I was talking with my friend over the phone about how weird it is that in Tolkien’s world that it is totally legit to address people by their race. Weird because, in reality, outside those pages, people don’t commonly do that–
And with good reason.
A lot of people fail to understand why its not okay to address a people (and by this I mean primarily POC,who don’t even really exist in the LOTR universe–a telling sign) by a racial identifier (whether its a slur or what appears to be a simple “race name”), particularly one that they themselves or individually have not given you permission to address them by.
In The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, its completely commonplace to address somebody as “my dear hobbit” or “Master Dwarf”. Usually, race-naming is used in only one of a few different ways:
- to refer to the great accomplishments, blessings/abilities, and skills known of that race (es. Elves are “fair”, immortal, and wise or Dwarves are great craftspeople and miners).
- to point out a characteristic that seems to be shared among many members of a race (ex. Dwarves are stubborn or hearty or Hobbits appear as children to the eyes of Men because of their size),
- and, most of all, it seems that race and race-naming is specifically built into the entire cosmology of Tolkien’s universe, the way things turn out.
I am not a Tolkien scholar, I have not read all of his work, but I find race-naming in his writing and its effects on generations of fiction/fantasy writers to be bad news. That’s almost a different post though.
I just don’t live in that world, or society rather, where race-naming between races is usually positive. I don’t want a Japanese person calling me “nigga”, someone Spanish-speaking to call me “the [insert adjective] negro“, or white people to address me as anything other than what I give them permission to call me (they can even manage to turn that into a disaster). With the amount of ignorance and hate hanging around, its detrimental that race should be treated as a practiced way of labeling peoples, whether its because they are known for their negative characteristics, deepest failures, or their greatest accomplishments. Homogenizing races and cultures is…a touchy business. In my society, I don’t think its possible to address somebody by their race and have it be a simple thing because social interactions and history are so much more complicated than in this fictional world.
When have the Elves ever enslaved the Dwarves? When do ents go around sneaking into the Shire and murdering Hobbits because they’re shorter? My point is that race and racism does not manifest itself in Tolkien’s world in such a way that it does any real justice to how racism and oppression operates in reality, much like Rowling’s Harry Potter. And that is why race-naming and racial homogeneity is presented as commonplace and usually presented as harmless or unoffensive.
Its the same problem I have with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: there is no one “Enemy” to unite against as there is these stories. In my understanding and lived experience, the problems between races lies in their shared violent and oppressive history, not at the root of some common enemy. We are not the Free People” of Middle Earth, we are the constantly divided peoples of Earth.