Black Girl in a fantasy world without racism, has experienced racism in other worlds
Hi, WWC! I asked about a Snow White retelling back in May, and Colette’s answer was super helpful and encouraging! I didn’t win the contest (but the story’s up on my author blog), so now I’m back to working on my fantasy series.
I’m currently about 8k words into the second book. The POV character is a girl from our world, though the story takes place in the fantasy world. The girl is a Black fantasy nerd who rides horses and just… is generally pretty happy about life and getting her own fantasy adventure and all. Racism does not exist in the fantasy world, and she knows that, but I know she’d be affected by it in her real-world past. I feel like it would be, or seem like, erasure if I don’t at least acknowledge that she has grown up with microagressions, but I’m white so I also don’t want to trust my first thought. So, if it would be erasure, what would be some good ways to acknowledge that she is a Black girl who grew up with racism, and maybe to show the differences between the worlds?
Thank you so much for your hard work! Your blog has already been unimaginably useful, to me and to many other people. I recommend it every chance I get.
And, because it can be hard to remember even in the best of times: You are wonderful people. You are beautiful, and brilliant, and kind, and thoughtful, and helpful, and amazing, and gorgeous inside and out. Don’t forget it.
I guess you can make hints about it, but I don’t think it’s a problem at all if it’s not mentioned. I mean, it’s okay to write about Black characters without making comments about racism. If it doesn’t move the story forward, no need to do it ! :)
A story without racism
You can mention racism she has faced without making her actively experience it in the story world.
Or you can have her go through the story without much / any mention of racism of all. Instead, focusing on physical descriptions, cultural hints, and the plot itself, which of course doesn’t need to evoke topics of racism.
Note: You could accomplish all of this without explicitly eliminating racism from the world.
For, even in a world set in our universe in this very year, you don’t need to make your Characters of Color face racism in your story. This isn’t erasure. It’s simply them not encountering racism and / or ignorant characters in your particular story. Stories are a snapshot of their life. In a story where racism is not meant to be the focus on the plot, you absolutely have the right to fade-to-black and off-screen any racism they may receive as a BIPOC.
Constructing a story world where racism 100% does not exist at all can be tricky, though. I’d want to know how and why racism is not a thing, and how that affects the other discrimination and inequalities that exist in our world. Are they excluded too? What is the history of this other world?
Here are some pitfalls that you’d need to be mindful of.
If other forms of discrimination exists - it can feel as if you’re raising, say, homophobia as more important for discussion over racism. As if, “we’ve resolved racism, so let’s ignore it!” This erases the intersections and complexities of both issues. Plus, the combined experience of homophobia that BIPOC may face. Whether it’s homophobia, transphobia, medical racism and/or ableism, these topics plus race go hand on hand and are experienced differently depending on the background of a person and even history and outside influences.
Fantasy racism / discrimination - This creates a new form of discrimination. Sometimes it replaces existing forms of it. For example, discrimination against dragons is the form of “racism” in the story. I’m not a fan of fantasy racism that acts in this form as it feels like erasure. We’ve addressed asks where the OP proposed including fantasy racism while also noting that human racism and other discrimination still exists. In that case, sure, that’s definitely a more improved plotline.
See “fantasy racism” or “fantastic racism” tags for more information on the two topics above.
Colorblind racism - The colorblind “all are equal” mindset can feel like a prison for BIPOC. A terse peace that serves to silence and ignore real issues. Colorblind racism makes discussing race and our differences taboo, which is oppressive and again, erasure. Pretending like we’re all the same isn’t curing racism. It’s certainly a good thing to acknowledge it, and to also celebrate all of differences and cultures!
So, your world would not truly be racism-free if it holds a colorblind mindset, and doesn’t welcome cultural diversity.
Microaggressions - Because even innocent curiosity or someone with no context or even comprehension of racism can use microaggressions. So, this is worth mentioning. Microaggressions are “small” incidents but they’re still racism, and can be triggering and are bothersome.
For example, someone from your story has never seen a person with hair texture like hers. So they touch your character’s hair and start asking 21 evasive questions about it.
“But see, there’s no historical context for that being a problem in this world. Therefore, they should be okay with it!” Nah.
See how this can become oppressive and suppressing? This leads to my next point.
The character (and reader) still live in a world with racism
Do keep in mind the history this character brings to the table, as a person who has experienced racism in other worlds. Her worldview is colored by her experiences, even as it adjusts to the new world she lives in.
Also keep the reader in mind.
It’s still problematic storytelling for the author to write BIPOC who:
Fall into caricature-like stereotypes
Receive disproportionately unhappy endings, or
Experience grotesque levels of pain and suffering compared to white characters
Real life people have to experience the story. Even in your utopia, you have to write in a manner that respects your characters and your readers.
Escapism is important. There are a lot of Black readers (present company included) that are looking for a good time, not a struggle novel. We want a story to get lost in and forget about the troubles of the world. Personally, I mainly read for pleasure. Now, if I’m reading to be informed, I’ll pick up a book that does just that.
The girl is a Black fantasy nerd who rides horses and just… is generally pretty happy about life and getting her own fantasy adventure and all.
Sounds amazing! I’m exposed to the racism that affects me, my family, friends, etc. on the regular. The hatred and tragedy I hear about Black people and other POC on the news and social media. So it’s quite lovely to open a book and just not experience that for a moment. Microaggressions do add some realism, and don’t really “shake” me, but I don’t want to be hit with the hard stuff without knowing what I’m getting into. That’s just my opinion, though.
Feel free to let your character not experience racism. Whether it just doesn’t exist at all or the character doesn’t stumble across it in the story (the latter is honestly the worldbuilding I recommend). Contrasting the different worlds could help to bring it up without getting into the nitty-gritty, so I like this idea.
A Fantasy World Without Racism
Black Girls & Women: Representation We Want
P.S. Thank you for your kind words!! I still have your Snow White Story saved to read on a rainy (or snowy) day!