It’s Pennsic War time again, and once again I am not there. This summer I certainly have the time to go to Pennsic, but I can’t justify spending the money, given that I’m still looking for work. In any case, with no local practices running, I’ve spent the bulk of my SCA time this summer working on refitting my armor and getting back into shape.
And given the news from Pennsic this morning, I’m probably happy not being there.
Rather like the now-infamous Caid Swaztika Incident I wrote about a few months ago, there’s a tempest brewing over an allegedly racist incident by an SCA royal, and it’s spreading quickly through the huge gathering of SCAdians and spilling out onto social media. The first indication I saw of this was a peer of Ealdormere, a friend of mine, who shared an image with the hashtag #IStandWithDavius but without any context. I’ve done some digging this morning, including an FB messenger conversation with my friend, and found out some – but I suspect not all – of the story.
What I know currently is complicated, so bear with me while I sum up:
First, the King of Trimaris has been accused of being racist based on some of his public and social-media statements. I took a quick look at his Facebook page when someone provided his mundane name to me and yes, I’d have to agree with that perception. He’s clearly anti-left, he shows a lot of alt-right memes on his FB page and he is skimming the borderline of white supremacy, homophobia and especially transphobia… which is, of course, about par for the course for a hard-right-leaning American in this, the Trump era. The thing is… those are just his public posts; I have no way of knowing what he’s saying privately, but I based on his public posts I would not be surprised if the accusation of racism has merit. There’s a definite trend towards a person who, based on others I’ve met who also display that sort of content, is not going to be invited to my place for tea and scones anytime soon. (And yes, yes, yes he has the right to hold whatever political opinions he wants however odious I might personally find them; can we skip yet another “you libtards are just as intolerant, etc.” discussion and keep going, please?)
Second, the King of Trimaris has decided, over the concerted opposition of the Peerage orders of Trimaris, to appoint an openly racist friend of his to the Order of Defence. There are allegations that he’s publicly stated he’s doing so specifically to piss off the membership of that Order; I have not been able to ascertain the truth of that statement (although if this allegation is true it wouldn’t be the first time a royal has done something just to stick it to someone, and probably won’t be the last.) The elevation of the gentleman in question occurred this week at Pennsic – and tellingly, the ceremony was held in a private camp, not in open court.
Third, Davius St. Jacques, a well-respected Master of the Order of Defense and – importantly – a person of colour who feels effected by the alleged racism, has surrendered the regalia of his office to the heirs of Trimaris and refuses to use the title of Master in protest of said elevation. He then issued the following public statement on Facebook:
“Let all who see these words know their Highnesses have accepted my Collar and White Scarf back. My Crown has shown me that their oatha of protection and fealty mean nothing to them and i can not in good conscience wear the trappings of an office they do not wish me or mine to perform. Know however, that the trappings of the office maketh not the man. A person can be given the right to wear the items of an order but it doesnt make one worthy of the order …. and neither does NOT wearing the trappings keep one from proving they ARE worthy… I plan to put all my effort into proving this. So if you see me, please take note that Don is the proper term of address for a member of the Order of the Golden Rapier which is the only Rapier Award i hold independent of the Kingdom of Trimaris. I love you guys , but this is a thing i feel o need to do. I can not serve a Crown that has broken its oaths to me. I WILL not bring glory to a Throne that openly mocks my Order and denigrates my service. Words by Davius Saint Jacques“ [All spelling and grammar is as per the original]
Much of the social media tempest this morning is focused around Davius’ decision and public stance, and I feel that I need to weigh in: I do not know Don Davius, although I have heard of him and respect his reputation. People that I do know and respect hold him in very high regard and have made public statements of support for him. From the outside looking in – I would also like to make a statement:
It is clear that Don Davius feels strongly about this and has made a stand of principle that I both respect and support. It cannot have been an easy decision for him to make and in taking this action he has upheld both the ideals of the Order of Defence and his personal honour; indeed, I feel that he has given the Order of Defence an important precedent to live up to – the defence not only of personal honour but the honour of the Society as a whole. I salute Don Davius’ integrity and hope I will someday have the opportunity to tell him so personally, right before I buy him a glass of whatever he’s drinking at the time.
Now, you might be asking yourself, Why does this matter? Or: I don’t play in the SCA. Or: I don’t play in Trimaris. Or: I don’t involve myself in politics when I play.
It matters. I know there are those who are trying to dismiss this as a “perfect storm” of stuff that we’d normally tolerate: the BoD has just updated the social media and hate speech policies; the SCA is a monument to Sayre’s Law; this is happening at Pennsic, which is The Big Event in the SCA year… but we can’t just shrug and let it slide. This issue exists in context and we can’t ignore it.
Historical reenactment, even reenactment done as loosely as we do it in the Society for Creative Anachronism, is a part of the broader culture. Yes, it’s a game, but that game attracts attention from outside the reenactment subculture, and some of that attention has been negative. It’s becoming increasingly clear, over the past few years, that medieval reenactment is being deliberately subverted by the racist extreme-right. This trend is addressed in The Public Medievalist’s excellent special series Race, Racism and the Middle Ages, so I’m not going to re-hash it all that much here, but this is an issue that exists and it is a serious problem in the reenactment community… especially if you’re a person of colour, or (like me) a member of the LGBTQ community.
You’re not in Trimaris? You don’t do politics? This is something that is happening across the SCA in whatever kingdom you play in (and in HEMA and other reenactment groups, too). One comment I saw on the Ealdormere Kingdom page was “I am honestly shocked and disgusted that openly racist people are allowed in the SCA” and I had to bite back a pretty scathing reply. The sad thing is that, yes, openly racist people do participate in the SCA, in the same way that openly homophobic people do, or openly misogynistic people do. Even here in Ealdormere… I’ve had some run-ins. There’s at least one Peer in this Kingdom whose real-life bigotry is an open secret. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The SCA has its flaws, and it’s greatest flaw is that SCAdians will tolerate any level of injustice and unfairness in order to preserve their hobby. A lot of people will give the bigots a pass because they’re not doing it openly in the SCA. Refusing to act against bigots because you don’t “do politics” is itself a political stance, and one which I have little respect for.
Another SCA blogger who’s writing I enjoy, Baroness Maol Mide ingen Medra, touched on this issue and the reason we can’t ignore it with her excellent post Tolerating Intolerance: The Trap of SCA Courtesy:
“Is it courtly to allow a member of the SCA to spew hateful rhetoric online and dismiss it simply because “it was online” not “at an event”? Nah. When this happens with a known member of the SCA and they continue to get away with it, they have become a representative of our group online who is being defended by other members of our society.”
Ay, there’s the rub.
When you identify yourself as a member of the SCA on social media – even a normal member, much less the royalty of an entire kingdom – you take on the responsibility of being the face of the organization. If the SCA gets a reputation as a place where racism and bigotry are tolerated, even rewarded, then that’s the end of the organization in the long run. If the current King of Trimaris is presenting a face of racism and intolerance… that’s a problem. If he’s rewarding another of his openly racist friends with a Peerage… that’s a problem. If he’s doing it in clear defiance of the Peerage’s wishes… that’s a problem.
And if one of those Peers feels so strongly about it that he feels he must publicly protest it… that’s not a problem.
I’ve seen a few comments online condemning Don Davius’ action as exacerbating the situation and I simply cannot agree with that interpretation. From the newest newbie to the eldest Duke, we should all be confronting the racists in our midst. We should be doing it in our personal lives, we should be doing it in our professional lives, and we should damned well be doing it in this, our hobby. Yes, the SCA is a game and yes, our Kingdoms and our Peerages and our titles are all make-believe… but they’re also representations of ideals. And ideals matter even in the SCA. No, strike that: Especially in the SCA.
We are consciously trying to make a space where people are welcomed, where we have high ideals and try to live up to them, where we embrace the romantic notion of “The Middle Ages as they Should Have Been.” This is perhaps a strange thing to try and do, or a futile one or even just a silly one… but I’ve never believed that. Despite my disappointments with the Society and its people over the years and despite my own failures, I’ve always believed that it has done me good and is a worthy thing to be involved with, that our goal of creating a better community, however quixotic, is an intrinsically noble one.
I’ve also seen several people online declare that this is the last straw and they’re leaving the Society. I strongly oppose that course of action: If you quit a group over racism, the racists win. We must not surrender the SCA to bigots. What Don Davius has done is the correct action – he has made a public statement, and a grand gesture of resistance… and he has not quit.
The SCA is a reflection of society as a whole, good and bad. We have a responsibility to try and make the Society – and society in general – a better, more inclusive place for all. We need to send the message, endlessly: Racism is not acceptable. Homophobia is not acceptable. Misogyny is not acceptable. Bigotry is not welcome here. It’s not necessarily going to be an easy fight… but it is, I think, a fight worthy of the effort.
Before you comment on this post, read About Me and My Blog for the rules. Given the high pitch of emotion around this issue in the SCA, I’m going to be aggressively enforcing the commenting rules for this one.
Update #2: Seriously, read the rules of my blog. Especially #9: I respond rather poorly to insults, attempts at censorship and threats in general so if that’s all you’ve got to contribute, don’t bother.
All death threats are being recorded and reported.
Update #3: As I deal with the fallout from this post, I’ve published a second part to this essay: Confronting Racism in the SCA, Part II.