For whatever reason1 we like to envision Medieval Europe as an entirely White-Skinned Continent. Our virtual pastCloud Atlas Quote portrays the whiteness of Europe, despite actual past being somewhat more complicated. What I'm presenting here are a few reasons why it really is perfectly okay to have people of color in your Medieval Fantasy Epic.
|Did you know the columns weren't white either?|
This means you're going to have people from Cypress shuttled up to southern Brittany and people from Assyria moved to the German lowlands. Assuming my Londinium example, odds are Africans ad Middle Easterns were setting down roots in England before the Anglo-Saxons did.
There wouldn't necessarily be more than a couple dozen or a perhaps a hundred5 Romans of Color in the British Isles who would be phased out over the generations, but your big historical romance about the Celtic Woman and her Roman Lover torn apart by the war has no reason it couldn't be about a black couple.
|In all fairness, the Arabic world were pretty racist to Europe.|
While there weren't an excess of Arabs settling in what was basically a sprawling, continent-sized version of Detroit, it isn't at all strange to see an Arabic man wandering around with some Celts, especially in the 10th century when Europe was the place to be. Of course, the Crusades also led to racial diversity, but people keep telling stories about the Crusades making crusaders into good people and it'd be great to scrap that genre altogether.
3. The Vikings
This is where it gets a little ridiculous. We love the idea of the Big Blond Northman. Sexy fair skinned people are a prominent Swedish Export.8 But it needn't be so. There was a big stink when Heimdall was played by black actor Idris Elba, because as we know the Norse Gods can't be people of color, the Vikings hadn't heard of black people! But the idea of a multi-racial Asgard isn't really that ridiculous.
|"The Vikings were equal-opportunity invaders! We oppressed everyone!"|
But you're not here for mythology, you're here for the raiders. Vikings raiders saw the Capsian Sea, the Byzantine Empire and Newfoundland in their search for cattle, jewelry, gold, slaves, and women. In the 9th to 11th century they established presence in four continents. The reason Scandinavians are so attractive9 is because the most beautiful and strong people were the ones taken as slaves or concubines. This means mongols, africans and arabs were all up for grabs, exoticism in a slave being an easy way to identify them as "The Other." However, as slaves in Scandinavia could earn, buy, or be given their freedom over time or generations, you would likely see a number of free people of color tending farms or minding cattle on the slopes of the fjords. So when you're getting around to adapting Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar, would it really be so bad if Þornbjörg were played by Zoe Saldana?
|I know it turned into #AbuserDynamics|
by the later seasons, but Merlin was at
least pretty colorblind in its casting.
Am I saying you have to include people of color in your Historical Romance/Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Dystopia? Not necessarily. There are times and places of racial homogeneity, and there were probably few places after the fall of Rome that were likely to have no more than a few token people of color. A realistic Medieval Europe would probably not look like a 90's kid's show. But the idea that you must not include people of color in your European Fantasy Epic is ludicrous, and romanticizes a period of history as a Whites Only zone, and allows us to perpetuate that never-extant norm into other fictions as well. When we Europeans stop telling our own story as one devoid of racial diversity, maybe we'll stop thinking its acceptable to tell other stories in the same way.
|Pictured: Not actually a thing.|
Like, tell me you wouldn't watch "The Magic School Bus Raids Northumbria"