Hot! Ask A Reenactor: Ethnicity & Reenacting

Shortly after my question about bullying, I got another series of questions about a potentially controversial subject within the reenacting hobby: ethnicity.  Here are the questions:

“Given the stigma of “farbery”, what are the odds of reenacting as a non-white person? It seems like most reenactors deal with European or American events where people of color are rarely, if ever, involved. (But on the other hand, I’ve seen white people portraying Viet Cong fighters, which seems weird.) I realize this is a really complicated issue, but any thoughts you have would be much appreciated!”

“How accepted it is for a person of color to portray a white person? Because most events focus on white history. Our rev war group didn’t have a problem with it, but we did garner a lot of derogatory comments from the public. Because, you know, tourists are classy.”

“re: ethnicity in reenacting – It often sounds like you can be caucasian and be anything, but if you’re ethnic, you gotta be whatever your ethnicity is! Like, if I’m asian, are my only “valid” options Vietnam or Korean wars? What if I want to do some medieval European thing? But meanwhile caucasians are being Viet Cong and everyone is cool with that. (Not accusing you/your group of anything, it’s just… interesting.”

Me, Marc, and other reenactors portraying Chinese communist forces during the Korean War.

These are all great questions!  However, since there are really kind of two main themes going on here, I’m going to address them separately, and then also post some of the commentary I got from other reenactors that I know.

1.  In regards to white reenactors portraying other ethnicities (such as the aforementioned Vietcong), the reasoning is actually a practicality issue: there simply aren’t enough reenactors of said ethnicity to go around.  I myself have portrayed both Vietnamese and Chinese soldiers in my time, due simply to the fact that there weren’t any Asian reenactors who stepped up to do so.  The vast, vast majority of reenactors are white/Caucasian, and sometimes in order to have an “enemy” to fight, some of us have to portray combatants who were originally of a different race.  You run into this in many different periods.

Good friends Neal and Emmanuel, portraying master and servant.

2.  There are actually plenty of roles available to Asians, Latinos, and People of Color if you do enough research.  History was actually far more multi-cultural than our whitewashed history textbooks would have us believe, and I think that many reenactors would actually love to see a little more diversity at events.  If you’re a prospective reenactor who isn’t white, you have quite a few options available to you:

A.  Find a unit (or form one!) that was a historically black/Asian/Native/whatever unit.

B.  Find a unit that will allow you to “latch onto” them as someone from a historically black/Asian/Native/whatever unit who got lost and is temporarily with them.

C.  Find a unit that was historically diverse and/or integrated to join.

D.  Find a historically appropriate role for you to play.  Some of these may be a bit uncomfortable or un-PC (such as slaves, servants, workers, “savages”, etc), but they are a part of history and it’s important for people to see how poorly people of different ethnicities were treated throughout history, and how far we have come, as well as to see the roles they played in history.

E.  Find a conflict that had a high proportion of other ethnicities, such as wars that took place outside Europe, and try to drum up enthusiasm for reenacting it.

F.  Find a unit that will allow you to portray someone who would historically have been white.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways for non-whites to get involved in reenacting in just about every period you could ever wish to do, with the right research.  Plus, as you’ll see in other reenactor’s comments below, many reenactors would love to see more diversity in the hobby.  You are, admittedly, at some risk of facing some attitude from more conservative reenactors or tourists, but I feel that your presence would overall be very appreciated.

Here are some of the comments by other reenactors within my personal circle:

Well, I say that you should not let something as random as ethnicity stop someone from reenacting what they want. Still, if you are worried about it (not that I think you should be) if you do detailed research, you’ll find examples of what you want to do. Did you know that in both WW1 and WW2 the Canadian Army was completely intergrated? They were! There is even a great photo from WW1 of a Canadian Highland unit (in kilts) just out of action and one of the wounded is an Asian-Canadian. Also, there were many African-Americans that went north to Canada to join what they thought at the time as an “all black unit”. They joined the Black Watch of Canada.  People of color (what does that really mean, we are all of the same race… human race). Well trying to stay on point here, every culture has a varied and rich history and our histories are also more intertwined than most want to believe. We must remember that this is a hobby and we are not really the people we portray. – SK

I’ve never personally run across someone who was told s/he could not portray a certain impression because they are a certain race/ethnicity. But considering the other ideas/opinions held by people in the hobby, its not a large stretch of the imagination that it occurs. – SL

You can make sure your equipment and uniform is accurate, but you cannot control your ethnicity. If you like an impression, go for it. If we can look past things like age and physical condition, there’s no reason we should scrutinize someone over their ethnicity. – SB

I think part of the reason that seeing non-whites portraying “white roles” is more rare and heavily scrutinized comes from the fact that the hobby as a whole is vastly skewed towards white reenactors. There just aren’t large numbers of minorities involved, to the point where it’s almost surprising to me any time I see non-white people at a reenactment, no matter what role they’re playing. I heartily wish this weren’t the case, since 18th century America was an amazingly diverse place. Personally, I would love to get more African Americans involved in portraying black loyalists during the AWI. To echo what others have said, if you research hard enough you can likely find a correct impression that fits. – TS

I agree with the current thread. It would seem that reenacting is skewed, but I DO think research is key (for any impression)… IMHO, this is a game that we all agree to play, and I think there is a place for everyone with an honest interest in history…. – KL

I, too, would like to see more minorities in reenactment. I do not think it is vital that they portray someone of their racial/ethnic group though. – SL

Interesting that we in the 2ndSC have had African Americans join our ranks. Francis Marion was described as haveing a 50/50 split along racial lines. – BP

This is a topic I’ve been stuck in for awhile. I’ve had several people hit me up to do WWII Japanese or Vietnam War Viet-Cong, but for nothing else than Authenticity’s sake, I refuse to reenact as anything other than white, Caucasian people. I would love to do a WWII Japanese impression, but no matter how good someone’s impression looks, it is still greatly countered by them being an “incorrect” race. I wish that more “whites” would follow that.   I do think the main problem is that the reenacting community in Europe and the US is comprised mainly of white reenactors. It would be much easier and authentic if there were enough Asians to reenact Korean/Japanese/Vietnamese roles, but there aren’t. So whites have to fill their places, sadly.  My friend Kim has run into this. He’s Korean and really has a hard time doing anything other than Korean War, Vietnam, or Soviet… – CB

I think they should be able to do whatever they damn well please. I saw a black rev war reenactor at Lancaster and whether the role was “appropriate” or not, it was the most badass thing I saw! I thought rock on! – KK

If you are a non-white reenactor and would like to chime in, PLEASE do, as I think it will serve as encouragement for more people to get into the hobby where they may have been hesitant to before.  Heck, if you’re a white reenactor who has something to say about this issue, please leave a comment with your thoughts as well.


Comments are closed.

  1. Another epic article, touching on things that people in the hobby usually don’t.

    • I just answer the questions! I think that many reenactors who have been in the hobby for 15-25 years have no idea what the concerns and questions of new prospective reenactors are, and so this serves a double purpose: new recruits get their questions answered and older reenactors get to see what concerns their new recruits may have!

  2. While I understand that white people fill in the gaps for POC because there aren’t any, but I don’t see why this matters. Unless you are going for a super authentic reenactment, it really doesn’t matter and then you would have to hire actors. I don’t care if a POC takes over the roles of white people. In fact, please do.

  3. I understand the practicality issue with 1, but it’s so tricky. There’s a difference between a white person taking on a Chinese or Vietnamese role in a 20th century conflict re-enactment and doing a full on Native American impression in the 18th, I think, though. Although I can’t articulate exactly why, and maybe I’m wrong.

    SJW aren’t terribly helpful to the discussion, as you noted on Tumblr, but it’s definitely an issue I’d want to hear more about from PoC re-enactors’ perspectives.

  4. maybe it’s just that things are different down here in Florida, but out of the nearly one hundred Seminole re-enactors i know, only two of the regulars are actually Seminole. the rest of us are white or mixed blood. there are about a dozen or so that take part in the event that occurs on one of the reservations every year, but i seldom see them at any of the other events year-round. i am white with Muskoke, Cherokee, and Scottish ancestry (and one or two more i am in the process of working out), but i mainly portray Seminole, Creek, or pre-Columbian Florida natives. (Timucuan, Apalachee, occasionally Calusa). we have no problems with anyone of any ethnic background joining us, simply because it’s fresh blood. when an African American joins us, it’s even better, since they played such a major part in the Florida Wars. but there are few of them. i know of about a half-dozen in the state. maybe it’s just that the accepting attitudes of the natives we portray have become ingrained, but we’re happy with anyone so long as they are striving for authenticity in their garb and kit and friendly and open. we have no organized group, but we keep in touch outside of events and do things together outside of history events. the main theme with us tends to be families. the parents get involved, then the kids, and now with this weekend, i bring the next generation into it with my son’s first event. (he turns 7 weeks monday)i’ve been lucky down here it seems – i’ve not experienced any problems beyond the occasional tourist asking why a native has a moustache and goatee. (i try to shave for every event, but sometimes i have reason to keep it involved with work)

  5. I have some input here. I am a Euro-American reenactor, but I am married to a multi-ethnic woman of color (a fancy way of saying that my wife has both European and African ancestry, probably with some First Nations thrown in). The first season that we were dating, my wife came with me to a handful of events but really didn’t enjoy it, mostly as she felt rather out of place, surrounded by so many (loudly and assertively “conservative”) members of mainstream culture. Most reenactors weren’t sure how to deal with her (and seemed to avoid her) and many tourists insisted on approaching her to ask questions about being a slave girl. While these latter questions were probably genuinely motivated by a desire to learn, she just wasn’t prepared for them. I have come back into the hobby after sitting out for a bit and have done so with people that I can count on to be supportive if Michelle ever does come back out with me; I have taken our son (soon to be six!) with me to a couple of small local events without any trouble, especially as he has other kids to play with. He has yet to encounter any racially based ugliness, possibly because he can “pass” (and don’t get me started on how hearing an elderly African-American man use that phrase broke my heart). This really hasn’t been terribly coherent, and I apologize for that. Let me summarize by saying that persons of color seem to feel, with greater and lesser justification, that they are not wanted at reenactments, or if they are it is just to show how degraded their forebears were. I like to point out, if it comes up, that to the enslaved African in the colonies, the Crown forces were frequently the army of liberation during the AWI. Hopefully it doesn’t come across as somehow condescending…

  6. Listening to NPR this morning; the photo at the top of your page could be the story they commented on…in WW2 a Korean forced to serve in the Japanese army was captured by the Russians, forced to serve on the Eastern Front, captured by the Germans, once again conscripted and finally captured by US paratroops. As to the original question of ethnicity and authenticity, I participate in F&I and Rev War primarily. I think there is a balance that people have to judge for themselves; go totally authentic and portray only the roles your ethnicity historicaly did, or portray what you want to…it is actually te 21st Century and a whole lot of folks sacrificed for our various freedoms and liberties and the ability for us to make our own choices.

  7. An interesting topic to bring up, especially for me since I am of mixed race (Chinese and white). For the most part, I don’t incorporate my ethnicity into my portrayals. Frankly, I don’t know that many people like me existed for much of this country’s history, except perhaps in extremely particular places and times. For me to create a persona around my ethnicity would be incredibly restricting, and I’d rather not limit myself in that way since my historical interests are so varied. To date, I have never been turned away from an event, and I’ve only received a few comments about my ethnicity that really bothered me. I’m an American, so this country’s history is my history regardless of my ethnicity. Ethnicity isn’t a choice. Would we turn away someone with a disability? What if someone requires modern hearing aids but they wish to portray 18th or 19th century people? I work hard to keep as accurate an impression as my research and skill allow, but there’s nothing I can do about my ethnicity.

    Sorry for the rant! But it’s something that’s important to me.

    • YES to all of this! “I’m an American, so this country’s history is my history regardless of my ethnicity.” Awesome, awesome point. I thought about the question of disability as well–particularly since someone in our unit *does* require modern hearing aids! The thought of turning someone away over something they can’t control is disgusting to me.

  8. Having recently attended a lecture and book signing by an author who wrote about naval engagements during the War of 1812, I noticed that the author was particularly impressed by the high number of free men of color who sailed for the U.S. (approximately %20 of total seamen including U.S. Navy and merchant sailors). The presentations at Ft. McHenry show this off by including many participants of color and specifically mentioning how great were the contributions of freemen in the defense of Baltimore.
    In the 9th century, it would have been no problem for a Frankish marketplace to contain not only ethnic Franks and members of nations they conquered, but also Jews, Arabs, Persians, and Chinese people since the trade routes at that time are documented to have been well traveled between Europe and East Asia. Our group actively wants to include people of multiple ethnicities in order to portray this authentic diversity, and yet the people who consistently show up are a handful of white folks. Public folks think medieval Europe was supposedly so homogenous, and yet Charlemagne was pen-pals with Haroun-al-Rasheed, they regularly exchanged ambassadors and gifts, complete with large trains of entourage and merchants, and Charlemagne also enacted laws protecting his Jewish subjects from harm or injury. Oh, look history was more diverse than it looks from the vantage point of a schoolbook.
    Throughout all of time, there are people whose stories are not being heard by the mainstream public due to the white-washing of history and the perceived race issues in reenacting. Please, people of color, please come show the public that history is not all white. Please come participate and come armed with research to debunk myths and dispel false notions. Please do.
    I would love to have seen the looks on the visitors’ faces if the above poster’s wife had explained that she was in fact a free woman and not a slave. In certain times it would have been appropriate if she carried papers to prove it, or perhaps her forbears were manumitted in Britain when slavery there was abolished, or were bought and manumitted by abolitionist Quakers, or any number of factual scenarios would be possible and also serve to educate the public. Isn’t that part of why we do all this?
    So what if you really really are drawn to portray some history wherein nobody looked like you? Do that too! If anybody asks, you have the choice to explain, everyone here is portraying somebody from history that they don’t look exactly like. Most of us are way fatter than their antecedents. 😉 There are very few impressions in which a non-white face would be so inaccurate as to approach farbiness (SS and Confederate officers spring immediately to mind). In the vast majority of times and places, there is a place for everybody.

  9. Awesome points to bring up. I think there’s actually a huge misconception that we’re portraying “white” (or, for that matter, “male”) history because every era of history is peopled with plenty of nonwhites! I reenact Rev War and there’s no reason that people of color shouldn’t be involved–because they were most certainly involved then. I know less about other eras but assume it must be the same for nearly all. Honestly, how do we break the cycle of misconception from the public if we don’t fight back with portrayals of the multiracial past that did in fact exist?

    This is so important for engaging with the public, too–we reenact in many multiracial areas, and there’s often a desire to know “what would my ancestors have been doing then?” I love getting these questions from the public, but I wish it was better represented in our ranks, too. There are so many amazing and engaging stories from our multiracial past that get shelved because no one’s telling them!

    And I have no problem with an “inaccurate” ethnicity being represented. We’ve had unit members of ethnicities we couldn’t document as authentic within our unit…you know what? No one ever cared. In the end, who cares? The public probably won’t, and fellow reenactors really, IMO, shouldn’t. If seeing someone of the “wrong” race ruins your experience…I don’t want to be rude, but perhaps your priorities are out of order. The one exception I would always make, of course, would be insensitive portrayals of a race of which you are not. But that goes without saying.

  10. A friend on mine posted this article onto his FB site, and the response below is essentially what I wrote to him….thank you for writing this article and highlighting this issue….BTW I’m involved in Renaissance reenacting and portray a Spanish Princess at an English Court…soooooo, my character is despised and yes, I am many shades darker not only than my actual character, but the rest of my guilde as well….geeze, I’ve got a triple whammy goin’ on!
    Anyway, here’s my two pence on the topic…..

    Intertesting article and interesting posts following….I do wish there was more diversity in reenactment… can be difficult to be one of a handful of people of “colour” at events, esp. when, as the author states, portraying less desireable roles….anyone who has played one of “those” roles (regardless of colour) knows just how strenuous it can be…speaking from just a bit of experience, it can be daunting and intimidating some days to know you completely stand out and dont look like anyone else esp. when portraying someone of a different colour (My character, the Infanta Isabella, had bright red hair and a pale complexion, hmmmmmm, I suppose I could dye my hair red, and claim I holidayed in sunny Ibeza) and it takes a bit of a tough constitution to spend a day getting insulted and berated “for fun.” Equally challenging is convincing someone else to join in said fun….Please, come play with us, they’ll all hate you, it’ll be fabulous, somehow doesn’t translate well….Addionally, I believe what some people not involved in reenactment do not realize is what occurrs on stage, is on stage, and for the most part, a “made-up” persona is just that, a “made-up” persona…I’d love it if I had a castle, ladies in waiting and tiara, but I don’t….(BWT I really do want a tiara…..just sayin’…..) and when they insult my father as being an over-zealous Catholic warlord, they are not insulting MY father, the short, round little Jamaican man, with a funny accent who can cook wicked Jerk Chicken…..and the people I just called heretical bastards and who called me a tightly wound Catholic whore, I’ll be drinking with once the sun sets, and in coming days, we’ll do it all over again…for fun…convincing an outsider, any ousider, particularly those who are more colorful, that there is separatism, is not always easy…..and yes, there are people/cast who will always overstep boundaries, and yes there are the tourist/patrons, etc. who can be incredibly cruel and just plain ignorant, (I’ve had some particularly mean, racist things said to me) but at the end of the day, when doing something you love, with people you adore and more importantly trust, it makes it ok, being the “undesireable character” or even being in the one of these things looks different than the rest, catagory….again, unless you’re involved, it can be difficult to know just how close knit one is with their group/troup/​guilde….it’s an amazing thing knowing that if I cant handle something “on-stage” A. someone on-stage will rescue me, they would never let me drown and B. if need be, I can pop back-stage and will have an entire slew of people there to help me get over whatever it is before kicking me, lovingly, in the bum and sending me back out….but, unless you’re involved, you really have no idea of the level of camaraderie ….with reenactment it’s all about finding ones niche in both the character and the group….you have to be open to a bit of trial and error to find what works and building ones comfort level does take time….also doesnt hurt to have your own arsenal of responses when someone ticks you off….ultimately, I think the more those of us minorities continue to do our thing, get our reneactment groove on and are seen doing said thing, the more interest may be generated, hopefully encouraging others….What I love about my role (apart from the fact that I am a totally kick-ass Spanish Princess—Spain in the house…. booo ya!) is that Im proof that the right character with the right group can make skin colour a non-issue….you just have to want to play!

  11. I can only say from personal experience some “re-enactors” are not necessarily interested in presenting history accurately but tend to portray a very skewed version. In fact I was recently shocked to find a conversation between re-enactors in California discussing, in a very scholarly tone, how if more African-Americans would “assimilate” to society they would be less likely to depend on welfare. I think many who glamourize a past rife with debauchery and ignorance would not willingly admit the real motivation for their interest in certain eras in history.

  12. For women of color looking to do a civilian impression, I would recommend the site for primary source photographs. Most of the photos are 21st century and not organized by era, but many are submitted by family members and come with background on the subjects.

  13. Personally being Hispanic, I prefer doing impressions where at least my coloring, if not my actual ethnicity, is historically correct, mostly because not many other people do those. I don’t see any reason other people should have to though, so long as they at least have an awareness of the actual history and conduct themselves respectfully.

  14. I take respectful exception to your position that White reenactors portraying non-White units, such as Viet Cong, is “a practicality issue,” while you encourage non-White living historians to exert extra effort to find non-mainstream impressions that are “available to Asians, Latinos and People of Color.”

    I reenact with 20th Century units, specifically WW2 and Vietnam. If our WW2 group, a recreated National Guard division from The South activated for service in Europe, attracts an African American potential recruit (perhaps a veteran, not a wannabe) with an interest in the Second World War, should I: try to steer him toward Vietnam for reasons of historical accuracy with regard to integrated outfits; offer him your advice, specifically B and D, and likely lose an enthusiastic hobbyist for the sake of historical “purity” or, as you call it, “practicality,”; or welcome him into our WW2 ranks, the reality of 1940s segregation be damned? I’ll choose — indeed encourage — the latter.

    Some years back, when significant numbers of female reenactors began donning male uniforms in order to “experience history as men,” objections by the guys in the ranks were silenced by allegations of sexism. Should all those one-off “nurses” and “correspondents” I see inaccurately “attached” to male units at air shows and public events be encouraged to find or establish historically accurate units composed according to period TO&Es?

    I’m a Hispanic in Texas, a Canary Island-Italian (and Jewish) descendant of two of the first 16 Spanish families to settle what is now San Antonio in the early 1700s, and today we are a South Texas ranching clan. Yet, whenever someone approaches me about Texas Revolution living history, I’m immediately steered toward playing a common soldado. I’m never invited to portray one of my ancestors, the Spanish landed gentry — although I could host TexRev events year-round on any of our several ranches! Now that;s amusing.

    No enthusiastic, competent non-White hobbyist interested in an historically White role should have to engage in what I refer to as “gymnastic justification” to explain his or her impression any more than, when I taught in an inner-city high school, someone would expect me to discourage minority students who aspire to portray George Washington, George Patton or Clara Barton in favor of WEB DuBois, MLK Jr., or Rosa Parks. — MM

    • I’m not sure that you saw my words in the post about how it’s fine, in my book, for non-whites to portray white individuals, or vice versa. However, it’s a touchy issue in the hobby, and a LOT of the reenactors I have met can be pretty racist about this subject, which is what I was trying to touch on in the article. I think it’s ridiculous that non-white reenactors have to “justify” themselves in a way that white reenactors often don’t, but that’s not an opinion held by many, sadly.

  15. My first Living History Unit was the best. A F& I War Colonial French Militia from Illinois. Wonderful support and a family oriented bunch. First event was a woods walk in torrential rain. l learned that wool keeps it’s warmth even when soaked and a Whitney weighs upwards of 40# soaked. One of members was married to a gracious lady of Vietnamese decent. She portrayed ”Native American” with charm and skill. Later on I met a native american at a Movie Production. He became a lifelong friend. His goal in that movie was through editing to be a Cheyenne Dog Soldier shooting at himself as a Crow Scout for Cavalry. As filming was near Billings MT. there were both Crow and Souix hired as extras. They were moteled and wardrobed and mounted on Wrangler stock. When cameras roled they were “Cheyenne or Souix” fighting Custer. When Director hollared cut they subdivided again into their actual tribes and socialized with us but not each other. They both laughed together when my horse stepped into a hole and came over on top of me in the river. (If you’re ever going to have a horse on top of you try for water deep enough that they float off leaving you embarrassed but entact.)(PS. use someone else’s saddle as well).

    • The other day I performed a cursory audit of the number of reenacting units still active on, one of my favorite go-to sites to see what’s going on around “the patch.” I found that of all the recreated Soviet units that once abounded, only a couple are still active. Others maintain websites that have not been updated in close to a decade, a couple more than 10 years. A look at other WW2 categories revealed no more recreated Canadians, fewer Brits, dwindling activity on the part of several once-large GI groups, and close to no US Marines.

      While units other than “Bands o’ Brethren” or SS “supermenschen” will always have trouble remaining viable, it’s painfully obvious that the hobby has more important issues with which to concern itself than the reenactor “weight debate” or “historically correct” ethnic representation among a group’s membership. The economy, a collective aging in the ranks, and fewer younger people with a love for history strong enough to invest in its preservation are making it tougher for more and more units to maintain viability.

      For years I criticized the Commemorative Air Force because so many of its members are opposed to ongoing partnerships with reenactors, preferring instead to limit relations to event-driven cooperation and hosting. After all, why shouldn’t an international organization with so many aircraft and all that hangar space open its doors to dedicated local living historians wo offer to staff and conduct monthly programs to the benefit of all? As with reenacting (and reenactors), it’s a question of membership numbers/dues, perceived loyalty, seeking out new opportunities for group visibility and growth, and a willingness to set aside personality issues to achieve organizational goals — in other words, dedication.

      • It’s entirely possible that you’re just not looking in the right places. I don’t know anyone who really uses anymore. Most units these days communicate through Facebook unit pages, rather than static websites, and the hobby seems to be growing, especially among younger folks. There’s a really strong movement toward self-organization, etc. To use your Soviet example, where there used to be a dozen units of 5-10 people, now there are only 6 or 7, but they have 40+ members, sometimes much more than that, and one in particular has started organizing large scale Ostfront events on the east coast, and has even built a new trench site just for the purpose.

        As for the stuff like historical correctness, unit welcoming-ness, etc, one of the reasons I’ve written about these topics is that *these* are the topic that seem to be interesting or of concern to the newer, younger generation of reenactors. I speak with them all the time at events, and get at least 5 inquiries a day through my Daily Reenactor site on Tumblr, so I have a fairly good finger on the pulse of what new potential recruits want to know about.

        If you’re worried about having enough reenactors in your area, I’d first check other sources to see if there are more units in your area, and if there aren’t, then start some!

        • Sounds as if the hobby is enjoying success on a regional basis, but not here in Texas.

          I was the PR guy for the largest WW2 reenactor group in Texas for a couple of yrs. One big problem here is, and has been for so long, who’s gonna be “in charge.” There remain two well-known groups: one of them multi-unit and seemingly always struggling to remain relevant and attract new members; the other is single-unit, maintains a respectable number of members, and has the advantage of calling a National Guard museum its home for regular, well-publicized activities. I’ve been a member of each group, sometimes both. I would like to see these two groups become one overarching organization and support each other year ’round.

          You guys further north and “back East” have the advantage of geography. Social media aside (and I’m not convinced that SocMed is the answer to everything), smaller states naturally engender unit and organizational cohesiveness. Regular community events can’t be beat for visibility. Here in Texas, we have many groups whose members are separated by as much as 700-800 miles, so attending events (to say nothing of attending meetings) is a challenge when one has to figure in an extra 2-3 days for travel.

          Believe it nor not, available land for events is also a concern — yes, here in Texas! The small towns that used to host events have dwindled in number, and usable acreage is on the decline.

          I also have a pretty good feel for what’s going on in the ranks here in Texas, both as a well-known member of the hobby and as a news anchor who gets all manner of coverage advisories and requests statewide. There’s a preoccupation for obvious reasons in my part of the state with The Alamo and TexRev, neither of which excite me in the least.

  16. I have reenacted and been a Living History performer for over 25 years. I generally do 18th Century and Rev War. During the Rev War, both British and American forces had African-American and Native Americans serving in their units. These units were not segregated like all other Wars after up until the Korean Conflict. I have been excited to see so many new Americans of color and various ethnicity join our ranks. I have served along a “Spanish” unit comprised of mostly Puerto Rican Americans and the all African-American Rhode Island Regiment. They are incredible! For the last 2 years my Vietnamese fiancee has been reenacting with me. She has portrayed a male member of a cannon crew and a female camp follower, farm woman, officer’s servant & an officer’s wife. I have never heard anyone ever say anything derogatory about her portraying these characters. In fact I’ve enjoyed those moments when I’ve caught an Asian-American child staring at her with a smile on their face.

    American History is for all Americans! African Americans have been essential part of our history since a decade after the founding of Jamestown. Native Americans preceded all others.
    Italians, Irish, Germans and Asians helped shape the 19th Century as Jews, Caribbean, South Americans & Eastern Europeans shaped the 20th.

    Frankly, if we were to be “truthful” in our portrayal in Rev War reenacting, nearly all the reenactors would need to be 5’2″ to 5’7″ men, weighing 110-160 pounds, age 16 to 30, no Irish Catholics, Italians, Northern Germans (excluding some “Hessian” troops), Eastern Europeans, Southern European heritage, no Spanish ethnicity, and less than 1% should be Jewish or Catholic, etc. If this was to happen we’d lose 95% of our reenactors!

    So lets cut to the chase, as reenactors never have been in whole the correct “physical look” of the characters we portray, then what is the real question here? And if the reenacting hobby has adapted over the decades to include more groups from various ethnicities, religions, age-ranges and even women portraying men, why are we actually questioning if a white guy can portray a Viet Cong or if a Black Man can portray a WWII Infantry soldier in an all-white unit? The key to Re-enacting is the root word, Acting.

    Please remember many of the Vietnamese that are living here in America are here because they fled the oppression and mass slaughter imposed on them by the Viet Cong & NVA. Many may have fought along side the US forces. Some may wish to portray this portion of their history but many may be still to close to the pain of it. Same thing with the Korean-Americans who are mostly from the South not North Korea. The Japanese Army brutally invaded, raped, tortured & enslaved Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese in WWII. It’s not hard to understand why many aren’t flocking to “reenact” those characters.

    If we truly want to encourage folks to try the hobby from portions of our society that haven’t come out in large numbers, we need to show our willingness to accept them, respect their culture and their history and drop the phrase “White History” totally from the vocabulary. Seriously, the only picture you had was a black man portraying a slave? Not exactly the best recruitment poster for encouraging non-whites to come out and reenact.

    Try American History, with all its good and bad. Its all our history, those than were lucky enough to have been born here and those that may have had to struggle for decades in horrible situations until they got the chance to come here and take an oath to become an American.

    It’s about respect, sensitivity, truthful interpretation of one’s culture and the encouragement of other reenactors if you truly want to welcome others into the hobby. Push yourself to learn more and break out of the 8th Grade text book of American history.

  17. Another multi-racial time period was the Roman Empire. I reenactment that time period for over five years and have discovered so many ethnicities-the empire was huge ranging from Africa to Northern Europe and it was metropolitan and many non-Italians held positions of power (ie merchants, Senators, etc) so one has many personas to choose from. If you don’t feel comfortable stepping out of your own skin so to say, it may be a place to start. But I agree as a young person, do what you want, do it as best as you can and HAVE FUN!

    • Another era where a range of ethnicity is authentic, and should be welcomed and encouraged, is the Spanish Civil War. On that note, let me recommend “The Good Fight,” the story of American volunteers fighting for the Republic (on Youtube in 12 parts).

  18. Just wanted to tell Theodore T. Edgar up there that his comment was very well said and articulates my feelings very well.

  19. I think having a woman in ranks in a F&IW, Am. Revolution, or Civil War unit is FARBY. It’s so obviously wrong, just like sneakers or sunglasses. I really can’t see how anyone can defend it.

    • I agree with Jay; female GIs, for example, just go overboard. There are enough conflicts during which women were combatants to keep to authenticity – Israel 1948, Soviet WW2, SpCW, Resistants/partisans, etc. If we’re going to depict history let’s depict history, not what we would wish history to be.

  20. Tardy to the party but I am a female POC reenactor who specializes in 16th century Elizabethan Scottish Highlander reenactment, and I just recently started doing Viking reenactment and fighting with a Norse group. To this day I still sometimes feel really awkward that I’m African American, reenacting as a woman of European descent. All of my peers (and good friends that I have made doing this incredibly rewarding hobby) are white. I have never been ostracized or made to feel uncomfortable or in ANY way unwelcome, but I have given the issue quite a bit of thought. Up until this past July, I did not believe that any all black guilds or troupes existed for POC (in my part of the world at least) who enjoy this hobby. I then met the Buffalo Soldiers, who reenact and are ALL POC. This to me was absolutely mind blowing, as in my experience at Southern Faire and at living history events, POC are just not seen at all. I’m usually the ONLY POC at an event, and to this day I only know of three others who regularly do the same events that I participate in. The community is so small to begin with, that any diversity is so rare, and I’ve never once encountered any kind of internalized racism. I do get rude questions or stares from the ‘mundanes’ every once in awhile, but I like to think that by encouraging POC to play and to take an interest in history I am in some small way helping to increase diversity in the reenactment sphere.

    My Norse group was an even bigger surprise. There’s simply not a lot of women in that group to begin with, and there was one young woman who not only played hard, but she was Latina. She had been brought in by her boyfriend and had thrown herself into the Viking lifestyle and culture. Sadly she and her fiance have moved out of state, which leaves me as the sole serious reenactor of color in that group. There are about two other women who regularly come to practice and play, but myself and one other girl are the ones who do most of the female oriented tasks and research such as sewing, weaving, etc. We also fight but the fact that we found our way in without the aid of a man is a bit surprising, since that seems to be the dominant trend for women in our Viking group. In that group no one has ever questioned my race or anything, but it is there that I feel the most awkward at times, because this group was started by men who were proud of their Norse background and have since embraced an open door concept to promote learning and acceptance for anyone who wants to join in.

    What’s really great about the movement I’m seeing is that the people who are joining (in my experience) are young and open to anyone regardless of color, gender orientation or creed. I just try to enjoy what I do and take pride in the fact that i’m part of an incredible movement and am keeping it alive by respecting and researching the traditions of ages past.