people of color

Dragon Age and the People of Color ‘Debate’

The internet (namely, tumblr and twitter) have been abuzz as of late with an oddly large number of people freaking out about the ethnicity of a recently announced character for the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition. Much of the fan art for the character has made him look ‘more white’ than he was intended. This, naturally, caused a sort of uproar wherein the majority of people were 100% confused, spurring such comments as:

Dude. Dorian’s got olive skin, which is the usual southern European/Mediterranean colour, and you can bet your arse that we all identify as white.

…how is Dorian NOT white. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for poc character and I got super excited when I saw vivienne because not only is she black, she HAS features common of african ethnicity and not just a white person colored black…but Dorian’s a pastry white ass guy.

While there is much there to address, if you’re unfamiliar with the Dragon Age franchise, this is the character in question:

dorian

When I first saw Dorian, I thought he was white. And this is not so much his actual appearance, but a deeper issue that this has been revealed in media: I thought Dorian was white because I expected him to be white. He has some color to his skin, he has features not commonly associated with Caucasians or white people (rather, features commonly associated with Indian or Middle Eastern heritage). In fact, he looks like  me. And I am very much not white. Despite all of this, I assumed that it was just the lighting, and that he was another white character. And a lot of other people did too.

This is a problem.

And I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that this is a problem for them to realize that this is, in fact, a really big problem. We live in a society where there are so many white leading men that, unless we get a character that is outwardly black or Eastern Asian, the assumption is that he is white.

Since the above comments were made, several of the writers and developers on the game have come out to address the issue. John Epler, cinematic developer for BioWare, had this to say:

When you take a character that -is – a PoC and you draw them as white, you’re sort of saying ‘don’t care about you unless you’re white’. And that’s a feeling that people will take into their real lives. ‘Unless your’e white, we don’t think you’re worthwhile’.

This speaks to a much deeper issue than let on. As previously stated, the artists that drew Dorian as white did not realize he was not meant to be white. His skin isn’t noticeably dark, therefore he has to be white. In my eyes, the problem is not that people drew Dorian white. The problem is that everyone is so sure that he is white that they’ve become outwardly opposed to any other idea.

The logic, as seen in the first anonymous comment above, is that Dorian has light skin, therefore he is white. And this speaks to an issue that has been hugely prevalent in culture throughout the last century: passing. I talk more about that idea here. Specifically in the poem Passing by Tori Derricotte:

Why presume “passing” is based on what I leave out and not what she fills in?

Too many people need to know, and too many people fill in. In the case of media, it is very important as there are not many not-white main characters. By filling in his race, too many people have made a crucial mistake. And this is something we should talk about, and this is something that we should work on.

We see race in terms of black and white, and that has never been okay.

That being said.

There is another fundamental misunderstanding that has made this conversation a hell of a lot harder to have. People keep talking about white washing, and Dorian being a Person of Color and all that. But what most have failed to talk about is what, exactly, Person of Color means. Where I come from, it means black.When we get letters that talk about ‘people of color’ from colleges and the like, many have the response ‘but I’m not black’ and others, like me, feel the term is dated and weird. In my region, the only people who call all minorities people of color are the white people of the north end. Everyone else associates the term with people who identify with the black cultural identify. This predominantly includes people with ethnic ties to Africa, Jamaica, and South America. So for someone like me, and I’m sure for many other people, to hear that Dorian is a PoC, their first response is ‘but doesn’t look black’. And ‘reasonably’ so, as there have always been differences in social structure and slang across different regions (again, assuming a cultural identity based on appearance is a tricky thing to do). But pulling this entire idea into the area of ‘PoC’, everyone has latched onto this idea of black, and thus the central issue – the fact that he is not white and the shocking issue that so many people ignored his actual appearance as so many people expected him to be white – has gone largely ignored.

This is a problem.

I do not believe that they should have has to make Dorian darker. However, I do wonder why they didn’t. I’m not sure if that’s also a problem, or if it’s just the reasonable exercising of his country of origin (Tevinter) and the fact that the only Tevinters we’ve seen so far in the series have been darker than Fereldens and Kirkwallers, but not as dark as commonly associated with East Indians. And there is also the thought that Western media tends to latch onto the darker people in the Middle East and generally ignores the diversity that exists within skin tone and appearance.

There really is a lot going on here.

What is your take on the issue? And what does PoC mean to you? Let me know in the comments below.

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