I was wrong: a discussion about writing race in fiction

Back with another discussion post! :grin: So, okay, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I’m ready to share and hear your thoughts.

It’s mainly about racism in fiction. Yeah. Heavy topic. So, okay guys, I know we all have strong thoughts about it, but we’re all good people here, right? We respect each other’s opinions. So, let’s be kind to one another and only believe in good intentions :blush:

I sometimes watch this video essayer, Khadija Mbowe, and she always says this: “you can always change your mind, because you can”. She often talks about race, gender, black representation, feminism, masculinity, and other big topics. She often says how she used to think one way, but then she was presented to a new perspective and changed her mind. She advocates that it’s okay to change your mind.

First, what do you think about that? People can be so ashamed of admitting they were wrong and I get that it’s a hard thing to do. We want to believe we’re flawless. Too bad we’re not :stuck_out_tongue:

I realized I could influence people

I was editing my website post on my Sorcerer race of Elgana today. Around 3 years ago, “Sorcerers believe they are an elite race,” I wrote, “and they don’t hesitate to kidnap other non-magical races that wander into their territory. Sorcerers would justify this action saying it’s for their aesthetics.”

So, basically, I was saying racist Sorcerers with elitism will kidnap people without remorse :eyes:

I realized I used to say some pretty controversial things thinking it’s okay because it’s not my thinking, but this fantasy creature’s thinking.

But over the years with the Black Lives Matter discussions and all this talk about acceptance and awareness, representation in fiction, I realized that writing can influence people. And people can think that because you wrote it, you think it. And if they like you enough, you can influence them.

So, even if only one or two people will read my writing, I could still influence them.

Presentation must be changed

But I think it’s wrong to then go “well, fantasy worlds should never talk about discrimination against other races or elitism”.

When I saw authors or books being called out, I would get frustrated and think “but it’s FANTASY. Are you saying a fantasy world can’t have racial issues because we have to be inclusive and representation and all that ???” But that wasn’t the right thought. Fantasy worlds can have discrimination and elitism. It’s how you present it that must be changed. (I say “must” but that’s still my opinion and not like I’m enforcing it on anyone.)

It’s not okay to write a story that makes it sound like discrimination is okay because it’s fantasy. Even if your character is racist, you, as the writer, have the responsibility to create a space for discussion.

So many booktubers who read books with controversial topics say this: “The character can have those thoughts. I’m not saying they can’t. But make it a point of discussion. Have them be questioned. Explore why they think that way.”

So, instead of saying, “Sorcerers are racist. That’s how they are. This is a fantasy world. Chill. Of course I’m not supporting racism.”

I have to present it more like “these Sorcerers believe they are better than everyone and make that super clear. But why? And is no one trying to change? How did they become that way? What’s the root cause? What could be a solution? Have someone question them.”

I really did used to think I could say things because it’s fantasy. It was okay to say “Sorcerers believe they are elite and kidnap people.” Yes, they can be that way. That’s fine. But I have to present it in a responsible way. Words can seriously influence people.

Okay, but thought:

what if addressing race or elitism isn’t the main topic of the story? Can the story still have that discussion? I think yes. If you’re going to bring it up, let’s talk about it.

But what about…this: a fantasy story where everyone is racist and no one does any questioning. Can writers still write in a responsible way without making it look like they support racist beliefs or idy…ideeeoil-logees (I have so much trouble saying that word in real life, so here you go :stuck_out_tongue: )? Idk :tired_face: Should they even?

Basically, I’m saying admit I was wrong to think I could write such things and, in a sense, “get away with it because it’s fantasy”. That’s not how it works. Khadija has been making me feel better to not be ashamed of admitting a wrong. I admire her.

Sorry, that was really long, but I did try to make it easy to read. Lend me your thoughts if you have them. Be respectful of opinions and I trust the goodness of Wackies :wink:

1. My thoughts tie in with 2.

If we are only ever-careful and do not let our species do evil and find it acceptable, then we have no room for growth in a people. For me, the sorcerers would still do their evil at some point, and there would either be a revolution during my story, or it’s a taboo of their past, or it’s going to be a part of themselves that they hide from people they are impressing and it’s going to backfire.

B. It's inevitable.

With the advent of concepts like soft racism, there’s going to be times when conflict is like the Egyptians (fancy perfumers) meeting with the Spartans (au naturalists) who will take a meeting where they honor their own cultures is an absolute affront and perceived as intentional). There’s no way to wholly avoid it.


This one amuses me a hair because your example: does it fit in with the slavery practiced in Africa of previous centuries which has become extremely racist in the US or does it fit in with current abductions across the globe which are just as much manstealing for slavery, but knows no racial, sex, gender boundaries when looking at the whole (but does focus on the young). Would they steal weaker people of their own kind? Do they favor any group for stealing?

If you make it more commentary on CURRENT events, you’re no longer parallel with racial history, but focused on the wrong that’s done indiscriminately and is current.

It’s not necessarily SAFER, but it allows you to address a societal event with a little less knee-jerk reaction. Especially if you make sure your notes point to current theft of people, repeatedly. Then someone coming in with their own interpretation sticks less.

3 how I've dealt with it in To Make a Kinder Children's Tale

Long May Octavian Live!

Our king’s kindness towards his lesser people is well known, but no servant wants to see his Lord debase his lineage. These marriages to pale-skins, particularly human pale-skins has to cease. The short lifespan of the creatures will diminish the lives of our ruling class, placing people in charge whose lives are too brief to think objectively about the future they’ll not live to see.

~ A Concerned Citizen.

She looked back and forth between the two men for a moment, before speaking. “How does anyone go from a sensible objection to attacking me out there?”

Althalos snapped back, “Nothing about that was sensible!” He refused to say anything further.

Ok, she’s a white-enough mostly human. The Elves are a lot like Drow, here, that’s shades of charcoal black, not brown. The racism is against her, and her husband is the one who snaps immediately that it is not right.

I don’t do a damn thing to resolve it, but I’ve made sure someone in the scene objected. That’s all the obligation I have to addressing the situation, let it be labeled as wrong and refuse to let it swallow the story whole.

A current ONC: Djinn Trap

First, I’m having to avoid the word slave like crazy, although I don’t avoid master. That’s why I call the Djinn a Love Djinn. That, since it’s central to the story will be addressed over time. I just don’t want it in the face immediately, forcing it to be central element vs. the character’s actual role as 2nd ML. It’s supposed to be kink gone horribly sideways, not this conversation.

But this is how I managed to describe the 1st ML:

The worst one was Adrian Baccay–her next door neighbor and escort for the night. Not that she asked him. Grandma Aglaea demanded his presence from his mom, and so here he was walking her around the ballroom to show her off to the crowd, and he was hearing everything these people were saying.

“Huh, they couldn’t find a white boy to escort her?”

Grace nearly tripped over her own two feet. She was expecting everyone to insult her-but Adrian? She glanced up at her escort and caught him muttering to himself. “2 O’Clock, near the Chief Wiggum wannabe. Racist Karen in maroon.”

This was the first time she had looked at him during the walk-he glanced down, smirked, and gave her a wink before going back to scanning the crowd.

Labeling it clearly and moving on, that this guy ain’t white, letting him handle it, and going back into not worrying about what people think because it’s been handled.


I don’t agree that white people shouldn’t write non-write characters, but after reading Eleanor and Park, Simon Snow, and J K Trolling’s brain meltingly stupid tweets where she insists that Hermonie was actually Black the whole time guys, even though she made no fuss over the white actress who was cast in the movie and was responded with several people showing times when she described Hermonie as having “white” or “pale skin”, I can see exactly why someone would think that. So either J K Trolling is bsing again or Hermonie is the uber rare African Albino with naturally brunette hair.

My advice to unexperienced writers is to avoid writing a story that has a lot of discussion revolving around race and racial discrimination because it’s one of those topics that deserves to be done well, because it offends everyone when you mess this sort of thing up.


This is why I have a theory that this is why there are so many white sci-fi writers. It allows them to explore race and discrimination, without getting involved in real-world topics in areas where they might not have the same experiences, but can parallel them, in a sense, and live those experiences. (I hope that makes sense, I’m trying to find the right wording).


I do believe that everyone can change. Truth be told, I believe there are people who want to change even though it’s hard for them. This has been shown to me in coming out as queer to my family. Very often, love triumphs over stubbornness.

I also believe there are people for whom love does not beat stubbornness, and I mean love in a sense of respect for the existence of others.

Oh the dangers of producing written work. They’ll sit around and debate the author’s intent 'till Heaven come. I specifically mean that it’s all about framing of a topic, as opposed to the topic itself. “Sweet Home Alabama” is actually an ironic piece critiquing the South as a whole, but it gets framed as a racist work because those who haven’t listened to the lyrics see the title and become alarmed. (Most of my examples will come from my experience in the studies of the Southern United States, so bare with me.)

I completely agree. The intricacies of a fantasy world, I argue, should include things like how the characters think about race. I think it’s important, too, to study how racism and discrimination work in our world and to understand why. Gesturing at a thing and describing it is not supporting it–it’s how it is framed that makes it morally good or bad.


At that point, it almost should become Mark Twain-style satire (where the racist, upper-class characters are actually the stupidest and most backward). I do think it is irresponsible to generalize to that extent, anyways.

Part of the fun (to be clear, I mean fun in a sense of gratification) for me, is developing the cultures of power which lend themselves to discrimination and bias. (Meiste blah blah blah lots of Zenestian history of power-complexes against other regions and things). To argue that humans lend themselves to discrimination is irresponsible and overgeneralizing–those in power often want to keep that power by discrimination. But hoooh that’s a huge topic and too large for one forum post.

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I think you could be onto something—maybe the voyeurism of not wanting to engage with real-world discrimination but rather write it as they see it without researching it themselves?


Don’t know if what I say makes sense, but I shall state my opinion anyway.

When it comes to races and racial discrimination in fiction, primarily fantasy and science-fiction, I often times would go by species rather than skin tone. Yeah, it doesn’t make sense because when you think about it is still some form of racial discrimination of sorts.

Yeah, I have racism in my story, but it is more like one “species is superior to another”

In Red Reign/The Breakers, thinking about it, the Rhaks who are crimson skinned godly beings lived on Alagossia long before the Firstlings came into the picture.

The Firstlings came and stole their planet claiming it as a “they found it first” type deal. Yet someone would look deeper into that and think about the whole Christopher Columbus thing whether that was my intention or not.

So, yeah, I don’t know if I am making sense, but in Red Reign/The Breakers, Rhaks only want to take back what was stolen from them while the Firstlings just took everything from them and forced them to “fall from grace”.

Now, I am probably rambling. I am sorry about that, @TheTigerWriter.

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It kind of a key of L thing (a musical slang).

Some white writers were not writing about race whatsoever,

but have become the targets of long drawn out fights over that would have blindsided them, if they knew. One example would Tolkien. If I see one more paper on how the orcs were representing minorities in his works, I’m going to go nuts.

Others, like Kipling, were immersed in a culture, yet outside it.

That’s Rudyard Kipling right there. Probably a good way to read his works would be from commentaries on it by Englishmen of his era back home and Indians that migrated around that time.

Then there's whites that live with racism/discrimination aimed at them.

Yes, deep south, but a peculiar segment of it: Cajuns and Creoles were listed together for many years because the whites are not wholly white and the blacks are not wholly black, then they started listing us by what we mostly look like. All sorts of derogatory terms come from it, there was a division between plantation owners and poor whites, but other whites moving into the area have always been ostracized unless they prove themselves. My father comes from northern stock, my maiden name ain’t Cajun, I’ve had to explain to old Cajuns my right to be called a Cajun by blood, and even have had THAT is denied until I explain that my great-grandparents had their names Anglicized by their teachers, in order to force them to forget their native tongue. Because my Great-Grandmother was beaten with a ruler, I never learned French.

So I could write fictional characters based on my experiences (like some writers have) and be called out for being too white to write about what I lived through and what my family lived through. I am quite literally both sides of the coin for the “Speak English!” arguemnts–and it’s a really unique experience.

But in today’s culture, I just don’t want to deal with it being called out every 5 seconds. “Leave me alone or I’ll act really ugly” type thing.

And then some things become awful because too many hands were in on it, changing everything into something worse than it started out

The biggest example I can think of is Code of Honor written for TNG Star Trek. If you ever watched it, it would come across as every single person involved should have known better. Well, they did. It was never meant to be what that mess was, too many things have changed over the course of production that made it more and more cringe.

So, those who had no intention of getting into it, those who are writing from the outsider’s experience, those who are writing as an insider, but no one believes they have a real background in it because something isn’t exactly the same as another’s experience, the white savior, the person trying to figure out their own beliefs through therapeutic writing, and a congress of chimps getting together to write Shakespeare. That’s scifi, from just “happens to be white”.


I don’t disagree with that at all. I was looking to clarify things, though. Definitely, Tolkien wasn’t aiming for the orcs to be minorities (as in humans), but I can also see how in a modern setting (21st-century culture), how reading it now can take the original concepts out of context and make them “seem” racist to people nowadays, in the current climate.

And yeah, Kipling? He was born Indian, but culturally English too. He had his own ideas of India, inspired by his culture too. Growing up in a foster family, not being able to stay in India.

And Ireland is like that too. Irish have been discriminated against and treated badly by the English, no matter where they go. Been called the n–s of Europe, sorta in a way parallel to Cajuns. Some Irish tried to fight in the Mexican-American war and ended up going to help Mexico because of how they were treated. And they formed their own division, San Patricios. Had their language taken from them as well.

Writing characters based on those experiences would be tricky as well, in today’s climate. I agree there.

And bad writing/production also. I think that not only are some Star Trek writers guilty of this but also modern Marvel movie writers. Like, with Wakanda, they can get away with a lot more leeway because it’s pretty much an imagined place in Africa, hidden from the outside world with its own traditions, but IMO, I think that they did mesoamerican culture a bit dirty by giving us this weird mess of Mayan and Aztec culture to make Talocan, when they could have just used Aztec’s version of Tlalocan and made Namor into Tlaloc and a separate entity, instead of screwing up culture, and the character himself.

I know that not every white person uses allegories to explore race and discrimination in sci-fi and fictional races, but in recent years, I have definitely noticed a rise in this phenomenon.

In Fantasy as well, not just Sci-Fi. There is a big agenda coming around that has brainwashed people and they’ve taken it VERY out of context (which is a big theme these days) with the ‘own voices’ movement. No one has said that ONLY people who are X can write about experiences being X, but some people are taking the own voices literally.

The whole point was to elevate ‘authentic’ experiences above non-lived ones and give those authors a chance, but people seem to think that the ‘authentic’ ones are the only ones that should be written about, which isn’t the case. If someone does research and is respectful of said topic, anyone can write about it. Diversity of thought and opinions are important too.

That’s why I am saying that a lot of (it seems) white authors nowadays are using fictional races, and metaphors/codes outside of just human racial groups and society to explore these platforms and points. Especially in sci-fi. No one can tell them jack then. It’s their own work and world.

Just wanted to clarify some things, and expand my opinion :flushed:


Especially in times like these, when issues surrounding racism are very real and active in our current society.


That makes sense.


For sure–while discrimination of all forms have been active in our society, I think now there are more leaders in power than ever devoted to ending it, as opposed to preserving it.


@LxstinNeverland Do you have something to add?

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I’ll be responding to all your comments soon. It takes me a while to digest complex discussions like this and figure out some common threads and then come up with further things to discuss.

I try :stuck_out_tongue:


I’ve heard arguments like “these people can’t write about minorities experiences”, which I mostly agree with. Because the reality is, I have never lived that experience. And of course writing is about taking on new perspectives. But it’ll be hard to be able to write a story when your experience has been extremely different. That doesn’t mean we as writers can’t have MCs who aren’t minorities and diverse. And I have written a black FMC for a duology, and while she mentioned a few times experiencing racism, that wasn’t the theme or the focus. Instead her biggest struggle was being discriminated against as a woman, something I can relate with.

However, I believe that it doesn’t mean we can’t write about these kinds of issues at all. Because we can. Sorcerers believeing they’re elite doesn’t only correlate with racism. It can correlate with many issues where one group believes they are above another. Like men and women. Or straight people and gay people. So maybe I’m white and I can’t relate to being discriminated against in that way, but I’m also a woman. I can relate to it in some way.

I also want to say that it would be extremely hard for a writer to write a really good book where they don’t deal with the elitism issue, or question it. But as of right now, I believe a good book shows all kinds of sides. Perspectives. It has development, even if the villains don’t change themselves. I do think it’s important to have a message in a story, but it should be clear in the end and how the writer got there—and questioning some pretty prejudice ideals helps get there. I’ve got my views, certainly, but I make it a point to also have my characters questioned as well as others. Because that’s just how life goes. People have different perspectives on things.

And yeah, it might be fantasy, but it is still based off some realism which makes it more relatable. It makes it a better story.


Frankly, the discrimination (and up) is different from background to background. A state that has less than 1% black population (some northern states) is going to be very different from a city that has over 60% black representation (New Orleans) or just under 50% (Atlanta), or from a rural area that is 1/5 black (current local). And the culture does change from state to state. So, is not even fair to say that someone from Jamaica can represent, oh, Sioux City Iowa better than me because their skin is darker. Not that I can relate to every single thing, but I distinctly remember the target for discrimination was Native Americans, and Hispanics were being paid to move in for workers in the meat packing industry, although there wasn’t that heavy an uproar that I can remember (I’d have to ask around, but at least I know who to ask). So the last thing on a lot of people’s minds was people who culturally fit in but had a different color. (My Cajun family was dragged up there the same way, migrating after the 80s oil bust).

But to write all this and be fair with direct experience? It’s far easier to write like this, where someone can readily challenge me if they think I don’t know something, than it is to write a story where it feels like I’m forcing everyone to not be able to challenge me.


I agree. I’ve faced some things as a woman that other women haven’t, and vice versa. I can’t say we all experience the same because we don’t. Different regions also change how people grow up and what kind of prejudice they might face for who they are.

Which is why I said I mostly agree with the notion that we can’t write about minorities and their experiences. Now, I would certainly never try to write about it on my behalf since it’s not my place, but I do also think this is why it’s a good thing to get sensitivity readers (if you’re looking to publish, like me). To be honest, the only story I’d ever feel maybe a little bit comfortable telling is my best friend’s. She’s from El Salvador, and she was born to illegal immigrants and she has faced some discrimination. However I’d always ask her first and if she said no, I’d leave it at that. But I’ve also known her for 11.5 years now, so that’s the only reason I’d ever “consider” it. I have no interest in telling someone else’s story as a minority when I can’t relate.

But that doesn’t mean I certainly won’t write about these characters, nor not make them the MC of my books. The MC of my duology is black. She mentions some racism she has faced, but that’s not what the story is about, nor is it my place as a white woman to tell it. So I wrote a black woman and her experience as a woman, rather than her experience as a black woman.

I plan to continue to diversify my cast this way, too.

I didn’t mean to go off topic here. :rofl: But yeah, I definitely think there are still exceptions to the rule.


The words are coming together.

It seriously takes me a while to head discussions. I start agreeing to everything and have zero follow-up questions. Irl, I always leave it up to other people. The good thing about a forum is that you guys can wait and won’t be stuck here :stuck_out_tongue:


Okay… let’s see what I’ve got now.

I think the same can be said for characters. Characters who do evil, may later be punished, or they might not be and we can dissect and learn about why they weren’t and how it’s different from our world. Can’t people learn from stories? If the stories only have happy, good things in them, how can people learn? And I think learning from stories, especially the purely fictional ones, is easier to learn from than real life.

What if Sorcerers kidnapping or having a sense of elitism has long been a thing that people have become kind of immune? to? Immune isn’t the right word. They’ve become numb to it. And it doesn’t happen all the time and neither do Sorcerers go into other territories to kidnap people. They only capture those who have come into their territories.

But maybe you can’t even write about people becoming numb to ugly things just you can go “it’s okay because it doesn’t happen often”?

What would people say to stories depicting people being numb to awful things?

I can agree to maybe avoid a topic like that especially if you are unfamiliar with it or haven’t had any racial discrimination problems. The exact example for “write what you know”. But I don’t think it has to be fully avoided if the topic of race isn’t the conversation in the story. What if the story is about a boy being insecure about himself, and it so happens he comes across a scene where a Sorcerer has captured a Human for entertainment? If I bring up the scene, do you suppose I have to bring up the conversation?

Like @J.L.O 's example where Althalos snaps “Nothing about that was sensible!” Just one short mention to show that yes, this boy knows what wrong has been done here.

But thought: what if he’s numb to it? Like, that sort of thing happens sometimes especially if a Human has wandered into Sorcerer territory. It’s bad but the boy is more concerned about his own problems. Does that sound like I’m saying “racism happens and we can’t do anything about too bad”? Does it sound that way even though race was never the topic of the story?

So, would you think it’s okay to write a story about a non-Human race facing discrimination in a world of mostly Humans? The main character is a non-Human and everything is seen through her eyes. Let’s say, for example, there’s a scene where she’s called the racial slurs of her race and reacts badly, starting a fight.

Would that sound like the story is reflecting real-world things in a negative light? Would that be something to get people riled up saying that I’m not supposed to write discrimination or racial things in fiction if I’ve never experienced that stuff firsthand?

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Oh yes. So much. I remember in high school thinking the author probably didn’t mean anything deep about this scene where characters are eating soup on a Wednesday night :sweat_smile: There’s no hidden, deep, social discussions happening here.

Do you think though, a character could see discrimination happening and not do anything or think anything because he’s become numb… desensitized? That’s the word. Desensitized to it? He sees that happening and moves on with his life.

Or, since I even created a scene where he sees discrimination happening, I, the author, have the obligation, the responsibility to dive deeper into what the character thought and actively create discussion? Kind a “you brought it up! Talk about it” situation.

So, if I don’t want people to say “you brought it up talk about it” I shouldn’t even include those scenes at all?

What do you think?

Depends on how much of the story talks about this that people might say or think something about it, I think. People read His Dark Materials and instantly believed Philip Pullman hated god because of what happened in a fantasy story. I think some people will read anything into anything.

But if you do bring it up a lot about how Alagossia happened and the involvement of the Firstlings, you just might have the responsibility to have that discussion. Was it a good thing or a bad thing? Who owns the planet? Exactly the Christopher Columbus type of discussion.