1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Political Correct Term for Different Intelligent Beings

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Trip Williams, Jul 19, 2021 at 3:01 PM.

Is using "race" to differentiate different intelligent beings insensitive or politically incorrect?

  1. Yes. You should use species.

    1 vote(s)
    10.0%
  2. Yes. You should use some other word or no word at all

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  3. No

    9 vote(s)
    90.0%
  1. Trip Williams

    Trip Williams Scribe

    37
    6
    8
    Someone recently brought it to my attention that using the term "race" is very controversial. In the field of fantasy and fiction writing, I always considered it correct to term different intellectual beings as races - such as the human race, race of dwarves, or elven races, etc.... Has that been outmoded for more politically correct terminology? Or is that still vogue/proper usage? I kinda wanted to poll the opinions out there, but I would also like to hear what words you think is best to replace it if you consider it necessary to replace it. Personally, I'm not sure "species" really fits the bill.... but I may be wrong.
     
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,939
    3,656
    313
    This comes up sometimes, but to my knowledge there hasn't been much of a consensus as to whether or how it should be replaced. "Race" in fantasy has a use that's distinct from its real world uses, but you can't avoid the connotations that readers come in with. For me, it's one of those terms I use in my notes but try to leave out of the writing. But until we see the RPGs come up with a new term, it's still the standard.
     
    Demesnedenoir and Trip Williams like this.
  3. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour

    123
    107
    43
    I would use "kindred".

    kindred: adj. Of the same ancestry or family. kindred - definition and meaning

    kindred (n.)c. 1200, perhaps late Old English, kinraden, "family, lineage; race, nation, tribe, people; kinsfolk, blood relations." kindred | Origin and meaning of kindred by Online Etymology Dictionary

    kindred: From Middle English kindrede, alteration (with epenthetic d) of kinrede, cünreden (“kindred”), from Old English cynrēd, cynrǣden (“kindred, family, generation, posterity, stock, species”). kindred - Wiktionary
    Other considerations are: nation, people, stock.
     
    Trip Williams likes this.
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,329
    3,758
    413
    There's nothing wrong with 'race' in the fantasy context as you're using it. Some people find it inaccurate to describe human 'races,' arguing that race is social construct. From that point of view, the term 'race' shouldn't be a problem for what are, in fact, other 'races' of beings in a fantasy world.
     
    Trip Williams likes this.
  5. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    1,596
    933
    113
    Race is the correct term. Race is a term with multiple usages, and your friend is either confusing them, or pointing out that others will. Their observations in not bad, you count on that there will be some who find reason to take issue with your use of the term. My advice is to ignore them.
     
    Trip Williams likes this.
  6. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,469
    753
    113
    It kind of depends on what people you got in your setting. I’d be fine with calling an elf a different race than a human but once you get to something like a dragon, you’d might want to step-up to calling them a different species. It’s basically a question of how removed from a human you get.

    Although, if you’re asking “would someone find this offense?” and every time you ask that question, the answer is always going to be “yes”. There’s always going to be someone out there who’ll take offense to anything.
     
    Trip Williams likes this.
  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,955
    2,025
    263
    There's nothing bad with the choice to use something else, should you decide on that route.
     
    Trip Williams likes this.
  8. Almyrigan Hero

    Almyrigan Hero Scribe

    40
    29
    18
    That depends how scientifically you're presenting things.

    A race, in biology, is similar to subspecies. Races all share the larger species' genetic pool, and are capable of producing fertile offspring with each other, but due to geographic isolation or willful selectivity, certain traits have been "bred" in and out. Despite almost always being used to describe human ethnicities, it can apply to any other species with diverse subgroups.

    In a more general sense, 'race' just means kind or type. You could certainly call species races, and although this one actually is a bit antiquated, social classes and even the sexes have been referred to as 'races.' Likewise, when people talk about the 'rat race,' they're referring neither to people with buck teeth, nor to anthropomorphic rats. It's just an expression.

    As for whether it's controversial... I don't know, sort of? It isn't inherently demeaning, but like anything that terminologically intersects with hot-button topics, people will absolutely make it a problem if given the chance. If the term is already ingrained in your worldbuilding or you just want to give it that extra bit of fantasy flair, use 'race.' If you'd rather not deal with people, use 'species' or 'kind' (or neither, or only sparingly.)
     
    Trip Williams likes this.
  9. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    699
    587
    93
    Nothing wrong with using race in this meaning. D&D does it, and if it's good enough for a large corporation, then it's good enough for a writer.

    In the context of a fantasy novel it's understood that race means different kinds of humanoid creatures. There's the human race, elf race, dwarf race and so on. Race is what these have been always called and I can't really see what's wrong with doing so.

    I do agree with WooHooManWooHooMan that this doesn't mean that no one will take offense, simply because there are a lot of people out there, and someone will always take offense. The only way to not have that is to simply not write anything.
     
    Trip Williams likes this.
  10. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    519
    319
    63
    As a rule of thumb, I would use the term "race" to describe any being that has at least some human physical characteristics. Minotaurs, elves, dwarves, humans etc would be viewed as races. A different species would have virtually no human physical characteristics.

    To make things interesting, the issue of whether or not a certain group is a race or a separate species could be the subject of debate or conflict within a story. For example, are fairies a race or a species? Ones like Tinkerbell have the physical characteristics of humans and also act like humans in most regards but their small size makes any meaningful interaction with humans impossible in most cases.

    I would also avoid using the term "politically correct" in this context because whether or not an author chooses to call a particular fictional group a race or species is entirely up to them. The author just needs to be careful not to create a group that can be too easily identified with stereotypes about a particular real world race, creed, ethnicity or nationality. That's not about being politically correct. It's about not being an bigoted jackass.
     
    Trip Williams likes this.
  11. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,504
    1,553
    163
    I would use race if you want to, and it makes me wonder if I ever do refer to anyone by race… As far as I know I stick to specific cultural names and species references.

    So, if it can’t be easily identified as a stereotype, it’s not bigotry? Fascinating.
     
  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,955
    2,025
    263
    For me, the biggest question is whether the peoples in my secondary world would even think in terms of "race."

    I mean, I can see some hypothetical fantasy human referring to "the elvish kin" or "the elf kin" or simply, "the elves."

    Other terms might feel at home in that world, for instance different culturally relevant terms might exist in the various languages of that world. Not all might think in terms of kin. Or race. Terminology and this kind of abstract grouping of peoples will point at habits of thought and world views. If your fictional people aren't Earthlings, they might not think as we would, heh. (Historically, I mean...)

    Personally, race seems rather abstract, the sort of term a scholar might use. Or an omniscient narrator of the sort who would use it, heh. Do the everyday beings think in terms of race? Or do they think of elves, dwarves, and the like?
     
    Trip Williams likes this.
  13. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,469
    753
    113
    I don’t think there’s much practical difference in calling them different races or different folks or different kins. It all kind of implies that the races and kins and folks are in one category while other beings (cows, dragons, chimps, whatever) aren’t.

    Like, eventually some human guy is going to be like “hey, elves seem to be a different race/species/kin/folk/etc than humans but they are clearly not animals like a cow or bird”. It’s just a question of what term they use.
     
  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,939
    3,656
    313
    After Almyrigan's post above, I pulled up race in the dictionary.... and its historical use is really, really, really broad, where it essentially meant any distinct group of people. "The race of lawyers" wouldn't even be a weird thing to say. It's just that one way of grouping people with the word pushed out all the others.


    "The elven kin" sounds good. But to me it's a little awkward to say "In this world the elves and dwarves are two of the many kins." It makes it sound like dwarves and elves are tightly related. Race is the word I've seen that seems to cover all the angles.


    This is closer to why I don't use it. Social connotations are a secondary concern. Race, to me, screams D&D, video games, "balanced player characters." I don't necessarily want readers viewing my characters that way.
     
    Trip Williams likes this.
  15. ButlerianHeretic

    ButlerianHeretic Scribe

    29
    13
    3
    The "peoples" of the world works for me. I my world, it has been long enough since the peoples of the world branched off from their common ancestors that they have undergone speciation and are no longer commonly interfertile, and cannot fully pronounce the words of each others tongues. Everyone speaks various regional languages in their own tongues and just learns to understand the languages of neighboring peoples.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2021 at 9:56 PM
  16. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,955
    2,025
    263
    I'm aware of that older usage. By Earthlings. Who had time to ponder such things. Unfortunately, we probably have few historical documents written by street rats—although I do wonder if the more vile uses of the term might be more common at that level.

    (Heck, Tolkien I think wrote things like, "thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs," and who's to say some street rat wouldn't think similarly about some specific group of intelligent beings in his world?)

    But this points directly to what I meant, and should have more clearly stated, re: an omniscient narrator. I suppose this ties in to the more scholarly, abstract aspect also. What sort of character or narrator would ponder in terms of "In this world the elves and dwarves are two of the many ______," anyway? A scholar, perhaps, or an omniscient narrator taking an over-view of things.

    So this, yes.

    Mostly I'm just pondering when and where and whether and why the term would fall into the prose of a novel, regardless of questions relating to its potential offensiveness.
     
  17. Trip Williams

    Trip Williams Scribe

    37
    6
    8
    I definitely see your point, Fifthview. I personally have never used race in my books so far, and don't really plan to. The original question came up because I have a concordance for my book because of the many foreign and original words I use to name things - including over a dozen original races/kin/intellectual beings, etc... (whatever you wish to call them). In the concordance, I used different bold titles to separate topics, such as cultural words (like michis and dalit), legendary creatures (like aemirok and saliero - completely made up original creatures) and then I used "Races" for the original intelligent beings (or whatever) that I created for the book... That was where the impetus of the question originated. Someone questioned the use of using "race" in that context, which I can see his point but perhaps isn't as big a deal?

    In the prose, though, you are most correct. I cannot see how the term would fall into normal narration unless it was an omniscient narrator speaking of historic or global events as an overview, which is kind of tacky in my opinion, but depends upon the story and how it's used. In prose, however, I see it normal to call them as they are - An elf slipped into the shadows, or she lowered her hood, revealing herself to be a (fill-in-the-blank). It is interesting to see that although I doubt many people use race in their prose, there is not much issue with viewing them as races.
     
    FifthView likes this.
  18. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,469
    753
    113
    In my day to day life, I hear people who aren't scholars or omniscient narrators use the term "race" when describing different categories of people. I got to imagine then that elves in a fantasy setting could conceivably use the term "race" when discussing humans or dwarves or dark elves or what have you.
    I think it's just kind of the way of intelligent beings to want to categorize things and an elf would be like "us and dwarves? Two different races. Us and cows? Different species." I think expository dialogue like that to explain how the world works is pretty standard in a fantasy novel.
     
    Trip Williams likes this.
  19. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

    309
    334
    63
    I don't use race or species at all in my writing, not when describing characters. Thats because I don't find it neccessary. In my experience you can have your characters be predjudiced or afraid of other characters with a different background without ever using those words. It's those predjudicial thoughts and expressions which give rise to a lot of the interactions (both in reality and in fiction), andf if you're writing character driven fiction (as most of us say we do) this is what you'll want to focus on.

    All you really need to say is that someone (human,dwarf etc) has a certain view of elves (or humans with different coloured skin or whatever) and you're away. The word race need never appear. This is one of the advantages of writing fantasy. Certain things, like elves, dwarfs, ogres etc, are so established in the genre that you don't really need to discuss whether they are races or species. Our readers fill in all the details and we can focus on the characters.
     
  20. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,469
    753
    113
    Well, if that approach works for you, that’s great but it may not work for everyone.
    In my setting; there are white and black humans, goblins and atronachs who all coexist in a single society. So it kind of became necessary to explain that whites and blacks are different races of humans and humans and goblins are different subspecies of humanoids and humanoids are a different species from atronachs (who in turn are divided into subspecies and races).

    Basically, some people don’t have the totally standard settings where everything is completely established within the genre and so they would need to be able to clearly explain to the reader what’s up either through narration or dialogue. I assumed that Trip was in that boat.
    And hell, I’ve seen writers put such a radically different spin on elves and dwarves that they could hardly be said to fit the established convention of those races.
     
Loading...

Share This Page