When most writers want to write about discrimination and oppression, they stick to real-world examples — after all, there are plenty of those. Some writers, however, wonder: "What if it were the other way round?" What if Africans had enslaved Europeans? What if India had colonized England? What if women had all the power and men had to stay in the kitchen
? And so on and so forth. There may be a semi-plausible Alternate History
explanation for the switch, but just as often it simply is that way.
Often this is not just an interesting what-if, but a way of making a point, saying to the privileged group "well, how would you
like it if...?" This tends to be Anvilicious
, though not always in a bad way
. The message may also be that power corrupts, and no matter who's on top, things will always suck for the group on the bottom.
On the other hand, in certain cases the barbarism of the now-powerful group can be played up too much and the whole thing can seem as though it came out of some dislike or distrust of the group in question
("Look how much worse things would be if they
were in charge"). Or, alternatively, the work may be disparaging towards the now-oppressed group (which is usually an Acceptable Target
due to being in power in the real world), and suggest that they deserve to be treated badly.
Compare Just The Introduction To The Opposites
, Black Like Me
, and Color Me Black
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- This South African ad shows white people disadvantaged and black people in positions of privilege. Essentially, it's a reverse of Apartheid.
Anime and Manga
- In Yuu Watase's short manga story "Perfect Lovers," a heterosexual couple is transported into an alternate dimension where homosexuality is normal and heterosexual relationships are illegal.
- In the manga Ooku, after a disease kills off a large percentage of the male population, feudal Japan becomes a female-dominated society, with women as leaders and warriors and men viewed as sex objects too delicate to fight (or farm, or fish, or...).
- In Jyu-Oh-Sei, the Penal Colony planet of Chimera is controlled by four "Rings" (Night, Ochre, Sun, and Blanc) which are primarily divided by skin color. When Thor and Rai are sent there, the Blanc Ring is least powerful of the four, and thus the formerly pampered twins (who are about as white as one can possibly be without having Albinism) find themselves at the bottom of the social ladder.
- Furthermore, since men greatly outnumber women, women have free pick of mates and are regarded as more valuable. Their higher social status is somewhat theoretical though, since the series plays this out with some Unfortunate Implications.
- Arguably Code Geass, which involves Japan being occupied by the harsh Holy Britannian Empire, ironically mirroring Imperial Japan's escapades during World War II.
- In the House of M miniseries, Wanda creates a new world through her reality warping powers where mutants are the dominant species and humans are deemed second-class citizens and given the slur "Sapes." Most notably, Magneto and his family rule Genosha as an aristocracy and super-powered individuals like Spider-Man and Miss Marvel are only tentatively accepted as equals to mutants.
- The EC Comics story "Hate!", an all-American everyman who leads a mob to kill his Jewish neighbors by burning their house down finds out that he was adopted and that his real parents were Jewish. He then is victimized by his Jew-hating former friends.
- The film White Mans Burden.
- Babakiueria (Barbeque Area) is an Australian film that does this with imperial Aborigines taking over and oppressing white Australians.
- Planet of the Apes involves apes keeping humans in cages and using them for experiments.
- In the film Almost Normal, the gay protagonist enters a world where homosexuality is the norm - and straight people are the ones viewed as being "deviant".
- A variation in Cowboys and Aliens; even though it is not the Native Americans doing the oppressing, the white Americans still find out what it's like to be completely outmatched by an invading army they could not have imagined and getting their people captured/wiped out and their land ravaged. The tie-in comic brings it to truly Anvilicious levels by having a white American loudly saying the aliens "can't do that just because they've got better weapons", and receiving a dirty look from a Native.
- The short film Love Is All You Need? is about a world in which homosexuality is the norm and a heterosexual teen is bullied by her peers.
- Both the book and stage version of Noughts & Crosses (black people are in power; white people are victims of discrimination).
- The novel Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo (Africans enslave Europeans)
- From a single Alternate History anthology (although some of these are a bit iffy):
- "The Wandering Christian" by Eugene Byrne and Kim Newman (Judaism becomes the major world religion; Christianity all but wiped out)
- "Hush My Mouth" by Suzette Hayden Elgin (African former slaves rise up and seize power in the United States after the Civil War; white Americans all but wiped out)
- "The English Mutiny" by Ian R. MacLeod (India colonizes England)
- "Islands in the Sea" by Harry Turtledove (Islam becomes the major world religion; Christianity is practiced only in a few small areas)
- Robert A. Heinlein's controversial Farnham's Freehold posits a future where the members of a white family are the slaves of cannibalistic black masters. The cannibalism is what pushes it over the edge into "Black people are worse" territory.
- One Sheri S. Tepper novel, Six Moon Dance, is about a repressive matriarchal society. Tepper has a very feminist message in a lot of her work, so this is sort of like "examining demographics that would lead to men being oppressed in the same way as women".
- Steven Barnes' Lion's Blood series is set in an alternate history where African civilization and Islam became the dominant forces in world culture. The main story is set in an alternate American south, centering on a young (black) nobleman and his (Irish) freedman.
- Edgar Allan Poe's story Doctor Tarr and Professor Feather. It involves inmates taking over an aslyum which "coddled" them and treating their former doctors, now the inmates, in a Bedlam House way. It has a kind of Family-Unfriendly Aesop: If you treat those weaker than you with kindness, they'll just take advantage of you and then do worse. One interpretation of the story is that it's a metaphor for Poe's views of American blacks (which, considering that he was a proponent of slavery, isn't terribly implausible).
- Gulliver's Travels with the talking horses domesticating the human "Yahoos" as farm animals.
- In Katherine Kerr's Polar City books, blancs (i.e., whites) are a lightly oppressed minority.
- In a Fantasy Counterpart Culture version, Flora Segunda has the largely European-flavored (though apparently California-dwelling) Califans conquered and ruled by the pseudo-Aztec Huitzils.
- In Waberi's "In the United States of Africa", Africa is the largest superpower while the Western world as we know it is plagued by the very maladies that current Africa faces, from the perspective of an adopted white French girl.
- In Kirill Moshkov's Special Expert, Legioner Tauk is sent to a Lost Colony, whose population is predominantly black, with the whites being treated as second-class citizens. Since Tauk is himself white, he has to pass himself off as a servant, while another agent, a black woman, can freely pass herself off as a member of the societal elite. She does explain to a local man that back on Earth, it is their people that used to be subservient to the whites. The man has a hard time believing it.
- William Tenn's story "Eastward Ho!" is set in a post-nuclear-war future where Native Americans are in power, and the oppressed whites keep fleeing further and further east. Eventually they plan to sail to the land of freedom—Europe.
- The hero of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness ruminates on the colonial relationship by invoking the Roman invasion of Britain and wondering aloud how the Ancient Britons saw the colonial system from the other side. Later he suggests a counterfactual scenario:
The population had cleared out a long time ago. Well, if a lot of mysterious [blacks] armed with all kinds of fearful weapons suddenly took to travelling on the road between Deal and Gravesend, catching the yokels right and left to carry heavy loads for them, I fancy every farm and cottage thereabouts would get empty very soon.
- Many of the stories in the Chicks in Chainmail quintet, edited by Esther Friesner, deal with the male-female issues by gender flipping, or other plot device, some well-done, and some belaboring the point.
- Black Like Me is an account of journalist John Howard Griffin's dyeing his skin black and living in an area he had visited as a white man and describing the differences.
- Save The Pearls: Revealing Eden is a controversial dystopian novel in which the white minority ("pearls") are oppressed by the black majority ("coals") after ozone depletion kills off people with low melanin. The pearls have to wear blackface in public. The author, by-the-by, is white.
- In the dystopian future of The Forever War, the protagonist is a relativity-time traveller, and upon one of his later returns to earth he finds that population pressure has made homosexuality the socially-acceptable choice. His subordinates—particularly the females—are creeped out, and behind his back call him "queer." He's understanding, realizing how they must feel about serving under a "sexual deviant."
- The War of the Worlds has a variant in which the Martian attack on England is meant to parallel the real life subjugation of Africa by the British; the invaders have more advanced technology that makes their conquest frighteningly easy, and diseases that the defenders are largely immune to but which the invaders have never encountered before holds the invasion back. As the Trope Maker for Alien Invasion, this is what has led to similar subtext appearing in derivative works.
- Aliette de Bodard's "Xuya" Alternate History universe is based on the idea that the Chinese colonised the Americas from the West coast in the fifteenth century and then formed an alliance with the Aztecs against the Spanish. As a result by the twentieth century North America is divided between an independent Chinese-culture state called Xuya, a modern-Aztec-culture Mexica Empire, and a much smaller English-speaking nation centring on New England that is very much the poor underdog to the other two. A couple of stories depict white English-speakers in Xuya or Mexica in a manner that reflects this trope, although it definitely isn't the main focus of the series.
Live Action TV
- Sliders had one episode where women were the dominant gender. Another where Mexico won the Mexican-American war so Americans were the day laborers. And some others that get just bizarre.
- In the first case, Arturo gets involved in politics by running for mayor. Wade is against this, as she believes his "equal rights" campaign will ultimately lead to a patriarchy. Interestingly, Arturo actually wins the election, although a miscount results in him leaving before the official results are announced.
- The pilot episode has Quinn listening to a radio broadcast about Americans illegally crossing into Mexico in search of jobs. This is the same world where traffic lights are inverted (green means stop, red means go).
- A mild case in the first episode involving the Kromaggs, when the heroes slide into a world where US was largely colonized by France, and Arturo is being made fun of for being English.
- In one episode, There is a world where Kromaggs are timid docile creatures who wouldn't hurt anyone. Humans oppress them and put them in labor camps.
- The Twilight Zone episode "The Eye Of The Beholder", in which beauty is a pig nose and cleft palate while movie-star looks are a deformity.
- In a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, an androgynous race views any gender identity as an illness to be cured.
- In another episode, a race of humanoids is ruled by women, while men are their servants and sexual playthings.
- On still another episode, a child-alien persecutes the adults on the ship for imposing rules on children.
- In another episode, Worf travels to an alternate universe where the Bajorans are enemies of the Federation and they overpowered the Cardassians.
- In one episode of Red Dwarf, the crew visit a parallel universe where women are the dominant gender. Their entire history is gender-flipped, so Hamlet was written by Wilma Shakespeare, Nellie Armstrong was the first person on the moon, and men organised equal rights marches and burned their jockstraps in the '60s. Oh, and it's the men who get pregnant.
- Sexism and Gender Stereotypes are played with in the weird little German-UK SF series from the 1970's - Star Maidens. In which, two men escape from the planet Medusa which is ruled by women and where men are badly mistreated and head for Earth because one of the men has heard it's ruled by men. They are pursued by a couple of their female mistresses. Let's just say it wasn't subtle and leave it at that.
- One season of The Two Ronnies had a serial called "The Worm That Turned" in which men were oppressed in a fascist female-dominated future England. It was about what you'd have expected at the time.
- The Vienna Teng song "No Gringo" (poor Americans illegally cross the border to Mexico looking for work)
- The conflict between the Templars and the Mages in the Dragon Age franchise is a result of this. To summarize, long ago the mages used to rule over ordinary humans and keep ordinary humans as slaves. Then a woman named Andraste inspired an uprising against them, and a new religion was formed around her after she was betrayed and killed. Unfortunately the people who founded the religion believed that all mages were like their previous mage oppressors, so to make sure that never happened again, the religion teaches mages from the time they're born that they're full of sin and must redeem themselves, and mages are given no choice but to be shipped off to "Circles" to learn to control their magic. Thus, where mages used to persecute ordinary humans, now the mages are the ones being persecuted precisely because the ordinary humans never got past their pain at their previous enslavement. And just to complicate matters even further, there are still mages around who enslave ordinary humans, namely the Tevinter Imperium, which some of the now-persecuted mages end up joining in hopes of turning the tables on the Templars, and that's not even counting the desperate mages who turn to blood magic and really do go crazy. Potentially, this cycle could go on forever.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, this happens a lot, both in the backstory and in the time that this game takes place. The Dunmer had previously enslaved the Argonians, but by the time of Skyrim the Argonians rose up against their masters and now the Dunmer have been driven away from the Black Marsh. The Thalmor faction of the Altmer (high elves) persecute the Nords for allegedly being a threat to the Altmer's very existence, and they got the Empire to ban Talos worship. The Nords, as revenge for Thalmor persecution, persecute all the elves, including innocent Altmer as well as the Dunmer (who had no hand in the Thalmor's behavior) and Bosmer (ditto). The Nords also persecute the Khajiit for supposedly all being sneaky thieves and won't give the Khajiit legitimate work, but in response the Khajiit all do become sneaky thieves so they can survive amongst the Nords at all. Meanwhile, when the Nords first landed in Skyrim, the Falmer (snow elves) attacked their settlement of Saarthal because the Falmer were suspicious of Nord expansion. So as revenge the Nords started persecuting the Falmer, which drove them underground where they were enslaved by the Dwemer, only now the Falmer wish to destroy the Nords right back. And then there's the fact that the Nords persecute the Argonians and Dunmer just for not helping the Stormcloaks, so now they discriminate against the Nords right back and refuse to help them. If all of that sounds like a mouthful, let's just say that the Nords tend to be on both ends of this trope a lot (either flipping the persecution they receive from others, or starting the initial persecution and then having it flipped on them).
- This drives a great deal of the plot in Tales of Symphonia. At first glance, it looks like just a case of the Desians (who are half-elves) being assholes to the humans, since when you start the game the Desians have humans rounded up and taken to a ranch. Later in the game you discover that the reason the Desians are persecuting the humans is because previously, the humans were being assholes to them (and to complicate matters, the full-elves also treat the half-elves badly). In fact, the motivation of the Big Bad is that the Big Bad is a half-elf who finally couldn't put up with discrimination anymore, so he deliberately set up the Cruxis organization to bring forth the Age of Lifeless Beings, except that Cruxis then attracted half-elves looking for payback against the humans.
- And then in the sequel, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, the people from Teth'ealla are still discriminating against the people from Sylvarant, so the Vanguard is formed to allegedly fight on Sylvarant's behalf, only the Vanguard ends up persecuting the people from Teth'ealla.
- Ultra Fast Pony gets weird with its Fantastic Racism. Fluttershy is a former slave, and the institution of slavery in Equestria is clearly a reference to slavery in the US. Now that she's freed, Fluttershy is actually angry that slavery was completely abolished, because she wants to have slaves of her own. She tries to make the animals her slaves instead, but she's "just so bad with animals!"
Fluttershy: Oh, I get it. It's okay to have Fluttershy do everything her owners say. But as soon as she gains ownership of her own farm, suddenly it's all "Equal rights" and "Slavery is not okay anymore!" In the name of the black smoke in the sky, I demand reparations!
- This Not Always Right post has a customer attempting this. It comes off as head-scratchingly ridiculous.
- This sort of thing has happened when different groups get the upper hand in a closely-divided country. Some prime examples are:
- Protestants and Catholics taking turns persecuting each other during the European Wars of Religion (including the Thirty Years' War) whenever the ruler changed (either through succession, conversion, Klingon Promotion, or conquest). England's history is a prime example: Henry VIII was famous for persecuting Protestants mercilessly until that whole divorce thing, at which point he started persecuting Catholics; when his Catholic daughter Mary became Queen, she persecuted Protestants; and when Mary was succeeded by Elizabeth, she started persecuting Catholics again.
- The same was more or less true when the Middle East was under Byzantine rule. Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Christians took the place of Protestants and Catholics, with the favor of the local governor being the variable.
- In the interminable wars between the Byzantine and Sassanid Persian Empires in the 6th and 7th centuries, Jerusalem would inevitably change hands. Since the Byzantines were Christian and distrusted the Jews, every time they took over the city, Jerusalem would be purged of its Jewish population. Whenever the Persians—Zoroastrians who distrusted Christians as possibly loyal to Constantinople, but had no problem with the Jews—took the city, they slaughtered the Christians and spared the Jews. This happened several times over a relatively short period of time before the Muslim conquests put an end to that by destroying Persia completely and taking a huge bite out of Byzantium; when they took Jerusalem, they surprised everyone by slaughtering nobody.
- The Rwandan genocide was partially a result of this. Without getting into who was persecuting who at which time due to the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment, let's just say that the Tutsis used to be in elite positions, but then the Hutus engaged in revolutions, purges, etc. By the time of the genocide, the Hutus were trying to get rid of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
- Averted with Post-Apartheid South Africa. There was the fear that the new regime would actively persecute white people with violence equal to those used by the Apartheid Regime. Nelson Mandela went out of his way to make sure this did not happen and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission underscores just how far his presidency went to try and appease both white and black people. Many whites, however, believe that they are being discriminated against and persecuted and lets keep it at that.
- A study done decades ago in a real class promoted and demoted blue and brown eyed pupils to show the effects and issues of racism and other -isms. The children, regardless of being told about the study, stated that they came to feel superior or inferior, and had trouble re-adjusting even years later.
- A study done with college students had some be jailers, and some jailed. The jailers were somewhat oppressive, but only somewhat. After a time, they switched. The once-jailed-now-jailers were much more oppressive.
- Some claim that there is "reverse racism" by minorities against whites. Let's not get into whether they're right or wrong.
- "Equal Opportunity" programs, where everyone is treated equally, are not an example, but "Affirmative Action" programs, where people in classes that have traditionally been persecuted are instead treated preferentially, are seen by at least some people as being a real-life example of a persecution flip. (This is subtly different from the previous example, since it's not necessarily done by "minorities".)
- Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male, The Unfair Sex, and Men Are the Expendable Gender are full of examples of situations that would be viewed as horrifying if the genders were reversed, but because the victims are men, are played for laughs (or otherwise trivialized) instead.