Black Empire: George Schuyler, Black Radicalism and Dieselpunk

blackempire3232011Sometime in the 1930s, a black journalist is kidnapped in Harlem by the charismatic Dr. Henry Belsidius, leader of the Black Internationale–a shadowy organization determined to build a Black Empire and overthrow the world of white racial hegemony with cunning and super science. Journalist George S. Schulyer’s fantastic tale was written in serials in the black Pittsburgh Courier between 1936 and 1938 under the pseudonym Samuel I. Brooks. It quickly found a loyal following among African-American readers, who saw in Dr. Belsidius and the Black Internationale a heroic, sci-fi tale of black nationalism, triumph and race pride. The newspaper was surprised at the serials’ growing popularity, and pushed for more–sixty-two in all. Yet no one was as surprised at the story’s success than George Schulyer who, disdaining what he saw as the excesses of black nationalism and race pride, had written Black Empire as satire.

Continue reading

Race and Comic Books

JLA 173“You’re the second donkey who’s tried blastin’ me away tonight, and like I tole the other fella, you got a lot to learn ’bout Black Lightning!”–Justice League of America #173 This week there was a disturbance throughout the geek “interwebs” after John Hugues at Comics Alliance published an article titled Outrage Deferred: On The Lack Of Black Writers In The Comic Book Industry. This has led to talk of Dr. Jonathan Gayles’s 2012 documentary, White Scripts, Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in Comic Books. We’re also fast approaching the anniversary of the birthday and death of black comic book pioneer Dwyane McDuffie. All of this has magnified the usual buzz on race in comic books. And it jogged my memory. Back in 2000, I actually wrote on this very topic, as part of a presentation for a friend’s Blacks in Media course. In the fast-changing world of comic books however, that is of course several dozen crossovers ago. Nevertheless, given all the recent talk, decided to dig up the article and thought, what the heck, it’d make a decent blog. Continue reading

Steampunk Ida B. Wells-Barnett: Anti-Lynching, Anti-Victorian Crusader

“One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.” – Ida B. Wells-Barnett

At a recent history conference, I had the fortune of attending a plenary titled “Mightier than the Sword: Conversations on the Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells-Barnett.” The panel featured historians Mia Bay, Paula Giddings and Patricia Schechter (among others), all of whom have authored works on the famed anti-lynching crusader. Though I’d studied Ida B. Wells-Barnett previously, during the discussion I was once again struck by her intense radicalism, which ran counter to the sensibilities of gender, activism and racial justice that pervaded the times. As often happens, my historian’s mind wandered into the speculative–particularly steampunk, where the Victorian Age’s analogous twin across the Atlantic, what Mark Twain satirized as “The Gilded Age” and well into the later “Progressive Era,” carried a violent dark side that Ida B. Wells-Barnett dedicated her life to revealing.

Continue reading

Robert A. Heinlein- Letter from the Dean

“Nor do I feel responsible for the generally low state of the Negro—as one Negro friend pointed out to me; the lucky Negroes were the ones who were enslaved. Having traveled quite a bit in Africa, I know what she means. One thing is clear: Whether one speaks of technology or social institutions, “civilization” was invented by us, not by the Negroes. As races, as cultures, we are five thousand years, about, ahead of them. Except for the culture, both institutions and technology, that they got from us, they would still be in the stone age, along with its slavery, cannibalism, tyranny, and utter lack of the concept we call “justice.”–Robert Heinlein

Well at least he didn’t use the n-word…

Continue reading

Always Chaotic Evil- Confronting My Anti-Orc Bias

I’m a fantasy racist. There I admit it. It’s not entirely my fault. It’s what I was taught. From an early age, my fantasy godfathers and godmothers (well, mostly fathers actually), raised me to despise Goblins, Orcs, Trollocs and a host of other sub-human beings who tend to congregate in throngs, masses and “teeming hordes.” Let’s face it, when was the last time you met a “horde” that was “teeming” with good intentions? Right. I thought so. Vicious, mindless, perverse, prone to mayhem, pillaging and not above stewing other sentient beings in a cooking pot, I came to learn that there were precious few worthy qualities about any of them. The only good Orc is a dead Orc! Right….?

Continue reading