Lit Ignorance is Bias: The Diversity Manifesto

Discussion in 'Literature' started by CooperTFN, Sep 2, 2012.

  1. Charlemagne19 Chosen One

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    The Ming Po are explicitly non-human, and without any further details of any differences they may biologically have, apparently simply because they were too Asian to be human.
    That's making an assumption. It could have just been an arbitrary decision.
  2. Robimus Force Ghost

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    We also have JanFathal. For instance if I heard that a character was from that world I'd imagine them as dark skinned as well. They still could be any other race under the sun of course, a even the narrative of No Prisoners mentioned some white populace, but my thoughts would still move towards the former.
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  3. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    Yeah the problem with the "Ming Po" would be that they're non-human and that falls into the Unfortunate Implications awkward town. So like, if Bultar Swan or whoever the hell Bai Ling was supposed to be were suddenly retconned into Ming Po...that would be really problematic. Epicanthix doesn't work, either--just the name is...ugh.

    I do think that there are certain "ethnic" human categories in Star Wars that are racially coded for "black" humans in IRL. For example, the Korun, and perhaps also Socorro? If you are a hardcore EU fan those descriptors might tip you off on how to visualize the character, but I don't know if it would be more effective than say, being told a character has dark, or golden, or brown skin.

    If we did want to do the whole, "Socorro is the black planet" thing, then I suppose one could argue that Tython is the "Asian" planet. If I was writing a Star Wars story set in TOR I would certainly consider making it the origin planet for an Asian character. If anything, just based on the Kurosawa-esque homage depiction of Tython during the Force Wars.

    [IMG]

    But the "ethnic planet" designation also raises the question of, "Oh, well then is Chandrilla the white planet then?" "Is Alderaan the Latino planet?" which doesn't even make sense because just think of how diverse our one planet, Earth, is. Even a fictional planet like Naboo seems to have different ethnicities (IRRC Queen Jamilla and Queen Apailana are of different ethnic background than Queen Amidala; Queen Jamilla was "south eastern" or something, right?)
  4. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    By the way, just looking up Queen Apailana I found this interesting naming decision by Lucas: "Apairana is an ancient house of the Maori people from the island of Aotearoa, New Zealand with a strong female line." The actress who portrayed Apailana, Keisha Castle Hughes, is Maori. Now, I know that George sometimes names characters played by white actors using names from other cultures, but still...this again ties back to my argument that even naming characters of color a certain way (eg. Saw Gererra) may be helpful nods to help diversify Star Wars.
  5. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    Like Mia and Freac were saying - the main problem with the Ming Po is that they're not human. Obviously we have differences as to how and when RL cultural influences should find their way into GFFA society, but I think a heavily Chinese-influenced Star Wars culture would be at least a net positive if it involved humans (or even a mix of species).
    Last edited by CooperTFN, Oct 31, 2012
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  6. Robimus Force Ghost

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    It could be more effective than saying yellow skin, or suggesting some other stereotypical trait. Terms like dark or brown or black are far more accepted as racial descriptors than something that could work for an asian character.

    Its an approach that could be used, if not with the Ming-Po then in another way. If someone is reading a novel set on earth and you read that it says a character is Japanese it sets a specific thought in mind. No reason Star Wars couldn't work in a similar way on a somewhat limited basis of course.

    The bottomline is if none of these ideas work, if there is no way to describe an asian in Star Wars, well, then there won't be any asians in Star Wars.
    Last edited by Robimus, Oct 31, 2012
  7. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    Dark or Brown don't really help that much you end up with a tanned white charater at best. Its pretty darn easy when your fantasy or scifi fiction takes place on earth or at least an earth like planet. But if you don't have that in the universe it hard to do in writing when the default is white for most of the writers.
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  8. Robimus Force Ghost

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    I liked what McBrdie Allen did in the Corellian Trilogy where he compared Belindi's skin tone to Lando's. It was a simple way of getting the point across without requiring colors spelled out on the page.
  9. Zorrixor Chosen One

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    Yeah, it makes for a more interesting description as well.

    Oola's skin was green, or Oola's skin was dark and dirty sage like the leafy mould festering in between the cracks under Jabba's throne?
  10. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    But if the Ming Po are human then Asian humans in Star Wars are suddenly members of a minority technologically primitive society unable to resist racist agression with outside assistance and fully overshadowed by the other culture.

    I wrote a heavily Chinese-influenced Star Wars culture. I justified its marginalization and development by placing it in a geographically remote area and on an environmentally harsh planet, making clear that outside forces were responsible, not any internal cultural elements. That was ass-covering I had to undertake.

    That's the tricky part here. The physical component of 'race' can be addressed through shifts in demographics of the ongoing Star Wars cast in order to meet changing US demgraphics or if you want to be super-ambitious some arbitrary diversity ideal without changing anything regarding the themes of Star Wars. The cultural component cannot be changed so easily. The Star Wars galaxy is dominated, often brutally and oppressively so, by a single human cultural. That's a Western one in the Anglo-American tradition.

    If you take a culture, whether African-Amercian, Chinese, or something obscure like Ainu culture, you've taken a 'minority' (from a US perspecitve) and made it into a 'minority' once again. That means you've created in-universe racial politics. Star Wars is extremely ill-suited to talk about this, having been configured more or less explicitly as a post-racial society (in humans, not between species). Doing so both opens up a creative team to charges of prejudice, and violates that long-held intent.

    Many people perhaps find the post-racial nature of Star Wars human society highly unrealistic. Fair enough, but it's a fantasy created by a single man and that's his vision which he's free to put forward. Many fantasy settings have wildly unrealistic human societies. The Dragonriders of Pern setting, for example, has no religion, of any kind, at all, it's human populace simply ignore spiritual matters because that's how Anne McCaffery wanted it to be. This can be used as a criticism, yes, just as the unrealistic post-racial nature of Star Wars an be critized in the same fashion, but it was established by authorial fiat and taken from the outside looking in demanding and it be changed means placing your vision within someone else's.
  11. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    Do you really think post-racial humanity is unrealistic, personally? I'm not saying well just evolve that way necessarily, but I think in a society filled with Talz and Hutts and Pa'lowicks, the bigots would have enough on their plate already.
  12. Gorefiend Chosen One

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    Plus they can always legally just mess with Droids.
  13. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    It seems like we premise the universe of Star Wars as "post-racial" without examining whether or not it truly operates as "post-racial," the same way people assume that America is now "post-racial."

    Saying that a society is post-racial does not make it post-racial. Through simple observation/pretty basic cursory of analysis, it is easy to see that the universe of Star Wars is not nearly as "post-racial" as readers assume.

    It's not that a post-racial universe is "unrealistic," it's that it's not the case.
    Last edited by JediFreac, Oct 31, 2012
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  14. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    Do I? No, I personnally do not, at least in regard to the physical components. I believe that over time human society, through increasing genetic and spatial intermixing will gradually degrade the bonds tying cultural elements to artifacts of physical appearance. I believe there will always be cultural predjudices, they simply will no longer be tied to phenotypic categories.

    Anyone claiming America is post-racial is deluded, the evidence for racial animus is obvious, consistent, and strong. The evidence for Star Wars is very different.

    In everything I have read or seen or played in the Star Wars universe I have never encountered any depiction of descrimination based on physical appearance tied ot racial characters. In fact I don't think I've ever seen racial traits so much as mentioned. I cannot think of any example where characters commented on skin shading, facial feature structure, or any other character associated with race in humans, or when narration did so in any but a purely descriptive sense. Even when dealing with descrimination issues very closely, as in the Republic Commando novels, I can't see characters making a case for racial descrimination. The clones obviously do not match the typical appearance of the average galactic citizen, but no one ever had any problem with that, they had issues with them being clones.

    The citizens of the Star Wars universe certainly express cultural bias towards various intra-human groupings, generally identified by planet, Corellians most notably, but that's not a racial predjudice, it's a cultural one.
  15. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    I believe what Freac was getting at is that to a great extent, GFFA humanity (and its power structure in particular) belies the heavy influence of western culture, which is the way it is because of racial discrimination. As much as the official position may be (and it is) that the GFFA is post-racial, its human demographics don't bear that out.

    The goal here, for me, is to better highlight the ways in which the franchise could do a better job of depicting post-raciality, because what else could we be trying to convince them of? Would it be preferable for them to introduce racism into the story, to better reflect what we're seeing?

    My Star Wars is absolutely, unequivocally post-racial. Does the material support that? Not completely, no. But I want to change that, not just people's perception of it.
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  16. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    You're saying we should change the numbers to have a better demographic balance, which is something I have agreed with in the past. The behavior of characters within the universe is post-racial, the numbers don't really match what that behavior would lead us to expect, yes. That's a purely numeric argument, and any disagreement boils down to the how and why of the tweaks and what the ultimate target levels would be.

    However, I do not think that was what JediFreac was suggesting.

    As far as introducing racism into the the universe to justify older material retroactively, no I really don't think that's a good idea. First of all there's been huge progress in this regard. TOR really does more or less randomize things and depict a startingly post-racial universe, I think it represents the model we want to see going forward. TCW is also much more representative than many past works have been, and has depicited a larger number of non-human characters than ever before, and there has been increasing diversity slowly and steadily across all genres. Hopefully the new sequel trilogy will hew towards the Prequel trilogy model and also have a diverse cast - that's going to the biggest arena of exposure going forward.

    Second, if it is really necesary to introduce an explanation for pre-existing demographic imbalances I don't think in-universe racism is the answer. The best justification is that some sort of outside agent was responsible. Star Wars already has one in place in the Rakata. Perhaps they bred greater numbers of white humans because that was the first population they encountered. Actually going that way you could say that the Rakata first encounted humans with a demographic balance roughly equivalent to the US 1970 (very white, a small African-American minority, nothing else, reflects the OT), and that humanity gradually diversified and intermixed in the millenia sense. Star Wars is so big that the corrective forces just take a really long time before things even out.
  17. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    Feb 3, 2012
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    that would still be dumb that have FTL travel and the force and your telling me they can not fly around a planet and land in more then one location. The force should let them detect humans just fine.
    Last edited by Skaddix, Oct 31, 2012
  18. Valin__Kenobi Author: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Praji

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    I can't stress enough how damaging I think an in-universe retcon would be. Not that it isn't well-intentioned, but it's just starting down a road we don't want to go on. I think we're all agreed on that.

    Look at the OT movies themselves. The X-wing pilots and Rebel commanders in ANH and ESB were all white men, presumably based on the extras they could get their hands on in 1970s England. By ROTJ we had an Asian pilot and a black one, a Dresselian, crapload of Mon Cals, and a bunch of Bothans mentioned but not seen. Cut to the X-wing novels and comics, where you have men and women of multiple races and aliens of both genders.

    All accomplished without heavy-handed lampshading, other than the semi-retcon that the Yavin Rebels hailed from the Organa/Mothma/Iblis faction, as compared to Rim or alien factions like the Mon Cals, and they were not well integrated until ROTJ. That's as far as I'm prepared to go. Most of the onscreen movie Rebels were humans, that's a given, and you just have to imagine that Yavin and Hoth were full of black/Asian/Latino pilots just offscreen and leave it at that.
    Last edited by Valin__Kenobi, Oct 31, 2012
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  19. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    I think it if Star Wars is to live up to is (unobservant) assertion that it is post-racial, then it needs to actually reflect that in it's work.

    Right now, it just doesn't-- in universe or out of universe. I think we need to acknowledge that and stop making excuses that it is too hard to write characters of color or describe characters of color (when it is so easy to create white characters, apparently), or concern troll excuses about fears of things being too forced or that they necessitate a quota. Until Star Wars does that, we can't call it post-racial. It is not, nor is it depicting a universe that is. Otherwise Star Wars is just like any other cultural institution that claims to be colorblind, but isn't.
    Last edited by JediFreac, Nov 1, 2012
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  20. Valin__Kenobi Author: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Praji

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    Oh I agree 100%. I'm just saying that it's better to change the depiction from this point forward to reflect the setting's intentions, than to try to lampshade in-universe why it has been depicted the way has been and thus only set it in stone as "All White People All The Time."
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  21. Dr. Steve Brule Force Ghost

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    Just met a guy who referred to Greedo as "Guido". Immediately made me think of this thread.
  22. Robimus Force Ghost

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    OK, though, the question still remain, how does one do that? How does an author go about depciting an Asian or a Native American or other minorities?

    Something that is difficult to write isn't an excuse. I've personaly made several suggestions over the the past couple months of how to try and depict these other nationalities in the text and you have basically come along everytime and told me that you don't think my ideas work - and thats not an issue. What I'm wondering is if you have any ideas yourself about how to make this work.

    Its one thing to say "stop making excuses", but when you(or me or whoever) aren't providing ideas to correct the problem then its kinda difficult. Its easy for people to say stuff doesn't work, but we need ideas and solutions. It's easy to write 'white' and even 'black' characters because those descriptors aren't taboo. To me 'brown' is extremely vague and would make me default to black - 'golden', C-3PO is golden, but that could work on some level. Yellow and red clearly are not available for use because they are socially unacceptable.

    So if authors can't use colors to get their point across, and they can't use real world names to get their point across, and they can't use costuming, and they can't use descriptive stereotypes to get their point across - then what is left? I mean if an author brought out a book tomorrow that had a lead character described as having yellowish skin and almond shaped eyes would our reaction be positive or negative?

    In one sense, even though its using somewhat offensive terms and stereotypes it would get the point across. Would that be bad?
    Last edited by Robimus, Nov 5, 2012
  23. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    So it wasn't until Saturday that I realized that Adi Gallia, Stass Allie, and that little girl from TCW have all been retconned into their own species. Yet again, we have non-white = non-human. That's... dumb. I'm perfectly fine if they want to use, like, Tholothian to give us a hint as to what someone looks like so they don't have to say "dark-skinned" in the narrative every time or something, especially if skin color is something people in a supposedly diverse galaxy wouldn't exactly notice. I just think the notion that they aren't human is pretty dumb, or the notion that every Corellian is white is silly. What's next -- Octavian Grant isn't really Tapani because he's Asian and not white like the others?

    If they HAVE to use descriptors like Tholothian, I'd prefer it to be a geonym (I think I just made that word up -- think of it as the equivalent of demonym). Tholothians are humans from Tholoth, just as Corellians are humans from Corellia. THAT I would be fine with.
  24. Esg Jedi Grand Master

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    I brought this up on the temp forums

    @ LFL
    Last edited by Esg, Nov 5, 2012
  25. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    I have a thought on that, Jello - but let's stick a pin in it for a second.

    IIRC, Freac seemed to be alright with the idea of communicating race through character names, but by and large I get what you're saying here. And I'm actually really glad you phrased that the way you did, because I saw Cloud Atlas last week, and your question dovetails very nicely with what I wanted to say about it--first, I'm happy to acknowledge that the cross-racial makeup is...uneven. Some is very good, actually, but I think it's more successful in a philosophical sense than in terms of really making you believe a black person is white or a white person is Asian.

    But clearly, we've beaten the "yellowface" issue to death already, so I want to come at this from a different direction. Like I said earlier, Cloud Atlas' thematic intentions, at least, are pretty much the opposite of racist. Yet in addition to actors playing different races, two different white actors--Tom Hanks and Jim Broadbent--use the N-word. I think use of the N-word is at least as inherently racist an action as yellow or blackface, and in my opinion, has led to far more real-world pain and suffering, but it's something that white actors do all the time in service of various roles, and no one--maybe you disagree with me on this, Freac--seems to hold it against them. What's more, most movies nowadays that use the N-word do so in the service of anti-racist messages, in the same way that Cloud Atlas uses makeup.

    So I'll grant that blackface (which, perhaps notably, does not seem to happen in the movie) and yellowface are inherently racist, and absolutely are part of a tradition of white subjugation and degradation of other races. Let's assume that we're all on that page here. And per Robimus, I'll throw in the use of the word "yellow" to connote an Asian character in prose, as opposed to not using an Asian character at all (yes, a false choice, but just humor me for a moment here).

    My question then becomes: can an inherently racist action--be it makeup or language--ever be acceptable in service of anti-racist messaging? Or, indeed, in service of art of any kind?