Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

SF: discuss futuristic sci-fi series, ideas, and crossovers.

Moderator: NecronLord

Post Reply
User avatar
Bedlam
Jedi Master
Posts: 1246
Joined: 2006-09-23 11:12am
Location: Edinburgh, UK

Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Bedlam » 2018-01-07 05:14am

Looking back at the last season of Dr Who it occurred to me that in every episode set in the past there was at least one black character from that time period seen on screen with various levels of importance: -

Thin Ice - One of the street kids is black (and one is Asian, I think), as are several of the circus performers and at least one soldier.
Empress of Mars - One of he Empire Soldiers is black.
The Eaters of Light - At least one of the Roman Legionaries is black.
Twice upon a time - I'm not 100% sure but I thought I saw at least one black soldier in the British forces.

I don't claim to be a historical expert but as far as I know in each of these situations there would be a chance of a black character being present, with a varying probability but the odds of all of them turning up seems unlikely and so to me seems to give an unreasonable view of race in the past.

Do you think this is a reasonable diversion from reality to show the existence of variously races in other times and places? Or does it run the risk of painting a roser picture than there actually was? Or do you think that the ratio's shown in the various episodes and the season as a who are a resonable respresentation of reality? (As much as stories with Victorians on Mars and a light eating monster rampaging over Scotland would be)?

Q99
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 1884
Joined: 2015-05-16 01:33pm

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Q99 » 2018-01-07 06:41am

The Roman Empire was next to Africa, it had tons of black people, and thus any former Roman territory had some. England had black people for a long time. Vikings got everywhere and helped others get everywhere. People traveled way earlier than credit is given.

More historically, it’s the other way around, historicals that are too white are the ones fudging.

Patroklos
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2310
Joined: 2009-04-14 11:00am

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Patroklos » 2018-01-07 07:06am

The Romans controlled a good portion of Africa itself.

The issue here is ratios. If I randomly scooped up a distribution of Romans in England am I likely to get a black African? A yes or no to that question does not refute the existence of them at all.

I would say you are likely to get an African in the Roman instance, probably not likely to get a black African. Yes, it extremely contrived for all those situations to have that representation, though not impossible, but then it wasn't a random casting that led to them on the show in those positions either.

User avatar
Broomstick
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 25667
Joined: 2004-01-02 07:04pm
Location: Industrial armpit of the US Midwest
Contact:

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Broomstick » 2018-01-07 10:18am

Bedlam wrote:
2018-01-07 05:14am
Do you think this is a reasonable diversion from reality to show the existence of variously races in other times and places? Or does it run the risk of painting a roser picture than there actually was?
What is "rosy" about the depiction of the street kids in "Thin Ice"?

If it helps any, here's Mark Gatiss discussing the issue of an African soldier in Queen Victoria's army

We were raised seeing almost exclusively all-white history. We know for a fact that Europe was more racially and ethnically diverse than that depiction. While the last season of Doctor Who is probably not historically accurate either, it's no less reasonable than prior depictions being white washed. I, for one, am happy to see more diversity in the show, and more diversity in the depiction of history. Presenting them as part of the normal background is entirely appropriate.

And yes, there was a black soldier in "Twice Upon a Time".
A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Leonard Nimoy.

Now I did a job. I got nothing but trouble since I did it, not to mention more than a few unkind words as regard to my character so let me make this abundantly clear. I do the job. And then I get paid.- Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of Serenity, which sums up my feelings regarding the lawsuit discussed here.

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. - John F. Kennedy

Sam Vimes Theory of Economic Injustice

User avatar
Thanas
Magister
Magister
Posts: 30759
Joined: 2004-06-26 07:49pm

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Thanas » 2018-01-07 10:25am

Patroklos wrote:
2018-01-07 07:06am
The Romans controlled a good portion of Africa itself.

The issue here is ratios. If I randomly scooped up a distribution of Romans in England am I likely to get a black African? A yes or no to that question does not refute the existence of them at all.

I would say you are likely to get an African in the Roman instance, probably not likely to get a black African. Yes, it extremely contrived for all those situations to have that representation, though not impossible, but then it wasn't a random casting that led to them on the show in those positions either.
Probably there were few black legionnaires (as those tended to be recruited from citizen colonies) so it would most likely depend on the time in question to make it likely or unlikely.

But if Mary Beard says there is enough evidence for black Africans in roman times in Britain to get the result as depicted (I haven't watched the episode so correct me if I am wrong and there were more than one or two) then I believe her.
Whoever says "education does not matter" can try ignorance
------------
A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! - Chief Judge Haywood
------------
My LPs

User avatar
Bedlam
Jedi Master
Posts: 1246
Joined: 2006-09-23 11:12am
Location: Edinburgh, UK

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Bedlam » 2018-01-07 02:06pm

Broomstick wrote:
2018-01-07 10:18am
What is "rosy" about the depiction of the street kids in "Thin Ice"?
Well the actors and actresses were probably significantly more healthy looking than than children really living on the street in that time period.

Although from the Rosy point of view I was thinking more of the victorian soldier, who was, despite being somewhat bullied by a colleague not really treated any different from any of the other troops.

Your story prooves there was one black soldier in that situation but what would the odds be if you picked a random british platoon of that time period that you'd pick the only one which had that black soldier?
Thanas wrote:
2018-01-07 10:25am
But if Mary Beard says there is enough evidence for black Africans in roman times in Britain to get the result as depicted (I haven't watched the episode so correct me if I am wrong and there were more than one or two) then I believe her.
The situation is that a legion in Scotland has been slaughtered by the locals and a monster leaving about half a dozen or so deserters being the only survivors. Of these there about 4 speaking parts, one of whom is black (and identifies as homosexual rather than bisexual which the show depicts as being normal for the romans).

As I said I recognise that each of the situations is on an individual basis possible but is it suitable that each occurs if unlikely?

User avatar
Thanas
Magister
Magister
Posts: 30759
Joined: 2004-06-26 07:49pm

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Thanas » 2018-01-07 02:53pm

Bedlam wrote:
2018-01-07 02:06pm
The situation is that a legion in Scotland has been slaughtered by the locals and a monster leaving about half a dozen or so deserters being the only survivors. Of these there about 4 speaking parts, one of whom is black (and identifies as homosexual rather than bisexual which the show depicts as being normal for the romans).

As I said I recognise that each of the situations is on an individual basis possible but is it suitable that each occurs if unlikely?
Well, having a legion slaughtered in scotland is dumb on its own. I'd be more angry about that than about the depiction of people to be honest.
Whoever says "education does not matter" can try ignorance
------------
A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! - Chief Judge Haywood
------------
My LPs

User avatar
Bedlam
Jedi Master
Posts: 1246
Joined: 2006-09-23 11:12am
Location: Edinburgh, UK

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Bedlam » 2018-01-07 03:03pm

Thanas wrote:
2018-01-07 02:53pm
Bedlam wrote:
2018-01-07 02:06pm
The situation is that a legion in Scotland has been slaughtered by the locals and a monster leaving about half a dozen or so deserters being the only survivors. Of these there about 4 speaking parts, one of whom is black (and identifies as homosexual rather than bisexual which the show depicts as being normal for the romans).

As I said I recognise that each of the situations is on an individual basis possible but is it suitable that each occurs if unlikely?
Well, having a legion slaughtered in scotland is dumb on its own. I'd be more angry about that than about the depiction of people to be honest.
Well I think the extra dimensional monster did most of the actual slaughtering, from what I recall either the locals activelly released it to deal with the invaders or after the locals mostly got killed by the legion and there was noone to keep it locked up any more.

User avatar
Captain Seafort
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 1581
Joined: 2008-10-10 11:52am
Location: Blighty

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Captain Seafort » 2018-01-07 03:07pm

Thanas wrote:
2018-01-07 02:53pm
Well, having a legion slaughtered in scotland is dumb on its own. I'd be more angry about that than about the depiction of people to be honest.
I take it you're not a fan of the popular story/theory/myth/whatever of the Ninth Hispania then?
Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe - Albert Einstein

User avatar
Thanas
Magister
Magister
Posts: 30759
Joined: 2004-06-26 07:49pm

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Thanas » 2018-01-07 06:18pm

Captain Seafort wrote:
2018-01-07 03:07pm
Thanas wrote:
2018-01-07 02:53pm
Well, having a legion slaughtered in scotland is dumb on its own. I'd be more angry about that than about the depiction of people to be honest.
I take it you're not a fan of the popular story/theory/myth/whatever of the Ninth Hispania then?
I am a big fan of rosemary sutcliff's fiction. I love her novels and she really took great care in her writings, using the common knowledge of the time. But I am not a fan of distorting evidence to fit some British/scottish myth of bravely resisting the romans. We got records showing men of the ninth serving in Germania around 20 years after the legion was "destroyed" according to British "historians".

It was entirely plausible for Sutcliff too make that mistake because the records were not published back then but anybody who believes that myth today is just ill-informed at best.
Whoever says "education does not matter" can try ignorance
------------
A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! - Chief Judge Haywood
------------
My LPs

Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30064
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-01-10 11:55am

To be fair, Doctor Who is riddled with deviations from real life history like the repeated alien invasions; the Romans having a legion get eaten by a giant space monster is pretty much par for the course.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

Q99
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 1884
Joined: 2015-05-16 01:33pm

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Q99 » 2018-01-11 09:18am

Bedlam wrote:
2018-01-07 02:06pm
The situation is that a legion in Scotland has been slaughtered by the locals and a monster leaving about half a dozen or so deserters being the only survivors. Of these there about 4 speaking parts, one of whom is black (and identifies as homosexual rather than bisexual which the show depicts as being normal for the romans).

As I said I recognise that each of the situations is on an individual basis possible but is it suitable that each occurs if unlikely?
It's entirely suitable.

Note that black people in England wouldn't just be Roman, but anyone who'd travel/trade by ship.

We have evidence of East Asian people living in London at that time, and they're a fair sight farther.

the University of York studied 7 decapitated Romans in England, and one of 'em was of Mid East origin.

And look through People of Color in Medieval Art.


One of a group being black is probably more likely, especially in a place that had a lot of trade, than your normal cast of hundreds all being lily white.

User avatar
loomer
Sith Devotee
Posts: 2976
Joined: 2005-11-20 07:57am
Contact:

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by loomer » 2018-02-06 07:42am

I would recommend extreme caution in using MedievalPOC as anything close to reliable.

EDIT:
What the fucking fuck? How did I not see how old this thread was until the second I posted?

Necromantic egg on my face.
"You're wonderful, and you're alive, and you deserve every little bit of happiness that the universe has to offer anyone, no matter who or what you like. Never forget that." - Achewood

User avatar
Thanas
Magister
Magister
Posts: 30759
Joined: 2004-06-26 07:49pm

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by Thanas » 2018-02-06 07:51am

Me, I'll allow it.
Whoever says "education does not matter" can try ignorance
------------
A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! - Chief Judge Haywood
------------
My LPs

User avatar
loomer
Sith Devotee
Posts: 2976
Joined: 2005-11-20 07:57am
Contact:

Re: Depiction of racial history in the last season of Dr Who

Post by loomer » 2018-02-06 10:12pm

To offer some context as to my month later posting, medievalpoc's goals are mostly admirable but the methodology is shaky and the source is unreliable. Tumblr drama is always a mess to try and parse, so I'm going to post my understanding of the varied problems and people can make up their own mind.

1. MPOC's actual scholarly footwork is extremely lacking. The best single stop illustration of this I've found is here. While some of it is nitpicky - calling art from the contemparies of proper Victorian england Victorian for the ease of access of readers is probably fine, for instance - other elements of it are entirely valid criticisms. There are a lot more floating around here and there, but it illustrates (literally, in this case) one of the core problems. MPOC does not validly date or categorize art. When the bulk of your corpus is dissecting art to prove black or asian people existed in Europe at the time, dating the art completely wrongly is a major problem.

Quoting directly from one of their posts, "People can quibble about minutiae as much as they’d like, and I honestly don’t mind the discussion, but when it comes down to it, medievalpoc is really about making an immediate visual impact that has changed how I view history, and I hope the same can be said for people who read these posts." Source. When the minutiae are off by decades or even centuries, reliability goes out the window even if the goal of 'immediate visual impact' is actually successful.

They're also a believer in extensive pre-Columbus contact with the Americas, specifically Egyptian contact. Myself, I'm also a tentative believer that this is possible if very unlikely (to explain, I think there's some very compelling questions but not enough evidence to confirm any such hypothesis and a fairly large pile against - but I've spent 18 years exploring conspiracy and 'secret history' nuttery, so I'm pretty sure my brain is mush on this front whether or not there actually are. It's hard enough keeping the nasty theories from seeping in, let alone the benign ones, so I'm sure I've got some minor memetic 'contamination'.) but when talking historiographical reliability, it needs to be considered. Here we are. In fairness, they are presented without comment, but I believe the context is fairly clear.

2. MPOC has some... 'ideas' about race. Specifically, he thinks Jews are White in the context of Whiteness. This is true, to a certain extent, in some areas in relatively modern periods (and horrifyingly untrue for other places in the same time frames). It is not true for most of human history even when talking about the most albino-cavefish pale Jewish people, who by the nature of the ideology around Whiteness were essentially categorically excluded from the label. Why is this important? Well, when you're analyzing artworks from time periods where Jews aren't 'White' through a lens where they are, you're importing some inaccuracies to say the least. Her basic premise is that Jews weren't Racially othered, just portrayed as demonic beasts, and that Jewishness is not ethnic but purely religious, so portrayals of 'white Jews' in historical art aren't a subject worthy of examination under the banner. Judaism may be a religion, but it's a religion with extremely strong ethnic ties both then and now, and believing that a painting - hypothetical, here - labelled 'A Jew' that just pictured a horned devil isn't racial in its othering is like saying one saying 'A Black' that just depicts a gorilla isn't. It's the same phenomenon of dehumanization and denigration on ethnic grounds, even if the root of the ethnic grounds for one is religious. This ties in with the reliability of MPOC as a person, which we'll touch on below.

3. MPOC has some, uh, reliability issues on a more personal level. I'm not one for the tumblr witchhunts, but I think it should be considered in this case in the same way we consider the personal identities of afrocentrists in Black Egypt arguments - it's illuminating background. MPOC's ethnic background is '40% Native American and 25% Polska Romani'. The background of her Roma ancestry is that her grandmother/great-grandmother (he varies) was smuggled out of Poland via Germany in a suitcase by a family of 'white Jews' during the Holocaust. Make of that what you will - a few Roma and Jewish commentors have found it pretty absurd and offensive, but I don't know enough on the subject of the Holocaust to personally discount it entirely, even if it seems to strain credibility. On its own, this isn't bad, right? Well, the hole gets deeper.

He claims to be of Lakota descent, from the Arizona reservation. Bluntly, there are no Lakota reservations in Arizona, and while that doesn't prevent a Lakota chap from moving there, it's a little peculiar that they offered this as the 'connection' between the Lakota and Arizona. It isn't a connection of any significance between the Lakota and Arizona - it's a lawsuit based on a treaty that gave a scant legal right to action and one of the only possible avenues of that action. Now, for further complication, depending on if the ID is correct the descent may actually be Cherokee, in which case MPOC is passing herself off as a different tribal nation for some reason.

She also added in '10%' mexican later, on the basis that her Native American father was 'Mexican enough to grow a beard'. Now, I find this objectionable on two levels as a marker of reliability. First, it's kinda racist. Second, ambiguous family links are almost inherently unreliable, and incorporating them wholesale into your identity and then using them to speak over people whose ancestry is clear is not good practice. I admit this is a personal objection, and it comes from a similar place - my great-great grandmother has no birth or immigration records and was known simply as 'Black Nell' by my abusive grandfather, who would use the name to drive my grandmother into a rage. To me, that sure sounds like Black Nell was indigenous - but I don't use it as a license to portray myself as an expert on indigenous cultures of Australia or to shut down debate. So make of the evidence what you will, and of the acknowledged bias what you will as well.

So, that's more or less it. Posting MPOC as a reliable source is a goddamn minefield of tumblr drama, lies on both sides, and sloppy or outright incorrect historiography and anti-elitism. It's a goddamn shame because the basic idea - 'hey guys, there were black people and asian people and indian people in history too, even in medieval europe, so please stop attacking people for asking for representation since it's actually historically accurate!' - is a really good one, and in fairness, MPOC can be a great resource despite the lazy historiography. It's a great source of possible examples, but it's also one you need to do a lot of fact checking on, and one you need to be aware of the flawed approach to Whiteness, Colour, and Other in historical art when using.

Here's the list of links I mentioned earlier. The standard Tumblr caveats apply, so I suggest keeping most opinion to what MPOC herself has said or to verifiable screenshots etc rather than some of the more 'out there' stuff about him.
http://witchy-moomin.tumblr.com/post/84 ... -i-dislike
http://medievalpoc.tumblr.com/post/7120 ... zation-and
http://omgstopbeingashittyperson.tumblr ... two-spirit - one of those ones to exercise caution with, but any screenshots or linked posts that can be verified are fair game.
https://www.reddit.com/r/badhistory/com ... n_history/
http://cephiedvariable.tumblr.com/post/ ... -you-heres - the legal argument is unimportant for our purposes, but much of CV's commentary is illuminating.
"You're wonderful, and you're alive, and you deserve every little bit of happiness that the universe has to offer anyone, no matter who or what you like. Never forget that." - Achewood

Post Reply