Responses to Summer Walker's altar were rife with anti-Black commentary and lacked historical knowledge around Black people’s relationship to witchcraft. Twitter has been a source of a lot of criticism about singer-songwriter Summer Walker for the last couple of weeks. Some
Sabrina’s privilege lets her get away with everything, turning her into your basic TV frivolous white girl.by Negesti Kaudo Note: light spoilers of 'Chilling Adventures of Sabrina' ahead. Sabrina Spellman, the teenage witch, has always been quirky, blonde, and charming. Whether you were first introduced to her through reading the comics, watching the 90s sitcom, or (my favorite) the animated series in the early 2000s, she has always remained the same: a blonde teenager struggling to balance her two identities while enduring the trials of American teenage life. With Netflix’s new TV adaptation of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s comic books Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, it’s possible that many of us expected to see the witty Sabrina we know and love, but instead we were met with a new, darker Sabrina, whose darkness was overshadowed by an archetype we’ve all seen before. Being half-witch, Sabrina has been donned a privilege (maybe to other witches a blight) of living separate lives. Her father married a human, which was “controversial” to the Church of Night, but a point Sabrina refers to throughout the show to explain her defiance of religion and devotion to her human friends. Herein lies the problem (for me): Sabrina’s privilege lets her get away with everything, turning her into your basic TV frivolous white girl. She is Rachel on Friends or Serena in Gossip Girl—characters you start out loving, but as time goes on you become sick of watching them have everything spoon-fed to them by the people around them. By the sixth episode, Sabrina had not only become the least interesting character on the show, but also the most infuriating. The entire plot revolves around Sabrina becoming a full witch on her sixteenth birthday (also Halloween and a blood moon) by signing her soul over to the devil in the Book of the Beast. In doing this, Sabrina would relinquish all her ties to the mortal world, including her boyfriend Harvey and friends Roz and Susie, and begin attending school at The Academy of Unseen Arts…like all the other young witches. But, of course, Sabrina doesn’t—wanting to have it all: free will, her relationships, and her powers. In “Chapter Two: Dark Baptism,” Sabrina expresses her animosity to another witch, Prudence Night, who she’s summoned (literally, with a summoning spell) solely for the purpose of working together to torment human boys bullying her friend Susie. Prudence—a black witch played by Tati Gabrielle and leader of a trio of witches known as The Weird Sisters—let’s Sabrina know that as a woman, she’ll never have it all. SABRINA: I WANT BOTH. I WANT FREEDOM AND POWER. [LAUGHTER BY ALL THREE WEIRD SISTERS] PRUDENCE: HE’LL NEVER GIVE YOU THAT. THE DARK LORD. THE THOUGHT OF YOU, ANY OF US, HAVING BOTH TERRIFIES HIM. SABRINA: WHY IS THAT? PRUDENCE: HE’S A MAN, ISN’T HE? While the trio—Prudence, Agatha and Dorcas—despise Sabrina’s duality, referring to her as “half-breed” and taunting her throughout the show, they know more about Sabrina and her family than she knows herself. Here, Prudence establishes herself in the role of a sage, constantly filling in the gaps in Sabrina’s knowledge of witch history and religion. It’s not rare for the media to show people of color mentoring or guiding white people through complicated situations. For instance, Maggie Pierce and Dr. Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy; Queenie and Marie LaVeau in American Horror Story: Coven; and even in Gossip Girl, Blair Waldorf’s minions are mainly women of color who are more intelligent and equally wealthy—these women’s character development is largely based on how they support their leading white women. Prudence and her crony Agatha (an Asian woman) follow narratives that focus on their interactions with Sabrina: how they “show” her witches should behave and how Sabrina maintains her “good witch” status in comparison to The Weird Sisters. Personally, I love Prudence. Not only because I really appreciate marginalized representation in Sci-Fi/ Fantasy television, but because she exudes confidence and elegance. She runs her clique meticulously. Her hair and makeup are fierce. And her loyalty to The Church of Night and The Dark Lord is even fiercer. I feel very strongly that Prudence is a Leo (unless all witches are Scorpios, which nullifies that theory). But still, Prudence is labeled the bad witch and a bitch because she is juxtaposed against the blonde silhouette of an ignorant and privileged Sabrina. The only people who dare to check Sabrina’s privilege throughout the show happen to all be people of color, mostly Prudence and Sabrina’s house-bound cousin, Ambrose (two of the three black witches on the show). It is Prudence who laughs at Sabrina’s questions of whether witches can perform exorcisms, which they can’t, but Sabrina does it anyways, once again to save her human friends while putting her family and coven in danger. It is Ambrose who tells Sabrina that she is selfish when she plots a way to resurrect Harvey’s brother by killing Agatha. Prudence questions Sabrina’s belief in The Church of Night.
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The roots of Black and Indigenous spiritual practices and witchcraft carry Sabrina's narrative and many other white witch-centered narratives.By Briana L. Ureña-Ravelo This essay contains spoilers for “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” When I first saw the trailer for Netflix's "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” before it was released last week, it piqued my interest. Though I haven’t read the comics the series is based on, I grew up watching “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” and reading the Archie comics in the mid to late 90s and early 2000s. I’m not a huge fan of horror, as I find many creators in the genre cannot ultimately escape the monstrous trappings of dominant culture in their storytelling and I could tell the show was going to be a considerably darker departure from the characteristic telling, but it caught my attention nonetheless. It looked like it would deliver a more diverse cast and potentially feature smarter, more intentional, culturally, and socially rich storytelling than the high school horror/supernatural “Magical Chosen Girl” lore I had grown up with. I was also intrigued out of pure cynicism, knowing the show would do what most shows and media featuring young white female witches or even supernatural female characters do. These narratives take up the legacy of the Salem Witch Trials and other historical instances of non-European, non-Pagan, African and Indigenous spiritual practices and the religious repression and violence the practitioners experienced at the hands of European colonizers. In doing so, they falsely represent and conflate varied complex practices with “devil worship”. And “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” does exactly this. [caption id="attachment_50197" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Image: Netflix's "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina"[/caption] The underbelly of a lot of this misrepresentation and space-taking lies with a fundamental misunderstanding of the history that much of the story it relies upon, namely that of the Salem Witch Trials. It does so because it is easy for white storytellers to envision a descendant of European witches who fled to the new world to escape religious persecution as the champion of such a story. In reality, it was not merely witchcraft that sent the town of Salem into a Christian religious panic and doomed many of its citizens to execution by hanging, but specifically the practice of non-European, non-Christian, Black spiritual traditions. Central to this was the accusation that Tituba, an enslaved, likely Afro-Indigenous Barbadian, woman captive in Salem, was seen engaging and even teaching these practices to others. She was ultimately spared the cruel fate her enslavers and other slave-owning settlers chose to enforce on one another and sent back to the Caribbean where she was from, but only after she gave a fantastical, and likely carefully crafted, confession to satiate the rabid witch hunters. I wonder how it must have been for someone like Tituba, to have survived the bloody aftermath of the Salem Witch Trials alive, in a world where the life expectancy for enslaved people was barely three decades, if that. “...the conclusion of Tituba’s remarkable confession, marked a new chapter in the witchhunt episodes of New England…Tituba’s confession is the key to understanding why the events of 1692 took on such epic significance.” - Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies In spite of this history, time after time, in tellings of the happenings of Salem in horror and supernatural lore, this fact is obscured and writers continue engaging in the decades-long mischaracterization of the panic as merely being gendered. The panic was a both gendered and racialized product of white colonialism, but ignoring this allows white women, their experiences, and their perspectives to become the representatives for all of us. This omission plays itself out in the series over and over in the objectification and mistreatment of characters of color and the way stolen aspects of our practices are represented or used to drive plot. It continues the erasure of long histories of many communities of color, chiefly Black and Indigenous peoples of the Americas, who have had with the repression and banning of our spiritual practices, with the women in these communities experiencing the most violence and silencing of their traditional practices and ways. It deepens the painful characterization of these practices, these people, as evil, as dark, as “Bad/Black Witches”, echoing how settlers criminalized them to justify violence against them, and the policing of their bodies, communities, and cultures. While I have a literary and spiritual love and affinity for all things witchy, demonic, dark, and even heathen, I understand that the Indigenous practices of my ancestors and other communities of color were not those things, and to conflate the two is dangerous, colonial, and bigoted. Not only that, but our cultures and lore, even as we share experiences as global south people or people of color, should not be lumped together in any way. And to reduce us to mere objects to summon upon or things of terror, which is exactly what three white witches do in the episode six to perform an exorcism, is a gross disservice. “We call forth the witches from the shade. Those who came before us and died so that we might live,” Sabrina begins. Then, the other two join in, “Visit us, Sisters. Intercede on our behalf.” Among the names called are Tituba and Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. But the women of color called up in this exorcism, and more “witchy” Black and Indigenous women, were just trying to exist and fight against the anti-Black system of slavery that found them or their people forcibly bound. They are not the spectors of malice or witchcraft at beck and call to be summoned by white witches. They are not Sabrina's sisters, ancestors, or foremothers. When we understand these facts about Black and Indigenous histories and experiences with racialized religious violence, witch hysteria, and demonization, we see how inextricable the story of Salem and witch panic in the West is against the backdrop of white supremacy and colonialism. We can see how the Girl Power bent of these media narratives in truth get their influence from the matriarchal practices of Black and Indigenous peoples which spit in the face of the patriarchy traditional to Christian Europeans. We can also very easily see parallels to people of color’s current experiences with these systems of oppression, cultural and religious repression, and demonization, and how this is all unfortunately mirrored and replicated throughout Sabrina.
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We have always needed protection from police as we’ve always been sites of violence for them.We pay homage to our ancestors. We recognize and give thanks to the ancestors whose names we know and those we don’t. We pay gratitude for the times they have blanketed us with their love like armor; when they have directed us away from unnecessary pain; the way they continue to guide us towards fulfillment. Give thanks for their support of our strength. Ase.
We cannot deny that police violence is still a legitimate and real fear for black and Indigenous people in the western world. We have seen and heard the painful documentations of the unjust losses of our community members at the hands of police, and have been forced to internalize the message received about the value of black and brown lives in North America. However, we have simultaneously watched as our communities have fought to change the way we are handled by the most notorious gang in blue.