Native Superheroes and Avoiding Stereotypical Roles

@wordsmithkg asked:

Sorry to bother you guys, this is a bit of a weird one, but if I’m writing something and part of it features a group of Native American (specifically Navajo) superheroes, are there powers I should avoid for cliché/stereotyping reasons, or that would feel disrespectful? For example, I can’t help but feel geokinesis would be too much of a literal manifestation of the “closer to earth” stereotype. I unfortunately don’t know any Navajo, but I did find an online community I plan to ask as well

Animal. Powers. If I see one more Native shapeshifter and/or animal speaker, I feel like I’m going to scream. Trackers, too. Plant manipulators. Spiritual mediums. Archers with superhuman aim.

Basically, look up Magical Native American and if it shows up on that list, avoid unless you manage to justify it in-universe with something other than “Natives have x”. 

Geokenisis sounds fun! The thing I like about it is it sounds modern. A lot of the icky part about Natives with powers is people assuming that the powers are “ancient” and therefore detached from modern society. They rely more than they would like to admit on Noble Savage, so if you break that with either modern sounding powers and/or non-nature based things, you’re good.

The main thing about Native powers I’ve found is they rely on sixth sense/otherworldly connection, instead of having anything that’s a pseudoscientific explanation. So if you had “felt the earth’s natural heat rising and falling”, that would be one thing, but if you had “telepathic abilities focusing on dense objects such as stone or metal”, that’s another. The former is flirting with Magical Native, the latter sounds like a superhero power.

Give it the same BS explanation that non-Native superheroes get. If you’re just going for “oh, they’re more ~*in tune*~” then I would have problems, but if you’re going with something that is at least trying to sound scientific, you’re much safer. Even something just like “genetic mutation allows for x” is cool.
The problems with tropes like Magical Native American or even Magical Nergo is the principle tends to stop at “because they are this ethnicity, they have these powers.” Meanwhile, if the reasoning is built into the character— ie- Black Panther has powers because he is king of Wakanda, and therefore has access to a plant that enhances ability to the point of a supersoldier— then you’re avoiding the heart of the trope which is that some skin colours just inherently have magic.

So, make it pseudoscientific, and try to avoid “spiritual” based stuff. Then, you’re good.

~ Mod Lesya

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

From The Wind’s Twelve Quarters: Short Stories by Ursula Le Guin

With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved. Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey, grave master workmen, quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance. Children dodged in and out, their high calls rising like the swallows’ crossing flights, over the music and the singing. All the processions wound towards the north side of the city, where on the great water-meadow called the Green’ Fields boys and girls, naked in the bright air, with mudstained feet and ankles and long, lithe arms, exercised their restive horses before the race. The horses wore no gear at all but a halter without bit. Their manes were braided with streamers of silver, gold, and green. They flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to one another; they were vastly excited, the horse being the only animal who has adopted our ceremonies as his own. Far off to the north and west the mountains stood up half encircling Omelas on her bay. The air of morning was so clear that the snow still crowning the Eighteen Peaks burned with white-gold fire across the miles of sunlit air, under the dark blue of the sky. There was just enough wind to make the banners that marked the racecourse snap and flutter now and then. In the silence of the broad green meadows one could hear the music winding through the city streets, farther and nearer and ever approaching, a cheerful faint sweetness of the air that from time to time trembled and gathered together and broke out into the great joyous clanging of the bells.

full text below  

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i believe saying stuff like ‘white people invented imperialism/colonialism/genocide’ etc is not only ignorant of non-european history and reinforces the noble savage myth, but it is also highly disrespectful towards victims of crimes against humanity that weren’t committed by European powers. if you say stuff like that I won’t be able to look at you the same way

What do Natives Want to See Ourselves In?

@impassiverevelation asked:

I really liked that post about what kind of stories different people want to see themselves in. But I was wondering what kind of stories Native Americans want to see of themselves?

Short answer: Everything.

Long answer!

Something that isn’t built on the backs of Noble Savage or Magical Native American. I would love to see more stories where there’s everything about the culture pulled, and it genuinely feels like a specific nation, especially in fantasy.

Like, I get it’s easy to cast us as nature protectors. In a sense, it’s necessary, because “stewardship of the land” is part of being Native. But I get really tired of picking up a story that’s Native coded and all I see is “the land is in danger and these special magic users are the ones to save it.”

All magic ends up being either soul-healing or nature based, and can we have something that doesn’t feel like shamanism or just those tropes? Can’t we have a different conflict? Something maybe based on our own legends?

Also, less racism narratives would be very nice. Very very very nice. They’re important, but it gets exhausting to only read struggle narratives.

I’m a fantasy individual. I love high fantasy. But I’d love to see more Natives everywhere— pre-contact narratives that don’t include a single white person; romances that aren’t “strong man loves you” or overly sexualized; urban Natives reconciling all they left behind and all they can build again; horror novels on our terms, where the monster isn’t just a cannibal wendigo; sci fi where we’re in space (maybe making sure none of our activities invade other planets like white people invaded ours).

But, really, everything Native coded I read falls under the camp of either:

  • Horror monster (see: nearly every use of the wendigo by white people in the past century…)
  • Special magic users who are just more in tune with nature/souls

  • Something about racism/colonialism

I’d really like more.

If you want to see what other mods want, check out the Writing with Colour Wishlist.

~Mod Lesya

Possible references to ‘The Ones Who Walk away From the Omelas’ in the BTS ‘Spring Day’ teaser

Since I know a big part of you have never read ‘The Ones Who Walk away From the Omelas’ (by Ursula K. Le Guin), I wrote a small summary of things I noticed were quite directly referencing the book. All quotations are from TOWWAFTO (that’s a mouthful).

With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The ringing of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. […] I incline to think that people from towns up and down the coast have been coming to to Omelas during the last days before the Festival on very fast little trains and double-decked trams, and that the trains station of Omelas is actually the handsomest building in town, though plainer than the magnificent Farmers’ Market.”

Setting: a beautiful town by the sea. A summer festival that people come to attend from other towns. 

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aladyinblue  asked:

Can I ask for book recs? You've said before your reading is seasonal (which I find fascinating as it had never occurred to me it could be) and I'm quite curious to see what are summer reads for you. For most people summer reads are light and a no brainer, yet you said Brideshead revisited is meant to be read on summer. So, please, enlighten me because I wanna jump in the wagon of seasonal reading.

I’d be delighted!!!! Yes please let’s spread my eccentricities around the populace!

So for starters, not every book has a season, and some books belong to seasons for different reasons than others. Brideshead Revisited, for instance, would be a summer book for the same reason that one of the songs from Adrian Johnson’s score for the 2008 film is called ‘Always Summer’ — it’s to do with mood and theme and thoughts and the best season for feeling certain feelings.

A much clearer selection process is simply where the thing takes place. It’s environment matching — if it’s warm outside, I want to be reading things where the characters are also someplace warm. But interestingly, often the settings seem to sorta self-select for books that also match onto my ~seasonal mood~ pretty well! Fall books end up having a sort of classic quality, a combination of a good old fashioned haunting and that back-to-school feeling of a crisp October day. Spring, it turns out, is lyrical and shifting, books with a blossoming, intricate manner of storytelling. Winter we haven’t done yet — ask me again in winter! — and summer… summer might be flying and mirage.

Summer Reads

Category 1: The Only Way We Can Talk About The War Is With Magical Realism (one of my favorite genres of all time)

The English Patient - Ondaatje, Michael
If you are only familiar with this as the movie with Ralph Fiennes, let me change your world: there was a novel first, and holy heck is it a whole other and wondrous thing. This is one of my very, very favorite books. It is GORGEOUS. It is strange. There’s layered narration, unreliable narration, skips in time and place, but the novel is anchored in its characters, who form something of a contemplative quartet: a Canadian Army nurse, her mysterious and badly burned patient, a Sikh British army sapper, and a thief named Caravaggio, all sheltering together in an abandoned Italian villa during the last months of WWII.

Corelli’s Mandolin - de Bernières, Louis
This was a typically flawless recommendation from Mr. Dorman, my high school English teacher who shows up on this blog from time to time. It takes place on a Greek island during WWII, and is just rich in history and personalities and feeling. It’s transporting — brilliantly written, so funny, and I think I might have cried for about 50 pages near the end. It also has a quartet of fabulous characters: the oddball doctor who is trying to write a history of the island, his bright and educated daughter, the charming musician Captain Corelli, and an Italian soldier named Carlo who is like an Ancient Greek tragedy brought to life.

Catch-22 - Heller, Joseph
Honestly has anything in literature ever been as good as what Heller did with Snowden. Can anything even touch that. Merely for that piece alone this would probably be the greatest novel ever written. Listen, Catch-22 is a masterpiece. It will harrow you to the bone, it will make you wail in anguished frustration, and it will make you laugh and laugh and laugh, unto the ending of the world. Most simply it is about a squadron of Army pilots trying to survive WWII. More broadly it is about trauma and humanity. Oh and our main character is a Middle-Eastern American, and here are the very first lines of the novel, also one of the true greats of our time: “It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.”

Category 2: Memoirs of Pilots Flying Over Deserts During the Golden Age of Aviation

Wind, Sand and Stars - de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine
Yes, this is the memoir of the author of A Little Prince, a real life aviator who flew mail across the African Sahara and South American Andes. He tells stories about flying and friendship and muses on life, and it is all just breakingly beautiful. A sample line: “When I opened my eyes I saw nothing but the pool of night sky, for I was lying on my back with out-stretched arms, face to face with that hatchery of stars.”

West With the Night - Markham, Beryl
I have extolled the virtues of BERYL MARKHAM and her fabulous memoirs before — those facts stand. I will add though, for both her and de Saint-Exupéry, that while they have such sincere fondness and respect for their African friends and colleagues, they do occasionally write about them in a way that feels out-dated and out-of-touch. There is an air of the “noble savage” in some of their stories, which is a hoary old problem that often plagued well-meaning white writers of their time. So, a heads up for that.

Category 3: The Americans

The Great Gatsby - Fitzgerald, F. Scott
If you have not reread The Great Gatsby since high school, I can sincerely recommend doing so, and in the height of summer if possible. Quoting myself from my Baz Luhrmann 4th of July last year, Gatsby is the great American daydream: fabulously indulgent, ironic, biting, somehow gaudy and gauzy at once, hilarious, inadvertent, morbid, and hiding at its core an embarrassing sentimentality, which it will try to drown in champagne and pools as soon as you’ve seen it. 

The Talented Mr. Ripley - Highsmith, Patricia
This is probably the wellntruly equivalent of a vacation read, if your vacation is in Italy and the shadows cast by the sun are a touch too dark and something about the way the condensation traces paths down your Campari & soda feels unaccountable sinister, and you’re cool with it.

A Good Man Is Hard To Find (short story collection) - O’Connor, Flannery
Southern Gothic time, little ones! You’ve seen the “[blank] gothic” posts on this website before, and here’s what 99% of them miss: not just what is dark and twisted in the environment, but what is dark and twisted in the hearts of the people. Southern Gothic is social commentary, and Southern Gothic is fucked up, and the undisputed queen of the genre is Flannery O’Connor. These are stories that will stay with you long after you’ve retreated from their dusty, sweltering heat.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem - Didion, Joan
We’re breaking into journalism here with a collection of essays by the inimitable — although god knows we all try — Joan Didion. If you are at all interested in California, or the 1960s, or the craft of writing, you can do no better than Joan Didion. Joan Didion! I just want to repeat her name like an hosanna. Here you can read her on the Santa Ana right now.

“Migrants do the job no one wants”

Is a ridiculous and reactionary statement, like migrants are savage nobles working the minimum wage (or below it) as a sacrifice.
Like their a hyper exploited faction of the working class.

Targeted by criminal gangs for seasonal illegal work, large employers as wage slaves and bourgeois families for the help because these employers know that migrants are vulnerable without access often to eduction, knowledge of workers rights or even the commonly spoken language.
As a result they get given substandard wages and conditions. Because of these reasons they often get these lower rung proletarian jobs over ‘native’ workers because employers know that migrants are easier to exploit. Its not that white proles feel that their above seasonal farming or cleaning its that employers choose the easiest demographic to exploit to employ.

My old Yondu Udonta and Ravagers headcanons

Back in 2014, when I was writing GotG fanfiction and starting to focus more or Yondu and Ravagers, I’ve made couple headcanons. Some of them were proved false by Vol.2, some of them can still kinda work, nevertheless, looking at them now is quite interesting experience.

1. Yondu Udonta is a lone survivor of massacre of Zotoan tribe done by Brotherhood of Badoon. I was one of many people who were combining the MCU!Yondu with his classic counterpart. Some people were going for Yondu being (seemingly) the only living Centaurian in general (as in the comics), but I settled for him to just be the only living Zotoan tribeman. Either way, my idea was that Yondu went to the jungle to perform a ritual of manhood, but when he came back to his village, it was burnt down and all his people were dead. Needless to say, Yondu still has a survivor guilt over it and he sometimes sees his tribe in the night, judging him and asking why he didn’t die with them.

2. Kraglin’s backstory is that he once was a slave, but was liberated by Yondu and then joined his crew. Kraglin also still has his slave tattoo.

(So you see how it turned out: Yondu’s canonical backstory actually resembles my headcanonical Kraglin’s backstory XD.)

3. Ravagers’ ship is full of men so fiercely loyal to Yondu Udonta, they are willing to fight everybody who calls him Centaurian scum; and to help him avenge his tribe if he feels like he wants to pursue the path of vengeance.

(To be honest, once I’ve learned there will be a mutiny on Eclector, I thought this headconon is dead, but then it turned out that there were Ravagers loyal to Yondu, but they were killed off. So technically I could work something out.)

4. Since Centauri-IV is considered a primitive planet, many people are prejudiced towards Yondu and call him Centaurian scum. This is actually another try to connect MCU!Yondu with comic!Yondu. Since in original Guardians of the Galaxy Yondu is Noble Savage and Centaurians are Native American/Amazonian expies, I thought it would be interesting to make them a victims of intergalactic racism.

5. When Peter was just a kid, Yondu tried not to kill in front of him. This headcanon stemmed from a fanfic in which Yondu was killing mutinees, while whistiling to the tune of Peter’s walkman; and Peter was cheering him up on every kill. When I read it, I thought that this Peter could grow up to become a psychopath, so I created a headcanon that Yondu likes Peter’s empathy and doesn’t want him to get used to death at young age and eventually starting to enjoy gruesome deaths.

(I do realize this headcanon is a bit too fluffy for our favorite ragged Ravager, but I liked it. And hey, a girl has a right to shameless fluff.)

6. Peter was regularily sharing information about Earth culture, so Ravagers kinda, sorta, celebrated Christmas and Halloween and knew Terran fairy tales. I just think Peter would get used to his crewmates after some time and try to get them to enjoy his Earthen traditions. And he would probably influance them one way or another.

That’s all I remember for now. As you can seesome of them are good only for AUs. I don’t know if I salvage others, but I do feel nostalgic, thinking about them.

Anon submitted:

*genitals mention tw, rape mention tw, sex mention tw*

I am an Asian cis-WOC who has a lot of frustration with the asexual community.

I’ve written about this elsewhere, but I really need white people – asexual and allosexual – to stop saying that “POC sexual attraction/behavior isn’t privileged" as a way to invalidate asexuals. This implies that asexual POC are thus privileged over allosexual POC, which is very insulting to us. Yes, POC may be judged more harshly for sexualized behavior – for example, Miley Cyrus and Lena Dunham are praised as “feminist” but Beyonce is criticized for being “too sexy” – and everyone should be aware they’re not falling into that trap.

However, hypersexualization and fetishization of POC is driven by racism, not about our sexual attraction or behavior. My features – olive skin, thick dark hair, full lips – are usually portrayed in popular culture as sexy or sensual, not pretty or beautiful or cute. Before I knew I was ace, I had intense self-loathing, particularly for sexualized body parts such as thighs and skin. I still struggle with body hatred because I don’t feel sexual but look that way.

POC bodies, NOT BEHAVIOR, are sexualized and fetishized. Stereotypes about genital size inform stereotypes of black men as hypermasculine and Asian men as effeminate. Even a wealthy, middle aged, married black woman like Michelle Obama has inappropriate media attention paid to her rear end. Asian fetishists are fascinated by rumors that Asian women have sideways vaginas or that we’re “tighter” than other women. Some people even refer to our skin color in food terms. Even when fetishization is not so blatantly anatomical, there are stereotypes about Latinx and Middle Eastern people as “naturally sensual” or Native American and indigenous people as “noble savages,” their bodies providing playgrounds for fulfillment of white sexual fantasies. This has nothing to do with our sexuality, whatever it may be, and everything to do with our race.

White aces, how would you like your race to be a popular porn category, or to have cis-het men associate your race with massage parlors, mail-order brides, and foreign sex tours?*

White people need to understand that asexual POC do not get a free pass out of sexualization and also need to stop exploiting racism to silence or bash aces - some of whom are POC(!)

Lastly, I want to address the rhetoric around sex favorability. I want white aces to think about WOC when they discuss sex favorability, compromise, and “aces can have sex too!!!!!” It is not ok to promote asexual sexual availability without also promoting asexual sexual agency.

Too often allosexuals hear “aces can have sex too!!!!” and assume that since we don’t feel sexual attraction (one definition), sex doesn’t mean anything to us, and therefore we’ll eagerly comply with their desires. I have seen them happily suggest that sex means about as much to us as eating pie, or that we do it as a chore to keep our allosexual partners happy. (Fine if you do, but this doesn’t apply to most asexuals – I suspect that most sex-enjoying asexuals enjoy it only under certain circumstances, and many of us don’t care for it at all.)

WOC are already hypersexualized, denied sexual agency due to our race and gender, and may be sought out for specifically sexual reasons (it’s harder to spot than you think, racial fetishists may deny it, or not be upfront/obvious). We don’t need another reason for people to assume our sexual availability. If the asexual community really wants to support aces of color, particularly ace WOC,** we need stop the unqualified “aces can have sex” line and instead insist that asexuals have the right to completely opt out of sex (as most of us will) or to freely choose to have it on our own terms.

*White people, now is not the time to call me “wh*rephobic” or SWERF. My problem here is not with women in the sex industry (or mail order brides for that matter), but men associating Asian women with sexual availability. This happens with other WOC too. It is racist because 1.) it generalizes about an entire racial group of women, and 2.) WOC and women from non-Western countries are overrepresented in the sex industry due to the socioeconomic effects of institutionalized racism, colonialism and exploitation. Given that men, including johns, commit the overwhelming majority of physical and sexual violence against sex workers, and that many think it’s ok to coerce or mistreat sex workers (example, assuming exotic dancers will also offer sex or sexually assaulting them), I don’t think it’s “wh*rephobic” for me to fear for my safety if a cis-het male stranger assumes I’m a sex worker.

**This is applicable to other aces, not just POC.

anonymous asked:

Isn't it any big surprise that the people that raise hell about cultural appropriation tend to be just as equally disingenuous and know-everything-about-nothingish. They tend to hold onto that 'noble savage' outlook with how everything that isn't American/European as natural and spiritual, but only for the sake of the aesthetic and romanticizing it all enough to full out bastardization. Shit's annoying.

Invoking history without knowing history is a pretty common aspect of the different versions of this mentality


Why Hendrix Still Matters

Historical revisionism and the endless stream of tired imitators that followed in his wake sometimes makes it difficult to appreciate what a radical listening experience the music of Jimi Hendrix was and still is. Yet for those with the ears to hear, his influence is everywhere in contemporary rock.

In the Stone Roses and their guitarist John Squire’s polychromatic action-painting style of playing. In My Bloody Valentine, a group which has worked with Roger Mayer, the guy who invented effects boxes and distortion pedals for Hendrix. In Loop’s noise symphonies. In Sonic Youth, whose unusual tunings would not have been possible without Hendrix’s reinvention of the guitar. (Drummer Buddy Miles, who played with Hendrix, recorded an album called Expressway to Your Skull in 1968. Nineteen years later Sonic Youth recorded a song with the same name.)

In the wah-wah heaven of Dinosaur Jr. In the raga free-form folkadelic blitz of Husker Du’s “Recurring Dreams” on Zen Arcade. In the wigged out, apocalyptic, nouveau acid rock of the Butthole Surfers. (Think of their “Jimi” as a fin de siecle version of Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun.”) In the oceanic rock of A.R. Kane. In the black rock of Living Colour and 24-7 Spyz. In the thrashing metal-funk of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (who covered Hendrix’s “Fire” and inherited his febrile hypersexuality and imitated his bad-ass virility). Not to mention obvious examples like Prince and George Clinton.

And then there’s heavy metal as a genre. If Hendrix paved the way for this music, it was because he showed that the blues could be blown up from a porch-side lament into a mountain range. Hendrix invented the “air guitar,” not in the sense of an imaginary instrument played by hair farmers in front of their bedroom mirrors, but rather in the sense of a guitar that refused to be bound solely by earthly roots, a sound that grew wings and took flight. An aerial guitar, if you will.

The Hendrix influence on rap is also profound, and not just in the way that boho homeboys like De la Soul and A Tribe Called Quest dress. Hendrix samples on rap records include Digital Underground’s “Who Knows?” the Beastie Boys’ “B-Boy Bouillabaisse,” A Tribe Called Quest’s “Go Ahead in the Rain,” and Monie Love’s “Just Don’t Give a Damn.” Moreover, every rap use of rock comes via Hendrix, from Run-DMC to Schoolly D. Rap’s dissonance is Hendrix’s guitar still reverberating and feeding back.

As SPIN colleague Nathaniel Wice puts it: “He dominates both Yol MTV Raps and Headbanger’s Ball. He fathered both, dominating everything that music has become. Not only won’t he die, but it’s impossible to imagine how to kill him off.”

There’s even a case to be made that Hendrix is responsible for that hideous mutant jazz-rock. But we’ll pass discreetly over that, except to mention Hendrix’s profound influence on Miles Davis’s brilliant late-‘60s and early-'70s work.

Jim Morrison may be the subject of Hollywood mythmaking, but Hendrix is not a corpse to be resurrected. Hendrix is the living, breathing soul of today’s rock'n'roll.

Initially framed within traditional white ideas of what black music meant (black as incarnation of the id, un-repression, instinct, the body, soul, et cetera), Jimi Hendrix was nicknamed the “Wild Man of Pop” and compared to a Borneo savage. As critic Steven Perry has pointed out, such noble savage stereotypes have been used historically to undermine the aesthetic achievements of blacks. Hendrix is interesting because of the damage he did to such racial stereotypes. He wanted to transcend the borders and barriers between races, male and female, and even (at his most mystic) to transcend the human condition all together to become star child, to become male mermaid (as on “1983/A Merman I Should Turn to Be”). Indeed his whole career can be seen as an attempt to reconcile and/or explode such standard oppositions as black versus white, male versus female, the dandy versus the savage, voodoo (the blues) versus Christian salvation (soul), roots versus rootlessness, earthy versus cosmic, tradition versus avant-garde, bohemian art rock versus funk/soul razzmatazz.

Setting himself against the narrow conceptual biases of what constituted “real” black music, Hendrix transformed and transcended the limits of what a black musician could and should be. Among the first, if not the first, African-Americans in pop to lay claim to the status of artist rather than entertainer, he did his apprenticeship in soul review bands (most notably the Isley Brothers, Little Richard, and Curtis Knight and the Squires) on the “chitlin circuit,” but chafed at the strictures, discipline, and show-biz protocols that were expected of him. Hendrix opened up the possibility for black musicians to be — imagewise and soundwise — messy and self-indulgent. In this he was the polar opposite of James Brown, disciplinarian band leader and the professional servant of a popular audience. In contrast, Hendrix was an aural aristocrat with musical laws unto himself — a solar flare with solo flair, a quality that got him kicked out of many soul bands before his eventual success in the U.K. For his efforts, he was branded a psychedelic Uncle Tom. A more unjust accusation in the history of rock criticism is difficult to imagine.

Yet many of his more fervent supporters seem to add fuel to this charge. Alvin Lee from Ten Years After once said, “Hendrix wasn’t black or white. Hendrix was Hendrix.” Hendrix was Hendrix, but Hendrix was black. In his excellent biography of Hendrix, 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky, David Henderson, an award-winning African-American poet, does a convincing job of debunking the misperception that Hendrix was an Uncle Tom who played exclusively to white audiences. Recalling a meeting between a group of blacks and Hendrix at TTG Studios in Hollywood, Henderson tells how the guitarist expressed concern about the lack of any black support for his music. Not so, said his fellow black musicians. Blacks did buy his records and go to his concerts, but they were rendered virtually invisible by the overwhelming popularity of Hendrix among the mass white audience.

What was true was that black radio did not play his records. Since so much of black radio was white-controlled at that time, that’s hardly Hendrix’s fault. Moreover, when he jettisoned his all-white band, the Experience, for the all-black Band of Gypsys, it was met with much resistance from his management. But the suspicion still lingers that Hendrix was a disgrace to the race, especially in his refusal to become too closely aligned with black revolutionary movements. Hendrix was a pacifist who refused to give the Black Panthers the explicit gesture of support that they expected from him and got from other entertainers. But as Robert Wyatt, ex-drummer and vocalist with Soft Machine, says, Hendrix didn’t “have to go around making political statements. … he was living a political life of great importance.”

Hendrix didn’t need to comment on the issues of the times, racial or not, because the times were in his music. For instance, Hendrix was the soundtrack to Vietnam, for soldiers and for civilians alike. Both “Machine Gun” and his version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” are among the most profound works of American art ever made about the war. Vernon Reid once admitted to having mistakenly thought that Hendrix had served in Vietnam. And for the movie version of the real thing (Apocalypse Now), Francis Ford Coppola employed Randy Hansen, a Hendrix impersonator, for the soundtrack.

In 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky, Henderson tells of the time in 1969 that Hendrix played a Harlem street fair. Hosted by a popular local radio DJ Eddie O-Jay (ironically another black DJ who didn’t play Hendrix’s records), Jimi performed “Voodoo Chile,” among other songs, which he referred to onstage as “Harlem’s national anthem.” And of course in a way Hendrix was right. With its explicit evocation and celebration of the supernatural powers and magical transformations at the heart of African religion, “Voodoo Chile” is at least as “black” (if such distinctions are important to you) as James Brown’s “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” So much for Uncle Tom.

After Hendrix finished his show, he was approached by a black nationalist who said, “Hey brother, you better come home.” Hendrix replied, “You gotta do what you gotta do, and I gotta do what I gotta do now.”

“Drunkenness was rife among the Shaido. Every raid brought back all the wine that could be found. Dozens and dozens of small stills produced vile brews from grains, and every time the Wise Ones destroyed a still, two more sprang up in its place.” Knife of Dreams, “Embers Falling on Dry Grass”

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the decline of the Shaido in Wheel of Time, mostly about how in some ways it feels very “noble savage falling prey to the evils of civilization”. The “good” Aiel manage to maintain their traditions in the face of temptation, while the “bad” Aiel succumb to luxury, avarice, and even (as in the quote above) alcohol. These are all tropes that tend to pop up in narratives about the contact of indigenous peoples with civilization, and the corrupting influence thereof. 

There’s another angle to this, though, and that’s the ideals of discipline in Greece and Rome in the classical era. There’s a strong trend in Roman and Greek literature and philosophy of correlating moral dissolution with luxury, and excessive luxury as both cause and symptom of failing power. Witness Marc Antony: ‘corrupted’ by the wiles of the Eastern Cleopatra (according to later propaganda) and seduced into taking on “barbaric” customs of luxury. 

While I suspect the prior reading is more accurate - the Aiel do have a fair amount of the “noble savage” hanging around them - I find the second interesting because it reverses the directions - the Aiel come from the East and are corrupted by the values of the West. Also that the Aiel are the ones who represent moderation and discipline, while the “wetlanders” are the ones who lead lives of luxury.

I haven’t quite sorted through all of this, but I find both ideas interesting - and I always think looking for too much of a 1:1 equivalency between Wheel of Time cultures and our world cultures is a mistake. But I think the Aiel as a whole quite possibly draw on both tropes, and the Decline and Fall of the Shaido Empire is caused by the same perceived flaw: lack of discipline, and the corrupting influence of luxury.

It’s interesting that Aviendha appears to escape this rule - perhaps because she remains conscious and ashamed when she wears dresses and silk. It’s also interesting given the emphasis placed elsewhere in Wheel of Time on the importance of cross-cultural contact and indeed the value of the awareness of differences between cultures (and how each have their flaws and oversights). 

Centaur (AD&D)

Yet another creature cribbed from Greek myth, where they were all rapacious drunken wild men who would rampage through the countrysides in whirlwind orgies of sex and violence, except for Chiron, who was pretty much the only decent centaur. So, you’d think centaurs would be perfect for yet another “they’re evil bandits, kill them, kill them all” sort of entry in the Monstrous Manual, right?
WRONG! See, they look more human than orcs or hobgoblins or kobolds (at least, from the waist up), and beings so human-like could not possibly be evil, right?
Though having said that, they might still be just a little evil, in a manner the writers of this book probably didn’t intend…

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