Confirmation bias, epic fantasy, and you

Ya’ll, MedievalPoC is (hopefully) going to be at WisCon. By a funny chance, I will be, too! (Imagine that.) I am totes going to fangirl all over them. Posts like this are why:

Seeing this post reminds me that someone I’ve known for years, and who has a rather expensive college degree, said these exact words to me in regard to ASOIAF/Game of Thrones this past Tuesday at a gaming tournament:

“Things were just like that back then.”

There were not enough faces for me to palm. I just ended up yelling, “When was that again?? In the good old days of Westeros??”

P.S. literally the only reason there are almost no people of color in ASOIAF is because George R.R. Martin decided there wouldn’t be, and the reason they’re portrayed the way they are is because he decided they WOULD be. With great acclaim comes great accountability.

I suspect this was not aimed at GRRM, specifically. MedievalPoC has made the same point about “historically accurate” medieval European video games that make conspicuously inaccurate choices in development, and so forth. MedievalPoC points this problem out as endemic to the genre in general, which isn’t really a surprise since it’s endemic to our society. The blog is dedicated to pointing out the literal erasures and revisions that have been inflicted on art of the era to make it conform to modern — and quintessentially white supremacist — beliefs about how medieval Europe “should” have been. (And if you haven’t figured it out yet, you should be following MedievalPoC. Like, now.)

But this isn’t just a problem of revisionist history (by which I mean white supremacist history, though this term is typically applied to history that attempts to correct the supremacist stuff; isn’t that interesting). It’s a problem of psychology, so permit me to switch hats for a moment. To the Wikipedia!

Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).

Confirmation bias doesn’t cause the phenomenon of Mysteriously Whitewashed Medieval Europe. (Or Peculiarly Denuded of Women Europe, or Puzzlingly Focused On The Nobility Europe, or any of the other bizarre things we tend to see in medieval Europe-flavored fantasy.) Confirmation bias causes the freakouts that occur whenever somebody points out these phenomena, and names them as inaccuracies. Like the “go kill yourself” messages Medieval PoC has gotten for simply pointing out that people of color could easily have been present in a game set in central Bohemia. Or, for that matter, the rape threats that Anita Sarkeesian (no actual rape threats or misogyny in the article; just showing some of the harassment she deals with; avoid the comments, however) gets for pointing out that there should be a lot more women in fantasy games, and they shouldn’t all be buxom wenches getting rescued/laid by the male protagonist. Or the death threats that I sometimes get for, y’know, posts like this.

Like the Wikipedia entry suggests, confirmation bias is usually worst when a person feels threatened by anything that challenges their preexisting beliefs. Since the preexisting beliefs associated with bigotry are all tied up in identity and privilege, it’s not really surprising that the sense of threat is there, merited or not. Identity and privilege are things of the ego; they’re about what we think of ourselves. Bigotry tells privileged people that they deserve to be privileged; that they should have an easier life and a better self-image and more power because they are special; that the reason less-privileged folks don’t get the same preferential treatment is because they are inferior in some way. Challenging this thinking means saying to people: actually, no, you’re not all that special, or maybe you are but not because you’re [insert identity], and also those other people aren’t inferior at all, they just weren’t “lucky” enough to be born with your identity. For people who get used to being incessantly told “You’re awesome!” being told instead that, “Eh, you’re just okay” is a little bit of a comedown. (But a comedown is not oppression. Anyone who thinks that really has no concept of what oppression really is.)

But what surprises a lot of people — especially people who don’t think of themselves as racist or sexist or classist or whatever — is how much they’ve come to expect those positive-but-bigoted messages. How much they’ve come to believe them. So when you hit them in the face with contradictory facts or logic or, in the case of MedievalPoC, actual visual evidence of just how skewed and inaccurate those beliefs are, those privileged folks have to swallow that not only are they not special, just okay, but they’re also suckers who fell for the racist okeydoke. They’re thinking like racists.

And since our society tries so hard to position the word “racist” as some sort of inhuman, barely-comprehensible evil — instead of, y’know, the way our society functions — those people who’ve just realized they swallowed a bit of bigotry immediately suffer pangs of cognitive disonnance. They can’t be racist. That would make them an inhuman, incomprehensible evil! DANGER WILL ROBINSON DOES NOT COMPUTE bluescreen 0011010 reboot. What are they to believe, that they’ve turned into inbred hicks wearing white sheets? (Or whatever cartoonish image exists for “racist” in their mind.) Unpossible! So instead they reject the contradictory evidence. They reject it vehemently; they repudiate it, they throw holy water at it, and they toss a Molotov cocktail after that. And then they decide that the person who showed them this contradictory fact must be Evil Incarnate for causing them psychological pain. This person must be stopped. Or at least, intimidated into silence.

And meanwhile, they double down on the original problematic belief. Because if the person who contradicted this belief is Evil Incarnate, well, that must mean the original belief is good, right? So of course there were no people of color in medieval Europe. Evidence to the contrary? La la la can’t hear you. Can’t fool me with logic. So there’s no need to diversify any medieval European fantasy novel because Things Were Just Like That Back Then.

And here’s the thing: us fantasy readers are particularly susceptible to confirmation bias because we tend to be binary thinkers. Just look at the works that have become bestsellers in our genre: how many of them contain a force of good and a force of evil? A Dark Lord versus warriors of light? A Shadow in the East versus the good Men of the West? This is comfort food for most of us — yeah, me included. Binary thought was our formative meat and milk. And even though a lot of us have moved on to accept shades of gray since — as GRRM fans can attest — there will still come a point where we’re faced with facts that threaten us on some level of privilege. When that happens, a lot of us default back to these formative modes. We react to the ego-threat with confirmation bias and other cognitive defense mechanisms; we double down and raise shields and prepare to defend our psychological selves to the death. Us vs Them. We stop thinking, in other words, and lose our goddamned minds.

So if you catch yourself getting upset when someone puts something in a fantasy that “doesn’t belong” — women in positions of power who aren’t sexualized, for example, or people of color in a part of the world where you think they never “existed”*, or a trans woman in a patriarchial society, or an important disabled person in (this! is!) Sparta, or whatever… Take a breath. Calm down. Do some research. Don’t immediately reject the contradictory information, and don’t assume that the person giving it to you is trying to hurt you. Ask yourself why you feel hurt, if you do. Why is this making you so mad? Why is it so important to you that Things Were Just Like That Back Then? Why does it bother you so much to realize things weren’t like that? We can’t always control our reactions to psychological threats, but sometimes understanding why those reactions happen can help us at least short-circuit them before they really blow up. It takes work, but you can shake it off.

And if you’re a writer, and you catch yourself getting defensive when someone suggests you add something to your fantasy novel that “doesn’t belong”… again, take a breath. Do some research — beyond the basic stuff you got in high school history class, that is. (You should be doing that anyway. It’ll improve your worldbuilding.) Write whatever you want, of course; handwave the historical evidence if you feel like it. But own your decisions, if you do so. Recognize that the Things Were Just Like That excuse is just that — an excuse. Existential angst manifesting as unjustified certainty. You wrote what you wrote because you wanted to write it that way. And if you don’t like what these choices imply about you… well. Then you’ve got some work to do, too, haven’t you?

* Scare quotes because, FFS, people of color have “existed” everywhere, in every age of human history. Most of the world is people of color, and always has been. Sometimes I’m just amazed at the leaps of non-logic white supremacy tries to put over on us.

45 Responses »

  1. In grad school I had a Brit lit prof who made a point of gathering photos of medieval art that included people of color. There was lots. Really a lot. Common, actually. Once your eyes are open it’s humiliating how it’s overlooked /not seen.

  2. I’m fascinated by what we do with history and what our choices say about us. Which facts we choose to affirm and which to elide. How powerful our urge to shoe-horn historical events into a narrative structure is, replete with heroes and villains, and how we’re willing to prune facts or events that contradict our vision of the past.

    As you say, we should be allowed to write whatever we want, but we also have to accept that we’ll be called on our decisions and biases. Thanks for the great post, and now I’m off to check out MedievalPoC!

  3. Not to mention that even if things were whitey mcwhiterson in the past (which they weren’t), that gets insanely boring regardless. So let’s write fantasy worlds where things are different. Isn’t that sort of the point of fantasy anyway? Writing worlds as we’d like to see them?

  4. Thanks for this great post.

    I don’t get the anger that some people seem to experience over this issue, most especially the kind of anger that leads them to make vicious personal attacks and threats. Yeah, most of us grew up with a false idea about what “real” Medieval and Renaissance era Europe were like. But why would anyone be so attached to those false ideas that they come unhinged if anyone suggests they’re not accurate or that fantasy fiction (which after all, doesn’t have to be anchored by historic reality in any case) be more diverse. They don’t have much impact on these peoples’ daily lives.

    Some people must regard these kinds of novels as the last confirmation of their own superiority, but I suspect there’s more to it than that. Retreating to a time and place (however fictitious) when they were All That Was Important must be very comforting to some people. They’re lashing out with the anger of a child who fears that their favorite toy is about to be taken away.

  5. @Erica

    About getting worked up about things that aren’t important to daily life:
    Judging from some of my own kneejerk experiences, discovering that I was wrong and that I’d been taking bullshit for granted generally resulted in insta-panic, wanting to believe anything that didn’t make me look like an idiot. And when it’s connected to identity it was very easy to misread everything as being really aggressive, as if it’s saying that coming from a privileged background means that my very existence is morally wrong. I guess with novels it gets joined to ‘You’re criticising something I like, so you’re criticising ME.’

    Of course all this is sorted out by reading more and not jumping to conclusions.

  6. I’m always amazed that in all the whitewashing there’s never mention of St Maurice, the actual patron saint of knights, soldiers and chivalry (also of weaving and menstrual cramps because awesome).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Maurice

  7. I’m writing a FANTASY novel in a FANTASY world where the main country is African-like (black people anyway with Swahili-inspired names) and women are in power but not like “amazons” but good leaders with a good society going. I was told on a critique site that my world was unrealistic. Did I mention this is a FANTASY novel? Like Lord of the Rings? Like Harry Potter? Yeah, the bias doesn’t even come from “historical” novels but even entirely FANTASY novels. If they read far enough to see that the white northern country is led by men and very aggressive but constantly defeated by the black-women-led country, imagine how unrealistic they’ll find THAT!

  8. Jennifer, you might want to look up the works of Charles R. Saunders, who not only wrote fantasy (and darned good fantasy) in a sub-Saharan context, but sold it to mainstream SF markets. Sadly, a lot of it is out of print or hard to find or both.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_R._Saunders

  9. Reading that made me disgusted – with myself. Despite the vast amounts of detail-research I do for my dark historical fantasies, I am guilty of a sin I hate intensely – laziness. I now understand I need to do much more work in understanding the make up of the societies I am writing about. Thank you for the link to MedievalPoc and I will follow and read. Mea Culpa.

  10. Mh, I might be mistaken but I always thought the person running Medieval POC is male: http://medievalpoc.tumblr.com/post/67656749808/burning-mysteries-revealed (see no 6). Yeah, it’s not really a clear statement and maybe my English is just bad …

    Hopefully you will find out! Tell us all about it!

    That blog though. Pure awesomeness.

  11. Huh — q__q, I could’ve sworn the Daily Dot article gendered MedievalPoC as female, but maybe I was hallucinating. The post you link is discussing the gender of their avatar, not themselves, so I will go back and de-gender my article here.

  12. It’s not just the writers who need some consciousness raising, but also the readers. Thankfully, articles like this one are helping to raise those consciousnesses.

    It’s sad that GRRM is a bestseller with a hot tv series, while Charles R. Saunders is out of print and all but forgotten.

    I write science fiction with plenty of people of color, LGBT people, and strong weomen, addressing gender & racial themes. I can do this because I have a day job that pays the bills — I’d better, since my sales numbers are pitiful.

    Successful writers write what sells. Super-successful writers write what sells super-well. Until there’s a huge market for epic fantasy with diverse characters, we’ll continue getting the whitewashed stuff.

    Educate readers. Buy good stuff. Spread the word.

  13. Thanks for this awesome essay! It’s a really great explanation for people’s knee-jerk reactions when people call this stuff out. Plus people tend to think we are calling THEM racist, which is rarely the case; mostly we are calling their actions or opinions racist, which is an important distinction. Everyone has to realize that racism is like Voldemort: you’ve got to yank it into the light, pin it down, and talk to and about it in order to vanquish it. It’s insidious, and permeates everything like smog.

    I think it was the Last Airbender movie casting terribleness that started me down the road of understanding how important representation is, and it’s amazing how you start to see it everywhere once you have that initial light bulb. I’m a middle class white girl, so it took more research and empathy than actual experience on my part. MedievalPoC has been an awesome resource, and I’m excited to hear about the harmonious meeting of the minds that will surely occur when you guys get together!

  14. I cannot BEGIN to tell you how happy this post makes me!!! Thank you.

  15. There are black people in ASOIAF.
    http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Summer_Islands

    You are an idiot. Please leave the moral crusade to people who are not mentally retarded.

  16. YouAre,

    And you can’t read. Please leave the commentary to people who are paying attention — and also, people who don’t use ableist slurs. (Really?) You’re kinda making my point here, tho’, which is why I let your comment through. Exhibit A, everyone.

  17. Note: the N. K. Jemisin further up the comment thread is also me; just was using a different login.

  18. Don, I don’t think sales comparisons between writers really makes sense as a relativistic measure of anything but sales — not relative quality, not content value, nothing but “this sold” or didn’t, for whatever reason — but my sales numbers have not been pitiful. That doesn’t necessarily indicate there’s a market out there* for diverse fantasy, any more than your sales numbers indicate there isn’t. Maybe my readers like the romance or the horror, where both appear. Maybe they like my writing. Maybe they’re just curious about a woman who talks so much on Twitter and they want to see what kind of writer I am. Who knows?

    But what I do know is that whoever is buying my books or short fiction is getting SFF written in inclusive worlds, containing mostly protagonists who aren’t white (or male, or straight, or fully abled, or wealthy and powerful). Whether they like it or not is an open question, but that’s what they’re getting. I’m not a bestseller, but I’m a steady seller, and even if I don’t have HBO knocking on my door… I’m doin’ OK. So make of that what you will.

    * For values of “out there” that include — in addition to the English-speaking countries — Spain, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Turkey, China, Japan, Romania, Russia, and another recent country that I can’t mention yet because I haven’t signed the contract. (I am very likely forgetting at least one of the foreign rights sales; I’m doing this off the top of my head and pre-coffee.) So people in these countries are also buying fantasy with inclusive worlds and diverse protagonists, too; that’s another data point. Not to say the readers don’t still need plenty of consciousness-raising… but the market might already be more welcoming than you think.

  19. Well said! What makes your books a ‘must buy’ for me is the diversity of characters. Frankly, I am bored of blond male heros saving the day and I welcome a change from pseudo medieval European settings – there is too much of this around and it has become stale, bland and boring in my view. I read to learn and be challenged as well as for enjoyment. I like that you don’t play safe with the ‘standard’ fantasy tropes which means that I am always looking forward to your next book /short story as I know it is unlikely to be predictable or formulaic. Keep up the good work and I’ll keep on buying!

  20. “Things were just like that back then.”

    I agree with you and MedievalPOC so very VERY much about that sentence. I hates it when applied to fiction. I hates it SO MUCH! Because it’s fiction so there is (was? not sure of tense for this) no back then. It’s such a damned cop out.

    I’m in the process of researching for an alternate history/fantasy novel I’m writing, it’s set in 1860-1910 and will take place in several different locations over the world. In order to make it alternate history I decided to read as many books about the time period as I could get my hands on. I’m barely halfway through a book about the American Reconstruction period after the Civil War and already I know that the writing will be so much better for having taken the time to read about the historical context. It’s really impressed upon me the importance of researching to see what was actually happening as it will lead to a more well rounded story with deeper characters and a better world. Even if I don’t use ANY of the info I read about and end up making the worlds history up completely.
    You sure don’t have to do it that way but I think knowing the reality leads to people being better able to construct a fictional narrative within the world.

    Thank you for the great article (as usual!) and I’m psyched to start reading MedievalPOC!

  21. Yes! De-gender all the things!

    I actually thought Medieval PoC was a woman for a long time too, then I stumbled over that article (and I think there where others but I can’t find them anymore), so know I/we all don’t know. Which is the cool thing about the internet! But also the very scary thing, like mentioned in the article the hatemail got cut be two-thirds because the gender-change of the avatar. People sure have issues. It’s sad.

    Anyway, I can’t wait for your next book (no pressure, though) and wish you a good time at WisCon other Cons and in general!

  22. Carolyn Jewel: I always found it interesting that almost every medieval picture I’ve ever seen of Prester John also had him dark-skinned.

  23. I admit I’ve used the “that’s how things were” excuse to justify some stuff in traditional fantasy. Usually regarding poor treatment of women, of male characters looking at them as less than men. I don’t like reading it, but sadly, it seems all too realistic. Though I do admit that I haven’t done a spectacular amount of research into historical women who wielded a lot of power, usually I figure that you’re everyday lower-class woman isn’t going to be lauded much when European history (and thus the basis for some fantasy I’ve read) tells me that women largely existed to be married off and to pop out babies and run the household.

    But when it comes to people of colour, well, a lot of European society may have been many shades of pale back in the day, but that certainly doesn’t mean it was only white folk around. And I can say that with even a limited grasp of history. They may not have been treated fantastically, but they were certain THERE, and pretending otherwise sounds largely as ignorant as I ashamedly admit I used to be on the subject.

  24. Thank you for an excellent article. I’m a writer and a historian of mediaeval Europe, and yes, not pure white and mostly male. Far from it. People of African and Middle Eastern origin were found throughout most of Europe for most of that period. Some of them settled, married and had children. Some were merchants or doctors or scientists or artists. Some, sadly, were slaves (along with a fair number of white-skinned people). Most so-called ‘mediaevalist’ fantasy has more in common with 1940s and 50s Hollywood than any real culture. It elides peoples of colour, women, QUILTBAG people, and, quite often, children. It elides the poor. It leaves out all the messy things — which aren’t the blood and mud so beloved of ‘grimdark’ (and that in itself is a problematic word. Grimblood? Grimmud?) — but real, painful, matters that distress modern readers, like slavery and famine and disability and marginality and disease. The Celts, so beloved by US fantasy writers, were misogynist, slave-owning and trading, deeply hierarchical and socially restrictive. All those things existed in their cultures before the coming of christianity, too: the claims otherwise have no basis in historical sources. The same is true of many many other peoples at that date. There are historians out there — like Medieval PoC — who research these subjects. Their work can be found and read. Reproducing Errol-Flynn-Land as ‘mediaeval Europe’ has no connexion to the real histories of the European peoples (or of those peoples from other places — most of the world — with whom they traded, intermarried, fought and allied). History is bigger than the white narratives beloved of too many writers and filmmakers. History is all of us, from every place and time and historical fantasy has a duty, in my view, to reflect that.

  25. Great essay, and food for thought. I am white (at least mostly and I almost always read that way), and it’s really easy to come off as boneheaded when writing from privilege, so please forgive me if I colossally blunder, but here are some thoughts I have:

    1) On racism not being people in white pointed hoods, but the way our society functions — YES. I don’t know why this is so difficult for people to understand. It is so easy to absorb social conditioning and sets of stereotypes from our greater cultural milieu that to not do so actually takes work, which is how you see, say, women who have internalized sexism and immediately slut shame a woman she is having a conflict with, or criticize her appearance, or whathaveyou. Or, for that matter, people who genuinely think that medieval Europe was devoid of PoC’s. Racism (and other sorts of “isms”) can easily be based in ignorance rather than malice, it seems.

    2) On binary thinking — I wonder if this is not so much of a problem with SF/F fandoms specifically, but the world at large. I mean, why is race a binary anyway? Shouldn’t it be a multiplicity, rather than “white” and “other”? When I think about it (I’m mildly disabled), it seems like ability status should be on a continuum, rather than a binary. And of course, gender is a false binary as well.

    Complicating this is of course the necessity of mobilizing in an unequal world. I just wonder if binary thinking isn’t part of the root of these problems everywhere.

    3) Every time I talk to other fantasy fans about diversity in settings, there’s heaps of interest, for what that is worth. I think that medieval Europe fatigue is common. As far as I’m concerned, I’d like to see more representation of medieval NOT-Europe. There were plenty of fascinating things going on in, say, the Malian Empire back in those days.

  26. I grew up near the Limes in Middle-Frankonia, which is the built border that the Romans erected between Rhine and Danube to keep the Germans out of their province of Raetia.

    My school town (current version founded in medieval times, has all kinds of juicy older buildings from various times still extant) therefore used lots of local examples when we learned about history in school – the space where the original castellum stood (they had about 500 riders and support stationed here), the exceptional find of Roman temple treasury that had been buried in the ground when the Germanic peoples finally overran the Limes, the lovingly excavated and covered thermae which showed Roman engineering so well.

    One of the bits of knowledge I grew up with was therefor the fact that the Roman army was quite used to sending soldiers from the far reaches of their empire to work, fight (and eventually retire and get their piece of land as a pension) in places that were as far from their home area as possible – so that there was no concern over loyalty when the fighting started.

    This means that in our rural town of Weißenburg we have multiple bits of written evidence for Nubian and other black African Roman soldiers settling down with their local wifes on the piece of land near the castellum Biriciana after their 20+ years of service in the legion.

    TL,DR: Europe^(even Germany, so up yours, H.) has evidently had people of colour in its heritage at least since Roman times, never mind the Middle Ages.

  27. Cecily,

    Re 2), there’s nothing wrong with binary thinking. It’s just another element of human cognition, and a cultural tendency that seems to run deepest in Western societies. Dualism tends to emerge when we are at our most uncertain — when we’re very young and unsure of ourselves, when we’re very old and don’t know what to make of the changes around us and within us. It’s a survival mechanism in situations where speed and certainty are of the essence: fight or flight, us or them. It’s soothing to have complexity reduced in this way, sometimes. It’s necessary and useful — sometimes.

    The problem lies in being dualistic all the time. People do not come in binaries, as you’ve noted. Problems are rarely solved by binary thinking — only delayed, patched, punted. To exist in a perpetual state of uncertainty and “survival mode” simply isn’t healthy. Human beings under that kind of constant stress don’t live as long, and aren’t as happy. Most people, in most societies, want their societies to provide a degree of stability that allows them to get out of dualistic mode. If our society is instead encouraging that state, then there’s something inherently unstable in it. It could mean we’ve built our existence around the exaltation of one group (e.g. white men) at the expense of everyone else. It could mean our politicians are encouraging a climate of fear, and using that to grab power.

    (This is how I think of it, anyway. But note that I am applying developmental theory to, well, the planet, and you’re kinda not supposed to do that. We don’t understand enough yet about what is universal to the human existence across culture, gender, race, etc. So take all this with a few bags of salt.)

    So then the question becomes, for me as a writer, do I go along with this binary tendency — especially given that I’ve become more and more multiplistic as I’ve grown older? It can’t be denied that fantasy writers who lean dualistic have generally done well in sales. A lot of people read fantasy because it leans dualistic. It’s soothing, like I said. Even the “grimdark” stuff out there encourages them to think of the world as a terrible place — when, really, it’s just the world. It’s terrible in some parts and pretty nice in others. But books that show the world in a multiplistic way don’t make as much money.

    I’ve mostly leaned multiplistic. I have my dualistic moments — I wanted Scimina in 100K to be unmitigated evil, frex, mostly because I thought the book needed some dualism or it would flop. (I’ve since learned better. Always a learning process, writing.) But mostly I just like to play with dualism, and maybe interrogate it. I dunno. I write what feels right to me.

  28. After going to a few panels on GRRM at a medieval studies conference last year, that quote “Things were just like that back then.” struck terror into my heart. Things weren’t like that back then. It’s a fantasy world, and unfortunately, when I watch the show, I sit there feeling uncomfortable, because this seems to be a fantasy enjoyed and accepted as normal and accurate by tons of people. But so much of it is rape/torture/power fantasy, and the way people see it as being representative of how people naturally are? It’s a very Hobbsian mentality, and I find it unsettling. If we think of these things as natural, that says something about the way we will actually behave.

  29. I don’t have too much to add to this conversation, but I will say two things:

    1) I was actually surprised that there were any people of color in Martin’s world when I first started watching the show. I’d become so used to epic fantasy featuring no people of color (or “evil” stand-ins for them in the form of inhuman critters like orcs) that seeing an actual civilization of non-white folks in a world which is so very much Anglo-European for most of the show was a bit of a “well, isn’t that unusual” moment.

    That said, I recognize that Martin’s world doesn’t actually do much with this (based on what I’ve seen and read, mind). So the criticism of his treatment is valid.

    2) I used to be one of those people who would say “but that’s how it was back then” as a defense of epic fantasy. Then I went to college. And took some classes on colonialism. And British literature from Chaucer to the Victorian Era. And African lit. And Indian lit. And all these things. And it became very clear that this whole “Europe was white” thing was, well, bunk. It certainly was mostly white (based on my understanding), but even Shakespeare wrote plays with non-white people as part of the main cast (Othello and Titus Andronicus, for example — the title character and a secondary character, respectively). In the early 1600s (maybe late 1500s). So, no, the excuse is bad. It comes from a position of ignorance, which we’re all able to correct. And it’s unnecessary. You can write fantasy set in faux European settings *and* include PoCs. Or you can try to write worlds with whatever the frick you want. It’s fantasy, ffs. If you want to mix it up and have a story about Chinese-esque dragon riders, then write it.

    In some sense, I think the confirmation bias endemic to epic fantasy’s Euro-myths is one part ignorance and one part unwillingness to imagine. But it’s also probably rooted in everything you’ve written up there, too. The thing I still don’t get: why does this remain a threat? What is so bad about wanting to see more women or PoCs or whatever in fantasy?

    Answer: not a damn thing.

    Sorry…rambly…

  30. It always tells me a lot about people when they can imagine a world with dragons, elves, magic, flying castles and what have you not but totally freak. out. at the thought of women in power, POC existing, non-binary or gay people breathing the virtual air of their fantasy world.
    Yes, our world is racist, and we like to believe that it is not and that “we” are not.
    And those moments when that opinion is challenged is not nice.
    I had one of them reading your Dreamblood series: When Sunandi notes that the Prince is brown and that in Gujareen even the noble classes mixed with “lesser blood”. And automatically my brain switched to her = white, brown = bad because less white. When I noticed that it was her = black, brown = bad, because less black, I wanted to hide under the couch.
    So, thank you for challenging my fuck racist brain and making me think outside of the neat white male protagonist box

  31. But regardless of the identity issues, those racist, bigoted, preconceived beliefs happen to be the truth. That’s far more important than how mean people may or may not be. It isn’t realistic to include many PoC in medieval Europe.

    If anything, MedievalPoc actually demonstrates how far one would have to go to find any PoC in historical Europe. Think about how many times they had to repost the same individual, or try to pass off art as evidence of presence, or take the most charitable (and far-fetched) interpretation, or use mythical figures in art. It’s just not convincing. We should start off with a critical examination of MedievalPoc’s bias, before assuming her take on things is as valid as actual academia simply because she purports to “fight against the status quo”.

  32. A. M. Khan,

    Nobody’s paying attention to this anymore, but I’ll reply simply because I can’t abide seeing complete non-logic presented as a serious argument — not without at least pausing to point and laugh.

    Dude/ette, no. Racist, bigoted, preconceived beliefs are inherently not the truth, because they are by definition biased. Or they wouldn’t be racist, bigoted, and preconceived. (Do you even vocabulary, bro?) Saying that they happen to be the truth is like saying a person “just happened” to win a race — when all the other contestants were hobbled with a ball-and-chain, or had their legs broken. It’s a circular logical fallacy of laughable proportions. It’s simply stupid.

    Likewise, saying “It isn’t realistic to include many PoC in medieval Europe” demonstrates that you have a reading comprehension problem. No one has said that. MedievalPoC has explicitly said the opposite of that — that it’s fallacious to say there were no PoC in medieval Europe, as many game developers and fantasy fans have tried to insist. So basically MPoC has said “X is true” and you’ve responded “But Y isn’t true!” Nobody was talking about Y. Pay attention.

    The rest of what you’re saying is equally WTF. MPoC has explicitly said they’re not “passing off art as evidence of presence”. From what I’ve seen, they’re simply displaying the art and a possible interpretation, and leaving readers to draw their own conclusions. They’re also presenting facts — like Elizabeth I’s attempt to expel the black people from England, which is known in lots of places but certainly not something I was ever taught in school, dunno about you — and leaving logical people to ponder those facts and their implications. They’re presenting art that has been literally whitewashed, edited, or hidden, and leaving logical people to consider why; they’re pointing out how art from eras commonly thought of as “all white”, like Shakespeare, is a lot more diverse than that “conventional wisdom” tries to depict. Obviously it’s not convincing to you, but you have demonstrated a substantial lack of logic or basic comprehension thus far, so I’m not entirely surprised by that. The rest of us are working with a little more.

    I have no problem with a critical examination of MPoC’s facts, BTW. It’s pretty clear MPoC isn’t averse to that, either; I’ve seen them admit wrong lots of times, and I’m satisfied as to their willingness to consider alternative — logical, not the hilarity you’re bringing — arguments. History is all about interpretations and figuring out what’s wrong, and why. What I have a problem with is people like you who have an obvious axe to grind insisting that no, no, MPoC’s axe is what we should pay attention to, which is the rhetorical equivalent of I know you are but what am I. It’s a waste of my time, and I’m too old for that kind of playground shit. Take it somewhere else.

  33. FYI — I’m shutting down comments on this post. Not sure what’s happened to trigger it after so long, but I’m suddenly getting a lot of white supremacist and MRA splatter against my filters. (Including more Khan. Yeahno, dudette/dude/condescension-of-your-choice.) You guys really ought to read my comment policy, and stop writing book-length, 25-cent-word justifications for why your unsourced, unsupported fantasies about an all-white medieval Europe are perfectly OK. Like I said in the OP, write ‘em if you want, but don’t expect informed readers to swallow them without question, and don’t make excuses for your bigotry. Or at least, you won’t be making them here.

Dreamblood Book One:

The Killing Moon

The Killing Moon

Read Sample Chapter 1


March 2014
S M T W T F S
« Feb   Apr »
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Categories