Last night with a couple of friends I popped across the border to the Rhydderich Hael fight practice; while I wasn’t in armour (my armouring project will, I hope, be finished this long weekend) I had an excellent time finding the site, meeting new people, and generally hanging out. They had more than a dozen heavy fighters in harness and almost as many fencers; clearly this is a practice that I should be making an effort to get to as often as possible.
Not that it was much of an effort – the practice site is less than an hour’s drive from my place, and in fact closer to me than the Ben Dunfirth fight practice here in Ealdormere, which is the next-closest practice at the moment. Crossing the border was relatively hassle-free as well, we had more delays due to construction at the Peace Bridge than at the border itself. All in all, it was a good experience and a great night.
And when I got home shortly before midnight, it got even better. I’d turned off my data roaming when I crossed the border because I don’t have an international roaming plan (it still seems weird sometimes that “thirty kilometres” equals “international” now that we live in the Niagara) so I didn’t get the news until I got home, but the Society for Creative Anachronism published a Revised Mission Statement yesterday evening.
In July, the Board of Directors published an updated Mission Statement with the language “The SCA is devoted to the research and re-creation of pre-seventeenth century skills, arts, combat, and culture, focused on Western Europe and its cultural contacts, and employing knowledge of history to enrich the lives of participants through events, demonstrations, and other educational presentations and activities.”
Sounds good, right? Well, no.
The wording “focused on Western Europe and its cultural contacts” is problematic; explicitly placing the focus on Western Europe implies the exclusion of non-European cultures, or at least the requirement that we only view them through a European lens. While I doubt very much that the Board of Directors intended to exclude or disenfranchise anyone, it inadvertently did just that: People of colour, non-Europeans of all backgrounds and even those who were simply interested in more than European medievalism were all left out of the big picture.
This, of course, generated some pushback, especially #OperationAvalanche, organized by Lord Stelios Amenophis Onuris (who gained some notoriety this summer as the SCA Black Panther for his amazing functional fighting kit inspired by the Marvel movie) and I’m pleased to report that, thanks largely to the efforts of Lord Stelios and those who supported him, the new Revised Mission Statement now omits the problematic phrase and simply states “The SCA is devoted to the research and re-creation of pre-seventeenth century skills, arts, combat, culture, and employing knowledge of history to enrich the lives of participants through events, demonstrations, and other educational presentations and activities.”
I know there are some who were dismissive of this effort as unnecessary or pointless or merely symbolic, but frankly I think it was very necessary. Words matter. Symbolism matters. Representation matters. By focusing on Western Europe there was the implication that non-Europeans don’t matter.
Once again, let me be clear: I’d be extremely shocked if anyone on the BoD ever intended to exclude non-Europeans. But that exclusion has occurred in the SCA, however unintentionally. If you’re focused on Western Europe, you’re simply going to get a lot of people of European ancestry interested in the group and you’re not going to get a lot of people with African ancestry, or Asian ancestry, or Native American ancestry or so on. And why would you? People do historical reenactment because it’s interesting and it makes them feel a link to the past. And very often, that link is a profoundly personal one – you’re doing what your ancestors would have done.
I know that’s a big part of the appeal for me.
This morning in the SCA, with that restriction removed, we’re casting a far wider net for reenactment and recruitment. If a SCAdian wants to explore the medieval-era cultures of central- and southern-Africa, there’s no reason they can’t, or shouldn’t: the Shilluk, the Sao, the Kanem-Bornu… how many European-focused re-enactors have even heard of these civilizations? (Not me – I had to Google them in order to write that paragraph… and now will be spending my afternoon reading up on them because I’m just that kind of nerd.) What if you’re interested in China during the Five Dynasties period, or the myriad brawling kingdoms and empires of medieval India? Or maybe you want to research the people who built Angkor Wat? Or want to learn about the Cahokia civilization here in North America, which reached its peak at the same time as Europeans were fighting the Crusades? And so on and so on; by placing an arbitrary limitation on where we recreate history, vast and fascinating swathes of human culture were being excluded.
But no more.
I applaud the BoD for realizing that they had inadvertently placed a limitation on how we play and who we play with, and for removing that restriction as quickly as they have done. I also salute Lord Stelios and all those who worked to bring this problem to the Board’s attention.
This is a win-win-win situation as far as I’m concerned: People saw a problem and brought it to the BoD in a respectful manner; the BoD addressed the problem with celerity; and the SCA is stronger and more inclusive than ever because of it. With the removal of a eight simple words, a completely arbitrary – and frankly artificial — restriction has been lifted from the Society has made the SCA a much bigger playground.
It’s been a rough summer for a lot of people in the SCA. There’s more work to be done, but this is a victory. Let’s acknowledge that, and celebrate it.
Lord Fulk Beauxarmes