Storytelling

How to Write a Racist Story

Greedy. Hook-nosed. Small hat. Beard. Could Watto represent a real group of people? Never!

Many accomplished authors and big name production companies have managed to shrink their reach, reduce their profits, and work against social justice — all at the same time! It’s called racism, and it can work for you too. I’ll show you how to write a racist story like a Hollywood pro. When you’re done, the average white person won’t notice anything’s wrong, while everyone else will hear loud and clear that your story is not for them.

First, decide what balance you’d like between the race you are framing as default (usually whites), and your target race, the race you are trying to damage and push away. That will inform the rest of your choices.

White Hero in a Sea of Colored People

With this choice, there is only one person of the “default” race – your main protagonist. Your white audience members will identify with this person, seeing everything through his eyes (it’s a man, of course). Everyone else should be of the same, minority race. If it’s a movie or TV show, you should use actors and actresses of several different races, and just say they’re the same race.

Choose a “foreign” setting

If you Africa doesn't have warlords, it better have primitive tribes. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls – If your Africa doesn’t have warlords, it should have primitive tribes.

The setting for your story should be the most stereotyped place for people of your minority race to be. If it’s blacks you’re working with, it should be either an American “ghetto” or Africa. In fact, if you use the term “ghetto” just once, then congrats! You have a racist story, your work is done. If you decide on Africa anyway, make sure to simply refer to your location as “Africa” – as though it’s a small country and not a large continent with a diverse set of nations, cultures, and ecosystems. Regardless of your choice, make sure your setting adheres to all the stereotypes associated with it. Your Africa should be deeply steeped in violence between several warlords. If you use the “ghetto,” make sure there is lots of graffiti, drug dealing, and violent crime.

Characterize the inhabitants as bizarre and exotic

Like Jack Burton always says: "What the hell is going on with all these Chinese people?" Big Trouble in Little China – Like Jack Burton always says: “I am deeply afraid of the Chinese.”

Your story will begin when your main protagonist enters this strange land and is bewildered by its “strange and barbaric inhabitants.” Your white audience will subtly get the message that they should think of people of that race the same way. Use stereotypes to create one-dimensional personalities for the inhabitants. If your story is in Japan and features the Japanese, they should all eat sushi, talk about honor constantly, frequently defer to their elders, then bust out ninja moves when the action arrives. Your goal is depict an entire race of people as just a novelty. They don’t exist for themselves, they’re there to entertain the “default” race with their wacky ways. As the story progresses, your main character should learn these people have a positive value, like folksy wisdom, true kindness, or a noble spirit.

Illustrate how your hero is superior

I can ride your big dragon and shoot a gun at the same time! Avatar: I can ride your big dragon and shoot a gun at the same time!

The main conflict of the story should involve a threat that the inhabitants have been dealing with for a long time, yet somehow have never found a solution for. Your white protagonist should then solve it for them, right away, with little effort. While doing so, your hero should use skills learned from the inhabitants in just a couple of weeks. Those who taught him have been studying the art their entire lives, but he’s still better, because white people are just that awesome.

I want you to see my face... because I like flashing people. Hidalgo: I want you to see my face. I like flashing people.

Pick one character among the target race to personally testify as to the superiority of white or western culture. Using the guise of social justice is the best way to do this. For instance, if your setting is India, have someone of a low caste talk about how great it is in America that people can choose their own career, or marry whoever they want.

White Cast With a Colored Token

Again, your main character should be your white, or “default,” race. You would never want your white audience to identify with a person of another race – or even suggest they could identify with a person from another race. The purpose of your token is to convince those white people your work isn’t racist, while simultaneously using the token to reinforce condescending stereotypes. You’ll want to pick stereotypes that are appropriate for the role your token will play in your story. There are a number of classic token roles you can choose from:

The helper

O Brother, Where Art Thou? - I've been saving these visions for white folks like you. O Brother, Where Art Thou?:  “I can sense you’re white. These visions must be for you.”

Your helper is like the fairy godmother who gives Cinderella her glass slippers. He or she should work as a janitor to emphasize how low-class the target race is. Then suggest that associating with the token makes your white hero kindhearted — normal people wouldn’t want to. In return, your helper should offer some folksy wisdom or special skills to aid the hero on his quest. The same wisdom or skills should never be used by helpers to accomplish their own goals.

The mystic

Gremlins:  Back in China, we just send them all to rehab." Gremlins: “Back in China, they just send all the Gremlins to rehab.”

Let’s say you’re writing urban fantasy or horror, and you need an origin story for your mythical beastie or spooky curse. No problem, just say it’s Chinese or Aztec, it’s not like your white audience will know better. Then make your token a Chinese or Aztec person who can recount the mysterious legend of the scary amulet – and sell it to your hero in the first place. The victory of your hero then represents the triumph of white people over the dark mystery that is other cultures.

The project

Dangerous Minds: For extra racism, have on white person in an entire seas of projects. Dangerous Minds: For extra racism, put a white hero in a sea of colored projects.

Your token is a struggling youngster – and your older white hero alone sees that he or she is a person with actual potential. Show your audience that this potential will never be realized without the wisdom and guidance of the hero. This will tell your white audience that people of other races have to be taken care of, and white people know what’s best for them.

The sidekick

Ghostbusters 2: Leave your token team member off the movie cover. Ghostbusters 2: Leave your token team member off the movie cover.

If you are under extra pressure to pretend you aren’t racist, you can make your token a sidekick or a member of a team of heroes. Just make sure that you always show your token behind everyone else, and give him or her the shortest, most generic lines. It’s also a good idea to bring your token into your story later than the others, and/or kill them off early.

The villain

The Iron Man movies could have done better by including this villain. The Iron Man movies ruined this villain.

For an easy solution, make your token into a villain. Then make that villain not only evil, but stupid and incompetent as well. If you’re ever forced to write a story where the heroes are also non-white, make sure their skin is at least three shades lighter.

 

These roles are only a few of the many racist things you can do with your token. Just remember: your white audience will project any characteristic you give your token onto the entire race that character belongs to.

All White

21: If the real person behind your main character is Asian, instead make him white and just put in an Asian token. 21: If your hero is based on someone Asian, make your hero white and just put in an Asian token.

If you’re lazy, you can simply make the entire cast white. As this is done over and over again, it will reinforce the notion that people of other races simply aren’t heroic enough to tell stories about. You will also perpetuate the idea that whites are “default,” and other races are a deviation from the norm. Bonus points if your story is based on a real one – with real, non-white people you can whitewash.

Is Your Story in Another World? No problem!

LoTR: the darker, turban-wearing people are the natural allies of Sauron. LotR: Darker, turban-wearing people are the natural allies of Sauron.

If you don’t have the same races in your world as we have on Earth, you can still do damage by making your despised races resemble real groups of people, and in particular, stereotypes about those people. Choose a couple of stereotypes about the same group, then make a new fantasy or alien race that personifies them to the extreme.

If you have fictional human races, depict some as kind, civilized, and intelligent, and others as barbaric, stupid, and evil. Bonus points if your barbaric human race has dark skin or black hair.

Can You Be Racist Against White People?

Certainly, but minority stereotypes are always the strongest and easiest to work with. If you want to target whites, consider publishing in a place where they are outnumbered, and the prevailing culture is set by a different group. Learn how that group stereotypes whites, and you’ll know where to go with your story.

How to Respond to Pro-Equality Activists

Those pesky social justice advocates have a bad habit of bringing racist undertones to light. When this happens, don’t panic. Just practice these phrases:

“I’m not racist, all my consumers are. I have to cater to their tastes in order to stay alive in this cut-throat business.”

“Remember [insert really crappy story]?  It had an Asian protagonist and it didn’t make any money.”

It’s Easier Than You Think

Did I make this process seem like a lot of work? Don’t worry, it isn’t as hard as it sounds. Many storytellers weave racist stories instinctively, without even being aware of it. Just look over what you’ve created yourself for inspiration. Do any of your stories resemble something I’ve mentioned above?

Need an editor? We’re at your service.

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Comments

  1. Oren Ashkenazi

    I’m so glad you mentioned Avatar on this list. I really don’t like that movie.

  2. Anon Adderlan

    “Just remember: your white audience will project any characteristic you give your token onto the entire race that character belongs to.”

    EVERY audience will do this, and it’s annoying. Hell, most conflicts on the internet are based on people attributing the traits of one member of a group (typically the ones they least identify with) to every member of that group. It’s even reductive in pure science fiction, which is why every member of of the ‘Predator’ race (which only got an actual name in the expanded universe) is based off that lone nutball who came to Earth to hunt guerrillas.

    As for the ‘heroic outsider’, it’s too fundamental a human theme to ever go away, and will always lead to these kinds of complaints. The best we can do is present such ideas with the depth, respect, and self-awareness they deserve.

  3. Rebekah Spark

    As an Australian person of European origins, I don’t feel like I have the right to, for example write from an African American point of view because I don’t understand that point of view. I haven’t even met an African American. And yet I’m writing a story set in Louisiana. So tell me is it even possible to be politically correct in a situation like this? On the other hand I have a pov character who is male and no I’m not male but my husband is and my sons are and my dad is so I feel all right about writing from a male point of view.

    • Chris Winkle

      Is it possible to respectfully write a people of a different demographic living in a real place you’ve never been to? Yes. Is it difficult? Yes. I personally would be too intimidated to attempt that, but if this story means a lot to you and you’re willing to put in the research, I wouldn’t want to discourage you from doing it. If I were in your shoes, I would start by reading works written by African Americans living in Louisiana, listen to their voices for a while. Then I would find some to advise me (remember that one person can’t represent their entire demographic), both as I’m planning and to review a draft, and pay them something for their time. Many people want to help writers represent them better, but it can take a lot of time and they deserve to be compensated for their expertise.

      Funny thing about writing characters of other genders – women usually feel comfortable writing men, but many men are intimidated by writing women. I don’t think it’s just exposure, it’s probably also the way men are considered default – a blank slate defined mostly by individual traits, and are so common as characters that women are familiar with their portrayal. Whereas our culture (American culture at least) depicts women as the strange unfathomable other, and men especially are exposed to substantially less female characters than male characters.

  4. Dave L

    If you really want to write a racist story, Save The Pearls by Victoria Foyt could provide inspiration.

    See http://screwthepearls.tumblr.com/

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