1. ShadowScribbler
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    ShadowScribbler Member

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    White Supremacy

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ShadowScribbler, Oct 30, 2011.

    I recently came across an article (I can't remember where, for the life of me!) about the domination of white people in stories. Most of the characters in every world seem to be predominantly white, with black people being a noticeable minority. It explained in the article how you come across black characters in the book and they're very specific, or serve a specific purpose. Usually, these would be nomad tribes or somewhat less dignified lords and ladies. Think Nasuada, in the Eragon books.

    They also tackled the issue of 'white washing' characters so that really, all they have is different skin colour but basically the same characteristics as white people. In almost every world, we seemed to encounter what was 'European' societies mostly, as the predominant population.

    Looking back, I hardly remember any MC that wasn't white or just ... Asian at most, or something. And it had never caught my attention until now. I also read something a friend of mine wrote about this (she's black) and about how she too, feels there is discrimination towards non-white MCs, and how she has had to white wash much of her work for it to be more accepted.

    How do you guys feel about this?
     
  2. Allan Paas
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    Allan Paas Contributing Member

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    The most advanced societies consist mostly of white people, majority of all stories come from those areas. People seem to write what they like to write about, but for some reason it seems to be what people have always written about, with the exact same characteristics. It is much easier to write about what already exists than to make up a new path.
    Also, white has always been dominant. The publishers themselves tend to be mostly white and they want to publish what they like, what is familiar to them.
    Most people don't like anything too new, they like old and familiar, which is sad.

    I personally would like to see stories with different characteristics coming in the near future. Every book I have read so far has had a white MC, its getting quite annoying. Where is the creativity, difference from the previous? There are some differences but not the basic ones like society or what is valued highly.

    One is certain. The first novel (mostly science fiction) I will write won't have a white MC. It probably won't have humans in it at all. But they will be somewhat similar to humans (appearance, emotions, stuff like that), so people could relate.

    Having the same stuff all over again and again is bad for evolution, there must be change, different stories. Making a story similar to what already exists is very stupid, esp. if it is because someone of one color wrote something that is new to others of different color. People should be a lot more tolerant of differences. They should welcome them and see first-hand that maybe it aint so bad after all, but they won't even try.
     
  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    People write about characters they are familiar with, especially MCs as they have to get into the heads of the MC quite deeply. If there are more white writers, it makes sense there would be more white MCs. I also think some (many?) white authors hesitate to write other races as their MCs for fear of 'not getting it right' - ie, fear it will backfire on them. Frankly, I can't think of a lot of stories where race (or descriptions - see below) is an important factor to the story, unless that is itself the focus, of course.

    Frankly, I don't describe my characters' race - or much about their looks, period. Male or female is about it. The only description that I'd use is one which is necessary to some part of the story (such as being tall so he is believable in intimidating another man). Otherwise, let the reader picture them however they want (because most will anyway).
     
  4. LunaEclipse
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    LunaEclipse New Member

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    Malorie Blackman is one author who springs to mind for not white-washing her main characters in the Noughts and Crosses series. Although, to be fair, the whole series is about turning racism on its head.
     
  5. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    In a predominantly white society, it seems a bit naive to expect the characters created by said society to be any different. It seems to me my philosophy about this thing seems to apply: If you are unsatisfied with the demographic of the characters, write some books to change that. Me? I feel that most character in fiction in general are fairly morally bankrupt and finding a genuinely compelling religious character that is not a hypocrite, a zealot, or lukewarm is next to impossible. So what do I do? I wrote some! You can't force diversity on people and you honestly can't call it discrimination because they don't write the kinds of characters you think they should. If there aren't enough minority characters in novels, the answer is to simply make some of your own. That's really the only answer to that since you can't force writers to diversify their 'casts.'
     
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  6. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    I totally agree.

    I don't really think about race much when I come up with stories. I have a very diverse family as far as ethnicity but because we are family our social traits and habits tend to be similar. In the end I would describe us as an American family because that's were we live and grew up even though many of us were born other places. I think people make too much of race. Skin color is really just another way of discribing a person not who a person is.
     
  7. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    double posted
     
  8. Ixloriana
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    Ixloriana Member

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    I have many rambling thoughts on this subject.

    I agree with shadowwalker that white authors probably hesitate to write characters of other races for fear of "getting it wrong." If I had to write a story based in modern society, I would shy away from writing characters from cultures/subcultures/communities/etc I am not familiar with. I am not ignorant enough to think that all black people have the same culture as me -- or in fact that all Hispanic or Asian people have the same culture as me, or all New Yorkers have the same culture as me, or Jewish people, or rich people. I would have to do research before I could write a character who wasn't a middle-class white Christian-raised gamer nerd from the Virginia suburbs, or else I would look ignorant. Hell, I'd have to do research before I could write a character who was interested in sports. (I once had to stop a project because I realized that I am completely oblivious to modern fashion trends.) There's no reason that I couldn't research that stuff, but writing a character who is like me is a convenient shortcut, and there is nothing wrong with taking it. Lazy, maybe. Racist, no.

    I could never just gloss over character appearance entirely! In my own stories, I have to describe my characters' appearances -- culture and race is a part of world-building, which I believe is an essential part of writing fantasy. In this case, it's quite a bit easier to write characters of different skin colors, because the cultural differences between them are ones of my own making. In the novel I'm currently working on, my MC is dark-skinned. She is not dark-skinned because I wanted to write a "black" character. I never planned on her being dark-skinned. She's dark-skinned because she comes from a part of my setting that makes sense for her to be dark-skinned, and that's that.

    Like on a cultural level, or on a character level? Because to be honest, I think that people are essentially the same no matter what their skin color is. Culturally, I think there might be a simpler explanation than outright racism, at least in my genre of choice. Typically, the technology level in fantasy is medieval. When we think of a medieval level of technology we usually think of medieval Europe -- it then stands to reason that the people would be similar to medieval Europeans, even if not in skin color.

    There is another simple reason why "white" is generally my go-to skin color for characters. When I'm having a hard time picturing my characters, I draw them... and there are more options for (natural) hair and eye colors on white characters. And if I decide that Tai needs to be a ginger instead of a brunette because it goes better with the tiger-themed tattoos I just doodled on her, then that works more convincingly on a light-skinned character. (Also, do you have any idea how many weird looks I get, sitting in the library Googling "pictures of black people" when I need ideas for hair styles because all the stock artists on deviantART are white? But I digress.)

    It's a conundrum, to be sure, but the only way to change it is for people who want to see more non-white characters to write more non-white characters.
     
  9. VladimirPutin
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    VladimirPutin New Member

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    It's definitely a cultural thing. We generally read works written by authors of similar nationality to our own, thus their works would likely represent a demograph of people they are familiar with seeing. It may, for better or worse, simply be a lack of knowledge on behalf of the authors on other cultures and social groups that prevents more developed minority figures take center stage.
     
  10. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure you mean 'nationality'. That doesn't have much to do with whether or not author/reader will have shared demographic experiences.
     
  11. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    Perception bias. You'd be surprised by the domination of chinese people in chinese stories.

    You could ask yourself "why am I reading so many stories written by white european/north american writers?"
     
  12. thefruitofthetree
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    thefruitofthetree New Member

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    I do agree with all of that. One needs only to skim through the Enid Blyton books that we were brought up on and note that all of the characters are white, save for a few, who, because of their colour, are treated differently or are antagonised (think Golly-Wogs from Noddy).
    But being brought up in South Africa, I was exposed to many writings and surprisingly, looking at our racially discriminating climate, never felt as if I were being exposed to undertones of white supremacy, lest the topic was of race, in which case the whites took no shame in slating any one of another hue.
    I think that the generalisation of this entry should have it's parameters mentioned. I strongly agree that within our strongly Westernized societies, white characters will largely dominate purely due to our ancestry of slave trade and unreasonable, unprovoked racism, regardless of whether it is ethically right or not. It's up to us as the writers of the new generation to write freely without racial prejudice. There's no reason in trying to teach old dogs new tricks. (As you can tell I'm a bit of a freedom junkie - check out my opinions if you have a sec)
     
  13. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    So we have to include people of color in order not to be considered racist, even those of us who don't mention race for any characters? We have to toss race in regardless of its lack of purpose to the story itself?

    Oh brother...:rolleyes:
     
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  14. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    Well, there are those of us who consider skin to be a major point of a person's description. Not just color but texture, brightness, etc.

    Being a mix of races myself and having an even more mixed group of friends, I've never felt a white supremacy in the novels I read. I would be ready to agree that maybe that's because I don't imagine all non-described skins as white.

    On the other hand, in holywood movies, there's a pretty clear bias. Writers can be happy that they'd have to write "mein kampfy chair" to even get close to american film making as a whole.
     
  15. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    It's not a racism thing, it's just reality. People like to write from perspectives they are familiar with. But also, they know that their audience is going to be mostly white... so it's not really profitable to write a story where white people find it harder to relate to the MC. Not to say white people won't read a book where the MC is black, but some people like to be able to relate to the characters in the story.

    I have a similar beef with the settings of a lot of these places for the same reason. I'm from Houston, and it always seems like if the setting in a series or even a TV show is set in a big city... it's set in New York or LA. But I know that a lot of writers come from those areas of the country or have at least visited... so that's why they choose that location as a setting for their story. Not much you can really do other than write a bunch of stories set in Houston yourself and try to give that perspective yourself.
     
  16. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    Houston? Are you sure that's a real place? :D

    In my mind, in the Houston folder, conveniently labelled "Huston", there's just a picture of a fat cartoonish bee. And I don't have the slightest idea of where does that connotation come from.
     
  17. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    Perhaps it might be understandable that someone who grew up in South Africa might have a different view (and basis for that view) from an American?
     
  18. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    DAMNIT!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! (lol)
     
  19. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Possibly. I just don't like this idea that we have to include things in our writing just because someone, somewhere, thinks we need to cater to their sensitivities. My MCs are male - so now I need to make one female because some women are upset? Or make them shorter, or wider, or a certain religion, or...

    I write my stories. I don't take requests, and I'm tired of being told I should.
     
  20. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    But he didn't say that - he said that a writer should write freely of racial bigotry. He didn't explicitly say, "Make your next protagonist black."

    Some points, vis-a-vis the OP: The average middle to upper middle class white writer (I'm speaking about what I've seen on this forum; the writers I've met in real life skew somewhat poorer) does not have a clue how the average black person lives, is terrified of appearing racist, and is racist, to one degree or another, whether he acknowledges it or not (this isn't accusatory; this applies to me as well). Also, as to women: it used to be very hard for me to write from a female perspective, partially because I had accepted Norman Mailer's fucked up macho aesthetic and partially because I tended to write in a mode that sounded a lot like I spoke. I had a teacher who suggested that I try writing in a female voice; I was really resistant at first, but then produced something half-decent. I'm still more comfortable with a male voice, but there's nothing wrong with expanding your repertoire.
     
  21. VladimirPutin
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    VladimirPutin New Member

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    If anything, bringing forth an aspect of a character such as their race can add a certain depth depending on the context within the story. Other characters, may not matter as much. Even further, if racial or other social determinations of a character are made from the viewpoint of another character, its elaborating on the racial and social attitudes of that character as well. And if the character making note of those attributes is the voice of the author, then congratulations, you're learning stuff about yourself. :p
     
  22. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    The implication was certainly there, however, based on the statements made just before that. Maybe I just didn't care for the assumption that if white writers have white characters it's 'purely due to our ancestry of slave trade and unreasonable, unprovoked racism".
     
  23. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    (Sorry if I'm beating a dead point, I only had the attention span to skim the thread, as it's 3:15 am)

    One of the thing many writers like to do is leave most of the character description to the reader's imagination. Sure, there's a lot of times certain features will be described (especially eye color, and hair color and style), but many authors tend to be minimalist in this regard. Besides a few hints, my characters are left to the reader's imagination. Okay, my MC has green eyes, and his skin noticeably reddens when he blushes (since, in my mind, he's quite pale). His parents and siblings are likely to be the same race as him. However, my minor characters aren't described in enough detail to even tell their race, unless there's something particularly important or noticeable about it. All that you know about the mean DMV worker is that he's burly and has a thick mustache. Do you think he's white? That very well might be just because you're imagining him that way.

    Note that culture and race are completely different things. Unless I go out of my way to do so, I'm invariably going to write about my culture. People of a different race who *also* happen to be of a different culture likely won't show up very often in my writing, unless I have a specific reason for it. People of different races who happen to fit normally into the culture of wherever I'm writing about are just part of the normal population. My current work is set in a small, middle-class town somewhere in the Northwest US. Maybe there's several second- or third-generation Eastern Asians or middle-class black people living in the town. They'll likely blend in pretty well, and unless race is a specific motivating factor to any of my characters, it's generally not something that they'll dwell on, so it's not something you'll see much of in my writing. (And, to be fair, small, middle-class towns tend to be overwhelmingly white, anyway, so any minority is likely a very small portion of the population of such a place, and my cast is already quite small, so by sheer probability, it's very reasonable for me to not have any obviously non-white characters.)

    You can take me, for example. I'm half-Cuban, and I barely look anything like the white side of my family. People tend to notice my slightly darker skin tone, but it's unlikely something they'd use to describe me, or else, they'd just describe me as having olive skin. Otherwise, I look and act no differently than any of my white friends (unless I specifically want to, by speaking in Spanish, for example), and I don't even have a name that hints at all at my mixed heritage (it's about as English of a name as you can get...). Just because no one points out that I'm Hispanic (besides possibly alluding to my skin tone), doesn't mean that a group of people containing me doesn't have any racial minorities -- it's more often simply taken for granted that a large enough group in certain locales is likely to have some racial variations, whether explicitly mentioned or not.

    In my writing that occurs in larger cities, there tends to be more explicit diversity, both from first-generation immigrants, and from cultural groups sticking together, but, once again, these are cultural lines that happen to correlate strongly with race, which isn't the same as racial lines. Large cities tend to be multi-cultural, while small towns tend not to be.
     
  24. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    What happens to 'write what you know' - if you live in a white area and do not know any non whites personally, then how will you be able to make a Black or Asian, or any other race of character, believable and not sound wooden.


    I have lived for half of my life in the North East of England and the other half of my life in central Scotland, therefore the most believable character that I can write about are either Geordies or Scots.
    I am sure that if I wanted to write about a Yorkshire, a Welsh, an Asian, an American, or a Black character, even after a fair amount of research, they would not ring true.

    Speech patterns, colloquialisms, beliefs, sense of humour etc. are all areas were I can see problems as to making the character real and acceptable to the reader.

    As for being pc, if you try to write about a characters you're not familiar with then you may, unintentionally, do more harm than good.
     
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  25. picklzzz
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    picklzzz Senior Member

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    I think it's what you're selecting to read, perhaps. I have read some non-whitewashed MC's, such as in Richard Wright novels (Black Boy and Native Son) that were excellent. I would agree though that most of the MC's in books I choose are white. I would venture to say that perhaps publishers assume (based on data or stereotypes) that their audience is predominantly white and so they select stories with white MC's. I'm not sure about this, but it's just a guess.
     

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