How To Blend Cultures (Without Making Impossible Mixes)

This is a guide specifically about fantasy worldbuilding. WWC gets a lot of questions around “I’m mixing two cultures together, how do I do that?” and this is to explain both how to do that and when you very much should not.

For starters, you should avoid blending empires with their surrounding properties, especially if there is recent political strife along those lines. This is why Japan/China/Korea (or even China/Tibet) mixes should not be done. For more information on that, take a look at Research:Large to Small Scale, Avoiding Homogenizing East Asian Cultures, & Paralleling Regions Appropriately.

Next up, mixing Greece/Rome with far-flung cultures gets a little bit eyebrow raising. Unless it was a direct trading partner/conquered property, Greek/Roman cultures do not mix with non-European cultures. The Greek empire only went to the Northern regions of India at its very peak, and that is limited to the ancient world. Rome stopped in the Middle East, so, again, you don’t have the cultural backing for a mixing of anything outside of its borders. 

Depictions of Rome and Greece in ancient literature shows other ancient cultures found them quite backwards, and were adverse to mixing with them. By many standards they were very backwards, and it’s only Europe (and, as an extension, America) that revered them to the extent they do. Asia and Africa had no reason to see them as advanced, because they made many more technological advancements than either. North America and Oceanic cultures hardly interacted with either, and had both their own technological advancements+ cultures closer by to borrow advancements from, instead. 

Outside of that, cultures are born out of the environments that made them. As a result, places with wildly dissimilar climates and resources pools will not be able to blend harmoniously unless you’re taking a modern analogue society where globalism has happened. This is plain old because resources only travel so far, and people are more likely to build culture around resources they have easy access to (even well-established trade links can lead to people re-creating things: Han purple and Egyptian blue point to an ancient trade link, but they were made with local materials processed differently).

Roman architecture exists because the Romans had access to copious amounts of concrete materials/marble and lived in the Mediterranean, which got very hot summers, heavy rains, and not a whole lot of cold. As a result they created structures that worked for this, which included open airways, pillars, easy to clean floors, shade, and ventilation. Places that lack these resources will not be able to replicate Rome.

Their resource pool was very specific to their regions, and there’s a reason Rome had the rule that anybody who did’t live like Romans were slaves: it was really hard to live like a Roman, and they wanted their slave pool as large as possible. 

Different cultures with different resources formed in wildly different ways, and might not even have anything similar to Greece or Rome. Because of this, you need to look really close at why culture developed the way it did. If it’s because they had extremely dissimilar resources pools, it’s wise to not blend the cultures (or at least not think they’ll look anything like their original cultures) 

Which brings me to value systems. Cultures put value on different things. Each culture ends up with a base philosophy for what they esteem and how they use resources, which proceeds to influence how it develops. Architecture has meaning to it. So does what colours you use in different applications. Because these things are sacred and/or practical for certain social orders. “Sacred” in cultures ends up becoming a shorthand for “this ritual helps us survive.”

There is no such thing as “aesthetic” when you get down to the root of each single item, because that aesthetic has a practical purpose. There is also no such thing as a “solely religious reason” under the same logic. Cows have become sacred in most varieties of Hinduism— because cows (and oxen) have been the main farming animal in the Indian subcontinent for millennia. They provide milk for sustenance, power for ploughing fields, and dung, which can be used as a floor polish and, when dried, a source of fuel for fire that gives off a more even heat than wood. As a single provider for crucial elements of agrarian life, their sacredness developed from their practicality. Having cows roam freely meant absolutely everyone could have access to an efficient cooking fuel.

Chinese brush painting has meaning. Jade sculpture has meaning. Pagodas and sloped roofs and gates have meaning. The philosophy, environment, history, and present circumstances of a culture is built into every. single. little. thing. about that culture, meaning you cannot just change it out.

Unless you learn the very root of culture, their values and stigmas and honours and shames, you cannot modify it accurately. Cultures survive because that was the best way to respond to the world at the time. A long-standing culture such as China’s has to be functional and incredibly well suited for the environment, otherwise it would not have survived. There is something about Chinese culture that works extraordinarily well for it to perpetuate itself, and you cannot disrespect that.

Learn the “why” of culture. Learn how it came to manifest and the reasons behind its manifestations. Study the geography and resources available to the people at hand. Know a culture so well you can explain how it works in real life and how your world’s history parallels the circumstances that created a similar culture in fantasy.

Only then will you be able to pull it off with respect.

~ Mod Lesya

Native Superheroes and Avoiding Stereotypical Roles

@wordsmithkg asked:

Sorry to bother you guys, this is a bit of a weird one, but if I’m writing something and part of it features a group of Native American (specifically Navajo) superheroes, are there powers I should avoid for cliché/stereotyping reasons, or that would feel disrespectful? For example, I can’t help but feel geokinesis would be too much of a literal manifestation of the “closer to earth” stereotype. I unfortunately don’t know any Navajo, but I did find an online community I plan to ask as well

Animal. Powers. If I see one more Native shapeshifter and/or animal speaker, I feel like I’m going to scream. Trackers, too. Plant manipulators. Spiritual mediums. Archers with superhuman aim.

Basically, look up Magical Native American and if it shows up on that list, avoid unless you manage to justify it in-universe with something other than “Natives have x”. 

Geokenisis sounds fun! The thing I like about it is it sounds modern. A lot of the icky part about Natives with powers is people assuming that the powers are “ancient” and therefore detached from modern society. They rely more than they would like to admit on Noble Savage, so if you break that with either modern sounding powers and/or non-nature based things, you’re good.

The main thing about Native powers I’ve found is they rely on sixth sense/otherworldly connection, instead of having anything that’s a pseudoscientific explanation. So if you had “felt the earth’s natural heat rising and falling”, that would be one thing, but if you had “telepathic abilities focusing on dense objects such as stone or metal”, that’s another. The former is flirting with Magical Native, the latter sounds like a superhero power.

Give it the same BS explanation that non-Native superheroes get. If you’re just going for “oh, they’re more ~*in tune*~” then I would have problems, but if you’re going with something that is at least trying to sound scientific, you’re much safer. Even something just like “genetic mutation allows for x” is cool.
The problems with tropes like Magical Native American or even Magical Nergo is the principle tends to stop at “because they are this ethnicity, they have these powers.” Meanwhile, if the reasoning is built into the character— ie- Black Panther has powers because he is king of Wakanda, and therefore has access to a plant that enhances ability to the point of a supersoldier— then you’re avoiding the heart of the trope which is that some skin colours just inherently have magic.

So, make it pseudoscientific, and try to avoid “spiritual” based stuff. Then, you’re good.

~ Mod Lesya

Adopted Native, Happier Connected with his Roots

@sire-aie asked:

my MC is half native half white.he is not close to his culture+background because his native parent doesn’t not live with him.where he lives it is also considered by others shameful to be native because of political reasons.he later on meets a group of natives and starts to become more spiritual and happy w/ himself. is it bad to make him happy only when he starts to learn more about his heritage? is it cliche? he also starts to grow his hair at this time to feel more connected to his heritage.

Alright so. I’m going to remind everyone that if you’re going to send in a question, pick a tribe. But this question in particular is hitting a note with Indigenous cultural experience that I feel very, very necessary to address.

Forced seizure and adoption of Native individuals is a very real part of being Native. A Cree elder I spoke to is a lawyer who specializes in stopping these seizures. One particularly memorable reason she had to stop a child being taken from an “unfit parent” was the parent didn’t have laundry on site. That’s just one of many ridiculous examples that happened, and still happens to this day.

If you’re dealing with somebody mixed who doesn’t have his Native parent live with him, you’re potentially dealing with an unfair custody ruling and a whole whacking bunch of racism around the start of it. The assumption that he lives in an area where it’s shameful to be Native points to a massive lack of cultural sensitivity from the white parent, which is sadly extremely common.
As a result: it would be very much not cliche to have him be happier when he reconnects with his heritage. He’s going to stop learning to be ashamed of himself and start undoing the colonial legacy of the 60s Scoop and residential schools. He could always feel conflicted about what to pick, but starting to accept part of your racial identity is a good thing! It means your self hate goes down, it means you stop feeling like you can’t exist the way you are, it means you start to breathe.

I wouldn’t treat it as a completely magic pill— the amount of work that goes into not hating part of your identity is an incredible amount— but no, it is absolutely not cliche to have reconnection= an increase in happiness. 

Just please, please educate yourself on the reason Native kids are taken away from their cultures, and understand the white parent should be treated as not a very good person for putting their child through that. Because they aren’t. Teaching your child to be ashamed of their identity is abusive. While you haven’t mentioned the parent directly, that parent still moved to a place where there weren’t many other Natives and there was a cultural message of white as superior. Unless they advocated for the child’s identity, they’re an abuser, full stop.

~ Mod Lesya

Using Creatures From Native American Beliefs

I have been working on a fantasy series and my world has 9 nations of people, each with somewhat loose real-world influences. Each nation has its own kind of… guardian animal I guess (I formerly called them totem animals but have recently thought I should avoid that word since it specifically originated from Ojibwe culture) and while most of them are animals I have made up, a few of them are taken from real world mythologies and legends. One is the Wyvern, which doesn’t have any significant purpose in its origin so I think should be fine to use, but the others are the wakinyan (Lakota - thunderbird) and the amarok (Inuit) which were significantly more important to their originating cultures. 

The wakinyan is the guardian animal of the nation influenced by some Native American cultures, where the Amarok is similarly the guardian of the nation influenced by Inuit cultures. I hoped this would give representation to those cultures and their mythologies but have worried that in reality it might just be disrespectful. I was hoping you could give me some feedback on whether this use is problematic or appropriative. Thank you! (PS I love this blog, it has taught me a lot, so thank you!) 

I’d caution you to make sure that the “Native American” cultures you’re pulling from all use the Thunderbird, because it is specific to a few tribes. It would feel very off to have a culture that didn’t have the Thunderbird at all suddenly have it be incorporated. I’d prefer it if it was one specific tribe, but if you’re pulling from closely-knit nations who have a common history as allies then you’ll run into a lot less raised eyebrows for mixing a few together. I should note that a shared language family does not indicate a shared ally history; the Huron and Iroquois both shared a language family, but they’re traditionally enemies. They had periods of allyship, but that wasn’t the norm.

Other than that, this doesn’t look appropriative to me because you’re pulling from the entirety of the culture when selecting those animal protectors. The key to at least beginning to respect a culture’s religion (another caution is calling Native American religions “mythologies"— we’re still alive and practicing our traditions!) is to take the whole of it, not just the “cool” or pretty parts.

Of course, the usual cautions of sensitivity readers and making sure you’re not relying on the white versions of our beliefs apply. But as a general rule, if there’s the culture to go along with the creature, you have solid representation.

~ Mod Lesya

Creating Diversity from Generic White Script

So, I’m taking a screenwriting class, where we’re writing a short film script. I’m writing basically a story about an RA who’s struggling through the stress of like, cyclical catching students misbehaving, writing them up, school etc. My issue is, it’s a script, and something our prof has talked about is how it’s important to actively build diversity into the story to avoid the hollywood ‘Best (white person) For The Role’ which makes a lot of sense, but on the other hand, my story idea is currently… entirely generic, i.e. 

I’m at that point where I have to make a decision about whether it would be fruitful to specify the race/ethnicities of certain characters. But my problem is, some of the characters speak very little, and most of them say things basically any student would say in the same situation. Even my main character speaks mostly in a professional context using basic RA lines like ‘hand over your IDs.’ 

Because it’s a script, it seems really weird to me to say, okay this character is asian, but then there’s no real reason for them to be or not to be, say, black, or latina, or mixed, etc.? At this point, I have to decide moving forward whether to build my characters to incorporate some indicators of specific racial/ethnic background (linguistic quirks, etc.), but I don’t know a) whether I should or not because it seems necessary only because of trying to subvert an all white cast, and b) how I might even go about this, again, seemingly arbitrary process. 

So how can I build diversity into a script that’s relatively generic without it feeling arbitrary or canned? Or without specifically indicating race/ethnicity in a context in which it wouldn’t really be addressed outwardly?

[Redacted for readability]

Your professor is correct. It’s time to normalize People of Color in scripts, stories, in all forms of media. White is still very much the default for Hollywood and clearly your script as you struggle to place us just existing without it feeling unnatural or obtrusive.  You question whether it is fruitful to specify race where race won’t be addressed. I say it is. This is exactly what many of us want, just a story where we’re included and treated as human beings doing things, with agency, and not table settings and decorations for white characters to interact with.

It seems unnatural or unnecessary to specify race to you because you’re used to the default being white people who don’t need an introduction of race. It’s time to just stop feeling the need to have to explain our existence and just let us be there. Let us exist.

At this point, I have to decide moving forward whether to build my characters to incorporate some indicators of specific racial/ethnic background (linguistic quirks, etc.), but I don’t know a) whether I should or not because it seems necessary only because of trying to subvert an all white cast, and b) how I might even go about this, again, seemingly arbitrary process.

Why not add cultural and personal details, though? Even in the small ways? Honestly, if people are only speaking in professional terms and doing generic actions void of much emotion and personality, your story may come off as bland and the characters undeveloped and unmemorable. Perhaps I don’t have a full understanding of what you’re doing with this script, though.

The way people speak and the words they say, the way they react to things, it’s all informed by where we come from and who we are. You could show culture with a name, from the lunch they eat, the words they mumble in their native tongue in frustration…and those things come off as much more engaging to me than just White/Generic/Everyman does generic/ professional things.

~Mod Colette

I agree. We’d love stories where we’re the protags, but there isn’t a lot of hullaballoo about our identity. But that doesn’t mean wiping the slate completely.

(I’m thinking of a recent video featuring Martellus Bennett of the NE Patriots and how he actually has a book series with a Black protag going on adventures, and how he talked about the importance of having Black characters having their own stories that weren’t just about their identities.)

-Mod Jess

How to solve your problem: backstory.

Any generic script can be modified to PoC, depending on your definition of “generic.” If by “generic” you mean “ethnically uncoded"— well, you’re wrong. Generic is very ethnically coded. It’s white coded. You just don’t notice it because it’s the same markers in your life. If you watch something like Black-ish or Fresh Off the Boat, you’ll see the differences in ethnic coding in a family suburban sitcom.

If by “generic” you mean “uses archetypes familiar to the genre”, then you’re dealing with a situation where there really genuinely isn’t any race marker. As I mentioned— Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat are family suburban sitcoms. These are generic plots, made different by asking: what would this ethnic group experience in this context?

You don’t seem to know enough about diverse ethnic groups in order to insert them into the narrative. Black people, for example, tend to dress more professionally than is required. This is because the markers of “casual and cool” for a white person (jeans, t-shirt, sneakers) are seen as “slob and inexperienced” for a black person. There are hundreds of examples like this, if you start looking.

As Colette said: you’re used to the default being white people. All of us are! This is something you have to actively unlearn. But the way to unlearn it is to ask the same questions you do in general character building. 

Things like:

- How does this character’s background impact their behaviour?

- How do others see them? (Note- cultural markers like the above dressing professionally example heavily influence this)

- How did their parents push them?

- How do they want to be seen?

In order to build race into your characters, you have to get out of your all-white box and start to understand our perspectives. Just like you learn to write a whole bunch of different white people in writing, learn to write a whole bunch of Black, or Latinx, or East Asian, or South Asian people. We’re all still people, but our experiences have shaped us for who we are— just like white people.
When building characters, you have to ask yourself all of the questions about who they are and how they’re seen in order to write anything good. These are the steps for any character building, so if you’re thinking there’s too much work involved… well, sorry, no, there really isn’t. Not in this industry. 

You live and die by your ability to create relatable characters, and in order to do that, you have to build backstory. And in order to build diversity in, you have to learn how to craft a PoC backstories that have just as much nuance and variety as white backstories.

~Mod Lesya

It’s not Sunday yet but selfie time :3 

I’d like to interrupt my queue and use this opportunity to say a proper HUGE thanks for all your sweet messages that I received (and keep receiving) during my hiatus. I might be repetetive, but I just want to say sorry for making you worry and dissapearing for so long. As you can see I’m pretty alive ^_^” I realized one thing: this blog isn’t only a place where I post silly Sims pictures but.. this blog is my online family. And no matter how tricky my real life could be, I just don’t have a right to neglect it and you (my lovely folowers) by leaving without a note. Your wonderful comments, messages and notes encourage me to continue playing my game and make me feel very special. Make me feel as if my hobby isn’t a waste of time on pixels but something important. Something that can inspire people. Something that can make you smile, make you happy and just something that spreads the positive vibes. I received sooo many love letters through these three years of “simblring” that now it’s time for me to send a love letter for you. Sims community is awesome. It’s a place where I’ll always be happy to come back to. I’m very proud of this helpful and warm atmosphere that we are creating here. You can’t even imagine HOW important all these messages for me. I put all my soul in.. everything I post (no matter what: sims, houses, screenarts, funny legacy posts captions) and this is so amazing to get the positive attitude from you. It’s just that moment when you realize that it’s not only a game, but also people who surround you, with whom you share this game posts, who inspire you and give strength and desire to keep on. So, thank you for following me,making me happy, being so awesome and kind to me.

Your happy Lesya, xo xo.

A Correction and Apology

As we keep saying— mistakes when trying to tackle representation happen. A lot. You can do all the research in the world and still miss nuance.

I messed up on how Hinduism views cows because the research I had been basing my opinion on was faulty (just because it’s a university source doesn’t mean it’s credible), and Nikhil was busy at the time of writing the post. I should’ve held back on posting it, but I didn’t.

I’m sorry for flattening and misunderstanding such an important part of Hinduism. 

I’d also like to note I’ve been writing Mughal India based fantasy for a decade, and even after that much research I still got it wrong. I pushed it through because I got confident and borderline cocky in my knowledge. Now I have been reminded just how much I don’t know. It stings, but I am 100% willing to sit down and listen and do better next time. 

Nikhil will have time to correct everything/properly explain that part in late June to early July. Until then, please disregard that portion of my post.

~ Mod Lesya