RESOURCE LESSON ROLEPLAY HELP Alright, It's Time We Had *The Talk*: A Message on Diversity and Respectful BIPOC Inclusion

  • So many newbies lately! Here is a very important PSA about one of our most vital content policies! Read it even if you are an ancient member!

Faren

Demon Librarian
Original poster
FOLKLORE MEMBER
Invitation Status
  1. Looking for partners
Posting Speed
  1. 1-3 posts per day
  2. One post per day
  3. 1-3 posts per week
  4. One post per week
  5. Slow As Molasses
Online Availability
5:30am-9:00pm
Writing Levels
  1. Advanced
  2. Prestige
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Male
  2. Nonbinary
  3. Transgender
  4. Agender
  5. Primarily Prefer Male
  6. Primarily Nonbinary
I've been a member of Iwaku for a very long time. Some of you have probably roleplayed with me before, but as a gay, BIPOC (Brown. Indigenous. Person of Color.) individual, it's time we had the talk.

Like many other roleplayers, we share similar interests, video games, television shows, films, fan-ships, and even mingle with each other in various fandoms. For some of us that enjoyment comes with a level of detachment and discomfort that the majority doesn't have to think about. I'm not going to make any specific lists and I'm not going to point any fingers. The point of this guide is to create understanding as to why diversity is important and how you can help other roleplayers like me and encourage diversity. I guarantee you, I am not the only black/BIPOC individual on Iwaku. We are not to be treated as a monolith nor is this post the end-all-be-all of inclusive writing. Some of us are in hiding / anonymous for very good reason. I hid my race on Iwaku up until very recently. I have literally been told that my real race was an issue and that they didn't feel comfortable roleplaying with me. If you're curious as to why anyone would hide their race on the internet, just google it. Please. It might be very eye opening. It's similar to the feeling as to why some women don't want to use voice communication in their favorite MMO games. It's just an invitation to hateful messages.

Please also note, BIPOC doesn't just mean black person. However, I will be focusing on black people because I am black. However the term BIPOC refers to anyone who is non-white and of a different background. Asians (See @PavellumPendulum 's very helpful and insightful post: Asian Characters and You: A Guide on Respectful Depictions), Middle East Asians, Indigenous Peoples, African Peoples, Hispanic / LantinX, Biracial / mixed people, etc are also included in the umbrella of BIPOC.



ENCOURAGE OC x CANON, OC x OC PAIRINGS

Allow me to acknowledge that OC x CANON in particular can and does inspire many feelings of dread. Anyone that has roleplayed any length of time has or will come across issues, myself included. It's literally an elephant in the room that no one talks about. Apprehension about OC x CANON pairings is valid, but also consider your favorite CANON x CANON pairings and ships. If you find that it's lacking in certain backgrounds and cultures, take that into consideration. Roleplaying is an escape for BIPOC individuals too! I have nothing against most CANON x CANON ships and usually I have no issues writing them... until I do. In many of our favorite shows, games, books, etc, people that look like me and other BIPOC individuals do not exist. Escaping is one thing. Playing a character that isn't like you in terms of personality, body size, shape is another. But a few of us have to literally erase ourselves, our race, and/or our culture to make others feel more comfortable roleplaying time and time again. As a result of the stigma against OC x CANON pairings it becomes a silent requirement and expectation that we won't be represented in CANON x CANON pairings even if we like and support them. And we aren't even supposed to talk about it because why risk losing a potentially good RP partner? They're already few and far between, might as well get some enjoyment while we can.

However, for roleplayers that are open to OC x CANON pairings, it gives us a chance to be represented with the characters we know and love. Or at the very least, it's nice to see BIPOC individuals happy and thriving in our favorite fantasy worlds with our favorite love interests. It's good for the mental health of BIPOC individuals to have that chance. Not a lot of people are even willing to give us that. Please acknowledge that some BIPOC individuals don't want to create OCs either. We are attached our ships just as much as anyone else and want to protect their integrity, but if we want to be represented in any capacity, we're likely going to have to create an OC. Trust me, we wish we didn't have to, but until these sorts of spaces get more diverse and welcoming, that's what we're stuck with. On that note, we might not even play a BIPOC person, but the option is always appreciated.

If you are inflexible on your CANON x CANON ships and OC x CANON stances, there's a chance you're asking someone to erase a part of themselves that they can never change. Sometimes it can feel like BIPOC people are invisible or otherwise not included nor entitled to love and happiness. I'm not asking anyone to change anything that they're doing, roleplaying is a fun hobby, but I am asking you to CONSIDER it. Now also consider, if your CANON x CANON ship changes an interracial CANON couple to a white couple. I'm not saying you can't, but I am asking you to understand why that would make already underrepresented persons feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. We want to be happy and portrayed as beautiful too. We want a disney "and they lived happily ever after" or for some of you who are kind of edgy like me "and they lived deliciously and scandalously ever after".


HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE DIVERSITY?

Say it. Be loud and proud. Literally. I mean literally write the words or something similar: "BIPOC canon characters and OCs are welcome and encouraged!" - in your Partner Request Ads. IT. MATTERS! Tag it, Put it in the title, whatever you're comfortable with doing. It shows that you're open to inclusion and making sure everyone gets the most out of Roleplaying! [Currently, searching the term BIPOC on Iwaku comes up with ZERO results... well maybe one now if you include this post and the term POC cannot be found in any recent Partner Request Thread].

It may not mean much to you, but I'd be over the moon about it and I'm sure others would be too. You might find yourself with a few more roleplay partners AND you'll have made this part of the internet a little less scary. It's better than guessing. Because I've also had Partners tell me they aren't attracted to BIPOC people (which is it's own problem, but I'm not trying to have a discussion on that). And we just respectfully ghost each other (I'll also just silently block you). I will again stress that I am not the only one and this is one of the reasons why some BIPOC people just hide their identity.

Encourage or be open to interracial relationships specifically romantic ones.

I'm also not here to discourage writing BIPOC Characters. Just do your research and know you're going to make mistakes, really uncomfortable mistakes, but that's part of the learning curve. If you acknowledge it and then correct it, most times you'll be fine.


Let's Avoid Some Common Harmful Stereotypes and Caricatures

If you're playing as, with, or against fantasy BIPOC characters, DO NOT LOCK ALL DARK-SKINNED CHARACTERS INTO TRIBAL / BARBARIC TROPES! DON'T DO IT! THINK BEFORE YOU WRITE A WORLD / CULTURE LIKE THIS! You are enforcing an inherently racist and harmful stereotype. It's a fantasy world. Be different. Other BIPOC and dark-skinned cultures exist in the real world and they can exist in worlds you create.

But Quiet Pain, what about Black Panther?

I don't care if you liked the movie. I said what I said.

Do not lock or portray BIPOC characters, specifically black characters as loud and abrasive. Do not describe black women as big and sassy or overly masculine. Do not adapt BIPOC vernacular without doing your research. Do not describe black men as loud and aggressive or as gangsters. Like everyone else, we have diverse personalities. We are not solely what you see on shows like Jerry Springer. We are not Tyler Perry. We are not all video vixens. A do-rag does not make someone a gangster and is prevalent part of black culture, but do your research. Same with sagging pants, etc.

Do not do any of this Uncle Tomfoolery.

When it comes to naming conventions, stick to established BIPOC names. Don't try to make up one. You'll just sound racist and tone-deaf. For example, don't name a black character some ridiculously long name that is sure to be mispronounced. There is a huge stigma around this and many black/brown families opt for giving their children western or European sounding names like James Brown. My name is really hard to pronounce and I was called CRAYON by one of my teachers for the entire duration of my high school career because he couldn't pronounce my name. So be really careful if you're going to give them a very obvious ethnic name. While many black families opt for European sounding names, other black families see it as an erasure of their heritage.


SPECIAL MENTIONS

DO NOT ERASE BIPOC PEOPLE/CULTURES/NATIONS IN FANTASY WORLDS! I play a lot of D&D and it is rife with harmful portrayals of BIPOC individuals and is prone to excluding them entirely.

DO NOT PORTRAY A PERSON OF MIXED RACE IF YOU ARE GOING TO EUROPEANIZE THEM or otherwise neglect the part of them that isn't white if they are mixed with white. There is already enough discourse with this.

Familiarize yourself with some ethnic hairstyles. We don't all have afros. We have dreadlocs, weaves, braids, springy healthy curly hair, some of us wear it long, some of us wear it straight, we dye it, shave it off just the same as anyone else. Do your research!

Do not tokenize BIPOCs. See below.

Tokenize - to hire, treat, or use (someone) as a symbol of inclusion or compliance with regulations, or to avoid the appearance of discrimination or prejudice


FETISHISM & DESCRIPTION OF BLACK AND BROWN PEOPLES

As a trans black man, I DO NOT HAVE A BIG [REDACTED], don't ask me or anyone else if their BIPOC character will have a big [REDACTED]. IT'S WEIRD AND GROSS! Some of them may entertain that, but they are the exception and not the rule. This applies to all genders. Not all black women have huge [REDACTED] or/and [REDACTED].

BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN DESCRIBING ADULT ACTIVITY - Please do not fall into the trap of describing intercourse between a black man or woman with another race as animalistic (omegaverse is somewhat of an exception). You all know what I'm talking about. I'm not saying you can't, but it has its own problems and I would advise heavy caution.

SPECIFICALLY FOR THE LGBT+ COMMUNITY: Black men aren't always tops, black women aren't always butch. We are switches, we are femmes. we are nonbinary, we are everything in between. We are diverse individuals same as anyone.

And please, for the love of god, when you're describing brown/black skin do not refer to it as chocolate or coffee etc, I will blast you into orbit. Brown / darker skin comes in a variety of shades and hues. And referring to dark skin as chocolate or any other food might make you sound like you're hypersexualizing and/or fetishsizing black people. It's also tone-deaf.

You don't need to break your back to be 'politically correct' either. If all else fails, you can just say black person/male/female. Seriously, just say black. It's fine.

You may not get called out for your offensive portrayal of black people but we do see it. We have opinions. If a black person musters the courage to call out your offensive writing of black people, check yourself. Don't get defensive, don't get abrasive, don't tone police, don't make excuses. That's how systemic oppression continues. That is how BIPOC voices get silenced.

DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to speak for all Black/BIPOC individuals. We are not a monolith. They may have opinions that are different from mine and they are just as valid.

Further reading: See this link. <-- How to Include and Write BIPOC Characters

More Articles and Resources!

Writing With Color - a tumblr Blog dedicated to assisting others in writing with diversity
 
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This is a really great PSA article! <3 We often have a lot of guides for our LGBTQIA+ folks, but we rarely get guides on how to more respectfully write for BIPOC characters, especially for those of us who grew up in the US where race issues are so deeply ingrained into our society. Extra especially cause people rarely write for additional races outside of Japanese/Chinese/Korean characters due to anime popularity.

I will reiterate to all our members: You're gonna make mistakes. It's okay, that doesn't mean you're a bad person if someone has to come and point it out. JUST LISTEN to understand their perspective on WHY that content was offensive.

There's a lot of stuff I personally had no idea was based on racist tropes until someone pointed it out to me. It's made me a better storyteller! Like I legit had NO idea that using food words for skin description was an offensive thing for BIPOC people, cause I grew up on romance novels that does that with all the characters, white ones included. D: I also had to learn about the Magical Negro trope, where you OVER COMPENSATE trying not to be racist and end up doing exactly what you were trying to avoid. Those were my two big lessons.


And just as a friendly reminder, we do not allow that willfully racist shit here on Iwaku. >:[ If you got a problem with black people, or middle eastern, or indian, or anybody that isn't white, you can get the fuck off my site. I ain't having that nonsense. We're here to support our beautiful diverse, colorful, interesting world.
 
Great post! And linking to Writing With Color is great—I love their resources and find them really helpful with a variety of topics pertaining to BIPOC characters, intersectionality, etc.
 
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I will reiterate to all our members: You're gonna make mistakes. It's okay, that doesn't mean you're a bad person if someone has to come and point it out. JUST LISTEN to understand their perspective on WHY that content was offensive.
THIS. So much this. Personally, I am not working under the assumption that anyone is going out of their way to be offensive. I am not labeling you as a bad person. If I actually work up the courage to point anything out, it's because I think you'll be empathetic to my position and that you're capable of showing compassion when others might not. Especially, because Iwaku in particular has proven in most cases to be full of wonderful people who are supportive and encourage diversity.
 
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This thread made me laugh a bit when I saw the title, because I was just thinking about writing a guide for portraying African American characters. As a black woman myself, I can definitely relate to the frustrations relayed here. My preteen/teen years of rping were mainly on anime-based websites, and I quickly noticed that whenever I decided to roleplay as black characters, all interest from other players in plotting ANYTHING (romantic or platonic) died. Instantaneously. I wish I was exaggerating 😂 no one would touch my black characters because surprise surprise - weebs were only interested in portraying the whitest of Asians. Forget about being darker-skinned or Southern Asian.

I think this is an overall good post with an impassioned and well deserved plea. White is not the default, and it would be lovely if more writers would step outside of themselves and explore other cultures and communities as part of their range of characters.

However, I'd just like to touch on a few things. My intention here isn't to argue with you, but I do find one or two points contradictory - and dangerous. Dangerous in the sense that it could do more harm than good when guiding non-POC authors to write about us. I would caution against a few of these hard-set "do's and don'ts", because as you said so perfectly: we are not a monolith. And I'm happy you pointed that out! However, turning right around and saying that, for example, a) authors should stick to strictly "established" BIPOC names, as well as not Europeanizing black characters, is unnecessarily restrictive to me. Black people (who do NOT hail from the Motherland Wakanda) are a diverse diaspora; we are symptomatic of the countries and households we grew up in, and one black person might be entirely "Europeanized" by your standards - and that's normal! And what are established BIPOC names? We can have any name under the sun, yes, even made up names. Talk to anyone born in the 80s and 90s who was struck by the scourge of black mothers getting creative with names. I'm only half joking.

I think your other guidelines are perfect. Research SHOULD be done for other minorities and cultures, and we should avoid harmful stereotypes at all cost. And I thank you for this timely post! This is an ongoing issue in the writing community that people don't really care to address, and while it may not necessarily be a problem here on Iwaku, it's a good thread to highlight! I'd just be careful telling people to never do xyz unless it's inherently racist; you'll be putting limiters on an ethnicity that has limitless potential :^)
 
I am so sorry that you had to experience racism where potential RPs died because of the colour of your characters.

Like Kuno pointed out, I want to add that I'm a pretty assimilated american-born chinese; my parents moved into a majority white neighbourhood where I attended high school. I think for mixed kids or kids who grew up with one culture outside and another culture inside, the amount of each side they choose to combine falls upon a spectrum from, in my case, totally chinese to totally white, and every experience is a valid realization.
 
However, turning right around and saying that, for example, a) authors should stick to strictly "established" BIPOC names, as well as not Europeanizing black characters, is unnecessarily restrictive to me. Black people (who do NOT hail from the Motherland Wakanda) are a diverse diaspora; we are symptomatic of the countries and households we grew up in, and one black person might be entirely "Europeanized" by your standards

Ah I can see how my choice of words led to that misunderstanding. I wasn't discouraging the use of "Europeanized" names. I'm literally talking about the specific experience I had where someone in an old roleplay group I was a part of thought it was 'funny' to name a black character "Ashawana Bufonton Quibelafon Delaraquandra Laquisha Bonisha Tisha Bufon Trellanique Quandrea" (Okay this was not the actual name they used, this is a really obscure reference. If you know, you know). It wasn't funny. Not even a little bit. And I've come across it more than once. They don't even acknowledge how such names have caused a level of disparity, which led to some black families giving their children 'whiter' sounding names to give them marginally better odds.

By Europeanize, I am actually referring to the phenonemon where non-POC people will neglect to take into account the role race plays in the identity and development of BIPOC characters. My prime example being code switching. Or the infamous development of the term 'oreo'. Or how you knew immediately what I was implying when I said "the talk". A black person in America does not have the freedom to not think about race and how it plays a role in almost everything they do. Not to mention what it means when someone says "safe" neighborhood. I think I was too broad in my terminology and that's totally my fault.
 
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Great read! And I will be C/P'ing your portion about OC x Canon and Canon x Canon pairings, you put that into words where I could never quite put my finger on.
 
If I can add a suggestion to the fetishization portion.

Take a moment to think about your tropes if you're writing a mixed race couple ESPECIALLY where one member is in some way white or European or dominant in the society you're playing.

I've seen LOTS of "I only play Asian girls, and I only want you to play a white man" or more commonly, the opposite. It is ALWAYS a HUGE and VIVID SCARLET red flag to Asian ppl. I agree that there's no real good do or don't when it comes to representation, so I'm not saying white-asian couples are BAD to wanna play. But I think it's important to pause for a moment and think about what the racial tropes you're playing with suggest about that race. Would you feel uncomfortable seeing the Asian girl character lash out against the white male character with legitimate grievances? In many cases, the answer is yes, bc as most of us are westerners, almost all racial tropes place the PoC in positions of servitude or inferiority to white people. The token black friend, hot Russian spy, wise Asian mentor, spicy Latina, primitive nature-loving native, and sexy Asian girl who's also childishly naive. These are all tropes that if played straight diminish the humanity of the person who is not generic white American.

I'm not saying you can't play these kinds of characters or interracial dynamics. I'm saying, maybe pause a moment if you're going to play them to think, "am I okay with the non white character being as complex as I am - being an actual person outside of how they SERVE the white person or prove the white person superior or more complex in mind or character?" A lot of ppl, including who make major productions, think that it's not offensive to portray PoC in one-dimensional ways as long as it's not openly negative. But insisting that black people have bigger [X] than regular ppl is assuming there isn't a range of black ppl of all kinds and shapes and sizes (and also usually comes with connotations about them being less capable of sensitivity, kindness, and thoughtfulness). Assuming that indigenous folk are more "pure" is assuming that they are not just as capable of being petty or smart (civilized) as any other race. Assuming that the black or Asian friend is automatically wiser is assuming that they can't have doubts or growth in maturity or an actual messy childhood or be bad at math or relationships. If you don't think about it, at the end of the day, they all say the same thing: "anyone different from me is not an actual person."
 
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