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  1. #1
    Magical Ninja TheIELighten's Avatar
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    White Privilege Writing Questions...

    Hello I haven't been here in a long time, but I had some questions and I wasn't sure where else to ask them.

    When I first created my story universe I envisioned all of my characters as white because I'm white and I am heavily steeped in white privilege.

    I did make most of my characters, strong female characters, and I doubt any of them ever talk to each other about men, plus I have lesbians. Yay! *giggles*

    I was just finding myself at the time, so female power and lesbians was at the top of my important list.

    I did a ton of planning and then hardly wrote anything. Took an unfortunate detour with stuff that I regret, and now I'm back to my roots.

    The only problem is I have grown a tiny bit, as a person, and I now realize there is a whole world out there besides white lesbians and I want to write inclusive stuff and not be racist. But like most white people who've grown up in whiteyMcwhiteville who have never had any real contact with People Of Color I'm afraid of messing up and writing offensive stuff, but at the same time it no longer feels right to only write about white people.

    I had an idea of creating a world where there were no white people or people of any of the races we have on earth, and creating races where people have blue, green, purple, silver, or grey skin, hair, or eyes. Everyone has all 5 colors in their genes and when a child is born they can come out in one of 43 variations, rarely every matching their parents. So there is no physical race, no one expects their family to look like them and race has a totally different meaning.

    Racism is based on the different kinds of psi, instead.

    My concerns about this are would this be cheating by not having any earth races at all? Is it a lazy way to escape being racist, and instead of truly being inclusive I'm just making it so that no one would be interested? BY making it so that no one has a character who looks like them is this creating an equal playing field or jumping the shark?

  2. #2
    Beast on Board Luka Datas's Avatar
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    Tough question.

    I'm not precisely sure if 43 colors is enough or too many.

    I believes it was Asimov who said 'I'm a trained chemist but I've never written anything about chemistry because I already know all I want to know about it.' Writing for him was an excuse to explore other fields that his studies didn't cover. - So you might be on the right track. - and to that end... If I were you... I'd go down to your local hardware store and ask if they will sell you a color wheel or a swatch. Maybe look at different types of carpet in a carpet store too.You may find in the end that it's vitally important for one of your characters to get around a deep pile outer coat. For pathos.

    Trial and Terror.

  3. #3
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    Yay Lesbians! Ahem. To the point then. Skin tone differences arose from centuries of adaptation to different geological conditions (UV radiation). So there are numerous reasons why different skin colors need not happen, such as uniform UV radiation, people came to a planet with the technology to mitigate UV exposure (or people just make sunscreen out of plants...). My point is that if you don't want to deal with race you don't have to. If you want to focus on a cast of all white lesbians....go ahead!

    As always, the matter varies with the type of story you want to tell. I for one do not focus on skin stone in my book, but given that I have hot desert regions I have many skin tones. Aside from character descriptions and maybe a bit of history/culture I don't treat race as an issue in my WIP. I take the view Species (Human, Dysmaer, Kurian) > Nationalism, with skin color simply not being an issue. For example, the brown guy might be hated, not because he is brown but because he is from a rival nation.

    Personally, I dislike seeing token black characters in any media. If the character is black just because you need a black character.....screw it and stay white. If being black is important because of the characters history, past experiences, or other plot reasons than that is fine.

    EDIT: It is not racist to just write about white people, anyway! If five white guys have a party, and there are no girls or other ethnicities, that does not mean it is a Klan meeting...just some white guys having a party. (Sorry, just a little dyspeptic.)
    Last edited by Hobbles105; November 18th, 2014 at 09:14 AM.

  4. #4
    Registered User Facing's Avatar
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    Everybody is a white lesbian? This made me giggle because it reminds me a bit of my brother's books where the main character is a big, bald, gay, black man with daddy issues. To be fair, many of my main characters are little white girls who have been abused. I think it's perfectly normal to want to write a main character that you can relate to but for our stories to have wide appeal we need to be more inclusive when writing our other characters.

    I like math. Roughly 10% of my characters are gay. Race breakdowns per nation are based on current demographics for the country/countries from which they originally came. Like Hobbles said though this is only important for character descriptions and in some cases the social orders that evolve from current belief systems etc.

  5. #5
    Registered User Jaigon's Avatar
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    I don't think it's important to even mention color of skin, unless it affects the plot or settings in a way. It should be up to the reader whether they be white, black, tan, yellow or even blue. If your story is part of a homogeneous setting then it matters not. Though, if the character is traveling through different lands it may be important to note different races and colours. Also, if it's a fantasy book (assuming medieval/Byzantine/Rome era) we can assume most regions are homogenous. Maybe a certain port or trade city may house all kinds of people, but most other places wouldn't. Back during the days of horseback travel was difficult and it was rare for anyone to travel from their homeland unless they were wealthy or sold as a slave. That being said, it would be interesting to note different skin color as a means to convey a character from a far off land.

    I agree with Hobbles though, about the token black (or asian/hispanic for that matter!). Anything that is forced will jar the reader and destroy any natural feel.

  6. #6
    Greymane Wilson Geiger's Avatar
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    Your story is your own. Don't change them just because you're worried that others might be offended. Make changes for the right reasons, because they serve the story.

    As writers, the risk of offending someone is part of the job. We'll never make everyone happy. Write to your audience, whomever that may be.

    And if growing up poor, serving in the military and fighting through many struggles to get where I am now, including a stay on food stamps, makes me privileged, then I don't think that word means what people think it does.

    It needs to stop being used. No one should EVER apologize for the color of their skin, or the sex, they are born with.

    I'm gonna stop now.

  7. #7
    Magical Ninja TheIELighten's Avatar
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    Thanks for the thoughts, everyone

    My world doesn't actually have a sun and the sky is crystal.

    I like the idea of a color wheel, maybe a gem wheel, as well.

    I don't have an audience, if I did, I guess it would be anyone who happened to like my stories.

    Ideally, I'll have heteros, gay men, bisexuals, bigenders, and trans people, as well. Because my world isn't earth it doesn't have to follow any of its statistics, really. If I was going to create a master race thought it would be blue lesbians because blue girls are hot! Anyone who has seen Guardians Of The Galaxy should agree. "giggles"

    But I can also partition out each color evenly, too. Every 43 people you meet someone will look like you. If anyone on Kreighdel even cares, that is. Of course, if you can go pretty much anywhere in your world and always see people who look like you you're not going to care, that's what privilege is all about. Just try and think of all the times you've never worried about being the only one, the other one, the different.

    The less often this happens the less privileged you are. It can pretty much pertain to anything. Any time you've felt alone in a group because you were the only one and or made to feel inferior for being different. And probably everyone has experienced this at some time or another.

    I just want my story to be diverse because it's more interesting to me.

  8. #8
    Registered User CharlotteAshley's Avatar
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    The thing about diversity is that it isn't so much about actual colours, but about types of experience.

    Your world will have different cultures and different classes if it has any depth at all, and you will want to treat them with as much nuance as you can. Who is poor and why? Who is politically powerful and why? Who is being silenced or erased? Are there groups that suffer more than others? Why?

    The power dynamics between your groups are going to be informed by your world's geography, history, great moments and dark ages. You will be aware of these as you create the characters and places they inhabit. If all of your characters are reasonably well off, powerful, and free, how will you describe the people who are not? Will you treat their experiences with respect, or paint them as bad or wrong in some way? If you make a character who is not well off, powerful, or free, will their story be as full and well-realized as the characters who are? Or are they just there to make you feel better?

    Forget specific colours or creeds or genders. Just think about difference and what it means in your world. You don't need to be an expert in what it is like to be a POC, you just need to think about and understand how a character would experience life without the privileges of your world's ruling class.

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    Forget everything else in this thread and focus on what Charlotte said. EXCELLENT way to think about it.

  10. #10
    Magical Ninja TheIELighten's Avatar
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    Thanks Charlotte!

    That makes a lot of sense. I wasn't thinking in that direction, I was too focused on the physical aspects, but you're right!

    Diversity has a lot of depth to it.

    And I know money equals power, usually.

    I knew if I asked here someone smart would come along.


    *copies your answer down to reference when I get confused again*
    Last edited by TheIELighten; November 18th, 2014 at 01:05 PM.

  11. #11
    I think a lot of the responses here are on the mark, and Charlotte nails it. Interesting characters and different circumstances have their genesis from so many different factors. There are plenty of scenarios you can work out to create a web of different character types for your readers to enjoy.

    I also encourage writers to write to what they know. Everyone has had such different backgrounds, ways of thinking, and interesting stories from their own life that it would be a shame to miss out on some of them because someone feels their experience is somehow unworthy of being considered for inspiration.

    And offending people? It happens...can't avoid it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wilson Geiger View Post
    Your story is your own. Don't change them just because you're worried that others might be offended. Make changes for the right reasons, because they serve the story.

    As writers, the risk of offending someone is part of the job. We'll never make everyone happy. Write to your audience, whomever that may be.

    And if growing up poor, serving in the military and fighting through many struggles to get where I am now, including a stay on food stamps, makes me privileged, then I don't think that word means what people think it does.

    It needs to stop being used. No one should EVER apologize for the color of their skin, or the sex, they are born with.

    I'm gonna stop now.
    I have to say, I'm with you here. I had never heard of the term "white privilege" before. Sounds like a form of racism; judging me to have had an easy life because I have pale skin? I grew up in the USSR, clawed my way here and served in the Army and worked hard to earn my living here. I suppose I have to shrug when I hear these things...doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

  12. #12
    Registered User CharlotteAshley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sarunus View Post
    I also encourage writers to write to what they know. Everyone has had such different backgrounds, ways of thinking, and interesting stories from their own life that it would be a shame to miss out on some of them because someone feels their experience is somehow unworthy of being considered for inspiration.
    For sure. You never have to write about anything. But if your world - especially in something like epic fantasy - only has people in one powerful milieu, it will be, at the very least, pretty shallow. The best fantasy worlds have got different types of people facing different types of challenges. And often the people who are least powerful are the ones who have the most "conflict" in their storylines. Like, if Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold had begin with Monza as a powerful general in the Duke's army and nothing had happened to dislodge her from that position of power, the book would have been kinda boring. It's interesting because she has the world pulled out from under her - she loses power and has to fight to get it back. I think the same thing can be applied when you're choosing characters for any book - look for characters who have odds against them and you'll have a more interesting story, eve if you, yourself, have a relatively easy life.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sarunus View Post
    I have to say, I'm with you here. I had never heard of the term "white privilege" before. Sounds like a form of racism; judging me to have had an easy life because I have pale skin? I grew up in the USSR, clawed my way here and served in the Army and worked hard to earn my living here. I suppose I have to shrug when I hear these things...doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
    Well, privilege isn't, like, a contest (despite what some people seem to think.) You aren't either privileged or not. It's just about how you describe the power difference between two people. If you, Sauranus, and I were up for the same job, there would be more than just our skills at play. You might have the privilege of being a man, but I might have the privilege of an upper-middle class education. You might face discrimination for being Russian, but I might face discrimination for being neuro-atypical (let's call it "socially awkward" and leave it at that.) If any one of those things gets us the job over the other, that is a privilege we have in that situation.

    That's why people talk about privilege in a relational way. it's not about who has it hard or not in general. It's about how our experiences compare in the same situation. As a woman, I am irritated sometimes that it isn't as easy to find good movies with characters I can aspire to be. But it is even harder for a black woman to find the same thing. And a queer black woman? Forget it. You basically don't get to avatar yourself in film if you're a queer black girl. So in this specific scenario, I readily admit I have it better than others.

    Anyway, the situational aspect of privilege is what makes it so good for novelists, IMO. Different characters can save the day in different situations. And it lets you leverage forces for or against characters based on specifics of their character. Spotting privileges is a good skill for the writer to have!

  13. #13
    Magical Ninja TheIELighten's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CharlotteAshley View Post
    Well, privilege isn't, like, a contest (despite what some people seem to think.) You aren't either privileged or not. It's just about how you describe the power difference between two people. If you, Sauranus, and I were up for the same job, there would be more than just our skills at play. You might have the privilege of being a man, but I might have the privilege of an upper-middle class education. You might face discrimination for being Russian, but I might face discrimination for being neuro-atypical (let's call it "socially awkward" and leave it at that.) If any one of those things gets us the job over the other, that is a privilege we have in that situation.

    That's why people talk about privilege in a relational way. it's not about who has it hard or not in general. It's about how our experiences compare in the same situation. As a woman, I am irritated sometimes that it isn't as easy to find good movies with characters I can aspire to be. But it is even harder for a black woman to find the same thing. And a queer black woman? Forget it. You basically don't get to avatar yourself in film if you're a queer black girl. So in this specific scenario, I readily admit I have it better than others.

    Anyway, the situational aspect of privilege is what makes it so good for novelists, IMO. Different characters can save the day in different situations. And it lets you leverage forces for or against characters based on specifics of their character. Spotting privileges is a good skill for the writer to have!
    I love this explanation. You have a fantastic way of explaining things. I never could have put it so eloquently.

    I'm not neural typical at all and any kind of message gets garbled coming in or out.

    So I need to be thinking of power differentials. Lightbulb's!

    I know you weren't replying to me this time, but thank you, anyway!!!

  14. #14
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    Hey now, gay black women have some serious privledge ><. Try being a white middle class honor student and finding scholarships....wasteland. Gay black woman......scholarship paradise.

    Bitterness over scholarships aside, the "why" of power imbalances can net some fascinating ideas and bring quite a bit of depth into your writing. If you are familiar with the book Guns, Germs, and Steel for example, the author attempts to explain why some parts of the world developed to dominate and others struggle. He postulated geography, the make up of your territory, plays a huge part in success or failure (among other things.) philosophy, sociology, and criminology theories and ideas help explain the "Why"s and can do more than you think.

    If you have a genetically based power system, for example, that brings some very interesting issues up (if your a crit-o-cynical machine like me :P ). Why do the people accept the system? What precipitated the acceptance of the system? Does everyone accept the system as legitimate? How has the system changed over time? What happens to those that challenge the system? What are the criminal consequences of the system? (black market? criminal organizations?) Breeding norms? (like reproducing within the class, or maximizing the desired characteristic, ect.)

    As a writer, we are creating societies... and societies are nothing if not messy piles of change on top of other messy changes. If you have a simple neat answer for a deep question... that is rarely a good thing.

    Anyway, just some things to ponder and maybe scribble some notes about.
    Last edited by Hobbles105; November 18th, 2014 at 04:25 PM.

  15. #15
    Beast on Board Luka Datas's Avatar
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    Wow. I completely missed the point of the post. I automatically assumed white privilege meant something else altogether. As soon as you think you know what it means it doesn't mean that anymore. Equal opportunity employers are required to employ a percentage of minorities so if you go to an interview against an asian dwarf (for instance) there isn't really any advantage at all to being white. (and also a dwarf).

    The risk is that people automatically make minorities right. Or the oppressed. Or terribly unhappy.

    For me being slightly overweight might put me in with the majority but then I see slim people who exercise regularly and eat healthily and then later I walk past shop windows, see my reflection and just want to smash it. Or I sit at home with my vacuum cleaner while contemplating performing liposuction on my belly.

    And Rich people are one of the smallest minorities around - but you don't see them wishing they were poor. Especially none of the chinese and indian billionaires. If you offered to swap places with them they would laugh in your face. You could even offer to let them have your old house all your bills, debts and white guilt and they'd probably just throw a twenty in your cereal bowl and jet it out to Ibiza.

    Some minorities just don't know how bad they've got it.

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