Shondaland’s Bridgerton: The Black History You Don’t Learn at School

Not wanting to get sucked into the recency bias that comes with new dramas, I waited three weeks to watch Bridgerton.

Simon Bassett (Regé Jean-Page) and Phoebe Dynevor’s Daphne (Bridgerton, Netflix)
Chrystal Clarke plays Georgiana Lambe (Sanditon, ITV/PBS)

Remember these were the same years that Britain was the biggest slave-trading power in the world. In the 19th century a man called Bill Richmond, formerly enslaved, became Britain’s first Black British sportstar, and by proxy an emodiment of the ‘national character’… a national hero

Bare-knuckle boxing was a staple of the nineteenth century. Biographer and social historian Phil Vasili (2010) writes about the reality of sports participation in Britain and how “people of colour were knitted up all over the place.” Vasili writes “boxing was the sport in which Black participation had been longest and most numerous. Because of its core elements — controlled aggression and muscled agility — and the personal qualities required to be successfull — strength, character and durability — contests between Black and White, of which there was a long history, had significance beyond the ring.” In Black and British, Prof. David Olusoga (2016) says that “the world of prize fighting, of bare-knucking boxing, was special to the British in a way no other sport was — because the fighter was said to be the embodiment of the national characteristics of bravery, manliness and reslience. All the things the British liked to believe made them who they were.”

Boxing was viewed as an embodiment of the British national characteristics, including ‘manliness’ and ‘strength’ (Bill Richmond, 1810, Credit: Unknown)
Black puglists have a British history where Black men like Bill Richmond embodied the national character, albeit in 2020 the constructs tied to Black men and violence cannot be ignored (Bridgerton, Netflix)

If they wanted to push this ‘fantasy’ to the wire, it might have been interesting to have Black characters not filling storytelling and media tropes and stereotypes, incluing Marina Thompson essentially playing the Black bestfriend!

All the characters are likeable, albeit Daphne. She gave me a vibe from day one and the fact the show ended with Daphne and Simon together is problematic, with her first raping him and then dismissing his abuse and trauma. On this point, we know the countless number of Black women that were raped by White men during enslavement. However, I wonder if the same thing happened to enslaved Black men on the plantations. In her book (2019) historian Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers discusses White women as the owners of enslaved peoples in the American South. Yet, men as victims of rape is still a taboo subject in the present, let alone trying to look at that historically.

Queen Charlotte is played by Golda Rosheuvel (Bridgerton, Netflix)

Season 1 includes a glossed over marital rape, and colourism. Do better. However, despite the fantasy as well, Netflix plant enough seeds in our minds to show us some Black British history to research for ourselves in our own lives and that’s quite exciting.

References

Black and British (2016). Freedom. Episode 2. Pres. David Olusoga. [BBC iPlayer/Box of Broadcasts].UK: BBC One, 16 November 2016, 21:00

Writer | Muses: history, inequality, identity, arts et al| Race + Black History Educator | Poet: Tre the Poet on Medium | treventour.com | E: tre@treventour.com