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  1. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    The politics of ethnic minority villains

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by stubeard, Sep 3, 2010.

    I'm currently crafting a story, set in the Caribbean in the early 18th century, in which everyone is hunting a sacred relic. Basically, it ends with the natives getting their relic back, although when they do, they cut out the eyes of anyone who has seen their sacred object, including the main antagonist, the evil Spanish Governor. This is what they determine to be the just punishment of this sacreligious crime. (The protagonists escape this punishment by crafty means, by the way.)

    In a way, it's a good ending for the natives because they claim what's rightfully theirs, giving the Spanish a good kick up the arse in the process, thereby getting some revenge for all the conquering and murder the Spanish conquistadors did in the 16th and 17th centuries. (This barbarity is on full display at points in the story.) However, I'm concerned that by ending with them committing an act of such barbarity, I will come across as a bit racist. I'm wondering if anyone thinks I might need some kind of redemption for the natives after this?
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it is set in the Carribean they are not the ethnic minority, the Spaniards are. If it makes a good story go with it, yes you may offend some people, but it offends people when the archaeology records depict people from ancient tribes as cannibals etc even though that is what the evidence shows. If it is something the people of the time would have done I see no issue with, if there is no evidence of a similar attack or practice I would personally feel uncomfortable with it.
     
  3. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Hehe you know what I mean!!
     
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    :) sorry lol I edited my post to add my views hope they are more helpful.
     
  5. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    I've just noticed a bit of hypocricy - why am I not worried about upsetting Spaniards by having the Spanish as the antagonists?
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    because it is historically what would have happened, they are the conquerers so have the upperhand. If you can show it is similar to what would have happened you are fine.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You have to be careful about statements like that. History tends to be rather fluid. The events don't change (probably :)), but our knowledge of them and our interpretation can change drastically.

    Historical "fact" is a rather slippery concept.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Interpretation changes fact doesn't. The Spaniards were the invaders that won't change, that Europeans plundered the world is 'fact' evidence is in every small museum throughout Europe, whether that was a good thing is the interpretation - how we view them because of it does. There are some things that are 'fact' and some interpretation. At present it is how they are viewed as the invaders and we still tend to view the peoples as savages it has come a long way but not much.

    One example would be Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer on the 29 July 1981, that date will only change with a typo. The people involved won't change but how we speak about the event has changed because we now know the rest of the story.

    Another example (although this is archaeology and not history) if you find a human bone with human teeth marks on it, that is evidence of canibalism. What may change with trends is how the bite marks got there, and why people were eating people. What won't change unless there was an intial mistake is the human bone with the human teeth on it.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This illustrates my point exactly. Plundered is an interpretation. The underlying fact is that Europeans explored the world, and picked up objects and materials as they did so. Were objects they picked up therefore stolen? Or were they collected and preserved? Were some of those objects previously relocated by those who came before the Europeans?

    What we know of history comes from exploration, and in fact by the collection and interpretation of artifacts, including writings. And many events accepted as fact are later revised in light of new discoveries.

    So much for historical fact.
     
  10. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    Allow me to pose a few questions that perhaps you should ask yourself.

    Is "Revenge" a good thing or a bad thing?

    Is it a good ending for the natives because they get "Revenge"?

    Can this "Revenge" be more positively presented as being "Justice", rather than simply petty revenge?

    Just something to think about. :)

    Are you a racist? In the 21st century of political correctness you can't be "racist" unless you are white and if you are white you are automatically racist due to guilt by association with the crimes of your white ancestors. "White Guilt" I think I heard it called on one of the television news programs.

    Once you stop and think about how silly all the political correctness hype sounds, you'll probably realize that its all nonsense.

    I stopped worrying about it a long time ago.

    Now, to address your question. You expressed concern that readers of your work would find it racist material, if I understood you. This is a definite possibility if you write each and every member of your ethnic native group as being a carbon copy clone of each other, with the exact same ideas, opinions and beliefs.

    Racism in writing is casting ALL of an ethnic group as being the same (they are all cannibals, barbarians, mongrels, criminals, insane, ugly, republicans or what have you). In reality we all know that any ethnic group is composed of individuals, each with their own ideas and opinions. Some of your natives will be murderous bastards, some will be kind and gentle, some will be ignorant fools and some will be wise and intelligent. Some will be violent and some would prefer to banish the Spanish rather than mutilate them. What the group as a whole decides to do will depend on the will of the majority.

    If you take the time to write it that way, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    That is merely your intepretation of one word in my post, which will have a bias and contain interpretation, I am not aiming to be a scientific historian. My words in the post were not the fact, the fact was that small museums throughout Europe are stuffed with items removed from various places, often without the permission of the local inhabitants and often they were taken forcibly or as spoils of war which makes them loot or plunder as that becomes pillaging. I did not offer an opinion on whether it was a good or bad thing.

    The fact that Stubeard can work on is the one that Spaniards did remove artifacts from the places they went. In some of those places the items were removed with force against the wishes of the local inhabitants. Some of those items did have religious significance. Whether that is a good or bad thing his story then interprets. However I highly doubt the people who felt robbed and pillaged would have felt positive about it.

    Archaeology is artefacts history and archaeology are two seperate disciplines that meet someplace in the middle, but history is usually more concerned with the written word.

    Which to bring it back on topic, if Stubeard centres his story on just one small piece of evidence or 'fact' relating to how the natives would have behaved he puts himself on a stronger footing. One of my favourite shows was Bonekickers which threw out practically every known archaelogical interpretation and used the legends and evidence to weave fantastic stories.
     
  12. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Very good point - I did mean justice. That's why I think the ending is a good one - rather than the protagonists keeping the artifact, it's returned to it's rightful place.

    As for what else you said - that makes a lot of sense - thank you. At first, the idea was just to have the natives show up and reclaim the artifact, but I realised that was kinda pointless so I've put one of them with the main group of protagonists. At first, it was a bit of a silly worry, but your post has made me realise that just throwing them in at the end would not only be a little risky but also very bad storytelling :meh:


    To be honest, it's more of an action-adventure than an historical novel analysing whether or not the Spanish action was right or wrong. Think Indiana Jones rather than Dances With Wolves :p
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes I know lol but there is still interpretation even in fiction:) There is no such thing as a work without a bias. Have to confess never watched Indiana Jones lol but did play Tomb Raider up to about III. It has very little 'fact' or evidence but still used some to weave the basic story.
     
  14. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    Glad to be of service. :)

    In a scenario where a sacred relic was stolen from an ethnic native tribe, it is certainly plausible for the tribal priests to bray for heads on spears, while tribal elders favor having cooler heads for fear of violent conquistador reprisals. Tribal hunters standing with their spears and wicker shields, ready to carry out whatever orders their leaders decide on, while their women gather up the children and try to hide them away from the impending violence.

    Different individuals with different ideas and opinions...where is the racism in that?
     
  15. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with the previous speaker... if you give the natives nuances, it will help you avoid offensive stereotypes, and usually makes the writing better.

    Just don't make the natives sympathetic for the sake of political correctness. It tends to make the story bland and inoffensive, like a Disney movie.
     
  16. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    ...and make sure you do a little research. Peoples from the Caribbean know their personal local history well. Don't make the mistake of picking the Taino people who were pastoral subsistence farmers. The people from whom the Caribbean derives its name, the Carib (in Spanish, Caribe), would be a better fit.
     
  17. Wicked
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    Wicked Member

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    Don't forget that in real life, both sides were usually dicks, not just Europeans. It's superior technology that won, not superior dickery. In the end, you'll have to choose between realism and political correctness, and that choice is up to you.
     
  18. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    I would have tried to phrase it with a little more sophistication, but yes, human nature isn't always pretty.
     
  19. Bad_Valentine
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    Bad_Valentine Member

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    I don't understand at all how your story can be racist. The natives are making their choices because of their beliefs, not because of the color of their skin.

    And Lothgar, you lumped in "Republicans" with "cannibals, barbarians, mongrels, criminals, insane, ugly." Zing!
     
  20. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    I see your point. I have unintentionally libeled cannibals, barbarians, mongrels, criminals, the insane and the ugly by grouping them with Republicans.

    For my misdeed, I sincerely apologize to all of the above groups. It was wrong of me to imply that they might dirty their hands with politics.
     
  21. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm currently outlining a story where the main character is a Korean girl in an international school, and I'm planning to let the characters play out their prejudices against other nationalities. Some of the prejudices will be the main character's own.

    This is likely to offend some people, so why will I do it? Because prejudices are a part of real life, just like sex, greed, failure, weakness, jealousy, selfishness, and many other things which may make us uncomfortable. You can't cut out an important part of reality without making it a lie.
     
  22. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    No matter how one writes one's story, there will always be someone who can misunderstand it. Some people will assume any negative elements in the depiction of an ethnic group is racism.

    As a writer, one just has to decide which people are worth offending, and write for the rest.
     
  23. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Aye, I agree with that. My concern was because I was just going to have the natives turn up at the end, cut a few eyes out and bugger off back to their island. I've since realised that, beyond the issue of racism, this would not be the best storytelling. So I've included them a bit more in the story to highlight all the other sides of their characters, rather than simply having them as barbaric savages. It was never my intention to have them solely as barbaric savages, but that's the impression my story would've given if that was all they did in the book. But, as I said, it was as much a storytelling problem as a racist problem.
     
  24. cryssfox
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    cryssfox Member

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    My current project is also one that deals with racism, as my main character is extremely racist. It's important to remember that what our characters and our narrators may have to say about a people is not what we as the authors would have to say. Might you be viewed as a racist for having your tribe cut out the eyes of the Spaniards; might I for choosing a narrative voice sympathetic to a fascist society? The short answer is, yes.
    I'm not afraid of that probability. I'm writing a satire. If someone wants to miss the whole point and call me a racist, whatever. I'm not going to temper my art with the fear of its reception.
     
  25. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sounds excellent. Don't be afraid to make them scary.
     

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