Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cosplaying Drow

Cosplaying Drow

The Drow. Oh the Drow. This isn't a discussion about whats wrong with the Drow, though I will touch on that some. No this is about why cosplaying Drow is a bad idea. Now when white people see a Drow and they decide to cosplay they see this.









But what black people see is this.













Although we are more likely to see this

         
        Two drastic images to be sure. So how do we get such different ideas on what cosplaying Drow means. Most of it comes down to the lived experience for people of color (black people in particular). As last Halloween showed ,when Julianne Houghe darkened her skin to look like her favorite character Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black, black people take the idea of black face very seriously. Even when it's not done to insult black people we still feel slighted. This has to do with racial scares that have never quite healed. I know on an intellectual level that a lot of time has passed between when black face was done as a way to degenerate an entire people and now. But as the events of last week show, sometimes we have not made as much social progress in regards to race as we like to think we have.

See I understand that white people see the Drow as cool. I personally don't. I think Drizzt is one of the biggest mary sue's ever. But I do understand that other people feel differently. The only problem is, what you guys see is cool is constantly being portrayed with in the setting as an evil and despicable race. The Drow (no matter the setting) are prejudged to be evil due to the color of their skin. Even Drizzt has to deal with people distrusting him because of the actions of his people. But what you guys see as cool, we interpret as something that plays to close to what we as people of color have to live through. Because I live in a reality in which I am prejudged by society based solely on the color of my skin. And as the past week has shown this can happen with deadly consequences. While you see something that is cool and awesome we see something that is an in game reminder of the challenges of being black in America. Worst yet, you can escape into the role and drop it whenever it suits you. Me, I don't get such an escape.

But what about intent you say. We aren't intending to be harmful with our cosplay, we are just portraying a character and race we really love. Intent does matter. But it doesn't matter the way you think it does. Intent matters in so much as it helps us separate what we see as a racist action from what could be a racist person. Because we know that you aren't intending harm we believe you aren't racist. But the insult is still there. And it still upsets us. I knew Ms. Houghe intent was not to do harm but to honor a character she cherished from an excellent show. That's why I never thought she was racist. However I did feel her choice was in bad taste.

Qapla!!
Well what about Klingons you say. White people cosplay as Klingons and no one gets upset. And you would be correct. However ... and this is big and important Klingons are not in the same boat as Drow. The Drow are irredeemably evil. There is only one good elf among them. The embody so many negative characteristics in the setting that I tend to loose count. The Klingons aren't like that. They aren't used that way in Star Trek. For starters its important to remember that early Klingon weren't black. They had a more olive tan to them. And some were even white. Furthermore Star Trek worked very hard to make sure the audience understood that Klingons were not all evil. They were different to be sure. With a way of life that
we may not all agree with. But the Klingon race as a whole were not as a whole portrayed to be evil. There is also the evolution of the Klingon look. Klingons look sufficiently alien that when a random black person on the street sees one they know its a character. We can separate ourselves from that look. It also helps that Klingons aren't often cosplayed in coal black, which was the look of many black face minstrel shows. Most people in Drow cosplay still look human. So the shock is a lot more visceral.

Well Drow aren't African Americans you say. This is true. The Drow are not a real world parallel to black people. However the fantasy genre is very bad about diversity. We know humans come in any color but what about the demi human races? Fantasy rpg games have a tendency to have all white hero with all white heroic races. The evil races (who are often genetically evil I might add) on the other hand come in all shades of color, the worst being the Drow. So while we know they aren't a real world parallel we can see many aspects of hatred and racism reflected in how fantasy gaming as a genre treats people who are different from the core races. And it is this parallel that causes us to feel very uncomfortable when seeing people cosplaying as Drow. It's an association that too closely mirrors our lived experience. And in an environment where we are meant to feel welcome seeing that black face makes us feel less welcome.

Well cosplaying isn't black face you say. Technically you're right. But in application what you're doing is black face. The idea of black face isn't static. While yes it originally was meant to be white actors doing minstrel shows the concept of what black face is has grown. That's just how culture works. For instance the word gay is now taken to mean someone who is homosexual. However when I was growing up gay was just another word for stupid. And before that it was another word for happy. That's why when you're listening to the Flinstons theme song they say "have a gay old time". They are inviting the viewer to have a happy time, not a homosexual time. And when the Christmas carol Deck the Halls says "and now we dawn our gay apparel" they aren't inviting you to dress in drag. They are asking you to put on the cloths that make you happy. But now, now gay means homosexual. So using it to mean stupid is insensitive to homosexuals. It was a word I had to drop from my vocabulary for that reason. Even though to me, growing up, it had nothing to do with sexuality. The same is true of black face. It is no longer limited to minstrel shows and is pretty much taken to mean anytime someone dresses in black skin. We will never be cool with black face.

So whats to be done? Well in an ideal world I would love the Drow to just disappear. But I recognize that Drizzt and the Drow are a cash cow for Wizards of the Coast. But it would be nice if other gaming companies kinda recognized the issue and publicly made better attempts at diversifying their demi human races, both in art and story direction. In the meantime if you feel you must cosplay as a Drow then please please consider doing the purple skinned Drow. The coal (or obsidian as WotC now describes them) black Drow isn't the only shade they've been depicted in. They've also been purple at times. And cosplaying as a purple Drow gets the point across with out offending a segment of the gaming community. But the black skin Drow is always going to be perceived as black face, no matter how you slice it.

Black gamers want to feel welcome at events like Gen Con and DragonCon too. We want to feel like we are members of the community. Hell we want to cosplay as elves with out people assuming we're an evil elf. So before you put on that black make up for your Drow costume, just remember that black face image tells a lot of gamers who are different from you that we aren't welcome.

48 comments:

  1. Within the Forgotten Realms the Drow primarily worship Lolth, but Eilistraee also sometimes appears as a Drow and it is written in every sourcebook about underdark races that I own that good-aligned Drow worship her.
    Even if you ignore that, doesn't the very existence of Drizzt prove that the Drow are not irredeemably evil?

    Also, the only Drizzt book I ever read was "Homeland" so my knowledge of that character is very limited.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The greater bulk of Drow history has portrayed them as irredeemably evil. There have been occasional mentions of some good Drow but for the most part the narrative makes them out to all be evil. Combine this with D&D's alignment system in which the Drow race are classified as Chaotic Evil or Neutral Evil. I have a lot of issues with the alignment system though and thats likely best dealt with in it's own article.

    And Drizzt is treated as the exception to the rule not the norm.

    Granted this touches on the other issue which is that most people of color tend to view the Drow as racist. I touch upon those feelings a bit in this article but to fully explain why black people see Drow as racist and offensive I would need to do a completely different article. Which I intend to do at some point but it wasn't something I could go into to deeply here with out completely derailing the larger point I was getting at, which is that most people of color find cosplaying as Drow to be offensive. And I wanted to get across the point that seeing people cosplay as Drow is something that makes us feel less welcome in the gaming hobby.

    I fully understand and acknowledge that a lot of white people don't see it that way. But to people of color the Drow are offensive and cosplaying as them is viewed as problematic at best and racist at worse.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The greater bulk of (any 1e race classified as "evil") history has portrayed them as irredeemably evil. That doesn't mean there aren't exceptions to the rule.
      Drizzt's existence pretty much creates a path for good-aligned Drow PCs, and judging from how popular that character is I would guess a lot of people play Drow characters that aren't evil.

      Alignment is kind of dumb, unless you're going for a strong appendix N feel (see Dungeon Crawl Classics). But still, as a role-playing tool, alignment is dumb.

      "Elistraee was assassinated at the beginning of the Spellplague storyline that led up to 4e."
      Which is only important to people who want to be slaves to canon. I don't own a single FR book published after 2e so those kinds of facts are irrelevant to me, both as a GM and a player.
      From what I remember of Elistrae she was a sort of pagan hunting/feasting goddess who held bacchanalian rituals. I can't imagine why anybody would want to get rid of a goddess that cool.

      I just don't see any one race as being irredeemably evil, even if one book somewhere says so ("Drow of the Underdark" doesn't). I also allow my PCs to play lizardmen, kobolds, gnolls, rakshasa, or whatever strikes their fancy without requiring a huge explanation, and I pretty much ignore alignment unless it's relating to deities or something from the outer planes. Demons and demigods might be irredeemably evil, but they can generally mold their appearance to suit their own needs.

      I think saying certain people shouldn't cosplay as certain things is a bit presumptuous though. Where do you draw the line for cosplay? Only at things you might find racially sensitive? What about when a fat person cosplays in a skimpy outfit? Some people find that distasteful and mockable (and sexist). What about when a skinny women cosplays in a skimpy outfit? Some people find that offensive. In general I just think cosplaying serves the cosplayer, they want attention while they pay fan service to something they love, and why should I get in the way of that even if I do think it looks ridiculously stupid.

      Delete
    2. I recognize that people may run things differently but the discussion of the Drow (and most things related to rpgs in general) is based on the canon material presented by the company. Almost all discussion about a game are about the canon material because we all know you can change it for your home game. So yes I know I can change Drow to fit whatever I need, but what most of us judge them on is the presentation that the game designers give us.

      And in that regards the Drow are presented as irredeemably evil. Drizzt is the only good Drow in what 40 years of use. Every once in awhile they make mention that there might be good Drow but that signal is always drowned out by the fact that they for the most part make them evil. Even the 5th Edition core book makes reference to Drizzt being the only good Drow. So yes, other gamers can cosplay or even play as good Drow. That's not the issue. The issue is how the gaming industry opts to portray them.

      Granted the Drow are problematic for a lot reasons. But to go into that is an article in it's own right.

      So while you may run things differently what I'm talking about is how they are presented by the medium itself. While you don't see any race as irredeemably evil, Dungeons and Dragons as a game disagrees. And that's what I'm talking about when I have these types of discussions.

      And I disagree with it being presumptuous. If someone is doing something that is racially insensitive or viewed as racist by a part of the gaming community then people need to say something about it. Does it become problematic? Yes. But if we remain silent on such issues then it continues with real people getting hurt. This is an issue that makes many gamers of color not feel welcome in the hobby. Should people be allowed to cosplay something at the detriment of the hobby itself?

      It's a touchy subject but a segment of the community feels this is racist. I'm all for people being allowed to do what they want and to cosplay what they want but at the end of the day if your cosplay is harming a part of the community then maybe it needs to end. Also cosplaying as something that is racist is worlds different from cosplaying something that you're not the right body type for. They aren't even remotely the same. A fat person cosplaying as a skinny person is not the same kind of thing as cosplaying as something that was reminds a group of people of a time when they were being oppressed. Treating them as the same thing is a false equivalence.

      If your cosplaying as something that is racially offensive then you really need to think about not doing it. Otherwise you are becoming part of the problem of why minorities don't feel welcome in the hobby.

      Delete
    3. I don't cosplay.

      "And in that regards the Drow are presented as irredeemably evil."
      But they're not. Everything I own references good-aligned Drow, thus you are incorrect. I am highly skeptical that since my 2e books references good-aligned Drow in the canon that a 3e or 4e book wouldn't also mention them since 3e and 4e have a play philosophy of no restrictions for what players want to play.
      I think if you keep saying "Drow are represented as irredeemably evil" then you're going to need o cite a source, because as far as I'm concerned that assessment is just as personal a preference as mine to ignoring canon.

      Delete
    4. Even 5th Edition refers to the Drow as all evil. They even make note of the fact that Drizzt is the exception. I'm not sure how more canon you can get than the latest edition of D&D. As a race the Drow are presented as irredeemably evil. Maybe there are a few exceptions like Drizzt but a single Drow does not make up for how their culture, their society and their very way of life is presented as something to be condemned and destroyed by all good people.

      Delete
    5. "Even 5th Edition refers to the Drow as all evil. They even make note of the fact that Drizzt is the exception."
      I'm skeptical about that statement too since there is literally only one book for 5e right now.

      I've been unpacking my feelings about this while we debate the canonicity of Drow evilness (which is a pretty silly thing to quibble about) and I think the reason I find this viewpoint doesn't align with my own is that it's a question of intent versus perception. Your perception is that a white person cosplaying as a drow is racist despite the fact that you know the intent of a white person cosplaying as a drow is not racist, but that knowledge of intent is why I don't find it objectionable - that I don't regard Drow as definitively evil may only be a personal playstyle but it's largely immaterial to the central debate of intent versus perception.

      Delete
    6. You're not going to find very many people of color who think that black face (and this is black face) isn't a racist act. Just like you're not going to find many Jewish people who won't be offended by someone cosplaying as Nazi. Or how Native American's find people dressing up as them as offensive (hense the push for the change of the Redskins).

      Also you can do something that is racist with out intending to. As I stated in my post, intent matters in knowing if I the person behind the make up is actually racist themselves or if they are just doing something that is racist. Black face will always be considered racist. It doesn't matter if you're doing it to pretend that you're an evil elf. People of color are not going to like it. And it makes us feel less welcome in the hobby.

      Delete
  3. Elistraee was assassinated at the beginning of the Spellplague storyline that led up to 4e. Somehow all of the good dark skinned elves that appeared in 3.5 disappeared in 4e and don't seem to exist in 5e.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Excuses for this are of the same caliber as "oh, but the original anime series had the swastika and anyway it's a Buddhist symbol too." Needless to say it behooves gamers to be aware of whatever implications their stuff has in real life, without being defensive or thinking they have some kind of absolute right to it. It's just another case of cultural clash and understanding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, they do have absolute right to it. It is nobody's business how someone else dresses up, including if they wear black makeup on their faces. They have about as much right to be upset as if a black person wore white makeup. I know, I know. "Oh, but *SLAVERY*! Oh, but *BLACKFACE*!" Well, tough titties. Sometimes people do things we don't like, and we have no right to project our moods upon their tones.

      Delete
  5. I’m a little worried that my questions may come across as hostile no matter how I try to phrase them, so let me say up-front that I’m honestly curious. I’m an engineer, so I naturally want to try to define the boundaries a little better even when they aren’t hard-and-fast. And while I don’t cosplay (beyond dressing up for renfairs) and never been a fan of the drow, I think there are things here important for any GM to understand.

    I understand that you find a purple-skinned drow less offensive if only slightly, but do you have any information on whether that is generally true or just true for you?

    You talk about (post-TOS) Klingons, but orcs were what came to my mind. Many depictions of orcs have often struck me as more fantasy minstrel-show than depictions of drow.

    Is an irredeemably evil race offensive itself, or are there ways to depict one and minimize offense?

    (And writing that question makes me want to ask if there is a better term than “race” to use. e.g. T&T uses “kindred”.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your questions aren't offensive at all. I write these so that I can help people understand a different POV. Now to answer your questions

      1. I don't have any information on if it's true for others that purple Drow is less offensive. I just see purple Drow as a compromising point. Purple skin tone is less likely to evoke the images of black face that many gamers of color dislike. I think we would still see the Drow as problematic but short of getting rid of the Drow all together there isn't much else that can be done. Thus I view purple Drow as the compromising point between dressing as Drow and not dressing as Drow.

      2. Yeah, a lot of times when I discuss the Drow people jump to Klingons as a defense for the use of the Drow. Thus I felt it was a point worth include. I would agree though, to some extent the orcs do at times feel like fantasy minstrel. And I think the orcs suffer a lot from the early games use of strict alignments and of most of the villain races being deemed ugly/evil.

      I can defiantly see some parallels between depictions of orcs and early European depictions of blacks. Such as their tribal nature. Their strength. Their aggressiveness.

      I think though that orcs don't illict the same response as Drow do because orcs typically look alien enough to not come off as just black humans like the Drow/elves do in general. Also I think over the past decade or so the orcs hired a really good PR guy as I think peoples opinion of them has changed over the years. I attribute this mostly to Blizzard and their use of orcs in Warcraft and then them as a playable race in World of Warcraft. So I think orcs become a more sympathetic fantasy race to deal with and identify with. On the flipside ... outside of Drizzt can we really say that the Drow have had a complete redefinition?

      3. I think there are ways that irredeemable evil can be done that isn't offensive. Part of the problem with irredeemable evil as a trait is that things are rarely so cut and dry. Part of whats wrong with the Drow though is that they have so many other tropes tied up into their image that the irredeemably evil trait is just one of many problems.

      Also the lack of diversity also makes it difficult to deal with. If there was another famous group of dark skinned elves outside of the Drow that offered a counter point then I think people would view them less as a racist stereotype. But D&D (especially early D&D) has a very black and white world in which most of the heroic stuff is done with white characters and what character races. There for the irredeemably evil Drow by comparison reminds many of us about how many racist whites feel about us.

      Though i also feel irredeemably evil works best when that evil is so alien as to not being able to identify with them on any level. Cthullu style evil is good at this. The races and aliens used in most Cthullu mythos are so different .... so alien that we can't identify with them in the same way. Thus them being irredeemably evil doesn't phase us much.

      So it is possible to do. I just think you have to be more mindful about how closely they mirror real world problems and make sure you have a very diverse world so that they don't become the only source of evil in it.

      4. Yeah using the word race is problematic at times. But I don't think there is a better word. I tend to use demi humans myself when I'm talking about what are the core fantasy races in most fantasy based games.

      Delete
  6. While I can't share your experiences here, I do understand what you are saying and I do agree.

    Boosting the signal and thoughts here: http://timbrannan.blogspot.com/2014/08/cosplaying-drow.html

    ReplyDelete
  7. And, as always no one person speaks for everyone... http://fairymoondreams.tumblr.com/post/92953868433/do-you-think-white-people-cosplaying-drow-is-racist

    I'm pretty much the smack dab poster boy of privilege. White straight male. So I'm cognizant that I'm coming at this from that perspective, so I tend to defer to the people more directly involved in these sorts of things. But I kind of want to offer an opinion... yay opinions.
    I have never, not once, associated Drow, Orcs, Kingons or any other thing with blacks (or any other race for that matter, as recently I saw someone making a case for Orcs as native Americans). They are what they are, made up things in a made up world. Villains or antagonists or whatever, depending on what I happen to be playing.
    I don't want to be or sound dismissive of your concerns. If you feel that the drow or orcs or other evil races are somehow linked to stereotypes of your race that's obviously a bad thing. All I can say is that I've never felt that way, and that the people I currently game with don't feel that way. Could you elaborate on /why/ the drow are problematic? You refer to it and I really don't understand. I'd like to see the reasoning behind it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is really a long and deep kind of thing that I would need to do another blog post on to really tackle. The short story is that the way D&D has traditionally presented the non heroic races has often times mirrored real world stand ins.

      The biggest problem with all the non heroic races is that in many instances they are the only colorful things in the setting. All the heroic races and heroic characters are white and anything that is different from them (ie not white, not beautiful) is treated as scum and shouldn't be allowed to live. Which mirrors very deeply the way minorities have been historically treated in the US.

      Here's a video that touches a bit more on it.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyOZRWxFqNk

      Delete
  8. I've penned something of a response on my own blog: http://greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com/2014/08/no-cosplaying-drow-isnt-racist.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shame you couldn't pen something of a response here, where the discussion is taking place.

      Delete
  9. I'd never thought of the fact that the evil races are the ones with different skin colors and the good ones are all white in most Fantasy. The implications are uncomfortable and I even feel somewhat naive for not seeing it. Hell, one time my justification for black elves was "A Half-Black Half-Elf who had a child with an Elf and the child results in an Elf character who looks black." It wasn't that the idea of black Elves bothered me, I just didn't see them as being black, period. I don't know think my previous stance was racist in itself, but it certainly was privileged. (I don't write this as a way of guilt-trip or anything, just a fact. I don't feel bad about it per se but I do see the problem with it and intend to change that.) After reading this, I'll now make it so all my campaigns follow the pattern of "Wherever geographically humans would be of a certain skin color, so will the Fantasy races be." Bring on the Asian Dwarves, Indian Halflings and Black Elves!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh and Dace, consider your blog followed, good article!

      Delete
    2. Coolness! And it's no biggie. I've discovered that many white gamers never shaw it as a race thing. Meanwhile many gamers of color did in fact see it as a race thing. What I really found interesting was that many of my white gaming friends saw it as a beauty vs ugliness thing. Which is something I think is very interesting.

      Delete
    3. Well, part of it is that wherever someone is the majority, they see themselves as the 'default', so to speak. Minorities also end up seeing the majority as the default if they have been a minority for a long time. So many seem to see Caucasian skin as the 'default'. (I once saw a documentary with a half-black/half-white dude saying that back in his country -forgot which one- they considered him white because he wasn't all black, and that in America it was the opposite.) It's complicated and sometimes it's not that the intention was mean, but one still has to consider the implications and context. What if a black LARPer made one of those albino Drow? Would anyone be offended? Nope, but the context isn't the same either. One time in Tokyo I accidentally insulted another white person. I asked him what he did for a living and he explained that he'd greet clients from Germany, the U.K, the U.S, etc. Without thinking, I said "So you're basically the company's white face." (in the sense that he was a white dude who was there to greet other white dudes to the country) and he got offended. He had spent years in Japan being the minority, it hadn't occurred to me. When I tell this story to other white people in North America, they never get it, but if I tell it to someone who's not white, interestingly enough, they laugh at my story, like I made a really controversial joke or something. Skin color is an easy way to make a humanoid seem exotic. Green skin for orcs, red skin for demons... Heck, recently the Warlords of Draenor trailer showed orcs uncorrupted by demon blood as having mostly human skin colors, what set them apart was their huge jaws, tusks, etc. So be default, green skin is only racist if you consider that it's more colored than the white skin. Because no one has green skin. Sure, maybe some older writers DID mean it as something intolerant, but those times are -hopefully- behind us. (Or at least they should be, I know I boycotted anything related to Ender's Game because of the author's attitude towards gay people) I think the problem with Drow in particular is that even though their color is not actually the same as real-life black people, they are very close at times (depending on the art). That said, they are more often than not depicted with European features to begin with. When you look at the descriptions of Elves in the 70's and 80's particularly, it's true they often seem like a glorification of the white race, with all the talk about pale skin and fine features, etc, etc. But then you have Pathfinder's version of Gnomes which brings up weird natural hair colors. It makes me think that in a different world where white people were the minority in North America, some white people would have complained that because they have varied hair color, they were being compared to silly gnomes. xD So yeah, it's not always that something was meant to be racist, but I think it's a good thing to keep accidental offenses in mind too. Like with the British dude from Tokyo. :P

      Delete
    4. Quick additional side-note. I thought most geeks of both sexes found the Drow attractive? o.O

      Delete
    5. There is very little that I feel is consciously racist in the game. But I do feel a lot of it is product of it's time when certain thoughts and feelings about race and the place of white people in society were more prevalent. At least not in the same way that I feel that the authors went out of their way to be blatantly sexist.

      Delete
    6. Also I never thought the Drow were attractive. But that may be due to the fact that I've tended to view them as a black face elves.

      Delete
    7. I think the whole Drow problem would be almost automatically fixed if black elves became canon and were clearly different from dark elves. Like, here you have some purple dark elves with caucasian features. They're mostly evil expect for all those scimitar-wielding rangers. Here you have black elves who are normal elves from this warmer continent. Or maybe I'm being overly optimistic? I dunno. (Obviously the cosplay argument of your article would still apply.) By the way, have you seen the Community D&D episode? There's a bit that you might find interesting if you haven't. As a warning, it does start with a character cosplaying a dark elf: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tsmjkKzT3w

      Delete
    8. Yeah I had forgotten about them doing the Drow thing. But I have seen that epsiode. Overall it was well done.

      I don't know, I would personally rather just see the Drow dropped from use. They have so much negative baggage wrapped up in them that I think the hobby would be better if they just let it go. Sadly Drizzt is a cash cow so it is unlikely to ever happen.

      Delete
    9. In all honesty even I like the mythology and look of the Drow. But I always think of them like with blue or purple skin, and to me it isn't about the skin being darker, if that makes sense. Like with orcs, their skin isn't darker than Caucasian people, it's just green. But I can easily imagine how many people might let their biases turn it into a problem. (Honestly as a white person even I would take pause if my friends told me the darker skin made them uglier. I don't know how you took it but congrats on being VERY understanding of your friends.) But the more I think about it, the more I believe introducing black elves would make it so the Drow's defining characteristic wouldn't be the darker skin anymore, rather the blue/purple hues. Or maybe they could start making Dark Elves with lighter skin tones while keeping the same basic colors. In any case, yeah, Drow cosplayers should be very careful. I know that Yaya Han did a very hot dark elf cosplay where she was more blue than anything else. Warhammer's Dark Elves are actually not dark-skinned, which makes it less problematic when having a race of elves that's exclusively evil. (Malus Darkblade could be considered the opposite of Drizzt Do'Urden.) And yes, I do realize that none of those steps will be taken and many people will continue to see Drow in exactly the way they shouldn't. And maybe there shouldn't even be a middle-ground when it comes to a race with darker skin than their cousins being evil and it's just my nostalgia making me biased. I honestly think that it's not racist in itself. Vampires are normally always evil and are paler than humans. But I do think that if enough people take the wrong message from it or it makes them do or say things that are racist because it allows them to project their own racism into the fictional product, then it should be discussed, yes. And maybe it should be removed as a concept. But I'd be a hypocrite if I took that side because I read Salvatore's novels from time to time and enjoyed many. I'm honestly not ready to boycott products with Drow in them. So I guess I understand what many people say when they claim that it's not because you enjoy a fictional series that you can't admit and point out some of the problems they have.

      Delete
    10. Fixing the Drow is a complicated matter. As I said in an ideal world they would simply be removed. But we don't live in an ideal world. If we did I doubt this would even be an issue.

      There are several steps that game desingers could take to mitigate it though. As you pointed out making more dark skinned elves that aren't evil could go a long way to improving things.

      But I'm not sure if that alone would fix it for some of us. I think the baggage of the Drow is so bad that it's better just left alone. Them being dark skinned and evil is only one aspect to why some of us dislike them. Other aspects include the way in which the portray matriarchy. It's one big mess.

      Not that I blame people who enjoy the Drow. They don't see the issue the same way I and others see it. And I think because they don't have that same lived experience that myself and others have had I doubt we will ever see eye to eye 100% on the issue. What I hope for though is for both sides of the issues to be understanding of the matter.

      Delete
    11. Nah, you're right. It is problematic. Time to stop pussy-footing around it. I googled the reason why Drow were dark-skinned because I seemed to remember it was considered a curse or something like that, which is in itself pretty racist already. And reading some of the comments in this thread ( http://community.wizards.com/content/forum-topic/2780471 ) I found made me cringe. I guess I'm done with Drow too, time to put my money where my mouth is.

      Delete
    12. I'm tempted to read that thread but then .... I have a feeling I'll just get angry ... or sad. One of the two.

      Delete
    13. I think one of my next Bruno's RPG Talk videos will be about this.

      Delete
  10. Replies
    1. Yes .... I know they are cute and I'm told will be the death of me.

      Delete
  11. I'm here to champion purple-skinned dark elves! That's they way I saw them depicted on the covers of D&D novels and modules, and I wrote them to have purple skin tone in The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I realize that the last post on this discussion was 3 months ago, but I wanted to say that this is a good read, Dace. This is one aspect of D&D which has troubled me to the point where I've considered ways on how to change them in my own games to get rid of a lot of the unfortunate implications.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In about three decades of playing and running various editions of D&D (and other systems), I have not once used the Drow. I can’t recall another DM using them in a game I was in. (Yeah, I still haven’t been through some of the classic modules.) And the issues Dace address have never been issues for me.

      So, I say, just don’t use them. Or feel free to change them as much as you want if you do. They are far from a sacred cow.

      Delete
    2. Get over yourself mate, there ARE NO unfortunate implications. Just a bunch of people who are so obtuse they think a mythical creature from Scandanavia is somehow a parallel to themselves.

      Delete
  13. Ok, so a lot of Caucasian people like "evil" drow who happen to be dark skinned. And you see this as a bad thing. A pasty white kid who feels empowered because he paints his skin a lovely midnight black color.

    I can feel the whole deal with blackface, as much as I can from a point of white privilege, but I think you may need to try and appreciate drow cosplay for what it is than what it isn't. You seem to identify drow in their repugnant evil aspect, but most drow fans tap into the drow's "cool evil" aspect ala Darth Vader being a bad-ass, as opposed to Darth Vader slaying younglings.



    ReplyDelete
  14. Drow isn't black face. Drow are NOT HUMAN, there are ALREADY human black people in DnD and just like EVERY OTHER human in DnD they can be ANY alignment.

    You don't get to claim Drows as yours just cause you both have dark skin. It's a roleplaying game they belong to every fan not just you and I'll cosplay as one if I want to.

    I wish Drow were all light skinned then I wouldn't have to deal with your shit...who am I kidding? Even if they were lavender or grey you'd think they were dark enough to be "yours".

    ReplyDelete
  15. Not meant to be inflammatory, but I just don't see the logic in this argument for quite a few reasons.

    1: Drow are not the equivalent of black people in the universe they are written into. There is no real world equivalent of the Drow because they're entirely fictional. There are, as has been mentioned, regular black people in Forgotten Realms. And one cannot say 'all the DnD heroes are white' because it's a game in which you create your own character. Perhaps the books have a lot of white protagonists but that's probably because they're written by white people who either don't know how to or are afraid to portray a black protagonist. But anyone can make a black character in the Forgotten Realms universe by playing say Baldur's Gate or just in DnD or whatever system drow exist in.

    2: Drow are NOT discriminated against because of the color of their skin, they are discriminated against, as you said yourself, because of the actions of their race, which is naturally evil. And they're not 'naturally evil because they're black'. That is not an example of racism. If the game had a race of gnomes that were all naturally evil would the implication be that 'little people are naturally evil'? It's just a design choice. Their society and the way they are viewed by other societies has literally zero things in common with black history. They're a matriarchy, they're advanced, they're militant, they're underground, they're magic-centric, they worship a Spider Goddess, they're imperialistic. So like which one of those things makes them representative of black people? Point it out to me please? They aren't representative of anything in particular, it's just fiction.

    3: 'Black' people have a different skin tone than Drow. Drow are originally PITCH BLACK. Not 'brown', not 'really dark brown' just jet black obsidian ebony straight up black. This is because they were cursed (in some versions) before being exiled underground. The idea was probably the correlation with the 'Abyss' which is just a blackness absorbing all light underground. (Full of evil stuff, as well). It's also because many spiders are black (with 'white' web filament) and the design invokes that image. Purple/blue skin is a fine compromise if it bothers you that much but the context of it is still different.

    4: Is dressing as 'shadow Link' or 'Dark Link' or whatever blackface too or does that get a pass? Does smearing black paint on your face and dressing as Furiosa from Mad Max get a pass? Why? Is it the context? Considering the context of the drow is 100 percent separated from the context of black history why doesn't that get a pass?

    I think you just misinterpreted the purpose of Drow. The people who created this weren't trying to mirror any aspect of our society, they were making an entirely fantasy-based one. A game like The Elder Scrolls is a bit more understandable in terms of that argument. They at least DO tend to take real societies for inspiration most of the time. Take for example the Thalmor, clearly representative of Nazis. By extension, take their version of Dark Elves. They are maligned for their nationality despite not being particularly evil and often quartered to special 'districts'. I don't think that's meant to be entirely representative of black people either but I can see enough similarity that I'd understand someone taking it that way. But Drow are SO different it just seems like a totally fabricated idea to me.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Ellistrae wasn't assasinated. She played a high stakes game with her mother Lolth, and her trump move was to deliberately sacrifice herself so that her followers could find a redemption from Lolth's influence.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I'm going to say this straight out. This kind of argument damages legitimate claims of racism. Drow cos play in no way resembles blackface what so ever. No one is exaggerating perceived black behaviors. What happens when the PC crowd cries 'offensive' in cases like this, is that they alienate those who would otherwise be empathetic to their cause, and denigrates the cases of those who have suffered legitimate racism.

    I recognize fully that my day to day life experience is not relocatable to that of a black person in America today, and that makes me very angry. As a person who is genuinely empathetic to the plight of African Americans today. The disproportionate number of arrests and incarcerations, all of it.. these are REAL issues that need to be addressed. THAT is something worth stressing out over.

    A person cosplaying a drow in now way adds to that plight, or effects it in any way. If we've all become so sensitive that any mere hint or reminder of something that traumatized us personally is cause for outrage, then we are lost as a society.

    There are battles against racism that are worth fighting for. This is not one of them.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thank you for this article. I'm white as they come and I run a couple of gaming groups. When it was brought up I had no idea how best to handle it because I have not heard from a single black person about it, and when I've asked I get a bunch of clones of the comments section from other white people. I want my groups to be inclusive and safe, and to do that I need perspectives from a variety of people.

    And to the "it's not racist" crowd - you're entitled to your opinion, but the bottom line is that this is hurting our fellow roleplayers, and it actually isn't up to us to decide what hurts others.

    I'll be chatting with other group organisers, but I suspect we'll be instituting a "purple drow only" rule at the very least.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you for this article and the subsequent discussion. I've long reflected on the nature of race in both Tolkien (beloved books to my childhood and family) and in gaming (I started playing D&D in the late 70s).

    My children are now very interested in gaming, and I'm beginning to take them on adventures. Looking at the Drow (...they are new to me - I've been away a while...) led me to search for this article to get some reflection. The introduction of a dark-skinned race that were primarily "evil" struck me as a little peculiar, particularly given the tendency of some fantasy to delve into "half-breeds" and "sub-human" villains -- all of which feels loaded with historical overtones and racial unpleasantness that we should not close our eyes to, no matter where you come from.

    Neither Tolkien nor most gamers are inherently racist (far from it!), but I think these issues are important -- particularly in light of the recent U.S. election season which pulls a great deal of these issues to forefront. So, I'm thinking of ways to avoid making some races "all bad" or "all good" - to help encourage better thinking about these issues ...So we can enjoy a great fantasy romp, while not accidentally reinforcing unnecessary stereotypes.

    After all, the point is to have fun - but because I'm older (not just another kid playing a game), I feel it's my responsibility to also teach right thinking and right practice wrt these issues.

    So thanks for raising this point - in the end, it speaks to the golden rule: treat others as you'd want them to treat you, and work towards being a thoughtful person who recognizes that others have feelings, backgrounds, and experiences different from your own, living in a complex matrix of history and culture. In then end, I hope I can help the adventurers learn that most things involve shades of gray rather than just "good" and "bad".

    And that should make for some pretty interesting adventuring.

    ReplyDelete