Here’s the scene and the context: I’m on the phone with my new (white) boyfriend, and bring up one of the organizations that’s near and dear to my heart… Swirl. In case you haven’t heard of Swirl, it’s a national organization that focuses on political and social issues related to mixed race/multicultural people. I’ve found it an amazing resource – a source of reassurance (yes, you too can survive high school), a guide to hygiene (yes, you too can find products that work with your hair), and an example of what happens when a bunch of savvy organizers decide they want to start changing the world (and yes, you too can make a difference).
I was a little wary. My last (white) boyfriend mocked me hard for wanting to start a Swirl chapter in our area, because 1. I’m not really mixed (Black+Latina=Latina-by-courtesy?), 2. monoracial white folks don’t feel welcome in spaces like that (funny, since the antiracist ones seem to like it just fine), and 3. I talk too much about race (possible, but an irrelevant point). I’m not gonna lie to you. This moment was really a test. Can I talk to you about race? Can you, as a white male, really get to know me?
I feel like I’ve spent my life doing that, especially in fandom. I spend an awful lot of my fandom time wedging out a space to be and imagine, googling brown characters obsessively, and developing outrageous fandom favorites based on a little canon and a lot of love. I also spend a lot of inserting myself into the story, a complicated mission possibly made easier by my constant misunderstanding of race-cue words like “pale.” *
This brings me to Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, possibly the first fantasy novel I really fell in love with. I think the first time I read The Last Unicorn, I was about ten — old enough to have stopped expecting the wizards and the princesses to look at all like me. The unicorn slipped under my guard. She’s white, yeah, but she’s also a unicorn, and looking for others like herself. Like me. If there was any sort of quest I could believe in and get behind, any journey I could really understood, it was the struggle to find one’s own likeness in a world full of strangers.
Lame as it may sound, it is the unicorn’s story which led me through the dangerous quicksands of my adolescence into the surprisingly stable ground of my young adulthood. I don’t pretend Beagle meant to write a modern fairy tale about interracial solidarity. I also don’t pretend others necessarily see Schmendrick and Molly Grue, the unicorn’s human companions, as examples of the kind of friendships necessary for one’s sanity in a world that insists you (as a fan/intellectual/feminist/student/noun of color) don’t exist. What I will say is that I was desperate. I had just finished reading the first four books of the Xanth series by Piers Anthony, the novelization of the Buffy the Vampire movie, and a strangely erotic novel called Maia by Richard Adams (in which there were no bunnies 🙁 ). None of these works had anything to do with me; if books could turn their backs and walk away, I imagine these would have fled my table at the library. The Last Unicorn was a godsend, a book I could read myself into, a book with cracks large enough for me to slip in, and find someone like myself. More importantly, and with decidedly awesome physical benefits for both me and my (white) boyfriend, The Last Unicorn taught me that it’s possible to find other misfits in other forms, and to imagine the possibility of friendship.
*And you know what? I firmly maintain that there’s plenty of room for a little bit of Latinidad in the Black family. Tonks is played by Natalia Tena in OotP, and her first name is NYMPHADORA! C’mon. You just don’t know.