I was perusing the blog over at The Speculative Salon earlier and started to write a response to Stacie Carver’s latest post, World Building Questions, in which she talks a little about “the status of women and minorities,” among other things, in speculative fiction. As usual, my response turned out to be long. However, this time it was exceptionally long–so much that I thought posting it on the blog would be more of a nuisance than a contribution that could be quickly read and easily digested–you know, like fast food (not).
So instead of littering the Salon with my long-winded musings, I thought I’d just go ahead and blog about it here. Yay! Lucky you, reader.
(Originally I wasn’t going to blog at all today because I’m down to the last wire with my uber important Senior Project, which is turning out to be great so far but is far from being finished. I’ve got to present it next Wednesday to an actual designer–eek!–so I’ll mostly be absent from the blogging arena between now and then.
However, since I couldn’t resist reading a few blogs today and have already begun crafting a ginormous response, I figured I might as well post it here.)
So, without further ado, the following are my thoughts on minorities in the fantasy genre.
First: What I Mean by “Minority”
Obviously the first thing that comes to mind when you bring up the word “minority” is the ethnic kind–the white people vs. all the rest. And that’s mostly what I’m going to talk about today. However, there are many other ways to be the “minority” in a society.
I should know; I am a minority in many respects.
How to Be a Minority: Oh, Let Me Count The Ways…
First is the obvious thing, for those that know me: I’m not white, and I’m not male.
Growing up and going to school, most of the kids were white where I was, and a lot were Latino. What made my case more unusual is that I was an honors student, so the odds of me encountering another black/African American student in class dropped significantly. As such, I was among the “minority” in school.
In my prospective field of interior design, the black designer is fairly rare. Out of my five years of college I think I’ve maybe encountered one other black student that was also studying interior design. Need I say more?
But these are the obvious, boring ways of looking at the majority versus the minority, so let’s look at some other ways.
Here’s one: most people are naturally going to be right-handed. Guess what? I’m not. (Now, for some reason the people I used to work with thought I was ambidextrous. I can accomplish a lot of things with both hands, but writing isn’t one of them unless I’m really trying. I generally view my left hand as the dominate one. In any case, if you play piano, as I do sometimes, then you kind of have to learn how to use both hands anyway.)
If you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, then you’ll know that there are some personality types which are more prominent in the world than others. The INTP personality is one of the rarest among women, according to this site–and what do you know, I just so happen to be this type.
Okay, so I think it’s obvious I made my point: I am, in every way that matters, a minority.
I have been all my life and am pretty used to it by now; the thing is I don’t get caught up on it. I really don’t.
Great, fantastic! What does that mean, exactly?
Nothing, really. Basically I think it just means I see and process things differently than “the majority,” whoever they are. And so what? Just because I am aware of the ways I am a minority doesn’t mean I actually think of myself on daily basis as “a minority.” In the end, I don’t think it gives me any special edge in life. And as I continue in my journey to become a published author, I don’t ever intend to make my status as a minority a selling point, ethnic- or personality-wise.
On another note, I think there are many ways to explore the “minority” in a fantasy novel, but one of the more popular ways is probably going to be through race and/or ethnicity–if not someone with rare abilities.
If I’m a minority, does that mean my main characters should be, too?
I thought it was interesting that Stacie brought up the issue of minorities in speculative fiction. Also being in the ethnic minority, like her, it is something I’ve taken into careful consideration. Just because I’m black, does that mean my main characters need to be? Will I encounter crazy people who think I’m racist if I don’t? I’m almost certain I would. (I’ve run into them before, unfortunately; playing fair and balanced can apparently be considered racist if you don’t freely cater to “your people”—aka the “hook me up” mentality—for the simple reason that your skin colors are basically the same.)
Ultimately, though, it’s about doing the story that’s in your heart justice. (And I’m coming from the viewpoint of a fantasy writer here, so keep that in mind.) Should your world dictate that the same minorities in the real world also be the minorities in your made-up one? Are you trying to make a bold racial or political statement by choosing to do otherwise? Personally, in my current fantasy project I’m not looking to be bold like that and tend to distance myself from ethnocentric attitudes if I can help it, so while I do have black characters and other minority races, I do not write primarily from their perspective. (I am writing from the perspective of someone who is in some way a minority, though, as she has a condition which the vast majority of individuals do not share.)
As I see it, I’ve been black all my life; why would I want to write about a black character? I see my first novel as an opportunity to put myself in someone else’s shoes, see things from a different perspective. As it stands, I’ve pretty much made the minorities and cultures in my storyworld pretty similar to those we are already used to because my goal is to use the fantasy element of magic to portray a world that is unique yet still feels somewhat familiar to potential readers.
However, in my next project I am looking forward to exploring the cultures of those “minority” parties in my storyworld because it will mostly take place in their homeland, not the (current) setting they’ve been migrating to in more recent history. I imagine I’ll need to ask myself a few new questions such as, “How are the ‘majority’ races of my previous setting treated in a location where they are suddenly surrounded by the ‘minority?’” Or more interesting, “Despite their racial and cultural differences, will my characters be able to come together and cooperate when it counts, now that their dire situation demands it?”
Ethnicity and race are the themes of humanity and are capable of transcending fantasy because they are based first and foremost on reality. My goal as a fantasy writer, then, is to figure out a way to use fantastical elements to represent these themes in an entertaining, larger-than-life manner. (That’s what people look for in fantasy, right? Entertainment and the larger-than-life. No mundane fluff-stuff here.)
How about you?
We could talk about how minorities, race and ethnicity are treated in existing works of fantasy and speculative fiction in general, but I’m more interested in how other aspiring writers are handling these issues in their projects. Are any of these things important in your current WIP? If so, could you say why? Does it come from a personal place?