In the wake of the Society for Creative Anachronism’s Revised Mission Statement — published last week with a shift in the language to a much broader focus than merely concentrating on “Western Europe and its cultural contacts” — there has been a fair amount of discussion online about the meaning and intent of the shift, and what it will mean for the Society, and of course a fair bit of resistance to the change from some people.
When the changed language was announced, I made my opinion clear on this blog: Expanding the Society to have a broader focus and be more inclusive of non-white players is a triumph. There is no good reason to artificially limit a broad-based reenactment organization like the SCA to an ill-defined era and region which serves – however unintentionally — to exclude non-whites from participating.
The SCA has a diversity problem. Part of that problem stems from the fact that, frankly, for the last fifty years the SCA has been focused on a relatively narrow vision of history; one which appeals to people of white European descent and somewhat less so to people of colour. In its most extreme form there is a real concern that the SCA’s European focus (like that of other medievalist organizations) can be and has been co-opted by white supremacists and other bad actors to support a racist political agenda. But for the most part, and judging from many of the reactions I’ve seen over the past few days, the vast majority of SCAdians don’t intend to exclude anybody and are shocked and hurt when it’s suggested that we have.
But… we built a system that excludes certain people. Unintentionally. Unthinkingly. But we did. It’s there.
As an example, when I lived in the Canton of Petrea Thule we deliberately had our summer fight practices in city parks in order to encourage recruitment. And it worked: we had a couple of new members join specifically because they were out for a walk and saw a bunch of guys in armour in the park on a Wednesday night (when I was canton seneschal one of those people was my exchequer – these weren’t just casual players.)
But imagine you’re a person of colour, an African- or Asian-Canadian or a member of the First Nations, or a new immigrant; the guys in armour would still be interesting and catch your attention and when you asked about it you’d be told “We’re an organization that recreates the skills and culture of Medieval Europe.” Cool. That’s cool. But… what’s there for you? It’s white people doing white people things. And you’d walk on. No one has told you you can’t join and there’s certainly no reason you couldn’t… but why would you? There’s just not a whole lot for you to connect with.
I’ve seen a few people online lament that the change in the mission statement will “ruin” the SCA’s “medieval European character” or destroy their enjoyment of “the medieval ambience” of SCA events. My response to that is one word: Tuchuxs. We already tolerate massively ahistorical personas in our midst, why would having historical but non-European personas be a problem? Hell, here in Ealdormere we have a very active household of people who simply identify as “The Barbarians” who have no apparent interest in historicity at all; they rivet bits of steel to leather and fur, spray-paint their “sigil” on all their gear, drink heartily, fight enthusiastically and generally have a rip-roaring good time. If their completely ahistoric presentation doesn’t harsh anyone’s medieval vibe, why should households of medieval Indian or Cambodian or Tibetan reenactors? Why would medieval Chinese personas? Why would medieval African or Native American personas?
As a bit of an aside, a more broadly-inclusive Society doesn’t mean that we can’t hold specific events that have a tight focus. A few years ago at Late Winter Shoot, Ealdormere’s annual archery event, we adopted a Japanese theme encouraging people to make medieval Japanese garb and presenting an amazing Japanese feast which is still being talked about. Ealdormere also has an event every two years called “Icelandic Althing” which is specifically Norse – all players are encouraged to garb and armour as Norse for this late-autumn camping event, and it’s always fun and interesting… as well a teaching moment as to why wool was such an important medieval textile (sleeping outdoors on the last weekend in October is cold.) Likewise, there are a number of specifically 14th-century Deeds of Arms (most notably the Combat of the Thirty at Pennsic) where participants are required to present a very high standard of 14th century kit and garb. I’d love to see more such focused events from an even wider range of medieval periods and cultures, including African or Asian or Native American ones. The more diverse we become, the more likely that will happen.
In changing the language of our mission statement, the SCA has removed a major roadblock to addressing our diversity problem. But it’s important to recognize that our diversity problem remains.
One of the things that’s happened repeatedly over the last few months, partly as a result of the Trimaris Controversy, is that a number of SCA branches have issued statements of inclusion lately, including most recently a public statement from the united Peerages of An Tir reaffirming their commitment to diversity and inclusion.
One of the Facebook groups I belong to is a discussion forum on SCA Inclusion, Diversity and Equity. Several members have noted they’ve seen a number of such statements published recently but that they’ve also seen pushback from people in the Peerage Orders, with phrases like “words not deeds”, “let’s focus on the good stuff”, “no modern politics in my game” or “no one will really care if we make a statement.” I’ve seen a lot of similar statements myself and to be frank I’ve got little patience for those doing the pushing-back.
By all means, let’s focus on the good stuff. I’ve recently done that myself on this blog as a response to the all controversy and as a way to remind myself what we’re fighting for. But focusing on the good doesn’t mean we can ignore the bad: the first step in fixing problems is acknowledging they exist; the mere existence of problems doesn’t invalidate the things we love.
As for the often-expressed opinion that there should be no modern politics in our game, I have the same response to that sentiment that I have to the notion that we shouldn’t be discussing things on social media: Good fucking luck. It’s there. It’s going to be there. Wishing it were otherwise is just that – wishing. And if you wrap yourself up in wishful thinking you’re ignoring the reality that modern politics does impact this organization simply because we live in the world. Our hobby as an escape from the modern world is all well and good but there’s no honour in self-delusion… especially while people are getting hurt.
No one will care if we make a statement? That’s just false. People do care. I care. If you’re in a position where you don’t care or actively resent that we need to make that statement then it’s time to take a hard look at yourself and your privilege. The SCA as a whole, every Kingdom, and every Barony and Shire and Canton within them ought to be making public statements supporting diversity and equity in our Society. We need to send a message to our own membership as well as to the world at large that the SCA is an organization where everyone is welcome, and where bigotry, homophobia and racism aren’t tolerated. I can barely understand – and certainly can’t respect — why this is a problem for some people: It’s an easy step in the right direction. It costs us nothing.
And if a public statement supporting inclusion and diversity and rejecting bigotry outrages some SCAdians to the point that they’ll quit the organization in protest… well, good. We’ve apparently discovered a cheap source of asshole-repellent.
Words not deeds? Words are deeds. We’ve built imaginary Kingdoms were we fight and play and research and labour. Ultimately, all we have are words. I don’t dispute that we need to practice what we preach, to put action to ideals, but the first step is articulating the ideal. We have rejected words that turned people away, let us now adopt words what will welcome people – in all their diversity and uniqueness – to a bigger, more inclusive Society for Creative Anachronism.
Lord Fulk Beauxarmes