This morning I was reading an old article put up by Chris Van Dyke about how racist Dungeons & Dragons actually is and how we should be aware of the assumptions the game makes about race. The article has an odd sort of logic to it that I would like to discuss for a few moments.
". . . In D&D, humans are the normative race, and given the Anglo-centric depiction of human culture in the game, humans can be interpreted as representing “white people.” They are “normal,” while all other races, whether good or evil, are to some extent “exotic,” and otherized.
First, lets just look at race as it relates to the real world. How are different human ethnic groups – black, white, Asian, Latino – depicted in the world of D&D? In a word, they aren’t, and their presence is felt strongly through their near total exclusion. This isn’t a great surprise, as the source material for high fantasy primarily stems from Anglo-Saxon and European folk-lore. Additionally, the vast majority of players are white males. I actually have no statistics to back this up, but anyone who wants to argue that point can after I’m done. In a game based around “role playing,” players are encouraged to take on the part of elves, dwarves, half-orcs, assassins, and warlocks, yet it is assumed that in all these roles they will still be white. Not that this is ever stated, of course, but this assumption lies both in the lack of any mention of human ethnicity in the character creation process and the illustrations of player characters found in the core texts . . ." (Van Dyke)
". . . In the over 100 illustrations of adventurer’s in the 2nd Edition Player Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide (both published in 1989), there are NO non-white adventurers. Finally, after 25 years the 3rd edition, published in 2003, makes some passing mention of race in the character creation process
". . . Most humans are the descendants of pioneers, conquerors, traders, travelers, refugees, and other people on the move. As a result human lands are hom to a mix of people - physically, culturally, religiously, and politically different. Hardy or fine, light-skinned or dark, showy or austere, primative or civilized, devout or impious, humans run the gamut . . . Thanks to their penchant for migration and conquest, and to their short life spans humans are more physically diverse than other common races. Their skin shades range from nearly black to very pale, their hair from black to blond (curly, kinky, or straight), and their facial hair (for men) from sparse to thick . . ." (Tweet, 12)
There you have it – “dark” and “kinky” are they only two adjectives in the first 25 years of D&D core texts that acknowledge that PCs might be something other than fair-skinned Anglo-Saxons. Yet the illustrations still show an almost purely white world. In 80 illustrations spread over the two core books of 3rd ed., there is one black woman and no black men. Coming across this picture after flipping through 982 pages of rules, I wasn’t sure whether the correct reaction was to be glad that the editors of the 3rd edition were broadening the concept of who a PC might be, or wonder why the first trace of race was a scantily clad, busty black female warrior . . ." (Van Dyke).
Sumner, Steve "Malak." Is Faerun Ready for Its First Orc President?. Something Awful. Something Awful, 25 April, 2008. Web. 27 September, 2015