Despite all the many opinions about the advocacy responsibilities of fiction writers, perhaps there is a single, reasonable, and minimum standard that writers can be held to: not to make a problem worse.
It is true that fiction writers do not necessarily have a greater responsibility to participate in advocacy than anyone else. However, we still have responsibilities. There are countless examples of media containing elements of bigotry that could have been easily avoided had the writers used the tools at their disposal.
Arguably, fiction is not required to have ethical standards of journalism, and it is true that fiction is under no obligation to teach its readers moral lessons. Also, care must be taken not to cross the line of censorship. However, it’s easy to check for common issues, and given that Nazi indoctrination included children’s books, as noted by both the Smithsonian Magazine on the International WWII Museum and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, it is unreasonable to say that nothing should be finished.
The Harry Potter The series has garnered a lot of attention for its many bigoted elements, as well as the author’s ongoing transphobia. Rowling’s decision to have goblins run the bank plays on anti-Semitic stereotypes, which was highlighted by comedian Jon Stewart in a podcast episode. The discussion has been picked up by a host of others, including an NBC News article that digs deeper into the stereotypes involved. Additionally, the Goblins’ film designs look, as described in another Forbes article, “virtually indistinguishable from a Nazi propaganda poster.” As noted by several review sites like The Gamer, the recent game Hogwarts Legacy goes one step further, pitting players against goblins, who rebel against wizard oppression. There’s also a plotline about goblins kidnapping wizarding children, which is strongly reminiscent of blood libel.
There are also the house-elves, who are basically slaves who like to be slaves and are never freed in any of the books or movies. Rowling’s attempts to expand her wizarding world are also racist; particularly how she expanded her world-building with her essays on the History of Magic in North America (HOMINA) on Pottermore.
An article written by the editor of Native Peoples magazine, who herself is “Miniconjou Lakota and Registered Citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe,” analyzed the issues with HOMINA and the American Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft, including ” the pan-indigenous language, which treats “the Native American community” as a monolith; a Eurocentric storyline involving European wizards teaching native wizards to use wands, which are said to be superior; the story that is presented only in relation to the “explorers” and white wizarding immigrants; and the objectification of tribe-specific beliefs and values, such as “mascots” for Ilvermorny. »
Additionally, she argues against defending her fiction by mentioning how schools continue to perpetuate Thanksgiving and Columbus myths, and how her daughter has to deal with stereotypes at school. This is further supported by studies of the negative impact on Native Americans such as “‘Frozen in Time’: The Impact of Native American Media Representations on Identity and Self-Understanding”.
These were not exhaustive lists of all the issues with these works, and there are many other elements of bigotry, including but not limited to: sexism; fatphobia; homophobia; transphobia; ableism; and the stigmatization of mental illness through the misuse of words like psychotic or psycho to mean crazy, violent and dangerous. There is no reason to allow bigoted jokes, drawings and caricatures in the final product, as their sole purpose is to perpetuate this bigotry by teaching it to children.
None of this is to say that people can’t enjoy these works, or any work that has similar issues; to do so would be foolish, because nothing is “pure”. Nor is it to say that all fiction writers whose works have these problems have done so out of malice. No one is perfect and everyone has something to learn, including me. I happen to enjoy Tales of Arcadia, although I think it would be better if the writers didn’t write in the issues they did. However, neither ignorance nor permanent imperfection are excuses to avoid working to reduce the problem, which can be helped by creating an easily accessible toolkit of resources for writers.
One resource that already exists is to hire sensitivity readers or beta readers, who scan the work for issues, which the author can then edit. There are blogs like Writing With Color, which, in addition to Q&A-style writing advice, offers resources and guides focused on racial, ethnic, and religious diversity for writers. Blogs like this can be used to name characters and determine when it’s good or bad to use certain tropes and stereotypes.
If there aren’t already, there could also be writers’ hotlines like the Science and Entertainment Exchange, which connects filmmakers with experts to “create synergy between precise science and storytelling.” engaging”. Additionally, checklists could be created to detect problems; for example, a checklist of anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes.
As a (admittedly new) fiction writer myself, I strive to hold myself to this standard, as I want to avoid recycling bigotry into my works. My attempts won’t be perfect and I’ll make mistakes, but that won’t stop me and it shouldn’t stop others. Let’s do the work.