The Truth is out there, and it’s easy to find
[4E] Why no half-orcs?
The title alone told me so.
Racially diverse artwork in D&D…does it influence you?
Debunking White Fantasy
My own thoughts:
I’m not quite sure when or where the thought hit me when I realized that of all genres, fantasy is the last great bastion of permissible segregation. People of color in fantasy have been talked of all over the web on that site there or that board over there, and the sentiments are the same. Unless people of color are wrapped in the trappings of their real world counterparts or possess a dissertation on why they live in a mainstream fantasy culture they cannot “reasonably” exist.
Said existence is called diversity for diversity’s sake. Political correctness run amok in a fantastical setting that should bear no resemblance to our own world, in certain ways at least. Conversations on this topic tend to run in circles. Diversity is a modern and progressive social aspect of our cosmopolitan world.
When diversity is pointed out as being divisive rather than progressive, then it didn’t happen in great enough numbers in the past to be of consequence. When it is pointed out that yes in fact it did, we then move on to find a specific example in history. If an example is offered, or not offered for the ridiculousness of the demand, we once more circle back into diversity for diversity’s sake and all the lamenting of PC that is heir to.
Otherness for the sake of Otherness… Many PoC do not want to play the Other, they want to play the hero, the setting, the champion, the risk-taker. They don’t want to play the Other because they live that on a day to day basis. When they play their latino-esque wizard they want to walk down the fantasy street without stares or whispers… and of course without racism by NPCs or PCs.
Yet to hear some tell it, this is only possible so long as the wizard stays in his distinctive Othered fantasy homeland. Complete with details that bring to mind a barrio more than a multi-faceted culture. Never mind that many PoC who play D&D already live in a culture different from their genetic origins. They wear the clothes, eat the food, and live out a culture different from their respective Old Worlds. But to say it cannot be possible in a fantasy world is disingenuous.
And so we come back to accusations of modernity and “PC-ness” in a cycle I’m not going to get into again. A dissertation is always needed to explain why these characters of color exist where and how they do. None is ever asked for or offered up for white characters in any world or setting. Especially in terms of literacy, hygiene, social mobility, etc. (*nod to Bankuei*) Things just -are- for white folk in fantasy. For PoC a treatise of why, how, and who cares is needed, complete with a separate packet of footnotes.
I’m going to make a short list on why it’s possible for PoC. Not to refute or correct anyone at this point because I’m tired of dealing with people who cling to idiocy. But to give other roleplayers, gamers, writers, and dreamers a tiny peace of mind they do not find among their fellow fantasy lovers.
Causes for people to end up in a land not of their forebears:
-curse (causing wanderlust or to find a certain place)
-malicious or kindly deity
-contraptions that make travel easy
-beasts that have the ability to travel great distances
Now with all of the above said, the great migration (through normal or magical means) could have taken place hundreds or thousands of years before your setting takes place or your character is born. Enclaves form and retain ties while adapting to the majority culture. Inter-mixing will happen as well depending on your setting. A complete and total adoption of the new majority culture is also completely plausible. Homeland origins matter little then, for your character’s people have created a new home for over two-thousand years and know little of their homeland except in stories and myth.
If your humans band together to fight the likes of dragons, trolls, and lizard men something as superficial as skin color will cease to matter. Dragons, elves, gnolls, etc. are really the true Other in fantasy and should be (but aren’t) treated accordingly. The Asian looking man fighting next to you is more comfortably familiar than the scaled lizard-looking man who is trying to beat you to death with a club.
Remember, if your peoples have lived in close proximity for a long, long while, skin color and appearance will not matter as much as shared history (as stated above to face a common threat.) Especially in a world populated by sentient races that bear little to no resemblance to what we call humanity.
One point I had forgotten to mention, by no means must your character only be a derivative of a larger culture. Places have and do exist where another culture has been adopted more or less, but in which none of the people of the adopted culture exist to any great degree.
Think trade and means of scrying for passing ideas and clothing. To take this further your character’s people can be the -only- people if you wish. Such is the nature of fantasy, magic, and a completely different history from that of our own real world.
I haven’t touched at all on PoC fantasy races. The biggest argument I know of being that of the skin color of elves, and perhaps what color dragons like to be when they take human form. These being fantastical creatures, I say go for it and make them what you wish them to be.
Genetic determinism has never been very big in fantasy except for European aesthetics or Enlightenment science. How can both black and white dwarfs exist? How can green, brown, emerald, and gold dragons exist? Why is it argued that gigantic flying lizards make more sense than Asian barbarians?
The supreme caveat to all of this is to do what you like, and tell everyone else to go to hell. Long drawn out explanations aren’t needed when you want something to just -be-. I did traipse around with justifications above, but I’m a world builder. I like to think of how, and then craft peoples and histories.
Reality should not be more improbable than fantasy in a fantastical world. Magic and myth make anything and everything possible. The only limit? The closed minds of others who say the fantastical is not possible.