One of the most infuriating things about urban fantasy as a genre is that one of the most familiar representations for Black readers (and of Black people) comes in the form of the magical Negro figure.
The Magical Negro is the white man’s idealized version of black people—a cross between faithful slave servant who walks with his head down and a superhero too conservatively demure to wear a cape and too grateful for the benevolence of white people to slit their throats for past atrocities. He may drop his “r’s” and use incorrect subject-verb agreement (because a literal incarnation of the perfect black stereotype, by definition, can’t be smart), but he is the incarnation of the friendliest, most loving, loyal dream of a human being.
And that’s the heart of it: magical negro characters literally exist to serve (usually, but not always) white characters on their quest to great magical power.
They exist to use their magical talent (which sometimes isn’t even actual magic but uncanny ability to be exactly what the white protagonist needs to fix themselves) and provide education to prepare the naïve non-black protagonist for magical success. Unless you’re lucky, there’s rarely any attempt at fleshing out the magical negro character or acknowledging either his talent or blackness beyond what those things can bring the hero.
I’m returning to my Book Blogger roots for one of my favorite writers in the history of my reading life!
Matt Wallace’s latest book, the epic (in all forms) Savage Legion, is out July 21st and my little site is one of the stops on the book tour. Take a second to pop on over to Amazon or Bookshop to preorder your copy and then dive right into his guest post about two of our shared most-favorite things in the world: worldbuilding and booze!
Warriors drink ale. Nobles drink wine. That’s the way it always was and for twenty-plus years I never questioned it.
I read my first stabby magic novel (or epic fantasy, or swords and sorcery, or whatever the hell you want to call it) when I was eleven, and I never looked back. Throughout my formative years, I read whatever was on the fantasy shelf of the nearest big chain bookstore. For a long time I didn’t know enough to look beyond that shelf, or understand why it was important and incumbent upon me to do that work, especially if I ever hoped to write this stuff myself.
Realizing now how homogenized and whitewashed fantasy, like all genre fiction, has been in mainstream American publishing for so long, I see all the cracks in those piles of books and endless fantasy series I grew up reading. Millions of cracks, an endless spiderweb of them in a mirror reflecting my own faulty hardwiring and false and persistent centering.
Right now I just want to talk about the booze, though.
The text, from a screenshot of a really cool message I received, reads:
hi stitch! im a regular reader of your site, and i wanted to ask a question that im unsure if you’ve addressed so far or not. having grown up on tumblr from 2011 onward, i definitely feel you hit the nail on the head about the “blank slates ghost” and migratory slash fandom always hyperfocusing on white men. it’s really telling how ships like stucky (while i personally enjoy it) can completely overshadow and create hostility toward steve/sam; i had a friend who got routinely vagued and harassed for that exact thing. but what im wondering is, on the flipside, how can white and nbpoc interact w black characters in ships without being creepy abd voyeuristic? i liked your post about the finnpoe racist fics where finn is always hyper-big and sexualized, that kind of demonstrated some stuff Not to do, but i wonder if there’s more nuance to it? should we accept that black fans will sideye/be more wary of nonblack people getting involved in the slash scene for black characters, or are there more dedicated steps we can take to openly be supportive and non-fetishistic? thanks for reading this even if you dont have much time to answer!!!
I got this message in my inbox a few days ago, but since the email address attached to it looks like it’ll bounce back if I email them back and this is a topic I’m sure many of y’all have been wondering about… I decided to make public! I hope that my anonymous reader sees this and knows that I’m grateful to them for being a longtime reader and for sending this message!
There are two real questions being asked here and I’m going to try my best at tackling them in clear and relatively concise ways.
In 2010, Black people from across the diaspora made up just over 32% of Chicago’s population.
But I bet you couldn’t tell that from reading Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files or Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series where there are zero main characters who are Black and few recurring characters who are explicitly “of color” in the respective series.Read More »