It really doesn't seem appropriate to discuss a subject as serious and complex as race relations in a Sherlock Holmes blog. The topic of Sherlock Holmes is, for most of us, an escape from the cares of our daily lives, a charming fantasy of reason winning out over chaos. And yet, a part of what we love about the Sherlockian Canon is its ties to our reality, its solid connection to our lives.
And in a year when assorted tragedies remind us that we still have some distance to travel in America with the issues that lie between our citizens of different ethnic backgrounds, the stories of Sherlock Holmes serve a different purpose . . . they remind us that we can't hide in a fantasy that all is right with the world, and that being human will always mean struggling with certain issues.
The Canon gives us the good of racial relations in a tale like "The Yellow Face." It also gives us the bad of that issue in "The Five Orange Pips" and "The Three Gables."
We'd like to ignore some aspects of it, like the character of Steve Dixie in "Three Gables." He's a horrible racist stereotype and we'd like to make excuses for Conan Doyle, the same man who wrote the beautifully acceptance-filled story of "The Yellow Face." But recognizing that even Conan Doyle had both good intentions and a racist side is a very important thing.
We're human. We have some horrible impulses, some not-so-good cultural traits, every single one of us. And yet most of us strive to rise above those parts of us. And that is where we are at our best. Not because we were born perfect creatures, but because we struggle to be so.
There is a move afoot, in response to our latest tragedy, the killing of nine people just because of the color of their skin, to remove the Confederate flag from stores and government venues. It's a marvelous gesture, given what that flag represents to most of us. It won't solve anything, to be sure, but it makes a statement than can't hurt: We want to rise above our past. Our past will always be with us. Our past can never be forgotten. But it is our past, and sometimes we must leave things of that past to museums and history books.
My first draft of this particular blog was about removing Steve Dixie and "The Three Gables" from our Canon, just as the Confederate flag is being removed from Walmarts -- the sort of over-the-top idea I'm very fond of in these pages. Steve Dixie is a true embarrassment to Sherlockians, a part of our beloved Canon we don't celebrate and ignore as much as possible. And yet that embarrassment, that little test of what we'll tolerate, serves as a reminder that we still have progress to be made, and that some issues were there over a hundred years ago are still with us.
If you read Conan Doyle's play "Angels of Darkness," which the author rightly hoped none of us would ever see, you'll see both Dr. Watson's first role and a whole lot of Steve-Dixie-type stereotypes. An African American, an Asian, a Brit, and a guy from New Jersey are all played as the worst caricatures of stereotyping. Yet two of those are meaningless to us now, silly remnants of past ideas that have no emotional impact today. We've grown beyond them.
And maybe one day, all four sterotypes from "Angels of Darkness" will seem equally silly and have no impact upon our current lives. Maybe one day, we'll all just look upon Steve Dixie as just a badly written character and no more than that. I truly hope that day comes. But that day isn't today.
The Canon of Sherlock Holmes reminds us that we still have issues that can't be ignored, even as Sherlockians. And it also reminds us that there is good in us, too, and reason to hope.
So we keep on trying. Even here.