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I am a young author writing a fantasy series. I’m re-reading the manuscript of my first book and noticed something about sun elves. I know this question is a little long but bear with me.

Sun elves are one of the eight kinds of elves in my fantasy world. Since they’re sun elves, and the sun is fire, I decided to make them black.

To make a long story short, I’m basically portraying the only black characters in my story as evil demons.

I think you can see why I was so concerned about this. Would this be considered racist? The sun elves as a race were very honorable, but the ones that are still alive are not.

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    Does this answer your question? Avoiding racist tropes in fantasy
    – Nai45
    Dec 19 '20 at 0:14
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    No, not really. I don’t want to know how I can avoid making stuff like this, I just want to know if this specific scenario is racist or not. If yes, then I change it. Dec 19 '20 at 0:16
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    "Since they’re sun elves, and the sun is fire, I decided to make them black. I normally don’t use that word to describe people of color," Black is an acceptable term to use to describe them, but it should be capitalized. Not a PoC, but I have been keeping track of these things.
    – nick012000
    Dec 19 '20 at 10:29
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    If you're uncomfortable with describing their skin as "black", maybe you could describe them as "ashen" or "sun-burned" or anything else that retains the connection to the sun.
    – Llewellyn
    Dec 19 '20 at 19:29
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    Do these black elves have physical characteristics stereotypical of "black people" which you continuously remind the reader about, and do they do things that are stereotypically "black"? If not, how would you continuously remember that they are black?
    – RonJohn
    Dec 20 '20 at 3:17
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Short answer: No.

I'm a Black person, and I think I can tell you from a literary and minority standpoint that this isn't racist.

1) Fire

Flame-like palettes have always gone well with darker skin tones. It's just a visually appealing design. Also, people who are darker-skinned tend to have higher tolerance for heat. Having chosen a darker skin tone for a fire-based elf species is an understandable choice. It's just the design. There are no racist motives behind it. You're just trying to make some design/logical choices.

2) The History

Sounds like not all of them are criminals. Considering that most of them that actually had honor went "almost extinct" makes me believe the majority (like 95%) were really decent people and understood loyalty. The other 5% made stupid choices and became criminals. That just happens with everybody's race, so there's nothing wrong with the history of this.

3) The Quote

Obviously, the quote can be a little iffy, and my judgment may not be the same for others, but honestly? Not racist, really. They're mostly just calling out how the Sun Elves that remained made generally bad choices and were generally bad people and calling them demons, not the actual good ones.

Basically, no. This isn't racist. It just so happens that 5% of the remaining Sun Elves are pretty bad people. Besides, we need more Black bad guys who aren't bad because they're Black, but for other reasons completely unrelated to skin tone! :)

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    I'd be more inclined to agree, if color-coded fantasy races weren't such a well-known, pervasive, and well-documented problem. (Also a black person). Dec 22 '20 at 4:09
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    @ChrisSunamisupportsMonica Good comment. I see you're NOT in the "Sunken Place". I SEE YOU. Jan 26 at 14:06
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Only if there is intent to do so:

I think you're overthinking this. They aren't human and that gives you leeway. By a racist logic the Drow might be considered racist since they were always vile. You're emphasizing their skill and ability, and as long as you're sensitive about explaining the back-story, I think you're fine. You could even have the MC be biased against them but later learn the story and have sympathy. Or there may be ONE good Sun Elf out there (like there were rare good Drow, although there was no good golden age unless I missed some of the backstory), serving as a reminder of their past upright glories.

Fantasy stories are full of races portrayed as evil, but fortunately few are portrayed as the stereotypical portrayal of minorities - Lazy, stupid, and dirty. Arguably, orcs and goblins are much more racist than your elves. There is little negative racial sentiment attached to those who are wicked but competent. I'm German, and if anyone was going to be negatively portrayed due to past actions, it's us. Instead, people have a sense of misplaced glory about the Nazis and their successes.

There is a tendency by people to associate blackness with darkness, and darkness with evil. That has more to do with fear of the dark. If it REALLY concerns you, you could make them golden (for the sun) or grey (because they are no longer in the sun and thus not black any more).

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    "the Drow would be considered racist." There have been people complaining about DnD Drow being racist for a while now.
    – nick012000
    Dec 19 '20 at 10:27
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    @nick012000 Thanks, I answered quickly and didn't make that very clear.
    – DWKraus
    Dec 19 '20 at 12:20
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    Part of the problem with Drow in D&D is that A) pretty much all the dark-skinned variants of normal races are evil and B) they live underground, so being black makes no sense; the sensible color for things that live in the dark is white since pigment is pointless. Fortunately, both of these problems are easily avoided by this story.
    – Erik
    Dec 19 '20 at 21:15
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    Unfortunately there's a lot of subconscious racism, and it can be just as destructive as the intentional kind. Dec 22 '20 at 4:10
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In a perfect world, this wouldn't be an issue, but unfortunately there's a long history of characters --in both realistic and fantasy-based settings --being "color-coded" according to a "lighter skinned = better, more moral, virtuous, good" and "darker skinned = worse, more immoral, evil" system. It's even encoded in our language: "Fair = beautiful" and "dark = sinister." Even more unfortunately, these portrayals, even in fiction, do have real-world impacts --black people are often perceived as threatening and scary even when doing perfectly innocuous activities, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Keep in mind, this is your world, and you control its aspects. Since you're aware of this as a problem, why not mitigate it? Red, orange and gold are alternate colors that could be associated with the sun. Conversely, you could make sure there was more than one dark-skinned group in your book, or that some of the heroic sun elves were known to have survived.

I applaud you for being cognizant of this, and hope that you will address it. As a black person who is a long-time fan of fantasy, it's a real turn-off for me to see the old racist tropes persisting even in newer literature, from authors who really ought to know better.

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