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

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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Uh… 1) I would say personally I wouldn’t like to see the option to make the MC bigoted because the thought of people getting attached to a character through which they act out, like, a racism fantasy or whatever makes me really uncomfortable LOL 2) Yeah as some people have said being able to play someone who doesn’t stand by when people are being treated badly because of Discrimination Reasons would be great! But the NPCs shouldn’t be, like… a creepy level of grateful where it seems like the MC is a “white saviour” (swooping in and helping people who can’t help themselves out of the kindness of their heart, Solving Bigotry for them, getting to speak for them, etc). Marginalised people can and do advocate for themselves, and often know much better than people who aren’t part of their class what is and is not good for them / a good idea for them to do. and 3) Keep in mind that marginalised people might react differently to their oppressors than to people like them! And that it’s… not the same as the other way around. Being wary of people who belong to your oppressor class makes sense; they’re probably bigoted even if they mean well, they definitely don’t understand your situation, and they’re often quite sensitive about it if it’s brought up. Even if it’s as small as “not immediately as open to a human MC as an alien MC” NPCs who are not human are likely to need a little persuading before they fully confide in a human MC (which doesn’t mean they can’t be friendly! But EG they might be nervous to talk about their experiences w/ discrimination at first)

Another really important aspect of this is how even when nobody in the room rabidly hates X Oppressed Group, they can still be bigoted, or behave in bigoted ways - and that can have far-reaching consequences. (like eg how the world IRL is built basically for people with full use of both legs, so a lot of it is inaccessible or accessible only with a lot of effort for people who use wheelchairs, or how medical research + education focuses on basically just white men which means women and people of colour get shafted because they and their doctors don’t know what to look for when it comes to diagnosing a lot of things. The classic examples are heart attacks in women and skin conditions/the way symptoms appear on darker skin) Obviously I’m not saying just copy-paste IRL discrimination onto your alien species but it’s worth thinking about? Like… the sort of thing the world won’t be equipped to handle / interested in accommodating.

(Actually if it helps there’s some really nice details in the Smoke & Velvet demo along these lines)

Sorry this got long huh :sob:

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I know, I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t drawing too close to any real life parallels, and if I were to draw close to certain real life events through the story, I just thought would that make people uncomfortable? I get the point you’re making though and I do agree, I was asking for a few pointers :blush:

@darling_stars
Thanks, but I do get the point @poison_mara was making, I don’t want to cause a division if I can avoid it haha. Don’t worry about the long post either, the more info the better really, I appreciate you taking the time to help out! :grin:

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I just want to make clear to people who are lurking around or with fear that If they will write something they will be accused or be racist or bigotry. That they can write fiction freely. Always they don’t put violence or illegal things as good. This type of threads tend to make people scare of writing

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Echoing a lot of what other people have said: if you avoid allegories and focus on how it would manifest in your world for your species rather than basing it off of a single manifestation of discrimination, you’re probably going to be fine!

I’m replying to some points below with more explicit explanations of why these specific practices are bad and get rightfully criticized:

Seconding this, but with more thoughts: There are going to be things in how the discrimination manifests that are going to be similar or informed by how real-world discrimination functions (like the things that @TSSL pointed out as being similar to how ableism manifests), because that is the nature of discrimination and how our brain understands concepts. By focusing on what features of discrimination are relevant for your species in your world and you will likely avoid avoid most of the pitfalls I am going to talk about below:

Part of the reason these allegories can come off as insensitive and bigoted is because they are usually done with non-human creatures being the marginalized people. When you make a 1:1 comparison between a human/non-human species and discrimination experienced by people of color or LGBT+ people, or disabled people, or neurodiversity people, etc. you are portraying these marginalized groups as…not being human.

Yes! This trope is bad for a couple of reasons:

  1. fundamentally conflates ‘discrimination’ with ‘consequences for doing bad things’ and ‘understandable mistrust’.

  2. because of how heavily saturated this is in modern media it perpetuates the idea that real-world discrimination has valid justifications. Oppressors like to come up with “reasons” why they don’t like xyz people but if there is a valid and justifiable reason…then it is not discrimination.

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ngl: i feel like,as a black person and trans person, its hard for writers to write fantasy discrimination in a way that doesnt suck. because more often than not,they’ll unintentionally give reasons for the group to be discriminated against,or take a rather middling role with the subject of discrimination,or have the discriminated group be genuinely dangerous which just reinforces discrimination, like for example the muggles in harry potter are just objectively worse than wizards. or they’ll where the people who are discriminated against literally are a different species than the normal majority race, which unintentionally calls back to actual justifications of irl discrimination that minorities are less than or not human. avoid that and maybe hire a writer of a minority group to do a sensitivity check if you can

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