deoridhe: (Default)
[personal profile] deoridhe
So I was reading a favorite series again last night when once again, like a bolt of lightning to my brain, I was struck by how pale all of the characters were. There were many "races," but all of them were described as looking similar, with perhaps olive skin as the darkest skin could get.

This is an insidious sort of "whitewashing," I think. Not only are darker skin tones unimportant - they don't even exist! And this, in a fantasy world! Talk about fantasies; seriously, what does this say about the author? That isn't to say I will dislike the stories now for this single aspect, but for people who write fiction out there who have races and species, study their skin color for a bit and see what it says about you.

When I was in elementary school, I began creating a world. In junior high, I became aware of how shallow my comprehension of good and evil were, leading to a schism and war in the fictional landscape I had made. In college, contemplating my species along side three professors, I made a rather radicat decision about melanin - one inspired by a favorite book of mine where someone was "burned pale" - melanin was pale. Of course, since my first story was about Dwear'selenes, who were a slight, underground dwelling race, this meant that their skin tone took an abrupt change. Strelin is darker than Jarnaax - her lover (yes, they became lesbians, too; don't ask me, ask them - that was in high school) because she comes from a group that had settled deeper in the caves.

I wonder, sometimes, what it says about me that my decision to alter the color of my humanoid species' races came from a recognition of the effects of melanin from a biological standpoint. A peculiar sort of blindness, I think.

Don't ask me where the homosexuality came from, though. That was Strelin and Jarnaax's idea.

Date: 2006-10-20 04:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bibliotech.livejournal.com
You're kinda awesome, you know that? I haven't read much fantasy (hell, I'm still fairly new to sci-fi), but I've heard the complaint before about whitewashing. I tend to have a 'wait and see for myself' attitude about it, because everyone told me that science fiction is totally, totally racist, but most of the current shows I've seen are doing a better job at casting women and minorities (without screaming "HERE IS THE TOKEN CHICK! HERE SHE IS! RIGHT HERE!") than non-sci-fi television.

Date: 2006-10-20 04:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] deoridhe.livejournal.com
It was really weird because I keep comparing my races and theirs and thinking, "But they stopped before a bunch of the pretty colors..."

I think a lot of the books ar emore than the tv shows, and even there you'll find exceptions. Wizard of Earthsea, et al, was a quite deliberate addressing of this; the only light skinned people are viewed as evil and even they have brown hair. There are no blonds at all. She tried to do the same thing with women in her most recent book, but it really fell flat for me personally.

Date: 2006-10-20 05:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bibliotech.livejournal.com
It's kinda sad that sci-fi's taking all these leaps into, you know, showing the universe as not just one kind of people versus bobble-headed aliens, and everyday television and books aren't keeping up. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Date: 2006-10-22 02:45 am (UTC)
ext_3158: (Fujiwara no Sai is reading your Go)
From: [identity profile] kutsuwamushi.livejournal.com
study their skin color for a bit and see what it says about you.

You should go further. Do your dark-skinned characters still have typically caucasian facial features? Is there a "reason" for their dark skin (such as them being evil)? And does their skin color set them apart, or is it normal?

The "dark elves" of so much derivative fantasy is an example of a type of dark-skinned character that doesn't equal inclusion of other races at all.

Their features are still typically caucasian, their skin is dark because the author is making an association with night and the underworld and evil, and their skin color sets them apart from the light elves, dwarves, and humans who are all white.

(Wouldn't the group that settled in the caves likely turn out to be lighter than the group above ground? I'm thinking of all the albino cave species, here. Maybe I'm misreading you, though.)

I also think that you have to take into account your motives for making a character a specific race. In a lot of amateur urban fantasy, protagonists are Japanese, but that's because the authors fetishize the Japanese. Not exactly a striking a blow for racial equality in fiction.

Date: 2006-10-23 02:24 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
(Wouldn't the group that settled in the caves likely turn out to be
lighter than the group above ground? I'm thinking of all the albino cave
species, here. Maybe I'm misreading you, though.


The melanin on this planet is different than the melanin on Earth; it's light. You tan by staying out of the sun; in the sun you are burnt pale.
(deleted comment)

Date: 2006-10-22 02:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tamerterra.livejournal.com
*nods* If you want much darker skintones in a Ye Olde landlocked Europe setting, you need to explain how they got there and... there's not many authors that want to deal with that.

Date: 2006-10-22 10:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] intheyear2004.livejournal.com
I think that you tend to people your stories with the kind of people you know in RL, i.e. if you're caucasian and have no friends/acquaintances/colleagues who are not, it's very likely that this will show in your writing.

I personally have a problem with alien races all looking vaguely humanoid in SciFi. Wouldn't it be likelier that life on other planets had developed totally differently and people would look like nothing we know on earth at all?

Date: 2006-10-22 10:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] intheyear2004.livejournal.com
Sorry, I just wanted to mention that I'm here via MF.

Date: 2006-10-22 11:25 am (UTC)
ext_1558: baby Spock peeking up over the bottom of the icon (Default)
From: [identity profile] lim.livejournal.com
Well yes, but there are limitations, you know? In TV, anyway. If you had to completely CGI every alien character you'd only have enough money for two episodes. Also, I think the general fanwank goes like this: we are humanoid, everything we build/inhabit is set up for humanoids, so we can only really interact *in person* with aliens that are reasonably like us - breathe oxygen (although Bab5 had its methane deck) require similar atmospheric pressure, can open our doors and sit on our chairs -- it's the same rationalisation as for androids being, well, man shaped. So for dramatic tension we go for the funny foreheads and just assume there are loads of crystalline entities or boodongs just going about their alien days offscreen.

But in scifi novels I think it's pretty common to have wildly different body shapes. Iain M Banks is always doing like, gas giant creatures and hoverdrones and such.

Date: 2006-10-23 07:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] intheyear2004.livejournal.com
Well, they wouldn't have to CGI *every* alien race. I would be content if not everyone looked like they were wearing weird make up - and just a little CGI here and there would be in the budget, I hope? I remember a German TV series from the early seventies (?) made with a tiny budget where the aliens were, I think, gas or radiation creatures and looked believable with what means they had at that time.

Date: 2006-10-23 02:09 pm (UTC)
ext_1558: baby Spock peeking up over the bottom of the icon (Default)
From: [identity profile] lim.livejournal.com
Crap! My comment disappeared!

Ok, to summarise, Star Trek TNG (crystalline entity) and DS9 (Trill symbionts), Bab5 (Shadows), Farscape (nearly everyone), Red Dwarf (Polymorphs), Stargate (Goa'uld symbiotes) and Dr. Who (TARDIS) all feature non-humanoid aliens so I dunno what (alien/exploration-oriented) scifi telly you're watching.

But this is totally OT from race in fantasy so I'm shutting up now. :)

Date: 2006-10-24 07:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] intheyear2004.livejournal.com
Oh, how embarrassing! My sci-fi experience is really very limited and I was mostly talking about Star Trek in its various manifestations (the little I have seen of it, there always seemed to be funny looking people who I was supposed to take as coming from some other stellar culture - and I just wouldn't buy it and stopped watching). Thanks for the details above! And now I'll shut up s well. ;-)

Date: 2006-10-23 01:43 pm (UTC)
ext_150: (Default)
From: [identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Jack Chalker's Well World series is set on a man-made (or alien-made, whatever) world made up of I don't remember how many, but dozens, of hexagonal areas, each with a different alien race. One hemisphere is oxygen-breathing and the other is not, so most of the adventures took place on the oxygen side, but there was still a huge variety of aliens. Very cool.

Date: 2006-10-23 02:10 pm (UTC)
ext_1558: baby Spock peeking up over the bottom of the icon (Default)
From: [identity profile] lim.livejournal.com
Cooool. I've never read those. I'll stick him on my list.

Date: 2006-10-23 02:20 pm (UTC)
ext_150: (Default)
From: [identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
I have no idea as to the quality of the writing, as I read the books about fifteen years ago when I had a higher tolerance for bad writing (I liked Xanth! And Shannara!). But uh, at the time I liked them a lot! ^_^;;

Date: 2006-10-23 02:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] deoridhe.livejournal.com
Sentenced to Prism by Alan Dean Foster has a planet of silicon-based life but with a carbon-based lifeform breathable air. It was interesting to see where he went with things with it.

Date: 2006-10-23 06:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ravenclaw-devi.livejournal.com
(also here via metafandom)

I think that you tend to people your stories with the kind of people you know in RL, i.e. if you're caucasian and have no friends/acquaintances/colleagues who are not, it's very likely that this will show in your writing.

That may be the case for some (and now I'm wondering what the statistics are for fantasy novels by authors of colour), but I think it goes beyond that - it's that we're conditioned to think of caucasian as "baseline human." I mean, consider what comes to your mind when I ask you to picture "a human." In all likelihood, it will be a white male, right? Think about it why you're picturing that, and not, say, an Asian woman. Considering that one fifth of the Earth's population is Chinese, wouldn't it make much more sense to think of East Asians as the "typical" kind of human?

Date: 2006-10-23 07:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] intheyear2004.livejournal.com
That may be the case for some (and now I'm wondering what the statistics are for fantasy novels by authors of colour), but I think it goes beyond that - it's that we're conditioned to think of caucasian as "baseline human." I mean, consider what comes to your mind when I ask you to picture "a human." In all likelihood, it will be a white male, right? Think about it why you're picturing that, and not, say, an Asian woman. Considering that one fifth of the Earth's population is Chinese, wouldn't it make much more sense to think of East Asians as the "typical" kind of human?

Hm, actually, what surfaced first was Leonardo's picture of the "golden cut", probably because it's what we send out into space to show supposed aliens what we look like - and because I'm caucasian. But I do think it very likely that an Asian human will think of an Asian human when picturing a generic human in their mind.

Date: 2006-10-23 11:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] direaliete.livejournal.com
Considering that one fifth of the Earth's population is Chinese, wouldn't it make much more sense to think of East Asians as the "typical" kind of human?
Like statistics, the logical answer is often counter-intuitive ;)

I, for instance, haven't seen Asian or Coloured (or what the PC word is these days) people before the age of 20-21. So I guess it depends on what "imprinting" one had while growing up.

Like someone commented above, if you ask an Asian, they'll probably think of an Asian by default, because that's what they mostly saw around them as a kid and what they perceive of themselves.

Date: 2006-10-23 12:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] deoridhe.livejournal.com
Do I completely skew this with my picturing of a coffee colored female, or something?

Date: 2006-10-24 07:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] intheyear2004.livejournal.com
Depends on what you are yourself? ;-) If you're a coffee coloured female it's most likely to think of coffee coloured females as the typical human.

Date: 2006-10-24 12:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] deoridhe.livejournal.com
Ur, no. Not coffee colored. If fact, if I tan I turn yellow.

Date: 2006-10-28 08:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] catalenamara.livejournal.com
My default image was a coffee-colored female, too. (No, I'm not coffee colored either.)

Date: 2006-10-24 02:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] crantz.livejournal.com
I picture ninjas.

I wish that was what we sent to aliens :(

Date: 2006-10-24 04:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] deoridhe.livejournal.com
But if we sent ninjas they would disappear halfway to Betelguese and never be seen again until they came out of the shadows to rule the universe!!! D8

Date: 2006-10-22 10:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zooey-glass04.livejournal.com
This is so true - I can hardly think of any fantasy series which feature black people. In general I think a lot of fantasy stories fall into the trap of racial stereotyping, for example having the exotic Arabic empire. I think it is very hard for people to get away from some of the stock images of fantasy and adventure which originate in old narratives. The one writer who does address this issue is Ursula le Guin; I love the way she presents race in the Earthsea books because she reverses that trend without making it very heavy handed. I don't think I even noticed that there were few white characters until 'The Tombs of Atuan', when we get to see the white culture. It's a shame that this was utterly igonored when the series was adapted for TV (although from what I hear the finished product bore almost no resemblance to her text).

Date: 2006-10-23 03:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] were-lemur.livejournal.com
I refuse to acknowledge the resistance of that series. If I did, I would have to go on a rant about how it completely missed the point, by turning it into an utterly generic hollywood sword and sorcery adventure, with teh pretteh people, plotlines that seemed to have been ganked from some producer's butt, and an utter disregard for what made the original series unique.

Date: 2006-10-23 03:16 pm (UTC)

Date: 2006-10-23 01:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aneli8.livejournal.com
Hi, here from meta_fandom :)

Just wanted to say, first off, I agree with you in that yeah, a lot of the time fantasy/sci-fi books fail at race. The authors either forget and everyone ends up whitewashed, or they try and it turns out awkward in that, you can tell they're doing it on purpose and if they could, they'd have a neon sign saying "LOOK AT THE NON-WHITE ONE. RIGHT THERE."

That said, a rather good example of the contrary are the Wheel of Time books, by Robert Jordan. They're set in their own world (which is hinted at being our world), in what I assume to be a Europe-sized area, and within that, there's a whole range of diverse 'races'. They're not distinguished so much by "if you go to city A, they're all black" as much as by qualities like style of dress, customs, etc, but he does a good job with diversity of characters without shoving it in the readers face. There are characters who are obviously Asian, or have Nordic features, or have dark skin, and none of it is blatant. It's there, as part of the story.

So, yes. I think it really depends on the author.

Date: 2006-10-23 05:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anna-wing.livejournal.com
Here from [livejournal.com profile] metafandom

Judith Tarr's Avaryan Rising trilogy was interesting, in that clearly she had gone to some trouble to make all the races there quite unlike any Primary World ones. So you had the principal characters being very tall, black-skinned people with vaguely Caucasian people, and there were shorter, olive-ish-coloured people with red hair and so on. It's not something that's made much of; it's just there.

Date: 2006-10-23 11:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] crantz.livejournal.com
Man, I don't know. But I wish people would stop projecting whitey onto gods. It drives me up the damn wall.

It's just... how many gods would be McWhitey like they keep getting put as in media? I'll give you a hint: Not the ones I see being desecrated.

People make me upset. That's someone's culture, in a lot of cases, they're fucking with. A little respect.

Date: 2006-10-24 03:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] deoridhe.livejournal.com
Ironically enough, with my gods being northern european, they're likely to be pale.

The media (to make a huge generalization) often gets the gods wrong, though.

Date: 2006-10-24 03:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] crantz.livejournal.com
I'm still pissed from white native ones and a goddamn white anansi.

And the side note of Zeus and Hera not being ken and barbie.

Although, if the doll line did take that route, that would be deeply hilarious.

Which Gods are yours? I know a girl who follows Loki... (Sometimes I get the urge to do them for stuff and make them all chinese or something to see reactions, but then I get bored and wander off)

Date: 2006-10-24 03:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] deoridhe.livejournal.com
The Norse/Germanic ones. I'm Asatru, so we kind of scrunch them together a bit and hope we don't piss them off. ;)

Date: 2006-10-24 02:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] crantz.livejournal.com
They seem easygoing if they've got drinks.

...I could get behind these gods.

Date: 2006-10-24 03:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] deoridhe.livejournal.com
Just watch out if Loki gets behind you. XD

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