The Resistance. When I think of The Resistance in science fiction, I immediately think of Star Wars—the story of a farm boy taking on an evil empire and winning. In that story and others like it, the hero, be it Luke Skywalker or Neo, are special.
The Chosen One, after all, is a well-worn trope in science fiction and fantasy. The Chosen One succeeds because they are, well, chosen, not because they have worked years to perfect their skill set. Their ability is innate. Bonus points if The Chosen One surpasses in skill someone of a marginalized community who obtained their skillset by spending years working on their craft. Oh. And something else. Chosen Ones are overwhelmingly white and male.
Surprisingly, growing up these stories held no interest for me.
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, in a Black, middle-class neighborhood. My dad went to work in a shirt and tie each morning. Mom was a housewife. I played viola in an all-Black orchestra whose repertoire included Pachelbel’s Canon and Cameo’s Word Up. My life was filled with professional Black people. And I was not unusual.
The fantastic worlds featured on the screens of science fiction and fantasy movies and on the covers of books were truly fantastic because I did not exist in them—not as a Black person, not as a Black girl. I much preferred my everyday world of seeing people who looked like me succeeding. My reality was better than what others dreamt up for me in worlds where they could create anything.
I can point you to the holes in my reading of science fiction and fantasy canon. There are some stories I just won’t read. A world where Black People don’t exist? No. Slavery as a plot point, but the system isn’t burned down to ashes at the end? No thank you. Slavery in the United States extended past 1865? Issa no for me, dawg.
But my main issue with The Resistance in fiction and what it takes to bring down a corrupt system is how it is portrayed. In reality, there is no one chosen one. There are just a lot of people taking small actions every day toward freedom. They are the foot soldiers of resistance who fade into the background of history, but without whose sacrifices there would not be any advancement.
I was fine with watching the Star Wars movies for the eye candy and so I would be somewhat knowledgeable about the franchise until I saw The Last Jedi. Listen. Princess Leia is awesome but she’s still a princess. Rey has The Chosen One overtones. Rose, though? Rose Tico is my girl. She is ordinary. She lost her sister in a sacrifice that was just the everyday part of war.
Everyday. Ordinary. Common.
I am descended from an ordinary people, probably farmers who, when enslaved in a distant land, cut off from language and culture, created something new from the ashes and forced their enslavers to free them.
Of course I love Rose Tico. She is the true face of The Resistance.
Back during the birth of our nation, The Free People of Color in the City of Philadelphia assisted the escape of Ona Judge, a woman enslaved in Georgia Washington’s house. No one knows who exactly helped her. It is only known the community assisted her.
Washington, being from Virginia, enslaved people on his plantation Mount Vernon. He brought a couple of them along to Philadelphia when he served as president, including Ona Judge.
Pennsylvania was a free state. Not only that, Pennsylvania had a law on their books stating that anyone enslaved who lived in Pennsylvania over six months was freed. To circumvent this, Washington would rotate the people he enslaved between Philadelphia and Mount Vernon.
He was committed to keeping his “property.”
An entire community assisted in the escape of a person enslaved in the house of the most powerful person in the country and no one talked. An entire community risked prosecution. To this day, the details still aren’t known.
These are the people and the stories I’m interested in. I attended an event at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture with the Little Rock 9—the nine African-American students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. There is a famous photo of one of the nine walking with her books clutched to her chest while a white woman screams at her. That’s what I thought when I signed up for the event—that one moment.
The truth, however, was worse than I ever imagined. Acid was thrown at their faces. They would be tripped when walking down the hall in between classes. A group was formed just to come up with ways on how to torment the nine.
President Eisenhower wound up assigning the 101st Airborne to escort the African-American students to classes. One of the paratroopers told one of the nine to always know where she was going, to walk with purpose. She remembered him all these years, decades later. His name is not in a history book, but the woman who yelled at the teenager is.
There are real consequences to acts of resistance. One of the fathers of the nine could not find a job in the area, so had to leave Arkansas and find work in another state. Rosa Parks kicked off the Montgomery Bus Boycotts by refusing to give up her seat to a white patron, and eventually had to move to Detroit to find work.
History loves The Chosen Ones. Those who are forgotten in between the monuments and the recorded speeches are the ordinary people, the people who decided to spend a year walking rather than taking the bus so they could preserve their dignity. A father who left home to work so his child could have a better future. A community who defied a president.
These are the people I’m familiar with. The price was dear, but they counted it worth the sacrifices, without the knowledge that everything would work out in the end.
So. Yes. I’ll take my stories of resistance over blue-eyed chosen ones with special powers or people who don’t know who they are but somehow have a secret lineage.
Regular people committed to a higher purpose, knowing the cost and doing it anyway? Those are the people who have and will continue to change the world. Now excuse me, I believe the novel Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Cobalt Squadron features Rose and Page Tico. I've got some reading to do.
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