You Are Someone Else’s Bogeyman

One of the books that followed me home from a Free Little Library was Octavia Butler’s Kindred. It is the story of a black women who suddenly develops the ability to travel back in time but can only travel to one of her distant relatives when he is in trouble. It is a portrait and critique of the pre-Civil War American South.

Early on in the book is a scene when Dana is in the past and she witnesses a patrol of white men torturing a slave. The scene is disturbing and uncomfortable to read in the way good horror should be but the monsters are men, white men. I can understand why assholes would be afraid to let their children read this book. The children might figure out their parents are assholes.

Here is a fact that every white person in America with family that has been in America longer than a generation has to come to terms with. You have a relative in your past who was a bad person and did bad things. Slavery wasn’t something that was just a product of its time. It is hard to believe that a human could rape, beat, kill, and dehumanize an entire race of people and not know it was wrong.

The horror in Kindred is so simple. A black lady travels back in time to the pre-Civil War South. That is it. That is a summation of the plot of the story. Change the wording a little bit and you can really see why it is effective horror. A lady travels back in time to 19th century Maryland. That sounds harmless. It even sounds like it might be a nice trip, but a black lady traveling back to the pre-Civil War South that is danger.

It is a concept explored on the HBO series and I assume the novel of the same name Lovecraft Country in excellent and fine detail. Being black in America has never been safe, but there are times when it has been less safe than others. This is the lesson for Dana in Kindred. She is black and the whites in 19th century Maryland are as terrifying as any killer clown or reanimated corpse.

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