(〥) A Strange Yellow Squiggle: Racism in The Blind Banker
The whole episode depends upon the unlikely premise that Sherlock Holmes never noticed the Suzhou numerals on the items he bought at Chinese markets for his experiments. Because, really, what’s the likelihood that OUR Sherlock hasn’t spent time in Chinatown? It’s not like London’s is so enormous that you wouldn’t be able to map it…
What’s more troubling is a Sherlock Holmes who IS flipping oblivious.
This is the crap that Steve Thompson’s script for TBB gave everyone to work with: Soo Lin Yao, a fragile little porcelain Chinese doll; a stupid brute of a Sikh warrior; Japanese geisha nicknacks for sell in a Chinese…not a shop…the script calls it an emporium… The script also tells the production designer to put up images of every non-Western character set that comes to mind (as if Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t know the difference between Greek and Chinese and Hebrew and Arabic and … ancient hieroglyphics!?)
It’s like Thompson got dizzy in the British Museum and every culture kind of melded together then he wrote a script in the
OrientalEast Asia wing. In the 1970’s.
I mean if Sherlock can finesse his way around terrorists somewhere in “Arabia” then he must at least have more than a Fu Manchu concept of China. Right?
Not necessarily. Arabia!lock is just as big of a problem politically as the fragile little Chinese doll is.
I’d be happy to explain my position further if this introduction from the actual script to Soo Lin doesn’t speak for itself but if you want to get truly brainy and think hard about the subject go watch Edward Said talk about his book, Orientalism. That should at least explain why the Sikh at 221b is… erm… problematic, and why Arabia!lock shouldn’t be consumed (lusted after) without a certain discomfort. It’s important to be aware of why it’s a problem that a rich white privileged British male is wearing “Arab” garb in an adventure story. In 2012.
As a fandom we get why Sherlock saving the only strong woman in
the entire seriesBelgravia is a big problem. There is a chorus of Sherlockians ready to call Moffatisson on their sexism but our tormentors almost get a free pass when it comes to race. Let’s be more thoughtful about this issue.
Seriously, everyone should know about Edward Said’s work. There’s a documentary about the late Columbia professor’s work. Here it is on YouTube. It will make you think and you will see our beloved show in a more complicated light. I love Sherlock no less for being able to criticize it. In fact, I actually adore the show MORE.
All of this, very much. My thoughts on TBB are here.
It almost makes me cry when I see people talk about the orientalism in Sherlock because it is so important and blatant and gets so little attention - especially the end of Belgravia and the scimitar warrior in TBB. Even the bullshit that is Soo Lin (which still doesn’t get as much attention as it needs) gets more criticism than those scenes, and I honestly think they are just as bad. I can’t quite say how deeply disturbing I find it that so few fans dedicate time to addressing how racist those tropes are, and how damaging their casual acceptance is in an era when most of the US/UK’s military activities are taking place in Muslim-majority and Arab countries.
To flesh out some of these points, I think it’s very important for us to highlight the conflation of “Sikh”, Arab and Muslim dress and identities in these scenes. As mid0nz illustrates in their Arabia!Sherlock post, the clothing worn by Sherlock and Irene at the end of Belgravia is quite similar to what we see the scimitar-wielding guy wearing in TBB*. One of Prof. Said’s most pertinent observations in Orientalismis that European** writings about the “Orient” require this sort of essentializing conflation of cultures. The “Orient” is not a set of specific places with their own histories, peoples, cultures and fully human constituents; it is an amorphous land of mystery and savagery that exists primarily in the colonial/imperialist imagination. Never mind that Sikhism is a Punjabi (Indian/Pakistani) religion, that the end of Scandal is set in Pakistan or possibly Afghanistan, and that Arabs live in none of those places (or that not all Arabs are Muslim and that Muslims are definitely not all Arab).
Steven Thompson refers to the warrior in 221B as “Sikh”, but he could easily be exchanged with one of the Taliban/”terrorist*** cell” characters planning on executing Irene, or with Lawrence of Arabia and his Shami Arab bedouin compatriots. This tendency to elide specific identities contributes to the dehumanization of “Oriental” and specifically “Muslim” people, which in turn makes racism and violence toward “Oriental” and “Muslim” Others acceptable to people in European/white-majority countries.
So thank you to mid0nz for bringing up these problems. I really hope that over time the fandom will produce more of this kind of commentary.
* Who the fuck is he by the way? I still want to know.
**Of course this includes Europe’s cultural progeny: the USA/Canada/Australia
*** Read “Muslim extremist”, (whatever that means) since we know non-Muslim people can’t be terrorists.
Final query: I’m genuinely curious, are there actually people who went to college after 1980 and didn’t read any part of Orientalism? Were you/they STEM majors?