The Issue with Erasing People of Color from Sci-Fi & Fantasy

by Channler Twyman

I have always struggled with the notion that people of color, for some odd reason, cannot seem to exist in the literary worlds of fantasy and adventure. As a huge fan of the Fantasy/Adventure/Sci-Fi genres in literature, I found myself at a loss growing up, because even though I could relate to the characters, I could never see myself in them. Every time fans and critics attempt to discuss the lack of representation in these genres they are often met with pushback against these claims for a variety of reasons. In this week’s column, I want to debunk some of these arguments, and hopefully reiterate why it is important to have people of color in fictional worlds.

People of Color didn’t live in the places and time “…” were based upon...

These are #AlternativeFacts, my dear readers. People of Color have lived everywhere since the dawn of time—from the first Black samurai to the Spanish moors and even in ancient Roman and Greek times. Black and Brown people have traveled and lived everywhere. Even if that were not the case, all the worlds in question are fictional. The author has complete creative control in regards to choosing what race their characters are. It’s hard to get over the fact that writers can write about goblins, fairies, and dragons, but having a black or brown person exist seems to be too much of a stretch.

Race doesn’t exist in “…” world

The only people who have the privilege to say this are white writers and critics. As a Black person living in America, I cannot be blind to race. This part of my identity is one of the first things people notice about me when I step outside my house. More importantly, this argument implies that the “default” race is White. This means all other races are not the “standard” or “not normal." Nothing is wrong with having prominent characters be a different race, or even discussing race at all for that matter.

It’s the author’s choice, they can do what they want

Fantasy game,  Nier: Automata,  which features one character of color.

Fantasy game, Nier: Automata, which features one character of color.

True. Very true, but also very problematic. By eliminating race from these fantastical worlds you do your audience a disservice. The entire narrative for a character, no matter how big or small they are, can be totally changed if you make them a character of color. Race isn’t just a social construct meant to categorize and divide people, but they come with their own long histories of struggle, culture, and perseverance. Acknowledging racial differences does not have to be a significant part of one’s work, but it can reflect a choice that is inclusive of multiple ethnic identities that already exist.

If you don’t like these stories, make your own/don’t read them.

Let me preface this one by saying that I am a huge advocate for people of color and other marginalized identities writing their own stories and telling their own narratives. With that being said, just because we can and should create our own properties does not mean other people’s work can be exempt from critique. It is hard not only creating stories, but having them edited, published, and marketed. Certainly this is a tough uphill battle that isn't meant for everyone. Some people are just enjoy being consumers and that's okay. As consumers, we have every right to demand what we want to see in our various literary experiences. The more people who see that there is a need for more diversity in literature, the more people will be urged to write more diverse stories.

With that being said, there has been significant progress in the last few years in making people of color more prominent in Fantasy/Adventure/Sci-Fi books, but there is always more work to be done. I hope one day we can have a character of color be the face of a multi-billion-dollar franchise. Maybe I’ll write them, or maybe I won’t, but I cannot wait for the day that someone does. I hope that a nerdy little black or brown boy somewhere will finally see themselves, at least a lot sooner than I did.

— Channler Twyman is a writer who hails from South Georgia where his love for literature began at the age of two. He currently attends the College of Wooster where he continues to foster his craft. Although, he has a passion for the literary arts, he still hopes for the day where he achieves his final form and is able to battle the forces of evil as a Sailor Scout.