Writing Q&A Number 5

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From Tamra,

In my fantasy stories, I have many different races all living and working together. They are ruled by the Elf Queen, who in keeping with tradition is Celtic, and therefore, “white”. Her honor guard are centaurs, who I have made “black”, their culture being based on the Zulu and Masai tribes of Africa. They are NOT slaves, they are in the employ of the queen and consider it the highest honor to serve her, but I’m afraid that people will see them, being half animal and “serving” a white person as racist, which is the furthest thing from my mind. I created them to give African American children, boys especially, good and honorable role models in fantasy, something that I know is lacking.

Is this an issue, or am I paranoid?

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First, you are not being paranoid. We live in an era in which nearly anything is being called racist by detractors even when the issue has nothing to do with race at all. Because of this way-overused attack, it’s no wonder people are wary of anything that might be interpreted as racist.

In your story, you do have a race-oriented issue, so you are wise to wonder if such an attack might be directed at you, especially since the race that is in a service position has a skin color similar to a race that had too many of its members enslaved in our country until about 150 years ago. The concern is worth examining.

If you leave your system intact, someone is likely to call you and/or your story racist, no matter if it is deserved or not. Some people love to slap with that word, but the frequency has risen to such ridiculous levels, most people, I think, are beginning to ignore it.

With regard to rational readers, I think you can alleviate that concern by showing the honor guard members as being confident, ready to assert their opinions, and even commanding authority. Let the queen show them great honor and always ask for their help instead of demanding it. If you do this, any rational reader will be able to see that your story is in no way racist.

If anyone has ideas to add, be sure to comment, and if you have a question you would like to see addressed here, then send it to blogqa@daviscrossing.com.
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9 replies

  1. It may also help if they had command over other beings that looked ‘white’. So let’s say that the honor guard is in charge of the army. The army could be made up of all sorts of races, or be made up of mostly elves and fawns that looked white.

    There could also be a law that states that if the elf queen is incapacitated and has no heir, the highest ranking centaur can rule, at least until another heir is ready. In this case, though, in order to avoid accusations of racism it may be best to avoid a centaur trying to use this law to usurp the throne.

    In my stories, I have different races with different skin tones, but I tend to try and make them different than the ones in real life, even if their culture is loosely based on a real life counterpart.

    The one race I have that resembles African tribes deals with som of the real life issues for albinos born in a native African culture. The point of that story arc is to show that being different in any way will often get someone treated extra well or extra badly, depending on the circumstances. One way I deal with writing something like this is to show many good individuals and many bad ones in each group, that way I can show that I tried to be fair to everyone and wasn’t vilifying any particular group.

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  2. Thank you so much everybody! I never expected this much response. And Autumn, great ideas! Yes, my centaurs are the commanders of the entire guard and cavalry, mainly commanding characters who are “white”.

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    • I’m sure that’ll help a lot, then 🙂 I’ve found it helpful to imagine how someone might nitpick a story and find it racist(and some people are unbelievably determined to see racism where it is not) and then brainstorm ways to counter such accusations of racism with the story’s content. I’ll also study the comments in news articles and youtube videos to gauge people’s responses to certain things.

      Another thing I didn’t mention is that it can sometimes be helpful to deal with racism indirectly in a story, rather than directly. That is more likely to have people complimenting the story, rather than people calling you racist. Zootopia did this by having the divide be between predator and prey and using that to show the faults within our own society. I know in my stories the divides tend to be cultural, religious, and between different species of creatures (angel descendants vs humans in many cases, which tends to represent issues of racism and sexism in my stories). And I think that may be helpful in addressing racism while reducing unfounded criticisms others may give to the story, but I don’t know if that is a viable option for your story or not. Anyway, good luck 🙂

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  3. I think there is a difference between slavery service and honored service. I think if you portrayed the centaurs as subservient, that would be a problem. Or if every centaur is part of the serving group. I think as long as you establish well that the centaurs are honored to serve, you have nothing to worry about. Hope this makes sense…I’m not at the top of my game right now.

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  4. My guess, someone will complain, but in my view, their complaints are unwarranted and sensible readers will see this. Where you’ve got them in command over people with lighter skin, that will likely help.
    My advice is to make sure to flesh out at least one of these centaur characters and give them their own goals. I think the best way to avoid stereotypes (Including non-racial ones like the mentor) is to give characters goals besides serving the main character. If you do well writing and have cool characters, you’ll have enough fans a few trolls won’t be a threat.

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  5. I agree that in this day and age, racism is overused and abused. But you should not let that rule what you write or not write, if done properly. In fact I think that your idea for your book is good in blending the different races together. I would not make prominent to the fact that they are opposite races and make sure that each has an adequate voice being heard. Those who would read books like this and take them to heart would slowly acquire a mindset that skin tone does not make a difference. Racism builds on the prominence of difference as long as it is made known. Rather, we should emphasize the fact that we are very much alike.

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