I was thinking of making the characters use racial slurs, because there's no way that in a fantasy setting people are progressive and respect people of every group, but I wasn't sure what would be acceptable and what would be unacceptable given the current culture of wide acceptance and zero tolerance for racism.

In Skyrim, humans refer to Orcs as "Pig men", Khajiits as "Cats", and I think those are fine, but I am not sure what to make out of "darkies" when referring to a dark elf for example. It seems to close to comfort to real racial slurs used in our world, and I feel like it's probably not something most authors would use today.

3 Answers 3


I note that on Earth races are subgroups of humans, and that all humans are members of one species, Homo sapiens.

In fantasy stories Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Giants, Trolls, etc. are members of different species which coexist with human characters. And I find annoying that people write about different fantasy races when they are actually different fantasy species. Thus fantasy characters often exhibit prejudice against members of other species which should be classified as speciesism and not racism.

I note that in Tolkien's Middle-Earth, the seven races of the Dwarves are mentioned, and thus Dwarves include members of seven different races, which makes the difference between Dwarves and Hobbits and Elves bigger than the differences between human races.

Similarly in science fiction people from different planets in different star systems are usually members of different species, often drastically different in appearance. In fact all the lifeforms on planet A may be related to each other, but they should be totally unrelated to all the lifeforms on planet B. So the people of planet A are not just a different species from the people of planet B, but a different genus, a different family, a different order, a different class, a different phylum, a different kingdom, etc.

Thus a fantasy or science fiction writer could have a character think about how much he despised Globnork's entire species, showing that Globnork and the other character belong to different species and not just different races.

And maybe someone could point out that a character had no racism against other members of his species, but had prejudice against members of some other species. Obviously knowledge of other species of people might make many people more tolerant of other races, but their evil urges to oppress different people might be channeled against people of other species, instead of being fought against.

And maybe a character could be bullied by racist members of other races of his species, and also bullied by speciesist members of other species.

  • People tend to fight their neighbors rather than fighting people on the other side of the planet. Sub-religion groups had more wars than completely different religions. Big families fight over resources in the same region. I suggest racism inside the same specie which prevent the whole specie union and adds more obstacles for your protagonist. Imagine this, once we "Earthers" find life on another planet, a total world war occurs fighting over who will be the dominant of the new planet.
    – Bassem
    Jan 16 at 9:03

First, the assumption of lack of tolerance among people of different ethnicities was surprisingly varied depending on cultures and historical periods. For example, the Romans were quite tolerant of other religions and didn't care if those they conquered didn't worship the same gods they did (largely because they were already worshipping the Greek gods). Shakespeare's play Othello: The Moore of Venice made sure that the only people who brought Othello's African Heritage up were clearly using it against him, and the motives of the villainous Iago's hatred of Othello was Othello got a promotion to the head of the Venetian Military over Iago. Iago was trying to ruin Othello's relationship, and when he found that people respected Othello regardless of skin color, he moved to other means to sabotage him. In another of the Bard's works, The Merchant of Venice, the character of Shylock is given several anti-Semitic characterizations, but Shylock also is given credit that some of his behavior is his own quest for justice, and makes a memorable argument that even if he is Jewish, he is still human and deserves the dignity as such, which was progressive for the period of history. And while Shylock was ultimately forced to convert to Christianity, at the time, this was considered a happy ending for Shylock.

In the U.S., real life 19th century cowboys were incredibly diverse, and about a quarter of those who occupied the role were of African, Hispanic, or Native American descent and they were equally respected by their white co-workers, largely due to the dangerous nature of the work precluded racial differences from getting in the way of safety. You don't see this often because most popular depictions of Cowboys were developed for audiences that wouldn't want to see the real integration.

Now, that's not to say slurs didn't exists, but they didn't always have the inappropriate connotation they have today. Nor should it be ignored that yes, there was greater societal tolerance of intolerant practices and that doesn't make them any less wrong. Even shows set in the optimistic future, slurs emerged for fictional races of people. Star Trek had many prominent races given slurs by humans, who had stopped racial hatred of their own kinds. Klingons were called Klinks, Cardassians were Spoonheads, Humans were called "Pink Skins" (which was mocked because many aliens had near human appearances) Bajorans were Wrinkle-Noses, etc. Several episodes did deal with this. The character of Miles O'Brian was shown to have some very problematic history with Cardassians, largely due to the fact that he served on the front lines in a war with them preceding the TNG era, and as with many real wars, un-personing the enemy is often used to get soldiers over the fact that they have to kill a man and will be praised by it. He didn't kill a Cardassian. He killed a Spoon. And the attitude is not easy to correct once peace comes and on several occasions Miles is shown to be very uncomfortable being around Cardassians, even those who were not even born when the war was on.

That said, if you do want to use fantasy slurs to address racism in your story, there are plenty of ways to do, but the slurs should be something that has no cross overs with real world slurs (your dark elves one is used in real life and mostly to offend non-white people. To say nothing of the fact that there has been a lot of controversy around the deception of drow/dark-elves coding for stereotypes of African American peoples. I would recommend going with a different word like "bats" since Dark Elves are often cave dwelling). I would make damn sure it is known that this behavior is not acceptable and avoid the heroes doing it at all unless there is significant purpose to it (like the story being about them overcoming their own bigotry).


Depends on if you want a watered-down, bland, and easily forgettable story, or if you want one that is actually good. When you write, whether it is set in a realistic setting or fantasy, you have to allow the characters to be authentic. If your character is a racist, then they should use racist speech.

I'm currently writing a story that has several wildly different cultures. One character comes from a warrior culture with a prison-like mentality and she sees nothing wrong with rape or murder. To her, these things are just a part of life. If she wants a mate, she takes him for herself. If he has a wife and/or children, she sees nothing wrong with killing them.

It's not my personal opinions or attitudes about such subjects, but then again, I'm not writing a story about myself. I'm writing a story about someone else who was raised with a completely different set of morals and values than I have.

When I write such characters, I don't care about what I, or even my reader, thinks about them. I just try to get inside the character's head and think about what would be authentic to the character I'm writing.

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