“The first immigrants to Europe arrived thousands of years ago from central Asia. Most pre-contact Europeans lived together in small villages. Because the continent was very crowded, their lives were ruled by strict hierarchies within the family and outside it to control resources. Europe was highly multi-ethnic, and most tribes were ruled by hereditary leaders who commanded the majority “commoners.” These groups were engaged in near constant warfare.
"Pre-contact Europeans wore clothing made of natural materials such as animal skin and plant and animal-based textiles. Women wore long dresses and covered their hair, and men wore tunics and leggings. Both men and women liked to wear jewelry made from precious stones and metals as a sign of status. Before contact, Europeans had very poor diets. Most people were farmers and grew wheat and vegetables and raised cows and sheep to eat. They rarely washed themselves, and had many diseases because they often let their animals live with them.
"Religion infused every part of Europeans’ lives. Europeans believed in one supreme deity, a father figure, who they believed was made of three parts, and they particularly worshiped the deity’s son. They claimed that their god had given humans domination over the earth. They built elaborate temples to him and performed ceremonies in which they ate crackers and drank wine and believed it was the body and blood of their god, who would provide them with entrance into a wondrous afterlife called heaven when they died. Many wars were fought over disagreements about the details of this religion, each group believing their interpretation was the right one that should be spread across the land.”
Now imagine that is part of a textbook that has entire chapters on the Mississippian polities of the 1200s and a detailed account of the diplomatic situation of the southeastern provinces in the 1400s and 1500s, an enormous section that goes through the history of the rise of the Triple Alliance in Mexico and goes through the rule of each tlatoani and their policies, the heritage of Teotihuacan and its legacy in later Mesoamerican politics, elaborate descriptions of the trade routes that connected and drove various nations in North America. Long explanations of the rise of various religious movements such as the calumet ceremony and Midewiwin, and how they affected political agendas and artistic trends. Pages and pages and pages going through the past thousand years of American history century by century.
And these three paragraphs are the only mention of European history before the year 1500.
If your textbook of North American history goes into the details of the Middle Ages, the Reformation and Renaissance, the Silk Road, and European monarchies, and you don’t include equal description of the Mississippian coalescence and dispersal, Haudenosaunee-Algonquian relations, the Woodlands, trans-plains, and southwestern trade systems, the Mexica conquests and the Fifth Sun ideology with explicit naming of various places and leaders, then your textbook is inadequate.
Why do you include those “pre-contact” European things? Because they explain the motivations and reasons for what Europeans did. But people largely imagine North America as this timeless place and don’t recognize that pre-contact American history had just as much of an effect on post-contact history because it provides explanations of the motivations and reasonings behind indigenous peoples’ actions.
But of course, that would require people to recognize that indigenous people had their own histories and agendas and agency that affected the course of history rather than making them a passive recipient of European historical force.
According to a 2008 survey, the models in the New York Fashion Week were: 6% Black, 6% Asian, 1% Latina, 87% White.
The Colour of Beauty is a shocking short documentary that examines blatant racism in the fashion industry. Apparently, from the industry’s perspective, the black girls who are featured need to look exactly like white girls only that they are painted black.
Who’s Renee Thompson?
Renee Thompson is a 24 year old model trying to make it as a top fashion model in New York. She’s got the looks, the walk and the drive. She has been modeling for 10 years around the world and has experienced some degree of success but her dream is to hit the NY Fashion Week runway and become the next big thing. A dream that seems almost impossible at times as door after door gets slammed in her face, all because she’s black
Renee feels that she is constantly under scrutiny over something she can do nothing about. What’s even worse is the fact that clients expect the black models to be literally flawless– a higher standard than what is set for white models.(x)
Adoptive parents have the right to choose between age, country, race, handicap, et cetera. The fact that certain countries remain strong favorites for adoptive parents speaks volumes of how racialized thinking continues to live on under anti-racist surface narratives.
Korea, Ethiopia, and Colombia are countries whose children fit Eurocentric standards of beauty more than others in the same regions; compare children from Korea to children from Malaysia, children from Ethiopia to children from Kenya, and children from Colombia to children from Bolivia. Furthermore, [Western] adoptive parents display a clear preference for girls and ‘racially pure’ children.
Tobias Hubinette, A Critique of International Adoption [translated from Swedish]
There are two different angles at play in the discussion about
colonialism and science. First is what constitutes scientific
epistemology and what its origins are. As a physicist, I was taught that
physics began with the Greeks and later Europeans inherited their ideas
and expanded on them.
In this narrative, people of African descent and
others are now relative newcomers to science, and questions of inclusion
and diversity in science are related back to “bringing science to
underrepresented minority and people of color communities.” The problem with this narrative is that it isn’t true.
For example, many of those “Greeks” were actually Egyptians and
Mesopotamians under Greek rule. So, even though for the last 500 years
or so science has largely been developed by Europeans, the roots of its
methodology and epistemology are not European.
Science, as scientists
understand it, is not fundamentally European in origin. This complicates
both racist narratives about people of color and innovation as well as
discourse around whether science is fundamentally wedded to
Euro-American operating principles of colonialism, imperialism and
domination for the purpose of resource extraction.
“The question of Eurocentricism is now entirely blase. Of course Europeans are Eurocentric and see the world from their vantage point, and why should they not? They are the inheritors of multiple (now defunct) empires and they still carry within them the phantom hubris of those empires and they think their particular philosophy is "philosophy” and their particular thinking is “thinking”, and everything else is - as the great European philosopher Immanuel Levinas was wont of saying - “dancing”.
The question is rather the manner in which non-European thinking can reach self-consciousness and evident universality, not at the cost of whatever European philosophers may think of themselves for the world at large, but for the purpose of offering alternative (complementary or contradictory) visions of reality more rooted in the lived experiences of people in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America - counties and climes once under the spell of the thing that calls itself “the West” but happily no more.“
In 1904, a group of forty New York orphans were sent to live with Catholic families in Arizona. However, the Catholics turned out to be Mexicans and the local Anglos were so outraged at this race boundary transgression that they instigated a mass abduction of the children.
Through this direct action, trans-racial adoption as a white privilege was resolutely reinforced.This privilege continues in the contemporary era. One can only imagine the reactions if white European children were to be sent to Latin American or African countries for international adoption.
In the pre-Civil Rights United States, a handful of states even went so far as to legislate against interracial adoption or even fostering of white children by non-whites, and in the late 1990s a widely publicized controversy erupted, when a black woman in Detroit wanted to adopt a white girl.
- Tobias Hübinette, Between European Colonial Trafficking, American Empire-Building and Nordic Social Engineering: Rethinking International Adoption From a Postcolonial and Feminist Perspective
I wrote down this speech that I had no time to practice so this will be the practicing session. Thank you Alfre, for such an amazing, amazing introduction and celebration of my work. And thank you very much for inviting me to be a part of such an extraordinary community. I am surrounded by people who have inspired me, women in particular whose presence on screen made me feel a little more seen and heard and understood. That it is ESSENCE that holds this event celebrating our professional gains of the year is significant, a beauty magazine that recognizes the beauty that we not just possess but also produce.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty, Black beauty, dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: ‘Dear Lupita,’ it reads, 'I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.’
My heart bled a little when I read those words, I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.
I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I was the day before. I tried to negotiate with God, I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted, I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened.
And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no conservation, she’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then…Alek Wek. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me, as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me, when I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty. But around me the preference for my skin prevailed, to the courters that I thought mattered I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me you can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you and these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.
And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away.
And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.
There is no shame in Black beauty.
Her remarkable speech from Essence Magazine’s 7th Annual Black Women In Hollywood luncheon where she won the Best Breakthrough Performance Award. Remarkable. Just…remarkable. *tears*
Media is not arbitrary, random, neutral nor apolitical.
“Look alive, True Believers, if the rumors are to be believed, then Zendaya is playing the role of Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Spider-Man movie. This is the latest in a series of black women being cast in traditionally white comic book roles. First it was Candice Patton being cast as Iris West in CW’s The Flash, then Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, followed by Kiersey Clemons being cast in Warner Brother’s The Flash, and now Zendaya. While they’re all great actresses and I can’t wait to see them in action, it’s hard not to notice that only a certain type of black girl is being cast.
We all want to celebrate the fact that black women are getting more roles, but we need to address the colorism in these casting. Zendaya, Kiersey, Tessa, and Candice are all lightskin black women. These aren’t coincidences; these are products of our society’s devaluing of darkskin black women, especially those that don’t meet Eurocentric beauty standards. These actresses received/continue to receive a lot of hate, doused in racism no doubt, but nothing in comparison to what Leslie Jones went through just last month”
Hi, I’m Caroline, and as the title states, I’m a female Korean-American teen currently living in a town that’s 80% white. The majority of East Asians living here are Japanese, and over the years, there have been a few sprinklings of new Korean or Chinese families moving in. For the most part, however, my family was the only Korean family in town when we first came here. This heavily impacted my childhood - made me ashamed of my culture and ethnicity - and of course, the racism that I constantly faced from classmates, parents, teachers, and sometimes even friends, was exhausting.
It means so much to me to see Korean-American characters - or any person of color, really - be represented in today’s books, TV shows, movies, etc. For once, I’d like to see fully-fleshed out, complex characters who are people of color - not just the 2D stereotypes that too many forms of media put them out to be. So if a few more writers out there become less ignorant due to this post, I’ll be forever grateful.
So. Let’s do this thing!
Most East Asians represented in today’s media have extremely straight, practically black hair. And while it’s true that straight, black hair is the most common trait regarding hair amongst Koreans, there are (*gasp*) a few of us with curly hair, too. (Moi.) To the Koreans I knew, anyways, my hair was always an object of envy. I’d frequently be asked if I got the perm, and whenever I said I had naturally curly hair, there’d be a lot of “oh, how lucky"s going around. That made me feel pretty special, only it’d last for a short while before the reality of living in a mostly-white neighborhood kicked in, where my curly hair was usually made fun of. (Usually saying that Asians don’t have curly hair. Whatever. On the whole scale of racist comments I’ve been sent, the one about my hair is the least bothersome. When I was a kid, it bothered me a lot, though, and I think to some extent, it still bothers me at least a teeny bit - I actually started to straighten my hair when I went into eighth grade. Yup, give me the Hypocrite of the Year Award. I still need some adjustments.)
Amongst Koreans, there’s also a lot of emphasis on having a small face, long and skinny legs, a fairly short torso…essentially, Koreans thrive for the typical European figure. Koreans, however, have pretty round faces, short and stalky legs, and long torsos for the most part. (With the exception of a few - and of course, the option for plastic surgery is always out there. I shit you not, almost every Korean woman I know have at least either (a) known someone who went through plastic surgery or (b) have been in plastic surgery myself. It’s a big deal in South Korea. My grandma had surgery done to her eyes twice, my mom’s friend had surgery done to her nose and her eyes, and my aunt’s brother is actually a plastic surgeon who does operations a number of times a day.)
Growing up, I wore the typical American clothing - except for on special occasions, like my first birthday or New Year’s. On those days, I’d wear a hanbok, which is a traditional Korean gown with lots of colors and embroidery. The men would wear traditional clothing as well, and it’s customary for Koreans to wear these especially on New Year’s. Now, since my brothers and I have outgrown our hanboks, we just stick to American clothes on New Year’s.
Though I tell all my white friends and classmates that my first language is English, my first language was actually Korean. I don’t say that my first language is Korean anymore because firstly, I don’t want people to think of me as someone who only speaks Korean and secondly, I don’t know how to speak Korean anymore. It’s sad, really, because I can understand Korean much better than my siblings and my cousins, and there are moments when I can almost remember a phrase, but as of now, speaking the language is an extreme difficulty and embarrassment to me, especially when I’m surrounded by elders. (And usually, the only things I can say to them are ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’.) It’s frustrating to speak to older Koreans and know exactly what they’re saying but only being able to respond in English.
That being said, growing up, I often had to translate - more specifically, re-translate - for my mother, who didn’t know English at all when I was a child. She used to feel incredibly lonely for it, and often times, she’d feel frustrated and cry about how all of the white mothers acted like she was an idiot for not knowing English. As an extreme social butterfly, this really hurt my mother, and it hurt her even more when her own children were starting to distance themselves because of the language barrier. I remember having to sit with my mother on the couch and help her learn English - and it was, to be honest, one of the saddest experiences I’ve ever had to go through. She’d grow frustrated with herself, and she’d hate every bit of it, I could tell, but she kept going because she wanted to be there for her kids. (She eventually got her American citizenship, too, but by doing so, she had to give up her Korean citizenship. Most East Asian countries don’t allow dual citizenships.) And though I don’t speak Korean anymore, I actually continue to re-translate things for my mother - in other words, I just have to simplify the English a little bit to get her to understand what someone else is saying. (This method works for anyone else who is struggling with English. Simplify the words, that’s all - but don’t treat the person with disrespect.)
And, of course, there’s the very exhausting series of questions that come with being Korean. The most annoying and frustrating are (but not limited to) -
“Oh, so are you South Korean or North Korean?” (Bruh. If I was North Korean, there’s a VERY slim chance I’d be in America right now. I’d still be stuck in North Korea, wouldn’t I?)
“But what’s your nationality?” (American.) “No, I mean your REAL nationality.“
“What are you? Japanese? Chinese? Vietnamese?” (For some reason, NO ONE GUESSES KOREAN.)
“Wow, your English is great!” (???)
“English is your best subject? Wait, then what about math?” (…)
“I bet you’re super smart!” (…I study hard, yeah, but that has nothing to do with the fact that I’m Korean.)
“Oh, my God, Koreans are SO hot.” (Ew. Times a thousand.)
Dating and Relationships
My parents are pretty strict about my nonexistent love life. If my dad had it his way, I wouldn’t be allowed to date until I’m out of college. But for real talk, my mom’s actually the one who’s much pickier on who I date. She told me since I was a kid that it’d be best for me to date (and marry) another Korean-American. She means this out of the goodness of her heart - mostly that she wants me to marry someone who I can connect with culturally. (“Regular Koreans will be too grounded into Korea. You need someone with similar experiences.”) My dad just doesn’t want me to date anyone Japanese - and while I find this wrong, it’s mostly due to the bad blood between Korea and Japan. (World War II, the Korean War, comfort women, etc.)
And because of this prejudice against Japanese people, my dad always found it difficult to accept that I had a few Japanese friends. He often wanted me to stray away from other Eastern-Asians in general, American or not. (Unless, of course, it was for dating/marrying.) This was because he didn’t want me to become a part of “THAT Asian group”, which, let me just say, is pretty sad, because when there’s a group of white kids hanging around, no one finds it strange. When there’s a big group of x friends of x race, it’s suddenly SUCH an odd sight.
This is where I try to restrain myself for real.
The most common foods you’ll find at a Korean dinner table are rice, kimchi (which is basically spicy pickled cabbage - lots of Koreans eat it, but I personally never did. And I still don’t. Oops), kim (pronounced keem - basically roasted and dried, slightly salted seaweed strips. Which are really good), along with a number of side-dishes and maybe one big, main dish. (Mostly meat.)
Favorite Korean dishes include
seolleongtang, a lightly salted broth with oxtail meat, or sometimes some other kind of meat. There’s usually a sprinkling of scallions, and rice or noodles can be served inside.
kalbi, the famous Korean BBQ. Just imagine meat being prepared directly in front of you served with veggies. Delicious, but be warned - your burps will stink - and I mean stink - afterwards. Its variant, kalbi jim, are slow-cooked short ribs served often with Korean-style steamed potatoes and carrots. Just as good.
tangsuyuk, sweet and sour (mostly sweet, I think, anyways,) pork. The pork is covered with a batter that is fried and then typically dunked in sweet sauce. Some people like to have the sauce on the side so they can dip it in - and still save the crunch. It’s a personal preference.
buchimgae, otherwise known as Kimchi Pancakes. Korean pancakes are not your typical breakfast pancakes. They’re made in a pan, like regular breakfast pancakes, but inside, there’s an assortment of seafood, veggies, and in this version, kimchi. (There are spicy and non-spicy versions).
tteokbokki, spicy rice cakes. Very chewy and again, pretty spicy.
Favorite Korean sweets/desserts/snacks include
tteok, sweet rice cakes. There are many different kinds of rice cake, usually with flavors of classical red bean or green tea. The favorite of many children is the classical rainbow tteok, where the rice cakes are dyed with strips of green, pink, and yellow. The flavor of plain tteok is actually not too sweet, but it’s still a very classic, very traditional and cultural Korean dessert that cannot be skipped over.
yakbap, a very special type of sweet rice cake all on its own. This is a favorite amongst many, and the rice is prepared in a way that it’s sticky and brown. Pine nuts, chestnuts, and jujubes as well as raisins are mixed in.
patbingsu, a frozen dessert. Think of an evolved form of shave ice with toppings like red bean paste, nuts, and fruit. Extremely popular in South Korea, not to mention one of its most iconic desserts.
saeoosnek, shrimp-flavored crackers. Again, a very popular snack that’s exactly what it sounds like. Crackers. With. Shrimp. Flavoring.
choco pie, a popular chocolate-marshmallow cake that looks similar to America’s moon pie. Extremely popular amongst children.
In my family, we never celebrated the direct Korean celebrations, but we always celebrated the Korean New Year the traditional way. Again, usually dressed in hanbok, children (and parents) would bow down to the oldest members of the family and pay their respects with a traditional phrase. They also have to perform a special bow three times while saying this phrase. (There are two different bows - one for men, one for women.) Once doing so, the elder usually gives a blessing to the family members and presents them with an envelope of money, very similar to the traditional Chinese red envelope they receive on their New Year’s celebration.
Another traditional Korean celebration my family - and many other Korean families, I’m sure - celebrate is the 100 Days birthday.
A brief history lesson - back when Korea was suffering due to the economy failing, it was a rare occurrence to ever see a child live past one hundred days. Once one hundred days had passed, then the family would rejoice and throw a large celebration, inviting friends, extended family members. There’d be lots of food and laughter and different rituals all dedicated to the child. Now, of course, Korea’s economic situation is not the same as it was back then, but we still hold these celebrations for tradition and cultural reasons.
One of the most important rituals in the 100 Days birthday is sitting the baby down in front of a variety of items - usually a coin, a pen, a length of twine, a book, food, and sometimes other variants of those items. If the child picks up a coin, then it is to be predicted that this child will live a wealthy life. If the child picks up a pen or a book, then it is to be predicted that this child will grow to become a scholar. If the child picks up food, then it is to be predicted that this child will never go hungry. If the child picks up the length of twine (or sometimes string or a spool of thread), then it is to be predicted that this child will live a long life. Some families believe in this, others don’t, but either way, this ritual is performed because hey, tradition! (And besides, it makes for pretty cute pictures.)
Korean families and Korean home-life, I feel, will always have a different atmosphere from white families. Most Korean parents are very reserved when it comes to public displays of affection for their children, though like all families, this can vary. Independence and learning how to grow an outer shell is very important to the Korean lifestyle. This doesn’t mean that Korean parents don’t love their children - of course they do, and again, all Korean families work differently. However, this pattern and discipline is a common thing to find in most Korean families.
There’s a certain emphasis on studying - and no, not all Korean parents are super strict about grades and threaten to beat their children if they get a B on a report card. (At least, my parents didn’t.) However, education is still considered a top priority. Studying is encouraged, and most Korean parents want to see their children secure a good job (ie doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc). Most of the time, Korean parents just want to see their children live a secured life. That’s it. At least, with my parents, everything they ever taught me or told me had something to do with me learning to survive when I become older. I used to resent this when I was a kid, but now that I’ve grown more mature, I actually find myself appreciating everything my parents have ever taught me.
Another note - when a Korean woman marries, she is cut off from her birth family and is considered to only be a part of her husband’s family. This limits her visits to her own birth family - and though this was a common thing before, I believe many Korean families don’t operate the same way anymore. (Some traditions last longer than others.)
Elders are respected. Period. Even if s/he’s getting on your nerves, you ALWAYS RESPECT THE ELDERS.
Shoes are taken off before entering a house. No exceptions to this rule. If you wanna impress your Korean friend, take off your damn shoes. This will be appreciated.
Things I’d like to see less of.
people thinking that “all Koreans get hot when they’re older”. (FETISHIZATION IS A BIG NO-NO.)
Koreans being seen as submissive and docile creatures. (Note how I said creatures and not humans. Because that’s how some people treat Koreans and other East Asians. Like we’re creatures, rather than actual human beings.)
Koreans being seen as kickass ninjas. (It’s either docile creatures or kickass ninjas. There’s never a line between the two, and it’s exhausting.)
“Koreans are so romantic!” (Sorry, that’s the K-drama binge talking. If anything, Koreans are pretty reserved when it comes to PDA and again, affection in general. Of course, I can’t speak for all Koreans, but at least with my family, PDA was always kept to a minimum. Usually a quick peck on the lips, kisses on the cheek, hand-holding, etc. Never an actual full kiss in public. Forget about make-out sessions.)
Stone-cold Koreans. (Again, there’s either the romantic Korean or the Terminator Korean. Never an in-between. Yes, keep in mind that due to cultural reasons, Koreans don’t typically display affection. THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT WE DON’T DISPLAY EMOTIONS.)
Straight-A Koreans. Typically good at math and science. (While yes, many East Asian countries and families put emphasis on these subjects, not all Koreans happen to be extreme nerds who cry at a B on a report card. Example A - I happen to stink at math. And I know many other Asian-Americans who also stink at math. So.)
Assuming Korean parents are abusive. (While there are many abusive Korean parents out there, people need to stop assuming that right off the bat. Stop. It’s extremely disrespectful, not to mention just wrong?!)
Things i’d like to see more of.
complex, well-rounded Korean characters. (Give me a Korean character who hates math but still tries to do well in class. Give me a Korean character who’s bisexual and surrounded by loving family members. Give me a Korean character who likes roller-skating and getting high in the bathroom stalls and sings Jackson 5 all day. Give me a Korean character who goes out to be homecoming queen and buffs her nails while fighting demons. Give me a Korean character who cries, laughs, talks, breathes, LIVES like an actual human being, and you’ll get the respect of hundreds - maybe thousands - of readers and viewers who’ve been waiting for so long to be properly represented.)
…There is now a manifest discrepancy between the large number of students who request that we address their love of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and
medieval-themed video and computer games on the one hand, and the
decreasing number of medievalists hired to replace retiring colleagues
on the other. We are no longer protected by our involvement in
preserving European heritages, an involvement often joined up with
primordialist, jingoist, and colonialist mentalities discredited in the
Western world by the 1970s. And we are as endangered as the rest of our
humanities colleagues by the advent of new areas of scholarship, the
intimidating popularity of the STEM disciplines, and politically
motivated cuts to the liberal arts.
What can we do?
Perhaps we should begin by admitting that in enjoying the splendid
isolation that allowed us to learn a lot about medieval culture, we have
failed to share that knowledge with the public. As a result, a single
178-minute movie, Braveheart, could wipe out what 150 years of
scholarship had established about the Right of the Lord’s First Night (a
feudal lord’s rumored right to take the virginity of his serfs’
newlywed daughters). Meticulous source study since the Enlightenment
about the horrific crimes committed during the medieval crusades hasn’t
stopped schools from naming their teams Crusaders. And tens of thousands
of learned books and articles about medieval knighthood have had no
influence on white supremacists’ appropriation of allegedly chivalric
virtues. It is clearly time to lower the drawbridge from the ivory tower
and reconnect with the public.