From “Robin Hood” to “Ivanhoe” to “Hamilton”

I forgot “Hamilton” was airing on Disney Plus tonight.

In my defence, I don’t follow musical theater much and I’m not overly familiar with the music from “Hamilton.” I have been curious to see it, and had planned to nab tickets when it came to the Kennedy Center in September.

Thanks to the coronavirus, that’s been postponed (coronavirus, you beeyatch!).

But back to my forgetfulness.

Tonight, in addition to forgetting I had a skype date with some girlfriends, I also forgot about the airing of “Hamilton.” In fact, instead of watching “Hamilton,” I was watching “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” starring Errol Flynn.

If that doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because this version of the legend came out in 1938.

Yes, 1938. Yes, I am an old woman.

An old white woman.

Ivahnoe

I once read that in antebellum America, the most popular novel in the northern states was Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was a huge bestseller, and some argue its publication precipitated the conflict that became the Civil War.

In this same source (which I cannot currently remember, sorry!) I read that the most popular novel in the antebellum south was Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an anti-slavery novel, written by a black woman, which depicts the horrors of slavery and is the source of the name Jim Crow (as in racist Jim Crow laws).

Ivanhoe is a romance, set in medieval England, in which a Saxon knight fights for the liberation of Norman Richard the Lionheart, king of England, from captivity in Austria. It’s full of battles, witch trials, forbidden love, and features our friend Robin of Loxley (AKA Robin Hood).

I Grew Up with “Ivanhoe”

As a child, we had the 1952 film version on VHS. It starred Robert Taylor, Joan Fontaine and Elizabeth Taylor. It was romantic. It was glamorous and adventurous.

I watched it over and over again.

I have never seen a film version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (probably because there hasn’t been a Hollywood production of it since the silent film era, when white actors in blackface played the leading characters and danced in almost every scene).

Whitewashing Literature

I have never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Nor, in fact, have I read many novels by authors of color. I’ve read some hispanic authors, south Asian and middle eastern authors. But I’ve never read anything written by a black American author.

Is this racist?

Yup.

By reading predominantly novels written by white men and women, I am devaluing literature by people of color. I am also missing out on a large part of what reading is supposed to do for you: opening your eyes to different experiences.

What does this have to do with “Hamilton” and “Robin Hood”?

Just the fact that I forgot about the airing of “Hamilton” because I was watching an old movie starring nothing but white actors shows how well entrenched I am in my white world.

I’m not trying to draw parallels between “Hamilton” and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or even to belittle the quality of “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (it’s a fun, swashbuckling adventure!).

I’m just musing on how the choices we make (like which films to watch and which books to read) can keep us in our little white bubbles.

What To Do?

Branch out. That’s what I’m trying to do.

The book Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad has been helpful in opening my eyes to the extent of my own complicity in racism.

I recommend it as a starting place for anyone who really wants to know how we are complicit, and how to break the cycle.

Reading for Change

29. Good Vibes: What makes you smile? What makes you happy?

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

You all know I’m a knitter. I’ve written about the joys of being a process knitter, and how much pleasure knitting brings me.

Right now, in these times of isolation, stress and turmoil, I’ve turned to knitting more than ever.

Reading to Escape

Reading is also one of my favorite activities. Mostly I read novels, but I also enjoy biographies and histories.

For me, reading is a way to escape. I’ve read challenging books, books that take me out of my comfort zone.

But, especially now, I’m reaching for more escapist literature, or comfort reading. Jane Austen, Alexander McCall Smith, lighter fiction, mystery novels…

Time for a New Reading List?

As the country seems to be coming apart around us, we’re all feeling anxious, stressed, angry and frightened. I feel helpless and powerless to make change.

Now is the time to take one of those activities that makes me happy (reading) and use it to become more informed.

Many people have published lists of recommended reading to learn about racism, white privilege, and how to become an ally. What has struck me, however, have been the lists of books for children.

Reading With the Kids

Reading is also one of our boys’ favorite activities, and seeing them read is one of my greatest sources of joy. Author Christine Taylor-Butler tweeted earlier this month that for every one book about racism you read to a child, please “provide 20 joyful books.”

But not just any joyful books. Books in which children of color are featured as the main characters, doing the same things that white children do, because all children do them.

One book like this that I grew up with was The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Another that we recently listened to on the Julie’s Library podcast was Tía Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina and illustrated by Claudio Munoz.

Some Resources

Here’s an article from the New York Times that lists some great books for kids—not just books on racism, but also books in which children of color are the protagonists.

On the Julie’s Library website there is also a link to a list of books to read to kids to help support conversations about race, racism and resistance.

Learning Together

While I delve into a new and challenging reading list, I can introduce more diverse literature to my children and help them grow into anti-racists.

We can learn together as a family. That makes me feel empowered.

That, and donating to organizations I believe in.

Fear, or Worse

26. Fear: What scares you a little? What do you feel when scared? How do you react?

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

I fear being paralyzed by fear. I also fear my own cluelessness.

For example. The other day, I was expecting a package. It was after dark, but I saw movement through the window next to our front door. I naturally assumed it was the delivery.

I opened the door to find myself looking at a black man. He was holding up his phone, getting ready to take a photo. At my feet on the doorstep was my package. As soon as I opened the door, I knew what was happening. The deliveryman had placed the package and was taking the photo that would show up in my delivery notification.

I understood that. I knew that that was the situation. I smiled, and I said, “What have you got for me?”

For an instant as I looked into his face, I saw fear in the man’s eyes. It took him just a split second longer to grasp that I had understood the situation correctly, and was smiling in a friendly way at him.

He apologized for delivering so late, said he was running behind. I said, “It’s no problem, it’s nothing urgent. I’m just excited it’s here. Good night, and take care!”

He said, “You, too,” gave me a smile and a wave as he walked off. I saw relief in his eyes.

What does this have to do my fear?

In the wake of the brutal killing of George Floyd last week, what has struck me most (other than the barbarous killing of a man over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill), was that the other police officers either participated, or stood aside.

They stood aside as their colleagues choked the life out of a man. Over a twenty dollar bill. Was the man’s life not worth more than twenty dollars?

Apparently not.

Fear at Play

I don’t know what kept them silent. Why they stood aside and watched (and by watching, condoned) what was happening.

I can only assume it was fear. Fear of the bully who was the lead perpetrator of the violence. Fear of the man they were crushing. Fear of losing their jobs. Fear of losing control over a population of black Americans they’ve been accustomed to subjugating.

My Fear

I fear finding myself in their situation, and doing as they did.

Either not speaking out to stop the violence out of fear, or tacitly condoning the crime by remaining silent.

We all like to think we’d be courageous enough to speak out in a situation like that. But I honestly don’t know that I would be. My own fear might paralyze me.

Fear, or Worse

Worse, my blindness to injustice might keep me silent.

I like to think that if I were witnessing a man being choked to death, I would say something. But what if the aggression isn’t so blatant? What if it’s a non-violent micro aggression against a person of color? Would I be brave enough to point it out?

Would I even realize it was happening?

I don’t know.

I must inform myself. I must pray for empathy. Pray that in whatever situation, I am able to put myself in the other person’s shoes and feel what it is like to be them. And then act accordingly.

Because what everyone needs to remember (or learn for God’s sake) is that

Black
Lives
Matter.