A Hidden Racism in American Horror Story: Roanoke

“Everybody who lives in North Carolina knows the history of the Lost Colony. It’s a ghost story people told around a campfire. 116 settlers disappeared without a trace. No bodies, not a single thing was ever found.”

-Lee Harris, “Chapter Three”

Lee Harris, played by Adina Porter, speaking in a mock interview for My Roanoke Nightmare. Source: https://skatronixxx.com/tag/andre-holland/
Lee Harris, played by Adina Porter, speaking in a mock interview for My Roanoke Nightmare. Source.

Fall is synonymous with change. The temperature begins to cool as the once vibrant green leaves of deciduous trees are replaced by a subtle array of yellows, browns, and reds before falling down to the earth in heaps. Pumpkins are picked and occasionally baked into pies, bread and cookies or ground into the coffees sold at the shops scattered across the American suburban landscape. Apples are made into cider, dipped in caramel and sometimes nuts, or given out on Halloween by health-concerned neighbors to disappointed costumed children. Corn and other crops are harvested. Combine harvesters flatten land where once tall plant life ruled the fields unchallenged. It is the yearly cycle signifying the passing of the autumnal equinox, the approaching winter solstice, and the arrival of the newest season of the anthology television series American Horror Story on FX.

For those unfamiliar with the program, American Horror Story utilizes a themed format that allows each season to function as a distinct, independent body of work. To watch American Horror Story: Coven, an audience member needn’t watch American Horror Story: Asylum, American Horror Story: Freak Show, or any of the other seasons in order to understand Coven’s plot and character motivations. The mythology of a given season is all one needs to become enveloped within that season’s narrative, although the show’s creators reward longtime viewers by occasionally incorporating references and cameos.

Fictive Voice and Natural Discourse in American Horror Story

World-building is something the creators of American Horror Story clearly take seriously, granted the nesting the showrunners runners build into their stories across the seasons, but the underlying problem within this world-building lies with its eerie similarity to the reality American Horror Story’s audience inhabits. Although anyone who has watched the Freak Show season of American Horror Story can attest that the American Horror Story universe takes place within a different timeline than the one its viewers occupy, this does not prevent the show from using what literary critic William T. Andrews refers to in his essay “The Novelization of Voice in Early African American Narrative” as “fictive voice” (26). Fictive voice is a story-telling device that blurs together what the reader knows to be fiction with elements of reality, what Barbara Smith calls “natural discourse” (Andrews 26). Natural discourse may be understood as those artifacts from a period, such as letters, editorials, and legislature, that authenticate a work as belonging to the real world.

In other words, natural discourse involves those pieces of history and culture that make fiction believable and realistic. The fictive voice blurs together the real with the fiction, giving a work authenticity. For American Horror Story, this fictive voice utilizes historical events and personages in order to make its more supernatural and theatrical elements appear as natural and reasonable. Sometimes this authentication is directly lifted from history and culture.

Examples of this authentication occurring across the show’s seasons include Stevie Nicks in “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks” episode of Coven, Jeffrey Dahmer in the “Devil’s Night” episode of Hotel, and the inclusion of Operation Paperclip in the Asylum episode, “I Am Anne Frank, Pt. 2.”

While incorporating real world personages and events into American Horror Story elevates its narratives into a more realistic experience for the audience, by appropriating these real texts within a fictive voice, the showrunners create myths wherein what is true and what is invented are no longer as easily identifiable. Certainly there are particular elements of the series that the audience will be able to differentiate easily between real/fantasy.

It is doubtful that most members of the audience will think that there is a hotel in California populated by ghosts of serial killers, vampires, and the charming Transwoman Liz Taylor, nor is it likely that viewers will confuse the real Stevie Nicks from her fictive incarnation or believe that Tate Langdon from the first season is a real person, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee this differentiation will always be easy to make. Marie Laveau, Delphine LaLaurie, the Axe Man of New Orleans, the Black Dahlia, Papa Legba, and Edward Mordrake are all examples of characters who have some cultural/historical presence prior to their appearance within the American Horror Story universe, but these characters are not as readily available to their audience as some of the more contemporary characters and events are.

It is within these characters who are not as familiar to their audience wherein myth blurs reality the most, making it so these characters either 1) appear fully fictional, invented to give a particular season added depth or 2) make it so that the fictional versions of these characters override the preexisting personage within the audience’s consciousness (unless an audience member is well educated within particular historical/cultural context). While there is a particular tragedy in being unable to recognize a particular character as having a historical/cultural precedent, it is this misinformative view that conflates the fictive with natural discourse that makes shows like American Horror Story problematic. When viewers can no longer separate the real from the myth, they come away from the program changed, with a perspective of history that aligns more with fiction than with what scholars come to call fact within a given era.

Anne Frank: another historical personage that AHS viewers likely won't conflate with her fictional portrayal. Source: http://www.factslides.com/imgs/anne-frank.jpg
Anne Frank: another historical personage that AHS viewers likely won’t conflate with her fictional portrayal. Source.

Although one may argue that history is somewhat tangential- that history is an invented fiction itself, it is important to recognize that history concerns itself with probability. History’s realness or historicity may be confirmed using primary documents from a given period or context. History is not purposefully misinformative, or rather, scholarly history is not purposefully misinformative; otherwise what we have is not history, but propaganda.

American Horror Story is neither history nor propaganda, but by combining the fictive with historical natural discourse, American Horror Story makes scholarly history less accessible to its viewers. While American Horror Story may certainly inspire members of its audience to investigate the original inspirations for its characters and plots, the show also can perpetuate myths that have been discredited within scholarly history or are less credible and given credence only amongst historians who occupy the fringe of credible research. This is the dilemma undermining the most recent season of the show, My Roanoke Nightmare, also referred to simply as Roanoke.

The Mythology of My Roanoke Nightmare

My Roanoke Nightmare utilizes a fictive voice to ground itself within the historical legacy of the lost Roanoke colony. While Roanoke’s history is the natural discourse that the fictive voice utilizes, the history that the showrunners choose to incorporate into series is not the scholarly history of Roanoke, but a popular myth surrounding the colony’s supposedly “mysterious” disappearance. This information is relayed within the “Chapter Three” episode of the season, when the viewers discover that the lost colony of Roanoke, led by Thomasine White (played by Kathy Bates), haunt the land that protagonists’ house is built on.

According to the mythology of My Roanoke Nightmare, Thomasine White, affectionately referred to as The Butcher, is responsible for the colony’s disappearance. After exchanging her soul to the mysterious forest witch character Scáthach (played by Lady Gaga), White returns to the colony and stages a coup, taking over Roanoke and killing everyone who had turned against her when she originally ruled as reagent governor in her husband John White’s place. The only person from this traitorous lot Thomasine spares is her son, Ambrose White.

Thomasine White, under the influence of Scáthach, vows to take her revenge upon those she feels betrayed her,
Thomasine White, under the influence of Scáthach, vows to take her revenge upon those she feels betrayed her. Source.

John had returned to England to gather food and other supplies for the colony as the colony had run low on both and entered into a time of dire need. Because Thomasine refused to move the colony inland due to John’s promise to return, the conspirators disposed Thomasine of power and her left to die in the forest. Thomasine’s violent return to power, however, does not remedy the situation that led to her exile. The colonists still are starving without the proper supplies to ensure their survival, so Thomasine White’s orders the Roanoke colony to move inland to where the protagonists’ house is eventually built, leaving the original settlement abandoned. The only sign left behind in the settlement is the word, Croatoan- the same word used by Cricket the psychic in this episode to dispel the colonists’ presence.

In “Chapter Four,” this mythology is complicated further, after Scáthach the witch reveals to Cricket the Roanoke colony after its initial abandonment. The new settlement provided the Roanoke colony with plentiful harvests, but this haven of plenty did not come without a cost. In order to ensure the continuous bliss, Thomasine White must offer a child sacrifice to Scáthach, a young girl named Pricilla. This practice does not bode well with all of the colonists, including Ambrose, who view this practice as deviltry and against their Christian faith. They express this discontent with Thomasine after the ritual has completed.

Under Scáthach’s influence, Thomasine hosts a banquet in response, feigning pretense that she feels regret for allowing the harsh circumstances to turn her against Christian principles. As the colonists begin to eat, a poison in the food, perhaps magical in nature, causes wild coughing fits to overtake everyone but Thomasine. Thomasine takes advantage of the colonists’ incapacitated state to butcher them one by one, beginning with Ambrose, as part of the Blood Moon ritual that will render the slain colonists as eternal slaves to Thomasine’s will. Scáthach completes the ritual by slaying Thomasine and binding her spirit to the land.

The Problem Restated: My Roanoke Nightmare’s Natural Discourse

While viewers will more than likely recognize that this mythology is invented for the series, what may not be immediately recognizable to the audience is that My Roanoke Nightmare’s fictive voice utilizes a racist history in place of its natural discourse. This specific claim is not due to the narrative’s plot or how the series portrays race within the characters themselves, but the natural discourse, the purportedly real life narrative that gives the series a sense of authenticity.

Although it makes for good television and innovative storytelling, the disappearance of the Roanoke colony is the source of a racist history. This is because the disappearance of the Roanoke colony is likely not a mystery at all, and according to sociologist Dr. James W. Loewen, this myth persists from a racist origin. As Loewen writes within Lies My Teacher Told Me,

The first English settlement in North America, Roanoke Island in 1585, probably did not die out but was absorbed into the nearby Croatoan Indians, “thereby achieving a harmonious biracial society that always eluded colonial planters,” in the words of historian J.F. Fausz. Eventually the English and Croatoan Indian may have become part of the Lumbees. The English never learned the outcome of the “Lost Colony,” however. Frederick Turner has suggested that they did not want to think about the possibility that English settlers had survived by merging with Native Americans.. Instead, Fausz tells us, “tales of the ‘Lost Colony’ came to epitomize the treacherous nature of hostile Indians and served as the mythopoetic ‘bloody shirt’ for justifying aggressions against Powhatan years later.” Triracial isolates[1] have generally won only contempt from their white neighbors, which is why they have chosen rural isolations. Our textbooks isolate them,[2] too: none mentions the term or the people. (126)

Loewen’s research is grounded within primary documentation and secondary authorial scholarship, but this presentation of history, even if it is scholarly history, does not fit with the natural discourse found within popular culture and within American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare. Instead, the false history, what I refer to as “bad history” and “hidden racism” in the title of this essay, is what viewers will commonly perceive as factual and a true account, and I no less doubt that the showrunners share this sentiment.

The racist origins of this false history does not necessarily indicate that the showrunners or the viewers who buy into the narrative are racists, but it does serve as testimony as to how effectively this meme[3] has invaded natural discourse and asserted itself as authentic history. This therein lies the problem. Culturally, the “Lost Colony” narrative is incredibly persuasive due largely to the fact that it is presented as an “unsolved mystery” without a probable answer. Yet if we are to read Loewen’s work, or Fausz’s, in conjunction to this narrative, we find that there is a plausible solution to this mystery.

By presenting this mystery as the natural discourse for My Roanoake Nightmare, the “Lost Colony” myth not only takes precedence over the historical counter-narrative that Loewen and Fausz provide, but this history remains regulated to the periphery. Were it the case that Loewen and Fausz’s treatment of the Roanoke Colony was commonly taught in schools when My Roanoke Nightmare’s audience members were introduced to the subject, then the showrunner’s choice to prioritize the mythic mystery or the scholarly history would be less problematic, just as it is less problematic that Coven features Stevie Nicks as a witch and Asylum features a Nazi Doctor creating mutant monstrosities. When the dominant social narratives are aligned with scholarly history, there is far less at stake when a series like American Horror Story emulates a more fringe perspective in their story-telling. When the dominant social narratives and the scholarly history do not align, that is where the process of mythmaking proves to be the most detrimental.

[1] These are peoples who are of black, white, and Native American decent.
[2] For context, Lies My Teacher Told Me is the result of a study Loewen conducted across eighteen of the most commonly used high school textbooks at the time of his research.
[3] What Richard Dawkins refers to within his 1976 publication, The Selfish Gene, as a unit of culture (192).

Works Cited

Andrews, William L. “The Novelization of Voice in Early African American Narrative.” PMLA, vol. 105, no. 1, 1990, pp. 23-34, http://www.jstor.org/stable/462340. Accessed 18 November 2013.

“Chapter Three.” American Horror Story: Roanoke, episode 3, FX, 28 September 2016. FX Now, http://www.fxnetworks.com/video/775280195642.

“Chapter Four.” American Horror Story: Roanoke, episode 4, FX, 5 October 2016. FX Now, http://www.fxnetworks.com/video/780036163703.

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. 1976. Oxford UP, 1999.

“Devil’s Night.” American Horror Story: Hotel, episode 4, FX, 28 October 2015. Hulu, http://www.hulu.com/watch/863265.

“I am Anne Frank, Pt. 2.” American Horror Story: Asylum, episode 5, FX, 14 November 2012. Hulu, http://www.hulu.com/watch/707109.

Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me. 1995. Touchstone, 2007.

“The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks.” American Horror Story: Coven, episode 10, FX, 8 January 2014. Hulu, http://www.hulu.com/watch/710336.

Murphy, Ryan and Brad Falchik, creators. American Horror Story. 20th Century Fox Television, 2011-2016.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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I am a Graduate Fellow and Masters student with a focus in both Teaching of Writing and Literature at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Edited by Diego Santoyo.

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  1. I found your article extremely interesting and informative. I will now watch AHS through new eyes. Thank you for sharing your insights!

  2. Mariel Tishma

    Thank you for writing this article. I have always been fascinated with the history of the “Lost Colony” but had no idea that they might not have been lost at all. My teachers have certainly “lied” to me and perpetuated that particular myth. I will now be watching AMS with new insight.

    • Matt Sautman

      I had been much the same way until I read Loewen’s book a few years back. I’m glad that I could provide some insight for future viewings!

  3. Very interesting article. I was someone who was only really introduced to the idea through the show, so knowing some of the history definitely shines new light on the topic of the newest season.

    • Matt Sautman

      Glad to know you find it interesting! I find it fascinating how historical information alters how a person interprets something like a book or a television show.

  4. Hitchcock

    Bad. storytelling. Poor excuse for horror.

    • Matt Sautman

      What about the narrative structure do you find distasteful? I ask out of curiosity.

    • I agree. The performances (especially by Kathie Bates, Sarah Paulson and Lily Rabe) are laughable. Insulting to loyal viewers. Please put this franchise to rest…

  5. This is easily the best season of AHS since season one. Not sure how people think this is bad story telling. It’s actually the most cohesive plot since season one, and manages to be both entertaining and a commentary on Hollywood at the same time.

  6. Can I just say what a surprise this season has been? Early signs pointed to massive derailing, in that American Horror Story way. But I haven’t been this excited for the show since Asylum. Hotel had a few things going for it- namely, the music- but as a whole, was just as bad as Freak Show and Coven.

    The vague Roanoke theme showed even less promise out of the gate, and the lack of credits really neutered one of the few consistently creepy aspects of the show. But this turnaround was worth the slog, and it’s clear the cast and showrunner are having a lot of fun.

    • Matt Sautman

      I enjoy how this season plays around with notions of what is real and not real, and how we as viewers sometimes only know what the camera shows us. It takes what could have been a lackluster theme and turns the season into a commentary on documentaries, reality television, and Hollywood on a larger scale.

    • Granville Bull

      I might be the only person that actually really enjoyed Hotel. The dinner for serial killers JPM hosted was some of my favorite television ever.

  7. AHS has gone back to it’s roots. I have not had that creepy feeling since Asylum. Last episode was a perfect halloween episode.

    • Matt Sautman

      I agree. There are so many moments within that episode that shocked me. Only a two days to go until we get to find out what’s next!

  8. Great analysis, I completely agree.

  9. This was fun to read, good work!

  10. E. Page

    It is difficult to take a scholarly work seriously when it is peppered with grammar and usage errors. Example: history is “relegated to the periphery” not “regulated to the periphery.” You can dismiss this as nitpicking, but such errors undermine confidence in your argument. You need a good editor.

  11. Matt Sautman

    Regulate is my intended word choice. It implies agency. Relegate also works, but it does not employ the intended meaning. That is to say, things naturally are relegated, but to regulate implies an agent. Here the agent is the Lost Colony Myth. It is doing the action, i.e. relegating the true history to the peripherally. I understand you are coming from a more “prescriptive” school of grammar, but my work here is grammatically sound.

  12. Great analysis!

  13. Matt Sautman

    Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  14. Great article, the Lost Colony of Roanoke is something that always interested me since I was a 7th grader.

  15. NormalNermal

    So because they used a famous mystery, even if it isn’t really a mystery, about colonial times, they are racist? Let me ask you something. People are intrigued by Jack the Ripper, no? Not so much what he did, but rather due to the fact that no one knows who he is. People say that they know who he is now, but that just ruins the whole mysterious air surrounding it that makes it interesting. Even if we know what probably happened, it’s a lot funner to come up with a bunch of theories.

    • Matt Sautman

      I think you misunderstood me, NormalNermal. “The racist origins of this false history does not necessarily indicate that the showrunners or the viewers who buy into the narrative are racists, but it does serve as testimony as to how effectively this meme has invaded natural discourse and asserted itself as authentic history.” I’m not sure where you pulled the idea that the showrunners are racist from, but I made sure to include this line because I don’t personally believe that they are.

      Allow me to better qualify my argument and is different from Jack the Ripper. It doesn’t matter that it’s not an actual mystery. What matters is this.

      This idea of Roanoke being a lost colony stems from colonial era racism. The idea was created to discredit what actually happened. It would be equivalent to modern day people pretending that the twin towers on 9/11 mysteriously fell because they could not accept the idea that Middle Eastern men would be capable of such a feat. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I hope it relays my point well enough. A kernel of racism is what turned a non-mysterious act into a mystery. Jack the Ripper is a mystery because his identity was well-concealed.

      The mystery of the Roanoke Colony is culturally dominant for the reasons you said. People love a mystery. Sadly because the history education many individuals receive is not always the most accurate or scholarly, when people reencounter this myth through media, they assume that the core idea is still true, even when the myth is received by scholars as false.

      Unrelated to my point, but also related to your comment: someone solved the Jack the Ripper mystery? I’m intrigued. Can you send the information through the comments?

  16. HeatherStratton

    This article is very well written, easy to understand and also informative! However, I felt like the title was a touch misleading. If I understand your essay correctly, AHS: My Roanoke Nightmare is problematic because it is burying the true history of the lost colony due to issues of racism. However, the title leads me to believe that I am about to read something that exposes how this show is racist, in and of itself.

    With that said, I think the title needs a bit of work.

    Thank you for publishing this. I found it to be a very interesting read and I learned something along the way!

  17. HeatherStratton

    I think another interesting point of this season of AHS, in context to your essay, is how the dogmatic approach of filming the episodes stylistically to convince the viewer that they are watching an actual historical recounting of the past is problematic in the burying of real histories. The show is fiction, presented to the audience as truth-telling through [fictional] first-hand accounts, then reenacted by actors portraying the other actors who are portraying characters. This is all very meta and indeed orchestrated to lend credence to the overall fiction of the show.

    • Matt Sautman

      Thank you for the positive (and constructive) feedback! Were I to retitle it, I believe I would include “Haunted by History” and then have a colon with the current title following it.

      I think the point you raise regarding how the meta-narrative is portrayed as true complicates this issue even further. I don’t know know if you have read much Derrida or not, I know he can be a headache to read, but his essay “Counterfeit Money” is highly relevant to this concept. I think the idea of AHS using the idea of counterfeit narratives from that piece would produce a nice companion article to this. Would you consider writing anything like that? Your thoughts here could easily turn into something like that, I would be interested in reading it.

  18. HeatherStratton

    Oh! I like it, and it alludes to the racism being historical, perhaps.

    I have read a bit of Derrida, and you are right, it is a headache. However, I have not read “Counterfeit Money.” I will keep that on my radar. I agree that a companion article to this would be interesting. That is the element of this season of AHS that I am most fascinated with. At first, I could not understand why the directors would convolute the story line in such a way by using this counterfeit narrative, but as the show progresses, it makes much more sense.

    • Matt Sautman

      I feel like the counterfeit narrative is satirical in this way too, adding a new depth to the show. On one hand, it further reinforces the notion of a false “history,” but then on another, it invites viewers to criticize both documentaries and reality tv shows as mediums of “true events.” Oh AHS, who knew you could be so complex?

  19. Pulliam

    I’m involved in this season and especially these characters in a way I don’t think I’ve ever been. When I realized they were found a reality show within a reality show, I sighed, thinking it would be all self-referential and winking. But then shit got real.

    • Matt Sautman

      I’m the same way. There were so many high points in the most recent episode that left me in shock. I’ve found that the meta-element has allowed this season to be far less predicable.

  20. The last two episodes have been really, really stellar from a horror standpoint. They’re incredibly brutal, but it works. Last episode was really gripping from start to finish, and at the very least, I’m just ecstatic to see Lily Rabe still alive, who has got to be this season’s final girl at this point, right? She hasn’t lived through a single season yet.

    • Matt Sautman

      Lily Rabe’s current character has been incredibly dynamic this season. I share your sentiment and hope that she makes it until the end. Her characterization within the Three Days in Hell section of the show has pushed her farther than I had originally anticipated.

  21. I don’t know what is gonna happen next, but I can’t wait to find out!

  22. I think AHS has all too often in the past felt like they’re making it up as they go along; Roanoke feels very much like they had a clear storyline from episode one. It remains to be seen if they can stick the ultimate landing in the finale, but so far I’ve been really impressed with this season.

    • Matt Sautman

      There is definitely a strong level of coherence in this season’s story-telling. Even though I love many of the past seasons, there is an unfortunate habit of the show sometimes introducing some concepts without investigating them as deeply as they could have, e.g. the mattress man and the addiction demon from Hotel.

  23. This season was supposed to be my last chance with the show and then I would quit, but instead it reeled me in and totally had me hooked. I’ll admit, I did nearly give up in the first half of the season and decided to hold off watching until the heavily publicized-in-advance twist was revealed. Once that happened, I caught up and was still on the fence until last episode, and now I am completely sold. The found footage suits aesthetic suits the show so well and I don’t know if it’s just the writing and directing or if it’s the format, but everything is so well restrained. It’s not over the top campfest, just a lot of thrills (with some camp humor).

    • Matt Sautman

      They have certainly upped the ante this time around. I feel that they are utilizing the found footage subgenre of horror better than The Blair Witch Project and some of the other more prevalent found-footage films.

  24. Very interesting article! I’m a huge fan of AHS but will definitely view the show with a more critical eye.

  25. Pyper Brown

    This is such an interesting article. I am curious to see if AHS will incorporate aspects of the actual Roanoke history into the upcoming episodes, such as Native American representation that is true to the Roanoke event rather than what was created from racist mindsets.

    • Matt Sautman

      That would be incredibly fascinating if they did. I’m not holding my breath that it will happen, but I would love to be proven wrong.

  26. The show has resorted to stealing plot, characters, and shots outright from recent film “They’re Watching” about a film crew shooting a House Hunters type show.

    • Matt Sautman

      I’m unfamiliar with “They’re Watching.” I recognize there is a lot in this season from The Amityville Horror, The Blair Witch Project, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, amongst others. When did that movie come out?

  27. I find this to be a very interesting article. As an avid watcher of AHS, I enjoy all of the seasons but after reading this, I’ll definitely be watching this season with a critical eye. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next few episodes!!

  28. Super interesting! It’s always a little disconcerting to realize just how deeply racism is woven into pop culture narratives and gestures. I question how it should be addressed considering racism itself is clearly not a foundation of the show.

  29. pfurnish

    As a North Carolina native and a student of Native American history, the Lost Colony mythology has been with me since childhood and into my academic studies. I am fascinated by this latest retelling of the LC story, and I think Lee Miller, in reality, tried to piece together the conspiracy that she argues was behind the LC and the whole colonization and empire-building venture from Europe. It would be illuminating to hear from the showrunners, writers and actors what they make of your thesis.

    • Matt Sautman

      Thank you for your kind words! I imagine it would be intriguing to hear how diverse their responses would be. I would also be somewhat starstruck, only because I would not expect this article to reach them, but who knows, the Internet has accomplished stranger things.

  30. Great article! I haven’t watched AHS since Freak Show, but the fate of the Roanoke colony has intrigued me since I was very young. I had not even considered the fact that the colonists may have been absorbed by the nearby tribe and it is certainly disheartening that the thought of coexisting with people of color was so absurd that it gave birth to one of this nations greatest mysteries.

    • Matt Sautman

      Thank you! Until I read Loewen, I had never considered that either. It is one of those possibilities that makes the reader feel all kinds of icky inside. Perhaps I could have worded that more academically, but I digress.

  31. Jonathan Judd

    Some good critical insight here, the history that you lay out with regard to the Croatoan marking and the racial imbrication of the early settlers and indigenous tribe is great. However, it is important to note that while AHS is certainly problematic it has a deep allegorical complexity to its plotlines, characters and settings that must be kept in mind. In the Coven season there are definite parallels to be drawn between the really existing racial animus of New Orleans and the constructed divide between the witches and the voodoo practitioners. There is also room in any examination of AHS to discuss the element of revisionist history that permeates throughout, where socio-cultural time and space is distorted and reconfigured to often flip historical power-structures.

    • Matt Sautman

      Thank you for your kind words. I feel like you could turn this into an article of your own. AHS Coven is an excellent example of the show tackling race more explicitly, and I think a more fleshed out version of laying out the series’s overall allegorical complexity could lead to some useful insights about show as a whole. I’d also be interested in seeing more examples where historical power-structures as flipped throughout the series.

  32. John McCracken

    I was very excited to see this topic was being discussed after recently finishing this season. I agree that the mythos of the show creates some problematic histories, even when it brands them as its own. The fear created in the show is built around what is real, what is actually dangerous, and through what camera/lens are we seeing this played out, but it is funny to think that they are focused on the fear of the “unknown” while historical evidence points to the creation of a interracial society. The shows doesn’t address this at all in the mythos of Roanoke, and even when it gets close to the primal/old world understand of the land, it is portrayed through the white character of Scáthach.

    I want to know if it is too much of a fearful reality to mention, notice, or address the history behind the creation of an interracial society this early on in America’s timeline, or is just an avenue that the directing and producing team decided not to take. When I think back on this season. there are little to no concrete examples of Native stories, histories, or understandings of this event, which is very troublesome when thinking of how the stories and lives of Native people are being treated in our current American cultural climate.

    • Matt Sautman

      You call attention to a fascinating absence in the mythos. For a season that seemed prime to incorporate Native Americans into its story structure, it is somewhat unsettling that the show-runners appear to make no attempt to do so. I think you could write something worthwhile on that topic because I genuinely want to know too- is it too much of a fearful reality to mention, etc., or is it just a direction the team choose not to follow through with? I feel like the only way to truly “know” is to speak with them, unless there are any articles out there with them speaking on the topic. I would also be interested in knowing why they would choose not to, even if it is not rooted in fear. It could be possible that some pre-existing myth is influencing them to justify such a decision.

  33. Interesting analysis, but I do wonder about your assertion regarding the racist meme because of it being generally understood and “mythologized” that the Lost Colony disappeared. What we know, in fact, is that it did disappear. Your scholarly source indicates it “probably did not die out”. The problem is the word “probably”. This indicates a theory, guess, assumption or supposition. Not fact. The only fact we have is that it disappeared. Is the acceptance of this then perpetuating a racist myth, or is it simply acknowledging fact as we know it?

    • Matt Sautman

      Due criticism for sure- I am approaching this theoretically myself, so from my theoretical framework I am speaking of this with assertion, but I recognize the limits of epistemology. No one can know for sure what had happened, but using Aristotle’s enthymeme, one can build up a case for probability. The problem then arises when we select our premises, or how we phrase them. “The colony disappeared” appears to be a premise, but it is first a conclusion that requires a different set of premises of its own to be verified. This is where history becomes murky because even here the conclusion, “the colony disappeared” is an enthymeme. The best way to approach the “truth” then is to accumulate as many verifiable premises as possible, construct an argument out of them, and then modify the argument as needed in the face of contrary evidence. I think that it is too complex to break down into a binary as racist myth/fact because I think a duality can occur. It doesn’t have to be “either/or,” but it does depend on what other premises are involved in the argument. What viewpoints are highlighted? What evidence is given? What paradigms are in place? Etc. You highlight a wonderful conundrum that accompanies not just this, but other forms of Historical Revisionism.

  34. Interesting and thought provoking article! Definitely changes the lens in which one views the show. This is important because people who don’t have the access to education can take T.V. or film as actual history. Well done.

  35. Wow, you went in deep. Such an interesting read.

  36. Matt Sautman

    Glad you found it interesting!

  37. Love the show especially this season. Everyone has their own opinion, I would suggest learning more about facts so that one can determine what is fact or fiction.

  38. Matt – very interesting. I actually had no idea about the historical events informing the AHS mythos (that history was kept out of my Canadian history books!). Though, interestingly, your study is related to a common horror trope: the “dangerous” wilderness infringing on and threatening the sanity of white protagonists; a narrative that can be read metaphorically as a fear of the racial other (often read as “wild” or dangerous) endangering “civilized” (i.e. white European) people. This fear of the wilderness was also associated with fears of racial mixing, of whites “going native.” I don’t think these racist narratives are explicitly present in AHS Roanoke, but, expanding on your argument here, it seems like they kind of “haunt” the story and its construction. In short – thank you for this provocative article, which has got me thinking more in-depth about the intersection of race and horror.

  39. Wonderfully written and informative. I can tell you had put a lot of time into compiling your source material.

  40. Stephanie M.

    Thanks for the lesson in fictive voice; it’s a cool concept. Also, thanks for reminding me about Lies My Teacher Told Me. I’ve been meaning to read it for years.

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