Ethnic characters in comics

Discuss specific genres here. If your post fits into one of the subforums, post it there.

Ethnic characters in comics

Postby xX-DragonFairy-Xx » April 5th, 2014, 12:45 am

I dunno where to post this, but I figured here is just as good a place as any.

So I've been trying to write for some characters that are of various ethnic and religious groups, but I've been a little bit anxious about writing them at all due to my being a white, privileged middle class girl. I just don't feel qualified, I suppose.

I've been seeing other webcomics and comics getting a lot of criticism for having characters that people say represent a racist stereotype, and before I had read those comments I hadn't considered them a stereotype. Which kind of worries me, especially if I'm considering writing characters outside my own ethnic and religious group.

So, I guess my question is, how far does a character have to go to be considered representing a racist or stereotypical view? I don't really know how to go about asking this, but I thought I'd put it out there.
User avatar
xX-DragonFairy-Xx
 
Posts: 335
Joined: November 13th, 2012, 5:39 pm

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby zacksims123 » April 5th, 2014, 12:58 am

sorry, but no matter what you do, someone is going to be offended by what you do. *cough*tumblr*cough*
it's all about your morals in my opinion.
do you think this is racist?
then it's probably not. if someone says it is they may just be easily offended by the color black, I dunno.
it's like my friend Tony. you mention the color and he immediately states "that's racist."
i dunno. use your own judgement.
User avatar
zacksims123
 
Posts: 4
Joined: May 17th, 2013, 3:03 am

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby Angelfrost » April 5th, 2014, 1:05 am

Honestly the best thing you can do is research.
If you want to portray any sort of religious/ethnic group that you aren't super familiar with, then you've gotta read up on that group.
That way you'll know exactly what you're talking about, and as such, you'll be able to stay away from untrue stereotypes.
User avatar
Angelfrost
 
Posts: 2
Joined: March 30th, 2014, 10:52 pm

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby mikemacdee » April 5th, 2014, 1:36 am

I'd probably take the same route that I tell people to take when writing the "other gender."

Just write people. Make everything else an afterthought.

But do immerse yourself in other cultures anyway. Read about Black and Latino history. Read about the Stonewall Riots. Read about Asian and American-Indian actors versus Hollywood. Read about your own cultural heritage and see the kind of shit IT deals with (like people assuming they're all privileged).

zacksims123 wrote:it's all about your morals in my opinion.
do you think this is racist?
then it's probably not.


Image

"Eh, it's fine. Print it."
Image
User avatar
mikemacdee
 
Posts: 355
Joined: March 22nd, 2012, 4:59 am

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby eishiya » April 5th, 2014, 9:37 am

mikemacdee wrote:I'd probably take the same route that I tell people to take when writing the "other gender."

Just write people. Make everything else an afterthought.

But do immerse yourself in other cultures anyway. Read about Black and Latino history. Read about the Stonewall Riots. Read about Asian and American-Indian actors versus Hollywood. Read about your own cultural heritage and see the kind of shit IT deals with (like people assuming they're all privileged).

This, though "afterthought" is not the word I'd use.

Do not reduce your characters to their ethnicity/culture (or gender or subculture or whatever). Flesh them out as people. However, people's experiences shape their personalities and decisions, and their experiences are shaped by how other people treat them, which is in turn influenced by all those things. If you disregard this, you'll end up writing white middle-class people who just happen to have dark skin (or an accent or some other "informed" trait), which is the flipside of writing stereotypes. The only way to find that middle ground is to research. History is important to know, and personal experiences and reactions are just as important. Memoirs and Tumblr are great resources for the latter. Don't forget your friends, too. Many people would be glad to share their experiences and opinions but seldom do because they don't think anyone's interested.
Image
User avatar
eishiya
 
Posts: 9766
Joined: December 5th, 2009, 11:17 am

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby HwoThumb » April 5th, 2014, 12:21 pm

I think the easiest way to prevent people from accusing you of conforming your character to stereotypes is to reverse those stereotypes, lampshading it if necessary. Take those ethnic tropes the people expect and criticize and change them.

What are these characters that you're worried about?
Image
Yo, I made a game with lasers and spaceships and bounty hunters and conspiracies and teleporters and aliens.
I probably should have mentioned the aliens first.
User avatar
HwoThumb
 
Posts: 427
Joined: January 22nd, 2013, 10:36 pm

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby cloverthegreat » April 5th, 2014, 2:25 pm

HwoThumb wrote:I think the easiest way to prevent people from accusing you of conforming your character to stereotypes is to reverse those stereotypes, lampshading it if necessary. Take those ethnic tropes the people expect and criticize and change them.

What are these characters that you're worried about?


I would do the exact opposite of this. There are more than a few comic panels by ethnic minorities that talk specifically about this. Shut up, listen, and don't try to be clever because you'll just make an ass out of yourself.

This one is also about diversity in general, there are other panels like this.
cloverthegreat
 

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby eishiya » April 5th, 2014, 2:30 pm

HwoThumb wrote:I think the easiest way to prevent people from accusing you of conforming your character to stereotypes is to reverse those stereotypes, lampshading it if necessary. Take those ethnic tropes the people expect and criticize and change them.

What are these characters that you're worried about?

I have to agree with clover. What you are suggesting is still reducing the characters to caricatures, just of a different sort, which is just as problematic as making them into common stereotypes.
Image
User avatar
eishiya
 
Posts: 9766
Joined: December 5th, 2009, 11:17 am

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby robybang » April 5th, 2014, 2:40 pm

This video does a good job of discussing writing more diverse characters. Just swap out gender with race and woman with whatever, and it still works.
three wrote:
The_Hankerchief wrote:AHNOLD TSUNDERENEGGER

"AHL BE BAHCK... BUT NAHT BECAUSE I LIEK YOU OR ANYTHING."
User avatar
robybang
 
Posts: 3900
Joined: June 16th, 2008, 2:50 pm

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby mitchellbravo » April 5th, 2014, 2:42 pm

HwoThumb wrote:I think the easiest way to prevent people from accusing you of conforming your character to stereotypes is to reverse those stereotypes, lampshading it if necessary. Take those ethnic tropes the people expect and criticize and change them.

What are these characters that you're worried about?

That still requires *use* of the stereotype in some way, though, and can come across like dogwhistle racism in the hands of many writers. It has a lot of unpleasant unintended consequences, though I think the worst part is that it *still*, in trying to duck a racist stereotype, treats a character like a trope rather than a conceivable person. In some hands this could lead to accusations of racism or stereotypes anyway*.

Sometimes you want to write a story about characters of ethnicities/races other than "white" or "unspecified" or "alien-stand-in-for-minority-character" without making the story ABOUT race/ethnicity.


*Avoiding a stereotype is fine, but harping on the fact that you reversed the stereotype in-canon has a side effect of unintentionally suggesting that people in real life who fit the stereotype are somehow "less than" than people who DON'T fit the stereotype.
Consider people who write female characters who, in narrative, either brag about or are praised for how "non-girly" they are, for doing traditionally unfeminine things and being a tomboy- "not like other girls" whose pursuits are seen as shallow and dumb, and who are presented as stereotypical bimbos. Obviously there are a lot of women in real life who don't fit feminine stereotypes or even fit more masculine ones, but this doesn't mean women who DO fit the stereotype are shallow and dumb.
In trying to strike a blow against sexism, it ends up being sexist anyway. It rightly asserts that women don't always like or do the things they're culturally expected to, and rightly asserts that that's okay, but the pendulum swings too far and also implies that "It's not being a woman that's the problem; the problem is behaving like a [stereotypical] woman." There is still an inherent problem with an aspect of "femaleness."

I bring up this example because it's hard to think of where I've seen a race-version example. But it's kind of like when people say "Oh yeah, my friend's black. He's not like those OTHER black guys though, he's cool- he's like, white on the inside!" A writer who literally can't conceive of a way a black character can be "black on the inside" without resorting to uncomfortable stereotypes needs to do some research and preferably talk to actual black people IRL.

You don't want to avoid their race entirely because that seems like you're whitewashing everything about them aside from their actual skin, but focus on looking at it/researching it from a cultural angle rather than just a "skin color" one. How would growing up [race] in an area that's predominantly [other race] affect the character? How does the character feel about their own race, their race's place in society, and their individual place in society? What cultural traditions and expectations was the character raised with and how does this color (heh) their interactions with other people, both intra-racially and inter-racially?

Race doesn't always affect every aspect of a character's life- heck, most webcomics feature white characters who never acknowledge their own whiteness. If where the character lives is more of a homogenous area or a really mixed area where race is kind of treated as unimportant as the size shoe you're wearing, those are going to affect how the character views his/herself, how the character views everyone else, and how everyone else may view that character.


Like I said before, you don't have to make the story *about race* if that's not your intent. But don't ignore the race or it's going to come across as awkward to your readers. Research. Your character should not be a stereotype, nor some faultless beacon or role-model of the ideal [race] person. (Though the latter is less offensive than the former) If you feel uncomfortable with the character, that's a sign something's up, and you can run it by others to see what they think or do more of your own research to fix the issue that's making you feel uncomfortable.

Trust your instincts to some extent, but be wary of false-positives- things you think are okay but actually have bad implications.
oly: we draw stories about imaginary people
Image
Do not feet infants to honey under one year of age.
me: Posh, Baby, Sporty, and Scary Ham
robybang: Together they're Spiced Ham
User avatar
mitchellbravo
 
Posts: 6477
Joined: October 11th, 2010, 1:31 pm
Location: too tired

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby cloverthegreat » April 5th, 2014, 3:19 pm

Actually, I'm kinda on the other end of this. The main character in my comic is in the white part of a town that is still pretty segregated while not having a clue that racism still exists. The vast majority of white people think that slavery and segregation were really bad. We want it to be over, so we close our eyes and look away and hey, everything's fixed now! There's an increasingly complicated series of mental gymnastics that goes with that, and eventually you fall flat on your face or you stop listening and get really defensive to anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. There's a desperation in it, and I want my main character to go through that and eventually figure it out. I'm worried about being offensive with it, it's a lot harder to have a diverse cast in a very mostly white area, and I don't want to hit people over the head with it. I could probably drop the idea if I wanted- it's tricky to write about at best.
cloverthegreat
 

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby The_Hankerchief » April 5th, 2014, 7:16 pm

You're looking for two things if you want to want to properly write an ethnic character: accuracy and honesty.

For example, one of my comics has a Native American girl in it. Obviously, putting a feather on her head and calling it good ain't going to cut it. If you want people to believe your character, you need to do your homework. My character's parents are of differing tribes (Wasco and Paiute),, so that requires I research both tribes. I've learned that the Warm Springs reservation (where her family is from) is the historical territory of the Wasco tribe, while the Paiutes were brought there from further east by the Indian Relocation Act. They also speak a common language, Chinookan, a jargon developed between the tribes of the region and incoming white settlers as a means of communicating, some words of which are still used today, even by non-natives. It's also important to get the culture and dress of the period right. My story takes place in 2010, so while they may use traditional dress for ceremonial events and special occasions, the odds of seeing her in full beads and feathers is unlikely. However, some folks of a special cultural background may choose to wear a a small item or symbol of their heritage around.

The second half is honesty. Despite politicians' and school educators' best efforts to teach you otherwise, we do not live in a politically correct world, at all. Therefore, its important to take note of not only your character's cultural background, but the area that they live in and that background as well. Your character is going to be judged by their background. Some folks may be accepting, but realistically, for every one that does, there's at least one more that doesn't, possibly more if its a heavily prejudiced area. You need to consider how the character's background will fit in, and what additional challenges arise because of it.

Last but not least, don't let your character's ethnicity be a stand-in for your actual character. Just because you have an ethnic character doesn't mean that you don't have to develop the character as a person. Your character's identity should be supplemented by their ethnicity, not defined by it.
sanspants wrote:Man, I bet the NSA guys know where to find the best porn.

Sonic-ock wrote:I, the procrastination fairy, am glad to have been a positive influence on the community.
User avatar
The_Hankerchief
 
Posts: 4028
Joined: September 2nd, 2010, 1:59 am
Location: (Insert Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere")

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby Merone » April 5th, 2014, 8:49 pm

Does the racial or religious background play a large role in the plot or their actions?

I am in a visible minority group, but I try to keep my cast diverse as possible. Just like any characters, their personality and background influence the way they act, so the race is only a small part in who they are. The environment plays a huge role in it as well. If we are talking about a 'ghetto' area, the first impression will obviously be that the characters would talk tough and do some bad stuff. But characters are never shallow. Go in deeper and see if they actually are like that. I know quite a few people who give the appearance they'd shoot you the second you piss them off, but they too have dreams, ambitions, friends and play Pokemon!

There's no way around falling into tropes and stereotype (the same happens with other archetypes too, right?). The best you can do is research, read stories of different groups to get an appreciation of the diversity, and use what you learned to add to the finer details. For example, your female character may be a tomboy who loves to play volleyball, but she could also be muslim, so she'd wear her hijab when playing in the gym (I know someone like that :P!).
Image
User avatar
Merone
 
Posts: 96
Joined: September 19th, 2013, 9:06 pm

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby Loverofpiggies » April 5th, 2014, 9:27 pm

I haven't had that problem with my comic, but then again I did build my own universe with its own cultures and whatnot.

I think the major MAJOR thing, is to treat all your characters as people. Don't get paranoid when making a minority character, just make one. Build them like you would any other character. Now if you're going to delve especially into different cultures, definitely do your research. But overall I think the major important thing to remember is people are people despite race, gender, ethnicity, ect ect, so first and foremost flesh them out and treat them like they are: people. Even a bunch of people from a similar culture have significantly different personalities and behaviors, and that variety and depth of character is what people are hoping for, at least in my opinion.
User avatar
Loverofpiggies
 
Posts: 1344
Joined: June 22nd, 2007, 11:01 pm

Re: Ethnic characters in comics

Postby LeeWiddershins » June 15th, 2014, 10:37 pm

I don't think anyone's mentioned this yet, and it's good to keep in mind if you're worried about perpetuating racist stereotypes or being accused of racism. If you have one character of a certain race/ethnicity, make more. This may seem daunting, but if you've already done the research and you have the character in mind then it doesn't have to be difficult. Having multiple ethnic characters who have distinct personalities will influence the way your audience perceives those characters. It shows that, even if you use traits that someone considers stereotypical, you understand that not all people of that race/ethnicity share those traits. It also helps avoid the problem of one type of character consistently filling one kind of role. So if you have a villainous character, create a heroic character, etc. Tokenism is a great way to accidentally alienate people despite trying to be diverse, because it can give the impression that only certain people with acceptable traits are worthy of inclusion.
Image
User avatar
LeeWiddershins
 
Posts: 8
Joined: May 1st, 2014, 1:57 pm
Location: New England

Next

Return to Genre-Specific Discussion

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests