The Multi-Racial Conundrum

Many fantasies and sci-fis like to imagine a post-racial world, or even a world where race was never the great divider as it plays out on modern Earth. Subtlety does not always work, as one is potentially handing a post-racial world to a racialized society. However, making a big thing of being non-racial, contradicts the point of showing a non-racial society.

On camera that is far easier done than in print. Especially since, in American culture, there is an assumption that characters are Caucasian unless proven otherwise. In the Hunger Games, the characters from District 7 were subtly described as darker skinned, ie black. But the skin pigment references were too subtle. When the movie cast actors that matched the literary descriptions, some ignorant people expressed outrage over making the characters black. They called it pandering.

Sure, the screaming and vitriol is louder and more heated when a character once depicted as Caucasian is re-imagined as non-Caucasian. But considering that these superheroes WERE NEVER REAL, I do not give the counterargument any more credence. Somehow, Rowling did it right with Harry Potter. Nobody seemed surprised that Angelina Johnson and Dean Thomas were black.

One sci-fi FAIL that I read made a big point of saying that race was no big deal in this world. Then it went on to blatantly describe the race, and only the race of every character in a platoon. It was another 50 pages before I found out beliefs and likes and anything personal about any single character from that grouping. Awkward.

So, what is the formula for successfully imagining a post-racial society? Coming from a state that is over 90% white and a school that was 99% white and 1% hispanic/asian/black combined, this topic matters to me. The world is richer for its diversity and that makes its stories richer for it, too.

I make an effort to include names that come from multiple cultures and traditions. I also try to show subtle cultural markers: one person may do a sign of the cross when an ambulance passes, another might speak Tagalog to her father and English with everyone else. That’s the world I see around me now.


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