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Mirumoto Kuroniten

Dark-skinned people in Rokugan and fantasy worlds

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On 03/06/2017 at 1:52 AM, Syrmon said:

Were are the dark skinned people?

Hello and welcome to the game and its world!

It is a particularly interesting question, especially in the context of fantasy worlds in general.

 

Edit: I would like to express something more clearly as I failed to do it, in light of some posts.

This thread is NOT a plead for any change in the L5R setting, nor any other setting. It is merely a thought exercise on why are there so few main characters whose skin colour is not light in L5R AND in other fantasy settings, and how that could be changed. The L5R partr is only a starting point, stemming from a question asked in another thread.

I also wnat to express that not every setting, fantasy or otherwise, would benefit from such a change, and that is only my opinion.

 

Regarding the presence of dark-skinned people in L5R specifically.

In Rokugan, the land where the story of L5R is set, dark skinned people are elsewhere and from elsewhere. It is a land is heavily influenced by feudal Japan and shares a trait with it: xenophobia and self-centerness (centrism ?). What and who is from Rokugan is good, what and who is not is not good. It sounds simplicist, however it is not. Japan is an island (well, islands) and that partly explains its fear and disdain of the outside. Rokugan is not an island, it just acts as an island, with its borders being extremely difficult to cross and by being alienated from the outside world. It is also a land shaped by tradition, "do as your forefathers did, it worked for them, it will work for you". At times, it has tried to be inclusive of foreigners and it turned out badly for the Rokugani people; a fantsay depiction of what happened in real world Japan's history¹. In Japanese, there is the word "gaijin" which means foreigner, and not just from somewhere else, someone who is foreign to Japanese culture. This word exists in L5R¹. Being from somewhere else is equivalent to being from a sub-culture, to Rokugani people, and it takes a lot of effort to change this viewpoint; the number of foreigners who have been accepted is far too anecdotal to be relevant here.

Although, it is a fantasy setting and what is done with it is not restricted by reality. I disagree. It is indeed a fantasy setting, and it does not try to depict reality, because that would be boring and pointless, however any setting is a reference to something already existing; any creation is just a representation of our own perception of reality. Why does it matter here? Suspension of disbelief. We can easily imagine fireballs being rained down from the heavens thanks to the prayers of a priest to some unseen entity because it is so far off that it has no echo in reality to counter the idea, and because it echoes with what we know of Asian mythology. However, it is common knowledge that Japanese and, more generally, Asian people are light-skinned and it would ring a weird bell having a fair² amount of dark-skinned people as heroes of Rokugan, merely because it would be counter to what we have come to accept as fact.

 

Regarding the comparison to the number of women depicted as hero samurais and how it could be applied to dark-skinned people.

This forum clearly shows  that the depiction of women, number-wise and story-wise, is not an universal truth, everyone has a different opinion. For one thing, it also shows howw society evolved and how we want to continue evolving it. It is an historical fact that Japan was and still is a male-centric society. Why then are we trying to remove this data when depicting a fantasy setting primarily based on this country? Because we want to put an end to old stereotypes, to change how society views and depicts some people in a way we find offensive and sometimes abusive. Why then can't we do the same for dark-skinned people? Because it would be too big a change from our reality. We can much more easily accept women as hero samurais because there is a wave of change crashing all over the world to put an end to sexism, and there are more and more depictions of women in situations that are not historically accurate in all kinds of media. Why then can't we do the same for dark-skinned people??? It can be done, just not yet. Having dark-skinned samurais is still a one-off; Afro Samurai is a good example of that: his name is proof that the colour of his skin is an oddity when linked to feudal Japan concepts. 

There are some artistic creations that include dark-skinned people as heroes in a feudal Japan influenced setting, such as The Man with the Iron Fists, who try to incorporate them as normallly as possible, however they often fall back on the idea that dark-skinned people are foreigners. This is done in order to ensure the audience is captivated, to keep it entertainedand not lose ot in sterile debates where one would argue that it is not historically accurate. It is purely an economic decision. It is the point where artistic freedom meets economic reality, where theory collides with concrete.

 

Regarding the presence of dark-skinned people in fantasy worlds

Most of the time, dark-skinned characters are shown in modern world settings. However, in recent artistic creations, there is a clear will to depict fantasy heroic characters as dark-skinned people, even when it was not originally the case; the example are numerous and can easily be found. Sometimes, that is even done contrary to the preservation of the suspension of disbelief, as Idris Elba playing the role of Heimdall in Thor. Heimdall is part of the Norse mythology and when thinking Norse, the ideas that spring to mind are blond, vikings, beards and definitely not dark-skinned Idris Elba. Why then was he cast for the role? Because there is a will to change set ideas, for dark-skinned notably. What about the economic reality? Well, really, Marvel, and all the companies behind it, can afford to do this, because they have a strong economy already and having a specific point that will cause debate will not cause its downfall nor put it in peril. 

The amount of dark-skinned people depicted as heroic characters in fantasy worlds is not always linked to the setting. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien does not depict dark-skinned heroic characters, nor does the Peter Jackson's version. But why? Indeed, why?! It would not be a stretch to have dark-skinned hobbits, or a dark-skinned Gandalf, even though he is called the White. Lord of the Rings's setting is heavily fictional and having less ties to reality would be a perfect starting point to help change old ideas and broaden minds.

 

Regarding the introduction of dark-skinned people in fantasy worlds

The depiction of characters must not feel forced, be they women, dark-skinned people or light-skinned males. It must feel incorporated in the setting, a natural flow of the story. Changing mentalities with force will only create counter effects, where prople reject the new ideas. Idris Elba as Heimdall was surprising but did not feel forced because the setting took liberties with Norse mythology on several other points. More importantly, it was done in a mainstream media and had a worldwide impact. Mainstream media has a role to play here, by changing what can be changed without too much adverse reaction, in order to show it can be done and that the gender and colour of the skin of a character have no impact, if there is no valid reason story-wise.

In L5R, the introduction of other nations and their people, as it was done with Legend of the Burning Sands, would be a nice way to introduce heroic characters who are dark-skinned and tell new stories. It may even end up as way to end Rokugan's xenophobia and have dark-skinned samurais, by way of travels and marriages. It is a story I would love to read, hear and be a part of. However, this story will take time to be told because Rokugan is a xenophobic mythical feudal Japan and Asia influenced land.

 

¹ it was true in the old L5R lore, it remains to be seen if it is still accurate.

² fair here means a significant number of heroic, Rokugan-born-and-raised samurai, not just a random adopted samurai.

 

Edited by Mirumoto Kuroniten

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1 hour ago, Mirumoto Kuroniten said:

Regarding the comparison to the number of women depicted as hero samurais and how it could be applied to dark-skinned people.

This forum clearly shows  that the depiction of women, number-wise and story-wise, is not an universal truth, everyone has a different opinion. For one thing, it also shows howw society evolved and how we want to continue evolving it. It is an historical fact that Japan was and still is a male-centric society. Why then are we trying to remove this data when depicting a fantasy setting primarily based on this country? Because we want to put an end to old stereotypes, to change how society views and depicts some people in a way we find offensive and sometimes abusive. Why then can't we do the same for dark-skinned people? Because it would be too big a change from our reality. We can much more easily accept women as hero samurais because there is a wave of change crashing all over the world to put an end to sexism, and there are more and more depictions of women in situations that are not historically accurate in all kinds of media. Why then can't we do the same for dark-skinned people??? It can be done, just not yet. Having dark-skinned samurais is still a one-off; Afro Samurai is a good example of that: his name is proof that the colour of his skin is an oddity when linked to feudal Japan concepts. 

There are some artistic creations that include dark-skinned people as heroes in a feudal Japan influenced setting, such as The Man with the Iron Fists, who try to incorporate them as normallly as possible, however they often fall back on the idea that dark-skinned people are foreigners. This is done in order to ensure the audience is captivated, to keep it entertainedand not lose ot in sterile debates where one would argue that it is not historically accurate. It is purely an economic decision. It is the point where artistic freedom meets economic reality, where theory collides with concrete.

I mostly agree with you but this point is weak sauce. The whole argument here boils down to "we cannot have more black characters because its too early". 

How is it too early? It is acceptable to have more women because of global social changes towards ending sexism, cool. There is also a global social change towards ending racism. So why again is it not ok to put more black characters in?  

Not arguing with the whole premise, just this one argument.

Edit: And from what I  remember there are both examples of women samurai and gaijin soldiers in Japanese history.

Edited by BordOne

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I think it's just because they would need a way to explain it. I mean : in Android Netrunner there are mostly mixed people because in the long term it's what we will probably get. But in this particular setting, with a pretty rigid society without social or economic mobility, that harder to explain the presence of Black/white/arab/... people in the rokugani Society.

Ofc they could do it. But I don't think there is a way to do it well.

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10 minutes ago, MrMenthe said:

Ofc they could do it. But I don't think there is a way to do it well.

A few black Mantis sailors wouldn't ruffle my feathers, nor would it be impossible in the setting. They would get a lot of strange looks when they enter a mainland harbor though.

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3 minutes ago, Mig el Pig said:

 

A few black Mantis sailors wouldn't ruffle my feathers, nor would it be impossible in the setting. They would get a lot of strange looks when they enter a mainland harbor though.

Ofc they could do a few black Mantis, or some gaijins from burning sand / ... merchants tolerated by the rokugani. I was talking at a larger scale (similar to the male / female topic) and in a more egalitarian way (black/white/arab samourai). That is, in my mind, impossible to do well in this particular setting.

In the female case they are (obviously) already there so it's easier to do a somewhat more egalitarian society from that premise.

Edited by MrMenthe

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Yes, a bunch of dark-skinned Mantis (and Tortoise) sailors would be awesome. Maybe they are natives from the Islands of Spice and Silk that Kaimetsu-uo accepted into his clan.

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11 minutes ago, MrMenthe said:

Ofc they could do a few black Mantis, or some gaijins from burning sand / ... merchants tolerated by the rokugani. I was talking at a larger scale (similar to the male / female topic) and in a more egalitarian way (black/white/arab samourai). That is, in my mind, impossible to do well in this particular setting.

Yeah, although if they had rewritten the Unicorn so that 1/4 of them were arabian/persian when they came back to the Empire I wouldn't mind.

Just ditch the black for pink and these could be Unicorn. True Samurai would mock them for using shields though :)

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Shinjo Saladin

saladin_original.jpg

Edited by Mig el Pig

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Yeah but then they would have to redo how the Rokugani society works. I mean it's already difficult for the Unicorn while they have amongst their rank asian like people (mongols etc equivalent), barely supported by the crane (if I'm not mistaken) to honor the friendship between both their founding Kami.

It's difficult (at least for me) to imagine that it would work smoothly. I mean yes we could all just pretend that it makes sense but in the end I don't think it would be more than that.

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This isn't a Hollywood movie where you check off boxes before you release something just to attempt to please everyone. If it isn't organic don't force the issue. Also isn't shadowlands technically the most diverse (racially) of the armies? 

Take this from someone that supports the LGBT community and is of mixed ethnicity (Hispanic and Asian). Don't force real world issues into games, this is a fantastical world in an established setting. I am not saying don't celebrate diversity or don't aim for it in games. Im just saying im tired of being force fed an agenda by the PC police "because it has to be".

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I didn't say their wouldn't be problems. But next to the meat eating, fur wearing, death god worshipping, yurt-living, scimitair wielding, hand shaking nomadic lifestyle this could just be an extra element why some consider them outsiders, despite living nearly 200 years inside the empire.

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12 minutes ago, MrMenthe said:

It's difficult (at least for me) to imagine that it would work smoothly. I mean yes we could all just pretend that it makes sense but in the end I don't think it would be more than that.

I understand your point, I'm just saying that for some cases we don't need much, if any, pretending, a few black Mantis, some Arabian/persian looking Unicorn could add more theme and variety to the setting without drastic changes. Hoturi turning into a black Hotaru, I concur, would be something else.

Edited by Mig el Pig

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Just now, Mig el Pig said:

I understand your point, I'm just saying that for some cases we don't need much pretending, a few black Mantis, some Arabian/persian looking Unicorn could add more theme and variety to the setting without drasti changes. Hoturi turning into a black Hotaru, I concur, would be something else.

And I agree in that it wouldn't be difficult to have a very few people in subordinate positions. I just don't think that would be really better than having none. ^^'

I'm aware that I'm more of a "all or nothing" kind of guy. So maybe the fault is in my reasoning. ^^

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Well, more or less... There are obviously Chinese, Korean and Mongolian elements to the whole thing and the some of the mythology is Greek.

Doesn't change the fact that the core of the setting is fundamentally Japanese and I wouldn't have it any other way.

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I love diversity, which is why I dig Star Wars and Star Trek so much. But there we have it already, diverity is always easier in science fiction than in fantasy, especially in mono cultural fantasy. I mean sure there have been black actors in viking films, but that always feels weird. Anyway, on L5R, I can understand both sides. And looking at most illustrations, I have to say the supposed Asians look often rather Caucasian anyway, so I would not mind to expand that a little.

With the old canon no longer being binding here a few suggestions what could be done: First the obvious: Unicorn! Well, I guess I have not to say much about that. Then we have pirates (not sure if they actually are already a minor clan named Mantis or not), which could of course have already sailed to Ivory Kingdoms and other places and thus have to rather dark skin members, especially if they are not really involved in the culture of the Emeral Empire it would be easy to make them more polynesian in the first place. We have the Phoenix who had some contact to the Yobanjin, which could be stronger diffentiated from the Roguganese people and well still some interbreeding between them and the Phoenix. And finally the Scorpion, who got in the old game some connections to the Burning Sands because of their exiles, but which I felt had been not really explored much, so how about they have in this time line established some connections to the burning sands in the time the Unicorn had been away, and thus have some influences in that regard already?

But of course what would that mean to the xenophobia of the setting? Well, maybe that could be just focused on non-human species? But even in that regard old L5R canon had been kinda inclusive, I mean the Crab have their friendship with the Ratling, the Kitsu are basically an interbreed between two species, everybody likes to have a Kenku teacher, the Naga got welcomed into the empire after not too much trouble, and so on.

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2 hours ago, Mig el Pig said:

I understand your point, I'm just saying that for some cases we don't need much, if any, pretending, a few black Mantis, some Arabian/persian looking Unicorn could add more theme and variety to the setting without drastic changes. Hoturi turning into a black Hotaru, I concur, would be something else.

Themes and settings are like cooking,  trying to add a little of everything usually turns it into an unappetizing mess. 

 

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4 hours ago, Dovla said:

This is a fantasy setting, not a liberal arts  college campus.

yes, god forbid we actually talk about the subject, rather than simply dismiss it out of hand. WHAT HORROR. WHAT SHAME. 

OP made a genuine, considered effort to approach the subject even mindedly, to show how representation is an evolving issue and how l5r can approach it in a reasonable way, and his first response is a piece of garbage like this. 

stay classy, guys. 

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2 hours ago, MrMenthe said:

Yeah but then they would have to redo how the Rokugani society works. I mean it's already difficult for the Unicorn while they have amongst their rank asian like people (mongols etc equivalent), barely supported by the crane (if I'm not mistaken) to honor the friendship between both their founding Kami.

It's difficult (at least for me) to imagine that it would work smoothly. I mean yes we could all just pretend that it makes sense but in the end I don't think it would be more than that.

People of ‘impure’ ancestry would not work smoothly in a racist society, no. This is not an argument against including them. Bring me Unicorn with Persian/Arabic/Mongolian blood. Mantis showing South Asian and even Polynesian heritage, and even some straight up Indian people (from the Ivory Kingdoms) sprinkled in there. Phoenix, with their obsession with purity, should also have Yobanjin bloodlines among them. The veneer of courtesy needs to show some cracks in it if it is to be appreciated. A ‘racially pure’ society is only interesting if it actually isn't.

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43 minutes ago, McDermott said:

Themes and settings are like cooking,  trying to add a little of everything usually turns it into an unappetizing mess.

Perhaps I didn't make myself clear but where did i ask for for a little bit of everything?

I'm just saying that if they did include a few people from other racial backgrounds, into places where they logicly could concurr, into L5R we don't have to consider the complete setting an unappetizing mess. 

Do I ask for it? Do I want it? Do I care if they do or don't? Not really,  the setting has been retconned throughout it's history, every one of us has a diffrent mental image of Rokugan in our mind anyway and even those aren't constant. But if they would do it there are oppertunties in the setting where they could be included.

If you were playing a L5R rpg would you walk out of the game if the dm decided to add some Saracen, Parthian, Persian, Egyptian or even Baktrian elements to the Unicorn?

 

Edited by Mig el Pig

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23 minutes ago, cielago said:

yes, god forbid we actually talk about the subject, rather than simply dismiss it out of hand. WHAT HORROR. WHAT SHAME. 

OP made a genuine, considered effort to approach the subject even mindedly, to show how representation is an evolving issue and how l5r can approach it in a reasonable way, and his first response is a piece of garbage like this. 

stay classy, guys. 

Because there really isn't an issue if you think about it.

OP said there isn't enough dark-skinned people in L5R and LoTR when there clearly is. What OP wanted was prominence for "dark-skin people" in the story which is really not needed which for me smells like entitlement.

representation is being tackled and approached by both settings by symbolism. One just need to see themselves in relations to the elements of the story being told. I like my stories to tackle ideas rather than cater to certain demographics/races.

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