5E Thoughts on this article about Black Culture & the D&D team dropping the ball?

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IchneumonWasp

Explorer
In general, I think that WoTC has been very progressive in their latest edition, making sure all kinds of people are represented and not in any negatively stereotypical way.

I'm not entirely sure I understand what the point of the article is. Yes, this is a fantasy culture that is based on African cultures. Similarly to how other products are based on European cultures. This means that most of the images will feature black people in african-style clothes. Isn't that what you'd want? The characters aren't caricatures and I feel most of the book is quite respectful and avoids harmful stereotypes. The links to colonialism, aren't glorifying racism, in fact they are doing quite the opposite. At least, that is my opinion.
 

Hussar

Legend
And, to be fair, even the Euro-centric elements of D&D aren't really terribly historically based. They are pulled from pretty stock fantasy stuff and all jammed together. I don't think I'd expect a whole lot more from any D&D treatment set anywhere.
 

Aldarc

Hero
I believe the sort of general sentimentality of the article was akin to "It's not so much offensive as it is lazy." I get that. But that is arguably what defines the Forgotten Realms is that it is a sort of "lazy" assembly of its various parts and pieces of real world regions and cultures. (Sorry, Ed, but it is lazy.) Faerun is a lazy mishmash. Let us pray that the author does not also glance at Maztica, Zakhara, or Kara-Tur.
 

Lylandra

Explorer
I believe the sort of general sentimentality of the article was akin to "It's not so much offensive as it is lazy." I get that. But that is arguably what defines the Forgotten Realms is that it is a sort of "lazy" assembly of its various parts and pieces of real world regions and cultures. (Sorry, Ed, but it is lazy.) Faerun is a lazy mishmash. Let us pray that the author does not also glance at Maztica, Zakhara, or Kara-Tur.
I'm no PoC, so take my following comments with a grain of salt.
I guess I agree with your statement. FR is a (culturally speaking) often lazy adaptation of various RL cultures. As a European, I can see strange mish-mashes of various stereotypes all over Northern Faerun and I have to admit that the most redeeming part of the setting was the general idea of magic and the interdependency between the divine and mortals. (Oh and the bad guys were usually cool as well. At least to a 18 year old girl which I was when I first read through the Campaign Setting).

I guess Kara-Tur or Zakhara or Maztica or Chult might feel similar for someone who's from Asia (not all of Asia is a mix of feudal Japan and Chinese folklore) or the Middle East (although the Persian empire did span over a vast area, it became a LOT more complicated during/after the middle ages) or Middle/Southern America (don't just mix up Mayans and Inka and jungles and human sacrifices ...) or, as said, Africa.

Now I do like racial and cultural diversity in a setting, as well as having maybe settings which specifically use only one region of the world as inspiration point to take a deeper dive into a variety of sub-cultures.
7th Sea uses a multitude of RL-inspired mythical european cultures as basis. the Avatar-verse uses Chinese, Japanese and Inuit cultures and adds its own mythological stuff on top of it. Zeitgeist mixes up southern America, victorian England and an overall pretty black populace as well as it makes its "elves" based on indian cultures and myths.

Now I think what should be really avoided are harmful stereotypes. And I guess we should ask someone who's from that origin point whether a stereotype we might have used in our writing is too much or even harmful. For example, I'm from Germany. And I'm so annoyed whenever a "german based" person or a "Germany based" region in a fantasy setting is somehow related to this setting's version of Nazis and autoritanism or is overly focused on overly masculine traits like hardness and steel (We're not all metalheads ;) ). I don't mind as much when it comes to using a stereotypical inventiveness/focus on science or orderliness or a complicated beurocracy or a strange, stern humor. Because there are stereotypes many of us like to laugh about :)
 

Evenglare

Adventurer
So, what ARE your thoughts?

Sent from my HTC One M9 using EN World mobile app
Oh im not touching this with a 10ft pole. Just curious on what others think. My problem is more with Kotaku itself. They like to stir up :):):):), and the internet as a whole tends for the same. News sites post these incredibly negative articles, which is fine, Im not against point out things like that, but would it be too hard to ask for some articles about things that are praised in the game as well? And even furthermore since the writer is so impassioned about this, I'd love to see her and others actually create something in the vein of what they say was WotC faltering on. Actually producing something would be a meaningful step forward so we can point to how things should be handled. And there's no excuse to not do it, especially feeling about stuff like this as strongly as people do.There's literally no barrier to entry on this stuff since we have the D&D store to sell your product as well as a myriad of sites (Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc etc) to promote your product.

But no, making stuff like this actually takes hard work in research, game mechanics, etc etc. So people just bitch about stuff, cause turmoil then .... nothing, then they move on. There's no actual effort into addressing the problem then producing something that takes a step forward to fix the problem.
 
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Cap'n Kobold

Adventurer
I don't know a whole lot about the Forgotten Realms: Is Chult the only "Africa- analogue" in it?
I was under the impression that Chult was more like Madagascar: an island full of lost species, with its own human culture, but an offshoot of a larger and more varied continent.

As I understand it, the reason that FR is full of so many recognisably earthlike cultures is because it is: It was populated by actual humans from earth coming through portals and suchlike. Throw in magic and actual, meddling gods, and the cultures warped somewhat, but are still generally recognisable.
 

Mephista

Visitor
The root of the problem really seems to be a need to bring in a cultural correspondant. At least someone to tell you what is offensive or not. (mad monkey disease)

Can't even do a Year of the Monkey thing, referencing Chinese New Year, without some offense.


As for the colonial attitude? That's dnd as a whole. If that's racist... then the entire game is a lost cause
 
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Mephista

Visitor
but all this does bring up a very curious question. What is black fantasy? Wu xia is basically chinese fantasy. Japanese fanatasy takes place in the Warring States period. We all know european fanatasy; egyptian fantasy invariably revolves round the mummy and the sphinx along with osirus, isis, set, anubus and bastet. Early American fantasy tends to shape around the Aztec and Incan civilizations. Arabian fantasy invariably revolves around the idea of djinn and early mesopotanean religions, along with 1001 arabian nights and sinbad.

Now, I don't know about austrailia or pacific islanders either, but black fantasy is a great big question mark. I don't even have a starting point to even guess.
 

Dualazi

Visitor
There's really no point in discussing it, it's a usual clickbait article from Kotaku trying to stir up **** over race relations. I could do a large breakdown of all of the logical leaps and inadequacies of the article, but what would even be the point? Seems most posters here are of similar minds, at the very least that this particular instance is definitely a mountain/molehill situation. I think the best thing to do would be to simply disregard it, after all, "don't feed the trolls".
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Weird, it never occurred to me think of a small island or peninsula as being a faux-Africa at all; the geography just doesn't track. Garund in Golarian seems a much more obvious analogue.
 

akr71

Adventurer
I am nowhere near qualified to have a relevant opinion. However, I would recommend the author start with page 31 of the PHB and the description of the Turami human ethnic group:

Native to the southern shore of the Inner Sea, the Turami people are generally tall and muscular, with dark mahogany skin, curly black hair, and dark eyes.
It sounds like the author is looking to the wrong part of Faerun to demonstrate a sophisticated black culture in D&D. I'm also no anthropologist, but jungles are savage. Even the most sophisticated cultures built in the jungle descend into savagery once you get too far from the urban centers.

Most importantly, the author should stop looking to the Forgotten Realms to reflect the world they want to play in - make your own! That is the true power of D&D. If you buy a 'canned' adventure or play in some one else's predefined world, it is going to come with all of their preconceptions, notions and cultural baggage. No matter how hard WotC is trying to be inclusive of everyone - and I think that is a good thing - it is pretty difficult to undo all those baked in preconceptions.
 
I dunno. What I'm reading from that article is, "The original Chult was extraordinarily culturally insensitive, and although most of the insensitive parts have been removed the new version still is associated with the old version, and therefore it can never be acceptable. You should have started from scratch and invented something with dark-skinned people that does not resemble Africa in any way."

While recognizing that the original Chult (as described by the article; I took a break from D&D during those years so I'm taking it on faith) sounds pretty racist, this criticism still seems to be expecting a bit much. But even for a white male I'm on the privileged end of the spectrum, so WTF do I know.
 
I found the article to be though provoking, and not particularly negative or click-baity. Interesting how different people respond differently to it.

Because I think context matters, let me share some of my own: I'm a white American living in the midwest, in a predominantly white community. Close to dozen members of my extended family have lived and worked (or do live and work) in various nations in Africa, including my parents back before I was born, but I've never been to the continent myself. All that flavors how I experience both the article and TOA.

The article did articulate something that was bothering me about TOA, but I couldn't quite name: the amalgamation of a wide range of varied African cultures into one. I understand that WOTC and D&D in general has done so with Western European culture for decades, so I get the "how is this different than that" comments/arguments (which are even acknowledge in the article). But I do think it is different--or at least that it is understandably experienced differently by people of color, and even by at least some white people sensitive to these issues. In the US, there has been a long standing practice, in both media and in general public understanding, of not recognizing the distinctiveness of various geographically related cultures, and simply melding them together in depictions and description. Hollywood depictions of American Indian, Asian, African, and South American cultures have taken elements from a wide variety of cultures and blended them together, without acknowledging that they are doing so. And usually this blending/melding is being done by people who don't come from any of the cultures involved. It leads to stereotypes, and it is offensive and demeaning, even if that's not the intent.

The prevalence of diseases in Chult doesn't bother me. I know from family stories and experience that insect born diseases like malaria are ubiquitous and dangerous in Africa. It had not occurred to me until reading this article that "Mad Monkey Fever" was a potential issue. I've been only vaguely aware of the practice in avowedly racist circles of describing/depicting African Americans and Africans as monkeys, and that awareness has only come about in the last 5 years or so thanks to Facebook. For me (and likely for Crawford and Mearls), the name "Mad Monkey Fever" made sense given that monkeys are common in many parts of Africa, are known to carry disease, and "mad" or "threatening" monkeys are a pretty common trope in movies and other fiction. The (potential) racial overtones were completely lost on me until they were pointed out. While I believe that the name was absolutely innocently chosen, a different name that didn't risk being heard/experienced as racially charged would have been better.

I'm very disappointed to learn that WOTC didn't consult any African Americans or Africans as they worked on TOA. I think this would have helped address some of the issues that concern me. At the same time, it was good to see from the article the strides that WOTC has made over the years as the setting has developed.
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
Read the article, meh.

This is one of those areas that, IMO, people just get too worked up over. Culture is a big dynamic flexible mishmash. Always has been, always will be. People frothing at the mouth about losing or defending their culture can share a therapy group with the people freaking out about cultural appropriation... they're both trying to hold back tides with brooms.

Sent from my Nexus 7 using EN World mobile app
 

Xaelvaen

Explorer
Another silly article, from the standpoint where we play DnD anyway. We never tie color to region, regardless of what anything in a book says. We never even take the time to describe someone's complexion unless it's an important part of the story; "Her skin is so pale you wonder if you could see through it in bright light" or "You can't tell if his skin is dark, or if he is encased in a constant shadow that seems to move more than he does" - you know, supernatural things. If a player wants a character with a particular appearance or ethnicity, it's simply there. No book will ever dictate any of these situations at my table, period.

As far as culture, that's no one's job but the DM's. If you want a culture to matter, you gotta make it matter. The hints of flavor are there, it's up to the person presenting the world to his or her players to determine how much that culture stands out and shines, or fades into the backdrop. I suppose, on a smaller scale, a player could take up the mantle of responsibility by playing someone from a particular culture, and highlighting its differences to the group. Either way, there is no 'deficiency' in faerun, and there is no point for such a heavy focus on -any- particulars in regards to real-world relations.

As far as "Mad Monkey Fever", it honestly never even occurred to me until I read this article, and I'm from the deep south. There've been people my whole life using garbage language like that, and so I've pushed myself away from it as much as possible. I'm actually annoyed at the article for even bringing that concept back to my mind, if only briefly.
 
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lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I saw this article when it was first posted, considered posting some thoughts about it here, then ... thought better of it.

FWIW, Kotaku has had some pretty decent coverage of D&D by Cecilia D'Anastasio-
https://kotaku.com/tag/dd

...and it's always good to see thoughtful coverage by those who play the game. I think that the linked-to article raises some difficult questions in general, which don't resolve to easy answers. I don't happen to agree with many parts of it, but I also think it's useful to think about it.
 

pogre

Adventurer
I'm not a person of color and feel unqualified to judge the criticisms of the article.

It seemed thoughtful if a bit disjointed. I did not see it as clickbait at all.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
I am nowhere near qualified to have a relevant opinion. However, I would recommend the author start with page 31 of the PHB and the description of the Turami human ethnic group:



It sounds like the author is looking to the wrong part of Faerun to demonstrate a sophisticated black culture in D&D. I'm also no anthropologist, but jungles are savage. Even the most sophisticated cultures built in the jungle descend into savagery once you get too far from the urban centers.

Most importantly, the author should stop looking to the Forgotten Realms to reflect the world they want to play in - make your own! That is the true power of D&D. If you buy a 'canned' adventure or play in some one else's predefined world, it is going to come with all of their preconceptions, notions and cultural baggage. No matter how hard WotC is trying to be inclusive of everyone - and I think that is a good thing - it is pretty difficult to undo all those baked in preconceptions.
Oh im not touching this with a 10ft pole. Just curious on what others think. My problem is more with Kotaku itself. They like to stir up :):):):), and the internet as a whole tends for the same. News sites post these incredibly negative articles, which is fine, Im not against point out things like that, but would it be too hard to ask for some articles about things that are praised in the game as well? And even furthermore since the writer is so impassioned about this, I'd love to see her and others actually create something in the vein of what they say was WotC faltering on. Actually producing something would be a meaningful step forward so we can point to how things should be handled. And there's no excuse to not do it, especially feeling about stuff like this as strongly as people do.There's literally no barrier to entry on this stuff since we have the D&D store to sell your product as well as a myriad of sites (Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc etc) to promote your product.

But no, making stuff like this actually takes hard work in research, game mechanics, etc etc. So people just bitch about stuff, cause turmoil then .... nothing, then they move on. There's no actual effort into addressing the problem then producing something that takes a step forward to fix the problem.
Let me address the main crux of both of these posts, because IMO claiming you shouldn't be able to criticize or critique something unless you yourself can do it is just silly and absurd.


Or they just aren't writers, game designers, etc. there's a very big barrier to entry otherwise we wouldn't pay for this stuff we'd all be successfully publishing our own stuff as our day jobs. What you're asking for here is akin to saying if you don't like a videogame then create your own... or if you don't like a car build your own. It's perfectly reasonable to critique something without being able to create said thing yourself. Most movie critics don't make movies even though they critique them, sports analysts don't necessarily play the sport they critique and so on. So yeah claiming you should make your own or shut up... doesn't really hold any real water.
 
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