What if Handmaid’s Tale Was About a Black Theocracy?

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By S. (June 14, 2017)

Thought experiment for my white friends: In The Handmaid’s Tale a cabal of elite, white Christians seize control of the government, send all of the black people away (to reservations or death camps, it’s not clear), and then turn every white woman into a slave. What feelings arise when you imagine the same scenario, except that it is a group of black men who seize control, send all whites away, and then enslave all black women?

There’s no wrong or right answer to how you feel about this. For me, this experiment heightens the racial tensions in the book. It adds another level of threat and urgency to the story. This makes me wonder if we are all too familiar with the idea of black erasure. Atwood deals with race in a few ambiguous sentences that completely remove black people from the novel. Yet when I imagine the reverse it’s somehow even more shocking.

Further, what happens when we imagine a world in which black men are dominating and controlling all aspects of women’s lives? This plays into our society’s ideas about black men being dangerous, sexual predators (one might even call them superpredators). Is the thought of black men dominating women scarier than the thought of white men dominating women?

Finally, how scary is the idea of a nation controlled by black theocrats compared to white theocrats? This might not be a big difference for you unless you’ve been exposed to some of the extremes of black, Christian theology.

Again, I have no answers. I just think that this is an interesting and possibly fruitful line of inquiry. I’ll end by pointing out that Atwood specifically wrote the book with examples of actual human domination in mind. Every aspect of the book, and much worse has already been played out in the history of slavery in America and abroad. Many armchair theorists have argued that white fears of blacks, men’s fears of women, straights fears of gays, and more are rooted in projection and fear of retaliation. I don’t know if it’s true or not but maybe Atwood’s story is in part horrifying because we are still haunted by our nation’s history of slavery.

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