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The roots of Black and Indigenous spiritual practices and witchcraft carry Sabrina's narrative and many other white witch-centered narratives. 

By Briana L. Ureña-Ravelo This essay contains spoilers for “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” When I first saw the trailer for Netflix's "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” before it was released last week, it piqued my interest. Though I haven’t read the comics the series is based on, I grew up watching “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” and reading the Archie comics in the mid to late 90s and early 2000s. I’m not a huge fan of horror, as I find many creators in the genre cannot ultimately escape the monstrous trappings of dominant culture in their storytelling and I could tell the show was going to be a considerably darker departure from the characteristic telling, but it caught my attention nonetheless. It looked like it would deliver a more diverse cast and potentially feature smarter, more intentional, culturally, and socially rich storytelling than the high school horror/supernatural “Magical Chosen Girl” lore I had grown up with. I was also intrigued out of pure cynicism, knowing the show would do what most shows and media featuring young white female witches or even supernatural female characters do. These narratives take up the legacy of the Salem Witch Trials and other historical instances of non-European, non-Pagan, African and Indigenous spiritual practices and the religious repression and violence the practitioners experienced at the hands of European colonizers. In doing so, they falsely represent and conflate varied complex practices with “devil worship”. And “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” does exactly this.   [caption id="attachment_50197" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Image: Netflix's "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina"[/caption] The underbelly of a lot of this misrepresentation and space-taking lies with a fundamental misunderstanding of the history that much of the story it relies upon, namely that of the Salem Witch Trials. It does so because it is easy for white storytellers to envision a descendant of European witches who fled to the new world to escape religious persecution as the champion of such a story. In reality, it was not merely witchcraft that sent the town of Salem into a Christian religious panic and doomed many of its citizens to execution by hanging, but specifically the practice of non-European, non-Christian, Black spiritual traditions. Central to this was the accusation that Tituba, an enslaved, likely Afro-Indigenous Barbadian, woman captive in Salem, was seen engaging and even teaching these practices to others. She was ultimately spared the cruel fate her enslavers and other slave-owning settlers chose to enforce on one another and sent back to the Caribbean where she was from, but only after she gave a fantastical, and likely carefully crafted, confession to satiate the rabid witch hunters. I wonder how it must have been for someone like Tituba, to have survived the bloody aftermath of the Salem Witch Trials alive, in a world where the life expectancy for enslaved people was barely three decades, if that. ...the conclusion of Tituba’s remarkable confession, marked a new chapter in the witchhunt episodes of New England…Tituba’s confession is the key to understanding why the events of 1692 took on such epic significance.” - Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies In spite of this history, time after time, in tellings of the happenings of Salem in horror and supernatural lore, this fact is obscured and writers continue engaging in the decades-long mischaracterization of the panic as merely being gendered. The panic was a both gendered and racialized product of white colonialism, but ignoring this allows white women, their experiences, and their perspectives to become the representatives for all of us. This omission plays itself out in the series over and over in the objectification and mistreatment of characters of color and the way stolen aspects of our practices are represented or used to drive plot. It continues the erasure of long histories of many communities of color, chiefly Black and Indigenous peoples of the Americas, who have had with the repression and banning of our spiritual practices, with the women in these communities experiencing the most violence and silencing of their traditional practices and ways. It deepens the painful characterization of these practices, these people, as evil, as dark, as “Bad/Black Witches”, echoing how settlers criminalized them to justify violence against them, and the policing of their bodies, communities, and cultures. While I have a literary and spiritual love and affinity for all things witchy, demonic, dark, and even heathen, I understand that the Indigenous practices of my ancestors and other communities of color were not those things, and to conflate the two is dangerous, colonial, and bigoted. Not only that, but our cultures and lore, even as we share experiences as global south people or people of color, should not be lumped together in any way. And to reduce us to mere objects to summon upon or things of terror, which is exactly what three white witches do in the episode six to perform an exorcism, is a gross disservice. We call forth the witches from the shade. Those who came before us and died so that we might live,” Sabrina begins. Then, the other two join in, “Visit us, Sisters. Intercede on our behalf.” Among the names called are Tituba and Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. But the women of color called up in this exorcism, and more “witchy” Black and Indigenous women, were just trying to exist and fight against the anti-Black system of slavery that found them or their people forcibly bound. They are not the spectors of malice or witchcraft at beck and call to be summoned by white witches. They are not Sabrina's sisters, ancestors, or foremothers. When we understand these facts about Black and Indigenous histories and experiences with racialized religious violence, witch hysteria, and demonization, we see how inextricable the story of Salem and witch panic in the West is against the backdrop of white supremacy and colonialism. We can see how the Girl Power bent of these media narratives in truth get their influence from the matriarchal practices of Black and Indigenous peoples which spit in the face of the patriarchy traditional to Christian Europeans. We can also very easily see parallels to people of color’s current experiences with these systems of oppression, cultural and religious repression, and demonization, and how this is all unfortunately mirrored and replicated throughout Sabrina.
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We can’t look at Patty and feel empowered by her character when she is a walking testament to everything we are told is wrong with us.

Netflix loves revenge stories, especially super problematic revenge stories that push harmful stereotypes and reinforce dangerous narratives. 13 Reasons Why has had a controversial run on the platform, and now they want us to make way for Insatiable—an obviously fatphobic upcoming series whose creators are promising that it’s not as terrible as it seems, and it seems pretty terrible. The story follows Patty, a fat teenager played by Debby Ryan, a thin actress. In order to play both fat and thin Patty, Ryan wears a bodysuit that honestly it looks someone just strapped a maternity belly on her and said, “That’s good enough.” Despite the fact they put a thin person in a fat suit and did a terrible job of it, I have to say that, for me, this is preferable to having to watch a fat actor take this role and serve as a real-life “before picture” for Ryan. After a fateful meeting with someone’s fist, she spends the entire summer with her jaw wired shut and shows up on the first day of the new school year with a smoking hot bod, as rated by conventional beauty standards. She decides she will get revenge on the people who made her life he'll when she was fat. Her vengeance is where the story is supposed to be “empowering,” but we’ve already boarded the fat-shame train before we even get to that point. This series is marketed as a dark comedy, in the vein of Heathers or Jawbreaker. In reality, it is nothing more than a revenge body narrative that begins from the idea that fatness is undesirable and fat bodies must become thin in order for those who inhabit them to be truly happy. Patty does not come back from her summer still fat and decide to let her tormentors have it. She only seeks this revenge after she returns as a thin person who suddenly has access to a world of options that were blocked to her before. Regardless of what she decides to do with that social capital, this entire story still rests on that fact.
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In attempting to devalue Mo’Nique, we show how little we value Black women — how little we value ourselves.

By Jodi M. Savage Comedian Mo’Nique recently asked viewers to boycott Netflix because they only offered her $500,000 for a comedy special. The Oscar-winning actress pointed out that they had offered Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle $20 million and Amy Schumer $11 million. Mo’Nique claimed that Netflix had offered her such a low amount due to gender and color discrimination. Instead of widespread support, she faced a lot of backlash on social media. People were engaged in the all too familiar sexist, racist, and self-hating tactics of making negative comments about her weight and skin color. Many hurled bombs at her that are frequently used to silence Black women and dismiss our humanity: loud, angry, no class, entitled. Others said she should be humble, prove herself, and just be grateful Netflix was willing to help revive her career. They also accused Mo’Nique of having a “bad attitude,” the classic trope for Black women who do not offer up cupcakes and smiles when criticizing how others treat them. It was the responses from Black people that I found most troubling. Black women were among her harshest critics. Maybe it’s hard to feel sympathy for Mo’Nique because most people can’t relate to an entertainer who wants more than $500,000 — but many of these criticisms also contained an unsettling subtext about who gets to assert worth in the workplace and acceptable ways of asserting one’s worth. To suggest that Mo’Nique should just be “grateful” and accept Netflix’s offer is to disregard her accomplishments, her sense of worth, and her right to demand that she be fairly compensated. It also ignores the very real pay disparities for Black women in and outside of Hollywood. In attempting to devalue Mo’Nique, we show how little we value Black women — how little we value ourselves. Most Black women will never be offered $20 million or $500,000 to do anything. But Black women should care about Mo’Nique’s pay discrimination claims because, in many ways, we are all Mo’Nique. Whether we are actresses, secretaries, corporate executives, nurses, or restaurant workers, we are more likely to earn less than our white or male counterparts. Black women earn 63 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Black women are also the least likely to ask for raises among all demographic groups except Asians. We know how pay disparities play out in the workplace for regular folks: being lowballed in salary negotiations; getting hired and then realizing that people with similar or less responsibilities, experience or job titles earn more; being given additional responsibilities, but no salary increase; and not negotiating for a higher salary or raise.
Related: OCTAVIA SPENCER’S PAY GAP WIN IS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE AGAINST WHITE SUPREMACY

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