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Cultural Appropriation in a Fantasy Race

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TheMuse Relationship Status: Browsing the selection
Mar 15th 2014 at 6:55:19 PM

So a while ago when I was browsing through some articles, I happened upon some information about the indigenous people of Japan, the Ainu.

I'd never even heard of them and continued to read some other resources about them. I thought their culture was extremely interesting and had the idea of including a (fictional) human race (technically ethnic group) based upon them in my fantasy work, as I wanted to ensure my work had some 'non-white' races (to avert some of the tradition of Mono Chrome Casting in fantasy) and it would be better than having simply one huge ethnic group of people who are vaguely Asian. But most of all, because they had an interesting culture that I had never seen before.

I'm still in the process of world building for this, but I've run into a few problems. Although this specific ethnic group isn't a main focus of the story, I haven't been able to find many resources online for research.

I know that there's literally no way to ensure that no one finds your work offensive (I'm on Tumblr. I've seen it happen) But giving a notably offensive depiction of a group that many viewers will have never encountered before would be all kinds of terrible (there's also the fact that they have been oppressed by the Japanese in the past)

  • Any tips for dealing with this?

TheMuse Relationship Status: Browsing the selection
Mar 17th 2014 at 6:26:47 AM

Any feedback would be appreciated

Mar 17th 2014 at 8:29:31 AM

Don't mystify or vilify them and make the people diverse and not all the same. Don't define them solely by what makes them different from the main culture but define them on their own. That advice applies to every culture or group actually.

Kesar Relationship Status: Hoping Senpai notices me
Mar 17th 2014 at 9:50:16 AM

Don't just take the copy-and-paste approach where you change the names but nothing else. (cough coughRangers Apprenticecough) Change minor details, based on what makes sense for your story's world.

edited 17th Mar '14 9:50:32 AM by Kesar

"Suddenly, as he was listening, the ceiling fell in on his head."
editerguy from Sydney
Mar 17th 2014 at 6:16:44 PM

I've found out recently that there's a whole book about this kind of thing, Writing the Other:

I haven't read it though (although I intend to). Sorry I can't be much help.

One other thing you might think about is whether you can find out what the Ainu themselves have stated is off-limits?

For example in Australia, an Anglo author said he consulted with indigenous elders about how he could sensitively write a story about Indigenous mythology, and they flat-out told him that a non-indigenous person taking their mythology was unacceptable (so he didn't do it). This may be inaccessible, but maybe you can find similar accounts of Ainu being offended at specific ways to portray their culture?

shiro_okami ...can still bite Relationship Status: Anime is my true love
...can still bite
Mar 18th 2014 at 5:52:38 PM

It really depends on exactly what you want to take from them. Instead of just carbon-copying the race, just take the parts you want and make up the rest. Hard as it is to believe, the Ambiguously Brown, desert-dwelling, red-eyed Ishbalans from Fullmetal Alchemist are based off of the Ainu, at least according to Word of God.

TheMuse Relationship Status: Browsing the selection
Mar 18th 2014 at 7:55:39 PM

  • I haven't had the opportunity to check what is 'off limits' for outsiders, because I haven't been able to find any resources online AT ALL that are written by/from the perspective of a member of their culture (which is a problem)
  • I was planning on taking some influences from their culture (nothing too major: manner of dress, certain traditions, etc.) The average reader probably wouldn't be able to tell what specific culture they are based off of anyway
  • Their problems with the Japanese government seem very similar to the plights of the Native Americans (from resources I've found) But I haven't been able to find any 'bad representation' problems in media similar to Native Americans (like offensive costumes, cultural homogenization or sexualization of women)

TheMuse Relationship Status: Browsing the selection
Mar 23rd 2014 at 8:12:44 AM

Considering my most valuable resource in the situation (work written by the people themselves) is unavailable to me, how should I move forward?

editerguy from Sydney
Mar 27th 2014 at 11:31:20 PM

[up]Since you've done all the research you can, if you think you know enough to avoid caricature then I wouldn't worry to much.

Like Antiteilchen says there are diverse people in every culture, Avatar The Last Airbender portrayed this variation pretty well with its Inuit Fantasy Counterpart Culture. If the culture is more in the background like in Avatar, people can get the sense that this is a unique ethnicity without wondering whether that portrayal of the complexities of the social hierarchy is very fair or whatever.

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