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  1. Zeppo

    Zeppo New Member

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    Tackling Racism & Discrimination

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Zeppo, Apr 14, 2017.

    One of my underlying themes in my book involves inciting hatred through racism and descrimination. I currently have 4 main characters, and I am wondering if it is ok to write for a racial minority and to explore these kinds of topics having never experienced these issues myself. As a white male in Canada, I never experience any form of prejudice, and I fear that I will not do it justice, or worse, it will just come across as fake and/or insulting to those that actually face discrimination on a daily basis.

    I should add that it is a fantasy novel, so it is likely that the race being descriminated will be drawves or elves or something like that.

    Thanks for your thoughts.
     
  2. jmh105

    jmh105 Member

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    You would think having an ally on your side would be a good thing. :) I think people would appreciate you reflecting on these issues as a member of the "majority." Interviewing or getting feedback from people who might have similar experiences to the one you're trying to convey is always a good idea.
     
  3. PilotMobius

    PilotMobius Active Member

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    It's alright. People write about warfare, ancient history, and things that never happened to them all the time. You shouldn't have to worry about coming across as "fake" because it's fiction and there is no standard for what an individual's experience should be. You can portray it in any way you want as long you don't claim to represent every single victim of racism with pinpoint accuracy.
     
  4. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    If you're looking for a novel that handles racism and discrimination really well, check out The Fifth Season.

    It's a fantastic story and tackles these problems with finesse.
     
  5. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    I am too writing a fantasy novel/series and am dealing with the same issues. That said, by developing a fleshed out world and well rounded characters, issues like these just naturally develop. I write organically, just letting my character go from plot point to another as I write them. Sometimes the results can be pretty amazing. My MC is a demigod, and a little crazy. Now, she is hanging out with some half elves and a full elf. Her best friend is a full human. A the MC begins to spiral out of control, the best friend who has never acted racist, begins to blame the MC behavior on the non-humans. She believes that if she can get the MC around humans again that she would become normal. Is she thinking rationally? No. But, emotions like racism are not tied to reason. Is she a bad person? No. She loves her friend dearly and doesn't want the MC to die. Hate, in all forms, can show up at times we don't expect in people we never expected to see it in. That is the wonderful and scary thing about well developed characters, they can reflect the wonderful things we want to see in people while showing us the things that really scare us.
    Godspeed!
     
  6. cherrya

    cherrya Active Member

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    I think that if it's elves and such it shouldn't be a problem as long as you educate yourself.

    As a minority (half black, half white) one of the thing that really hurts the most about racism is how people often don't understand that what they are saying is really offensive. Often, it doesn't mean that the person is a racist, it's just something that comes with never having experienced it I suppose.

    For example, when people look at me like I'm so exotic. I'm also canadian, by the way. I grew up in quebec in rimouski, which is almost like a village because it's so small. I'm currently living in montreal for college but I take great pride at being from the "Bas du fleuve", as many people do when they come from a specific region. It hurts when I start to talk about that and people look at me like I can't possibly know what I'm talking about, or even just get shocked that I'd know so much about it (because so 'québécois' and there are barely any minorities there). The worst part is that I can't really get angry about it. I get that they wouldn't normally assume that I'm from there since I'm not white, it's not their fault and they don't mean it in a bad way at all. But it hurts. Don't I have the accent? Don't I have the memories? That town is my childhood, just as much as any other white person who also grew up there. I'm as much from there as they are.

    Anyway, that's just a part of it. There are many other things too, but if you have any questions feel free to ask, I'd love to help.

    Good luck!
     
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  7. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    I was working as a contractor overseas. There were only two Americans on the whole project; myself and another 'white' guy. Now, I was older and he was younger. I'm tall and he is short....you get the idea. One day the warehouse manager hunts me down and goes off on me. He is a gentleman from India and his operation is mostly crewed by Indians. I'm totally confused, but, I don't pull the trigger on my response because I saw he believes he had the right to say what he was saying. Then, I realize that he has mistaken me for the other...white American. I didn't even get mad at the man because the lesson he had taught me was life changing. How do I actually look at people? And, now, how do I write about people? I try to write about individuals, not stereotypes. I try to describe characters in specifics and not generalizations.
    Godspeed!
     
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  8. Jun

    Jun Member

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    Your topic is very interesting to me. For 3 reasons primarily:

    - One of the things I'm studying in school (psychology in general but I've always found racism to be a very intriguing topic)
    - I'm technically a minority in the country I live in, although I don't face discrimination very often
    - My fantasy setting story I'm writing about also deals with racism as a topic. Although mine is more about the xenophobia between different species (elves, dwarves, etc) rather than another human being

    I think one thing I can try contribute to you is defining the terms. Most people seem to use them interchangeably but there are some technical differences. Please do note that the examples I use are.... examples. I absolutely despise racism and discrimination (hence why I study it, to see if its destructible).

    Prejudice - preconceived negative judgement of a group and individual members. Associated with negative feelings. Example: I don't like our new Islamic neighbors.
    Stereotype - belief about a personal attribute of a group of people. Can be positive and/or negative. Example: Asians are stingy. Black people are good at rapping.
    Discrimination - unjustified negative behavior towards a group or its members. Example: I don't leave tips for Hispanic waiters.

    So you can be prejudiced but not discriminating or you can hold stereotypes but not be prejudiced, etc. But very often they do overlap. For instance, discrimination often comes out of a prejudice. And certain elements are somewhat "justified", although I do hate using that term here. When people say stereotypes come from somewhere, they are somewhat right. They do come from somewhere due to the fact that we are indeed grouped apart by ethnicity and culture. However, the important thing is not to hold any preconceived expectations on someone just because they belong to a group. And certainly not to discriminate.
     
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  9. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale New Kitten Lost Behind the Fridge Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Another thing to consider is the concept of "microaggressions". These are actions that are not perceived as racist by the offender, and are often considered to be friendly overtures, but end up serving to remind the minority person that they, or at least their group, is considered less than equal to the minority. If you've ever seen the extended video of Michael Jackson's song "Bad", for example, it shows Michael coming home from a private prep school on a bus (IIRC). There's a Hispanic man in a suit sitting across from him, and as the ride continues, the neighborhoods the bus is going through slowly deteriorate, and the white passengers get off one by one. Finally the man asks "So, how many people you got proud of you?" and Michael answers something like "Seven". Point is that the white faculty at the school regarded a black student being able to keep up with his white classmates as exceptional, that he had succeeded despite his race.

    Here in Japan, I'm a minority. White guy, green hair, blond eyes*, and my Japanese isn't so hot, but I do know my way around a menu. However, it's not uncommon for waitstaff to ask if I need a fork, and I can't count the number of times people have asked me if I can eat rice. Furthermore, a lot of people will try to speak to me in English even when I'm using Japanese, or fail to understand that I'm speaking Japanese (and my pronunciation is good, you'll have to take my word for it), but the baseline assumption is that because I look different, I must eat differently, and I must have no ability to function in the local language. Remember, all of the things above are people trying to be helpful and friendly, not hostile.

    The last thing I'd like to add is to remember that members of your elven minority should not be monolithic in their response to mild racism. I have a Caucasian friend here who goes ballistic on anyone who tries to push an English-language menu on him, or won't speak to him in Japanese, and his Japanese is very good, so they get quite the dressing down. I, on the other hand, just tend to tell them "Thanks, but I don't need <a fork/menu/translation or whatever>" and move on.

    Hope this helps.

    *I try not to look in the mirror, so I don't remember which bit is which color :)
     
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  10. Jun

    Jun Member

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    This is also a very good point. Microaggression really is a thing. And like he said, most of the time people don't even realize they are using prejudice when they "microaggravate".
    Haha, I totally hear you Iain Aschendale. Whenever I meet someone new in this country I have to deal with this whole process:
    "So where are you from?"
    "Used to live in Boston. Although I consider myself a Chicagoan these days."
    "Oh, I meant where are you really from?"
    "Okay man, where the f- are YOU from? France? England?" (I don't say this part unless the other person is being openly rude... most of the time they get it when I say Boston.)
    At least no one is doing the whole "Where are you from?" in SLOW, ACUTE pronunciation to make sure I understand. Used to happen a lot when I was a child.
     
  11. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, it's okay. Authors do this all the time: step into the shoes of other people. Writing about racism or prejudice shouldn't be any different from telling a story of e.g. a victim of domestic abuse, a war refugee, or a mentally unstable superhero. As always, you do research and learn how racism affects different people and then bring those experiences into your fantasy world. Perhaps you'll have a fantasy race that has been forcefully brought to another country and enslaved, maybe you have an indigenous group that has been displaced and oppressed, or perhaps you'll write from the point of view of a lone immigrant. All these stories and experiences exist in the real world, and the internet is chockfull of them for you to read.

    @Iain Aschendale Do you find those "microaggressions" actually aggressive? As in hostile? I mean, I know what you're talking about. I can't count the times I've heard these two things on the phone: "Umm... How do you spell your name?" or "Haha, I won't even try to spell that name" or the classic "where are you from?" or the ever memorable yet oddly flattering "You don't look like other Scandinavians!". These would probably be considered "microaggressions", but that's such a loaded and unsavory term, I'm a little hesitant to use it. It vilifies what I personally perceive normal, harmless human behavior, such as curiosity or stating a simple fact like my surname is difficult to spell for most Finns (maybe it's microaggressive of me to presume so?)

    I don't feel unsafe or attacked in those situations, which I normally would when faced with aggression and hostility, big or small. But yeah, maybe that's just me?
     
  12. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale New Kitten Lost Behind the Fridge Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @KaTrian, no, I don't find them aggressive, and I don't think they're intended to be, it's just the term that's currently being used. Some have argued (citation needed) that they are a form of keeping the minority individuals "in their place" by reminding them that they'll never really be "one of us", but for the most part, I think they're well-intentioned but misplaced actions.

    Somewhere elsewhere here, I told the story of the day I rode my bicycle past a group of kindergarten kids being taken to the park by their teacher. There's a person in Japan who is now a Japanese citizen, but began life as a white American, who argues that gaijin (lit: "outside person")is as offensive as "nigger" (instructional use of the word only, sorry), and that foreigners should be referred to as "gaikokujin" ("outside country person, or foreigner").

    I disagree, but long story short, the little kids, 4-5 years old, saw me and started shouting "Gaijin, gaijin" as little kids do. Their teacher corrected them, saying "Gaikokujin"....

    Nothing about "Don't point and shout at what's different", just "Don't use rude words when you do so." That was some moderately fucked up shit.

    @Jun , this you?

     
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  13. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale New Kitten Lost Behind the Fridge Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Here's my half of the thing. Exaggerated, of course, but:

     
  14. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    My only objection was towards the term itself. I just think it's quite loaded and assumes deliberate hostility.

    Sometimes racism is very subtle, of course, and some communities are more insulated than others. I can imagine it'll also get tiring if one is reminded every day that they're different and not "one of us."
     
  15. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale New Kitten Lost Behind the Fridge Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, sorry, not my word, current vernacular.

    ETA:
    Emphasis mine, source: Wikipedia on Microaggressions
     
  16. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    True to a point, but I personally still try to learn as much as possible about the baseline so that I can see where my characters' experiences are common-place and where their experiences are less so.
     
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  17. Jun

    Jun Member

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    The thing is (as far as I'm aware) the term microaggression is debated among scholars at the moment. Some say it is not real, others say it displays actual hostility. Most people agree that however that it more or less happens "unconsciously".

    Yeah.... Japan is pretty infamous for being very conservative when it comes to the outside elements still. I think they accepted like 3 immigrants last year or something? The idea of racism and stereotypes can only be rare in a community where RARELY there are people who are different from the rest of the population. Like in the US racism is a very sensitive and well known phenomenon while native Japanese who have never met ethnically non-Japanese won't even realize that they are performing racism.

    And yeah that's pretty much me in the other video. But worse since I was born outside of US so people automatically assume I'm just an exchange student from Taiwan or something (because of my idk-all-so-decent English).
     
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  18. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Loved by a Sweet lady. :) Contributor

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    If I remember correctly in the old school animated Hobbit,
    The elves and men did not like each other until the big final
    battle at the end of the movie with the dwarves and such.

    Might of been the same in the book, but IDK.

    Chris Rock has a good rant on the topic. (Language)
     
  19. rktho

    rktho Dragonmaster Contributor

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    In the book, the battle is completely skipped over when Bilbo is conveniently knocked out. Which wouldn't make for a good full-length movie, but there shouldn't have been three Hobbit films in the first place.

    In Lord of the Rings, Gimli and Legolas are both in the fellowship and they have a rivalry at first before bonding. In Lothlorien, the elves are distrustful of Gimli and behave very racistly toward him, asking he be blindfolded. I think Legolas vouches for him and he doesn't get blindfolded. But he sees Galadriel, the queen of Lothlorien, and I think he has some choice words for her at first about how he's treated, though I'm not sure, but after Lothlorien he defends Galadriel as the most beautiful and majestic woman he has ever seen. By The Two Towers, Legolas pulls an arrow on Eomer for insulting/threatening Gimli. (Is that in the books? I know it's in the movie but I feel it was in the books too.) At the very end, Gimli and Legolas go off together to the Undying Lands.
     
  20. Homewriting

    Homewriting New Member

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    I won't lie. I came to this thread to offer my two cents to the OP, but reading through all the responses actually has made me start to think of things very differently because of how well put everyone is putting their opinions. So seems this thread is helping two people at once now.
     
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