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Context: This takes place in an alternate reality earth; several fantasy races have existed since the Ladinian era of the break up of Pangea; meaning by the time humans evolved into homo-sapiens, they are well aware and have worked alongside or fought against fantasy races (dwarves, elementals, elves etc.). The main setting of the story would take place in 1847 on British colonized Sicily. The start of the steampunk era would have just started a few decades years ago.

Question: If there are additional dominant races besides humans (dwarves, elves, beastkin etc.). Would this eliminate humanity's racism towards their own species due to there actually being 'different races'?

Extra: I'm specifically looking for human behavior based on previous knowledge about how people handled differences in basic traits like skin tone in regards to white supremacy/eurocentric supremacy and how logically human behavior would change if they weren't the only dominant species.

My thought process would be that since humans would have a more unified sense of race, considering other races and clearly not human, there would be less or no traditional Eurocentric supremacy in places such as Africa and India. I'm aware prejudice is subjective to individuals, but I'm referring more to cultural systematic prejudice.

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  • $\begingroup$ In real history, by 1847 the Royal Navy had been fully engaged in suppressing the slave trade worldwide for some 40 years already, ever since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, seizing thousands of slaver ships and freeing hundreds of thousands of slaves. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 4, 2023 at 8:08
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    $\begingroup$ Slavery is about economics, not racism. It concentrates wealth by forcing others to work and give the resulting cash to someone else. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Oct 5, 2023 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ There's a difference between systemic racism (a society as a group oppresses a demographic minority within that society) and the evolutionary mandate that bonded societies ("birds of a feather") are stronger than other, competing societies. I don't believe it's believable for humanity to ever overcome the later. We may become trained to choose to look past the differences in culture, skin color, gender, etc., but that in no way means we didn't take notice of it. So, what exactly do you mean by "racism?" $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 5, 2023 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, while you're pondering that, please bear in mind that when it comes to conflict (on any level), a frequent victim of conflict is the belief in equality. Americans over the centuries created all kinds of racial slurs to distinguish the enemy from themselves (and likewise, I suspect, every combatant in every war). It's tough to hate an enemy you love. Eliminating racism, therefore, requires eliminating conflict (almost down to the level of competition). Perhaps that's why I just don't see every possible form of "racism" ever dying. I don't have a utopic enough view of the future. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 5, 2023 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ The beginnig of racist beliefs is not when Europeans saw non-Europeans. The origins are a few 10k years earlier, when the first tribe to meet a tribe that looked different than them... In fact your whole stance on racism (being eurocentric and not omnipresent) is.... racist. $\endgroup$
    – Negdo
    Oct 6, 2023 at 7:13

8 Answers 8

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Possibly. Possibly not. Your call, and you can build consistent worlds either way.

  • Look at racism and the definition of 'whiteness' in the US over the last century or two. People like Irish Americans, Italian Americans, or Greek Americans used to count as 'not white' in the eyes of WASPs or north-west Europeans. One could argue that people got slightly less racist, or one could argue that the presence of African Americans and Hispanic Americans made the WASPs overlook minor differences and count the groups above as 'white.'
  • Look at pseudoscientific attempts to justify racism. It is now widely accepted that they are nonsense. With fantasy-style demihumans and genuine racial differences (Dwarves can see underground, Orcs are strong but stupid, ...), the concept would gain credence even if it is applied to human 'races.'
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  • $\begingroup$ On the other hand, the glorious United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland had its first Jewish prime minister in 1868... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 4, 2023 at 8:05
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP, that is remarkable when one considers antisemitic stereotypes in Europe at the time. Less remarkable when one compares Disraeli to the average inhabitant of the Empire at the time -- reinforcing my first bullet point. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Oct 4, 2023 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ Oh yes, I had upvoted the answer before writing the comment. My point was that what is white and what is colored has always been a culturally determined question. In fact, instead of looking diachronically at the definition of whiteness in the USA, one could just as well look synchronically at the difference between racial perceptions between North and South America, or between America and Europe right now. (For example, I am always puzzled by American police procedurals referring to somebody as a "Latino" or a "Middle Easterner", as I simply have no mental model of how to recognize such.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 4, 2023 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ Good point, I'd neglected to think about the definition of 'whiteness', I knew about prejudice against Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans but didn't connect that with racism or why general attitudes would shift from very prejudiced to less prejudiced. And the pseudoscience of racism would be a factor I forgot to add in; requiring more thought and research. $\endgroup$
    – Saxionkin
    Oct 4, 2023 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ "Possibly. Possibly not. Your call..." doesn't this admit that the question is too story-based? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 5, 2023 at 16:17
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It would happen what is as always happened. The upper tier of people won't fight over being a different race, only for being a different class (who would want to hang out with peasants?), while making sure poor people lives get harder, and harder, making them live with less, and less.

Poor people (aka lower classes) would be stressed, tired and with no prospects of ever leaving their low ranks, so what do they turn to ? Distractions. They start drinking/doing drugs in order to get through the day. People with poor judgements start fights, which will cause them to turn on each other. Eventually, Ogres are going to get banned or restricted from drinking because they get rowdy and can kill a human with a single punch to the face. Then the ogres will say it's not fair, because elves can insert generic elf thingy.

Then it's discrimination and racism (like actual racism).

If they don't live together, as in settlements only contain one race at a time. Every race would protect its race and be very wary of other races. It's called Tribal Thinking and it's a major reason why those mistreats happen, everyone believes the other are bad without any reason beside everyone saying so.

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People of the same 'race' are horrible to each other all the time. It may no longer be called racism, but there will be slaves, and there will be abused people of all kinds abusing and enslaving their own races.

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  • $\begingroup$ Any student of history knows that barbarism is colorblind. $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Oct 7, 2023 at 23:44
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At a civilised level class disparity is a given for many reasons. Race is just one of the most glaring.

At the hunter gatherer level it's already happened, at least 5 other sorts of humans have gone extinct since our species arrived, but that never stopped us exterminating each other as well whenever we could manage it.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's a big assumption that sapiens killed all the others. I'm not saying it's implausible, but there's several other equally plausible explanations. $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Oct 9, 2023 at 3:36
  • $\begingroup$ @fredsbend Fossil records very strongly show that the extinction level events coincide with migration patterns. IE: one kind of homosapien moves in, and the other quickly thereafter goes extinct. Also, the manner in which tribal societies fight wars that we do have a historical record of shows that they much more often engage in extermination than conquest. So, saying these interactions are one group wiping out the other is a well informed conclusion, even if not 100% provable in each case. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 9, 2023 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Putting two groups in the same place is not nearly enough to sweepingly claim anything. This answer puts it up as a given that "wiped out by others" is what has happened. I don't have a problem with the suggestion that it's plausible, as I said in my first comment, "there's several other equally plausible explanations." $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Oct 9, 2023 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ @fredsbend No, that fact alone is not. But that is not the only fact available. We have mass grave sites of genocided tribes going back 9000 years. We have recent historical records of how frequently various primitive societies have fought wars of extermination in America, Africa, and Australia far more frequently than we see in more advanced civilizations. It is the weapon marks found on skeletons (as opposed to signs of disease or starvation). It is all the facts together that make the assumption probable. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 9, 2023 at 15:36
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All that's really needed to convince humans to be barbaric to each other is the belief that there are unique groups. If a small nation of 3 or 4 tribes doesn't have an existential threat from a different nation, they will eventually have conflict and war with each other. The human tenancy over time is to either segregate (when resources and space allow), breed into one group, or fight. Only after groups are identified and which of the three actions are decided do the stereotypes develop. This is because the human mind needs a quick heuristic to identify out-group members, especially if the action chosen is war. Evaluate if your story humans are a nation of tribes or something more uniform. That will give you your answer. Consider LotR for a well-made example. The people of Rohan aren't exactly friends with Gondor. Then there's the Wildmen, which don't like any other human. But all humans contributed in the fight against Mordor.

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At best, we would be equally tolerant

If in your setting, all of the races are regarded with the same respect that we treat other races in our own world, then there is no sum effect. Caucasoids are people, Elves are people, Dwarves are people, etc. You basically see all the systems you see in our world, but with more lines of racial division. Elves don't cause humans of two races to feel closer, we only apply our same rules we use for each other to elves too.

At worst, it would further divide humanity

The other way to go with this is that it would make the umbrella term of "human" lose all meaning. In our world, we tend to refer to all races as humans which is the level of division we place the identity of personhood at. Granted, this does not mean that every human civilization puts a premium value on personhood... but most civilizations acknowledge that a person is in some way more than an animal. There are overwhelming qualities of every human that are very similar, even when we look pretty different, and we classify ourselves together because we cannot point at ourselves and find meaningful qualities that make us "Not an Animal" without being able to look over at a person of a different race and see the same qualities with just a little bit of inspection. Because our sapience separates us from the animals, we can generally look at a person that is different than us in looks and still identify ourselves as generally the same thing.

So what happens when you introduce not just more human like races like elves and dwarves, but also races that feel more like beasts than man like goblins, kobolds, selkies, gnolls, minotaurs, demons, etc? Suddenly, sapience no longer separates us from the animals. If a gnolls looks more like a hyena than a human, but is still sapient, then you live in a world where sapience does NOT separate mankind from the beasts. And if a Caucasoid considers a gnoll to be an animal, then when he looks upon a Mongoloid, the same line of logic could lead him to the gut reaction that the Mongoloid is also an animal because "personhood" is now entirely based on looks.

So, instead of humans becoming united by the existence of these other different sapient species, we would probably divide ourselves more completely by refusing to acknowledge the other races as being the same species at all.

So, instead of your setting having "humans" and a bunch of fantasy races, it would make more since to treat Caucasoids, Mongoloids, Negroids, and Dravidians as 4 separate "species" from the perspective of the average person in your setting since there is really no more difference between an Elf and a Negroid than a Caucasoid and Dravidian.

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  • $\begingroup$ "because "personhood" is now entirely based on looks". You must meant to have said not. $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Oct 9, 2023 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ @fredsbend Nope. If personhood can not be determined by one's mental faculties (because human like minds are often found in "animals"), then your personhood would be purely determined by how you look because it is the only factor left for your ego to attach to your kind being different, and therefore, more important than an animal. We need to feel more important than animals for the survival of the species. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 9, 2023 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ I see now. You are starting with the assumption that looks would trump mind. Eg, trolls might have human-like minds, but are considered animals, therefore the tendency to dehumanize would be stronger. $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Oct 9, 2023 at 18:54
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Given how humans back in the 1840s viewed race, it would likely be even more of a mess. This is especially significant since your story involves a British Colonized Sicily. Your story would have been set around the same time as the Irish famine, and what happened to the Irish is partly due to the English belief that the Irish are "inferiors" or "savages" who cannot be civilized. The English were practically the first to develop our modern idea of race, in fact, they used the idea of race to separate humans into separate species.

Do take note that even though the Irish were light skinned, they were not considered "white" by the English or Americans. Given their historical treatment, it would be pretty terrible to be a native Sicilian under British rule since you're not only Catholic, which would make you the target of discrimination under Protestant rule, but you would not be considered "white" at all, you would practically be considered some isolated sup-species of Italian in the eyes of the English. I wouldn't be surprised if your setting has anything similar to the Irish Potato famine in Sicily, which would result in Sicilians immigrating to places like mainland Italy, Britain itself, or even America in order to escape the struggles.

How would this extend to fantasy races? Well, it depends on which races are present. You used Elementals, Dwarves, Elves, and Beast kin as examples, so I'll use them as examples as well. Since this is long before Tolkien and his adaptation of Nordic Elves, the English would probably have a very different view of Elves compared to us modern folk. The most likely association the English would make would be with the Seelie and Unseelie Fae, who are often portrayed as unpredictable and unreliable aliens that just so happen to look human. So, Elves would actually be subject to discrimination because of the belief that they're Fae and you don't know what they're going to do. Dwarves would honestly be seen in similar ways to Jews and Irish. Not only would their value for hard work draw the ire of English workers who would accuse them of taking their jobs, especially in industrial and mining jobs given their short statures would have advantages compared to the common man, but their association with gold would make the English think the Dwarves are naturally greedy.

And that's just for the races that look human, for races like Elementals and Beast men, the English wouldn't even really recognize them as sapient beings. If we were to include other fantasy races like the Orcs, they would either be considered a missing link between apes and men, even lower than the African depending on how Orcs look. While at this time the English Empire was cracking down on the slave trade hard, it is unlikely that the abolitionist movements of those days would have included the races that barely look human under their umbrella.

Now this answer is mainly going off of how the English would see race since we have the most information about how they saw other groups. I'm not sure how reliable Britannica is considered here, but here's a link to their website for extra information. Britannica Race History One of the things it mentions is that even by the time of the mid 1700s, Linnaus had four major subspecies of humans listed: H. americanus, H. africanus, H. europaeus, and H. asiaticus, with anything that didn't fit those four categories listed as H. Monstrosus and H. Ferus for the exotic peoples and wild men respectively. These latter two would probably be where most of our fantasy races would find themselves in unless certain races either got their own categories, like Dwarves being H. Rotundus and Elves being H. Elvenus. There is also the possibility that some members of certain humanoid fantasy races would try their best to claim that they're part of the civilized human race, or "white" race. Such as some Elves trying to claim that they share a similar heritage to the Anglo-Saxons in order to escape persecution and discrimination.

So, to summarize, if Fantasy Races existed in a British Controlled Sicily in the 1840s, there would still be racism as we saw it progress into modern day, only this time most humanoid races would find themselves in the middle of it as well, and the non-humanoid races would be very unlikely to be seen as anything equal to a human.

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People find endless reasons for war, enslavement and hatred based on skin colour, religion, ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, dress, nationality, political opinion, appearance, level of education and much more.

Adding more races etc to the mix is only likely to increase the options for antagonism.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Hatred based on skin color" was never a reason for war, the reason was that they were slaves, not the color of their skin. $\endgroup$
    – Or4ng3h4t
    Oct 9, 2023 at 9:26

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