Is Racial Homogenization in Fantasy a Problem?

DnD Races

First, what is racial homogeneity?  This is when a neighborhood, city, town, or country has only one race or group.  In the real world, this would be an area that has only Jews or Italians or Jamaicans.  No other groups live in the areas.  At least noticeably and with any real power.  Might be a few outside individuals, but the areas are considered racial homogenous.

Now, how does this relate to fantasy?

Throughout the history of the genre, authors have used racial homogeneity.  This goes back to LOTR where you had humans, dwarves, elves, hobbits, orcs, etc. all neatly divided into their own kingdoms.  Think about it.  Was there any place in Middle Earth that was really diverse?  No because this division was done both culturally and geographically in a way that we still see today.  That would be:

  • Elves in forests
  • Dwarves in mountains
  • Humans in big cities and suburbs
  • Hobbits/halflings in country sides
  • Orcs in swamps and volcanic regions

These are some of the greatest tropes of fantasy and they work off racial homogeneity.  It can be explained as opposing cultures that don’t trust each other or lack the ability to function together.  A big difference between reality and fantasy is that you are working with separate races instead of different flavors of human.  This is why people don’t really question the practice.  It makes sense for elves and dwarves to not want to live together, so they stay away or only pass through.  They’re just too different on a biological level even if they got over their cultural differences.

Personally, I find this to be a major cop out.  You can have kingdoms and cities that are racial homogeneous.  It’s just weird to have them be divided across the globe with no overlapping.  None of these races have an interest in making a town where they can live together?  There’s no cultural diffusion where they swap ideas and technology, which would increase the chances of such a region?  Of course, this is undone by having the races hate and distrust each other on some level.  At best, they’ll trade for stuff while continuing to keep their distance.  As an author this makes it easier to demonstrate the various cultures, but it feels rather stunted to me.

One big reason this has seemed odd to me is because half-elves exist.  That right there shows there aren’t genetic connections between at least two races.  Authors have had other crossbreeds while maintaining their racial homogeneity.  These characters tend to be treated as outcasts because they don’t truly belong to either group.  Never signs that these races may have more in common than they realize.  Interracial marriage and relationships are how the homogenous cultures and societies are broken down to be more inclusive, but fantasy authors really fight against this at times.  Not consciously, but you can see that it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should given the love of half-breeds.

Thinking about Windemere, I realized that I didn’t do a ton of racial homogeneous cities and regions.  Sea elves, winged elves, and chaos elves had their own locations because nobody else could or would live in their areas.  Regular elves live among other kingdoms with no place to call their own.  There’s Nevra Coil, which is mostly gnomes, but it was a new city and I plan on having it be more diverse the next time it’s visited.  Darwin’s hometown of Goldmeadow might be it since it’s all halflings out in the country.  I wanted him to be a little sheltered, but he still seems to know a lot about the different races even though there weren’t any who lived in his village.  Even the nobility of my world may have a combination of races as long as it isn’t a family lineage.  After reading about this subject, I think I’ll try harder to be more diverse too.

My reason for doing this to Windemere is the same reason why I have a single pantheon and don’t have a lot of racism in my world.  There have been so many global catastrophes in Windemere that the races eventually became closer.  You have individuals and groups who don’t go along with that, but the majority don’t.  This is because they’ve had to unite against common enemies multiple times.  After doing that, I found it silly for them to go back to see each other as adversaries.  The Great Cataclysm, the Hejinn, crashing of the magical plane into the physical, Baron Kernaghan, and other events pushed the races of Windemere to the brink of extinction.  At some point, they had to realize that they may have to unite again and some positive connections are needed.  That or they’re all in the same boat regardless of cultural and racial differences.  It’s a really difficult mindset to explain because it’s nothing like what us real humans live with.

So, what do you think about racial homogeneity?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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22 Responses to Is Racial Homogenization in Fantasy a Problem?

  1. Terry Prachett’s Ankh Morpork worked well with mixed races living in it 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  2. L. Marie says:

    What a great and timely post, considering the hubbub from some fans concerning the upcoming LoTR show. I agree that diversity is not something to ignore. But the homogeneity you mentioned also has meaning and needs to be mentioned, since people distrust each other as you brought up. Makes for interesting conflict. Chris already mentioned how Terry Pratchett handles it in Discworld. You’ve mentioned how you handle it in Windemere. Star Trek explored it also.

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    • I’ll admit that I’ve got severe issues with the LOTR show. Race isn’t on the list. Mostly that it’s going to rewrite the lore to some extent and fracture the fandom like was done with Star Wars, Star Trek, and every other franchise that heartless corporations are milking. All the money spent on a questionable LOTR could have been used to create multiple new fantasy franchises that come with the desired social commentary already in place. Now, the whole project feels like a forced money grab.

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        I hear you on all of those points. I hope for their sakes that they learned the lesson of Star Wars that there’s no point in buying a beloved franchise if you are going to change just about everything fans love about it.

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      • I don’t think they have. You can tell because the media paints all criticism as racist and sexist now. It feels like they’re poking the bear to get certain groups enraged, so those with legit criticism are drowned out.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I want to also point out that Amazon didn’t get the rights to anything other than RotK appendices. So, they’re stating to be reinventing Tolkien for the 21st century. That rubs me the wrong way. It’s basically saying ‘we cannot make anything new, so we need to cannibalize established properties’.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Never even thought about racial homogeneity but now that it’s mentioned it seems racial homogeneity would limit plot development a lot. You say fantasy has a lot of racial homogeneities. Since you are the only fantasy writer I have read I have to say your stories don’t.

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  4. I think the homogeneity has been a kind of shorthand for writers who don’t want or need extensive world building. We all have to choose what we spend words on, right? However, it is problematic when the homogeneity appears exclusively white. I feel there’s been a move to include orcs and similar races as representing Black or Middle Eastern genotypes, but which also have been presented as homogenous.

    If authors want to be forward looking, it’s probably better to spend a few words showing how the races mix. Because I think you’re right that people may try to hold themselves apart for some period of time — look at the US, where a loud minority insists to this day that Black and White should live separate lives — but there will always be commerce or arts or personal attraction that strives to weave groups together.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just realized that nearly everyone went directly to human racial segregation. We just can’t stop ourselves, which is why I think even the best intentioned author will make this mistake. They try to make the fantasy races resemble real world ones to create diversity, but they still all live in their own corners. Those who don’t tend to be outcasts or progressive instead of the races deciding to live in harmony.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is an intriguing post. There was a bit on the news last night where they assigned each reported race in the census a colored dot. When they placed those over maps of large cities you could clearly see the dividing lines in major areas. Out west is kind of a different world, but it was eye opening for me.

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    • Large cities do tend to have homogeneous areas like Little Italy and Chinatown here. Part of that is how immigrants would gather together due to shared language and culture. It would be younger generations who started moving out of those areas.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. V.M.Sang says:

    You make some good points, here, Charles. In my world of Vimar, the elves and dwarves have their own lands, but also live in the lands of humans. It never occurred to me that I don’t have humans living in their lands. I should remedy that.

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