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Diversity: Multi ethnic and Biracial characters

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by TheCatholicCrow, May 7, 2015.

  1. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    I wanted to start a thread about this because it seems to be pretty overlooked. There's a ton of talk about writing minority characters and things like the Diversity Challenge suggest that we need more minority voices in lit. I totally agree. We do. But I'm wondering why nobody seems to make a fuss over the fact that we (as a society) are still incredibly reluctant to include multi-ethnic and bi-racial characters.

    Actually, I just put up a new blog post on this and it's just something I've been thinking about lately.

    What does more good? Maintaining a "separate but equal" representation or showing that race and ethnicity really don't matter. That we can all come from different cultures but at the end of the day we're all human and we can freely marry outside of our own ethnic group.

    IDK - maybe it's just something that bothers me because I am multi-ethnic. Literally the closest thing representing my family on tv is I Love Lucy (a Caucasian woman married to a Hispanic man) which is not exactly current.

    I feel like I'm starting to see a bit more of it now and then in movies, television and even on commercials. But I want to see more. Way more. I want to read a book with a character that's experienced all of the wonderful and hurtful things that I have because we don't fit neatly into a box. This is the diversity that I want to see and just can't find enough of.

    Any thoughts?
     
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  2. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I understand how you feel. Multi-ethnic and biracial people have existed at least as long as people from different parts of the world have intermingled together. I'm sure they were particularly plentiful near transcontinental crossroads like the Middle East or Mediterranean, most of all when the Hellenistic and Roman Empires had linked together ethnic groups (e.g. the "Ivory Bangle Lady" from Roman-era York). I will admit that I'm not such a fan of certain pop-media practices of using biracial or multiethnic actresses as the ideal representatives of one "minority" racial identity, but that's not the fault of the women themselves but casting agents who are working with a premise that denigrates one part of their identity.

    P.S. I never knew Lucy's husband was Hispanic. :eek:
     
  3. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I have to assume that's because you haven't watched the show. I mean, it's really obvious. :p
     
  4. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Honestly, I've mostly seen biracial characters used as a way for someone to "count" as an ethnic group despite having no physical features associated with that group. (For instance, the MC of Eric van Lustbader's The Ninja has a "Japanese heart" but a physical description like any white action hero.) Unless you count fantasy races, of course, in which case a): the father was from a magical race with super-special powers, and wish fulfillment ensues, or b): the father was part of a raiding party that assaulted the mother's village, and tired angst ensues.
     
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  5. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    I wonder if this comes from Bi-racial people tending to identify as one race or the other? An extension of the separatism that plagues our country...

    I'm sure plenty don't pick one or the other but the first person who came to my mind was a friend of mine who is half-Mexican and half-European mish-mash. If you ask him his race, he says Mexican, with no qualifiers. On St. Patty's day he had a shirt made that said on the front "Kiss Me I'm..." and on the back it said "Mexican!" It was awesome. The funny part to me is that he does have Irish blood, but he doesn't identify as Irish at all. He does look Hispanic but his build is more so European (6'4" and thin/broad shoulders). That's not definitive of course since it varies within races a lot but IDK... It's a curious thing to me.
     
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  6. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    Are you certain of this, or do you suspect it?

    Bi-racial people really do need representation as much as anyone else. I was talking to Raul Gonzalez and Anna Sibley O'Brien today (both of whom are artists known for works consisting of underrepresented/diverse ethnicities) about this. These artists both expressed a need for readers to have characters who are like them, and also the need for readers to read about diverse characters.

    Those of us who are white get plenty of representation, and also the opportunity to read about MCs who don't look like us. Not all MCs are white. But how many are Cambodian? (For American children's picture books, the answer is 1.)

    My daughters are half-Chinese. I have cousins in interracial marriages as well, so half-Hatian, half-Japanese, half-Egyptian if my second cousin has kids, and another cousin has half-Puerto Rican kids. My daughters also have half-African-half-Irish friends.

    So if I were to have a story with a biracial MC, she would likely be someone my own daughters can identify with. She won't look totally Asian or totally white, but that's part of being bi-racial. The Snow White doll and the Mulan doll look sort of like my daughters. There is no half-Asain MC so famous they made a toy of her.


    (If there's a toy of the half-French/half-Japanese lady who gets her arms chopped in Kill Bill, I'm not buying that for my kids.)
     
  7. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    I'm with Feo on this one, I haven't seen stats one way or the other, but what little I have seen of bi-racial characters...it seems like what happens with bisexual characters is what happens with bi-racial characters: PICK A SIDE, WONTCHA? Which may speak to the difficulties of accurately portraying complex identity representations we have in our society.
     
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  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I think it could be the case of the wheel turning but turning slowly. IMHO with things like this, progress is made as the older generation fades and the newer one grows into prominence and power.

    In Agent's of Shield the actress Chloe Bennet is multi-racial and apparently so is her character. But one thing I kind of find sad is the need for her to use an white surname instead of her real surname which is Wang.
     
  9. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    The so-called one-drop rule does play into that, for the reasons Feo mentioned, but in my experience its application has tended to be deliberately inconsistent. Sure, multiracial individuals singling out one part of their ancestry as their main identity is convenient for prejudiced casting agents, or anti-egalitarian ideologues citing those individuals' successes to rhetorically plaster over larger patterns of inequality. But when attention shifts away from American social politics to earlier non-European history---especially African history---the one-drop rule gets inverted. Even native African people with darker skin than Barack Obama can get written off as not really "black" or "Negroid" as long as they're associated with any form of indigenous architecture bigger than the cartoonish grass hovel. In which case, the one-droppers will look for any sign of European, Arab, or "Mediterranean Caucasoid" influence, whether genetic or cultural, in those Africans. This double standard is known as the "Hamitic Hypothesis", and I still see it being championed by armchair anthropologists and "human biodiversity" racialists all over the Internet.

    But that racists tend to be hypocritically self-serving shouldn't surprise anyone.

    As an aside for the OP, "Hispanic" isn't technically a "race" so much as a linguistically defined category. The word does stereotypically conjure images of Mexican mestizos if that's what the OP had in mind, but considering mestizos by definition are European/Native American mixes, wouldn't that make a Euro-American/mestizo mix, well, at least 75% European in ancestry? I imagine that would represent itself as "white-passing" in more cases than not, even if their cultural identity is more mixed.
     
  10. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    That's a damn shame.

    Well, I'm the one with biracial family members. Now I feel it's my mission to create a biracial character and do it right. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that doing it right means putting a picture of my kids near the about-the-author bit so I can prove I'm serious about biracial representation.

    I haven't seen it done badly (or at all), so I'm curious as to why it felt the biracial characters weren't genuine representations. I mean, real biracial people are simply people whose parents look more different from each other than couples with the same skin tone. There are likely linguistic and cultural differences on each side of the family as well. I would expect a biracial character would be perceived as "sort of diverse" to a reader who identifies with one side of the MC's ethnicity. That may be come off as "fake ethnic diversity" even if the writer wrote the character's ethnicity accurately.

    That's why I'm curious about what you and Feo saw that wasn't working for you.



    Of course, my feeling about diversity in general is that the character's race/gender/orientation/etc. are all aesthetics that make the character a little more real. What adventure the character has isn't defined by the character's race/gender/orientation/etc.
     
  11. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    @Jabrosky, Hispanic/Latino is still an ethnicity that people prefer recognized. Raul Gonzalez III, who I met today, cowrote Lowriders in Space with enthusiasm because the writer (a white librarian) wanted something for her Hispanic students.

    I think what you're getting at is that there isn't a way to "look Hispanic," and there's definitely some truth to that. A Puerto Rican colleague of mine explained that Puerto Ricans are a mix of ethnicities from various continents: North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. As a result, there is a diverse appearance among Hispanics/Latinos. Some of my students are darker than Obama, some are blonde and blue, and one Puerto Rican has red hair and freckles but her brother (same parents) is brown-skinned. I told one of my Puerto Rican students that she looks like an older version of my daughter Sabina. Her and her friends have seen pictures of my daughter, and they agree there's a striking resemblance.
     
  12. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    @Sidekick: well, with van Lustbader, there was something almost fetishistic about it. Like he wanted to have a character who was completely "Japanese" in his background and cultural expectations, without much influence from America, but also wanted to be able to describe how white he looked and how handsome that made him. Other stuff is less blatant about it, but there still seems to be a thing with characters who're culturally steeped in a minority background, but have physical features more similar to the expected majority audience, especially in visual media.

    To give a less extreme case, the main character of The Suffering is apparently supposed to be mixed-race. Everyone who mentions his race calls him black. The only indication that he has other ancestry is that he's pale-skinned and looks somewhat different from the other black characters. (To be fair, the people who comment on his race tend to be racist, so it makes sense that "black" is what they focus in on.)
     
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  13. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    I've been trying to increase my representation of multi-ethnic and biracial characters. Most notable is my vampire, Will, who's half-Irish, half-Japanese. His upbringing was a blend of the two cultures, and he identifies comfortably with both. I think it's important to show multi-ethnic/biracial people embracing all of their background and heritage.

    I'm not biracial myself, but I consider myself multi-ethnic, as my background includes many strikingly different cultures, so the portrayal of multi-ethnic and biracial characters is important to me.
     
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  14. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    Yeah, I'm half-Irish, half-Italian. It's not different than half-Irish, half-Japanese. The difference is only a perception since people are more likely to see that difference.

    EDIT - I feel compelled to clarify: there are more similarities among two European cultures than a European culture and an Asian culture. What's the same is growing up embracing both cultures.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2015
  15. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    This reminds me that while the couples I write and draw are typically interracial, I don't usually portray them with kids. I would say that's mainly because both the man and woman are typically in their twenties and don't jump their broom until after the end. But I've also had cases where the guy was a mercenary from the distant north and the lady was the rich and powerful monarch of a dark-skinned empire. If they produced even one kid together, her subjects might not appreciate their ruling dynasty being visibly defiled by the seed of a "piss-haired barbarian" (I like to portray my worlds' Northern European stand-ins as rugged hunter-gatherers whom the other races stereotype as big dumb savages).

    I have drawn certain historical figures like Cleopatra VII or Hannibal Barca who might have been of mixed-race several times, but not so much original characters for my fiction.
     
  16. cupiscent

    cupiscent Sage

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    I wonder if, in part, this is because fantasy as a genre is more interested in exploring magical race than human race - a character's mixed race is far more likely to be half human, half other than two different cultures of human. Half-elven is one of the more common D&D races (especially for beginners, or so I was told when, as a beginner, I chose it!) and just about every YA fantasy protagonist has some manner of mysterious vanished parent. But yes, like the original poster, I cannot remember reading a lot of characters who struggle with the sorts of things my mixed-race friends struggle with - being told she's "not X enough" for either side, being told she's "not really X", and the identity struggle of "passing". And I wonder why that should be, because for a genre so fond of themes of belonging, there's definitely a goldmine of material there!

    (I say I don't remember a lot, but I'm sure I have read some. I can vaguely recall characters disliking the things they've inherited from one parent that set them visually apart from their fellows... though it's possible these are urban fantasy and/or YA stories.)
     
  17. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Alas, it has been my perception that some people in our world hold certain fictional non-human species in higher regard than whole populations of their fellow humans. :( Though it does make you wonder, if you had a world where humans coexisted with other hominin species with significantly different intelligences or psychologies, might that not create a greater sense of unity within the human species? Even if the humans came in different colors and had developed different cultures, they'd probably pick up that they all had much more in common cognitively and behaviorally with one another than the likes of elves or orcs. We may think of Swedes and Yoruba as very different groups of people, but only because no more Neanderthals are around to put those differences into a larger perspective.
     
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  18. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    YES! Well, you can probably see from my picture that I have mostly Spanish / Northern Mexican features but I'm actually equal parts Spanish, Mexican, German, & Swedish. That's 3-parts European and 1 part North American. I'm usually told to "pick" the Mexican side. I have 2 sisters that look similar to me (who get the same) and 3 with paler skin, blonde hair, and green or blue eyes. You can probably guess what side they're told to pick.

    That's definitely one of the things that bugs me most about people. What is there to pick? I don't have a problem with it - it only seems to be problem for people that need to label everyone.

    Don't get me wrong, it's not the end of the world but it can be pretty annoying.
     
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  19. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    If people are pressuring you to single out one aspect of your ancestry as your identity, see if you can get them to state why they feel the need to do so. It sounds like they want you to represent the larger Mexican-American community for some reason. If they're Mexican themselves, maybe they expect you to be some kind of racial or ethnic exemplar? :confused:

    I will confess that, in the past, I have taken individuals to task for their self-proclaimed racial identity---but always in the opposite direction. One of them was a black/Chinese mix and another a black/Native American, but they both proclaimed to be just black and took offense when I challenged them. But in both of those cases, they were spewing some of the most repulsively racist bile against other black people, which gave me the sense they were playing up their own African-American ancestry just to make their propaganda appear credible (though to be sure, an obnoxiously vocal proportion of even "pure" black people seem to think playing up to white society's prejudices will save their own hides). In other cases, I've seen lily-white people pretend to be black just so they could appropriate the "race card" when they got called out on bad behavior that had nothing to do with race.

    In one incident on another writing forum, when I was sharing concept art for my characters, I had a chick accuse their designs of being racist and propagating "imperialist myths". The first time I tried to defend my artwork from her mis-characterizations, she claimed that I should listen to her because she "lived in Africa". After our next round of correspondence she claimed to be an "African woman and a feminist". Obviously neither of those are mutually exclusive, but what raised my yellow flag was that she only called herself "African" (but never any specific nationality or ethnic group) the moment I reminded her that non-African ethnic groups like Dutch, Arabs, and Indians had established their presence on the continent. And then there was the fact that by far the vast majority of the feedback I've always gotten from African and Afro-Diasporan people on my artwork---whether in real life, Facebook, Wordpress, DeviantArt, or even tumblr of all places---has been positive, which made me question at the very least why this one lady thought she was accurately speaking for African people the world over. I ended up getting the vibe that she, and many of my other harsher critics, was a white woman playing the social justice crusader to veil her latent anti-miscegnation prejudices.

    I know questioning people about their identity isn't considered polite, but I have little to no tolerance for racists and other scum lying about it to win debate points.
     
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  20. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    In what I've read of fantasy from the late 60s, early 70s and even into the 80s, whenever someone was written as a half-[something this] and half-[something that] there was always a side that was "better" than the other. (And their other half had to be shut away, shamed out of existence or whatever. Tanis in Dragonlance novels is a good example of this one.)

    This was especially prevalent in the half-elf or half-orc aspects. (There never seem to be any half-dwarves or half-gnomes, do there?) And some writers will claim that their elves/dwarves/orcs are just elves/dwarves/orcs but...the way I read them, they're not. Generally speaking they reflect real-world aspects of racial/ethnic identity. (Dwarves being fantasy Jews, orcs/evil races being stand ins for blacks, Arabs, etc.)

    Some writers have approached this better than others. I seem to recall some Mercedes Lackey characters that were half-one nationality, half another, and had some serious identity issues that went beyond what they looked like (but I can't remember which ones now).

    Now, in modern fantasy--especially urban fantasy--I see more straight up bi-racial characters (not half-elf etc). And in these, there is almost always a distancing from one aspect of their identity. Especially common among half-black, half-white characters. The agony and self-hatred about "black" hair, especially! I haven't seen as many half-white, half-latino characters. But when I do see them, it's still the agony and self-hatred of not appearing "white enough". And I have rarely seen half-white, half-asian characters, so I can't really offer comment on those portrayals.

    (Ooh, Hagrid and Harry Potter and Hermione are all good examples of modern day fantasy "half-somethings". And the Warrior cats series thingie, although I read very few of those.)

    I think what I find problematic is the one token the author offers as to the character being multi-ethnic/bi-racial is also the thing the character can't stand...and that they all seem to be trying to "pass" as white. Where are the proud portrayals of embracing both aspects of your heritage? Where are the non-angry portrayals?

    This also seems, from memory, to be something that affects women characters much more so than men. I can remember more women bi-racial characters than I can men. I wonder why?

    And as for somewhat decentish portrayals of bi-racial/multi-ethnic characters, Snow Crash's Hiro Protagonist was rather good, although Stephenson was subverting several things in this character.

    In looking up examples for this post, I found out that Honor Harrington is half-white, half-Chinese! But boy does she read WHITE.

    And in summary, I think that's my main problem with the way I see bi-racial/multi-ethnic people portrayed in spec fic. They're almost always trying to be white, so they read white, and if/when you do notice that the character is bi-racial...you're ONLY noticing because of something they're trying to erase from their identity, which is almost exclusively the non-white part of their identity. Which makes you wonder: what's the point? *facepalm*
     
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