How Special is Too Special? The Politics and Characterization of Stacking Special/Abnormal Traits on Mixed Race Characters
Good morning/afternoon/evening! I hope this message finds you all well. Thank you for putting in all the effort you do into this blog!
I had several questions about a specific character of mine. He’s an agender biracial individual (Japanese/white) and the tritagonist of the game. He was formerly the second-in-command of a corrupt military organization, but he betrays them in order to work with the protagonist due to a similar goal.
However, both him and the main character (a white nonbinary character) are nonhuman, cosmic horror-esque entities that came to be due to unethical research. He isn’t the only character of color in the story, however I worry that going the nonhuman route with his character may be demeaning. Both him and the main character have two forms, a human disguise and their more monstrous forms. Do you have any tips on how I can handle this aspect of his character in a respectful way?
Another part I would like to ask about is regarding the “Green-Eyed Asian” stereotype / trope. He has complete heterochromia that gives him one green eye and one brown one, due to his white mother’s striking green eyes being a component of her powers. Similarly, he has piebaldism, a skin condition similar to vitiligo that gives him lighter patches of skin and a white streak in his otherwise black hair. Are these too akin to making him ‘unique’ due to him being half-Japanese?
Finally, he’s a fairly intimidating character, standing at 6'8" and being pretty bulky / muscular. I try to emphasize that his reputation is the cause of his intimidation factor, but I don’t want it to seem as though he’s inherently scary. He has a pretty sarcastic and cynical personality as well, albeit one accented with a big heart. Is his appearance something I should avoid emphasizing?
Your affection for this character’s design comes through in this ask. However from a narrative standpoint, I don’t know how much help we can offer. All you have told us is that he looks very distinctive, but you haven’t told us 3 critical points surroundings your motivations for these appearance choices:
How his unique appearance will affect him
How his appearance intersects with these experiences, particularly within the context of the military
What experiences drive his personality
Without communicating these points, you’ve created a character utilizing multiple tropes without providing a sense of how these tropes relate to your story. I think for less experienced writers, there is a lot of attraction in making distinctive characters. It’s much less work for an author to create a plot that revolves around a few highly abnormal characters. The audience gets to see the cool, OP people do cool things, too. However, a compelling story requires more than a few charismatic OCs. Your plot and character dynamics are not necessarily enriched merely by making a character incredibly distinctive.
The part about his being in the military is especially key. Military organizations encourage homogeneity. Individuals who fall outside the norm draw attention that is rarely beneficial, unless your character thrives under scrutiny and increased pressure. For a 6’8” LGBT+, biracial individual with heterochromia and piebaldism who is the product of unethical research to rise through the ranks to a prominent position is not necessarily impossible. However, for there to be no discussion of the barriers, experiences and motivations that led them there, particularly within a corrupt organization where power only serves beneficiaries of the status quo, is a glaring omission. Based on the above, I don’t really see how having him be Japanese serves any purpose. I’ll leave Rina to explain some of the trope issues with the appearance choices you’ve made.
So the “Green Eyed East Asian” trope.
It’s a little more complex when it comes to the representation of mixed people.
ON ONE HAND: mixed East Asians can definitely have green eyes, and we have had numerous discussions on WWC as to how genetics are a crapshoot. It is important to never frame the green eyes discussion around whether certain genetic traits are “unrealistic.”
HOWEVER: White/E.Asian mixes are overwhelmingly given the green eye treatment in media for a few key reasons:
Non-asian writers feel as though there’s no way to show the character’s Obvious Caucasity except to give them an Obviously Caucasian eye color or hair colour. After all, only white people have light skin or light eyes, of course. Park from Eleanor and Park is an example of that.
Mainland E. Asian writers feel as though a single drop of whiteness will contaminate a character’s E. Asian-ness and render them irrevocably foreign. And they want to show that. Think about Suoh Tamaki (“Pardon me, René Tamaki Richard de Grantaine Suoh” - Marika says as they die from laughter) from Ouran High School Host Club or Tamaki Ann from Persona 5 (TWO Tamakis?!).
General exotification of mixed-ness on a foundation of eurocentric beauty. Blue/green eyes are rare and beautiful, right? Wow! So are mixed people, right? ;))
This thread by mixed Japanese artist Yoshi Yoshitani makes some very pertinent and nuanced observations about the portrayal of mixed East Asians around the globe. It simultaneously acknowledges that while these green/blue-eyed mixed people aren’t unrealistic, they’re green/blue-eyed (and overrepresented as such) because of various cultural beliefs and agendas.
I am aware that your reasoning for the eyes is to show hereditary magical powers, but this, too, is a tired trope unless you can truly justify why the power is concentrated in the eyes. This is especially because green eyes are in fact a natural eye colour; assigning magical properties to them can put that trait on a eurocentric pedestal. Why is the evidence of magic/superpower in the character’s eyes? Must there be a visible sign of this power, and if so, how are these magical characters treated differently? What are the worldbuilding implications of this? How about the worldbuilding implications of your other character design choices?
We think this Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot tritagonist sounds more like an OC than a fully realized character. We are curious to know if the strength of your character would still come through if you removed some of these visual characteristics. We also would have preferred to hear more about the actual plot, worldbuilding and character arcs. Please feel free to resubmit if you are able to answer these questions.
- Rina and Marika.
PSA to all of our users - Motivation Matters: This lack of clarity w/r to intent has been a general issue with many recent questions. Please remember that if you don’t explain your motivations and what you intend to communicate to your audience with your plot choices, character attributes, world-building etc., we cannot effectively advise you beyond the information you provide. We Are Not Mind Readers. If, when drafting these questions, you realize you can’t explain your motivations, that is likely a hint that you need to think more on the rationales for your narrative decisions. My recommendation is to read our archives and articles on similar topics for inspiration while you think. I will be attaching this PSA to all asks with similar issues until the volume of such questions declines.
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I keep hearing the grain free diets for pets is just a fad that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. My cat’s food that I chose happens to be grain free but I more chose it because of the high protein and organs in the ingredient list then it being grain free. Is there anything inherently bad about grain free diets? Or are they just a way to up the price tag?
Yep, grain-free diets are a way to up the price tag. They started out as a fad since so many humans were adopting a gluten-free diet, and these days brands often like to claim that dogs and cats should not eat grains as part of their diet since they wouldn’t do so “in the wild”. Since dogs and cats are domesticated, they shouldn’t be eating anything in the wild, and are so far removed from their wild ancestors that their ability to digest grains have substantially increased. More recently, grain-free diets have been shown to contribute to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM, or heart failure).
However, it’s not just about grain-free diets. The diets that are causing DCM are now referred to as “BEG” diets – boutique companies, exotic ingredients, or grain-free diets. The apparent link between BEG diets and DCM may be due to ingredients used to replace grains in grain-free diets, such as lentils or chickpeas, but also may be due to other common ingredients commonly found in BEG diets, such as exotic meats, vegetables, and fruits. In addition, not all pet food manufacturers have the same level of nutritional expertise and quality control, and this variability could introduce potential issues with some products.
A diet should not be selected based on ingredients (or lack thereof). Rather, a pet owner should be asking these questions of a company:
1. Does the manufacturer employ at least one full-time qualified nutritionist? This means a PhD in animal nutrition or board-certification (and, ideally, both) by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition or the European College of Veterinary Comparative Nutrition.
2. What are the qualifications of the person who formulates their food (if it’s not the same person as their nutritionist)? This expert should have the same qualifications as in #1.
3. Does the manufacturer own the plant(s) where their food is manufactured? Most small companies do not own their own plants which can reduce the control they have over quality.
4. What quality control measures does the manufacturer practice? These vary widely among manufacturers but strict quality-control measures are critical to ensure safe, consistent, and nutritious food for your pet. Saying it’s the highest quality doesn’t make it true. Nor does having a statement on the label saying the food is complete and balanced. In fact, many of our studies have shown nutritional deficiencies in pet foods that claim on the label to be nutritionally complete and balanced (and the foods that had those deficiencies would not have met the standards detailed on this list). Examples of quality control measures the manufacturers should be using include certification of a manufacturer’s procedures (e.g., Global Food Safety Initiative, Hazard Analysis, and Critical Control Points, or American Feeding Industry Association); testing ingredients and end products for nutrient content, pathogens, and aflatoxins; materials risk assessments; and supplier audits.
5. Are their foods tested with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) feeding trials? (this information also can be found on the label – find out how). If AAFCO feeding trials are not conducted, the manufacturer should at least ensure their diets meet AAFCO nutrient profiles through analysis of the finished product (rather than by predicting they meet the profiles based only on the recipe). This information can only be determined by asking the manufacturer.
6. Does the company conduct any research? Do they publish it in peer-reviewed journals?
7. Can the manufacturer provide you with the amount of any nutrient of interest (for example, sodium, protein, copper, or calcium)? They should be able to provide this information not just as guaranteed analysis numbers (which will be only minimums or maximums and are nearly useless), but as the average (or typical) analysis. This should ideally be provided on an energy basis (i.e., grams per 100 kilocalories or grams per 1,000 kilocalories), rather than on an as-fed or dry-matter percent basis, which does not account for the variation in energy density among foods.
8. Can the manufacturer provide you with the number of calories for any of their foods on any requested weight or volume basis (for example, per cup, per can, or per kilogram)?
9. Does the manufacturer bash other pet food companies (especially using information that is based on myths, rather than factual information) in their advertisements or on their websites?
These questions are all based on the checklist from the WSAVA Nutrition Toolkit, which is a very cool set of resources!
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