Faking the Middle Ages for racial justice: the power of obvious intervention from the Rood of Grace to Harlem Renaissance Medievalism

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2022-03-31

Authors

Whitaker, Cord

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Abstract

Scholarly opinions on the “Rood of Grace,” the moving and emoting crucifix featured at Boxley Abbey in Kent at the end of the Middle Ages, have wavered between the position that monks unscrupulously dupied a devoted but ignorant populace and the view that worshippers knew full well that the crucifix was a theatrical machine but found it conducive to devotion anyway. Medieval Europe has been falsely represented as a homogeneously white, Christian space in order to prop up modern European colonialism. In response, black American and other (post)colonial subjects, especially in the Harlem Renaissance, have coopted the Middle Ages to stake Blacks’ claim to the English and western European historical and literary canons. This talk brings together these medieval(ist) occurrences in order to consider the power that obvious intervention has—as theatre and as political and literary strategies—to inspire faith in one’s rights to experience the divine or to demand political equality and freedom. “Faking the Middle Ages” asks: What can such episodes of faking in and faking of the Middle Ages teach us about the implications of using the period strategically today?

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