white because it is only white folks who call asking about Henrietta Lacks and HeLa cells. Why not spend some time discussing how her whiteness was something that gave her access in ways others, even the Black doctors she interviewed, did not have? Why not discuss how her whiteness gave her some protections, even in the spaces she described as being locations many would interpret as “scary” or “undesirable” for a white woman to go alone?
As many folks who have discussed and critiqued the book have mentioned, Skloot includes discussions of herself in the text, some even argue it’s an overwhelming part of the text. Why not go into a first person voice to address some of this? I’d especially like to hear how Skloot came to the decision on her own that a educational fund was necessary to create. Did she even ask the family what they wanted or did she decide what was best for them? (I’m not even going to go into the problems with her receiving immoral amounts of money in honorariums to speak about this text and how she’s been known to be difficult and not want to engage with students when at universities who pay her this amount.)
This book is important, and I don’t question that at all. It gives us reminders that oppression by and among medical professionals exists in this country today and is embedded in the (re)memory of many communities of Color in the US. What I do appreciate from Skloot is she uses the voices of the Lacks family and does not change their vernacular for easier reading or more acceptable text. Some folks may not like this approach, yet I find it important to have readers understand the words and vernacular of those speaking in an authentic voice.
In addition to Kumar’s discussion of first year students and the faculty who teach them using this text, the book has also attracted readers some may not have expected. Now, the text and the narrative have been immortalized in a different way: in the Hip Hop genre by one of my favorite MCs: DOOM. In his latest track, “Winter Blues,” from his album JJ DOOM (he collaborated with Jneiro Jarel hence the JJ in front of the name which is explained at the beginning of the video), references Henrietta Lacks. Here are the video and lyrics, bolded are the ones in reference to Lacks.
Melanin on melanin
Your dude need to recharge off your velvet skin
Make ‘em feel like, like twelve again
Soon as you give the green light I’m delvin’ in (x2)
Learn to balance, it’s real tricky
Like The Incredible Hulk turned back to Bill Bixby
Fuck masturbating, I’d rather wait than
Keep enough of that good stuff for the trading in
Each and every day making cash with Satan
Can’t eat can’t sleep, it’s exasperatin’
Mad like burning off
All he needs is one warm hug to keep from turning off
I’m sure you could use a boost
Left the hooptie parked in hood with the screws loose
Bust the coupé out the driveway, stash house
Scooped you up, hit the highway and mash out
Matte-black like melanin on melanin
Of course the butter soft, black leather trim, set of rims
Let ‘er purr, not a scratch on it
Spin it back to the garage and put a latch on it
I need a handful of melanin
Feelin’ like the lambswool beard on your tender skin
It might give you a shock initially
As we reconnect up the flow, electricity
The phenomenal melanin bio-polymer
Follow with a glass a merlot, I could swallow her
Eat ‘er up like a SnackWell®
We could live forever like Henrietta Lacks cells
Melanin on melanin
Ask me where the hell I been soon as I felt her skin
Holdin’ hands, feet in the sand— grounded
Starin’ in them pretty brown eyes— astounded
I’ll share some solar power
If you let me pound it we could go for hours
And then again in the shower
Left her leg tremblin’— recharged the melanin
Girl you got it
Me too let that show
This is how you know
That’s that glow
Feel it yo
Love that glow
Feel it yo
I still remain with many questions, especially around how to honor and remember Lacks. What does it mean for me to recognize the privileges I have benefitied from by the misuse of a Black woman’s body? How do I pay homage and give thanks for her and her family while still holding myself accountable for the ways I’ve benefitted. This is something I’ve begun to discuss with my community. As my good friendAaminah had mentioned when I shared I was working on this piece “You know, like how we talk about white privilege including the benefits that come from the system of slavery, even when white people say ‘but I didn’t have slaves! that was so long ago!’ Well, we have to talk in the same way about how we continue to benefit from this thing that we didn’t have anything to do with, we didn’t do it, we are horrified that it happened, but the fact is we still benefit from it! I don’t know how to have that convo with myself much less with anyone else yet. But I know it has to happen.”
I think it’s time for that conversation to begin. Let’s start.
Women Watching Stars (1936) at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo
Ota Chou Women Observing Stars (1936). Ink on paper.
This really compositionally interesting because you can see the women are in traditional kimono with the short bobbed hair. This telescope depicted here happens to be the one at the National Museum of Nature and Science. So all and all they are modern because of their hair and are learning/inquisitive science. All very modern but still reserves of the traditional because of their clothing. TALK ABOUT MIXED MESSAGING FOR THE MODERN WOMAN!!! Though for the record most Japanese women by this time and especially after the 1924 quake would have had experiences with Western clothes and hairstyles. Fun Fact:This was made into a stamp in the 90’s.
Writing and analyzing the history of sub-Saharan Africa — especially the history prior to the decolonization of African countries and their emergence as independent nations — is especially difficult. Part of the reason of course lies with legacy. In the thrall of racism, either conscious or unconscious, historians prior to the early 1960s often imposes blatant biases and prejudices on African experience. Though not as flagrant in their abuses as, say, anthropologists, professional historians were often trapped in a manner of thinking that led them to conclude that Africans lacked their own histories.
If Africans did suffer from a deficit, the deficit was not history, but historical materials of the conventional sort: records, diaries, letters, reports, and the like. Such staples of literate societies were absent for various reasons in the sub-Saharan. And the records which did exist often were generated by colonizers and adventurers, interlopers with an agenda that rarely included fairness to Africans — or the impulse to document their authentic voices.
A new generation of historians of Africa are building into their scholarship innovative and creative ways of giving voice to the African voiceless. One of the most spectacular examples of such scholarship is the new book, Abina and the Important Men, by historian Trevor Getz, of San Francisco State University.
Drawing extensively on the trial transcript of a Ghanaian woman illegally enslaved in the 1870s by another Ghanaian, Getz creates a deeply informed and revelatory work of narrative history and nuanced interpretation. Treating his book as a mosaic of independent elements, he even enlists the help of a talented graphic artist to create a beautifully-drawn 75-page “graphic history” that seems ideal for pre-university students. When the graphic story is paired with the actual trial transcript, which Getz found in Ghana, and with lucid essays by Getz on the historical context of the trial and a “reading guide” that explores the “authenticity” of his own narrative, Abina and the Important Men presents a stunning multi-faceted experience of an African past that remains so foggy as to appear to be irretrievably lost. While prominent gaps in the evidence and his narrative and analysis remain, Getz tries to compensate in an unusually interesting ways. His big-hearted and perceptive “letter to the reader,” which opens Abina and the Important Men is worth quoting at length — for its insights into how creative scholars are trying to address a crisis of relevance, not only of African history but for the field of history in general:
“Abina and the Important Men is one of a number of projects that seeks to find a middle ground between scholarly and popular histories of regular people. [My book] is not a work of historical fiction, but instead a history because it aims for accuracy and authenticity even while recognizing that all historical works are at some level speculative and subjective. It is neither completely celebratory not holly critical; instead it attempts to show how these two impulses can be linked together…. [R]ather than seeking to be the final authorities on this story, we invite the reader to … see this work as a conversation we are having with Abina Mansah.”
Bringing African voices of the past, into the present, is a project of great significance. May Abina and the Important Men inspire more multi-dimensional studies of this sort.
An African king named Gormund ruled Ireland during the Anglo-Saxon period in England reports the medieval historian Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Halfdan the Black was the first Africoid king to unite Norway.
When the British Isles were invaded by the Vikings some of these Norse raiders were Africoid. In fact, different varieties of ‘Viking’ Africans lived in Scandinavia during the middle ages and are frequently mentioned in Viking sagas.
There were Black Huns! The dictionary describes the Huns as “a fierce barbaric race of Asiatic nomads who led by Attila, ravaged Europe I the 4th and 5th centuries A.D.” The Gothic writer Jordannes described their infamous leader, Attila the Hun as having “a flat nose and swarthy complexion.” He describes the types of Huns he had seen as “of dark complexion, almost black… broad shoulder, flat noses and small eyres.”
The African Moors dominated southwest Europe during the Middle Ages for 700 years: 711-1492 A.D. African Moors ruling southwest Europe centuries, darkened whites in this area, especially Portal, which was “the first example of a Negrito (African) republic in Europe?”
Moors ruling Scotland in the 10th century mixed with whites until the black skin color disappeared.
Black Celts (Silures) & Black Vikings vexed with the Scandinavia people. A prominent Viking of the eleventh century was Thorhall, who was aboard the ship that carried the early Vikings to the shores of North America. Thorhall was “the huntsman in summer and in winter the steward of Eric the Red. He was a large man and strong, black, and like a giant, silent, and foul-mouthed in his speech, and always egged on Eric to the worst; he was a bad Christian.”
Another Viking, more notable than Thorhall, was Earl Thorfinn, “the most distinguished of all the earls in the Islands.” Thorfinn ruled over nine earldoms in Scotland and Ireland, and died at the age of seventy-five. His widow married the king of Scotland. Thorfinn was described as “one of the largest men in point of stature, and ugly, sharp featured, and somewhat tawny, and the most martial looking man. It has been related that he was the foremost of all his men.”
The black blood type is common even in Nordic Europe where intermixing has been happening since antiquity.
Black slavery lasted in England for about 400 years (1440-1834), during which time much intermixing occurred.
In other words: yes, there should be PoC in movies that take place in Europe in any time period.
; ; none of this is well researched! That link is mostly a bunch of made up things @_@!! The original “knights” of England were Black! —including the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table! That’s why they were called “knights” after the night or darkness of their skin. <—- @_@ WHAT. No that’s…not the etymology of that word AT ALL. Knight is from the Old English for servant @__@ What. It has no connection to the word for “night” at all, which has a Greek and Latin origin in nyx/nox.
Vikings like to go around and set up colonies. Gormund was from an African settlement by the vikings in North Africa, these dudes were white but yeah they probably made out with some black people.
Halfdan the Black was called that because he had black hair (just like Eric the Red). Same goes with Thorhall and Thorfinn, black hair, not black skin.
Attila the Hun was probably more like Asian + Middle Eastern.
Moors were a large presence in medieval Europe, yes, this is one of the few things that are correct here.
I don’t understand the impulse here for “black vikings”. Those guys weren’t particularly nice or anything, why would you want them to be a part of your culture? Vikings were raiders, not some bastions of civilization. This desire for inclusion in these cultures only gives them more prominence. Vikings would invade Roman settlements and then leave all the Roman stuff instead of replacing it with their own thing (Roman bathhouses, for example).
I have no idea where this person is getting the “black people took over Scotland” idea. What. No one wants Scotland or Ireland. It’s the other way around. People from those places invaded Roman settlements. Rome built a wall (Hadrian’s Wall) just to keep them out. It was not worth their time and effort to conquer those areas. Seriously, stop givign a shit about Europe so much, especially NORTHERN Europe. All the cool stuff was happening in Italy, Spain and France in the middle ages. Which is where, surprise, all the black people went. But people ignore those places in favor of this Anglo-Saxon view focusing on what the Vikings were doing, what were the Saxons doing, etc… If you’re going to move to somewhere, why would you move to a place that has fewer resources??? Why would Africans go out of their way to conquer some people while on the way passing a bunch of way nicer places?
Is it the castle thing? Do you want castles? Black people made castles.
This is a castle in Gondar, Ethiopia, built circa 1600 CE.
this is “Great Zimbabwe” from the 11th century BCE.
not old enough? here’s a temple from Ethiopia circa 800 BCE
Nubian pyramids in what is present day Sudan.
Africans didn’t give a shit about Vikings, ok? They didn’t need them.
But they WERE in Europe, times a million. I just don’t like seeing this sort of thing to loop back around to disregarding poc accomplishments.
“Is it the castle thing? Do you want castles?”
lol, anyone after 1200 CE treating Geoffrey of Monmouth as a legitimate source
so let’s talk about one of Genghis Khan’s daughter. namely Alaqai Beki.
some stuff i’ve read about her life:
genghis khan had a habit of marrying his daughters into tribes on the outskirts of his empire, with the intent of them ruling the area and holding the borders for him. he generally seemed to have more faith in the ruling capabilities of his daughters than his sons from what i’ve seen trololol
so yeah alaqai beki was sent to marry into/govern the onggud tribe when she was probably in her teens
and she was not going to have an easy time of it because the mongols had waged a brutal war against them to bring them into the empire aaaand they had a lot of rage where their new rulers were concerned
alaqai had a pacifist/diplomatic streak from the start (more on this in a second!) her husband’s wives were all dismissed, and by custom she could have had her husband’s children killed as they might pose a threat to any children she may have had. instead she decided to take them into her custody and raise them to be loyal
anyway, yep, she held the area in the south of the empire, aiding the mongol army, monitoring the silk road etc etc etc
but yeah i mentioned how the onggud weren’ttttt exactly happy with the situation and who can blame them really?
so they rose up, revolted against her, and killed her husband
alaqai beki and her stepsons barely escaped with their lives
AND HERE’S WHERE THINGS GET EXCEPTIONALLY FASCINATING TO ME
genghis khan was like okay let’s march to war and wipe all the onggud out. when cities revolted against the mongols, the mongols tended to kill every last man, woman, and child. This was what Alaqai grew up knowing, politics as usual, no one would have been surprised if she said yeah okay do it
BUT SHE FUCKING REFUSED TO LET HIM DO IT
she just asked for her father to punish the small number of rebels, because why punish the people who hadn’t participated? and genghis khan listened to her
and then she went back and people were generally stunned that she had interceded on their behalf and by all accounts she ruled well until her death
oh yeah and during this time she became literate and did a lot of reading on the various religions of the day. and her kingdom was a cosmopolitan, diverse one
and i’m just fucking fascinated by her okay??? because she chose peace and understanding and just JKLAFLJKSLJKSF KEYBOARD SMASH
someone make a show or movie about her (and her sisters) okay??
Interestingly enough the earliest posts on this blog were definitely because of my supreme fascination with a project I had done in High school on Mongolian (royal) women!
Her request for mercy was actually something that ended up strengthening the Empire considerably.