1. bainespal says:

    Aliens in sci-fi as racial diversity is a big can of worms, because it can be more nuanced than simple xenophobia. Fantasy races, too. In white-dominated sci-fi and fantasy, themes about racial diversity can be made using other kinds of humanoids, sometimes even arguing vehemently against racism. Race is taken up in Battlestar Galactica from time to time with the Cylon element, but I think only one of the Cylons is black, if I remember. Does Tolkien get a pass on his Europeanism because he praised cultural diversity with his fantasy creatures and kingdoms?

    The ideas about diversity and the value of all people can be there, but nonwhite audience members still don’t find themselves represented adequately. Then there’s the added problem of sci-fi and fantasy creatures often being nonhuman, which makes the analogy uncomfortable — though I think the better stories deal with that problem carefully but directly.

    • Mark Carver says:

      That’s definitely true about the alien analogy. And often the alien races that are the most balanced and well-rounded are variations of white humans, such as the Vulcans (though there were a few black Vulcans scattered throughout the shows and movies, you know, for diversity’s sake).

  2. Pam Halter says:

    I agree, Mark. Our world is so wonderfully diverse, why shouldn’t our books be, as well? I’m reading The Icewind Dale trilogy by RA Salvatore, and his one character, Drizzt, is a dark elf who has black skin, lavender eyes, and stark, white hair. And he is discriminated against, yes, because of the color of his skin, but also the evilness of his race, which he’s broken out of. He’s a wonderful character with depth, and I adore him.

    I’ve also heard at conferences that books with black characters on the front don’t sell. That makes NO sense to me. But it seems to be a firm belief that makes me sad and I’m not black.

  3. Lauren B says:

    One of the many reasons I enjoy Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Goldstone Wood books is the racial diversity. Her world has many countries and cultures that reflect Native American and Chinese cultures, not just European ones.

    I think that in fantasy/sci-fi white writers have more flexibility to write about different cultures. The contemporary writer would be open to accusations of not getting it right, but in a fantasy world, that doesn’t apply.

  4. Autumn says:

    As someone who is half white and half Latino, I think authors should write whatever fits their story and all that, and I think some sort of affirmative action for stories that feature certain races is just another form of racism. Same goes for authors. Stories should stand in their own.

    I remember several books I read when I was younger that had non white protags. Lion Boy by Zizou Corder had a main char that was half white and half black, for instance. But If I recall correctly, it was written by a mother daughter team, and I think the author pic showed one of them was black, so it may have been a case of writing what they knew.

    When I write I just let the races develop as they will. I often invent my own human races, and the diversity of them in the story depends on what will work and what I come up with. Even then, though, I tend to address racism through species interactions rather than human race interaction. The bitterness tends to be between many of my angel chars and my human chars.

    As far as shows I’ve seen recently, I’ve kind of liked how it is in some anime. Many things may take place in Japan, and the main chars may be from Japan, but there is a sense of global scale as we see characters from Europe, the middle east, etc. Fate Zero and Death Note were a little like that.

    An interesting thing about anime, though, is that many chars don’t look Japanese regardless of where thy are from. Sometimes it seems people care more about an interesting look for a char. Hence the pink haired and purple eyes ones. Though there seem to be some stereotypes, like the idea of blond being unnatural. In Fate Zero, Kirei hears a homunculus char described as having white skin, white hair and red eyes, and he says that doesn’t sound human. And I was thinking ‘She could have been an albino human…’

    • bainespal says:

      When I write I just let the races develop as they will. I often invent my own human races, and the diversity of them in the story depends on what will work and what I come up with.

      I wish more sci-fi and fantasy writers invented their own human races. Far future science fiction — including most space operas — should naturally show people with multi-racial features, I think. New normals would even develop given cultural separation and enough generations — there could be a planet where most people have blue eyes and very dark skin. This would even make more sense for secondary fantasy, presuming a totally alternate fantasy world. But even if like Tolkien the fantasy world is a pre-historic Earth, tribal migrations and intervening cataclysms still leave the physical appearance and ethnic identities of the peoples open to creativity.

      I think I’ve seen this approach from time to time. Sanderson does it in Stormlight Archive, and he even goes a little further to blur the line between human and nonhuman — some ethnicities have fantastic characteristics, but they’re not considered to be other “races.”

  5. Good thoughts! I’m a white person who also had an upbringing that was more diverse, especially when I lived in urban areas. In addition, I’m trained in cross-cultural work, have taught ESL in urban areas areas as well as internationally (currently teaching at a camp out of country). For me, having diversity in my writing is a given. It doesn’t feel natural to have everyone be a certain ethnicity or race, even if I do understand that there are plenty of occasions and plots where that set-up makes sense, especially if the story is only set in a certain area. I just tend to find reasons for my characters to travel or interact with other races and pull a lot of tension and external drama from those interactions.

    I particularly enjoy the interactions between races that often occurs in urban environments, and the cultural “layering” that occurs. I’m in a Francophone country, so all my students speak French, but they come from many different backgrounds and while French is the common language, many speak Spanish or Chinese or Arabic at home, and then are also learning English together. None of them could be defined by a single race or ethnicity, any more than any person could–but still, they are sometimes judged by that. Sort of like the white person who speaks fluent Chinese or the Japanese-born student who speaks French and identifies more with that culture. That push-pull is a fascinating dynamic, and one I explore in my novels, because I think it’s one that everyone can relate to. People all have their own tensions and unique issues to work through.

    At the same time? That’s me. While I think diversity is great in writing and there should be more of it, I think whatever fits the plot should come first. Otherwise, it will come across as stiff and artificial (especially if the author isn’t comfortable with exploring and writing for different races or cultures).

    • Mark Carver says:

      I taught English in China for almost 9 years and my time there made me very aware of my minority status. Granted, being a white guy in China is actually a position of privilege as opposed to being non-white in the USA or Europe, but being aware of one’s “otherness” on a daily basis is a feeling that most people don’t get to experience. These sentiments are touched on in sci-fi but usually in regards to the fact that the protag is a human on an alien world.

  6. HG Ferguson says:

    Bravo.  Excellent post.  We are all made in God’s image — He has no color.  I’ve often wondered what “skin tone” Adam and Eve had — the same or wildly different? Given the Lord’s delight in making things diverse, I’d be not surprised if they were not the same “race” if you will.  The question is not what a person looks like on the outside, it is who they are inside and what they do.  The hearts of all men are corrupt outside of Christ, regardless of our color.  And for the record, I was born and raised in the deep south as a “white” person and I remember well the struggles led by Dr. King, who longed for an era when every man, “white” included, would be judged not by his whiteness or lack thereof, but by the content of his character!  This is what we should strive for in our stories when we create people who are not of our “race.”  They should live, breathe and be as real as we can make them, and let them as well be judged not by the color of their skin but by what they do, whether good or evil.  Thank you for reminding us that God did not choose to make us all the same culture or hue.  Let’s strive to follow His example as we sub-create, like children imitating our Father.  For such we are.  And ought to be.

  7. Alassiel says:

    In a purely fictional world, I don’t see why skin color matters (at least in books). It usually seems like obvious and clumsy attempts at diversity when a book includes token “minority” characters. For me, I’m not good at visualizing characters, so I often skim when I read physical descriptions and imagine them however I want to anyway.

    What would be more important to me is having different cultures represented, people of different backgrounds and worldviews. I’m currently living in a very diverse missions community and am constantly amazed at how different Asian and Western worldviews are, and then the different cultures within those worldviews. It blows my mind realizing that thought patterns I assumed were inherent to all humans are just a cultural norm for my culture. More than superficial differences in eyes, skin, or hair, I’d love to see more foundational diversity in how characters think.

What do you think?