Hello, I am a Black girl writing a story with a predominantly Black group that revolves around magic and royalty. The story is dual perspective, and while one of the narrators is Black, the other is South Asian, specifically of Indian descent.
As I make up this new system of magic and mythology, I'm worried that I'm erasing the culture of the character. I wanted to ask if me creating this new culture and history will make my brown characters seem more like decoration instead of people with their own backgrounds, or if I'm just overthinking it and I should continue writing with this system.
Note: In the mythology, the land and the people on it were created from clay which is why a majority of them are brown (complexion wise). The group later discovers things that put their religion question, but overall these beliefs play a big role in the story.
Black and Indian characters, people compared to clay and and newly created magical history & mythology
I really don’t think it’s a good idea for these people to be brown because they’re made of clay, or any type of dirt. In South Asian cultures, shadeism and the implication that someone is brown, or dark skinned, because they’re dirty, or of dirt, has deep ties to classism, casteism, and the oppression of Adivasi people.
Agreed with Mod SK about the clay thing. From my personal experience, this is a comparison which is extremely prevalent within South Asian communities due to deeply entrenched beauty norms, dating back to imperialist-typical racism in the British legislation and even pre-colonial decades. Refer to: my school dance teacher worrying aloud about putting me in the front line during a recital because my "rong" (complexion) was not "porishkar" ("clean"; as in, fair or light). Refer to even supposedly “progressive” movies and shows like Udta Punjab and The Family Man which used brownface on pale-skinned actresses for consciously perpetuating class stereotypes. In certain Indian linguistic systems at least, like my mother tongue Bengali, pale skin has often been linked to connotations of cleanliness and purity, carrying within itself an unmistakably casteist tone. I would strongly recommend researching the Varna (Varna literally translates to colour in Sanskrit) system of India, with emphasis on the way its implications have been codified into modern practices of Hinduism in India.
Finally, India as a country does not consist of a homogenous population of “brown people '', even though social media and fandom culture often tends to lump us into one mass, without taking into account that Indians can hail from a multitude of ethnicities.
Also, and I’m not being facetious here and am genuinely curious:
How do you intend to go about assigning our origin to clay when India itself has a varied topographic profile?
Would this indicate that the people hailing from the Deccan Plateau region would have a darker skin tone, owing to the black soil of that region (equating skin tone to the clay of origin)?
Suggested articles for reading:
Colourism and its connoations of class privilege in India
Colourism and Casteism in Bollywood and Indian media
Dark skin and prejudices in Indian marriages
Finally here is my ko-fi, because I always appreciate a tip.
As Black people aren't all assigned some magic / mythology culture by default, this is not erasure. That's definitely individual.
The clay thing is a bit... Interesting, not the worst thing (in my opinion) but not the best. There's definitely this direct comparison to dark skin and dirt when you have people made of earth, quite literally. Sometimes it's really how you put the spin on it if it becomes passable. I’ve addressed this in a couple questions comparing a Black person’s skin to dirt / soil / earth. There’s one way of doing it that is better than the other. Still - Black and Brown folks may not like it regardless so there is that risk due to the strong connotations to dirt and dark people being dirty, which in your case makes it literal (see the responses from my fellow mods).
I’d also like to know how non-Black and / or Brown people go about being created. If they’re singled out as being clay-made while white people are made out of moon dust and rivers and stars (which are basically free of ulterior connotations), then I’d absolutely take notice and would be adverse to BiPoc then, being made of clay.
It would feel dehumanizing and I'd rather you find an equally positive associated manner of origins. The sun is a start! In any case, just avoid food origins for the many reasons outlined in the skin color “POC and Food Comparisons” guide.
Dark skin / dirt comparisons
Skin comparisons to soil
I’d agree with what the other mods are saying and maybe review why clay. It’s not unheard of for African writers to use this motif; Lesley Nneka Arimah uses it in her short story “What We Bring At Home” when the protagonist wants a child and fashions one. The rub is that it’s a horror tale, so maybe consider your reason for paying homage to this, how you want the worldbuilding to affect the tone. Clay can come in different colors naturally from red in river clay and so forth. If you want to use the motif, it may be worth going beyond black, brown and white tones.
- Mod Jaya
Ask published Oct 2021
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Indian autistic trans lesbian estranged from her transphobic Hindu parents
Hello! Thank you for all you do! My MC is an Indian autistic trans lesbian who (rather happily) lives with her aunt and her non binary cousin because her Indian parents and brother refused to accept her as trans (she left to live w/ her aunt of her own volition and was not kicked out). They're generally okay people who're not bigoted, but they fell into the pit of 'I'm not okay with this bcs it's my own child' and the narrative of some trans women's parents where they're 'crying over their 'son's' empty grave'. They're not the villains of the tale in any way, just the background sad story of many queer ppl whose parents will probably never accept them and who have to cut ties with the parents for their own mental well-being. I'm comfortable writing the queer part of the narrative, but I'm afraid I might be falling into some racial stereotypes with unaccepting/judgemental brown parents- I have no plans to 'redeem' them (bcs it's the reality I wanna portray), but I'm still in the early stages of writing the story and if you think that might be an overdone/hurtful trope, I can change it.
There's also the matter of them being Hindu, whereas the MC is not (her aunt is, though), and the MC only having her aunt and enby cousin as a 'support system' (I know community is a big deal in Indian culture like it used to be here).
Am I unintentionally 'villainizing' Hinduism even though I have the very accepting Hindu aunt in the narrative and the parents aren't transphobic due to their religion (nor their culture, really)?
Should I give the MC more of a community and connect her with her 'wider' relatives, or is it ok to have her be happy w just her aunt/cousin/(Indian) friends?
(Her parents are first generation immigrants in a vagueishly American-inspired country so there isn't any relatives nearby). That q arises specifically from a worry that I'm cutting her off from her culture, which I don't want to do any further than her situation has already done (away from Indian relatives due to immigration v early in her life, estranged from parents)
is it enough to 'immerse' herself in her culture thru food/other customs and her relationship with her (also immigrant) aunt and Indian friends, or does she need more people in her life to share that culture with?
Additional context from op: I'm white, autistic and queer.
There is a lot to unpack here, and I admit that I can't answer every issue raised in this. Note that I am speaking as a very Americanized bisexual mod.
Trans people do exist in Hinduism; the discussion about interpretations and presence are rather common. For example, there are hijras, which is a term that can apply to people that are intersex, trans, asexual, or eunuchs. Some versions of The Ramayana have hijras waiting faithfully for the king Rama to return to his throne after fourteen years. It was British colonialism which started the trend towards anti-hijra law, and some of those biases have persisted to the present day.
(Reading: A Right to Exist: Eunuchs and the State in Nineteenth-Century India)
Some Hindu parents, even ones that give up the religion, are infamously close-minded and homophobic. I've come out to my family as bisexual three times, and my mother has remained in denial. She also doesn't know what the meaning of bisexual is, that I've put a label on myself. She tried starting several fights about it this summer, actually, and was talking about arranged marriages. This is just for bisexuality, mind, meaning that I can still marry a guy and appear to be conventional first generation. My mom is also not religious; she gave up her belief in God or gods when I was a child. Some stereotypes have a grain of truth to them because these kinds of parents exist and can be very hurtful.
WITH THAT SAID, the big question is what kind of story do you want to tell? Do you want it to be a coming of age where the MC has a supportive community, or one where she feels isolated due to coming out of the closet? There are LGBTQ people and interpretations in mythology, and yes Hinduism isn't necessarily vilified. The people that practice the religion will ultimately determine how they will interpret the texts, rituals, or beliefs.
As for staying connected with their community? That depends on the individual and how they feel is sufficiently immersive. There is no definite answer on what makes a person more "Indian" than not. Food can change with fusion cuisine and different ingredients, and people can too with the influences in their lives.
- Mod Jaya
Like Jaya said, there isn’t one answer on what defines someone as more “Indian” than someone else. Does living in the US diminish the worth of my Indian origin as compared to that of my family in India? Does it make me more “Indian” if I participate in more of the religious customs than they typically do? Does having friends from a variety of backgrounds make me less “Indian” as opposed to having mostly Desi friends? It’s a matter of personal interpretation and how much an individual wants to connect.
I’ve lived in a similar situation to what you described: one of my siblings and I are both openly queer, our parents are first generation immigrants, most of us actively practice Hinduism, though my sibling drifted away from it when they went to college. My family isn’t generally queerphobic, but they aren’t totally tolerant when it comes to the two of us. I’m not trans, and can’t speak for someone who is in a closer situation to what was described, but we’ve learned to live with it, mostly by not continuing to press the issue and letting them discover their views over time.
I don’t think that this scenario villainizes Hinduism; the measures you described for avoiding vilifying Hinduism seem well-balanced to me. I would suggest maybe not limiting some of the struggles the protag had to her parents, and discuss the community a little more. Even if the family is isolated from their relatives in India, there are enough Indian immigrants in the US currently that it’s probable for them to have a group of Desi families that they are social with. Unless this setting tends toward an earlier period, I would think that they’d at least have a few people they know whose beliefs would be similar to theirs. What I’ve found is that it’s easy to discuss queerness in an abstract sense, less so when one is confronted with it.
Wanting to incorporate community doesn’t have to mean just family--depending on the story you’re telling, you could, as I said previously, include family friends as a part of her struggle. Alternatively, you could give her a group of queer friends which includes other queer Desi people. You could do both, depending on how you structure your narrative.
About the aunt: I would be careful to make sure that she has distinct dimension and nuance beyond being supportive and Hindu. Even the most accepting people that I’ve known have struggled sometimes, and if she’s characterized as someone from an older generation, understanding and total acceptance of queerness usually doesn’t come naturally the way it tends to with younger generations, unless it has come through personal experience and/or exposure to queerness via education or social engagement.*
Is her neurodiversity also going to be a key point? I could see that combining with her queerness to be something you could address. Take this previous post (Neurodivergency and Desi Culture: Appropriate forms of Accomodation for Holi) I would do some research into different understandings of neurodivergency and its intersectionality with queerness, to ensure that this protag’s experience is representative of the groups she falls into.
*DISCLAIMER: This is what I’ve seen from the Desi adults I grew up around and how they reacted to me and my sibling being queer. This is not uniform or the only possible experience a young queer Desi person could have with their community.
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(1/2)I was one of the people asking about Muslim vampires, but going back and re-reading this blog, I’m better safe than sorry and I don’t need the character to be a vampire. That said, the character’s storyline takes place over several centuries (he was born in Lucero when it was still a primarily North African Muslim community in the 1280s and is alive in modern times. I can provide more info if need be.) What would make sense as a reason for a character to live that long that wasn’t haram?
(2/2) Everyone in the universe I’m writing in has some sort of fantastical or paranormal backstory so he wouldn’t be unusual in being immortal and/or long-living if that makes any difference.
Is an immortal North African Muslim haram?
Since I answered your other ask about vampires before reading this ask, I’ll provide you with more or less the part of the text that pertains to this question:
Death has a huge significance in Islam; death and the dead are sacred. There is no coming back from it […] Since living forever is, in Islam, one of Allah’s attributes, it can’t be a thing for any other living being, humans included. This, unless you give them an expiring date. And I mean – we believe that many Prophets, and subsequently, the people coexisting in their times, lived a lot of years. For example, Prophet Noah lived 900 years. And the life span of djinns (unseen creatures) is also much longer than that of humans. Your Muslim character can live 500 or 875 years if you want, just give an expiring date. Don’t make them completely immortal (which would be haram) because this life for a Muslim is just a walk, among other reasons.
After all, the reason you may have for your character to live that long is something for to sort out. It can be because they drank a poisonous beverage that altered the functioning of their organism or whatever thing you can come up with. I would suggest you beware of the reason and why. Don’t select the first idea that occurs to you. Analyze the other aspects of your character’s Muslim identity to see if the reason is valid or not.
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South Asian Seer / Fortune teller
I'm not sure if a dnd campaign qualifies as the type of writing you're interesting in helping with, but I feel I should disclose that that's what this is for. I'm wanting to include more diversity in my settings; would it be inappropriate to have a seer/fortune teller with a South Asian appearance? I'm not sure if this would end up being a "magical South Asian" stereotype as you've described before.
Hello! Speaking from the perspective of an Indian Hindu, here are my queries:
Does this campaign include other characters of colour, South Asians in particular? If yes, then that balances out the possibility of the Exotic Brown Woman trope.
Do the characters of other ethnicities also practise magic or exhibit fantastic/otherworldly abilities (I would assume so, seeing as it’s DnD)? Doesn’t necessarily have to be the gift of prophecy but if the story is peopled with magical creatures then the fortune teller wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Is she sexualised or made into the “temptress” in comparison with other characters? Is she likened to an animal frequently to describe her attractiveness or described in dehumanising terms to denote sex appeal (snake and wildcat imagery come to mind for South Asians.) If not, then the dangers of playing into such a trope are immediately reduced because what makes it harmful in the first place is not magic but the objectification of brown women.
Fortune telling is not permitted in several religions, so make sure you do your research before designing the character. While Jyotishya or Vedic astrology features prominently in the lives of practising Hindus (it is actually considered an essential tenement to Hindu rituals), fortune telling/astrology is forbidden in Islam and other religions. Also remember, that as with most other other things, Vedic astrology is interwoven with ideas of caste and the caste system. Ask yourself if you feel comfortable to undertake in-depth research about these topics while you are designing the character.
Is her magic depicted as a sort of primitive backwardness contrasted against progressive characters? (once again, not likely, but still an essential check) Is she a Guru Pathik from ATLA-esque prototype: the eccentric seer providing comic relief? That is the only case where her using magic can pose a problem. Refer to Parvati excelling at Divination in Harry Potter, a subject dismissed by most of the main characters as frivolous. Be respectful when portraying an ethnicity and a belief system that’s not yours.
Aside this, I don’t see an inherent problem with the usage of fortune telling by a South Asian; It’s a pretty booming business here in India, and my own feelings about it notwithstanding, divination and cosmology definitely forms a part of South Asian Hindu society.
Ask published Oct 2021
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I'm Chinese American and I was wondering what your east asian mods (and followers) think about non east asian writers using slurs when depicting racism against east asian characters.
I don't like it, but idk. When I come across slurs it's kinda uncomfortable and jarring. But I also get wanting accuracy. I've looked through your other posts on slurs, most regarding the n word, and the consensus seems to be "you don't need to, and it's triggering for your readers" but I'm wondering if there are any scenarios where it would be necessary for a writer to do, and how to tell.
It's one thing if the author is making money off of the work - but what about fanfiction? If they're writing it just for fun, and not profiting off of it, does that make it any different?
Also, I'm wondering if an AO3 tag like "period typical racism" feels sufficient for warning readers about slurs (I'm relatively new to ao3 so I'm not sure if it's my fault for reading fic with that tag that contains slurs lol). Especially when it comes to worlds that aren't our own, that might be based on a certain time or place but aren't exactly that time/place.
I understand that most people come to this blog for questions pertaining stories they're writing, and my question is more of something that I've just been debating in my head lately. So no pressure to answer if you don't want to. Either way, thank you for your time!
Using/Depicting Slurs Against East Asians in Writing
TW: Uncensored slur in third paragraph
Slurs should not be used for the sake of using them, or shock value. I’d strongly suggest censoring it, especially if you aren’t a member of that group. Readers will know what the word is. Content warnings should also be present.
However, censorship is not a substitute for critical analysis on why you want to include a slur and if it’s truly necessary.
Additionally, depending on the time period, terms we would consider “slurs” - or offensive - were commonly used or colloquial terms at the time. For example, during the 1900’s in the PNW and California, the colloquial term for Sikhs was “raghead” - something I now reclaim. There’s a news article from the 1920’s where the author interviews a Sikh family and that’s what she calls them in the title. Today, most people consider it a slur, or at the very least offensive and bigoted. In a historical context, I personally would not care if it was uncensored. If you’re attempting to demonstrate racism in a modern context, I think censorship is, at the very least, worth considering.
Regardless, power dynamics, privilege, and even personal experiences will affect the reactions. I tend to shy away from uncensored slurs, and if I do include them there’s a specific purpose, because my first experiences with racism involved hearing them used towards me. Others will see it differently and I think all perspectives are important to consider when writing.
Agreed. Huge emphasis on the appropriate content warnings.
With period typical racism, I do understand how going for historically accurate language will include slurs. However, I wouldn’t use slurs that are directed to groups that I’m not a part of, at all, coming from my own background as an East Asian. Nor would I feel comfortable about non-Asian authors using anti-East Asian slurs.
~ Mod Em
My opinions below are for the consideration of East Asian writers and how I view the issue as a person of E. Asian descent. I think non-East Asian writers may benefit from the information below, but I think this topic is still an intra-community issue and thus don’t yet have a personal stance for our user-base as a whole.
This is an interesting question and I think it depends on how one feels about safety and media. While I understand the utility of trigger warnings and censorship for some, I was not raised in an environment that prioritized either concept. I was also exposed to a lot of upsetting media on bigotry, injustice and genocide from a very young age. I don’t think I would understand everything that I do about racism, sexism, colonization, imperialism, oppression etc. or how to empathize with people from a wide variety of backgrounds if it weren’t for these experiences. It is hard to learn much about the things that repulse us, including slurs/ hate speech, from a distance. Which slur, and how a slur is used towards someone (and being Ambiguous Ethnic, I have had many slurs directed towards me) tell me a lot about the person using the slur, and that can be important information for a writer.
I am not in favor of gratuitous usage of slurs for shock value. This is lazy writing and only jarrs the reader from their immersion within the story. However, consider a story set in 1946 America with an East Asian protagonist. It would be odd if no slurs are employed against this character. With that in mind, here are 4 points to consider on using slurs when writing:
1. To Censor or Not to Censor
For modern sensibilities, perhaps we might opt to censor, but as SK says, censorship doesn’t make the audience less aware that a terrible thing was said. Personally, I think censorship also further sensationalizes words with powerful holds over us. I think the duration of these holds is overlong. I’d rather not live in fear of slurs, and I don’t want to encourage my readers to do so, either. So, I likely wouldn’t censor, but I would include trigger warnings at the start of the story (“This work contains period accurate usage of uncensored slurs”) .
2. Slur Usage in Context
Who and under what circumstance a slur is made, in my view, is a more important point of consideration than the slur itself; they reflect the user’s intrinsic bias or how the user wants the recipient to feel. Because it’s not just the slur: it’s what the slur represents. Lynchings, internments, racism, police brutality, exclusion, hate crimes, xenophobia, shame, all of it. Thus, I think the author should consider how to use slurs sparingly in ways that effectively communicate their point. Consider the following scenarios; which of them are better usages of slurs in the story?
Our protagonist is attacked by a hostile individual who uses a slur as a form of aggression
Our protagonist is yelled at by a normally quiet coworker/ classmate in a moment of anger
Our protagonist hears a friend or loved one use the slur in casual conversation when describing other individuals of the protagonists’ racial/ ethnic background.
This is a trick question. All are effective usage of slurs, but likely less so if they all happen within quick succession in the same story. However, each of them, on their own, tell us something about the characters around our protagonist, and the world they live in, and can be particularly enlightening to non-East Asian readers who trivialize slurs against East Asians. Consider a reader who reads scenario 1 and thinks “What an asshole!” Will this reader adequately recognize the harm in scenarios 2 or 3?
3. How does your character react?
Your ability as an author to show how the slur makes the protagonist feel will play a large role in how your reader will feel about the biases and prejudices communicated by that slur’s usage. It makes sense for our protagonist to be shocked/ scared in scenario 1. This helps the audience understand “That was not ok.” However, to make individuals who haven’t experienced a particular kind of prejudice (like slurs) understand why prejudice is insidious, your character’s reaction to scenarios like 2 and 3 must signal that they, too, are not ok. Doing so will bring even more obtuse readers to the “what an asshole!” reaction in scenarios 2 and 3. The slur users just happen to be assholes in different ways.
4. How do you show your protagonist coping?
This is key, and where I think authors who haven’t experienced hate speech on a regular basis often fail. Being on the receiving end of slurs necessitates the formation of coping skills, preferably healthy ones. Otherwise, readers from the background you are portraying are just going to feel stressed and drained, no matter how poignant your portrayal of dealing with discrimination is.
I remember my sibling once came home from nursery school crying. My mother asked them what was wrong, and they said someone called them a pig.
My mother asked, “Are you a pig?” They stopped crying abruptly and forcefully replied, “No!”
“Then you aren’t a pig”, my mother remarked, and went on preparing dinner.
My sibling credits that interaction with helping them deal with slurs and insults even into adulthood. By understanding that slurs are symbols meant to convey the idea of being “less”, they were able to cope by reminding themselves that they were not “less”.
Giving your character helpful, empowering coping skills helps strike the balance between the injustice of disrimination and hope.
I think the issue of when and how to use slurs runs deeper than content warnings and use/ don’t use. Showing how slurs affect characters in the moment can quickly communicate the fact that slurs are bad and should not be used in everyday life. At the same time, depicting coping skills can remind readers affected by slurs that their day doesn’t have to be ruined by assholes. I have neglected talking about slurs and intersectionality, because I think the feel of a slur changes immensely depending on whether the user is white versus non-white as well as the level of privilege they enjoy due to gender, class, etc. but that might be a discussion for another time.
Ask published Oct 2021
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Addressing colorism in Black community as an outsider
Would it be alright for me, as a white person, to address colorism within the Black community in my writing? One of my characters is a dark-skinned Black woman who is taunted by light-skinned classmates as a child. Is this just something I should not touch on at all seeing as I have never experienced it personally?
Rather than how Black people subject each other to colorism, it would be better in your case to acknowledge its existence and how white people unknowingly and knowingly perpetuate it. Colorism in the Black community is a very loaded subject and best left to someone who has experienced it first hand.
White Authors and Topics to Avoid/Tread Carefully
- Mod Norma
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Hi there! I've looked through your blog and I don't think this is a topic you've discussed, but if it is feel free to ignore this. I'm writing a story with a number of characters of colour, but my POV character is blind, so she wouldn't be able to describe their skin colour, or any other physical characteristics. I'm giving them names from their countries, but I feel like there is more that I should do?
Coding BiPoC from blind characters perspective
We’d like to open this question up to blind followers.
We do want to note that coding isn't just about physical appearance. For example, you could have cultural diversity, such as what you’re doing with the names.
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1/2 I'm considering making a group of religious nomads coded as Romani in my fantasy world, and I want to know if this is inherently problematic. They're priests/priestesses of Desperation, a goddess who provides aid to those in times of desperate need, and they travel around the land providing aid to the poor and anyone they see in need. They have a very positive reputation, such that they can walk through war zones unharmed and bandits are kind to them. This is partly out of spiritual respect
2/2 (your hour of desperate need could arrive any moment) and partly practical, as this could be the priest who is bringing supplies and essential medical equipment to your family back home. Because of how this group is portrayed in my world, they won't be facing prejudice at all similar to what Romani go through IRL. Is that disrespectful, or would Romani readers see it as a fun way of writing about people who look like them without loading the story down with pain that doesn't belong to me?
Rroma-coded nomadic people in fantasy
Honestly, I think it is inherently problematic to write Romani characters as nomadic. Romani people are not usually nomadic by choice; it is a very real issue that we face in many parts of the world. Often, Romani people travel either in search of seasonal work, or because they are driven out of our homes.
My advice would be to scrap the Romani identity of these religious nomads. It wouldn’t detract from your story at all, and it would remove a very problematic stereotype that is offensive to many Romani people. Obviously, there are some Roma who would not find this to be a problem, but I think it would be better to err on the side of caution in this instance.
Ask Published Oct 2021
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hi! when it comes to world building, what would do you do when you have something that affects the whole world but is problematic for a specific subset of people? for instance a virus that turns people into vampirism: would you say its better to find an alternate way for Muslim characters not to drink blood and say so explicitly, have them be immune to it, remove Muslim characters altogether so you don't face that problem, or smth else? thanks!
Vampires, Virus that affects whole world, & how Muslim [and Jewish] people factor into that
In the case of Muslims, it is tricky. Blood is absolutely forbidden. In extreme situations in which there is no other thing to eat, it becomes permissible, but only for survival reasons, which in this case does not apply. There is the possibility that you give your vampires a few things they may feed in, not just blood; for example, a chemical substance that would kill any ordinary being, or even oil, if you prefer a thick liquid.
The other complicated concept is vampirism. Now, death has a huge significance in Islam; death and the dead are sacred. There is no coming back from it; and the classical vampire is a, basically, living dead. In the story I am writing, I have creatures that are similar in almost every aspect to vampires, but since there is this point, I erased the part that they are living dead and just made up a different process for people to become vampire.
Also, since living forever is, in Islam, one of Allah’s attributes, it can’t be a thing for any other living being. This, unless you give them an expiring date. And I mean – we believe that many Prophets, and subsequently, the people coexisting in their times, lived a lot of years. For example, Prophet Noah lived 900 years. And the life span of djinns (unseen creatures) is also much longer than that of humans. Your Muslim vampires can live 500 years if you want, just give an expiring date.
After all this, I am in no authority to tell you what to do with your story, but in this situation, you can choose between removing your Muslim characters (which would be sad since there is almost no representation in that sub-genre) or make them have a different process of turning vampire, being “vegan” vampires and having an expiring date.
[Mod team note, we wanted to add a Jewish POV since its relevant here too]
From a Jewish perspective (since we also can't consume blood), this is a sticky one. On the one hand, it can be frustrating to be constantly left out of post-apocalyptic fiction, or sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction... literature, romance... really all of it. On the other hand, consumption of blood is forbidden religiously, often avoided culturally, and particularly tricky when you consider the long, violent history of blood-libel accusations (and the murders they often bring).
Covering this, at least for Jewish people, would require an incredibly delicate approach, and with the world's history with blood libel it probably would be inadvisable to try to tackle this as an outsider. Finding a way for us to not drink blood might be able to work, but you will want to be sure you don't step on other tropes to do it (government control, theft, being non-human etc), and get sensitivity readers during, and after writing.
ask published oct 2021
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I am writing a story in which a non-Jewish person is mourning their Jewish partner. How can the non-Jewish person respect the culture of their loved one without overstepping or appropriating something that does not belong to them? Due to a lot of extenuating circumstances, the non-Jewish person is unable to participate in mourning with the family of the departed and wants to honor their partner on their own while still respecting their partner's culture. Is there a way for them to do so? Most of the resources I have found address how a Jewish person can mourn a non-Jewish relative but I have struggled to find guidance for the reverse situation. Thank you!
Non-Jewish person mourning Jewish partner
There are various phrases we prefer to have said about us vs. other phrases which are more culturally Christian. Like… the gentile partner would not be using phrases about “they’re with Jesus now,” obviously. Also, “Rest in peace” is more Christian; we prefer BDE (Baruch dayan emet, not big dick energy, although if someone amazing dies I have seen jokes about that coincidence because we certainly love to laugh through tears in this here culture).
Basically don’t Christianize the mourning, unless it’s about the living person (like “Lord Jesus help me with my sadness” -- is that a real thing, lol I have no idea, anyway that’s obviously okay because it’s coming from the other person about themselves not talking about the one who died) but don’t Christianize the way you talk about the dead person bc that would be disrespectful.
Mourning rituals and participation
One mourning ritual a non-Jew can do on their own without being appropriative might include placing a pebble on the gravestone of their loved one: this is a practice that is expected at Jewish cemeteries no matter the religion of the visitor, so it’s not awkward for a non-Jew at all. I know lots of rabbis who have guided non-Jewish family members through participating with Jewish family members in the Jewish rituals that take place shortly after a death, but if your character is not able to be with their loved one’s Jewish family for the funeral or during the seven days following, it would not be appropriate to sit shiva on their own without Jewish participation.
On the other hand, another thing they could do is get involved with the Jewish family later: for the year following the death of an immediate relative (parent, sibling, child, or spouse), a Jewish person recites the Kaddish prayer daily (or weekly, depending on the community they belong to), so it’s fully reasonable for your character to show up and stand beside them while they recite it; that’s also a way for your character to be recognized by the community the Jewish family member prays with as being also a mourner, and so to receive the social support from that Jewish community without overstepping. Kaddish is also recited on the yahrzeit (the anniversary of the death on the Jewish calendar), so if your character has a strained relationship with their partner’s Jewish family, it could be a dramatic moment for them to stand lonely at the back of the synagogue and hear their loved one’s father recite the kaddish every year, and if they have a loving and supportive relationship it could be a moment of bonding every year when no matter where their lives have taken them they meet each year for your character to hear their loved one’s Jewish family say kaddish for them.
It’s a real shame that your mourner character can’t make it for the levayah and shiva, and I’m kind of curious as to what could be more important at that moment.
If there’s really no way they can make it, I do like the idea of them carrying out some shiva customs – as Meir says, not a whole service without Jewish participation, but specific things like
ripping an item of clothing
or sitting on the floor/a less comfortable chair
I think there’s potential there to really explore the messiness of grief through your character’s pursuit of traditions that are not their own.
What were they trying to feel by doing these actions, and what did they end up feeling?
Maybe they enjoyed partaking in Jewish customs with their partner before, so they rip a shirt trying to feel their presence again – but it just ends up feeling awkward and unnatural, like everything else when you’re grieving.
Or maybe they’ve been feeling guilty about how assimilated their partner had become while being with them, and they’re trying to relieve that guilt by showing enthusiasm for their partner’s culture – but they just end up feeling more guilty because it’s appropriative or it’s too little, too late?
This could be very realistic, while using the Jewish character’s culture to bring out that realism, which is a good thing.
The Jewish family and acceptance of their partner
The idea of attending synagogue to hear Kaddish is one I wanted to circle back to, because it highlights something that I don’t think you can avoid:
how do the Jewish family and community feel about the choice of partner?
Is your character comfortable walking into the synagogue?
Are they accepted?
As Meir touched upon, is their relationship with their partner’s family strained or supportive?
Jewish reactions to choices other than marrying within the faith are so varied that there’s no right way to portray this – but there are a couple of wrong ways.
If the other Jewish characters beside your mourner’s partner are extremely intolerant, judgemental and unwelcoming: this is of course insulting and cliché. Even more so if they’re written with no attempt to humanise them or show the thoughts and feelings behind these actions, or if their intolerance drives some of the conflict in the story.
Similarly, if everyone is totally cool with this and has zero misgivings: in my opinion you would end up with the same cliché. Sure, there are Jewish families who don’t mind whether their relatives marry in or do something else, but if all the characters feel this way, it would erase some of the complexity of Jewish life. Because there are also families who care deeply enough that they relocate their children to more Jewish areas just to ensure they marry in, when they’re still 10 or 20 years too young to get married. There are families who think they’re assimilated and don’t care, but are perplexed by their seemingly irrational feelings of grief when faced with a child marrying out. This is A Thing for us. To have 100% of your characters make it Not A Thing, would be like saying that is the ‘right’ way for Jews to be, and we’ll just ignore all the Jews who don’t feel this way, because they’re obviously wrong and only there to be the conflict in other people’s stories.
Mourning, like most things, is communal in Jewish life, which is why I don’t think you can avoid this. The family and the community will show up throughout the grieving process, and they will likely Have Opinions. It’s your decision as the author what those opinions are, but it’s something to handle with thought and sensitivity.
Ask published Oct 2021
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hi, one of the main/supporting characters of my fantasy novel (I'm still in the middle of plotting so I'm not sure yet whether I'll write from her POV or not) is appearance-wise inspired by Nepalese and other South Asian people. is giving her blue eyes problematic? she is by far not the only character of color (my protagonist is a black girl and I have more supporting characters of colors, also Asian inspired ones) and most of my characters have brown eyes anyways, but I wanted to check, seeing as I'm a white person. thank you in advance for your response :) (and if it is problematic, I'll change it, it's only a minor detail anyways)
Can my Nepalese and South Asian characters have blue eyes?
A couple of things to clarify here:
Other South Asian characters
Do you have more main/supporting brown-eyed characters of South-Asian descent specifically? Because, if that’s not the case, she might still work as an exoticized brown Other amidst East and South East Asian characters.
BIPOC with light eyes and exoticization
BIPOC women aren’t particularly singled out to be beautiful in mainstream fantasy media and most times their aesthetic is “improved” by Eurocentric features like light eyes and fair hair.
Zoya Nazyalensky from the Grisha Trilogy (coded as- and portrayed by -a woman of South Asian descent) is described as “beautiful” multiple times, but the fulcrum of her beauty is often her blue eyes, with the author turning her into a completely white-passing character in the final book, albeit harnessing her racial conflict for an uninspiring side-plot.
Esmeralda from Notre Dame (Disney)
Esmeralda from Disney’s adaptation of Notre Dame was a French girl with black eyes in the source material, but she is changed to a Romani character who is much more flirtatious and extroverted than her book counterpart and has emerald green eyes, whereas all her community has brown eyes.
Crowd of dark-eyed Romani people from Notre Dame (Disney)
When Sarah J. Maas is not busy killing off POC characters and calling them ugly or plain beside their white counterparts, she makes sure you know they have white hair and green flecks in their eyes which makes them somewhat more palatable.
In Avatar: The Last Airbender (itself fraught with depictions that have often not received the criticism they warrant), the Water tribes, who have noticeably darker skin, are all blue-eyed; waterbending and spirit magic effectively buffering the fact that the two sole dark skinned main female characters in the series have blue eyes. In fact, for a series that has earned so much acclaim for its depiction of Asian culture, Avatar barely has a single South Asian character (let alone brown-eyed) who is depicted with the same depth and nuance as the green/blue/golden eyed benders.
The point I’m trying to make here is that light eye colours are often used to connote beauty and uniqueness in characters of colour (often by white authors) with the underlying assumption that BIPOC look pretty much the same and so they need a Eurocentric qualifier to be truly appealing (Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha is a particularly appalling example).
Examine your own biases
Is there a narrative emphasis upon why this character’s eye colour has to be blue?
Perhaps they are on the run and their blue-eyed trait makes it difficult for them to mingle with their other South and East Asian companions?
Do they have a colour change while using magic (think the Twilight vampires’ eyes switching from gold to black, to reflect their hunger)?
I am guessing there isn’t, since you mentioned it’s a minor detail that can be easily removed.
If so, consider why you chose this eye colour in the first place. Examine your own possible internalised biases. Do you want to make your character more special and beautiful than the other Asian characters? Do you think that blue eyes are somehow more aesthetically appealing due to their rarity?
South Asians are not a monolith
Finally, remember this: South Asians are not a monolith, and while brown eyed people are the overwhelming majority, people with blue, green, hazel, grey and other light eye colours do exist, particularly among those of Sindhi/Kashmiri descent in India and Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan, the latter due to their shared inheritance (with the Europeans) of the the blue eye gene. Creating a blue eyed South Asian character is not inherently problematic. However, intentions do matter, and I highly recommend studying cases of the West’s extreme, almost voyeuristic fascination with real-life South Asian people having light eyes. Is it just a simple whimsical desire to appreciate beauty, or is it rooted in a more complicated past of colourism and featurism? I’ll leave these articles for further reference.
Pakistani tea seller lands modelling contract because of blue eyes
Why do so many A-list actresses in Bollywood have Eurocentric features?
What was the Western obsession with green eyed Afghan girl Sharbat Gula really about?
“Fun Facts about Disney’s Mulan” includes a whitewashed, blue-eyed redesign
Brown-eyed girl plugs in her ko-fi, thank you very much.
- Mod Mimi
Ask published Oct 2021
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I’m trying to figure out a good name for a character I’ve had for a few years, since I realized that her former name realistically it made no sense for her. She’s a Pakistani-American trans woman who’s grandparents immigrated to the US, and when she came out initially, her parents weren’t as supportive as she’d like, but later on they reconcile things and have a good relationship. They weren’t awful to her by any means because things have progressed a good deal in that world, but she still felt a bit let down.
What I’m stuck on is, would she choose a name that reflects her heritage, or would she choose a more abstract name, probably rooted in nature (a major interest of hers)? Or, would she possibly combine those, choosing a Punjabi word for a part of nature she appreciates and feels connected to? Any advice and criticism would be welcome.
Name For trans Pakistani American woman
Pakistani is a nationality. Is the character Punjabi? I doubt she’d choose a word from Punjabi if she isn’t - especially considering that the Punjabi language is stereotyped as rough and not pretty.
If her or her family is Muslim, look at Muslim names. They usually derive from Persian or Arabic and there’s some out there that have meanings tied to nature. Nasreen (rose) or Mahtab (moonlight) come to mind. Some Sikh names that have ties to nature are Gagan (sky) or Kiran (ray of light).
On the other hand, I’ve never met any South Asian person who was named for a common or random object (names such as Rock, Brick, or River) in their language, not by their parents or themselves. If the name is the same word as a colloquial word for an object in the language, it was typically established as a name in the past. For example, I’ve met people named Gulab which means rose. I have never met anyone named daria, the Punjabi word for river.
Ask originally published Oct 2021
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Reptilian humanoids and anti-semitism: part 2
Hello! Sorry if this is a bother. I’ve tried to google this, but I can’t find a clear answer, and I’d like some direct answers!!
I’m working on a fantasy world with different, non-human species. I am not going to include goblins simply because I know the origins are anti-semitic, and I don’t feel a need to include them at all. I was thinking of adding a draconic species and a humanoid repitilian species- both being the only species that can comfortably live in the desert areas (but can also live in other areas). But I’m unsure if humanoid reptile species are inherently anti-semitic.
I know conspiracies of “lizard people” are anti-semitic, and so I’m unsure if that extends to humanoid reptiles. They would just be an extra species in the world, so it won’t be a big deal at all to just erase them from the world if it is anti-semitic! Thank you so much!!! I really appreciate time taken to answer this.
I’m a little confused what the difference is between ‘lizard people’ and ‘humanoid reptiles’, because lizard people…. are theoretically humanoid reptiles, right?
I tried to think of other types. Are we talking Ninja Turtles? I don’t see any connection between any of the shelled reptiles and “lizard people” tropes because the shell makes such a big visual difference, and also because turtles have such a different symbolic connotation in Western culture than lizards/serpents/dragons – “slow” and maybe “noble” rather than creepy. So first of all, you’re fine going the Michelangelo Donatello etc. route, right off the bat.
All the other reptiles (lizards, gators – GO FLORIDA – snakes, dragons) I am going to direct you to our
“how to write a lizard person without accidentally evoking antisemitic tropes” post:
Please read it, but the short version is that if they are cute it helps, if they aren’t secretly trying to overthrow the government or infiltrate anything it helps, and I’d yellow-light certain stereotypically Jewish professions like lawyers (ESPECIALLY), doctors, and possibly tailors (that last one is outdated.)
Because you’re talking about the desert and we started out in the desert, there’s an extra layer of “hmm” to watch out about, so based on that alone, you might be safer making them more tortoiselike (tortoise rather than turtle because turtles need water I think?) than lizardlike in their reptilian configuration just to have one more point on the “not evoking the trope” side of the scale. And remember, positive/lovable portrayals go a long way toward making “did I accidentally make this group evoke X” not matter as much. Like, if it turned out that the Frog People from Mandalorian were us (I got no vibes of this; this is just an example) I’d not mind as much because they were &#@$ing adorable and I couldn’t stop squealing for the first five minutes of that first episode. Ask my sister.
Ask originally published Oct 2021
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Rromani women and jewelry
Hello! I wanted to ask about what kinds of jewelry Romani women would wear? I don't trust looking it up because I feel like a lot of jewelry creators try to capitalize on what people think Romani women wear, instead of accurate depictions. Thank you for your time!
This highly depends on the subgroup of Romani people and their location; some subgroups have adopted the local customs, and some have not. In general, gold is very important (as is silver, to a lesser extent), and many women wear gold necklaces and earrings. In some subgroups, gold coins are worn, especially by brides at their weddings.
It would help if you determine which subgroup of Romani people your character is, and where they are living. This will help you to figure out what their jewelry might look like. Also, many - if not most - Romani women wear “modern” jewelry nowadays, so you don’t have to feel like traditional jewelry is the only way to go.
- Mod Tess
Ask originally published October 2021
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Naming characters who are from Lesotho or are Peruvian Jewish
I'm planning a story were the main characters are girls from all over the world. However there are two characters who's names I'm not sure work. I've tried to look around the internet but all I find are babysites (who aren't reliable). I was wondering if you or any of your followers could say if these names sound realistic.
The names are: Puleng Pitso, a girl from Lesotho and Yael Nissim a jewish girl from Iquitos Peru. Does these names look like someone from those areas would have? In regards to the one from Peru, would a Spanish name be better?
I’d like to pass the Yael Nissim question over to South American Jewish followers (and hopefully, specifically Peruvian ones) to ensure you get the most accurate answer. Also, we didn’t have anyone on the mod team able to help with Lesotho so we’d appreciate feedback from followers from that background as well!
I know Nissim is a Sephardic name, which isn’t out of place in Peru but the majority of Peruvian Jews are Ashkenazim--as in the United States, Peru’s Jewish community was once majority Sephardic but accepted enough refugees in the 19th and 20th century to shift that balance. I’m not able to speak to the popularity of Yael as a first name there, so I’m seconding opening this question to any reader who might have more direct experience.
Ask originally published October 2021
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Iranian naming conventions
I have three major characters of Iranian descent. One was born and lived in Iran her whole life, one immigrated to the U.S. as a child, and the third is the American-raised daughter of the first and adoptive daughter of the second. I’ve done research on naming conventions in modern Iran, and what I’ve come away with is that it’s generally one or two given names, and a single surname.
Following that conclusion, I’ve named the characters:
and Sarah Rostami
Have I interpreted these naming conventions correctly? I also want to avoid giving them the Iranian equivalent of a Jane Doe name, so if I’ve done this please let me know.
I'm assuming your characters are Persian Iranians because you've picked mostly Persian names. With that in mind, these names look good to me. If we want to get nitpicky, the name you're thinking of for your third character is سارا in Persian which is closer to Sara (no h). But I'm sure there are women named سارا who spell their name with an h as that's more common in English, so if you prefer that spelling, it works as well.
I also want to note that while Persians are the majority, there are many other ethnic groups in Iran with their own unique names. If your characters are from a different ethnic background (such as Azeris, Kurds, Turks, or Arabs, to name just a few) you might want to change your name selection.
Ask originally published Oct 2021
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Hello! I have a character who is a black woman in the apocalypse. The thing is, she’s the only human left on the planet, and was raised by a couple of members of a species that is essentially sentient humanoid geckos. How do I go about this without suggesting that she’s animalistic?
Last human is Black woman, raised by non-humans (humanoid geckos)
Keep her in stark contrast with her humanoid companions. Emphasize the differences between the Black woman’s humanness vs. the humanoid geckos.
Even if she adapts some traits of the species that raised her, there are experiences that are entirely human that you can’t (and shouldn’t) attempt to scrub away.
physical features, voice
How she experiences emotions
Basic needs for diet, clothing, and shelter
Then there are things that the gecko humanoids might do that she could not and would be excluded from:
Shedding their skin
It’d be cool to see that, instead of her turning more animalistic to keep up and be like that, she used tools that help her, say stick to surfaces and climb.
And maybe she cuddles with her sleeping family at night during hibernation but otherwise her body does not adapt to do the same, and she keeps herself entertained in other ways or goes on mini-adventures.
She eats a normal human diet and doesn’t live off grubs and bugs.
I suggest playing up the things that make her human, even if her family are not.
Ask originally published October 2021
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