Ruby Baptiste tries on another person’s skin.
Lovecraft Country Season One Episode Five “Strange Case,” directed by Cheryl Duyne, explores the body horror in racial and gender injustice. Usually, Leti and Atticus are in the middle of the drama, but in “Strange Case,” my favorite storyline belongs to Ruby Baptiste. William gives Ruby a potion that temporarily allows her to live in a White woman’s skin. She calls her new White skin,” Ms. Hilary Davenport.” Ruby appears to be wearing the skin of one of the Braithwaite’s servants Dell. Dell is the red neck who looked after Christina’s monsters. All Ruby has to do live as Ms. Hilary Davenport is to provide Christina Braithwaite with one small favor.
The body horror aspect of “Strange Case” happens when the potion wears off, and Ruby crawls out of her Ms. Hilary Davenport skin. The first time the potion wears off, William drags Ruby on top of a plastic tarp. She is withering in pain as her skin cracks, and her eyes change from blue back to brown. William stabs her in the stomach. The noises of the White flesh being cut to reveal her natural Black form caused me to shudder viscerally. In media, Black people are often forced to see through privileged White propagandists’ eyes and are violently pushed back into the reality of the world’s injustice when they leave the theatre or turn off their screen.
Through existing as Ms. Hilary Davenport, Ruby realizes that she lives in such a different world than her White neighbors in Chicago. In the first few minutes of the episode, Ruby wanders around dazed and confused in the Southside. She bumps into a young Black teenage boy. Ruby falls, then the cops pull over. Ruby, as a White woman, puts her hands since she is used to being treated like a criminal for no reason. Instead, they start attacking the teenage boy assuming that he sexually assaulted her. As a White woman, she rescues the Black boy by telling the police that he was trying to help her. White women are seen as harmless, helpless beings who need to be protected by White men from people of color. Ruby realizes that as Ms. Davenport, she is treated like a human being. At first, she is happy with being seen as harmless since it allows her to inhabit spaces she always wants to belong to, like working at a fancy store.
Though when Ruby, as Ms. Hilary Davenport, gets the job she always wanted at the clothing store Marshall Fields, she quickly becomes disillusioned. Ms. Hilary Davenport is hired as an assistant manager. She uses the same resume that she applied with as the Black Ruby Baptiste. Ruby never got hired, but she doesn’t care because she now has her dream job. But her joy quickly sours the more she spends time with the store manager Paul and the White female clerks who work under her. The White clerks call their colleague Tamara inherently incompetent because she is Black. Paul only hired Tamara to make some racial quota that headquarters recently started. This angers Ruby because the Black clerk didn’t even have a high school degree when she applied many times for the same position with a lot of relevant training.
The White female clerks are scared to spend time in the Southside of Chicago, but they fetishize Blackness. The employees love that Ms. Davenport can dance like a “colored woman” even though they looked down upon the whole culture. If the women knew that their assistant manager was a Black woman, they would mock her dancing. They desperately want to go to a Southside bar to experience the “scene” even though they don’t want to work alongside people of color. White women want to appropriate Blackness but oppress the same people who created the culture that they love.
Tamara takes Ms. Davenport, Paul, and the rest of the ladies to a Southside bar. All the White people are thrilled to see all the Black customers dancing to their snappy music. Ms. Davenport numbly watches these White women dancing with Black men who they say they’re scared of without a care in the world. Ruby doesn’t take another drop of the potion that night because she is disgusted by the Whiteness she has experienced.
William is Christina. She uses the skin, shifting potion to turn into her male “friend.” At the end of the episode, Ruby questions William about the locked basement. She doesn’t receive an answer because Christina violently comes out of William’s skin. Like Ruby enjoyed living the privileged life of a White woman, Christina must feel intoxicated by the kind of power White heterosexual men experience every day. The police did whatever William (Christina) wanted because they automatically believed that first, Ms. Davenport (Ruby) was his wife and second that there was something medically wrong with her. The cops brought Ruby back to William’s “home” even though she said she wasn’t his wife, and he did something horrible to her. Ruby, as Ms. Davenport was seizing up, and her eyes were changing colors, but the officers took his word that she just needed her meds.
As a man, Christina is taken seriously as an intelligent person. William is never questioned, especially with what he wants to do with White or Black women. This disguise also allowed her to sneak into the Sons of Adam meetings to plan her takeover. Ruby and William, have sex several times in Lovecraft Country, which leads me to ask if Christina is a Lesbian? Or does she enjoy fully inhabiting a White heterosexual man (the top of the food chain)? Also, what is in the basement?
In “Strange Case,” Atticus and Leti work on translating bits of The Book of Life. Atticus figures out that some of the symbols translate into “die.” Does that mean he will die? Or will all of them perish?