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8:54am on Saturday, 18th October, 2008:

Distant Claims


Every day this week, The Guardian has included a poster for its Black History Timeline. "Poster" may be what they call it, but actually it's just a regular sheet of newsprint rather than their usually glossy efforts.

Anyway, now we finally have the set, today I decided to have a look at them. I was a little put off by this entry in part 2, though:

So Pushkin gets to be featured because his great-grandfather was black? To qualify as a black person worth mentioning at the top of the page, wouldn't Pushkin himself have to be black? Pushkin's family is otherwise high-end Russian nobility: is The Guardian saying that being one-eighth black makes you black?

As with all these things, whether someone "counts" as representative of a minority rather depends on how they see themselves. If Pushkin felt himself to be black, OK, by all means put him in the timeline — and say so. Don't put him in the timeline if he didn't self-identify as black but you really, really want him to be black because he's the Russian equivalent of Shakespeare. Go back far enough in human history and everyone is black.

The reason that Pushkin's great-grandfather was black was because he was an African Prince who was brought to Russia by Peter the Great. Actually, he seems well worth his own entry in the timeline. Writing a short biography of him and ending with "he was the great-grandfather of Pushkin" would have worked much better, and made a stronger point. As it is, he's just the part of Pushkin's gene pool that means the great poet gets his picture printed on an amber background and called "black".

By this argument, I'm Scottish — twice.

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).