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So this hypothetical setting is the standard pastiche of European history with dragons and orcs and elves. The author wants to include people of color as a normal, widespread and accepted part of this heavily multicultural setting just as much as dwarves and halflings and talking skeletons.

How could their presence be explained in such a way that the audience may continue to suspend disbelief?

(Young Earth Creationism is true in-setting: all human races in-setting were created in their present forms by the in-setting gods 6000 years previous to the frame of reference and cannot evolve. The setting is not composed of matter and doesn't obey physics, so melanin, vitamin D, photons, DNA, etc don't exist.)

EDIT: Skin tone thus has no correlation to latitude in-setting. No humans in-setting have skin tones that don't exist in the real world.

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    $\begingroup$ @Durakken: no? IIRC Europe never had dragons and zombies. $\endgroup$ – Anonymous Aug 12 '16 at 2:41
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    $\begingroup$ too short for a full answer; You have dark-elves, why not dark-humans? $\endgroup$ – Marky Aug 12 '16 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Marky yeah I cover that in my answer. Dragons, sure, halfings, ok, orcs, cool, but humans with darker skin? How can their presence possibly be explained? Why it simply stretches the bounds of reality itself. Sorry for the sarcasm, just...kind of boggles my mind. I think maybe I need more on why the heck it's not realistic except that fantasy is generally whitewashed. Maybe edit the question? $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Aug 12 '16 at 2:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Erin Thursby I'm not sure I'm seeing the disconnect. Some other god looks at the standard human and goes "I Like that...buuuuut I think it would be better in black/magenta/green/chartreuse" and they make their tweak and toss them into the world. From an in world perspective its "just the way we were made/ things are." $\endgroup$ – Marky Aug 12 '16 at 3:16
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    $\begingroup$ Why do you think you have to explain their presence? Just have black people there and treat them the same as any other. I really don't see why that should be difficult for any reader? I mean, if you have orcs and elves and such, why not black people? $\endgroup$ – Polygnome Aug 12 '16 at 18:57
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if you already have dragons and orcs and elves, and people with no DNA put in place by Gods, it's not going to stretch credulity to have black people.

But sure, let's ask a couple of questions about this.

Are darkskinned people from other regions? Or are they simply part of the setting because of the God placement thing? All you really have to do is mention various skin colors and types of folk, in either case as part of the setting. If they are from elsewhere, then they have to have had a means to travel to these other regions much earlier.

I don't have a more in-depth answer than that and, quite honestly, I can't think how that is more wild and unbelievable than orcs.

EDIT: Since it isn't Europe, just go ahead and make dark-skin the default and white skin odd. Why the heck not? Just make it Black Not!Germany. All of the beer steins and none of the pasty-whiteness.

EDIT: Marky's comment has inspired me. Some of the people should be blue. I think that would be fantastic! Again, why not! We do have blue people right here on earth! But hey, there's an actual matter-based reason for that, so we can say one of the gods did it to a group of people. I love fantasy. Anything is possible. Dragons and blue people, coming together! (Not sarcasm!)

EDIT: The OP's edit has dashed my dream of blue Not!French folk running about. Black Not!Germany still stands though. See you or someone else edited it from Europe to Tolkien. The rest of my answer still stands. Just don't be nervous about it. Make your world. Tolkien was racist, sexist and used Europe as his model and he still had the occasional brown skinned person show up. In the background. Far away from the main characters. The very white main characters. Meanwhile, the other more evil, lesser races were given physical descriptions that could be applied to black folk. Here's a link to a fairly balanced article from the Tolkien Gateway regarding that. For his day, I think he was a fairly decent person, but because of his example and because everything is Euro-centric, I guess that has caused you to ask if in a world of Dragons, orcs and halfings, if black people are allowed to be there, even if there are no laws of physics. You, as the writer, are aware that this is so ingrained in the culture of fantasy. I think this question means that there's such a white cultural bias in fantasy writing, that it's now more unbelievable to have a black person in a story than it is a dragon. Please make your MC brown. I beg this of you.

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    $\begingroup$ Dragons + blue people = Avatar. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 12 '16 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ These blue people would be French. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Aug 12 '16 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ Somehow, imagining all the actors in Avatar with French accents makes the movie hilarious. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 12 '16 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ Whats with the "Black Not!/Germany"? I mean, what are you trying to say with that?. $\endgroup$ – Polygnome Aug 12 '16 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ As a programmer I read each "!"s as a "not" in and of itself, and got terribly confused, but then I got better ^^. $\endgroup$ – Marky Aug 14 '16 at 2:29
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Historically there were people of colour in Medieval Europe. There was considerable traffic forth and back across the Mediterranean to North Africa. Prior to the Medieval period the Romans grew their grain in North Africa, so undoubtedly less white persons were introduced into Europe. Islam had spread to Spain where they were busy civilizing the primitive natives (sorry Spanish people, just look up the history). We have tended to whitewash our history of the Medieval period and remove any not so white persons from it.

Now that's what happened in the Old Earth/Big Bang version of history. If you have a New Earth Creationist setting, then you acn add people of whatever colour you like into the mix. Heavens! You add dinosaurs too. The Creationist worldview accepts the co-existence of humans and dinosaurs, so why not in a Secondary World setting?

The problem of making this credible is essentially only what your readers believe is credible. The trouble is you can't overwrite a reader's erroneous perceptions without your narrative stepping out of its narrative mode and telling your readers that this something that happened in the real historic world, namely that there were colourful persons living in Medieval Europe, and that it's OK to have them in medieval pseudo-European fantasy.

Well, in that case, show them several purple people riding by on blue and yellow striped sauropods. Frankly it's your world and it's up to you to paint it whatever colours you like. If your readers don't like it, they can hurl your book at the nearest wall and blister the atmosphere with blasphemies. But you can bet many other readers will be having a treat reading your story. Go and have fun writing it.

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  • $\begingroup$ "you can't overwrite a reader's erroneous perceptions without...telling your readers that...there were colourful persons...and that it's OK to have them in medieval pseudo-European fantasy." Hits the nail right on the head. $\endgroup$ – Anonymous Aug 15 '16 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Anonymous No nails were hurt during the hitting them on the head. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 16 '16 at 4:18
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You could make your land be attractive to foreigners - for example it's a known trade hub, or has a massive and world-famous university. It's so far that people who come from the land of the other skin colour have to move here and bring their entire extended families, so there are plenty of them around.

You could also have them be freed slaves or descendants of the same, if you don't mind plagiarising real life... .

Or perhaps the land is on the edge of a continent and the continent with the other skin colour is not too far across the sea (think Gibraltar / Morocco or Alaska / Russia)

Or go more fantastical - perhaps the darker skinned people come from a religion of sun worshippers - part of their religion involves spending a lot of time in constructions that focus the Sun's rays on their skin and darkens their skin over the generations.

Or they may come from a race of wizards, but in your world extended exposure to the mystical vapours affects your skin colour.

Or they are a sort of "chosen" people and the gods have marked them thusly to know who they are when the apocalypse comes....

There are many ways this could be explained but not sure you have to, why is it less believable than having elves and orcs?

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As many have noted the non-blackness of Europe has a bit to do with science (latitude-melanin correlation) but has far more to do with historic reasons for immigration and emigration.

Trading and prosperity are mechanisms that promote migration and integration, but war and nationalism/tribalism often do the opposite.

Europe saw plenty of gene mixing when Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans prospered trading back and forth across the Mediterranean.

However, when the mostly black and Muslim 'Moors' invaded Iberia, conflicts occurred with the mostly white and Christian previous rulers of those and nearby areas. Because the distinction between Christian/Muslim so closely aligned with White/Black, skin-color became an easy proxy for religious affiliation. The us-versus-them mentality becomes all too easy to align with a specific race/color in that sort of situation.

In creating a fictional world that is fully "integrated" (quote marks because the term would be meaningless in a society that was never segregated in the first place) the trick is therefore to never create such an us/them schism that so clearly aligns along white/black color boundaries.

In a fictional world of Elves and Orcs this should be relatively easy. If Orcish or Elvish religion/culture is sufficiently distinct from that of Humans, this could easily lead to parallels with European history except with the lines drawn according to species rather than skin-color. If generations of humans (of all colors) have to band together to survive the Orcish onslaughts, the human-color distinction is going to be a non-issue compared to their shared loathing of all things Orc.

Furthermore, since you're worldbuilding, there are a number of ways you can integrate black and white humans even if you decide they've come from somewhat distinct geographical regions. For instance, a foundation myth could do a lot- have the Romulus and Remus of your most powerful and benevolent human city/nation be one black child and one white child. Or have an ancient myth about two warring princes falling in love with one anothers' beautiful sisters leading to some Romeo/Juliet drama, but an eventual ceasefire and age of prosperity. Religion works too; the gods of the day and night might be two brothers- one white and one black. Alternatively, a jealous god might separate two opposite-colored lovers by putting an entire sea or mountain range between them, etc.

There are a number of ways to go, the only trick will be to keep divisions between human races minor or superficial compared to the differences compared to Orcs/Elves/etc.

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I think the easiest way to maintain suspension of disbelief is not to try to explain it. People are already familiar with the idea of a multiracial culture. It's something the author wants to include; it's something that a lot of people also say they want to see more of in fantasy. You don't have to justify its presence or explain its origin in detail any more than you have to do those things for dragons or dwarves.

Here's an article ("How Do You Make a Post-Racial Fantasy World?") that talks about the TV show "Once upon a Time" and mentions that the racial diversity in the Enchanted Forest setting is never really commented on. This doesn't seem to have negatively affected the show.

I would have way more trouble suspending my disbelief when faced with statements that in this word "human races cannot evolve [..] The setting is not composed of matter and doesn't obey physics, so melanin, vitamin D, photons, DNA, etc don't exist."

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for last paragraph - this makes it sound like it should be some kind of ethereal world populated by spirit energy beings or something. Or perhaps it's an imaginary "Matrix" type world which would make a lot of sense given the OP's description $\endgroup$ – colmde Aug 15 '16 at 7:55
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Melanin content in the skin usually comes from equatorial region. The more equatorial, the more melanin. So depending on where your continent is they should probably be from there. In the real world Africans came largely through Spain and were called moors due to the islamic background of a majority of them if I recall. They were "rare" in more Northern Europe and the Mediteranean, but they were there. The hostility against Africans was largely a religious thing, Moors being the primary enemies during the crusades.

In Abrahamic Faiths, dark skin was looked at as the curse that god put on a family line, Ham's to be exact, and they're called Hametic people. I don't see why you couldn't use something similar that explains the difference.

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  • $\begingroup$ The poster specifically said: "The setting is not composed of matter and doesn't obey physics, so melanin, vitamin D, photons, DNA, etc don't exist." But that " The author wants to include people of color as a normal, widespread and accepted part of this heavily multicultural setting just as much as dwarves and halflings and talking skeletons." $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Aug 12 '16 at 3:03
  • $\begingroup$ @ErinThursby They also asked for making it believable which requires more info about the real situation. Also the concepts of melanin, vitamin D, photons, DNA, etc. are all 19th and 20th century ideas where as family lines, curses, etc, were not. So while your answer covers one part, mine covers another in broad sense. Fantasy worlds should still have black people because the Europe that it was based on had them, though in small numbers, too. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Aug 12 '16 at 3:14
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    $\begingroup$ I've edited my answer. Not!/Germany is now populated by people of color. Uncursed by God but still drinking beer. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Aug 12 '16 at 3:21
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The world is already full of markers: the short girls with beards are miners; the pointer eared guy with a bow likes trees; and the folks with the back half of a horse don't do indoor cocktail parties. Instead of worrying about stereotypes, I'ld just embrace them. The greenish tinged humans live in a hostile environment where reanimating the dead is normal; The black guys with white beards tend to cast fireballs and drink espresso; the slightly yellow looking folks tend to be merchants and fast-talkers; the gray humans from the hills hide really well; and everyone knows the beefy white guys with crew cuts go beserk after a few beer-bongs.

You won't be able to explore our complex race relations, just general prejudices where people have trouble believing in the gray guy being a merchant. Also, make all the other races multi-colored, and the quilt-like folks of many colors are usually adventurous.

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I'm thinking that you're not asking how to justify black people in the setting, but more how to convince people who are used to reading about the stereotypical whites-only fantasy worlds to accept black characters as normal. This is probably more a question for Writers SE.

My advice is not to worry about it - use existing tropes and clichés as inspiration, not as rules or dogma. It's better to get into your mind that you are not trying to write the same story that's already been written in a thousand books and ten thousand D&D campaigns.

And if you're still worried about it, then just establish it early on as unremarkable. e.g. an early chapter has a character participating in the story as any character would and happens to be black. Throw in a descriptive sentence about the sun / his wife caressing his brown skin or something...

Besides - not that I've come across any - I'm sure that in this day in age there are plenty of works out there set in the Tolkienesque fantasy setting with "real-life" races other than Anglo-Saxon.

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Since you are talking about a fantasy setting, then you can have purple people if that advances your story.

Historically, however, people of colour in Europe were referred to by such terms as "slaves", and if they were armed and capable of conquering European territory "Moors". The response of Europeans would not be considered correct in today's environment.

However, Europeans were also quite willing to go non PC over differences in language, religion or even who was the king or overlord, up to and including ethnic cleansing and devastating wars. But Europeans were not the only ones with that habit, it is endemic throughout the world among every ethnic and cultural group known to man.

Far more realistic for every group in your fantasy setting to be living in their own enclaves (nations if the enclave is large enough) and interacting only in limited fashions, and usually only through "outliers" like merchants or mercenary soldiers who need to travel from place to place to make a living.

While reality may not be very pretty, it does provide interesting and fertile ground to build story ideas off of.

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    $\begingroup$ Did you really just post that black people were called slaves in Europe as a denonym? Firstly, everyone had slaves and were slaves so just no. Secondly the word Slave is derived from Slav, You can guess why. Black people were just black people in Europe, but became associated with the name Moor because most were from or thought to come from Mauritania which Crusaders had to go through on their Crusade. Mauritanians were white or black but the majority were black which lead to the name coming to be a Denonym of blacks. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Aug 12 '16 at 19:23

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