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Anjasa
02-11-2012, 04:43 PM
Hi all,

I've been lately thinking about race is Fantasy and Scifi, specifically in a setting that has multiple species. As such, 'specieism' is a more prominent issue.

Think of Star Wars where the race of a human doesn't matter because humans are too busy being 'racist' towards Twi'leks and Chiss.

I'm just wondering about people's general thoughts on race in fantasy where human races don't matter. Is it refreshing to read and write, knowing that the colour of human skin doesn't matter, or is it just transference?

Do you find that people of colour are more commonly represented in fantasy / sci-fi among humans or is skin colour just not often mentioned at all?

I'm fascinated by the idea of all humans being equal, and I really think that sff makes a nice, well, fantasy world where we can more easily and more realistically achieve it.

Polenth
02-11-2012, 08:49 PM
Think of Star Wars where the race of a human doesn't matter because humans are too busy being 'racist' towards Twi'leks and Chiss.

I'm just wondering about people's general thoughts on race in fantasy where human races don't matter. Is it refreshing to read and write, knowing that the colour of human skin doesn't matter, or is it just transference?

A future where racism has been overcome or a fantasy culture where it's never been an issue is fine.

But the idea that people stop being racist because they're too busy being specist simply doesn't work for me. People don't stop one -ism because they're busy with another -ism. In my experience, a person prone to -isms will bag them all, rather than focusing on only one.

Allegory has its place, but it often gets abused as a way to erase people (by replacing them with fuzzy blue aliens) or to use harmful stereotypes that wouldn't be okay if the characters were human. Personally, I prefer seeing specism as a completely non-allegorical thing. Show me what real specism would be like and how it intersects with other prejudices, rather than having it as the only prejudice that exists.


Do you find that people of colour are more commonly represented in fantasy / sci-fi among humans or is skin colour just not often mentioned at all?SFF still tends to have white middle-class heterosexual men as main characters. There's a shift away from it, but the majority still fall in those categories. If you don't mention what your characters looks like, most people will assume white, because it's usually true.

Anjasa
02-11-2012, 10:10 PM
Allegory has its place, but it often gets abused as a way to erase people (by replacing them with fuzzy blue aliens) or to use harmful stereotypes that wouldn't be okay if the characters were human. Personally, I prefer seeing specism as a completely non-allegorical thing. Show me what real specism would be like and how it intersects with other prejudices, rather than having it as the only prejudice that exists.

This falls in line with my way of thinking, for the most part. Typically I enjoy specism when it's caused by the behaviour of the species - such as drow being horrible, terrible individuals who hate everyone else for not being them and do everything they can to preserve their own species. To me it makes sense to hate drow, because drow are terrible.

I find the specism less comforting in Star Wars because it literally feels like it boils down to 'you're different than I am, and I don't like it.'


SFF still tends to have white middle-class heterosexual men as main characters. There's a shift away from it, but the majority still fall in those categories. If you don't mention what your characters looks like, most people will assume white, because it's usually true.

This is what I was afraid of and something I try to be cognizant of in my own writing. I read a fair bit of fantasy, but most of the races I read aren't human, so I wasn't sure what the expectations were of other readers.

Polenth
02-11-2012, 11:01 PM
This falls in line with my way of thinking, for the most part. Typically I enjoy specism when it's caused by the behaviour of the species - such as drow being horrible, terrible individuals who hate everyone else for not being them and do everything they can to preserve their own species. To me it makes sense to hate drow, because drow are terrible.

I find the specism less comforting in Star Wars because it literally feels like it boils down to 'you're different than I am, and I don't like it.'

That's the complete reverse of what I meant. Drow are an example of an approach I don't like, as they're one-dimensionally bad, rather than being shown with the same care and depth as humans. They're also dark-skinned in a world of mainly white humans, so they act as a replacement for dark-skinned humans. Their non-humaness is a veneer used to justify their portrayal.

What I like to see is other species as actual other species. They'll have depth, individual differences and be fully realised as their own thing. And they won't be there to replace groups of humans.

It isn't fun to read a story where the only person who looks like you, or has other markers to show they're intended to be you (cultural things, stereotypes they embody, etc), is considered to be inherently evil and not really a person.

missesdash
02-11-2012, 11:59 PM
The "evil, dark skinned, ethnic barbarian" stereotype occurs even when the species aren't human. Like the LOTR films where everyone is super white, and the whitest of all the white people are the most saintly. Meanwhile the only non-whites are monstrously ugly, ghoulish things with black skin. They feel like stand-ins for "big bad ethnic."

(And then on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Avatar in which we're presented with giant, blue, space Africans.)

Anyway it's different when the human or humanoid cast is of varying skin color. But when all the good guys are white humans and all the bad guys are dark skinned "non-humans" it just takes me back 200 years when that type of thinking was commonplace. And I don't think Fantasy writers deserve some kind of standing ovation for basing the conflict among their species on the history of white supremacy (we white people are good, you non-white things are bad).

kuwisdelu
02-12-2012, 12:45 AM
(And then on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Avatar in which we're presented with giant, blue, space Africans.)

I thought they were giant, blue space American Indians, i.e., sci-fi Dances with Wolves.

I guess we were all colonized.

Now I'm curious, though: are there any popular stories about a white man who has to save a tribe of Africans from other white men by out-African-ing the Africans?

maxmordon
02-12-2012, 01:13 AM
I thought they were giant, blue space American Indians, i.e., sci-fi Dances with Wolves.

I guess we were all colonized.

Now I'm curious, though: are there any popular stories about a white man who has to save a tribe of Africans from other white men by out-African-ing the Africans?

The closest thing I can think of is the Spanish film Welcome Mr. Marshall. It's about a village in Spain in the 50's that does its best to out-Spanishing the Spaniards to bring in Americans and their juicy Marshall Plan money.

maxmordon
02-12-2012, 01:18 AM
What bothers me about the Elves in Lord of the Rings is how their race is so freaking perfect. But then, you remember the book is meant to be written down by Elvish scribes, so its possible the bias is not unlike the Roman bias in, for example, Julius Caesar' Gallic Wars.

With that said, has anyone read The Iron Dream? I haven't, but the plot is a take on this convention: Alternative History were Hitler left to the US in the 20's and became a pulp writer, putting all his visions and ideas about the world in a standard fantasy setting, the book wildly develops a fandom and nobody has a problem since the heroes kill grayish subhuman abominations.

Anjasa
02-12-2012, 01:28 AM
That's the complete reverse of what I meant. Drow are an example of an approach I don't like, as they're one-dimensionally bad, rather than being shown with the same care and depth as humans. They're also dark-skinned in a world of mainly white humans, so they act as a replacement for dark-skinned humans. Their non-humaness is a veneer used to justify their portrayal.

What I like to see is other species as actual other species. They'll have depth, individual differences and be fully realised as their own thing. And they won't be there to replace groups of humans.

It isn't fun to read a story where the only person who looks like you, or has other markers to show they're intended to be you (cultural things, stereotypes they embody, etc), is considered to be inherently evil and not really a person.

Ahh, I see. Sorry for misreading.

And I understand the concern about them being dark skinned and the links there and how difficult that is. I think that it often has more to do with 'dark = night, day = light' than race allegories, but perhaps I'm far off base with that assumption.

AKyber36
02-12-2012, 03:04 AM
What bothers me about the Elves in Lord of the Rings is how their race is so freaking perfect. But then, you remember the book is meant to be written down by Elvish scribes, so its possible the bias is not unlike the Roman bias in, for example, Julius Caesar' Gallic Wars.

Ah, but you'd think otherwise if you read Tolkien's The Silmarillion. We have Elves killing fellow Elves over petty things, jealousy, greed, lust, and every single flaw that the other races have in LoTR they have as well. Even the Elves in the novel of LoTR are flawed. Legolas, for example, throws a hissy fit when they enter Lothlorien because he doesn't want to be blindfolded like the others (and being in the same position as Gimli) and promptly gets put into his place by Aragorn and Haldir.

As for the fantasy/sci-fi genre, I find that it's getting better with a more multi-ethnic mix of characters nowadays.

missesdash
02-12-2012, 03:26 AM
Ahh, I see. Sorry for misreading.

And I understand the concern about them being dark skinned and the links there and how difficult that is. I think that it often has more to do with 'dark = night, day = light' than race allegories, but perhaps I'm far off base with that assumption.

I don't know, the idea that dark races are evil can be documented as early as a 150 AD misinterpretation of Noah's Prophecy in the bible.

It's pretty deeply ingrained.

frimble3
02-12-2012, 03:44 AM
I thought they were giant, blue space American Indians, i.e., sci-fi Dances with Wolves.

I guess we were all colonized.

Now I'm curious, though: are there any popular stories about a white man who has to save a tribe of Africans from other white men by out-African-ing the Africans?
'Tarzan'?

missesdash
02-12-2012, 03:53 AM
I thought they were giant, blue space American Indians, i.e., sci-fi Dances with Wolves.

I guess we were all colonized.

Now I'm curious, though: are there any popular stories about a white man who has to save a tribe of Africans from other white men by out-African-ing the Africans?

The Help

Anjasa
02-12-2012, 04:02 AM
I don't know, the idea that dark races are evil can be documented as early as a 150 AD misinterpretation of Noah's Prophecy in the bible.

It's pretty deeply ingrained.

Yea, I'm just saying I'm not sure I believe it's the /only/ reason.

I mean, there's lots of allegory of 'non-caucasion = bad' in books, but I'm not sure it's always the case with scifi/fantasy/paranormal. Of course I'm not saying the genre's get a pass - they don't. I just think some do it as the colour black (not the skin colour) is evil, where as the colour white (not the skin colour) is good, because night is evil and light is good.

I'm not sure. It's hard to pick out the reasons why people do things because of how many layers of sociological and cultural programing we have. Perhaps it has more to do with skin colour than I'd like to admit.

I want to believe people are better than that. I want to have hope that racism isn't so deeply ingrained in us.

kuwisdelu
02-12-2012, 04:04 AM
The Help

Oh, is that what that is about? I've seen it brought up in several discussions around here.

Polenth
02-12-2012, 04:40 AM
And I understand the concern about them being dark skinned and the links there and how difficult that is. I think that it often has more to do with 'dark = night, day = light' than race allegories, but perhaps I'm far off base with that assumption.

It's true that some things are based on humans being diurnal, where day is good and night is bad. But drow and Tolkien orcs really aren't in that category.

I think it's important not to let your enjoyment of something stop you from seeing the cracks. Because if you don't see why something is problematic, you'll recreate it when you write your own stories. You can enjoy something and acknowledge it has issues. It's not as though you have to pick one or the other.

Anjasa
02-12-2012, 04:41 PM
It's true that some things are based on humans being diurnal, where day is good and night is bad. But drow and Tolkien orcs really aren't in that category.

I think it's important not to let your enjoyment of something stop you from seeing the cracks. Because if you don't see why something is problematic, you'll recreate it when you write your own stories. You can enjoy something and acknowledge it has issues. It's not as though you have to pick one or the other.

Yea, I know. After all, I still love The Doors and Rolling Stones despite them being terribly misogynistic.

I'd thought about the drow issue before, but I did feel it was more 'well, they live underground, in the dark, so it would make sense for them to be dark'. Though then the idea of them being dark because of demonic corruption might add another layer of wrongness - but again that depends on if angels are light because of day and demons are dark because of night or if it's the more insidious meaning.

missesdash
02-12-2012, 09:12 PM
Yea, I know. After all, I still love The Doors and Rolling Stones despite them being terribly misogynistic.

I'd thought about the drow issue before, but I did feel it was more 'well, they live underground, in the dark, so it would make sense for them to be dark'. Though then the idea of them being dark because of demonic corruption might add another layer of wrongness - but again that depends on if angels are light because of day and demons are dark because of night or if it's the more insidious meaning.

Actually that makes no sense. Creatures that live underground or in caves are more likely to have no pigment at all. They're often white and blind.

Anjasa
02-12-2012, 09:19 PM
Actually that makes no sense. Creatures that live underground or in caves are more likely to have no pigment at all. They're often white and blind.

I have to admit, most of what I know about cave dwellers was in an episode of Earth that I watched a few months ago and I can remember bats and worms. Though it does make sense with the blindness. I believe the bats in Forgotten Realms were large and blind. I can't remember most of the other underdark beasts... dwarves, ilithids, fish. Perhaps it's part of our own understandings bleeding into it without much thought - i.e. if you're playing hide and go seek at night, it's best to be dressed in dark clothes.

The drow can see in the dark, though some books specify that it's heat seeing, so skin tone wouldn't matter, though I believe that some books did say that was just an augmentation to their actual sight (since they can see things without heat, such as stones).

Sorry to be focusing so much on drow, I just know it's a bit of a contentious issue and I'm trying to wrap my mind around a lot of things I haven't thought of before.

akaria
02-12-2012, 10:19 PM
Have you ever seen The Descent? The underground creatures are blind and very pale but have excellent hearing. That movie is chilling.

There's a wonderful post on the the Social Justice League blog about enjoying media even though it makes you cringe. They make a good points because unless you withdraw yourself from all media you're going to see all sorts of fail. What's important is to recognize the fail. Don't pretend it doesn't exist because your favorite author/director/etc couldn't possibly be racist or any other -ist. The creator doesn't get a pass because it's only fiction.

Ah-ha! Found the post http://www.socialjusticeleague.net/2011/09/how-to-be-a-fan-of-problematic-things/

maxmordon
02-13-2012, 02:36 AM
In my WIP, due to the heavy pollution surrounding the big cities, the cities are overcast most of the time slowly turning everyone pitch white. Some people are not happy about it, others embrace it.

Anjasa
02-13-2012, 02:57 AM
You know, thinking on it, I'm thinking I should blame WoW for the night = dark skin, day = light skin idea, with the night elves and blood elves.

maxmordon
02-13-2012, 03:00 AM
Yeah, the original Tolkien dark elves in the Silmarillion were called like that for having lived in the darkness in the forest, if I'm not mistaken. Though it was hard to me for reading: too much rely on family trees and maps do not make engaging fantasy, in my opinion.

FoamyRules
02-13-2012, 03:02 AM
When I write my Sci Fi/Fantasy stories I always try to incorporate different people that come in all colors in my stories. When I write about aliens or humanoids they're human like because I always add romance in my stories.