Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a book recently about Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older, less famous, possibly smarter, brother. Apparently Abdul-Jabbar is a great Holmes fan, and credits his admiration of Holmes with at least some of his sports prowess: he says he treated the game like a problem to solve, and tried to be Holmes and identify the faintest details that would give him an edge in play.
I’d say it worked.
I’m really enjoying Mycroft Holmes so far, and I’m a bit more than halfway through, so I think we can safely put a checkmark down for it at this point. I love Holmes stories, and have read/listened to/both all the Doyle originals several times, and have thoroughly enjoyed a number of spin-offs: Laurie King’s Mary Russell series, for instance, and the several eerie adaptations by Neil Gaiman, and, sure, Benedict Cumberbatch’s angular antihero-in-the-modern-world.
I find it interesting and useful that Abdul-Jabbar chose to focus on Mycroft: he’s the less developed and defined character, of course, which gives A-J more freedom as a writer to craft a character to his liking, and it means most readers aren’t coming at the book with strong preconceived notions. And it’s a doubly genius move to make it an origin story rather than try to compete with Sherlock at the height of his powers – we get a Mycroft who is still trying to groom his slightly psychopathic but incredibly bright younger brother. That said, his Mycroft – and his Sherlock, for that matter – are entirely in keeping with the outlines of the ‘types’ they’ve now become, and historical details and such are expertly handled and entirely convincing.
(He did have a co-author, and I have no idea of the breakdown in labor, of course – perhaps she’s a history person and took care of that side, although it’s just as likely that A-J made himself an expert, as he is a very smart man and a very careful thinker.)
What I’m particularly enjoying is how A-J manages, seamlessly, to incorporate race politics. Which some people, no doubt, are going to roll their eyes at, and wonder why everything has to be about race, and why can’t we just focus on pure characters and stop getting bogged down in this ‘race card’ mentality —
Which… not to put to fine a point on it… fuck you. If you’ve ever met another human, you probably noticed and made assumptions about his or her gender and phenotype and class, and so has everyone else who ever met another human. This is neither good nor bad in itself, but it behooves us to think realistically about the implications – and often those implications are quite serious, as when 19th century Brits see a spot of fun in beating up a black man for ‘putting on airs’, or when 21st century Americans are quick to put the blame on blackness in response to very questionable cop-citizen interactions.
So I think it’s fascinating, how lightly A-J handles his secondary main character, Cyrus Douglas, who is a black Trinidadian who has immigrated to England, and becomes friends with Mycroft based on the latter’s taste for fine cigars. This means that we are never quite free from awareness of the weight of ‘having race’: before Douglas can run an errand on the ship, for instance, he has to consider how he will be perceived as a black man. When Holmes chastises an old dowager for essentially gripping her purse tighter when she passes Douglas, we have to think about what ramifications this might have on Douglas’ future interactions on the ship. And then, once they arrive in Trinidad, we see how suddenly it is Mycroft whose movements are circumscribed, and whose color signifies more heavily.
In short, we are able to see that both figures are handicapped by their perceived race, in different ways in different contexts, and to different extents — but we never lose sight of the ways that race impacts how a body is allowed to move through the world (or not).
Politics aside, it’s also a really entertaining story, and well written, and a lot of fun, and I whole-heartedly recommend it on those merits alone – but I think its politics are also incisive as fuck, and extremely well done.
Which — and we’re short on time, so I’ll make this quick — got me thinking about the response to Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’.
Apparently a lot of white people are very worked up about it.
The husband and I watched it earlier, and agreed that we didn’t get all the references (I didn’t realize, for instance, that ‘bama’ was a derogatory term for a lower-status black person in the south, and thus that Queen Bey calling herself a bama was a healthy middle finger to respectability politics, among other things) (when in doubt check genius), but also agreed that it’s a pretty good song, and that the video has some important and pointed images.
I mean, for real: when that little kid is dancing in front of a row of riot cops, and they put their hands up?
That means in a big way, in this hands-up-don’t-shoot world.
But I guess it’s too shocking for a lot of white people, to be reminded of how we failed, flamboyantly, as a country, when Katrina hit, and black people bore the brunt of it?
But, um… this is our country, and our legacy. Our being white doesn’t mean we can just ignore things that happen to not-white Americans. I’m still working my way through a really thought-provoking and challenging essay by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., about James Baldwin and how not everybody bought his assertion that this is an American problem, not a black or white one, but I’m still pretty persuaded by his assertion that this is an American problem, and that my job as an American is to address it, not walk away because my skin color lets me.
(Of course, then see this piece on how color politics is at least as big an issue within black communities, especially in New Orleans, where the Creole third complicates everything all to hell…)
I don’t have a strong take-away. I’m still trying to manage TMJ pain and keep all my muscles utterly relaxed, and frankly I think I have a little codeine hangover, so I’m not getting into anything, and I think I’m over time in any case. But I for one welcome our not-necessarily-lily-white overlords, just think what we can do, working together —