White Characters Dominating Fantasy Worlds

Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by MilesTro, May 25, 2015.

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  1. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The following diatribe is not so much directed at you, @Moth, as it is to the thread in general:

    I again repair to my same answer: Fantasy readers - in general - need to take off their genre blinders and broaden their reading habits. Lets call a few things by their real names. Many people in this thread (and so - many - other threads) say the word "Fantasy", but what they really mean is what you described above: Middle Ages Northern Euro-Fetish Fantasy. They're talking about stories that vaguely feel like the setting is a U.K or Northern Europe analogue. If I were to write such a story - me, little Puerto Rican mixed bag of genetics boy - yeah, I would probably also be reaching into the jar labeled White People as regards the characters I create for that story. Not because I'm ignorant (I majored in anthropology in the first few of my too-many years of uni), but because it's easier than coming up with believable solutions for why my plucky band of quest-goers includes a Somali and a Malaysian that don't feel like I'm wedging these characters in with a big SJW crowbar.

    There are books that check off all diversity boxes for Fantasy. There are Fantasy books that only have black characters and nothing else. These books are sitting on my TBR pile because the latter also has a strong LGBT story arc. But these books aren't set in Northern Europe Analogueland. We need to be honest in this discussion and admit that the readers who are complaining are passing these books over because the cover art or description says they aren't set in that familiar setting of bogs, peat, forest and unwashed leather and braided ginger beards that promises a smell (never described) that would knock our little suburban butts unconscious. Eyes are glazing over, unfocused, as these books are seen in Amazon because they don't have that look that the reader has trained him/herself to key off of.

    BTW, you're dead correct about medieval Spain. A significant portion of the Spanish that is my native tongue is recognizable to Arabic speakers, and there's a 700+ year-long reason for that. ;)

    ETA: I will go so far as to say that when one demands that Middle Ages Northern Euro-Fetish Fantasy be diversified, you're not just drinking the Kool-Aidâ„¢, you're gulping it. You're treating that setting as a holy Garden of Eden, as Avalon. The fact that you're unwilling to see Africa or Asia or the Americas as fertile soil for a different kind of High fantasy means you caved in and bought into the idea that your roots - from wherever you are from - aren't good enough to be idealized into mythology. I say that coming from a culture (Puerto Rico) where everyone wants to trace their lineage back to some part of Spain, Mythological Mother of LatinoAmerica (genuflect now), but no one looks for their African roots or Taino roots no matter how dark-skinned they happen to be.

    When you complain about a lack of diversity in fantasy and then pass up this book right here, with an endorsement by none other than Ursula K. Le fuck'n Guin herself, because it's "not the kind of story I'm talking about" then you are the issue. You. The reader. I'm pointing at you. The actual, real, personal, individual you. But I've got a tenner that says you don't see me pointing at you because you've got those blinders on.

    Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 11.12.48 AM.png


    tl;dr

    This entire discussion is suffering from profound sampling error.
     
  2. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    As a person currently writing fantasy, I found that as I did world building, my cast stopped being white, or purely white. My world is one where the Persian empire analogue was much more successful, and the country it's set in was a former prison colony surrounded by Teutonic and Germanic Tribes with the prisoners be a mix of political dissidents from the empire, and tribal chiefs that were imprisoned while the empire was trying to conquer them. The groups interbred and the climate is close to Greece so that the general ethnicity is lies somewhere between Spanish and Indian.
     
  3. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I guess the stereotypical fantasy nerd is a loserly, pimply, pasty-white, too-skinny or too-fat white boy.

    Whether or not this reflects reality is up for debate. Probably depends on the region, whether we're talking about blacks/PoC in the US, Canada, the UK, France, South Africa... And as @Wreybies so aptly put: what kind of fantasy we're honing in on: tolkienesque, medieval stuff, darktowerish western fantasy, or any story about a made-up world with made-up monsters, supernatural forces, and what have you.
     
  4. watermark
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    watermark Member

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    I think it's simply easier to write what you know. Take for example the anime genre, ever see a white protagonist in those? Full Metal Alchemist comes to mind, but the majority of that genre has Japanese protagonists. In fact, most of the supporting cast is Japanese with the occasional gaijin. It's sometimes pretty funny (such as in "Shokugeki no Soma") when even the "white people" have Japanese names and are supposedly half Japanese, making the entire cast Japanese. Do I think the author is racist? No. I just think he doesn't know a lot about Caucasians.

    My point is, people write what they know. If you did not grow up in a say Malaysian family, you have absolutely no idea what life is like for that person. What does he eat for breakfast? How does he bid his mama goodnight? Does he use Facebook/Instagram/Amazon or some other local version of that? How does he walk? How does he talk? All of the individually insignificant details that make a character believable.

    So when you try to write a Malaysian fantasy hero, you're afraid he'll come out fake, because you don't really know what it's like to be a Malaysian. You could do research but it's much, much easier to just write your own culture.

    As it is English fantasy novels are mostly written by westerners. So it's natural there will be a lot of white people in them. Still, it's changing. The fantasy novel today is a lot more diverse imho. More melting and mixing, more combination of aspects of different cultures, and more fun. :)
     
  5. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    That isd probably lesstrue for fantasy than it is for other genres (apart from Scifi) because fantasy readers expect nationalities etc to be invented - I have no idea what it is like to be a female shape shifter who predominantly has sex whilst in her wolf form, or for that matter a very knowledgeable and profoundly wise talking tree but that doesnt mean i can't write those characters.

    In Fantasy (and Sci Fi) People of colour could well encompass all shades of the rainbow and stretch the definition of 'people'
     
  6. Homer Potvin
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    Homer Potvin Senior Member

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    I'm not sure if this is an issue of people writing Black or White characters or if it's how the stories are interpreted. I'm pretty sure there's no reference anywhere in the text as to whether Harry Potter is White or Black or Indian. Or anybody else in the story for that matter. We know he's White because of the cover art, but who knows what JK Rowling intended. We know he's British, but there are all sorts of races in Britain. On a personal note I've never mentioned the skin color of any character I've written unless there's an inherent racial element that makes it relevant.
     
  7. texshelters
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    texshelters Member

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    How does the author reveal the characters are white? How do you know? Is it implied or is it stated explicitly? Peace, Tex
     
  8. texshelters
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    texshelters Member

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    A lot of white people wrote those books and thus, they write white characters. It's a choice, even though yes, the time periods they are referring to are often dominated by white empires. Why weren't the elves in Lord of the Rings black? It's because Tolkien in his time and place would have never thought of doing that. You can't blame him for that, much. And would people have still read those books. I think so, but who knows?

    Moreover, there is situation of "white default", that if the race isn't mentioned, then readers assume the character is white. I am not sure how to get around that without being too race conscious, as in, I better tell them this character isn't white.

    What I I have done is brought in their cultural background through narrative and dialogue as much as I can. So, I will mention a character has a dad who is a refugee from Tunisia or one has a grandmother from Israel.

    It's tricky, for certain.

    Peace, Tex
     
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  9. texshelters
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    texshelters Member

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    So true! I bet you write some interesting material. Thanks! Peace, Tex
     
  10. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    I understand white authors make all of their characters white in their own fantasy world to aim at a certain audience. I also bet black authors in other places make their characters all black in their own fantasy worlds. And beside, fantasy worlds are made up with their own worlds. You can do whatever you want with that world.
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Where are these "other places" you're thinking of?
     
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  12. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm a white author. The main character of my Fantasy WIP is a black woman.

    Now what?
     
  13. PilotMobius
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    PilotMobius Member

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    Your skin color is no different from any other genetic trait such as hair color, eye color, ability to grow facial hair, body type, metabolism, etc. Do you need people with the exact same physical traits as you for you to identify as part of their group?
     
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  14. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    In an alternate reality setting skin colour is just another genetic trait. In a setting based on the real world, skin colour is tied in to historic atrocities, current prejudices, cherished cultural traditions, etc.

    Just because something isn't intrinsically significant doesn't mean it won't have cultural/emotional significance.
     
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  15. Trina Lynne
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    Trina Lynne New Member

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    When it comes to the racial divide, regardless of fantasy worlds or not, a writer usually writes what he/she knows which is no fault of their own. Some folks who would prefer to write a character of another race may fear that they can't accomplish the transition well. Another thing, many times minority groups are not always seen as fantasy characters because the people writing them are not minorities. And in situations where the writer is a minority, the majority of readers of that genre are not minorities, so there's that. The writer may feel they won't receive sales if the characters are of a different race.

    Plenty of things play into why there are mostly white characters in fantasy, but the main reason is that there is, and has always been, an unspoken reality. That unspoken reality is that writing in the minority is not always looked upon favorably by writers and readers. Due to the stigma that goes with racism and discrimination, this drives why people don't diversify characters.

    Honestly, I believe if we become the change we would like to see there will be more diversity in fantasy. If you would like to see more characters of another race, then be that change and write the characters. This is the best way to add to the diversity of characters that exist in fantasy.

    Sidebar: Considering it's fantasy, a person could be purple and it would forge a new wave of diversity. :D:rolleyes:
     
  16. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't be insulted. It's a childish genre.
     
  17. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    When you get pimpslapped for this, don't come looking to me.
     
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  18. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    ... Would you prefer spoilers for The Order of the Stick or for The Dresden Files?
     
  19. Dominique Parker
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    Dominique Parker Member

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    I'm a black guy and I write fantasy, play Warhammer and DnD. I agree that it can be a little tougher to gain the financial stability needed to spend your free time writing fantasy but, I don't really think it is all that mentally taxing to break free of the ridiculous idea that one's culture must dictate one's interest, mindset and imagination. The kind of fantasy I usually like to write is heavily based on the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The race of most of my characters are usually dependent entirely on the region in which they were born.

    That is an extremely broad brush you're painting with. I don't usually say things like this on these forums but, it is ridiculous to describe an entire genre of literature as "childish". I wouldn't be insulted either because I seriously doubt the intent of the writers of these fantasy books with mostly white or all white characters made them white because they hate you or hate other races of people.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2017 at 2:49 AM
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  20. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Ignore it, man. It's the same bullshit I've been mentioning since the beginning: sampling error. There's an image that populates the average mind as regards Fantasy that's like trying to describe the inside of a house using only what can be seen through the front-door keyhole. 100 Years of Solitude falls within the realm of Fantasy, as does Blindness. Hardly childish. The failing is in the observer, not the genre.
     
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  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    You guys made me over-ride the ignore function just to see what you were talking about!

    And, after reading - when @Wreybies says "Ignore it," he may be referring to a fairly useful forum tool! When trolls troll... Ignore!
     
  22. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The failing is in the definition. Everybody knows exactly what I'm referring to when I say "fantasy."
     
  23. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    I don't think the problem is writers failing to include minority characters, I think the fault often lies with readers failing to realize what is on the page. In the Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins said Rue was dark skinned and modeled that district after the deep south, which has a large African-American population. Yet, many readers were shocked, and some outraged, when Amandla Stenberg was cast for that role.

    If I wrote a character named Darius Williams, said he was a dark skinned boy from a poor southern neighborhood and had him sitting on the stoop eating fried chicken, collard greens, and watermelon before tumbling through some portal, a lot of people would still read him as white no matter how many African-American stereotypes I threw at them.
    Darius (6th most common first name for African-American boys according to the Social Security Administration)
    Williams (most common African-American surname in the US according the Census Bureau)

    I say this because I've ran into the same problem with LGBT characters. Even after my MC overheard two male characters have sex the critique group still didn't realize they were gay. I ran a few passages by Wreybies and other gay members of this form and they thought the reader would have to be completely daft not to have noticed that I had a pair of gay lovers. People bring their biases to the book and you can't change those biases, so if you aren't seeing minority characters, maybe the problem is the reader, because believe it or not, the default setting for characters is not straight and white.
     
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  24. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Challenge Accepted :cool:
     
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  25. PilotMobius
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    PilotMobius Member

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    Ah, but unless the story takes place in our universe, those historic atrocities, prejudices, culture, etc. never happened (in-universe), and as such, have no relevance!
     
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