I Hate Proxy Racist Characters

I tried watching Cobra Kai.

The premise, as I assumed it, was interesting. I thought we’d be catching up with the villain from the original Karate Kid, which is true–we do. But I assumed we’d find out that villain wasn’t actually a villain, an idea that the prologue (cut almost entirely from the original film) sets up. We see the villain kid being notoriously ordered to “Sweep the leg,” and we see his reaction: even he’s shocked that his douchebag sensei would tell him to take advantage of someone’s broken leg in a fight. The rest of the scene plays like normal, and then we cut to present day . . .

. . . Where we find our protagonist has the typical “Hollywood” version of a sad life. We watch him get up, go outside, encounter a young Latino kid . . .

. . . and to this kid, our protagonist immediately says, “Oh great. More immigrants.”

I hit Back like I was calling an elevator (*clickclickclickclickclick*). I remember saying, “Nope. I’m good.”

Cause, yeah, believe it or not . . .

I FUCKING HATE

RACIST CHARACTERS!

In 2020, it feels weird to even have to write this, but it also feels essential.

Which makes me sad.

I’m aware that Cobra Kai (which I keep misspelling as “Kobra Kai” for some weird reason), was first released in 2018. But, maybe because it’s so recent, I feel like that line–the decision that made me immediately drop it back into the abyss of Netflix content from which it came–deserves to be looked at.

Because, like edgy shithead comedians from the 2000’s–the long-extinct champions of “I’m gonna say it!” humor that empowers all racists and sexists–the Proxy Racist character is a problem I want to catch immediately.

So let’s define it.

The Proxy Racist

This is the fiction writer-equivalent of the shitty, edgelord, “I’ gonna say it!” joke: a grossly racist character who says horrible, racist shit while the writer in control of that character (and everything they say and do) smacks the dust off their hands. “I’m gonna write it,” they might have literally said to themselves, and now they stand akimbo, proud of themselves for establishing a gritty tone while alienating a large portion of the audience.

“I really want my audience to hate this guy,” they say, and then–as if there’s no other way to achieve that–they pen a character who talks about how much they hate Dwarves and want to kill them all.

“I want my audience to look forward to this asshole getting what’s coming to him!” the writer says, and then chooses to write the racist shit the character says, from a perspective that can only be called “privileged.”

To make it clear, the Proxy Racist is just a vehicle for a writer to be racist, not because they are, vehemently and vocally, in their day-to-day, but because, when faced with the choice of changing their writing or offending a bunch of people, they chose to offend a bunch of people. The writer of the shitty racist character ultimately doesn’t care how upsetting that racist character’s words and actions are to a minority. In the most brutal irony, they only think about the emotional reaction those words will get out of an audience of “readers,” “watchers,” and “gamers” who are safe from those words, because the white writer just assumes those faceless readers, watchers, and gamers are all white.

The weird paradox of it is, if we give the writer the benefit of the doubt and assume they did consider how the racism would emotionally impact a minority, their decision to keep the racism in makes it undeniable that they ultimately just shrugged. “It’s more powerful this way!” I can hear them excitedly telling themselves, safe in their writing nook, comfortably displaced from all the people their choice is going to offend.

Or, obviously worse, the writer of the Proxy Racist is just angrily selecting words and scenes because of their right (or, more accurately, privilege) to write those things. An avenue to vent their racist thoughts to the public; to say what they really want to.

Now, I was about to write, “Let’s move onto some examples to make this problem extra clear,” but, really . . . I just wanna vent.

I’m Tired of Racist Proxies Ruining Shows for Me

Remember when the one racist episode of Community was removed because it had blackface?

I had a passionate exchange with some friends about it.

Them: “But the joke, as I took it, was that [the one character–I refuse to watch it] is just really excited to play D&D, so he dresses up in full cosplay. But he’s also just really socially inept, so he doesn’t realize how weird it is that he dressed up as a Drow.”

Me: “Does anyone call it out as racist?”

Them: “The one character calls it a hate crime.”

Me: “So the actual punchline is that it’s racist. Because the joke you’re talking about could absolutely exist without the racist part. He could’ve showed up dressed as a Dwarf with the long, braided beard and it still would’ve hit that same punchline.”

Them: “Okay . . . Okay, yeah, you have a point. Touché.”

But Racist Proxies Also Ruin Games

For an example that isn’t directly related to comedy or TV, you can look at Divinity: Original Sin 2, a Fantasy example, and thus an example I had to bring up.

If you thought that example from earlier–with a character talking about how he wants to kill all Dwarves–was a weird thing for me to make up, surprise! I didn’t make it up!

At the last part I made it to–a small fishing town–there was one enemy NPC on the docks who talked explicitly about how he wanted to gruesomely murder all Dwarves.

But, really, it’s not just relegated to that one Fantasy cop (surprise, surprise) in Divinity 2; it is a fantastic game, but, unfortunately, it also has an unreal amount of racist proxies in it. Seriously, the majority of enemy NPC’s are bigots with zero qualms about saying how much they hate whatever group.

Of course, I have to say, right off the bat, that I don’t think the entire dev team is racist; characters in a Fantasy realm saying racist shit about a made-up, Fantasy race is a far cry from characters in a Fantasy realm hurling real life slurs at each other.

But Divinity 2 is a dialogue option-heavy RPG, meaning you can totally choose not to kill a lot of the racists you encounter. In fact, you can even decide to help them during any morally open-ended quests they’re involved in!

And . . . win one for the nazis playing the game, I guess?

I get the intention behind having those characters in the game. I get the fact that, in this setting, racism and bigotry are a big problem, and such settings are legitimate and potentially helpful tools for speaking about real world racism.

But I also feel like if one of the writers on your team pens a character who freely talks about committing genocide, in gruesome detail, . . . maybe you need to have a talk with that writer.

“Bob . . . I mean, he’s literally just an NPC.”

“Not even the main villain, dude.”

“You do not have to make this deep a cut for a passing quest NPC.”

“There’s another way, Bob.”

And that’s really what I want to end on here. The idea that . . .

There’s Another Way

For a long time, my mantra has been “If you want to combat a bigoted trope, don’t just put a woke spin on it. Totally undermine it instead. Don’t do it at all–do the opposite.”

I’ve also said, time and time again, that we just do not live in a world that needs more minorities as a side characters–we need more minorities as protagonists.

Both of those mantras always come to mind when I think of how to fix a Proxy Racist.

Do we need fiction that talks about racism? Yes, totally, the same way we need more minorities as side characters. Sure.

Would it be better if we just fought racism in fiction by writing a story with a minority as the protagonist? Yes. Abso-fucking-lutely.

The absolute anti-thesis of that, which isn’t helping anyone? A story with a white protagonist who fights a racist white villain.

Or a story with a racist white protagonist, even if they eventually learn better.

Again, don’t put a spin on it. Undermine it completely.

The reforming racist is absolutely a character arc worth telling, and I think that, in the near future, it’s going to be important to write that story.

But, until then, if you’re writing a show where your white protagonist is a racist who has a change of heart and starts teaching a young Latino kid martial arts . . . maybe just make the entire goddamn show from that kid’s perspective.

Or, at the very goddamn least, when you get to that part in your manuscript where your character is going to say something genuinely racist–that point when your nostrils are flared and, “I’m gonna write it!” is on the tip of your tongue–just fucking don’t.

~~~

Well, it turned out I was angry this weekend! What a surprise! Thanks, Twitter!

No, seriously, I was going to write something fun, but then I tried out Cobra Kai on Thursday and it was just a wrap after that.

Thanks for stopping by, and if you want to be notified when I post again, you can follow House of Error on the left side of your screen (or via the hamburger menu on the upper right on mobile).

Next week, I’m going to post something fun–I swear. I won’t look at Twitter or the news at all and it’ll be great.

Until then, take care and stay safe!

The Latin Bechdels – Part 2: The Latin Lover Test

It’s been a little over two weeks since I posted the first part of my Latin Bechdels series. Since then, I’ve continued casually subjecting everything I watch, read, or play to the CAR Test. Nothing new has passed; there are only ever new failures for the CAR.

Zoo? Despite its culturally diverse cast, that’s a fail.

Rick and Morty? I want to believe, but I’m pretty sure Rick Sanchez’ last name is only “Sanchez” because it’s funny. Besides, Rick is technically a criminal so he wouldn’t pass anyway. But holy shit if Rick Sanchez is actually Hispanic! Because, seriously, a Hispanic protagonist? In a widely popular American anything? That is actually rarer than finding a unicorn. A Hispanic protagonist who’s a scientist? That’s like finding you were the unicorn this entire time.

Fair warning: I’m writing this at 4 AM.

Anyway, let’s not let the unending barrage of CAR Test failures keep us down. Let’s talk about a test that most media passes! But a test for which the failing grade is I. I as in, “I can’t believe people still make this joke.”

Let’s talk about the Latin Lover Test!

The Latin Lover Test

Criteria for Failure: Your story features a Latino or Hispanic male character whose personality traits are dominated by or include an immediate, cartoon-ish determination to have sex with a female character.

Bonus: This character actually says something like, “Hello, pretty lady,” in Telemundo voice the moment he sees whatever woman he creeps on for the rest of the story.

*If your story doesn’t feature a named Latino or Hispanic character–if, instead, the Latin Lover is used as a disembodied gag (i.e. a replacement personality for a non-Latino character who has hit their head/gotten comedic amnesia/etc.), that story extra fails the Latin Lover Test.

I’m going to keep it short and sweet with this one, because I feel it should be really obvious why using the latin lover–in anything–is bad.

My full explanation: It’s racist humor from the 40’s.

That’s it. Seriously, it’s an obviously demeaning racist gag that’s decades old, grandfathered into American culture so firmly that it’s still being used.

It’s also pathetically easy comic relief. Need a quick laugh? Don’t want to actually work for it? Then dump the Latin Lover into your story! No tact required!

A simpler perspective on it:

Blackface? Obviously not cool.

Gross, joke Asian characters? No!

The latin lover stereotype? Oh, that one’s still okay, somehow.

. . .

Let’s take a look at what properties could possibly be ignorant enough to fail the Latin Lover test. You won’t be surprised.

Properties that Fail

Toy Story 3 – I lied.

I absolutely love the Toy Story movies. I think they’re great.

But that doesn’t mean Toy Story 3 doesn’t have a “fun” racist scene.

Partway through the movie, Buzz Lightyear has his language setting changed from English to Spanish. That single change instantly 180’s his personality, making him go from level-headed, adventure-loving astronaut . . .

. . . to Latino horndog, trying relentlessly to bone Jessie. There’s not even a hint of who he was; he is immediately a stereotype, present for comic relief and nothing else. If I remember correctly, the movie walks us through a few matador stereotypes too. Because, ya know, that’s what men do in Spain–walk around with roses in their mouths and gross-flirt.

I know–I know it’s an animated film–but the Latin Lover is still so… casually offensive. And easy; really, so fucking easy.

If you’re on the defensive about this, just take a moment to imagine a non-offensive alternative; Buzz Lightyear has his language switch turned to Spanish and is the same person but now struggles with being understood. To pour on the humor, let Buzz see a glaring plothole/solution that would neatly wrap up the the movie’s entire conflict in the first or second act–but no one understands him. He can desperately try to point it out while everyone stares, taking progressively less realistic guesses at what he’s trying to say.

The sad thing? Coming up with the non-offensive alternative to the Latin Lover wasn’t actually hard at all.

Moving on.

Final Fantasy XII – It was ages ago, but I still remember meeting Al-Cid in that game. We get our first glimpse of him when he interrupts a meeting the protagonists are having.

I remember that, when he opened his mouth and had a strong, Spanish accent, I thought, “Whoa! A Hispanic character in Final Fantasy? Awesome!”

Then he almost instantly gets on one knee in front of Ashe, the female lead. Kisses her hand. Continues holding it as he starts in with, “Stunning is Dalmasca’s desert bloom,” because Ashe is the princess of Dalmasca. Immediately, another character groans in disgust.

So did I.

Did Al-Cid have a character outside of being a gross caricature? I have no idea and I never will. I instantly popped FFXII out of my PS2 without saving and haven’t touched a FF game since.

Properties that Pass

Red VS Blue – It’s weird to bring up this ancient web series, but I do it to provide a direct reply to Toy Story 3. Yes, when it comes to what’s more racist, a crass, turn-of-the-century machinima based on Halo–the franchise with space marines killing aliens–is actually less racist than the family friendly movie about kids’ toys.

Bear with me on this one.

In RVB, the mechanic for Red Team is a robot named Lopez. For fifteen episodes, he doesn’t have a speech unit, but when Red Team eventually gets their hands on one, it’s damaged on instillation. The result? Although he can understand everyone else, Lopez can only speak Spanish.

And, from there, the robot does not become a horndog. He doesn’t become a matador, doesn’t start humping a female character’s leg, and he doesn’t suddenly weld a rose to the mouth of his combat visor.

The robot remains a mechanic. Literally the only difference: he speaks Spanish now.

Is it weird that the only Hispanic character on the show is a robot? Yes. Is it weird that the only Hispanic character on the show is a Mexican worker? Yeah, it’s still weird that Lopez is a stereotype. Is RVB tasteless in a lot of other ways? Absolutely.

But is Lopez his own character? Yes, he is. He’s melodramatic. He thinks of the Red’s Sarge as his dad because Sarge built him. He talks way too much and is super loyal to Red Team.

In short, he’s still a joke character, sure, but at least he’s not a quaintly racist gag.

Aside from The Flash, I honestly can’t think of another property that passes both the CAR and the Latin Lover Test – The Flash, is officially a bright, shining beacon of representation for Latino characters in fantasy, but I already talked about Cisco in the last post.

The more important point for me to make here… I genuinely can’t think of another popular, American series that passes both the CAR and the Latin Lover.

Because, usually, these tests are mutually exclusive–a Hispanic character is either a criminal/an ex-criminal/a person who’s related to a criminal, or they’re a gross stereotype.

It’s a weird thing to just openly write about all of this–like I’m breaking some unspoken code of conduct. Like someone’s going to bear down on me about how wrong I am to criticize an old joke character. I’m not sure why; maybe because it’s always been the Latin American modus operandi to just shrug these things off.

Regardless, we’re going to keep talking about all of this in two weeks, when I get to the test I’ve really wanted to write about this entire time–the DAGGER Test. It’ll be about racism, as a whole, in fantasy, so if you love fantasy, you won’t want to miss it.

—Project Updates—

LS-ProgressBar(3.0)-8.30.15-(InPost)Had a weirdly intense breakthrough while brainstorming my novel for this year’s NaNoWriMo. The result? It totally invalidated a few of the short stories I was working on. Dream Runner? Possibly out because its message is done better by the NaNoWriMo novel. Another short I was planning? Same thing.

The other two shorts have endured similar creative weirdness. One of them has snowballed into a potential novel. The other I realized I need to take apart from the ground up (at least I caught it before finishing it).

My goals for next time:

  1. Finish editing Memory.
  2. Submit “Aixa” again.
  3. Finish one of the remaining shorts, now whittled down to the two that are worth finishing.

 

 

—Acknowledgements—

Thanks for the Likes . . .

. . . moteridgerider! I appreciate the support!

. . . Damyanti! Check out her Q&A with playright/author Michele Lee! It’s a really interesting read–especially if you’re an aspiring playwright!

. . . Megan Manzano! The Manzano clan is currently knee deep in the 777 Challenge, and Megan’s contribution was pretty solid!

. . . Justine Manzano! Her post from the Dark Side of submissions is definitely comforting for any writer who struggles with them (i.e. all writers).

And that about wraps it up! If you like what you’ve read, consider giving this post a Like or giving me a Follow.

But even if you don’t, thank you for reading. And, as always, write well.