black-and-white

justgivemeabook23  asked:

Hello there! Is it okay to have an African American MC be involved in a mythology of another culture? Duality is a very important concept in Slavic mythology and I would like to portray my MC as the embodiement of light and good magic with the antagonist (a white character) as her dark natured binary opposite. As a white author I really want to do the best I can to make sure my MC is portrayed correctly. Thank you!

Black Character Involved in Slavic Mythology

Couple of things here: do you mean specifically “African-American,” as in an American of African descent and not just any Black person?  (Sorry, many people seem to use “African American” as some kind of PC term for all Black people.  It’s not.  We have to ask.)  In the period when Slavic mythology was vibrant, the USA didn’t exist, so there was no such thing as an “African American”.  Is what you ask about more of an American Gods-type situation, with a story and plot line taken from Slavic mythology but with an African-American main character?

If you’re asking whether actual Slavic people in the pre-modern period were acquainted with Subsaharan Africans, the answer would almost certainly be yes. Consider that many Vikings settled in Eastern Europe and conducted raids and trading as far as Constantinople and Baghdad, which were places that traders and travelers from Subsaharan Africa also visited.  If any African traveler went north on a Viking ship from either of these places, they would have gone up the Volga or Dnieper (i.e. straight through the heart of Slavic lands).  In addition, Slavic-speakers themselves, like the people of Kievan Rus’, conducted extensive trade themselves along the same routes.  Plus (and this is getting away from Slavic country but could still be relevant) other Vikings sailed to the western Mediterranean and as far as Newfoundland, so we know they had the ability to cover the distance to west Africa.  Even though there’s been no archeological evidence discovered to confirm that they did, the possibility is still there.  Either way, due to the extensive trade and travel networks that crisscrossed Africa-Eurasia during the Middle Ages, the odds that Slavs were unacquainted with the notion of a Black person is virtually nil.

Slavic mythology is one of least-known of the pre-Christian Indo-European mythologies because records were either never written down or mostly destroyed (many neopagan revivals are actually based on a 19th-20th century forgery), so there’s a lot we don’t know about it.  However, if you look at other mythologies, we often find that those that traffic in light-dark symbolism were actually remarkably good about not equating brightness level with skin color.  We find references to explicitly dark-skinned gods in two cousins of Slavic mythology, Vedic Hinduism (Krishna, whose name literally means “black”) and Celtic polytheism (Ogmios).  That is, if ancient people thought darkness was scary, it was because they couldn’t see in the night, not because they saw a Black person and thought they were evil.  It’s hypothetical but I think reasonable to expect an equivalent attitude in Slavic mythology and thought (because people can tell the difference between another human being and a dark forest).  Ancient societies were pretty adept at distinguishing between environmental conditions and people, often to the point of using distinct words for “black” when referring to a lack of ambient light vs. skin tone.

-Mod Nikhil

We don’t see a problem with a Black character in Slavic mythology. As Nikhil explained above, Black people existed everywhere. Look at Pushkin. Black Eastern Europeans existed.

Nik adds: I would also look at Pushkin’s great-grandfather, Abram Petrovich Gannibal, born in Africa (most likely in modern Cameroon but previously thought to be Ethiopia) and 100% African by descent, but raised in Russia and educated according to the Russian custom.  He went on to become a renowned military engineer and general in the court of Peter the Great.

If the character lives and/or grew up there, it is their culture too.

Black & White Duality Theme

Not sure if this is the case, but this is the feeling we get from your ask: that you’re using skin colour as a factor for the duality theme in your novel. That you’re doing a sort of switch on the black vs white symbolism and subverting the negative stereotypes used there. Although subverting the black vs white symbolism is in our opinion a great idea and thing to do, doing it the way you’re doing (together with themes of duality) gives the idea that African American / Black people and white people are somehow opposites on a binary. This implication unnerves us. Black and white people are not each other’s extreme opposite (although racism does make people believe that). Plus binaries tend to be unnuanced and used to force being into stereotypical boxes. 

They’re not always as natural as people are made to believe. Now we don’t know exactly how you’re going to explore and use the duality theme, so that could be a part of it, but thought it important to mention.

~Mods Alice, Brei, & Colette