Prejudice – A Writer’s Responsibilities

Let me start by making it very clear that this post conveys my personal opinions!

There’s a long tradition in fiction, especially genres like fantasy and science fiction, for racial and species-centric prejudice to show themselves boldly, and usually as something acceptable.  The question in my mind is: is this something which needs to be reconsidered by authors?  Any right-minded person rejects racial prejudice.  In fact, they should reject any such blind prejudice.  I believe that many authors are as opposed to racism as the majority of the population is.  How, then, do they justify the prejudice in their own writing?

We’re all familiar with tales of alien encounters where the first reaction of Humanity is to either enter into warfare or to at least assume a “militarily ready” posture.  Equally, we know of fantasy tales in which other species are cast as wholly evil, creatures to be destroyed at any cost.  There are fewer tales of genuine harmony in relations with non-humans, even when some species are cast as allies.  There is always an undertone, a dark history, of conflict between the species.

If the writer intends to use such bad relationships to attack racism or speciesism, fair enough.  To attempt to bring light into the darkness is laudable.  Sadly, it is also very rare.  I’m no less guilty than others.  I’ve written my share of pieces where these unhappy prejudices are used, even if they aren’t a part of my own personality.  It’s just so easy to do, to follow the tradition.

Surely, it is our responsibility to change this?  Our villains can be cast as unusual specimens of whatever race or species they are of.  We need not write of our many rational species as being intrinsically good or evil.  If such thinking does appear in our work, then shouldn’t it be balanced by our heroes giving voice to, at the very least, doubts about the assertion of intrinsic evil?  Can’t our best characters declare their understanding that the evil-doers are either unwitting pawns of extraordinary individuals or not representative of their entire species?

It would be most unfortunate if an alien species judged all Humanity by the likes of Hitler and the millions who followed him, through their own badness, fear of the cost of not following, or blind obedience to authority.  The threat of genocide in such circumstances would be all too real.  If we dislike that thought, shouldn’t we, as writers, attempt to suggest that Humanity, as a species, should be ready to welcome others in peace?

~ Steve