Five Tips for Telling Stories of Resistance

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In a time when oppression is more visible than ever,* many authors wish to pen stories of resistance. They are inspired by films like Rogue One and novels like Marie Lu’s Legend, stories where the characters stand up to the evils of power. Such stories are enjoyable to read or watch and critical for inspiring people to resist the oppression they see in real life.

But these stories must be told carefully, especially by those of us who enjoy a lot of privilege. We must make sure we aren’t doing more harm than good. Here are a few tips that will get you on the right track.

1. Understand Who Has the Power

The cast from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them In Fantastic Beasts, wizards fear persecution from muggles even though wizards have all the power.

In real life, oppression flows from those with more power to those with less power; aristocrats oppress peasants, the rich oppress the poor, etc. Once in a while, the people will rise up and introduce their overlords to the guillotine, but such instances are rare. It’s not that rich aristocrats are inherently worse people than poor peasants, but only one of them has the capacity to oppress the other.

This sounds straightforward enough, but it’s easy to get mixed up in speculative fiction, especially when supernatural powers are involved. Spec fic authors love to tell stories of characters who are persecuted for their abilities. Witch hunts are especially popular, often inspired by historical witch hunts.

The problem is that if people actually had magical abilities, persecution wouldn’t follow; privilege would. Magic is a form of power, and it’s rare that powerful people are oppressed. If nothing else, it’s hard to oppress someone who can shoot fire out of their hands. The victims of real witch hunts didn’t have fireballs and magic missiles at their disposal. These victims were almost always chosen because of religious or political feuds, and the label of “witch” was used as a moral justification for murder.

When storytellers misunderstand the dynamics of power, it feeds misconceptions people have about who is really oppressed. When privileged people falsely believe they are the victims of oppression, they lash out at those without the power to protect themselves. We see this when men get angry at all-women showings of Wonder Woman or when white folk go on racist tirades because a Black Lives Matter protest has blocked traffic.

None of this means an oppressed character can’t have magical powers, just that those powers should not be the primary source of their oppression. Instead of making your mage-protagonist the target of a witch hunt, they might be captured by a conquering army and forced to serve as a magical battery for the invading wizards. The character’s magic remains relevant, but they are primarily oppressed because they are from a subjugated country.

2. When in Doubt, Use a Parallel

Cover art from The Black Powder War The Temeraire books use the treatment of dragons as a parallel for how humans treat each other.

In order to tell a story of resistance, there must be something for the characters to resist. When looking for inspiration, it’s tempting to pick something from the endless cavalcade of oppression going on in real life. Police brutality against people of color is a huge problem, so why not tell a story about it?

The problem with using oppressive situations from real life is that those scenarios are not abstract or removed for many people. If your story employs police violence as a plot point, then it touches on the very real tragedies experienced by the black community. The stakes for getting everything right are set very high.

That doesn’t mean real-life oppression should never be used in stories, but it should usually be reserved for people affected by it. When someone without the personal experience of a given oppression writes about it, they’re more likely to make a mistake, which can traumatize the victims all over again.

Even if no mistakes are made, we must leave room for people to tell their own stories whenever possible. When white authors write about real-world racism, they risk drowning out the black authors. The same is true for male authors writing about sexism, straight authors writing about homophobia, and so on.

Fortunately, in speculative fiction, using parallels for real-world oppression is easy. This puts some distance between the story and the audience, so any mistakes are less likely to inflict more trauma on oppressed groups. If a white author, like me, wants to write about police violence, they could envision a fantasy world where humans are a minority within elven cities. The elves view humans as inherently violent; how can such short-lived creatures have a true appreciation for the value of life? This bigoted belief leads many elven officers to fear humans and use extreme force over trivial offenses.

So long as the story is well told, a parallel can have just as powerful a message as the real thing. Sometimes the message will be even more effective, as it can sneak past people’s knee-jerk reactions and make them think.

3. Always Punch Up

In Fables’ The Farm, the oppressed animal-fables are blamed when violence erupts over their treatment.

Telling a story of resistance means taking a stand on the side of justice. It means speaking truth to power, poking authority in the eye, and standing up for the marginalized. Collectively, this is referred to as “punching up.” Conversely, a story that makes fun of people who are already downtrodden is “punching down.”

Almost no one sets out to punch down in their stories, but it’s easy to stumble into it by accident. After the 2016 American presidential election, it would be perfectly understandable for progressive, urban authors to write a story about the rural poor sweeping a bigoted demagogue into power. However, writing a story like this would ignore how much bigotry in this country comes from people who bring in a respectable income.

We Americans have the idea that racism primarily comes from uneducated folks who speak with a thick southern accent, because it’s comforting to imagine that bigots are so easy to identify. In fact, racism, overt or otherwise, can be found in nearly every demographic. Though plenty of impoverished white people are racist, it’s our own biases that make them the default image for racism.

Punching down is a problem for any type of story, but it’s doubly serious when telling a story of resistance. If we don’t consider who our stories are aimed at, we’re not resisting – we’re just adding to the problem.

If an author wishes to use the 2016 election as fodder for a story, it would behoove them to include bigoted voters from all income groups. Not only is that a more accurate reflection of what actually happened, but it also avoids the trap of punching down on people in disadvantaged circumstances.

4. Prioritize the Oppressed

Two Navi from Avatar. Avatar focuses on a how what the Navi really needed was a white human to save them.

If we’re to tell stories of resistance, it’s vital to focus on those who must resist. Too often, stories will emphasize a character who deigns to step down from their place of privilege and take up the mantle of resistance in the name of some helpless victims. Bonus points if the character becomes better at the oppressed people’s prized tradition than they are.

You may recognize this as the white savior trope. In the trope’s purest form, a white man joins a group of natives, learning their ways and mastering their ancestral skills in no time. He’ll then lead them into battle against other white men, and because he’s so cool, the natives will triumph. Sometimes the natives are blue cat-people.

Writers tend to fall back on the savior trope for two main reasons. First, we instinctively write what we know, so it’s easier to make the main character as much like us as possible. Second, if a resistance is going to be successful, something needs to change. If the natives could successfully resist their attackers from the start, there wouldn’t be much of a story; they’d just do it. Fortunately, both these issues can be overcome.

To deal with the first issue, authors simply need practice writing characters that aren’t like them. Speculative fiction worlds are a great place to work on this skill, because if you mess up, the worst result will be an alien character who seems like they were raised on Earth.* The second issue is easier. When building your world, remember that no group is static. If a small nation finds itself beset by enemies with advanced weapons, they might send their best mind to learn the weapons’ secrets. Or a lucky soldier might capture an enemy weapon and turn it on the invaders. Either way, there’s your protagonist.

If a story about resistance isn’t prioritizing the oppressed, then it’s not doing its job. A critical role of resistance narratives is empowering folks to act in real life, so it behooves us to make sure our stories are empowering the right people.

5. Don’t Erase Real Groups

X-Men 2 borrows heavily from the gay rights movement but has no gay characters.

All right, you’ve got a story of resistance ready to go. You’re retelling the story of Haitian Revolution against the French Empire, but you’re using a fantasy parallel of dwarven slaves rebelling against their elven masters. This is a great plan, but there’s still a way this could go terribly wrong: the dwarves could all be white.

This is a recurring issue with resistance narratives. Many authors find themselves inspired by real acts of resistance, but their stories all too often lack the very people who performed those acts. Diversity is important in any story, but it’s especially important in stories inspired by the struggles of real people. For the example above, Haiti’s revolution was fought almost exclusively by black slaves, so not including black characters would feel like a massive act of erasure.

At first glance, this might seem like a reason not to use parallels, but all it really means is that authors need some extra awareness. Representation doesn’t need to be an exact one to one ratio, but it should hold across broad strokes. The leader of your dwarves shouldn’t be a carbon copy of Toussaint Louverture; that would be so heavy-handed as to seem comical. Instead, your dwarves should have a range of skin tones, with several of the most important characters being clearly black. That way, it’s clear you’re respectfully drawing inspiration from a real-life struggle, not appropriating it.

If your story isn’t directly inspired by real-life events, the pressure to include marginalized groups isn’t as high, but you should still do it. In a world of patriarchy and white supremacy, simply having a diverse cast is a minor act of resistance. It normalizes the people who too often get left out of fiction and chips away at the idea that they are somehow “other.”

Telling stories of resistance is a long-term investment. Even the most beautifully written story won’t change the world in a day. But do not mistake subtlety for weakness. The stories people tell affect what they think is possible and acceptable. If we storytellers work together, we can change our culture at its roots.

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  1. Cay Reet

    Thanks for the great post.

    Just one thing I find a little unrealistic about your examples: a minority of humans in an elven city. Given the speed at which humans grow to adulthood and the speed at which they reproduce, there’s no way the elves could outdo them at it. The longer a species lives, the longer it takes until they reproduce and the less offspring they produce in a given time-frame. Elves could certainly oppress humans, since they have longer lives, more knowledge and, in most settings, superior magic. They would, however, oppress humans while being a minority (pretty much like aristocrats).

    Apart from that, the post was spot on.

    • Dave L

      Such an elf-dominated realm could be similar to Apartheid in South Africa between 1948 and 1991.

      • Leon

        About the Dwarves; if Dwarves evolved into Dwarves through living under ground, they will all be fair skinned, because they will need to absorb as much sunlight as possible whenever they are above ground.
        If Dwarves mostly lived above ground for enough generations in a variety of climates, they will have a variety of skin colours.

        • Cay Reet

          I’m not saying you’re not on to something, but why would dwarves have to absorb sunlight when above ground? Much more likely would be for them to be extremely sensitive to bright light (sun or ortherwise), because that would be a way to see better in low-light situations underground. (Unless you go with the Artemis Fowl approach and say they use their beards and hair as sensors during tunnelling, but even those dwarves don’t like light much.)

          Vitamin D can be produced easily by humans through the sun on the skin, but species going for underground living for a long time would have to develop other ways to get it, otherwise they couldn’t survive.

          • Leon

            This is assuming that dwarves are primates. And also assuming that fundimental changes to the chemical processes that keep us alive will be more complicated and take longer to manifest than changes to height, bone density and muscle mass.
            Thought, for all i know the later could require more mutations than the former.
            Supliments may also prevent adaptations from evolving.

  2. Dave L

    A third reason for bringing in a “savior” from the outside:

    Similar to “outsider visits a strange land” stories, such as Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, etc.

    The reader is brought into this strange magical world through the pov of an outside character, someone from our world, someone to whom the reader can relate, allowing the writer to explain all the strange magical stuff to someone who wouldn’t be familiar w/ it.

    Only in this case, the outsider sees oppression, and fights it.

    • Alverant

      “Only in this case, the outsider sees oppression, and fights it.”
      Fighting it, great!
      Leading it, not so great.
      I think that’s the point the author was trying to make.

      • Cay Reet

        Yup, there’s a big difference between joining a fight and leading it.

        • Dave L

          In extreme cases, the outsider is the one who STARTS the revolution in the first place.

          Of course, we run into a problem. The outsider makes for a good MC (main character), and the MC SHOULD be the one making all the big decisions (, but do so can marginalize the ones who are actually oppressed

      • Yora

        In The Last Samurai you have a white American man going to Japan to have an adventure with a group of natives that rebells against a forced change to their way of life. (Though in reality the Rebellion was all about political power and retaining previlege.) But he is not the hero at the head of the Rebellion. He is merely an observer who tries to help but does not meaningfully affect the coure of events.
        His story is not about being a foreigner who leads a native rebellion, but about gaining a different perspective on his own identity and culture.

        • Daedalus

          That’s problematic too, though – using the entire struggle of a different people as a backdrop for the white person’s journey

  3. SunlessNick

    Punching down is a problem for any type of story, but it’s doubly serious when telling a story of resistance.

    One thing I’ve noticed about fantasy bigotry – be it against aliens or supernaturals or robots, or against artificial humans or clones, or from humaniform nonhumans against humans – is Hollywood *loves* making the bigot black.

    If a story about resistance isn’t prioritizing the oppressed, then it’s not doing its job.

    This is one of the many reasons I love Orphan Black. It’s firmly about the women suffering the persecution. Most series would have had the protagonists be characters like Paul or Art, or just made the clones men despite its themes being more relevant to women in every way.

    • Laura Ess

      The flip side to that is the “black guy dies first” syndrome (substitute gay/queer/minority as needed). Token representation is given in the story, but they’re the first to die in battle.

  4. Laura Ess

    “Instead of making your mage-protagonist the target of a witch hunt, they might be captured by a conquering army and forced to serve as a magical battery for the invading wizards.”

    Heh, I thought of “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” when reading this (I’ve only ever seen the mini series). Strange goes off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, as a a patriotic English magician. Norrell conversely stays home , desperately trying to improve the reputation of “ENGLISH MAGIC”, but without doing any! And while Strange succeeds in his magics, it comes at a terrible cost. The demands of war outstripped what he could afford to do.

    Perhaps though magicians might be oppressed because their magic isn’t reliable, and using it makes them loose canons. That would explain why they aren’t in power.

    • SunlessNick

      Dragon Age does that fairly well. Mages are vulnerable to demonic possession (and demons are objectively real), so those who want to curtail their freedom start with arguments that win the cooperation of a fair proportion of mages – and it helps that the quasi prisons* the mages are kept in are luxurious by the standards of what most people are used to.

      * One part prison, one part sanctuary, one part centre of scholarship – which part is biggest varies from place to place.

      The other thing is does well is showcase a very wide range of perspectives on the system, both from mages and the religious knights who guard them.

      • Yora

        That goes into a similar direction to what I wrote in my comment below. Even though they are victims they participate in the system of oppression to get favors from the oppressors.
        Which is why you get the totally insane plan at the end of Dragon Age 2. Which still makes a twisted kind of sense.

  5. Yora

    Regarding number four, as a German I think that there is a space for stories about individuals from the oppressing group turning against the system of oppression. Because in some cases, and Germany had two in its recent history, there actually is a hierarchy of oppression. Those at the top can pressure those in thee middle to oppress those at the bottom.
    The cultural and historical consensus that has emerged in Germany is that the majority of the German population is guilty of the crime of not resisting the true hardcore Nazis at the top and instead at least tollerating or passively supporting the worse oppression and genocide of those at the bottom. In East Germany you have the situation that there isn’t any genocide going on, but there was a complex system of forcing people to participate in the hunt and oppression of dissidents, even if they were not commited communists themselves. A common excuse was that they were not given a choice. But they had a choice and chose to participate in the murder of others instead of risking their jobs and a few weeks in prison.
    You could also argue that the racist poor are unknowing pawns of the racist rich.

    So I think that there is a place for stories about oppressors revolting against the system. But the key is to make their stories about freeing themselves from their own opression and refusing to be made into a supporter of an even bigger crime. Not about saving those who are even lower down at the bottom of the hierarchy. Because then you’re right back at the Great, usually White, Savior.

    • Cay Reet

      Hi, another German here.

      You will usually find that those who revolt against an oppressive system from inside (as with Germans during the Third Reich or the GDR in Eastern Germany) come from a background which clashes with the ideals of the oppressive group as a such. They are considered part of that group through birth or other factors (having the right bloodline was good enough to be left alone in the Third Reich), but their upbringing or belief system doesn’t allow for them to just sit by, let alone take part. You’ll see that with Stauffenberg and his group (all of them had a strong background in humanism which must crash with the Nazi ideals) and with people with a strong Christian background in the GDR (where religion was considered ‘bad,’ but couldn’t be stomped out by force, even though it wasn’t socialist or even communist).

      Sometimes personal factors play into it (your lover/spouse getting killed or locked away for being ‘unworthy’ in the system, as with several people who were married to a person considered a Jew by the laws). Sometimes there’s a ‘wake-up call’ from seeing something you feel is utterly atrocious (like a regular soldier being forced to watch or even participate in the execution of innocent civilians).

      Those people also usually join a fight, they don’t start it up, they don’t necessarily lead it. Stauffenberg was part of a small group of officers who had decided that for the good of Germany Hitler had to die (they failed, because sometimes the direct way is better). Many people in Germany (both during the Third Reich or the GDR) worked low-key, undermining the system and helping the oppressed without sticking their heads out too far.

      You will also rarely find an active oppressor changing their ways in history. Usually it’s people considered part of the group but not actively into oppressing who change sides and fight with the oppressed. Stauffenberg, to get back to that example, was a soldier, he was not SS. Military was part of the package, but they were essentially only following orders and usually not used for the real atrocities (that was what the SS did). Soldiers surely did their part in destroying a lot of enemy territory and they did attack civilians in the way it’s always been done in modern warfare (read: ever since bombs and other far-reaching explosives became a thing), but they were rarely called upon killing the Jews of a taken town or executing a village for a few rebels fighting back. And for good reason: the last thing the Nazis wanted was rebellious forces inside the military.

  6. roystgnr

    The libel that wealth is evidence of evil has been used to excuse the most bloody cases of oppression in history, and not just the Holocaust of Ashkenazi Jews. Rwandan Hutu leaders used Tutsi economic dominance to motivate their genocide. The Kulaks’ affluence proved to Soviets that they deserved the Holodomor. Mao likewise exacerbated his own famine with “hoarding” and “profiteering” charges, then exiled privileged urban youth “down to the countryside” in the years to follow.

    This is not “rare”, this is “tens of millions of victims of some of the largest mass murders in human history”.

    The smaller mass murders show envy quite well-represented as well. The list of oft-victimized groups in is not a coincidence, it is a pattern.

    It’s hardly a new pattern, either; modernity merely bumped up the body counts. “Demagogue riles up poor against rich, democracy is replaced by demagogue-tyrant or oligarchy depending on who wins” is in Aristotle’s Politics, written nearly 2400 years ago.

    • Cay Reet

      Greed is a powerful driving force, yes. However, wealth usually comes with power and influence, which means it also enables those who do not wish others well to do as they like. A person with evil intent and money can do much more damage than one with evil intent and no money.

      It’s also easier to remind people of all the times the rich weren’t caring for their (the poor’s) suffereing, because people remember the bad much better than the good. So ‘remember how those aristocrats just cut us off during the famine’ is much easier to use than ‘remember how some of the aristocrats went out of their way to provide us with food during that long, cold winter.’

      • roystgnr

        The trouble with power and influence is that, by definition, if you have more than the median amount of it then that means you’re outnumbered.

        No matter how much power you have as one person, it’s not a safe thing to be outnumbered by people who think you’re evil.

        Being caring doesn’t seem to reliably add safety, either. “Philippe Égalité” (d’Orleans, before he got the Paris Commune to change his name to “equality” in support of the revolution) *literally* provided the poor with food (and shelter, and money) during a long, cold winter, but none of that saved him from his turn in the guillotine in the end.

        The French Revolution was the most famous to “devour its children”, but the same pattern has occurred everywhere. The Khmer Rouge might have been the most extreme case: heavily Vietnamese at its founding, and eventually led by a man educated in a Buddhist monastery and a French engineering school, but that didn’t stop it from specifically targeting for extermination ethnic Vietnamese, Buddhists, people with foreign ties, and intellectuals.

        Some of the explanation is surely just cynical scapegoating. If you promise prosperity through socialism after all the class enemies are stopped, but after the revolution prosperity is nowhere to be found, then what do you tell your revolutionary soldiers next? “Prosperity through socialism doesn’t work after all! My bad! Why are you all picking up your weapons again?” or “There must still be some class enemies! Over there! Get ’em!” Riding the tiger isn’t safe, but it’s safer than getting off.

        But what’s worse, if the Ben Franklin effect and its converse are real, then caring could even be more dangerous than not, even among nobody but idealists. Someone who cares for you without a moral obligation to do so is someone you naturally feel indebted to, and that is rarely a comfortable feeling. Is there any quicker way to get rid of that feeling than to suppose that they must have had a moral obligation after all? But at that point, if the obligation you’ve supposed doesn’t entirely match the care you received, or if that care is not renewed in full over and over again, then suddenly their obligations to you are being violated! Whatever happens next is surely justified…

        • Cay Reet

          You are aware the French Revolution descended into the terror after its leaders tasted their own powers? After they realized that they could not only execute those they had originally fought against (the noble class)? Are you aware a lot of regular citizens who happened not to agree with those in power were executed as well? Being a noble or a priest surely guaranteed you death, but not being either wasn’t a guarantee for safety, either.

          Because that is where the circle picks up again. Those who are in power are feared and hated by those who are not. One uprising later, the wrong among the powerless ascent to power (read: those who value power higher than morals) and a new act of oppression begins. As long as you have a group on top with absolute power, there will always be oppression. There will always be rebellion which eats its own children in a while.

          • American Charioteer

            I think Roystgnr’s point is that the “privilege” paradigm is too simple. It creates a haves vs have nots dichotomy and paints an entire group of people with one brush. “Middleman minorities,” such as European Jews, are groups of people who may be economically privileged, but their privilege itself has been used as an excuse to oppress them.
            It is true that “oppression flows from those with more power to those with less power” but there are different types of power (having a relatively high per capita income didn’t protect German Jews), power can shift quickly (as Louis XVI and Robespierre learned equally), how much power a person has is more than a measure of what marginalized groups they belong to (Robert Mugabe’s race doesn’t make him a victim we should feel sorry for), and having power or privilege is its own burden when it can be used as a reason to
            stereotype and dehumanize an entire group.

            Yora brought up “Beyond Good and Evil,” which posits that the problem isn’t realizing that we need to blame one group of people and exalt another, it is realizing that any good/evil dichotomy is dangerous if it makes our differences greater than what we have in common. Claiming that problems can be traced back to some unfairly privileged group is almost always a prerequisite for dictatorship. Thus, literature that claims a privileged group will always be a source of oppression can be as dangerous as literature that takes inequality for granted.

          • Cay Reet

            Unfortunately, humans tend to think in ‘us vs. them’ terms. I agree that power doesn’t always equal money. Quite some nobles, to stay with that example, in France were anything but rich when the French Revolution came. The probably had more in common financially with the very people who screamed for their heads. They did, however, by birth belong to the group the revolutionaries had identified as ‘them.’

            Similar thing for the Jews, from Middle Ages right to the Third Reich. They have been ‘them’ for all kinds of groups in Europe for a long time. They were set apart by religion, by traditions, by language. That coupled with their relative wealth made them a group easy to hate and easy to target. They didn’t hold all that much power, though, which means they were no oppressors. At least some people of the hated group need to oppress in a way.

            It’s easy to rile up people against a group they think they have nothing in common with. A different lifestyle, a different religion, a different level of income, a different level of power, all serve as possible points to latch on to. When you write a story, it pays to keep that in mind. Oppressors need to have power over someone else to oppress them. Often, power comes from wealth. Sometimes it simply comes from having the more dangerous and powerful weapons. Sometimes it comes from religion (when the holy book teaches you that X oppresses you with God’s consent). Sometimes it might come from having control over a rare and important resource.

          • R. H. Rush

            The French Revolution is an interesting case. Louis Sebastien Mercier, in the decade before the Revolution, wrote several times that daily life in Paris was so regulated and so tightly monitored by the police that if Parisians were suddenly given the same freedoms as their counterparts in London, they would be so unaccustomed in how to handle those freedoms that it would all end in a bloodbath.

            I’m more familiar with the lead-up to the Revolution than with the Terror, but my impression is that the leaders were generally following the public. The violence was happening anyway, and to try to regain control, the leaders made it a policy, in the hopes that they could then start to wind it down.

            That didn’t happen for political reasons (the Terror was popular, or at least, no one opposed to it dared to speak against it), and then when public sentiment did turn, it turned very quickly and the leader at the time made a good scapegoat before he could pivot. Assuming that he would have; I’m not dismissing any responsibility Robespierre personally holds, but he didn’t begin the Terror, and shares responsibility with others for its continuation.

  7. Yora

    That’s what Nietzsche meant with “Beyond Good and Evil”. Saying “Rich people are evil, we poor people are good” and the others saying “Poor people are evil, we rich people are good” doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

  8. Sneaky_Commenter

    Honestly this thing has been stuck in my mind since it got posted so I’m going to post my reaction to each point.

    1. Understand Who Has the Power

    I mostly agree with this one, and the wizards from Harry Potter are a good example of people with too much power to be easily oppressed, the same could also be said for the vampires in Twilight. they were basically unkillable by humans for the thousands of years they were hiding from humanity. Ruling humanity as god kings would have been a more likely outcome then going into hiding.

    but I disagree on one thing, that wealth does not cause trouble for the wealthy outside unique exceptions. Power and privilege is not just a ladder or totem pole, and money/resources makes you a target. it always has, and always will.

    valuable resources don’t always come with the power to defend it, just ask every people who has ever been targeted for conquest or exploitation for having natural resources, like oil or precious metals.

    The knights templars were early bankers, and quite successful at that. but their power and privilege did not protect their order from being branded heretics and forced to confess under torture, quite the opposite in fact, since the easiest way to erase your debts to someone is to eliminate them.

    Most figurative and literal witch hunts were as much excuses to “confiscate” the property of the accused, as they were efforts to find scapegoats for misfortune. – There is a reason why the Nazis had so much stolen gold and art at the end of the war, they were basically robbing people blind left and right, and xenophobia was their tool to do it.

    I still think you can have oppressed people with superpowers or privilege, you just need two things: To avoid making them so powerful or numerous that they could take on all-comers and hope to win. And a motive for the systematic oppression, a reason why people is attacking them instead of using them as a productive part of society.

    No, but seriously, Kryptonians and the vampires from twilight need not fear men nor mobs, but the same cannot be said for witches with the power to just make magic potions or waterbenders. Prepared or one on one they may have the upper hand, but they can be taken by surprise or be outnumbered.

    Plus, being an extremely small minority of the population also makes it more possible for regular people to take them down with numbers.

    2. When in Doubt, Use a Parallel

    Indeed, a parallel is often the best option.

    If you want to teach readers about life as an oppressed minority, a parallel can give your story enough distance to real events that the reader who would otherwise be turned away by a more in your face story can still get invested.

    Plus, something like the hatred of mutants can work as a parallel for multiple forms of oppression at the same time. (setting aside how superpowers ought to impact the scenario)

    3. Always Punch Up

    I kinda want to rephrase this one, it can give writers some skewed ideas.
    Obviously writing a story about how poor people are to blame for all the ills of society, would be rather… ‘insensitive’ – I don’t know if this site will censor me if I actually use stronger words.

    But if you take it for granted that all you need to do is punch up for viewer sympathy. then you get stories like Eragon where the evil empire is more sympathetic then the designated heroes.

    So, a better way to say it is to make sure you are punching at someone who actually has it coming, and to remember that punching down is in poor taste

    4. Prioritize the Oppressed

    I agree that the focus should be on the oppressed as people, instead of a mighty whitey savior helping the little people for virtue points, especially not if it is just to impress someone enough to get laid. – in James Cameron’s Avatar, the humans only started killing the Navi because their diplomat was too busy chasing Navi tail to do his job and talk to the Navi to find a compromise so they could start mining without murder.

    but I think a writer shouldn’t rule out a foreign power providing aid or sabotage, as often happens in such conflicts in real life.

    If we take a classic slave revolt where the slaves are orcs and the slavers are elves, and we then add dwarfs.

    The dwarfs don’t like the elves, so they could be backing the orc rebellion hoping it would weaken the elven empire or replace it with an orc empire that would be friendly to dwarven interests. The dwarfs would be arming the orc rebellion with dwarven weapons and provide training.

    5. Don’t Erase Real Groups

    I’m pretty sure that one conflicts with number 2, but I do agree that just because your story is paralleling oppression doesn’t mean you have to turn your story into a white bread sausage fest.

  9. Sneaky_Commenter

    I think the biggest part missing from this article, is anything about writing the actual oppressors, the oppressors are just as important to the story as the freedom fighters, if not more so.

    The fictional freedom fighters show us that we can fight, but the fictional oppressors show us what happen if we fail to do so. Plus, they are usually the most memorable part.

    Which is why authors should do their best to write believable and thought-provoking tyrannies, they show us the cost of complacency.

    Your fictional tyrannies should ideally be the result of the same believes that start real-life tyrannies, so the people reading can recognize the warning signs.

    This is where actually doing research to find out what kind of political platform and environment create tyrants is so very important, strawmen are terrible warning signs and no one sees their actions as the strawmen do. Racism doesn’t look like racism from the inside, No one sees themselves as racists, they just have a worldview build from negative personal experiences and unexamined stereotypes. – there is a reason why Daryl Davis can convince over 200 racists to leave their hate group, with kindness. Seriously, look it up, it will help restore your faith in humanity.

    let’s take that post 2016 election story as an example: if you write it so the only reason he got elected was because of campaign promises which were all blatantly racist, then you failed! Even Hitler broad more to his campaign than just racism. If you want to write about a democratically elected racist tyrant, you should ask why racial tension is inflamed enough that capitalizing on it can win you the election. – saying everyone is just that racist wouldn’t make people think about the possible warning signs.

  10. Sneaky_Commenter

    Okay, I really hate to be the one to nitpick, but, those women-only screenings of the Wonder Woman Movie were, in fact, illegal:

    “Title 42, Chapter 21 of the U.S. Code prohibits discrimination against persons based on gender, age, disability, race, national origin, and religion (among other things) in a number of settings including: education, employment, access to businesses and buildings, federal services, and more. Chapter 21 is where a number of federal acts related to civil rights have been codified including: the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.”

    Taken from:

    That law does go both ways, and a lot of the people complaining felt that law should not be enforced on an only-when-I-feel-like-it bases.

    plus, they might also want to see the movie

  11. Sneaky_Commenter

    Okay, I really hate to be the one to nitpick, but, those women-only screenings of the Wonder Woman Movie were, in fact, illegal:

    “Title 42, Chapter 21 of the U.S. Code prohibits discrimination against persons based on gender, age, disability, race, national origin, and religion (among other things) in a number of settings including: education, employment, access to businesses and buildings, federal services, and more. Chapter 21 is where a number of federal acts related to civil rights have been codified including: the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.”

    That law does go both ways, and a lot of the people complaining felt that law should not be enforced on an only-when-I-feel-like-it bases.

    plus, they might also want to see the movie

    this time without the link

    • Cay Reet

      Well, there would have been a way around that law, as it were: if someone had bought all tickets for a screening and given them to those they wanted in it, that wouldn’t have been against the law, would it?

      Also, stop complaining about it. It’s over and it won’t change from the complaint.

      • Sneaky_Commenter

        I don’t even live on the same continent so it isn’t exactly something I care that much about.

        It was just the shear hypocrisy of it I thought was worth noting.

        • Cay Reet

          Hypocrisy? What is a woman-only screening or two compared to many decades without the right to vote? To own property? To decide your own future?

          • American Charioteer

            Cay Reet, you told sneaky_commenter to “stop complaining about it. It’s over.” That was about something that happened a few months ago. Then you brought up woman’s suffrage. Women in America have had equal voting rights for 97 years.

            Discrimination isn’t always unidirectional. As was discussed at length in the comments on this Mythcreants article “” the existence of discrimination against women doesn’t mean that its impossible to discriminate against men.

          • Sneaky_Commenter

            all those things were indeed wrong and I’m glad to see them gone.

            in doing so they made it illegal to discriminate like that (as I quoted above) which is a good thing.

            I call it hypocrisy because they are disregarding the exact same laws they fought for. If they say that those rules should be disregarded whenever they like it, then they are implicitly stating that it was NOT wrong to discriminate based on gender, only that they would want their turn to do so.

          • Cay Reet

            @American Charioteer: How many men were severely injured because of the woman-only screenings? How many men were actually denied a life in freedom? And how many clubs do, up to this day, not accept women? How come the Boy Scouts just decided extremely recently to let in girls? In other countries, the local equivalent of the Boy Scouts were always (or for decades) open to girls.

            If you think not being allowed to see a movie at theatre A, even though theatres B, C, D, E, and F in the same city are showing it is discrimintation, then it might have been discrimination.

            But given women today are still secretly discriminated against when it comes to job applications (there are studies about that) and many other things, I don’t think a man having to walk 200 more meters to another theatre is horrible. He might not have gotten in simply because the screening was full already, too. That wouldn’t have been discrimination, but would have come with the same end result.

            In my eyes, discrimination means it’s always there, not just for a handful of situations while you can get what you don’t get there a little further down the road.

            All POC being denied access to bars for ‘whites only’ is discrimination, because it happens all the time, not just for a few hours. All women being denied access to higher education is discrimination, because it happens everywhere, not just at one college or university.

            All men being denied access to a sauna on ‘women only’ days might also be discrimination by your definition, but not by mine, because on all the other days, they can steam there in peace.

          • Cay Reet

            @sneaky_commenter: They were wrong and they’re mostly gone these days, but for women there is still quite a difference between what’s in the law and what they get often enough.

            Being sorted out in job application because of their gender (or, sometimes, because of the name, which also happens to male POC). Not something you can prove under normal circumstances, so you have no chance to use the law. Yet, studies show it happens.

            Not being taken seriously and ‘talked over’ in meetings and other situations. How are you going to prove that and are you really going to drag your boss to court for it? Nicely ties in with your male colleague making the same suggestion ten minutes later and getting the acknowledgement for it. There are many stories about that and there are also studies which suggest it happens.

            Always having to be on your guard during a night out. Am I dressed ‘modestly’ enough so they won’t say ‘she asked for it the way she looked?’ Can I risk that glass of beer or wine? Has nobody been close to my glass or bottle while I wasn’t looking? Can I tell that guy I’m not interested or should I pretend to have a boyfriend so he leaves me alone? All of this is perfectly normal behaviour for women, this very night and in the western world.

            Now tell me that this is not discriminating. Because it means the possible victim has to prevent the crime. The fault is on her, not on the guy who commits it. She’ll get asked what she wore. She’ll get asked whether she drank too much. She’ll get asked whether she didn’t pay attention to her drink. She’ll get asked why she fought back (if she did and it made the perpetrator being even more brutal) or why she didn’t fight back (if she was too afraid or too stunned to struggle or threatened with a weapon). A man getting run over by a car in the street doesn’t get asked if he really had to go out at that time or what he was wearing or whether he drank (since he wasn’t driving, but on foot). He doesn’t get asked why he didn’t jump aside. In case of a crime which can be committed on both men and women, the fault is put on the perpetrator. But if a crime ovewhelmingly is committed against women, they’re suddenly supposed to prevent it by themselves. And a lot of people will worry about the future of the perpetrator, not about the life-long struggle the victim will go through.

          • Sneaky_Commenter

            Yes, those are shitty situations, no one is saying otherwise. but they are shitty situations no matter who it is happening to.

            I wouldn’t stop women from calling out a men-only screening of a film

          • Cay Reet

            Unfortunately, these situations usually (99% or so of cases) happen to women and are not covered by the law you mentioned, because nothing can be proven. A man can, if he wishes to, take the movie theatre to court over the ‘women only’ screenings (for whatever good it will do him after the actual act is finished), but a woman who is going through any of the things I listed (or many more I could list) can’t take someone to court over them. She has no proof.

            Today, those who discriminate against her know precisely how to do it without being caught. You won’t see a job ad with ‘women need not apply’ in it. But you will see no women at the job interview, because all of them are stripped out. In the study I mentioned, the scientists sent out precisely the same resume with male and female names on it (also with names usually associates with ‘white people’ and with names usually associated with POC). Men had a much higher chance at getting a job interview then women. Supposedly white people had a higher chance than supposed POC. Again: the qualifications HR departments could use to judge the possible fit for the job were precisely, 100% the same. The only differences were the name on it and the email address it was attached to.
            At a company, a man and a woman making up all of a department exchanged email addresses and names for online appearance for a week. They did the same job as before, interacted with the customers through email, as they always did. Suddenly, the man had a lot more complaints on his work and the woman had a lot less. Just because of the name on the email, the customers took the supposed man for more competent at his job than the supposed woman. Or do you think merely using another name and email address changed the way either of them did their job?
            Transgender women who had lived part of their adult lives as men before hormone therapy and surgery found people reacting a lot differently to their new female personality than to the male one they’d had. In the same job and with the same qualifications, they were suddenly judged to be less competent, more mistakes were pointed out to them (especially prominent for a news anchor who had worked at the same job before her treatment), they were taken less seriously. Do you think the hormone treatment and surgery made them less good at what they did?

            But all of that can’t be proven with the kind of facts you can take into a courtroom, so the law doesn’t help at all. It only made those who discriminate a lot more subtle than before. Discrimination still is an almost daily occurence for a huge percentage of women. I doubt the percentage of men who are discriminated against for being men is nearly as big.

          • SunlessNick

            Did any men not get to see Wonder Woman because of the two women-only screenings?

          • Sneaky_Commenter

            I honestly don’t know, like I said before, I don’t live on the same continent. Where I live most cities only have one cinema if they have one at all, so if it happened where I lived than there would be people who wouldn’t be able to see it… But it really doesn’t matter, I don’t think highly publicized examples of lawbreaking and double standards at work need a figurative body count to be notable.

            honestly, the most disheartening thing about this conversation has been that the only thing which has gotten any replies is an after note to my comments on the meat of the actual article.

          • Cay Reet

            Even if there were only one cinema (and I don’t live in the US, either), there were one or two women-only screenings. The minimum run of a movie would be at least 7 screenings (one a day for a week). The minimum run of a movie like Wonder Woman with a high expectation when it comes to viewers would be much, much longer (two to three or even more a day for far longer than a week). In other words: just because of the women-only screenings, no man was forced to pass on seeing the movie in the theatre.

            The women-only screenings I read about, however, were in bigger cities. In those, there usually is more than one cinema and Wonder Woman with its DC background would be shown in every cinema (unless highly specialized) in a city.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Just for the record, the legal complaint against the all-women showing was specifically that it might violate a local ordinance for the city of Austin. I say might because the showing stopped before anyone took it to court. Meanwhile, organizations like the Boy Scouts are allowed to discriminate freely at the national level (though just the other day they decided voluntarily to drop the restriction on girls). It seems highly unlikely that the furor over the all-women showing was because of a finer point of Austin municipal law.

  12. Sneaky_Commenter

    Okay, just realized the site didn’t eat my first comment with the link, is there anything I can do to get the one without the link deleted?

    • Cay Reet

      Don’t worry, it’s fine to have them both, I’m sure. But comments with links go through a check first, to make sure no illegal links are posted.

  13. Squares

    Alright, I know I’m a bit late on commenting on this, but I’d like to discuss an idea for something I… haven’t actually seen in stories, but has some parallels to the White Saviour trope… that is, having a White-Educated Saviour. As in, somebody who does belong to an oppressed group, but was at least partially raised in the more privileged one being the person who kick-starts or even leads resistance.
    Obviously, that has its own pitfalls – like making the privileged group’s culture to be made out to be so much more refined and awesome and similar things – but… it’d still leave a writer with a leader who is caught in between cultures (which I, at least, would find interesting), who is a member of the oppressed group but might not be accepted by their own people, who on the one hand can be repulsed by the attitude towards the group they belong to of the people they were educated by and on the other hand might have soaked up some of that attitude…
    Anyone else wants to tell me all the pitfalls, problems and opportunities I overlooked/help me find historical examples?

  14. Daniel

    I would love to see a follow up to this article with ideas or tips for how to accomplish the daunting task of actually crafting an interesting and satisfying story arc around something as massive as a social revolution. Most stories function through the medium of characters and the more time spent fleshing out a dynamic character means less time for others. Historical events like revolutions are usually the product of entire masses of people carried out over years or decades. A single mastermind or superhero reinforcing the “Great Man Theory of History” doesn’t exactly support the revolutionary ideal. Similarly, the notion of a “vanguard”, whether a small secret society or a militant revolutionary cell, to “lead the revolutionary struggle”, has more often than not been shown by actual history to be both ineffective at succeeding (Adam Weishaupt’s Illuminati, the Blanquists, Red Army Faction) and dangerously at risk of forming its own dictatorship after overthrowing those in power and purging its allies and rivals (the Bolsheviks).

    But to write an entertaining and compelling story about revolution, it seems like you need compelling characters to identify with and become invested in their smaller stories within the larger conflict. But how do you see that larger conflict through from start to end in a satisfying story that way?

  15. Bunny

    Not a critique or clarification, just a question: Is there a scenario in which people who shoot fire from their hands CAN be the oppressed?

    • Cay Reet

      Well, even people who shoot fire from their hands have to sleep and can be overwhelmed. It depends on what kind of technology or magic exists in addition to shooting fire from your hands. If other people can shoot water bursts that throw you back and render your unconscious, your fire is all that powerful any longer. And if they can put some kind of collar/shackles/other object on you which blocks your powers, your fire shooting isn’t going to happen, either.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      To expand on Cay’s point, sure, there are situations where magical people can be oppressed, just like how in real life, people with extraordinary abilities are still oppressed. Like, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan both experience racism, even though they are ridiculous good at boxing and basket ball, respectively.

      So you could have a situation where, for example, one nation conquerors another nation, and the conquered people are oppressed, even the ones with magic.

      The key is that people are almost never oppressed *because* of their extraordinary ability. If racism didn’t exist, or Muhammad Ali was white, people wouldn’t suddenly hate him because he’s a really good boxer.

      The same is true for magic, super powers, ect. If you want your characters to be oppressed because of their powers, you’re going to need a really convincing explanation. Like, maybe in your setting most mages are eventually corrupted by their powers and end up killing others. That could explain why people shun them. But in that scenario, people’s prejudice would be at least partially justified since mages are legitimately dangerous, and that might not be what you want.

      • Jason

        I don’t think powers or potentially “arcane” knowledge being oppressed are as far fetched as the article makes out. Currently, in America, there is a growing sentiment that the educated or “elite” are facing a populist backlash. There are multiple influencers regularly implying the populace rejects science and much of what those higher educated have to say. Replace that with an arcane ability or knowledge, and I believe it completely plausible that the mundanes could resent and oppress any flare up of power. Nuclear power was once heralded as the clean energy savior of the world, and now no one wants it in their backyard (in America). If a baby born with powers were viewed as an uncontrolled nuclear reactor or atomic bomb, and dehumanized in rhetoric, I find it completely plausible that the general populace could see them as having fewer inalienable rights. Just read a few antivaxxer comment threads.

        • Cay Reet

          One big difference between a wielder of arcane powers and a well-educated scientist, though, is that the wielder of arcane power can pelt you with fireballs, something which I’ve never seen a scientist do…

          Despise or ignore a magic user is possible (as long as they’re not ruling class, too), but oppress them is not.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Sometimes I *wish* scientists could throw fireballs.

            But Cay is absolutely right, there’s a serious disconnect between modern scientists, who’s knowledge only equates to indirect power at best, and the mages found in most fantasy stories, whose power is very direct.

            This problem also crops up in magic school stories, interestingly enough. We’re used to thinking of kids who study a lot as unpopular nerds because their knowledge isn’t directly applicable, but when that knowledge translates into flashy spells, they’re really more like the jocks.

      • Dvärghundspossen

        We’re watching Nightflyers now, Netflix series based on a novella by George Martin. Haven’t read the story it’s based on, and I haven’t finished the TV series actually, but so far I think they make something plausible with telepaths.

        They have a strong telepath brought along on their space mission because they think he might be the only one capable of communicating with the aliens. Overall, the powers that be don’t try to exterminate all telepaths or anything, but actually use them. Still, there’s a lot of hate against telepaths, and we see how Thale, the guy they bring along, is originally confined to a special chamber most of the time, dosed up on drugs, and with a special psychologist to care for him. That’s because telepaths aren’t good at CONTROLLING their powers.
        Thale can mess with people out of spite, because his life has been pretty shitty, but he can also accidentally broadcast horrible hallucinations, people can start spontaneously bleeding from their eyeballs in his vincinity, stuff like that, and he often suffers horrible images, emotions and stuff HIMSELF since he’s bad at filtering stuff.

        I think if you wanna make mages, like, semi-oppressed, or at least face a lot of hate and attempts to strictly control them, it’s a good idea to make their powers somewhat out of control like this.

      • Dvärghundspossen

        Adding that it’s also the case that Thale’s psychologist has to TALK HIM into sitting in the isolated chamber and take his drugs if he rebels and says he doesn’t want to, since there’s really nothing that anyone could forcibly do about it.

  16. LiliesAndRoses

    > When white authors write about real-world racism, they risk drowning out the black authors. The same is true for male authors writing about sexism,

    I wonder, does this apply to sexism against men in matriarchal setting? Is it good topic for male authors to write about?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I generally recommend against stories about how men are disenfranchised in a matriarchal society. Those usually fall into the category of Persecution Flip stories, and why they may be well intentioned, they usually end up spreading harmful ideas rather than fighting them.

      • LiliesAndRoses

        But in a fictional matriarchal setting, it’s surely possible that men face prejudice? Not that the whole story is only about misandry, but just a story in a prejudiced, but matriarchal, setting?

      • Matthew V. Milone

        “they usually end up spreading harmful ideas rather than fighting them”

        Could you give a few examples of this?

  17. Mona Kulp

    I recently read a book in the Amulet series. If you haven’t read it, it’s a graphic novel series about a land named Alledia. Elves are slowly conquering it (or have conquered? Not sure) and clearly, being conquerers are oppressors. Then there are two elves who join the good guys and are mistrusted enough to be thrown in jail. A backstory involves an elf and her family being thrown in jail for no reason other than being an elf.
    Do you think this is a good way to handle the situation?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      It’s definitely on the right track using elves as a parallel rather than a real group. I’m not sure how important these two elf characters are, but I would be concerned that it still seems to be focusing on the experiences of the more privileged characters over those who are actually oppressed.

      At the same time, while it’s reasonable for conquered people to distrust elves, historically oppressed people are welcoming of help from more privileged folk, providing it’s actual help and not just tone policing, so I’m not sure about the elves being thrown in jail. Again, context is important.

  18. LiliesAndRoses

    “Instead, your dwarves should have a range of skin tones, with several of the most important characters being clearly black. ”

    But is it good idea for white writers to use black people’s struggles? Isn’t it be better if their skin color would deviate from human skin coloration? (like, dark-green, dark-blue, dark-purple, or green and purple instead of white and black)

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      As we’ve discussed in other comments, using non-human skin tones isn’t usually enough to code characters as non-white. The section you’re referencing assumes the author has already chosen to use a struggle from real life as their inspiration, at which point it becomes extra important to include people who that struggle actually effected to avoid erasure. If the author isn’t using a a real life struggle as their inspiration, then the requirements will be different.

    • Cay Reet

      Non-existent skin colours usually are considered ‘white’ by the reader, unless you make it clear through the writing itself that the skin colour alone is the reason why a character is treated differently (in other words that dark-green is the new black). In this case, the usual problems with writing a ‘black’ character as a write writer apply.

      • LiliesAndRoses

        I don’t quite understand… What do you mean “considered white”? If it’s clearly stated that the character is, for example, has purple (blue/orange/green) skin color, how can they be considered white? Maybe if reader doesn’t notice it, or, as you mentioned, see it and ignore it because “purple-skinned people don’t exist, therefore character is white”, but elves/faeries/dwarves/dryads/unicorns don’t exist either, no one reads them as ordinary humans?

        • Cay Reet

          What I mean is that the reader will not automatically assume that a character is treated differently because their skin is red or blue of violet. If the skin colour doesn’t correspond to a real-life ‘not white’ colour, it’s merely considered to be of no consequence for the character’s life – like white skin has no consequences on the character’s life or upbringing and unlike black or brown or yellowish skin which does have a consequence on a character’s life or upbringing. So if you want to use a fantasy colour for your POC instead of a real on, you need to write it that way, you need to convey early in the story that your green- or blue- or violet-skinned character faces discriminations or other harsh treatments for being green- or blue- or violet-skinned.

          And yes, elves or dwarves are often read as ‘strange humans with specific skills’ … unicorns are usually read as animals, because it doesn’t really matter that much if a horse has a horn on its head (and a bit of magic). That is the reason why elves or dwarves are so often defined as a group by only one or two traits – as specific human groups are often defined by one or two traits. For elves, that’s often
          ‘highly magical and long living,’ and for dwarves, that’s often ‘short and good with mining or technology.’

          • LiliesAndRoses

            But wouldn’t narrating about actual black people (or for example, elves or faeries, whose appearance differs from that of black people only in having sharp ears or wings) be exploitation of their experience (like mentioned in “When Dark and Gritty is Just Exploitation”)? Would it be ethical for a white writer to use oppressed people’s history? Or would it be better to use a parallel, for example, if story narrates only about fantastic non-humanoid sentient life (like dragons or unicorns), assuming no human or humanoid characters (to avoid equating a people with non-human species)?

          • Cay Reet

            The point is that nothing fantastic, be it an elf, a dragon, or an alien, is normally seen as an oppressed group by the readers (and I have a hard time imagining an oppressed dragon, but if you do it right, everything is possible, I guess). Which is why, if you want to substiture a fantastic race for a real-life oppressed group, you need to make it clear from the beginning that they’re an oppressed group. And, yes, you always need to be very careful about how you write any kind of oppression, no matter the group you choose to represent. It’s less problematic to create your own oppressed group and write their own specific type of oppression than to write about the real oppression of a real group of people without either being one of them or having a lot of sources which help you with giving it right. A lot of research on how oppression works and how you can depict it respectfully is still necessary, of course.

        • Bunny

          I think it’s all about defaults. It’s hard to imagine someone with purple skin and easy to imagine a white person, which is, unfortunately, a default in many reader’s minds. It’s the same flawed logic that lets people accept elves/faeries/dwarves/dryads/unicorns/whatever but not female characters with agency. However, I wonder whether readers in other countries where the majority of the population is not white will not read the character as not white. If the default is different, the interpretation would be different.

          If authors want their colorful fantasy characters to be read differently, they should not rely on skin color but rather mannerisms, behaviors, and outlooks that come from whatever fantasy culture the character is a part of.

          • LiliesAndRoses

            “It’s the same flawed logic that lets people accept elves/faeries/dwarves/dryads/unicorns/whatever but not female characters with agency.”

            I also met that argument that when there’s, for example, powerful elven male character with agency, some people consider it okay, but when he’s changed to a powerful elven female character with agency, that people start arguing that it’s “unrealistic”. I think that it’s “hidden misogyny”, the same as “hidden racism” when some white people feel threatened by ethnic equality (like, claims of “reverse racism”), or men feeling threatened by women’s campaigns (just like some International Women’s Day, some men asked “what about International Men’s day?”, despite the fact that such day actually exists, and some people even replied “why didn’t you just google?” or “where have you been on November 19?”). It maybe, that white male readers directly benefit from white male privilege, and they don’t threatened by the fact that the character is an elf, because obviously elves aren’t going to challenge their privilege, but if that elf is a woman, they may object because women certainly struggle for their equality (like, for example, some white men boycotted shows because “there are ‘too many’ characters of color” or “female characters have ‘too many’ agency”, even if there are more white characters or the most important characters are still male).

  19. Jorge Jaramillo

    The Haitian Revolution is my greatest inspiration of resistance, it was a pleasant surprise to be mentioned here, thank you. But I have a problem with your suggestion of using Dwarves as a parallel in a resistance story inspired by these real events. The suggestion that there be different skin tones seems appropriate, but how do I prevent my black Dwarves from being a cartoon of slaves in Haiti? If my Dwarves are slaves and some (especially the leaders) are black, the parallel becomes parodic, but if the leader is white, I fall back into the troop of the white man who saves the blacks. But the idea that the leader is green or blue seems much worse, because it sounds false, unreal.

    Probably the only solution is not to write that story, and better write about the real resistance that I live every day against those who try to oppress me: the capitalist, the politician, the rich, the foreigner and the police. That reminds me that in my RPG table of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the villains are God and the Devil and their servants: the church, the king, the bourgeois, the colonizer, the city guard, the aristocrat, the charlatan, The occultist, the Puritan. The war between heaven and hell was already carried out and resolved millennia ago, now it is the war of heaven and hell against humanity, that’s why the devil advises his servants to harm others, and that’s why God advises to his people to burn others, but in all this war not a single devil or angel has been hanged or burned (as in the real war, no president dies in the trench). But my players are going to take care of them (if the Inquisition or the Coven don’t take care of their characters before, of course).

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