Monday, June 21, 2010

Race and Society

So, maybe it is the sociologist in me but for today I want to continue the theme I started on Friday by talking about Gender and Society. Today I am going to talk about Race. First though, I am going to repeat my disclaimers. 1) This post is not intended to offend. 2) This is not a statement of opinion, but what I have observed. 3) None of this is an excuse to harass someone due to the race (or any reason) on an OOC level, and like with all my advice if someone is uncomfortable with it you need to stop it immediately. This is advice for a game, not me telling you to psychologically sucker punch your friends and players. Finally, in the further interests of keeping this from being offensive, while human races will be mentioned, for the most part I am going to talk about the Fantasy races (Elves, Dwarves, Humans) as opposed to them. That being said, lets begin.

Matters of Race seems to be something that many people in Table Top gaming, and even in the world of authors, tend to neglect. Now this could be from a desire to not wish to offend, but at the same time if you handle it properly you can give your game a real grounding in something tangible. Something that the players may balk at but still have to accept is there, or something that they can embrace and bring it into their role play to enrich everyone's gaming experience.  Now sometimes there are some differences in racial attitudes, elves are generally depicted as being haughty and arrogant looking down on the other races, dwarves as drinkers and more social creatures - at least with their own kind. But there are other aspects of it as well that can be used but aren't, even just small things. Now some people do use them, and that's great, but a lot of people, I've noticed, don't. So, lets look at a few common things that can come up when it comes to race relations.

All Y'all Look Alike
Everyone's heard it at some point. Someone can't tell the difference between a Chinese man and a Japanese man and points out as their defense that "All Asians look alike" or you mistake someone for someone else, and use the "you all look alike" defense. It's kind of a shallow line really, but it is also telling of part of how the brain works.

See, in most cases our brain will short circuit to the biggest difference between us and them. So that when I (a white male) sees someone of a different race, the first thing my brain will register is the difference in race. I describe Hannibal from the A-Team, and you get "A tall older man who enjoys smoking cigars" no mention of race, my brain barely registered it at all really. Now, I describe B.A. and you get "A large, angry black man". I italicized for emphasis there, but you see it right? The issue of race came into the description as soon as it was different. Jet Li? "a small Asian man" I didn't even get country in there, just short cut to Asian. The same happens for other races as well.

So how do you use it? Well think about it. How is that Elf going to describe the human rogue that robbed her? Details like hair color and height might be kept, but for truly distinguishing features it is going to come down to 'Human'. In times of real stress, that may be the only thing that ever gets through, making it much harder on the guards to get a proper ID on anyone. If they do catch someone, anyone, the likelihood of a false positive also increases because the Elf's brain, which can totally tell the difference between two elves who may even look remarkably similar is going to have a harder time over coming the hurdle of that one big difference, they're human.

You can also use this for more humorous things, having people play off mis-identifications simply because 'all of those humans/elves/dwarves look exactly alike. Just do keep in mind that people with an eye for detail may not have this problem, so the bigger NPCs in the game should not be affected. This is more a thing for the 'masses', or the average response from the average person.

Group Lumping
 Following on the heels of "All of you look alike" is the tendency for people in races to treat all members of another race alike. Now, this is not as common (thankfully) in today's world as it used to be, at least not in the North Eastern United States where I am, but it is still something that happens. It is where some stereotypes come from, and is also related to the same short circuiting I mentioned above in how "all of (race) look the same", only combined with our brain's seemingly natural desire to classify things in groups. Meaning that to a member of another race it could quickly cease being "Tom the Merchant is a cheating thief" to "all humans are cheating thieves".

The fact is that individuals in a race doesn't seem to matter except when you are consciously aware of, and fighting, this trend of the brain to do just that. After a while, sure, it will matter, but in the beginning? Nope. This can be something fun to keep in mind when the party enters a city that is run or made up of a race that is rare in their group. Problems that have already happened, or happen while they're there could be blamed on them simply because of that racial difference. This can happen with any group really (the town guard are all corrupt for example) but also is a real issue when it comes to race. It can also be a fun way to add a bit of challenge to a group, where people are not as helpful as they could be due to the actions of previous members of their race, grouping,or other classifications.

This can also work out to the groups favor in other areas, perhaps the Dwarven merchants think humans are easy marks, thus enabling the clever PC to get a much better deal than normal out of him. Or the actions of a few adventurers left the town with very good and open impressions towards their race. Some very dangerous adventurers have given the thieves and cut-throats of the Elven city pause when dealing with members of that race. It works in every direction it can, and there are some benefits that can be gleaned from it by being in the right place at the right time.

Like Attracts Like
There is a reason that numerous large cities across the United States have some variant on China Town or Little Asia in them. There is a reason that you have race heavy districts in every major city. Even coloration doesn't change this, as in a city you are just as likely to find the "Italian" section and the "Irish" section as you are to find a "white" section and a "black" section, even if to the members of the other races you wouldn't know the difference (see "All of you look alike" above :) ). The reason is that Like Attracts Like when it comes to living conditions, and even in other ways as well.

People of different races, creeds, and ethnicity will all band together into groups where they feel comfortable, and usually that comfort comes from being surrounded by people who are similar to them. Yes, there will be exceptions, there always will be those people who are happy living in a neighborhood where they stand out, but in general people band together. The feel this can generate can make moving from one area of a city to another feel like you changed planes of existence too, as the welcoming and friendliness of one gives way to the suspicion and wariness of the other, or vice versa, depending on the neighborhood's experiences with members of your group.

When the difference is more pronounced, and rare, (a lone dwarf strolling through the Elven district of a city for instance) people are going to notice. It is going to stand out, and where they went and who they spoke to may be called into question, or at least remembered a bit better than if they were someone that fit in just a little bit better. Now granted, this also depends on how common this mingling is in the city. If the only way for the Dwarves to get to some key building in the city is to walk through the Elven district, then it is going to be ignored a lot more than if the Dwarven and Elven districts are on opposite ends of the city.

Exotic or Hideous Differences
The last thing I'm going to talk about is interracial relationships. Yep, those. Now, there's nothing wrong with this at all in my opinion, but some people have issues with it. So the question then is, if there are issues when an Irish girl marries an Italian guy, and lets face it for all intents and purposes they're pretty similar (and I'm Irish saying this), why would it be all roses and honey when a human and elf get married?

Again, there are always going to be exceptions, but there are reasons simply beyond age differences for different races to not breed in fantasy worlds. Compatibility is seldom an issue (not touching that one) but what about other things? See, while some people would see the qualities another race has as exotic due to the differences, enthralled by the intensity of the passion the shorter lived human has or entranced by the grace the elf has mastered over centuries of life, others are going to be just as put off by them.

Honestly, I could probably do an entry or two on this topic alone (and I may), but take a moment to think about it. All the differences that can be there between the races. Why are there little to no Dwarf/Human or Dwarf/Elf relations in main stream fantasy? It is because by in large there are aspects of dwarves that as humans we just do not find appealing, or at least as appealing as we do with elves. There are more perceived differences between a Human and a Dwarf than an Elf and One, and so it doesn't come up as much. But there has to be someone out there who wants to (rule 34 of the internet almost guarantees this actually), or who has had, have a relationship with a dwarf.

One of the players in my Greymoore game has likened the possibility of a relationship with a party member not of their race (or anyone for that matter) with beastiality. The differences are just too great in his mind. He is still good friends with them, still likes them, but there is no potential for more than friendship because on a sexual level, even the elf girl with dangerous beauty, they are repulsive to him.

I think I am going to talk about this more tomorrow, continuing my string of sociological postings. So come back tomorrow for Sexuality and You I suppose.

Happy Gaming!

1 comment:

  1. I don't agree with your friend's interpretation of bestiality, although I can see where one may get that--Bestiality is an issue because an animal can't consent and by it's nature, it means to take advantage of an's not a relationship, it's how someone uses an object. Zoophilia is where someone loves an animal, but by societal definition, an animal is not a person (and again, can't consent), hence the medical term. Someone of a different race--despite physical differences--is still the same species, and still a "person" so to speak =3.

    The best analogy I can think of for races mixing is the breeding of 2 dog breeds together. On the outside a husky looks nothing like a dauschund, but if they were to breed they'd produce viable offspring with both traits. They're both genetically dogs, and while they might look different than either parent (or any other dog for that matter...those be some hairy, hairy hotdogs!), the offspring are healthy, fertile dogs too.

    Not the case with say, Ligers. Ligers are the result of two species, a male lion and a female tiger mating. They often die young, live painfully short lives due to immuno-comprimised systems and also suffer gigantism. They often kill the mother in childbirth and are rarely fertile. Their genetics are too different. If they were to magically spawn in the wild they wouldn't survive, and with them would die whatever trait drove a female tiger to mate with a male lion in the first place.

    I always just assume that dwarves, elves etc. are the same species, and the differences are mostly topical, just as with the different races of humans or breeds of dog. That also solves issue...though that doesn't solve if say...*something* is too big...