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Diversity: Multi ethnic and Biracial characters

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

  1. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    Let me turn this on its head (and I'll use an outrageous example here) and see if y'all can see where I am coming from.

    Let's imagine that the only way to portray a token white man is as this type: paranoid, cruel, kills opponents for having differing views, atheist, etc.

    This is the ONLY way that white male characters can be portrayed, when they are in a story at all. Would y'all want to see that representation all the time? Or would any of y'all prefer to see more nuance? Because not every white guy is like that. In fact, very very few are anywhere near that stereotype.

    Or, to be less outrageous: the only portrayal of white men is as workaholics, emotionally cold, pater familias. No indication of whether or not they have any hobbies, like any sports teams, go out to the movies, anything that would make them an actual person.

    If you were also part of a minority population, and as such part of the minority population being systematically oppressed by the people who are in power...you would be quite upset that this is the only representation you get in literature. Because it's not only NOT accurate, it's harmful. Because what we see in literature helps us form an understanding of the world around us--no matter how fantastical that literary world is.

    I'm not saying that I want the black alcoholic lesbians to be "Cosby-ized". I just want complex characters. I don't want "nods" to diversity that are solely filled with stereotypes. I don't want "token" POC characters. I want complex, living and could walk off the page characters--because that's who I can relate to. I can't relate to a checklist of stereotypes.

    Many of the representations of women of color that I've seen are problematic, because I've known only ONE woman that fits into the "angry black woman" stereotype. I've known ONE Asian-American woman who fit into the "studious Asian" stereotype. I've known dozens of people of color, and hundreds of acquaintances (through my school years & work), that DO NOT fit into those stereotypical boxes. I'm asking to see characters that reflect the diversity of my own life, not what society tells us we should think. (And come to think of it, I've known absolutely zero black women that fit into the overly-sexualized black woman stereotype.)

    So my "personal" vision isn't a "this is how you do it right" as much as asking for authors/audiences to think about the portrayal and go "ok, is this a complex character? Is this a "nod" to diversity and not really diverse representation? Is this just a melange of bad stereotypes?" And if the answer to the last two questions is "yes"...then, well, someone's not getting the memo.

    And for reference, it's really, really not hard to avoid problematic areas in representing POC/queer/disabled/etc. Especially with the internet. Just google [whatever] + stereotypes...and you'll find a whole laundry list of things that might be best avoided if an author doesn't want to hit anything negative and/or doesn't feel up to subverting the stereotype.

    Also, this kinda ties back into the whole Strong Female Character archetype that we're seeing now. No complexity, just bad-a**, fighting femme fatale characters. No nuance. This is NOT what people meant by more women characters, by the way.
     
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  2. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    And to further clarify, I'm not just spouting off what I want to see without doing anything about it. The world building for the novel series I'm working on?

    It's an exploration of a whole region where everyone is NOT white. There are themes of internal discrimination a la the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanada, the after-effects of Colonialism, sexism, etc, that underlie my main story--which is solving some political international intrigue (aka it's a fantasy murder mystery with international intrigue on top). I'm toying with the idea of having some white people, very very far off, that get Othered, as a way of subverting that trope. (Not sure about this one yet, still tinkering with the idea.)

    There are bi-racial people in my world, where I'm focused on geographically at least, and part of their story is how to come to terms with both halves of their identity. And the answer is NOT putting one side above the other.

    There are multiple differing religious systems, including a monotheistic matriarchy--that doesn't devolve into man-hating/killing (ugh!) nor is it a direct subversion of the monotheistic patriarchies we see today (ugh again). It's complex. It's different. There are multiple differing political systems as well. And economic ones. And differing societal customs around the use of magic.

    Why am I doing all of that in one series of novels? Because: why the heck not? If I'm not seeing diverse representations in the fiction I'm reading now (it's gotten a bit better now that I'm specifically reading POC/women authors), I need to start creating it for others. (Plus I'm absolutely fascinated with thinking up alternate ways to do things that might be applicable to our own world...)
     
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  3. Hainted

    Hainted Sage

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    I'm not saying they're innocent, I'm saying the response should have been a critique and discussion of what was wrong versus virulent hatred and threats. One gets big companies to make better characters and one makes them avoid ever using those characters again.
     
  4. Hainted

    Hainted Sage

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    @buyjupiter You know why those are the usual stereotypes? Because they're the safest. Trying to move outside those checklists(especially if you're not the "right" author to do so) generates complaints, and threats.

    You want to get radical and put stuff on it's head? Imagine if I started telling people they couldn't write Straight White Southern Men because they themselves weren't Straight White Southern Men and could never know what I know or accurately portray someone like me.

    And it's not just Straight White Men who fall into this trap. Some of the most successful Non-white Non-straight and/or Non-male artists of today have built their careers on checklist characters.

    So yes their is a huge difference between stereotypical characters and nuanced characters but because the reactions to the former have gotten so toxic it can prevent a creator from using the latter.
     
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    There is some of that reaction, true. I've seen authors crucified in social media when even a relatively a small segment of the readership think they've gotten a portrayal of diversity wrong (and I mean even in the case of an honest attempt, not blatant disregard for what the author was doing). I read an article recently to the effect that "trying" was no longer to be considered good enough.

    I've thought about those responses, because I'm a straight, white male and the characters in my main works-in-progress are a Hispanic female (in one) and a lesbian (in the other). All I can really say is people who have that response to my work can go jump in the nearest lake. I like the characters and I think I've done them justice.
     
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  6. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    @Hainted: I keep deleting and rewriting this post, because it sounds confrontational, and I don't want to make some kind of argument out of this. But I don't know how to respond to your talking about "threats." Who was making these threats? Where were they posted? What sites covered this?

    Seriously, everything I saw was, if not always rational or reasonable, at least restricted to snide comments. You and other posters have talked about this and other cases like there's some massive army of angry SJWs who'll pounce on you for writing minority characters wrong (and if Jabrosky is to be believed, will try to convince you to commit suicide.) God knows I've seen that crowd before (anyone remember that twelve-year-old they doxxed and threatened to stab because he posted a rape joke on Twitter?), but I've never seen anyone go that nuts over science fiction and fantasy, only social media and forum posts.
     
  7. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    @ Hainted

    The very fact we even have all these threads is because, au contraire, some people do take offense at our genre's preponderance of white heroes. I know what you mean when you say non-white characters might automatically attract more scrutiny than their white counterparts, but the way I see it, you only have so much control over how your readers are going to react to anything. Everyone is going to view the same material through differently colored lenses no matter how much we wish those lenses were all clean. It ought to be an oft-quoted meme: if it exists, it will offend someone.

    All you can really do is listen to your critics, think things through, and decide whether their objections make sense to you. If yes, revise or try again. If not, screw 'em.

    As for the topic of stereotypes, while I agree with buyjupiter that multidimensional characters of any race are ideal for any situation, let me play devil's advocate and suggest that even the worst stereotypes can be useful if you're willing to fiddle with them a bit. One time I was mulling over the old stereotype of ooga-booga African "witch-doctors" with big grotesque masks and
    sinister "voodoo" magic, and I thought to myself, what if that kind of character wasn't a bad guy? What if, behind that mask, was a sweet, beautiful woman who won the hero's heart? And thus this was born from my pen and Photoshop.

    Obviously that stereotype was never an accurate representation of any real African religions, so even a twist like that would work better in high fantasy than an ostensibly real-world setting. But even then, recognizing stereotypes can provide you the tools you need to subvert or deconstruct them.

    To clarify, I don't believe that particular individual was deliberately trying to incite suicide. Sure, they knew I had thoughts like those since I'd confided to them about it beforehand, but they might not have known just what my switches would have been. Instead I believe they just meant to induce extreme guilt for stating my disagreement with them, and it so happened that their implicit threat to end our friendship almost flipped one of those switches.

    Mind you, I'm angry as hell that they used my cry for help to tar my character once our fallout day came at last, especially given what I'd disclosed to them previously (and that, one day after the earlier exchange, they told me they'd forgiven me for the whole affair), but I didn't mean to say they were ever consciously trying to goad me into suicide.
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2015
  8. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    Safest? Or easiest? I'd go with the latter.

    And honestly, just because a few people were upset over a representation does not mean that we just say:

    "You know what, we gave it our best shot, but nobody's happy, so we give up. Screw representation, it's just not worth it."

    Because that success/failure mode is black and white thinking...which is never a good thing.

    It means we say:

    "Ok, maybe that wasn't the best of ideas. What can we try differently, next time, to give a better representation of this group? Can we ask some members of that group to comment on our idea and see if there's anything we're being obtuse about?"

    Which is more nuanced thinking and allows for something outside of a success/failure paradigm.

    Only one of these methods results in any change. Can y'all guess which one?

    I'm really, really confused by anyone who thinks that no matter what they write they're not going to get threats and/or complaints. That by avoiding certain things like diverse characters or story ideas, they're automatically immune from that kind of behavior? That's just part of the conversation that creators have with audiences nowadays. I guess maybe I'm just more used to the idea because I'm a woman that's had opinions and I've had to put up with this s*** all my life?
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    If you address these issues, I certainly think you're likely to get some complaints no matter how you approach it. That's just something the author has to accept. It is not a reason to avoid such issues. The complaints generally come from a minority of readers.
     
  10. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Agreed.

    Though just to muddy the picture even more, even that minority of readers has a tendency to cast themselves as representative of this or that group (e.g. "as a woman/person of color, I say that...") to give their specific opinion more weight. That's the problem I have with so many of those blogs telling you how to "write with color"; you have at most a small clique of kids telling you what is and isn't offensive, as if an entire race or nationality's consensus can be summed up by any single one of their crew members. Excuse me, but I seriously doubt a rural Ugandan blacksmith, or even an African-American garbage collector from Compton, is going to have the same perspective on issues like this as a twentysomething Harvard "Ethnic Studies" major born to relatively affluent Jamaican immigrants.

    But tell that to these bloggers, and they'll dismiss any black person who doesn't share their beliefs as a dupe for "internalized racism", or even mocking them as "your [non-existent] black friends". For culture critics who voice disapproval to racialized cultural stereotypes, they sure are fond of groupthink along racial lines.

    The best way around this that I can think of is to think through any possible objections and decide whether they're worth abiding---the same as you would any other aspect of writing, really.
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    You can't control how people represent themselves. You just have to accept that sort of thing as inevitable, to a degree, and ignore it. Your job is to think about the issues to the extent your story requires it and to move forward with your vision for the story and characters as best you can
     
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  12. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    There are also many "whites" from Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe ...
    "Caucasian" has less to do with the region and more to do with the shape of one's skull. [​IMG]
    As far as I know it is an outdated method (of archaeological description). I really focused on cultural anthro rather than biological but *I think* the theory is that there are 3 "races". Caucasian (Caucasoid) are the remains found in and around Europe. The shape of the skull is noticeably different along the mouth/jawline and at the back of the head.

    The issue I have with the terms is that (even in academic writings) we use regional markers for most groups of people (Asian, Hispanic, Latin, etc.) but that we use colors to define white and black. The alternate term that's supposed to be more PC is "African American" (or just African) but this (once again) poses issues with assuming that "black" people are of African decent. I know several people from Latin America (Dominican Republic and Brazil) who were often called "African American" despite the fact that were Latin American immigrants. I just think if we're going to go out of our way to respect one group of people we need to do it for everyone. IMO a regional marker leaves room for error but is less offensive than a color schematic.
     
  13. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    :I_agree:

    Well ... as a multiethnic woman ;) ... I really don't care how you write "colored" characters. I thought "Batmanuel" (in The Tick) was absolutely hilarious. I forget the character's name but my brother was showing me some of his Marvel comics and there's a fat Hispanic character that is always in the background eating. He might even run a taco or churro cart. I forget. What I do know is that's freaking hilarious to me but some people were offended that he's never paying attention to the action- only his stomach.

    I'd say there is no "right" or "wrong" way to write a character. They are characters. If we worry ourselves over whether every little detail is potentially offensive we've missed the whole point. I don't think people want to see diversity among heroes. We want diversity among all of the characters, whether their huge villains or just red shirts.
     
  14. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    my problem with Diversity.

    With all these discussions about diversity that pop up I figure I'll share my problem with any argument that an author should include diversity.

    My problem is that diversity is all fine and dandy so long as it is a politically correct portrayal shown in a positive light, something often time mistaken for a good writing. It's not about a true diverse cast it's about affirming the political correct views of the readership on the diversity. Case in point. 'Batgirl' #37 Criticized For Transphobia; Creators Apologize Common your telling me a trans cannot be a villain? doesn’t seem very diverse to exclude them. or that upon finding out that the villain is a trans that a shocked reaction is hate filled. Time and again I have seen such reactions that tell me diversity doesn't really matter only the light in which it is portrayed. Thus, the only acceptable diversity is unquestioning positive diversity otherwise it's a negative stereotype. I do see a book where a minority group is looked at with scepticism as being trashed horribly by the modern readership despite it's merits.
    Let me pose a question. If I were to write a book where the ability of a woman to fight in a war amongst men is examined and questioned I'll bet money the version where the women is not able to keep up with her male counterparts would be criticized and labelled misogynistic regardless of the reasoning, while the version where she can carry 150 lb man out of combat is a 'strong female character.' When did readers become so weak that we must coddle their beliefs, what happened to challenging beliefs and the status quo. The only thing I see with these diversity threads and every other blog post and review I read that mentioned sex and diversity in pop culture is a the new status quo that we cannot question. People don't want diversity, people want what their beliefs to be right, they want to hear only what they want to hear and that is my problem with diversity.

    So long as diversity means reaffirming the political status quo it will stay out of my writing, I think well written characters are much better thank you very much.

    Edit: I meant to make a new thread but screwed up the browser tab, sorry.
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2015
  15. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    To me, diversity in writing should be about balance -- portraying any given race or ethnicity as neither wholly good or wholly evil, but acknowledging that both POCs and non-POCs can be both. If you really really want your villain to be a POC for whatever reason, maybe give them servants or equals who are white, or of a different ethnicity. Same goes for your heroes.
     
  16. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    I am inspired to write about a half-dwarf/half-orc homosexual... This is fantasy after all and they may not have to face the same challenges we face as humans with parents that happen to have different skin colors from each other. Scientifically, we are all 99.5% the same so why we call each other a different race when we are clearly not!


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
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  17. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    @Ascanius: If you approach it as "Women shouldn't be soldiers," then of course female soldiers and their friends and family are going to take offense. I've actually written a female character who failed to become a soldier because she couldn't meet the physical standards, and I didn't make a message out of it--I just had it as part of the backstory that brought her to where she is today.

    (I can't speak to trans characters, because I don't know of a lot of things with trans villains. The closest thing that comes to mind was the stink over the crossdressing antagonist of The Boxtrolls--sure, some people objected, but a lot of people defended the character.)
     
  18. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    The issue I have with "Caucasian" is that it's incredibly broad. Under the current definition of the term used in modern science, Indians, Turks, Arabs, Jews, North Africans, and more are all considered caucasoid.

    [​IMG]

    That's a rather broad and unspecific term if you just want to talk about people of European descent.
     
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  19. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Actually "Caucasian" comes from the Caucasus Mountains north of Turkey and Iraq.

    I'm tempted to go off on a tirade about how problematic conventional ideas of "Caucasoid" and its associated racial classification system are, but I'm a bit low on energy this afternoon and it might lead to a big thread derail. Instead I'll simply say that "European" works just fine if you want to reference conventional ideas of white people. No need to use an obsolete term which had Ethiopians, Somalis, and Tamils of all people chucked into it just because they had narrower noses than Yoruba.
     
  20. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    I know where the term comes from, I was just highlighting how broad the modern definition is.
     
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