When your MC is racist

This is a sensitive topic that I want to ensure I depict properly. Your thoughts are very appreciated.

Let’s lay down the basics. This is a fantasy world and my MC is a demon who’s racist against humans. That alone wouldn’t be a big issue BUT it’s a delicate situation because of the details of this made-up tribe of humans I’m creating.

About the human tribe:

They’re humans who have never been on Earth and never had contact with other humans.

They live simple lives. Their resources are limited because of location but they get by.
It’s a tribe of few thousand people. They know some magic, are peaceful and don’t believe in personal possessions- share everything.

The sensitive part:

I didn’t want them wearing animal hides so I’ve researched plant-based clothes and found the perfect fabric: barkcloth. I found some awesome info on a tribe in Uganda that produces this cloth and I’ll use them as an inspiration for the culture of my tribe. I can already picture how barkcloth shaped my made-up tribe, how it impacts their every day lives. It’s perfect.

About the MC

My MC has never met humans but she has strong opinions based on what she’s heard. She thinks they’re boring savages (humans on Earth actually live in an advanced civilization but she’s too ignorant to know that).

So when she meets this tribe of humans, in her eyes, they’re even more primitive than what she thought. She’ll have a lot of negative opinions.

By the end of the book, she’ll learn just how wrong she was. She’ll even start appreciating barkcloth.

But, in the moments when she’s being racist, how can I handle it properly to not disrespect the culture that inspired what this tribe looks like? And by looks, I mean dressed in barkcloth.
I haven’t decided yet if l’ll mention their skin color. I usually don’t. I let the reader imagine characters however they want. I don’t know if the same approach will work here.

What do you think about all of this?

Oof. I mean…I see both sides to this.

We’re dealing with prejudice against an entire species, so I feel like if your human tribe represents the whole of humanity, you’ll be better off. If it’s just an African tribe with a significant amount of parallels to Ugandan culture…you might turn away some readers. You might as well write about an actual tribe and do your research if that’s the case, you know?

On the other hand, it’s perfectly fine to have a flawed protagonist who is ignorant and demeaning of native culture. It’s an incentive to read because I know the character will change over the course of the story.

Also, just a side note – I feel like it’s easy to make humans appear uncivilized even in the civilized world. We’re letting entire countries starve and collapse without lending a hand. I think it would be interesting to see the demon’s perception of civilization clash with our own.

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It is perfectly okay to let readers not love your protagonist because their ignorant, just make sure she’s not completely unlovable and has at least some redeeming qualities. If it’s against a whole species, then it’s different then if it’s against a skin colour or ethnecity or sexuality.

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You can’t she is racist youre gona have to either go balls to the wall or not do it. Besides. This is fantasy right? I would hope youre just using an inspo and not taking a whole culture thats not yours and implanting it in your story. Like… you legit can call the cloth what every you want break it from the mold and then we have the Harry Potter Oh those are Nazis but not really. thing.

Potentially problematic but… the MC is racist. Make her what she is but don’t expect people to love her.

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My MC is racist, but he’s not supposed to be likeable at all, which slightly helps me in how to handle it.

If I were you I’d maybe have the MC casually racist. Like have the racist thoughts/remarks not be a big deal for her to say (in her opinion) because to her she doesn’t think there’s any issue, and she won’t feel anything shes saying is shocking or provocative. It would probably do you good to just google books with racist/homophobic protagonists, read a couple and see how those authors dealt with the characterisation.

I think you’ll be able to make the MC more likeable if you manage to portray what a racist society she has grown up influenced by (without being too shove it down folks’ throats), and to make sure she feels remorseful for her previous racist behaviour when she realises that it’s not okay.

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Now, Uganda is not the only place in the world where people figured out how to make a cloth out of bark. I’m considering the option to look into other cultures and do a bit of a mix. BUT that makes me sad. Why not stick to this one Ugandan tribe? They’re cool enough on their own.

I wouldn’t depict them exactly the same. How can I even do that when I know nothing else about that culture? That would be a very bad idea and a likely disaster. What I’m planning is to pick certain themes from what I’ve learned and expand on them. These humans I’m creating are not ordinary. They shouldn’t be too realistic either.

lol. These people are definitely an idealized version of what humans should be.

Definitely true. I hope that readers will pick up on the fact that she has existing bias against the whole human race.

You’re right.

That’s a good point.

That’s kind of my point. I think that’s where you’re walking a finer line. You’re drawing inspiration from a real culture (it sounded above as if you had incorporated more than just the barkcloth), and yet you’re depicting this culture as uncivilized / primitive. It comes off as a generalization of African groups and cultures imo. I think that’s why it’s important to mention the range of skin color or at least have a diverse enough subgroup of humanity. Otherwise, as I said above (sarcastically), you might as well be upfront about the prejudice that’s happening and write about the actual African tribe to do away with that generalization. At least then it would show that you took the time to research real tribes and their cultures, not just cherrypick.

So yeah. I would make it clear that this group isn’t just a random Ugandan-inspired tribe, but a group of humans who do not have access to advanced technology, clothing, etc.

And I would ensure this is conveyed properly.

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Yeah I can’t answer anything else because the character isn’t racist; races are not physically different from each other to this extent. It is vital to the discussion that we understand demon : human is not the same as white : black.

Anyway yes sounds kind of like Avatar (the James Cameron one) and I genuinely simply would not do it. I’d also likely not be interested in the book. Those are my thoughts; naturally everyone is correct in saying you can do as you like. To me this idea is not very unique or interesting.

I most definitely agree that it’s not an equal comparison at all. Maybe “racist” is not the best word but what word applies? Species-ist? When we say “human race” we do use the word “race” so… Semantics.

Is this a trope that’s been done before? Sure. Some people write billionaire romances. Others write about an isolated pocket of the universe that’s inhabited by humans. I have no problem if someone sees this part of the story as a trope.

That’s exactly what I want to avoid.

Maybe the solution is to make this tribe more advanced than I originally planned. Maybe they’ll look primitive because of what they’re wearing but they actually live very comfy lives and she’ll quickly learn to not judge a book by the cover.

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Write it the way you want too. YOU don’t think the characters with the barkcloth are primitive or whatever, your CHARACTER does, and you say yourself that she learns that she’s wrong. I’m honestly confused why you’re asking this question at all to be honest.

Also, I don’t think your story sounds unoriginal or uninteresting.

Thanks for the confidence. Why I’m asking the question? Because I can’t escape my brain. I tend to overthink everything and I’m likely blowing it all up much more than it needs to be. But I think it’s a good discussion to have.

I think it’s absolutely fine to be inspired by real world. What else can we draw inspiration from? But the issue of race is always sensitive.

I don’t know why I always end up writing about a combination of crazy ideas that make it all complicated. But what can I do? Gotta write what you love.

As to barkcloth, I’m really curious what it’s like to wear it. They describe the good quality ones to be thick and stiff but also very soft. And it’s supposed to smell like cedar. I’d love to try out the real thing but short of traveling to Uganda to buy it straight from their local vendors, I’d have to settle for commercial imitations which I don’t trust to be authentic.

It’s a tough one. I think you’ll raise some eyebrows here with the tribe idea regardless, so I would write what you want to write. It’s not like you’re giving a nod of approval to your character. Most of your audience will understand that.

It’s only if you make this tribe actually representative of an African culture / allude to a specific race that you really start to push some boundaries. If your tribe is made up of Mexicans, Indians, and Americans who happen to live in a primitive state and wear this type of clothing, all of this becomes much more forgivable imo. But I’m not here to be offended on behalf of Ugandans XD. Just giving my two cents.

I definitely think you can make this work. It’s just about the execution! Good luck.

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Oof, maybe don’t call it bark cloth? Their are alot of peoples that made cloth from trees historically, you have alot of options for methods and names, and can even make your own name for it.
Can give it different meaning depending on the patterns it made with, or the way they wear it, doesn’t have to take from one culture when their are so many to choose from, I cannot help but feel that would draw focus away from these real peoples, maybe for the best in these regards.

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The truth about racism isn’t to target or reveal anything about the race that is being discriminated against. But it is to show us where the ugliness comes from deep within the racist individual or group of people.
People can shout out negative slurs and comments but that doesn’t make them racist…it makes them stupid. Racism is from a series of events during one’s life where they are brought up to think that how they actually feel is correct and proper. That it is the only way to live.
Focus on the racist’s family, past and her environment, and you just might make your reader empathetic to her.

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I think it’s fine for your MC to have flaws like this and give an opportunity for character development by the end.

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That’s not racism. That’s specism.

Racism, as defined is:

Racism involves the subordination of people of color by white people. While individual persons of color may well discriminate against a white person or another person of color because of their race, this does not qualify as racism according to our definition because that person of color cannot depend upon all the institutions of society to enforce or extend his or her personal dislike. Nor can he or she call upon the force of history to reflect and enforce that prejudice. . . . History provides us with a long record of white people holding and using power and privilege over people of color to subordinate them, not the reverse."

– (Paula Rothenberg. Defining Racism and Sexism)

So what he is, is hateful towards humans as a species. Racism has nothing to do with species. The definition of race meaning species, is actually rooted in racism, which BTW, my field is responsible for initially (Anthropology). Where Anthropology defined that all whites, with no basis came from the Caucuses (which isn’t really true) and were intellectually superior to in order: Asians, Native peoples, and then Blacks at the bottom. This is also why I dislike the use of “race” when you mean species, because really, it’s based in racism. And we are one species. Plus it feels like erasure of the past and the meaning of racism.

That given, what you want is the anatomy of hate, which BTW, as a specialist in systems (racism, sexism, etc) I can totally break down the major ways people irrationally hate–because truthfully hate is about as unimaginative and uncreative as possible. The same way people hate on one group, they often hate on other groups.

I also dislike conversion stories like, OMG, they don’t hate anymore. In truth it never, ever works like this in systems.

The fantasy for most people is that once the people are aware of hate that it magically disappears and everything is dandy, but it never works this way. Especially if you’ve been conditioned AND your society that you live in supports this conditioning.

It’s like people say slavery ended in the US with black slaves. And I’m like… uhhh… no, it hasn’t. It just got more hidden. Tomato slaves of Florida, for example. Relabeled settled workers.

It’s like this with privilege too… Such as with able-bodied privilege I hold, I can always take advantage of that privilege. I can always walk up the stairs without worrying. I don’t have to worry about finding ramps or really tall curbs. I don’t even have to lodge complaints against the city for being so inconsiderate. But with my privilege comes a responsibility to be aware of when I’m leveraging it and when I’m not. And when I can help out those who ask for it. I can be aware of it, but as someone who has it, I also can afford to absolutely forget that not everyone has my privilege and abandon the cause once it’s inconvenient for me. Or I don’t get as much attention for doing it (though I really think this is the shallowest reason to do something), or whatever reasoning I find convenient for me.

Systems are far more complex that you’re making them to be.

I’ll tell a short story… so there was a guy, a teacher, that I was acquainted with and he constantly complained about his PoC students who seemed like they didn’t have any hope of getting into a better place, so didn’t try that hard through education. He constantly complained about them. He knew his privilege as a white person, but still complained about his students.

I called him out on it and pointed out both the socio-economic difference and the skin-privilege afforded to him. He was aware of the problem, but still acted with fragility. He knew the textbooks he was dealing with never showed any role models of PoCs in them, but then didn’t think it was an issue. He knew that the media isn’t exactly positive towards black students in particular. He knew that often there is a defeatist attitude, but he, himself could not bridge the mind gap. And instead of confronting the problem, he decided to block me. Because it’s work even if you know the problem. And it’s much easier to look for accolades than to do the hard work. (Also it’s easier to repeat a system that was oppressing you than it is to change how its run) And soon after his wife did too.

In order to be kind, sometimes I can’t be nice. I chose kindness over niceness… I chose compassion and empathy over his personal feelings… so, I had to be assertive that he could do better.

This is the flaw in the conversion story about hate. Because you always, always can eff it up once you’re aware of the problem. Always. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s not a badge you buy from the dollar store, it’s something you have to do everyday, like cleaning your hands after going to the bathroom, or brushing your teeth. And such conversion stories often don’t capture those finer details. It’s a one and done. But truth is, doesn’t work like that. Not that easy. Once the system is in place, it’s harder to dismantle.

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My thoughts on this might sound insensitive, but I’d say unleash your MC and let her actions speak for herself. Don’t worry too much about the “politically correct” part of your story, it’s not you being racist, it’s your character. I could be writing a psychopath character, that does not mean I am one and people shouldn’t judge the author based on that.

If you did your research and based your tribe on a real one, great! You already have a solid base to start. But if your girl is racist because of ignorance or whatever, just let her be. I don’t think you’re approving of her behavior nor I think most people in her world will either (or perhaps they do?), so show that. Show the consequences of her attitude towards others, don’t tell us she’s wrong, show us!

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If said humans have lived in their own small tribe on another planet, would it be far to assume that perhaps they are no longer humans? I’m just making assumptions, but if they have lived isolated from the rest of the human species on a completely different world. Could evolution and the environment have changed them enough, to technically not be humans but a derivative?

If that is the case, then would it still be considered racism? Or would it be no different from, someone saying they dislike primates?