Black Characters in Fantasy and Science Fiction

Previously I’ve talked about Black Female Protagonists in Fantasy. They are hardly there, so I write them. I want to inject them into the market to add some diversity and hopefully tell the stories I want to tell. That’s not what I’m talking about today. This is all about black characters in general in fantasy. I read a number of fantasy books. And I hardly see black characters appear. On some rare occasions I see a black character as a walk on or a secondary character. But they are still largely absent from carrying a novel or even being one in a circle of main characters.

Parable Of The Talents

Parable Of The Talents by Octavia Butler

The Authors
I’m not going to say that there are no black authors writing fantasy because that would be a bold faced lie. There have been some fantastic black authors in the past who have written fantasy novels. And there are currently great ones as well. However, there aren’t that many of them. But even with those authors, the number of black characters in fantasy is still low. It’d be great if there were more authors in general willing to inject black characters into their stories, but stories manifest as they should.

The Fantasy World
Many fantasy worlds seem to cherish a medieval or medieval inspired setting. As a result, the rationalization that there wouldn’t be black characters prominent in such a world. It is very true. However, if a derivative world is being created any world structure can be established. The world can be altered to fit the authors needs. Now, I’m not saying preconceived imaginations of a world should be ditched to accommodate for black characters, but it’d be nice to see more characters of color.

Not Just Black Characters
In general this phenomenon doesn’t just plague black characters, but all characters of color. They are few and far between in the landscape of fantasy, despite the abundance of people of color particularly in the US. It’d be nice to experience the world through the eyes of different characters. These characters of color are appearing more and more in other genres, so why not fantasy? Why must I read contemporary fiction to attempt to find a character of color that I relate to. Characters of color are becoming more present, but there is still a long way to go.

Black Characters in FantasyFantasy vs Science Fiction
I’ve noticed that there seems to be more acceptance of other races in science fiction novels. It makes me wonder what the difference is between the genres that leads to less black characters in fantasy than in science fiction. One theory is that world trends seem to indicate that the structure of populations are shifting and the amount of interracial relationships are leading to blurrier lines in society. It might be reasaonable to assume that science fiction writers are looking to what could be a possible future. So, what is stopping a fantasy author from imaging their second world with a different world order. And for those stories set in the present, how likely is it that a character in the city or suburbs would not know and encounter any people of color.

A List of Some Black Fantasy and Science Fiction Authors

Alan Jones
Alicia McCalla
Balogun Ojetade
Charles Chestnutt
Charles Saunder
George S. Schuyler
Henry Dumas
Leslie Esdaile Banks as L.A. Banks
Maurice Broaddus
Milton J. Davis
N.K. Jemisin
Nalo Hopkinson
Nnedi Okorafor
Octavia Butler
Ronald T. Jones
Samuel Delaney
Tananarive Due
Valjenne Jeffers
Virginia Hamilton
W.E.B. DuBois
Wendy Raven McNair
Zora Neale Hurston
Wendy Raven McNair
Alicia McCalla
Ronald T. Jones

Do you enjoy characters of color in fantasy novels? Are there any author’s you enjoy that depict characters of color? Do you write characters of color?

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15 thoughts on “Black Characters in Fantasy and Science Fiction

  1. One of my recent faves, the Sleepy Willow series, is fantasy about a woman who becomes a vampire so that she can cure her narcolepsy.. it doesn’t work. Willow lives in this world full of demons, werewolves, weredragons, ghosts, mad scientists, as well as actual diversity. The main character is black. It’s written by Dicey Grenor. It’s fantastic and fun… it’s also smutty, which some people aren’t in to. But… well, I like it a lot. hah

  2. I’m one of those people guilty of not having a black MC. Any explanation I give might sound weird. I’m kind of a mutt genetically so I love having characters of different colors in my stories. In my current lineup I have Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Croatian, Russian/Arabian mix, and a Indian/Chinese mix MC, but I’ve only had a black one once in my first story ever.

    Maybe I’m weird. It’s something I notice on TV from time to time, it’s not really something I notice in a book unless the author draws attention to it. So I’m one of those people that just want to see more ethnic people on regular TV shows. Not just the “black” movies and tv shows, but romantic comedies and network dramas, too, you know. Like on Sleepy Hollow. That was cool. And in The Office. There was the Indian girl and she was super ditzy and I LOVED that.

    • Do your thing, it sounds great to me. I love diversity. That’s what I look for, never any specific ethnicity.

      I like black people and ethnicities to be treated like people not stereotypes. I’m a mutt of all mutt, but at the end of the day I check black. I write black females that are like me. They are not stereotypes. They don’t run with a black crowd. They are people who happen to be black.

      My novels are filled with every race. That is what I’m accustommed to. I want to see a chancr eithin the landscape. However I can’t expect anything to change unless I try to participate in the change. I writr black characters so girls who were like me growing up have a character like them. That certainly doesn’t speak with or account for many considering I was raised in a New Jersey suburb with a jewish and two filipino best friends.

  3. I’ll add my two cents. People forget or perhaps even ignore the fact, that there have been black readers who’ve read fantasy for years. And that these same readers waited for the day when black character would pop up in a story like those they love, like an Elric or something. I do believe that these newer readers of fantasy of other sorts (porn, slavery and what have you) have never read such works as these older era fantasy book readers, and in their own naïve experience of the genre, are not looking for the black girl Red Sonja type. What I mean is that a God could come upon a black boy or girl too! So when these new “fantasy” readers see something hyped as “fantasy that’s black,” but the same old bull%^&# they been reading wrapped as fantasy, they dive in unaware of greater fantasy works that were always there, and therefore do not expect better. I think they deserve better! I suppose it’s the best I can explain it. If black writers and readers of fantasy want a change, they will have to embrace each other as writers (even creators if so happens!), and build their own publishing companies rather than begging the major white publishers and selling out to become so-called publishers, when really they’re nothing but bought and paid for gatekeepers told to ignore black writers of specific works. And to all black authors who commented, support each other, because if you want to grow as black writers with power and respect, it’ll take cooperation. not competition. So, create create create, and good luck!

  4. I’ve just read two amazing fantasy fiction novels by B. J. Ramsey and if you think Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Narnia combined as one with leading black characters, and if you love this genre, check out The Chronicles of Jamaica – Book One: The Girl inside a Crystal Ball. Book Two: The Black Diamond. I’m blown away and I can’t wait to read the next chronicle.
    This is what the first book is about.
    Eleven-year-old Jamaica has never flown around inside “The Aviary” painting chasing Angels’ Wings. She’s never even strapped on a pair. She’s never traveled one thousand feet across the Lake of the Damned while riding inside a Heavenly Shuttle, jumped into paintings to learn what it takes to become an Angel Warrior, have Pixies serve her meals, have laughing Cupids deliver mail, nor turn straw into a shaggy dog which comes alive and becomes her guardian pet. All Jamaica knows is an unhappy life with the Browns, her horrible stepparents, and their monstrous daughter on planet Legna. Jamaica is forced to live inside a crystal ball buried at the bottom of a garbage can in the Brown’s kitchen, located in a parallel world of darkness. She doesn’t know where she came from, and she doesn’t know she has a clone named Ja’MayKa.
    But all that is about to change when Tabakas—birdlike people transfigured into humans—start knocking on the Brown’s door demanding to take her away to Boot Camp for Angels. There she makes friends and enemies, learns that she’s been chosen to become a Heavenly Warrior that fights evil, discovers her own magical powers, learns to flap and fly her strap-on Angel Wings. She also learns that the King of Evil named Zi’Keke and his evil witch, Z’Enja, wants the emerald off her forehead. Why? More important, she discovers her calling as destiny waits.
    I wanted to buy this book in paperback but they’re only available as an ebook.

  5. Pingback: Happy One Year | So, I pondered…

  6. I came across your post during my search for fantasy books with characters of color. As an aspiring writer myself who writes in this genre, I have to say that your post sucked me in. Unfortunately, a lot of what I’ve found in my writing community is that there’s not a lot of writers who have characters of color in fantasy. So far, I’ve only come across one other person who does write characters of color in her work, and sadly she hasn’t been on the writing community site in a while.

    If it’s not too much trouble, can I make a link on my website that leads to this post? I want ask beforehand instead of jumping into action.

  7. Yeah, i came across this too while searching for black fantasy characters (don’t know if i’m trying to reassure myself or what). Anyhoo, my whole cast is black on an all black continent. I love fantasy from Tolkien to Martin, but there never seem to be any prominent black characters. So I made a conscious decision to flip the paradigm. But now I’m worried that i won’t get published because of this. Still, i’m sticking to my guns. Black fantasy writers, unite!!!

  8. Drizzt Do’Urden is a good example. And I know, I know. He’s an elf, so he doesn’t count, right? How can a person of color relate to an elf? But he’s more than that. He’s a drow. Countless times in Drizzt’s monologues he talks about being persecuted because of the color of his skin. He’s more than just a “dark elf”. He’s a black elf. And when people saw him with his white hair and his black skin, they would make assumptions about him. That includes other elves. So now you’ve got these surface elves with pale complexions (some of them have brown skin but they are rarely seen and even they are not black like the drow are) who have preconceived notions about this character because of the color of his skin. That right there is an issue that I think many people of color would be able to relate to. Unfortunately, the drow race as a whole is represented as being evil (I hate it when an entire species that is not your typical monster is represented as being evil AKA orcs) but since Drizzt’s rise in popularity, more and more emphasis has been placed on the fact that there are countless drow, entire societies even who have left their homeland and live on the surface because they turned their backs on the evil of “their culture”. I put that in quotes because if you are a member of a culture that you do not agree with then nobody can rightly say that it is “your” culture. It is simply the culture you came from but it does not define you.

    But still, I agree that there are simply not enough mainstream examples of black people (or any person of color) represented in fantasy. It is something that I’ve given a lot of thought to only recently. It’s not that I’ve never noticed it before. I just never really gave it any thought. In fact, I found this blog because I searched for “black characters in fantasy” in Google and this was the first result. And I’m thankful for the list of authors you provided. I’ve never made it a point to go out of my way to find black authors or to read fantasy with a black main character. But I’m definitely going to check out a few of these authors. Regardless of skin color, I’m always interested in a good fantasy novel so it works out both ways.

    I would also like to point out Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. But then King has always been a very diverse author when it comes to character representation.

    • I’m glad you were able to find some more reading material that deviates from the norm here.

      There are a number of both black, white, asian, etc, authors who feature rich diverse worlds, the problem is that they are the minority. The more authors of all races reach in and expose themselves to worlds that are flavored by everyone it will become more common place. it’s difficult to especially for those in America to go through life without seeing people different than yourself. I like to see that in the books I read.

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