The Sword and Laser discussion

Why Is Urban Fantasy So White?

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message 1: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments In most media, "urban" has become a euphemism for "black" -- an "urban music station" will play Kanye and Beyonce, a movie targeted at "urban audiences" is going to be a modern blaxploitation flick.

The one exception is "urban fantasy," which from all I can tell consists of white guys (well, mostly girls) fighting vampires and other supernatural beasties in a city. After sampling a bunch of popular series, Mercy Thompson is the only one I've found where the protagonist isn't white. Now, there are certainly lots of white folk who live in cities, but there are also lots of racial and ethnic minorities. In some of these books, it seems that minorities only show up to give the hero advice about voodoo or ancient Indian gods. Why don't they ever take the lead in fighting evil? Am I missing something -- is there an urban fantasy series with a black, or Hispanic, or Korean hero? Where the white guy only shows up to infodump about Aleister Crowley?

message 2: by Halbot42 (new)

Halbot42 | 185 comments I think the answer lies in the demographic buying the books and the fantasy crowd is pretty vanilla, amongst the already pretty vanilla book buying audience as a whole soo, you get sparkly vampires

message 3: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments I may be vanilla, but I'd like to read a book about, say, a black preacher in Atlanta who fights the demons who are preying on his congregation, or a Chinese family who own a restaurant in New York, but one night their oldest son gets killed by a werewolf while out delivering food, and they vow revenge. That'd be so much more interesting than another white chick who splits her time between killing vampires and boffing them.

message 4: by Sandi (new)

Sandi (sandikal) | 1212 comments Have you read anything by Charles de Lint? He often includes protagonists who are Hispanic or Native American. His "series" center on a place rather than a person, so that makes a big difference.

In general, I think the reason there are so many white female protagonists in urban fantasy is because that's who the audience is. I'd like to see something different myself.

message 5: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6118 comments I think you're looking for Urban Urban Fantasy.

message 6: by Halbot42 (new)

Halbot42 | 185 comments Mario Acevedo the main character is hispanic i think, got turned during gulf war, runs around being vamp detective in midwest and la. As a vanilla reader, i too would like to see more diversity, i blame publishers who wont take a chance and bet on what they think are safe bets, ie vanilla.

message 7: by Beth (new)

Beth (petersonb12) | 40 comments The audience for genre fiction, urban fantasy included, is always much more diverse than is reflected in what is published. In fact, the audience for just about anything in pop culture is always more diverse than what is produced because most of the population is not white.

There is a lot of work out there by scholars, of color and white, studying the whiteness of popular culture (or the maleness or the heterosexuality). Racialicious ( is one site that has a lot of great commentary, although it focuses on popular culture writ large but does intersect genre fiction regularly because the authors are big geeks.

I think what is produced reflects who has access to the means of production and who controls access to the means of production. For a long time, it was mostly white males. Now, there are some spaces opening for white females.

Good topic, Sean.

message 8: by Maryellen (new)

Maryellen Wilson | 3 comments Sandi -- I'm glad there are others out there who know about Charles de Lint; most of the time when I tell people about his books they just look blank.

Charles de Lint is a Canadian author who writes what he terms "urban shaministic" novels as well as fantasy and some sci-fi. His books have characters of all ethnicity and color in them -- a lot of "Native American/Canadian" people; I would love to live in his fictional town of Newford -- there are some great people who inhabit that place. So, here is one author who is not vanilla but at least 36 flavors.

message 9: by Alexander (new)

Alexander Draganov (darthsparhawk) I love a mixed party, actually. In the new book by Rick Riordan - a white guy, a Hispanic guy and an Indian girl. Very cool.
In the last book of Cassandra Clare, one of the characters is Asian.
And of course in Twilight the werewolf is an Indian.
So there are exceptions and in the future there will be even more exceptions.

message 10: by Vance (new)

Vance | 362 comments There have been few genres as "white" as typical fantasy, but The Blade Itself did have one character who was dark-skinned (can't give a cultural reference since it was made-up cultures) and I love the way she called the "white-skinned" characters "pinks"! :0)

message 11: by Martin (new)

Martin (mafrid) | 50 comments As English in only my 2nd language I hadn't gotten the cultural significance of 'urban' in 'urban fantasy', but it's still my least favorite labels of book genres.
My first objects came when I read Carrie Vaughn's Kitty books and increased after having stumbled upon Charlaine Harris's books about Sookie Stackhouse. The reason is that the events in the books rarely take place in a city setting and in particular the Sookie books have more of a rural settings. So shouldn't that be labeled 'rural fantasy'?
My objection only increased when I found Mike Carey's book about Felix Castor. It takes place in an urban setting (London), but the story has little to do with fantasy - at least the sword and sorcery kind. I would personally rather call it 'Paranormal Noir', than 'urban fantasy'.
Is the only motivation of calling something 'fantasy' that it's not factual? Then all fiction should be called fantasy or does it only apply when something is deemed to be unrealistic in it's nature?

To summarize the whole epithet of Urban Fantasy combines two poor labels into one that's even worse!

message 12: by Maryellen (new)

Maryellen Wilson | 3 comments Ah, Martin, try Charles de Lint books -- especially the ones that take place in Newford. I like the classification of 'Paranormal Noir' -- or maybe preternatural fiction would be closer to the mark.

message 13: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6118 comments I still don't get why, if the urban fantasy books are for women, they have sexy women on the cover.

message 14: by Sandi (new)

Sandi (sandikal) | 1212 comments Tamahome wrote: "I still don't get why, if the urban fantasy books are for women, they have sexy women on the cover."

Well, they do sell, don't they?

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Tamahome wrote: "I still don't get why, if the urban fantasy books are for women, they have sexy women on the cover."

Perhaps women like to fantasize themselves as kickass sexy heroines ;>

message 16: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6118 comments Sandi wrote: "Well, they do sell, don't they?"

Like 'magic'.

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