I have no clue, but I just learned some stuff.
When I was a kid, I read a lot of science fiction. There wasn’t much fantasy back then (Lord of the Rings?). Then I left fiction behind entirely for a very long time, unless you count Archaeology as fiction which it sometimes is. When I did re-embrace fiction in literature it was mostly classic feminist stuff (Marge Piercy, Rita Mae Brown, etc.) which I read for the humor and humanity, trash adventure fiction (yes, including Tom Clancy) which I read because that was the best way to understand a world that I had interest in (for reasons I may discuss another time) and be entertained at the same time, or whatever was local (William Kennedy for Albany, Melville, Kidder, Thoreau, and various historical fiction). But not much of any of it.
But a few years ago, it occurred to me while talking to my friend Emily, who was a voracious reader of juvenile fantasy fiction, that a way to maintain cultural connection and overlap with my daughter, Julia was to read her stuff, at least to some extent. So now, I read (or re-read) much of what she is assigned in school, but also, all that great literature that was not available to me when I was a kid, like Harry Potter.
And this has extended to TV. So, pursuant to this, I’ve watched the first couple of seasons of Merlin and a whole Tardis full of the neo Dr. Who (way, way, better than the original, though the original is quaint) and a few other bits and pieces.
One of the things I like about British TV, including Merlin, Dr. Who, as well as a few other recently produced series (MI-5, for instance), is that they do something American TV has either not discovered or does poorly (most of the time, though there are exceptions): That is to be mostly “color blind” in a rather intriguing way, while still (and this part might not be important) occasionally dealing with race. This includes actually having dark skinned characters in significant roles other than in “black shows” as well as having people act culturally/ethnicaly mostly independently of their stereotypes.
So, in Merlin, Guinevere is black. I’m pretty sure that brown people were hanging around in non-significant numbers in Europe at various times in the past and with varying degrees of identity separation or status vis-a-vis people of other colors, but in Arthurian proto-Britain, I’d be surprised to find Africans at all, though I have no opinion as to how people from the southern continent would be regarded or how they would regard their pinkish compatriots. But I could be wrong about that. I don’t have expertise in that time period and geography. But in the TV series, she seems to be just a person who happens to be “black” and there is not a mention of her ethnicity of which I’m aware. She is a servant, which is kind of a black thing to do in white society, but I’m not sure what that means in this case. (Please feel free to educate me on what I’m missing here, i.e., is Guinevere African in the original myths? I have no idea).
Dr. Who is even more interesting. For instance, the pairing in couples of people of contrasting completions is almost routine, yet never mentioned. Do Americans notice “interracial marriages” or other relationships while Brits don’t? Or does everyone notice it but not say much about it? Regardless, I’m glad that Dr. Who is watched widely by kids in the US because the nonchalant interaction of people who look rather different (not even counting aliens) is good, basic, progressive modeling.
And, I have to tell you, although everyone loves and appreciates Rose, and Amy Pond really needs Rory in her life or there would definitely be funny business between her and The Doctor, three is no doubt in my mind that Martha is the best companion ever. I don’t know the whole mythos (does anyone?) but it seems to me that Martha has become the most Dr.-like, but in her own distinctive Martharian way, to the extent that I could easily imagine a spin-off based on her, but not for the other women.
And that’s about it. I have very little knowledge of pop fantasy beyond what I’ve just alluded to. And, most importantly, I know nothing about fandom. I don’t read fan sites, I don’t read fan literature (is there even a fan literature?). This is why a recent blog (re-)post by RVC Bard was enlightening to me. Bard discusses the treatment of Martha Jones, Tara Thornton, Guinevere and Mercedes Jones (and I have no clue who Thornton and Jones II are) … all “Black women on major network television shows,” in relation to fandom. Apparently they are not treated well (at least to some extent) in ways that match the pattern for not being treated well for racialistic reasons, rather than, say, being a secondary role reasons or being female reasons (though that too, but not to the same extent) or other reasons that fandom may treat one badly, whatever they may be.
Since, as I say, I have no exposure whatsoever to “fandom” I did not know this. And it makes me not want to bother with fandom even more so than I was already not bothering with it … a sort of negative-bothering, if you will. Also, I am not surprised. Had I thought about it, I would have predicted it.
So even when (and if, but I think when) producers or creators of pop culture bother to at least try to model racial indifference they get racialized behavior at least to some extent. Shame on fandom for that, assuming RVC Bard is correct.
You don’t have to take my word for it. You can read the post here.