Writing discrimination towards a fictional group? Anything to be aware of in regards to similarities to actual discrimination?

Right, so this might seem a little silly, but I thought I’d ask. I’ve been planning to write a story and I wanted to give it a sci-fi setting. A far future setting with multiple species in it.

A driving portion of the story if not the main part would revolve around the strong often violent discrimation that species other than humans would be subjected to. Again it might sound odd me asking as it’s a fictional setting using other species rather than real marginalised groups but I thought I’d ask if there is anything I should take into consideration or if there are pitfalls I should avoid?

I don’t want to make it seen like I’m using anything as an expy for real ongoing or past events in a story I write that could potentially offend.

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Personally, I think you will be good, just make a warning that this story contains subject of discrimination and that should be fine…

Restraining ourselves to not talk about some topics because they are tabou, does not make them go away.

I would say maybe choose the reason they are being discriminate for wisely, make sure it is related to the story and not just a banal reason like they are being discriminated because their head is round lol I don’t know…

A lot of discrimination comes from the stuff people don’t understand or that does not fit their standard or norms… If the reason they are being discriminated is relevant to their ways of living then… you should be good…Just my two cents lol

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I am by no means an expert on this subject, but from what I’ve seen in other works that handle discrimination of non-human races, one pitfall is that they try to assign a reason for discrimination. For maybe a lesser example, Dragon Age features the group of mages who are often discriminated against because of their magical capabilities—except there’s an arguably legitimate concern to put mages in “Circles” and whatnot, because magic does have an actual affect on other people. Real world discrimination and prejudice is inherently illogical, and victimized groups do not have some intrinsic danger to other races or sexes or whatever category you’re examining.

Another pitfall (in my opinion) is when authors try to compare their fictional racism or discrimination directly to a real world equivalent, like it’s something that can be written 1:1. I guess this could be done, but if it’s done poorly, it can be pretty bad. Again, not an expert, but I’d say at best you could consult with someone if you’re going to take inspiration from real world cultures, and at worst, just stay away from it.

These are just my thoughts, and I can’t speak for every person in every group of course. I’m also curious to see what others have to say in this thread.

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Wouldn’t it be hard not to give a reason for the discrimination? just asking what are your thought on this…

You think the writer can get away with just saying ah this group is being discriminate and not adding more details? lol I’m curious :slight_smile:

Or the movie Bright, where the orcs are a clear allegory for real world racism, but the reason they’re discriminated against is that the worked with the literal Evil Overlord, back in the olden days.

Discrimination is more about the one doing the discrimination, in-group/out-group mentality and scapegoating, than anything else.

In general, @Autumn19, as long as you make sure to not make it an expy for real world situations (as you note yourself), and make sure the discrimination isn’t somehow justified, you should be good.

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My main WIP is on a dystopian setting, and it has a lot of discrimination. What I do is that I make sure that it is blatantly clear that it’s wrong. Not necessarily meaning you have to put somewhere like “DON’T DO THIS. THIS IS WRONG,” but make sure that people get it. Don’t romanticize—unless that’s the point you’re trying to make. Put a trigger warning just to make sure.

Avoid putting discrimination just because it will spice up the story. But since it’s a big part of your story, I think you’ll be fine—hopefully. I’m not discouraging you, I’m just saying that it will be hard.

It’s a touchy and tricky subject, and readers might easily figure out that the author wants to address real life problems through fantasy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can easily get tasteless. I remember this video about Bright.

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Yeah, but such reasons are generally just made up stuff, to justify the actions of the opressor.

“Oh, these people are inherently less intelligent and more primitive and aggressive than us. So it’s better for them if we take over their land and show them how to behave, and make them live like us, and be our slaves.”

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Lol I agree with the illogic and made up part…but can us as writers, not give any reasons and get away with it …wouldn’t it leave the readers guessing ?

Or maybe it would be a new way to go about it in our writing…just establish that the group is being discriminated against and leave the readers guessing… lol that could work maybe.

I do actually, because as I said, discrimination is inherently illogical. I think a writer could easily pull of showing discrimination and never giving a reason; if anything, it would be a bit of a statement.

People have reasons to discriminate, but none of them are logical or good. You can write a reason, and as long as you acknowledge that reasons don’t actually justify discrimination, then that’s fine, but again I think fictional discrimination without a solid reason is realistic.

As The_Lady_Luck put it…

I would ask what do you think the readers gain from having a reason/a few reasons as to why this group is discriminated against. Perhaps you could argue insight into the culture, but there are better ways to flesh out world building without tying it down to something so hateful, and if discrimination is rooted more in scapegoating than the actual person or group being discriminated against, then the reasons you’re trying to give probably aren’t unique to your universe and won’t add things narratively.

I guess if you as a writer feel you have some very interesting reason for the discrimination to happen, then obviously you should include it, as it helps build your world and the groups within it. However, reasons for discrimination are all over the place, because they’re just ridiculous means to a horrible end; people will do incredible mental gymnastics to justify their hate.

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It could be a new take of the writer side… thanks for replying.

I think this has been discussed before. See, for instance, this topic:

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It is part of the human mind to question, to ask, to want to know the reasons why… that is what make us us…

I can see a reader commenting and said…yeah this group was being discriminate but the writer never mentioned why…lol…

Questioning everything and being curious is part of us…So I was leaning more toward the readers “needs” to know…less than the writer “justifying.the reasons”…maybe I did not explain myself well…

lol

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Just to add on, instead of looking for a “reason,” you could think in terms of historical power dynamics. Oppression will have a history behind it, but what it doesn’t have is a reasonable justification. Just being “the other” tends to be enough.
After all, real-world marginalized groups don’t actually have a reason to be discriminated against… but there is a history.

For that matter, just being a group can be enough. An interesting historical example that sprang to mind is the cagots of historical France. This was a minority group that was ethnically, religiously, culturally the same as everyone around them; the only thing distinguishing them was that they were known to be “cagots” and were therefore treated terribly. The article notes several theories for their historical origin, but no one really knows. There’s no reason to any of this.

It really doesn’t take much to get bigotry started.

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Thanks for the replies so far guys, I’ll take this stuff into consideration, not sure if I should move over to the other thread now. But just as a little context for what I had planned for the story, It could go one of two ways, I was thinking the MC could either themselves be human or one of these species of alien in the setting being oppressed.

Both would no doubt have to be written differently and with care but I’m wondering to myself how if I chose to have the MC be human, how I would write the element of discrimination seeing as how it wouldn’t affect them directly if that makes sense? It may seem inconsequential. I’m sure there is a way I could do it theoretically, I’m just a little concerned it may appear that it’s added for shock value.

Edit: I was thinking of adding a historical reasoning behind it, but as was mentioned, it would no longer be the case and would be illogical in the context.

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If you make the MC human, take care not to let them turn into the ‘white saviour’ trope.

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I’m not entirely sure if there is a ‘right’ answer and the “answer” (more like suggestion tbf) I have is really small or simple.

Give them a choice. When they see an NPC in the street or in the office or in the apartment complex or wherever being discriminated against, give them a choice to intervene and give them multiple choices for how they want to intervene.

If the MC is human they will probably never experience the discrimination the alien species’ face because of the fact that they’re not an alien and therefore won’t have those same prejudices and biases against them and that’s the way it is.

So give them a choice to intervene and chose how they want to intervene to confront that discrimination on their terms. Give them the opportunity to stand by the aliens, but not be a stand-in for the aliens in terms that they suddenly speak for the aliens if that makes sense.

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One other thing to consider with aliens that would be very different from racial discrimination is how it intersects with accessibility and even ableism. Being a different species, they will have a different baseline for their physical and even mental needs and capabilities. This will depend to some extent on just how alien they are, but it’s worth considering. Their senses are probably different, their diet’s certain to be different (can they eat Earth-based food at all?), they might be comfortable in different environmental conditions… their ideal equipment might be configured differently, they might have different mobility preferences. If society is largely built around an able-bodied human baseline, they may have some disadvantage in navigating this. And if their thought processes are at all different, they won’t be perceived as neurotypical. Facial expressions and body language are likely to be very different—they’re certainly not the same in different species just on Earth—they might have different sensitivities, learning styles, etc.

None of this is to copy the way ableism applies among humans, but it is worth considering how some of these issues might be applicable.

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My best advice would be to do your best not to tie it to any specific groups in real life. Even if you go in with the best intentions, it will inevitably fail. Rather, follow this process:

  1. Why are these people being marginalized?

  2. How are they being marginalized?

  3. What are they doing about it?

  4. What are other people doing about it?

Answer all of those questions, and you should be fine. Aside from bad writing (which I would hope you wouldn’t do), as long as you steer clear of allegory, you’re good to go.

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seriously is a fictitious universe, sincerely I don’t think we will have to do all this for a totally different universe. What space will people have for creativity if we censorship fictional races and cultures too?

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It’s not really censorship - at the end of the day, Autumn can write what they want to and take this advice or not! People are just offering advice for what they like, don’t like, and find in poor taste when it comes to writing about bigotry and discrimination since it’s a topic that affects a lot of people, and Autumn was thoughtful enough to ask.

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