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Political Correct Term for Different Intelligent Beings

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Trip Williams, Jul 19, 2021.

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

  1. Yes. You should use species.

    1 vote(s)
    9.1%
  2. Yes. You should use some other word or no word at all

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  3. No

    10 vote(s)
    90.9%
  1. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    In my day to day life, I don't, although I suppose I do hear the term on television news and the like. Which, come to think of it, is a kind of attempt at omniscient narration heh.

    Yes, I can imagine it too. Elves are a haughty bunch, right? (y)

    Others who have had the time and inclination might think in those terms. I'm not saying it's impossible. There is a sort of archaic use of race that might sound natural coming from a medieval-ish narrator or character. The race of dragons. The race of Northmen. Etc. I still think it's more of an overview type of thing, so a narrator or a character elf-splaining things to students in a class or something, but characters sometimes do that in dialogue.

    But who are they explaining this to? I think the difference between elves/dwarves and cows ... goes without saying? "As you know, Bob, elves and dwarves have intelligence that is superior to the intelligence of cows. Ergo, different in kind." Heh.
     
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  2. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    The issue is really the connotation of the word 'Race' in the context of the values of todays readers, which are more primed to find issues with that word. If I substituted Kin, or some other word, it really should make no difference. Its still a word standing in for noticing the differences between peoples. If way back when, we used 'kin' instead of 'race', its likely kin would be the term setting off alarm bells. You can choose to curtail your writing to match the values of your readers or not. I would choose to write them they way it seems most natural in the story. I am nor sure if I would personally use the word race or not, but its not something I would dwell on for very long.
     
  3. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    That is a statement I will challenge. Why do you even need to mention race? My setting has people with different skin colours, and I never use the word race. I don't need to. What creates predjudice (both in the setting and in real life) is fear or mistrust of the unknown, combined with a perceived threat to the social group. Basic social psychology. Adding creatures like goblins or ogres or elves wouldn't change this sort of psychological reaction You'd still get predjudice and racism/speciesism. So my focus is always on characterisation, and how (and why) characters interact with one another.

    Well, thats something I'd challenge as well. Take dwarves as an example. The popular image in the genre is of a bunch of axe crazy individuals who quaff a lot of beer. Then you read the Lord of the Rings... And you realise that isn't how Tolkien describes them. The same is true of elves. Some characteristics are the same - in the case of the dwarves, they're short. But the rest can and does vary with author. But as soon as you use the word dwarf, people see a short humanoid character. Thats all you need. The characters, what they, do the weapons they carry etc, thats up to you.

    The only words of warning I would give are that these images are western ideas, they build on our mythology. There are other traditions out there, but they use other names for other creatures.
     
  4. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Well, some people may and others may not. I don’t know what to tell you.
    I guess technically there’s no term that all writers “need” to use but if someone feels like “race” is a convenient term to use in explaining similarities or differences of people in their setting, I wouldn’t tell them not to use it. Same with species and subspecies and so forth. Whatever works.

    I’m sorry, I’m not seeing how this challenges what I’ve said. It ties into what I was saying about writers putting their own spin on a race and needing to explain it to their readers.

    Depends on the story. Maybe some abstract energy being from another dimension stopped by Middle Earth and they don’t understand the differences between one carbon-based mammal and another.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2021 at 3:55 PM
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I don't understand some of this conversation. I've found it easy enough to leave the word out. But, also, it would be just as easy to include it. On top of that, there's a whole subgenre of fantasy where the setting is heavily gamified and words like "race" and "class" and "skill points" are used openly and casually by the characters. It seems kind of restrictive to just assume that no other story or writer might have a valid use for it.
     
  6. Trip Williams

    Trip Williams Scribe

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    Hehe. :whistle:I may have stepped on a landmine. :wideyed: But this conversation has been interesting. :D
     
  7. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    I object mainly because to me its lazy writing. My editor uses a much ruder word (in Swedish) for it. Yes, you can use a word like race to describe a group of beings, and in doing so you're invitiing the reader to see them as some sort of homogenous group with common characteristics. But we're not like that. Neither are cats, to take an animal example. To me using a term like race becomes an oversimplification which detracts from characterisation. As authors we're supposed to write stories which have a good plot and good characterisation, which when combined result in character and story arcs. Yes, in my setting there are peple with different skin colours, and there is both racism and sexism. But I don't need to use those terms in my writing, because there are other ways of exploring those issues. To me its a question of characterisation, and in particular how and why the characters act towards others and what consequences this has.

    To take an example. If you have a foreign merchant who gets treated in what we would call a racist manner, how would said merchant react? Might they quietly raise their prices slightly, or might they look to cut a subtle but for them very profitable deal with one of their detractors? What would happen if they met someone who wasn't a racist? Would they trust them? How would a relationship like that develop? Does said merchant have equally negative views of the people they deal with? And so on and so forth. You need never use words like race or racism to develop this. But you do need good characterisation.
     
  8. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I’m pretty sure it’s very possible to use the term “race” and have good characterization.
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I don't think the word "race" implies this kind of reductivism any more than another word (like species, for example). When comparing two groups--humans versus k'zin, to use a science fiction example--certainly members of each group have common physical characteristics. That doesn't mean they're all the same, on an individual level, and I'm not sure how the word 'race' is seen as implying that.
     
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    The use of race in secondary world fantasy is very well established, and probably most people who care to read in the genre won't mind your use here.

    There is the odd problem of having few suitable terms for what "race" is doing. I mean, as a title for a section in your concordance listing the various intelligent beings in that world.

    Here's an odd little consideration. I was trying to imagine other titles for that section, and "Peoples of ______ " came to mind. (Blank is the name of the world.) But doesn't that word tend to imply human or nearly human beings? Humans, dwarves, halflings, elves....but how would you feel about putting orcs and dragons under that heading? To me, right or wrong, it would seem very odd. Am I...people-biased? In other words, would I be claiming that orcs aren't people? That's feeling dangerously on the line. (Then again, orcs don't exist, so....)

    This reminds me of a Kirkism, his calling Spock "the most human." Even as a preteen seeing that in the theater, I cringed. In my mind, Spock was definitely not human, and this felt like an insult. As I got older, I started to see it as being racist. It still feels racist to me. But my own feelings about "people" are probably similarly problematic. ("His soul was ... the most Klingon." This wouldn't have the same force for us in that context of—old spoiler—Spock's dying. What about "most Vulcan?" even there, the problematic aspect is even more apparent.)

    So here we have a problem of differentiating. I don't mean between intelligent beings and cows, but between groups of intelligent beings. I don't think the term race joins intelligent beings under one heading. Rather, I think it separates them along particular lines. Are those lines related to DNA? Ethnicity? History? What makes one race a race and a different race a different race? Of course, difference is implied even when using the term as a group heading to unify them into a section of the concordance, heh. Also, these beings already are obviously different in the eyes of most readers, so it's not as if you are adding arbitrary demarcations by using the term. But I find the term to be problematic. This surprises me, because until this thread I hadn't thought much about it.

    We still have the problem of lacking an easily discernible alternative to the term. At least not in English, with its long history and various connotations and denotations that have been long set by this point. I do wonder if finding some sort of in-world solution, via a fantasy language or cultural element or whatever would add value to the concordance.

    Then again, is the concordance being aimed at us, humans of Earth, the readers? That might add another twist or two. Or is it a "found" concordance, written as something that might be found in-world?
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2021 at 9:52 PM
  11. Trip Williams

    Trip Williams Scribe

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    I'm wondering if our culture hasn't blurred the line between human and person in this instance. There is actually a denotive difference. In fact, (I find it abhorrent, but that's politics...) abortion is legal in America due to the argument that the fetus is not a person. The courts recognize the fetus as human, just not a person. I say that NOT to start an argument about abortion (.......please don't....) but to give a potent example of how the words human and person are different. (Even though our culture, in certain situations, blurs them together). This, then, turns into a very philosophical discussion of what makes a person? and what exactly defines a human. The different races/kin/species/etc. (whatever we wish to call them) could easily be labeled as people, even if they are not human (anatomically). There is the biological definition of a human, but then, as you discussed, Fifthview, the cultural/philosophical definition is different. Especially in fantasy, a non-human can be more "human" than many actual humans and humans can show some of the most inhumane behavior. Likewise, a "person" can be defined in so many different ways. Is a person a being who is able to make a rational choice? (Which then becomes, how do you define rational.) Is a person a being who is able to think? But then how do you determine if a being has thoughts? Is a person a being who is capable of moving on it's own? If so, then wouldn't a venus fly trap be a person? Is a person a being who is able to think critically? How do we measure critical thinking? And does that mean a small infant is not a person? It becomes a very complex and intricate conception that everyone knows but no one can express or explain (well, not definitively). As mentioned above multiple times, race does not have one definition, but a wide range of connotations. Especially in America, a few/some/many/most (you choose) of those connotations are negative and laced with ulterior meanings such as racism, etc. Sometimes I feel that the more sensitive one is to the existence of racism and the evils of it, the more that definitional interpretation bleeds into other, completely separate connotations of the word. Whether that's good or bad, I will leave up to you to decide... As mentioned before as well, the word is merely a word we as a culture have placed a certain meaning upon. It in itself is neutral, but our meaning or the meaning prescribed to it by the reader is of utmost concern. And fifthview said it well - the conundrum has really become - regardless of the stance taken so far - is no efficient word has been fostered as a replacement for it. Don't hear me wrong there, many words have been offered as replacements; however, the replacement words work only in certain circumstances and places. For instance, kin is one such example. However, if Kin was used as the title of the section in the concordance, it would. give the reader the connotation that they were different family groups, not fundamentally different beings. Species is a popular one; however, many races can breed with one another, which would not quite fit the definition of species - and the word itself gives the reader a certain connotational value that doesn't always match the intent the author wishes to portray with the word. There is great compromise of give-and-take there in this conundrum; however, it does feel that this recondite is at a standstill...

    I would like to use your suggestion of "Peoples of ______". but as I read it.... well, I have no name for my world... (at least as of yet). Oh, and to answer your last question. it is a concordance for the reader, not something to be found inworld. I do appreciate your effort and like the idea of finding some sort of inworld fantasy solution; however, I've already had multiple complaints about the sheer number of new words I've made up already (I have over 12 original races with original names such as L'entians, scyphozomians, vaelintriens, loxors, neulauhdians, aygiffs, evianians, aelacrins, etc... as well as original terms for inworld things such as stavis trees, orvins, and gaabans. hehe... not to mention the names of my characters aren't necessarily normal either - names like Ku'Aya, Abirami, Dubshlaine, Semiramis, etc....)
     
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  12. Trip Williams

    Trip Williams Scribe

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    (hehe... if only as many people would read and critique my book chapters as have commented on this thread :ROFLMAO::sneaky:;):confused::alien:(y))
     
  13. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    I don't get what the issue is with using race in this context. Looking for another term feels like calling a rabbit a smeerp. Elves, dwarves and halflings are fantasy races. That's what they are called everywhere. Open a video game like skyrim, and they have you pick your race at the start of the game. Same with roleplaying games like D&D, there's a whole section on races and how to chose which to play. I've pulled several recent fantasy novels from my shelves which have glossaries at the back and they also use race as the term for the different types of sentient fantasy creatures. They don't talk about species or kin or peoples. They talk about race, and everyone knows what they mean. If it's called race everywhere and it's the term which exactly describes what you mean why would you use a different term?

    It should be noted that the term is usually used from an outside perspective. When you are in world, in character then a dwarf usually doesn't refer to his people as "being the dwarven race". Then you're just a dwarf.
     
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  14. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    Exactly. If your characters don't use the term in world (in the story or in the game) then why should you as the author use the term? You don't need to, it doesn't even need to be said.
     
  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    If whether something is strictly 'needed' is the determining factor, then there are many, many things that could be eliminated from fiction. Just because it isn't needed doesn't mean an author is wrong to decide to use it.
     
  16. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    For Clarity
     
  17. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I don’t think my characters use the term “fantasy novel” but I, as the author, have found that term useful when working on my fantasy novel.
     
  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    As I see it, if something is needed, then it's a slam dunk. No doubts at all about using it. Like periods. Like the letter e. Like ... lots of things we hardly need to stress over because they are so obvious.

    If something isn't needed, then Mad SwedeMad Swede's question about why is valid. The question might have different answers and depend on the author, but it's still a valid question. I'd go so far as declaring the question itself to be necessary if the item's usage isn't necessary. Naturally, authors like anyone might have habits and hardly question some of the things they do in their writing, but maybe authors ought to give more consideration to some of the non-necessary things they do.

    One obvious answer to this question is the relative dearth of meaningful and usable terms for the idea. Paired with this, the fact that race has become established in the genre. In other words, there was a need to have a word for what race describes, and race filled that need very well for many people.

    But is it a habit at this point? A convenience grown into a necessity? Someone mentioned that race is used everywhere in video games, etc.; to which, I'd ask whether such widespread use has made it a necessity. Should we all be trying to become little Tolkiens? Or at least, become much more like one another in our writing?

    While I'm surprised at the strong defenses, which seem like very strong attachments to the word, and while I'm not so strongly attached myself, still there's a little strength left in the term simply because it has grown to fill that niche. In fact, I'd wonder if 100 or more years from now, the term race will have moved on to this sort of fantasy and sci-fi usage almost entirely, leaving the older and more questionable aspects behind.
     
  19. Trip Williams

    Trip Williams Scribe

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    Questioning everything is a relatively good motto, though it is usually very difficult to determine if someone else has questioned their use of a term and whether they see it as, perhaps not directly necessary though perhaps they have, but in the least the most profitable, beneficial, or preferential. As you said, it does depend upon the author, and preference does seem to fit the bill of this subject.

    I do find it interesting that this conversation began when someone reacted negatively toward the term and has now turned to so many people offering positive defenses for it that it seems to have put those who don't see the use of it as beneficial on the defensive... I really don't think it is a politically incorrect term to use in this context and this connotation; though there will be some who do take offense to the word itself simply because of the different connotations it can have. Likewise, I really don't think those who prefer not to use it or do not see any need to use it are wrong either.
     
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I'm similarly agnostic about the use. The question as to why could just as easily be presented as "why not?" The answer to that seems to be the fear that it is somehow inappropriate to modern sensibilities. I don't think it is--or, rather, feel that it should not be. It does harken to Tolkien, and perhaps even more heavily to Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy games that drew heavily on Tolkien. A writer should be aware of the associations that come with the word and if those are not associations the author wants run the chance of raising in the reader's mind, then another word would be a better choice. (As an aside, I don't think the term is limited to Tolkien-style fantasy or even to fantasy. Doesn't CJ Cherryh call Hani and Kif "races" in her Chanur books? I think she did but I may be misremembering).

    But as to whether I think the use of 'race' in this sense is problematic, generally, no I do not.
     
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