I didn't see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had "violet eyes").
Ooh, poor Daenerys.
I rarely think about the skin color of characters, mostly because I’m usually trying to come up with biological features to differentiate races. Lateral lines, glass instead of eyes, metallic spurs, that kind of thing. I only mention skin color when it serves to distinguish a particular species.
On the other hand, I don’t think I ever went out of my way to make sure any characters were clearly black, or obviously Far Eastern (though that’s partly because I don’t use Earth as a setting). Even in The Mark of Vurth, which is set in an Africa-esque land, I didn’t specify that anyone was black, although I had a blonde minor character.
There are probably several books where characters of color play supporting roles – Nenisi Conor in Suzy McKee Charnas’s Motherlines is the wise and beautiful (but non-exclusive) lover of the heroine. But I’m finding it difficult to think of books where the main characters are clearly black, Native American, Asian, Far Eastern, etc. The only ones which came to mind right away are Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed.
An old edition of the book has a beautiful cover painting which shows this. And the heroine of Kara Dalkey’s Goa is Indian.
So here are a couple of questions.
1. Should we make an effort to include characters of color in our work?
Personally, I can’t see myself doing this unless the story called for it. Partly because I believe we all pick what we want to show and promote in our work. Another writer may want to draw attention to the lack of minorities in fantasy and science fiction – and what better way than to write an excellent book where all the characters are people of color?*
But I’d rather portray science and technology in a positive way in my books. Even if I could do both, I know which issue I feel more strongly about, and if I included too many of the causes I support, the books would stop being fantasy stories and start being thinly veiled rhetoric.
It’s also going to be difficult, at best, to write characters of color into historical fantasy. Especially in a setting where such people were just not that common, they’re going to stand out. They’ll be noticed. Even today, there are groups which believe in the superiority of one race over another, so there may be even stronger sentiments in the past.
"Even now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe."
2. Would you like to see more characters of color in speculative fiction?
I must be colorblind, because I usually don’t even notice. Until I read a post which mentioned the lack of Chinese characters in the Chinese/American ‘verse of Firefly, it didn’t occur to me that there was such a deficiency, or that only one member of the cast was black. The show was just so good that I didn’t notice.
Though maybe that’s just me. Even though I’m an Asian who migrated to first the States and then Canada, the issue of skin color has never been an important one for me. My answer would be that I’d just like to see interesting and realistic characters – they can be green-skinned Orion slave girls as long as they have interesting personalities.
What do you think?
*I only realized the significance of this when I read The Tombs of Atuan. Towards the end, Ged tells Tenar that she will be known as the White Lady of Gont, and that’s when it dawned on me why he was specifying the “white” part. Until then, I’d barely registered the characters’ skin color.