Llarimar

[OB] Justified racism on Roshar and elsewhere

81 posts in this topic

Something interesting I've noticed about Brandon's books is that whenever there is a system of racism or discrimination, the bigotry seems to be rooted in justifiable reasons.  For example, on Roshar, the dominant group are the lighteyes, whereas the persecuted or lower group are the darkeyes.  It is explained that this is because of the fact that the Knights Radiant had light eyes, and so the people began to associate light eyes with prestige and developed a social order around it.  When Kaladin first summons his Shardblade in WoR, his eyes lighten, much to his chagrin.  

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Kaladin turned away.  He'd hoped his eyes wouldn't change.  The truth, that they had, made him uncomfortable.  It said worriesome things.  He didn't want to believe that lighteyes had any grounds upon which to build the oppression (1047).

On Scadrial, a similar situation exists with the noblemen oppressing the skaa.

Spoiler

There was a physiological difference between skaa and nobility.  When the Lord Ruler altered mankind to make them more capable of dealing with ash, he changed other things as well.  Some groups of people - the noblemen - were created to be less fertile, but taller, stronger, and more intelligent.  Others - the skaa - were made to be shorter, hardier, and to have many children (The Hero of Ages, 205).

At one point Ham wonders philosophically if the differences between the skaa and nobility are legitimate grounds for the oppression of the skaa.  

These two examples are interesting to me because both of these systems of "racism" or discrimination were originally based in legitimate differences - the Knights Radiants were powerful, strong protectors who had light eyes, and the skaa were physiologically different and less intelligent from the noblemen.  I'm not saying that these things justify the social stratification in these societies, but it definitely serves as an explanation, and one that could be easily used to maintain and promote such discrimination.  I feel like racism on earth (based on skin color) has no foundation other than historical ethnocentrism, because skin color does not separate people physiologically or by intelligence, but in the case of Roshar and Scadrial, it seems that there were much more legitimate reasons originally for the social separation.  

Has anyone else noticed that the systems of discrimination in the cosmere seem to have legitimate historical foundations, and what do you guys think about this observation?

Edited by Llarimar
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Intresting thoughts.  I want to add one thing though.  While I agree that racism on earth has no foundation, but in people’s minds there was a difference.  Whites thought they were better than Native Americans, because they were “smarter.”  I disagree with them, but they could have pointed out the technology they had that the Native Americans didn’t.  I think Sanderson is commenting on the real world, maybe he made the differences greater, but it’s still here.  I think Sanderson is trying to show that people shouldn’t treat each other badly even if there might be a real difference.  The skaa were only weaker, because the Lord Ruler made them that way as a tool of oppression.  Anyone could become a Radiant, so the perceived difference doesn’t really exist, just like in the real world.

EDIT: oh and by the way I love that you have linguistspren under your name.  It’s cool.  I love Latin and I’m learning Ancient Greek, so linguistists intrest me, even if that’s not what I’m going into.

Edited by Aurora the Rioter
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@Aurora the Rioter, you have a good point, even if there wasn't a legitimate basis for racism originally, people believed that there was (and some people still do sadly).  This is actually something that I really like about Sanderson - he shows very realistically how social systems evolve.  You have a perceived difference between two groups, and so a system of racism/discrimination forms and is maintained, despite becoming slowly more arbitrary over time as the two groups culturally assimilate.  Another good example from his books of social systems evolving is his religious groups - you can see very realistically in his books how one religion begins, and then many religions branch off of it over time, each containing bits and pieces of the original belief system but also being different in some ways and changing things.  

And thanks by the way, I haven't studied Latin or Ancient Greek but I love linguistics - I'm studying the subject in school right now.  Language, by the way, is one area in which people definitely do still maintain discriminatory views - a lot of people still believe that not all languages are equal, that English is somehow better or easier to understand.  This is something that I haven't seen as strongly in Sanderson's books - discrimination along linguistic lines - but it would definitely be interesting if he added it more.  

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1 minute ago, Llarimar said:

And thanks by the way, I haven't studied Latin or Ancient Greek but I love linguistics - I'm studying the subject in school right now.  Language, by the way, is one area in which people definitely do still maintain discriminatory views - a lot of people still believe that not all languages are equal, that English is somehow better or easier to understand.  This is something that I haven't seen as strongly in Sanderson's books - discrimination along linguistic lines - but it would definitely be interesting if he added it more.  

That’s really interesting.  Some people ask me why I’m not studying linguistics and I don’t think they understand that Latin and linguistics are two different subjects.  I hadn’t ever thought about people being discriminating agaisnt language, but I have seen it.  It’s true that some people think English is the best, so they don’t want to learn anything else.  In the end I want to learn some modern languages, but right now I’ll focus Latin and Greek.

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14 minutes ago, Aurora the Rioter said:

That’s really interesting.  Some people ask me why I’m not studying linguistics and I don’t think they understand that Latin and linguistics are two different subjects. 

I know exactly what you mean!  The opposite happens for me, where I tell people that I'm studying linguistics, and they ask, "Oh, so what languages are you studying?" and I will say, "Well, I happen to be studying Arabic, but that doesn't have anything to do with my linguistics classes!"  Linguistics is the science of languages, not learning individual languages - it's like the difference between geology and rock climbing, one is the science, the other is the physical application.  It's funny because I'm actually not that good at learning to speak other languages, even though I love studying linguistics as a science.  

And I would love to study Latin and Ancient Greek someday, since so much of English vocabulary comes from them.  Some people say it's useless to study dead languages but I find it very interesting - it's like learning the history of your own ancestors.  

Edited by Llarimar
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2 hours ago, Llarimar said:

Language, by the way, is one area in which people definitely do still maintain discriminatory views - a lot of people still believe that not all languages are equal, that English is somehow better or easier to understand.

Well, I don't want to open a huge can of worms here, but there does seem to be some evidence that some languages are...I don't know if better is the right word, but certainly better for certain purposes.  I'm not a linguist expert or even an aspiring one, but I did once read a couple papers that, taken in tandem, showed that there are very real differences between languages.

Here's an example from one of the papers.  The researchers did an experiment, where the researchers showed people a bunch of colored papers one by one and asked the people what color they were.  Then, later, they showed people two similar colors side-by-side and asked them which one they'd seen earlier.

The results were interesting.  They found that the more color words there were in that person's native vocabulary, the more likely that person was to be able to correctly identify the color they'd seen earlier.  Japanese, for instance, has one word, aoi, which means both blue and green (well, they also have midori, and you can basically add -iro to the end of anything and make a color, like saying coffee-colored or somesuch in English, but that's neither here nor there).  For the Japanese people who had seen aoi earlier, they remembered they had seen aoi, but couldn't tell which version of aoi they had seen.  English-speaking people, on the other hand, were able to correctly identify whether they had seen the blue or the green.

But the English speakers struggled when asked about which two different shades of pink they had seen earlier, while the Russians were able to pass this one with flying colors, apparently because Russian has two different words for pink, let's say pink and rose.  I don't really remember this part as well, since I don't speak a word of Russian (it might have been two different shades of red), but I remember the gist.  If you want to remember and/or communicate colors accurately, the best choices were...I want to say Russian was first, followed by some African language I'd never heard of.  English was third, if I remember correctly.  The authors had looked at...forty different languages?  I forget the number, but there were several I wasn't even familiar with by name.

The other article talked about defining the utility of a language in terms of what you could say and what you had to say, with I suppose the implicit assumption that the more things you could say and the fewer things you had to say, the better your language was.

Could say is basically just a proxy for vocabulary -- the larger your language's (functional) vocabulary, the better.  So let's look at things you have to say.

Let's take a look at Spanish.  In Spanish, it's impossible to mention your neighbor without mentioning his/her gender.  You can say mi vecino, my (male) neighbor, or you can say mi vecina, my (female) neighbor. Same thing for your children: mi hijo is my son and mi hija is my daughter, but you can't really just say my child without telling the listener your kid's sex.  A lot of gendered languages have this problem.

English actually scores really well on the "not having very many things you have to say" scale.  The only thing you really have to say in English is when something occurred.  You can say "I went to the store" or "I will go to the store" or "I am going to the store", but you can't really just say "I go store" without implying something about when the event happens.  In some languages, this time-specification is not a necessity.

Now, there are some strikes against English.  Primarily, it's a fiendishly difficult language to learn.  The spelling is atrocious, and we have way more irregular verbs than many other languages.  And that really big vocabulary we mentioned earlier?  Sucks when you're trying to learn all those new words and their fine shades of meaning.  But there is some evidence that once you have learned English, it's definitely one of the best languages to know.  This is entirely apart from its status as a lingua franca, though that is a very real advantage in today's world as well.  English (by one quite plausible metric at least) is simply one of the most powerful, most flexible languages in existence.

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The discrimination might be justifiable, but I would argue that they aren't legitimate historical reasons, as in both cited instances the real historical context has been either warped or surpressed. Mistborn spoilers:

Spoiler

For the Skaa, the history has been skewed to make people think that they were always physiologically inferior, while the real history is that they were arbitrarily chosen to be altered by magic to be so by Rashek. Therefore, when those changes are most prevalent and true was when this racism was least justifiable, as it was a type of magical 'neutering' for lack of a better word. By the time it's more widely accepted around the time of the first trilogy, interbreeding had leveled most of the differences between Noble and Skaa, and it was much less legitimate due to those changes not being so prominent. 

For the Lighteyes, I also think that the legitimacy is undermined by the lack of awareness that eye color could be changed by bonding a spren. For me, it would be much more 'legitimate' if that wasn't the case, as, once again, this is a supernatural intervention that created the disparity, and not natural advantages or inherent flaws on the side of the darkeyes. 

 

More Mistborn spoilers:

Spoiler

For me, the most 'legitimate' racism is expressed by Rashek against regular people before his Ascension. He has powers and abilities that far outstrip anything Alendi and his people could hope to match. As such, these naturally occurring powers give his people a true reason to look down on those who don't share them considering it wasn't enacted specifically by outside forces against or choosing a certain group or individuals.

Just my two cents, I don't really disagree with the Crux of your observations, just wanted to quibble a little bit on the nature of those prejudices.

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Brandon likes to take real world situations, turn them inside out, and put them in his books. He likes to be able to deal with them outside the charged context of the real world.

I don't know that I would consider the lighteye/darkeye thing something justified myself. Rather a twisted representation of a historical trait. The lighteyes of course are referencing how people with Shardblades (Radiant or not) got light eyes. And that historical fact is true. But whether this actually justifies the caste system they have is something else again.

 

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"Oh, so what languages are you studying?" and I will say, "Well, I happen to be studying Arabic, but that doesn't have anything to do with my linguistics classes!" 

@Llarimar question: Wouldn't you study the linguistics of a particular language or family of languages? Or do you study all of them? Just wondering, because I would probably ask that same question lol.

Edited by RShara
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1 hour ago, RShara said:

I don't know that I would consider the lighteye/darkeye thing something justified myself. Rather a twisted representation of a historical trait.

Yes, I agree with this, I think that the noblemen/skaa situation is a much better example of "justified racism" than the lighteye/darkeye situation - there were actually differences in intelligence between the noblemen and skaa, whereas like you say, the lighteye/darkeye discrimination is just a twisted custom that came from a historical trait.  And @Fifth of Daybreak, you also bring up a good point that the discrimination on Roshar and Scadrial isn't really "justified" because both are founded in traits that were magically based or arbitrarily chosen by divine powers, and don't inherently say anything about the people involved.    

1 hour ago, RShara said:

@Llarimar question: Wouldn't you study the linguistics of a particular language or family of languages? Or do you study all of them? Just wondering, because I would probably ask that same question lol.

Yes, most linguists do specialize in a particular family of languages.  My linguistics teacher, for example, is an expert in Navajo, and I want to eventually specialize in Arabic and Semitic languages.  When you are first starting to study linguistics, however, like me, (I am currently working towards my undergraduate degree), the classes you take are much more generalized, and do not specialize in any particular language.  You don't necessarily "study all languages," but rather how languages work as a science - the sound systems that can be found across languages, the grammar constructions that are common to languages, etc.  A lot of what you study in early linguistics classes are "cross-linguistic traits" - things that can be found in all languages.  For example, all languages follow a basic word order - it could be subject-verb-object, like in English ("I love bread") or it could be object-subject-verb ("bread I love") or another word order (there are six options).  But you don't study all languages necessarily - just the ways in which linguistics as a science generally works and operates.  So you could have a linguistics student who is not actually studying any particular language - they are just studying linguistics, which is the general science of all languages.  Thanks for the question!

@galendo, you say a lot in your post and I'll try to address all of it, even though all this language talk is kind of reaching outside the original scope of this thread (which I guess is fine).  

6 hours ago, galendo said:

Well, I don't want to open a huge can of worms here, but there does seem to be some evidence that some languages are...I don't know if better is the right word, but certainly better for certain purposes.  I'm not a linguist expert or even an aspiring one, but I did once read a couple papers that, taken in tandem, showed that there are very real differences between languages.

There are very real differences between languages, yes - languages are incredibly diverse.  However, if one language seems better suited to a particular purpose than another language, that most likely just speaks to the cultural context of that language.  The language would not be considered "better," it would just be considered fully adapted to its cultural environment.  For example, someone might say that during the Norman invasion, the French language was "better" about expressing ideas related to cooking and food than Middle English was, because English borrowed so many culinary terms from French.  However, this was not because French was "better" at discussing food, but because the French language was fully adapted to its cultural environment - a culture that had invented many foods and cooking methods that were not present in Anglo-Saxon culture.  

The example you give about differences in color recognition for speakers of various languages is a well-known one, and one that has to do with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis - the idea that your mindset and worldview is shaped by the language you speak.  Some people think that if you name a color, it becomes easier for you to see that color, because your cognitive perception of the colors around you are shaped by the colors you have named.  The Himba group in Africa, for example, has several different words for the color "green," because they are surrounded by many different shades of green and so they find it valuable to separate them.  They can identify different shades of green much more quickly than English speakers, because their language contains multiple words for "green" which has conditioned them to easily recognize the difference.  This article talks about Himba color perceptions - there is an image from the article of a bunch of different green squares. 

Ring1

English speakers have a hard time distinguishing which one is different (supposedly because we have only one word for green), whereas Himba people can easily identify the outlier.  

There is actually a lot of debate over this topic - here is a whole Wikipedia article that talks about it.  

6 hours ago, galendo said:

If you want to remember and/or communicate colors accurately, the best choices were...I want to say Russian was first, followed by some African language I'd never heard of.  English was third, if I remember correctly.  The authors had looked at...forty different languages?  I forget the number, but there were several I wasn't even familiar with by name.

Some languages may have more precise words for different shades of color, but that is likely due to certain conditions in their environment.  It's also important to remember that oftentimes, the names of color are very arbitrary and subjective.  We can separate blue from green, but this doesn't really give us a communicative edge - it doesn't really matter that blue and green are different colors - and it also can be subjective, since certain shades of color could be labeled as either "blue" or "green," like the color teal.  Babies have a very hard time learning color - color has to be taught to them, whereas they can intuitively separate objects by size, weight or texture at a much earlier age.  

6 hours ago, galendo said:

The other article talked about defining the utility of a language in terms of what you could say and what you had to say, with I suppose the implicit assumption that the more things you could say and the fewer things you had to say, the better your language was.

.....

Let's take a look at Spanish.  In Spanish, it's impossible to mention your neighbor without mentioning his/her gender.  You can say mi vecino, my (male) neighbor, or you can say mi vecina, my (female) neighbor. Same thing for your children: mi hijo is my son and mi hija is my daughter, but you can't really just say my child without telling the listener your kid's sex.  A lot of gendered languages have this problem.

There are some languages that inflect a high amount of information on nouns, pronouns, adjectives and other parts of speech.  This is sometimes called agreement - when you say "la chica bonita" ("the beautiful girl") in Spanish, the article "la," the noun "chica" and the adjective "bonita" are all agreeing for feminine gender.  I think it's a bit misleading to say that this is information that you have to say, because that makes it seems like agreeing with gender is a burden for speakers of Spanish.  The fact that Spanish adheres to gender agreement does not make it "worse" than languages that do not.  In many ways, gender agreement can be seen as a benefit - it allows for a high level of specificity and repetition so that the gender of the person being mentioned cannot be mistaken, and it also makes the language phonetically easier to pronounce - every word in "la chica bonita" ends in the letter "a", which creates a harmonized rhythm while you speak.  

6 hours ago, galendo said:

Now, there are some strikes against English.  Primarily, it's a fiendishly difficult language to learn.  The spelling is atrocious, and we have way more irregular verbs than many other languages.  And that really big vocabulary we mentioned earlier?  Sucks when you're trying to learn all those new words and their fine shades of meaning.  But there is some evidence that once you have learned English, it's definitely one of the best languages to know.  This is entirely apart from its status as a lingua franca, though that is a very real advantage in today's world as well.  English (by one quite plausible metric at least) is simply one of the most powerful, most flexible languages in existence.

Yes, English is difficult to learn in many respects, but I don't agree that it is "one of the best languages to know."  Yes, it is the global lingua franca, and for that reason it's valuable to know English, but English is no "better" than any other language.  Every language is fully capable of expressing the human experience and is fully adapted to the cultural environment in which it exists.  As will be the case with any language, there are some things that are more simple about English (such as the lack of gender and verbal agreement), and some things that are more difficult (such as the spelling, the huge vocabulary and the large amount of vowels).  

Edited by Llarimar
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I just really like English as language for writing, to the point where I use it to write rather than my native Dutch, because it has such a big vocabularly and tends to sound much less cheesy...

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To get back to the topic at hand it is interesting to note that the discrimination that both Skaa and Darkeyes were subjected to only began with the color of eyes or the lack of intelligence etc... I think that socio-economics then comes into play. I think that the first reasons really feed into the inequality of societal and economic status. These in turn seem to produce in Brandon's writing a similar level of hatred as is apparent in the real world. The effect of the stratification is the creation of a self perpetuating cycle based in notions which were constructed as a means to maintain power for some while taking it away from another group who lacked the agency necessary to break the cycle.

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I don't think "justification" is the right word to use here. To say that physiological superiority or a connection to the KR justifies a clearly immoral system of oppression, and that this is what the author tried to convey, is to make the totally wrong interpretation, IMO. So to the OP: no, I don't think so. 

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3 hours ago, Vissy said:

I don't think "justification" is the right word to use here. To say that physiological superiority or a connection to the KR justifies a clearly immoral system of oppression, and that this is what the author tried to convey, is to make the totally wrong interpretation, IMO. So to the OP: no, I don't think so. 

Yeah. Actually, it's Brandon taking a normally not-particularly relevant,arbitrary, genetic physiological trait, like eye color , and running with it. Including the (normally specious) "justifications" of those that have the favorable trait that use it to claim some sort of superiority.

While in reality, the light eyes just mean the person had Radiants or Shardbearers in their ancestry, and doesn't really say anything about that particular person at all.

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I think it might just be an issue of semantics as we don't necessarily have a great word to use for the situation. While I tend to agree with the sentiment @Vissy, the way I interpreted the OP is that the behavior has 'passed the bar' to be changed from vanilla prejudice to just inappropriate discrimination, at least based on the basic definition for prejudice: a preconceived opinion not based on experience or reason.

 

In the instances @Llarimar cited, these are based on reason, as there is historical context that led them to believe in divine right right for the Lighteyes and magically induced physiological differences for the Skaa. I don't think that makes the situations morally 'justified,' and I didn't internet the OP that way, but rather that there is at least a basic and 'legitimate' foundation that those opinions can be based on instead of just irl historical junk science and true baseless prejudice. 

 

Edited by Fifth of Daybreak
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If you think about it, though, there's some specious historical justification for most forms of bigotry. Like men generally being larger and stronger justified them being more capable of....various things.

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I don't think it's a semantic difference - talking about justifications is just weird. What this is is just worldbuilding. The reason the States have a racist system is because of the transatlantic slave trade, for example, and the reason Roshar has a bigoted system is because of the Nahel bond's effect on lineages. One could argue that this system of physiological, innate differences being the deciding factor are a feature of Cosmere and Sanderson's worldview in general - there's an underlying theme of "only magic people matter" in most of the Shardworlds (Nalthis being the exception). Of course, that theme is very common in fantasy generally. 

Edited by Vissy
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26 minutes ago, Fifth of Daybreak said:

In the instances @Llarimar cited, these are based on reason, as there is historical context that led them to believe in divine right right for the Lighteyes and magically induced physiological differences for the Skaa. I don't think that makes the situations morally 'justified,' and I didn't internet the OP that way, but rather that there is at least a basic and 'legitimate' foundation that those opinions can be based on instead of just irl historical junk science and true baseless prejudice. 

Yes, this is exactly what I meant.  I kind of thought when I first made the thread that "justified" may not be the right word.  What I am trying to say is that the systems of discrimination that exist in some of the cosmere worlds may have originally been less "man-made" than racism on earth, which in many ways was intentionally contrived for the purpose of justifying slavery.  I think that on earth (and I'm not the biggest expert on this so someone correct me if I'm wrong) the Europeans invented the concept of race and racism in order to justify their own exploitation of African people for the purpose of cheap labor and enslavement.  In other words, the reason for the racism - the desire for slavery and cheap labor - came first, and the (erroneous) justification for the racism - "African people are socially and intellectually subservient to Europeans, so we have the right to enslave them!" - came afterwards. 

In Sanderson's worlds, by contrast, it seems to happen the other way around.  The justification for the discrimination came first - skaa were legitimately less intelligent than noblemen, lighteyes were Knights Radiant while darkeyes were not - and social systems of racism and discrimination naturally formed out of those physical traits and conditions. In other words, no one "made up" or "contrived" a perceived barrier or distance between noblemen and skaa for the purpose of exploiting them - originally, a barrier actually did exist between them, and nobody "made up" the fact that all the Knights Radiant were lighteyes - that actually was true.  

Of course, I don't believe that the systems of racism/discrimination in Sanderson's books are "justified" - they just were not (originally) so egregiously baseless and ridiculous as racism on earth.  In modern Scadrial, and modern Roshar, the discrimination is baseless, yes, since there haven't been Knights Radiant for so long (and even darkeyes can become Knights Radiant), and the physiological differences between skaa and noblemen have been erased. 

16 minutes ago, Vissy said:

I don't think it's a semantic difference - talking about justifications is just weird. What this is is just worldbuilding. 

 Yes, I agree - the systems of discrimination that exist on Sanderson's worlds are just an aspect of his worldbuilding, like the culture of his worlds and the landscapes of his worlds and the magic systems.  

5 hours ago, Vissy said:

I don't think "justification" is the right word to use here. To say that physiological superiority or a connection to the KR justifies a clearly immoral system of oppression, and that this is what the author tried to convey, is to make the totally wrong interpretation, IMO. So to the OP: no, I don't think so. 

I don't think that Sanderson is trying to convey that the discrimination on Roshar or Scadrial is moral or justified (again, justified may not have been the right word) - if he is trying to make any sort of statement, it may be that racism on earth is so ridiculous and baseless - by developing worlds in which the systems of discrimination originally had a legitimate historical context, he reminds us that the systems of discrimination on earth do not.  

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There is a quote from WoR, I think (or maybe WoK) that I'm trying to find - I think it might add something to the discussion.  I'm pretty sure it's Wit who basically says "The social structure on Roshar is interesting.  I've seen worlds that have more obvious systems than discriminating by eye color, and worlds where the social structure makes less sense.  Discriminating by eye color is just another type of social structuring, just as good as any other."  Or... perhaps it's Sigzil who says this, talking about other cultures on Roshar.  

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Only one point to make - systems of discrimination aren't justified even if there is a physiological or other kind of difference between two or more groups of people, and I don't think that's what Sanderson wants to convey through his books. No matter the difference, it still carries the presupposition that stronger, taller, smarter (whatever 'smarter' is understood to meant differs depending on cultural context, of course) is superior. 

Edited by Vissy
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28 minutes ago, Vissy said:

systems of discrimination aren't justified even if there is a physiological or other kind of difference between two or more groups of people

I still think you're too hung up on the use of 'justified,' but after this response I'll let it lie. I don't think that the point is that Brandon wants us to think that this is the 'correct' mindset or that we're supposed to come away thinking that because these differences exist there's an excuse for inappropriate discrimination as is present in the worldbuilding. Brandon makes it apparent that we're supposed to come away with the opposite impression, most blatantly when Elend flat out states that's the case after Felt finds out about Vin. Rather, the observation is that instead of the real world parralels where these mindsets have become common through baseless ideology, it's interesting to see there's actually a tangible and literal difference and it still leads to the same problems we've seen irl and watching the characters work through the discrimination to come to the same conclusion: that there can be no tolerance of intolerance as we see in modern thinking.

Edited by Fifth of Daybreak
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1 hour ago, Fifth of Daybreak said:

I still think you're too hung up on the use of 'justified,' but after this response I'll let it lie. I don't think that the point is that Brandon wants us to think that this is the 'correct' mindset or that we're supposed to come away thinking that because these differences exist there's an excuse for inappropriate discrimination as is present in the worldbuilding.

I agree, I think the use of justified is hanging people up. Of course you can't morally justify racism, but what's more interesting to think about and discuss is whether or not we can understand or even sympathize with our characters in-world as they grapple with the concept. It's similar to how Brandon likes to write a sympathetic villain, rather than just have them just be pure evil. His stories are much richer when we try to understand the motivations behind his villains.

Similarly for the in-world racism, it's easy to object to it morally, but I do think Brandon makes it understandable. Think about modern Roshar - they've got these priceless, magical swords and as soon as somebody has one it turns them into a Lighteyes. It's not a stretch at all for that to become ingrained in their culture. Like most concepts, it's complex and often more grey than it is simply black and white.

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1 hour ago, Fifth of Daybreak said:

I still think you're too hung up on the use of 'justified,' but after this response I'll let it lie. I don't think that the point is that Brandon wants us to think that this is the 'correct' mindset or that we're supposed to come away thinking that because these differences exist there's an excuse for inappropriate discrimination as is present in the worldbuilding. Brandon makes it apparent that we're supposed to come away with the opposite impression, most blatantly when Elend flat out states that's the case after Felt finds out about Vin. Rather, the observation is that instead of the real world parralels where these mindsets have become common through baseless ideology, it's interesting to see there's actually a tangible and literal difference and it still leads to the same problems we've seen irl and watching the characters work through the discrimination to come to the same conclusion: that there can be no tolerance of intolerance as we see in modern thinking.

Oh, I see. You didn't understand what I said. Please read the part again where I specifically said that OP's interpretation of Sanderson's worldbuilding as 'justification' was wrong. Yes, precisely. Sanderson doesn't do his worldbuilding with the intention of justifying oppressive regimes. I believe that's quite clear. :D

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5 hours ago, Strifelover said:

Of course you can't morally justify racism, but what's more interesting to think about and discuss is whether or not we can understand or even sympathize with our characters in-world as they grapple with the concept. 

...

Similarly for the in-world racism, it's easy to object to it morally, but I do think Brandon makes it understandable. 

Yes, I think this is true.  I'm interested by the systems of discrimination that are found in Brandon's books because of the fact that they (like any aspect of his worldbuilding) are so believable and fully realized.  The culture and context of his books are depicted in such a way that the racism just seems like another part of society.  I remember before I started reading the Stormlight books, someone told me that the people in the book discriminate by eye color, and I remember thinking, "That's really weird, I can't imagine that."  But when you read the book it totally makes sense - just like any other aspect of the world, like the spren or the magic systems.  

7 hours ago, Vissy said:

Only one point to make - systems of discrimination aren't justified even if there is a physiological or other kind of difference between two or more groups of people, and I don't think that's what Sanderson wants to convey through his books. 

I do agree with this.... however, I think it's also important to remember that we shouldn't always impose our worldview and what we consider "morally unjustified" on other cultures.  The caste system that exists in Stormlight, for example, in which darkeyes are of a "nahn" caste depending on their societal rank and lighteyes are of a "dahn" caste, is obviously not a greatpositive aspect of Alethi society, but it is not necessarily bad either - it is just a part of their society, a social and cultural construction that the people accept without even thinking.  Calling the caste system of Alethi society morally wrong would be like calling the havah dresses or the male-female dining rules or the taboo over men writing morally wrong - all of those things are just a part of their society, and we shouldn't look at them through the lens of our society.  I think that calling the Alethi caste system morally unjustified would be akin to an Alethi calling it morally wrong to reveal your safehand.  I know that's kind a dumb example, but the point I'm trying to make is that certain societal constructions of what is right/wrong or good/bad are not universal, and the lighteyes-darkeyes caste system in Roshar may be one of those examples - we see it as discriminatory and negative, but for them it's just a part of their culture.  It reminds me of the caste system in India, which to be fair, has been criticized by many people (Gandhi, for example), but overall is a very culturally significant and integral part of Indian society.  I think that the caste system in India, which is founded in tradition and religion and culture, is much less "morally wrong" than say, modern American racism, even though both could be seen as systems of discrimination.  

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Most stereotypes do have some basis in fact. Stereotypes exist because, when you see someone (who's different from you) doing something objectionable or ridiculous, your instinctive reaction is not to ponder the social, economic, and cultural pressures that might press that person into doing that thing. The instinctive reaction is to shrug your shoulders and say, "I guess they're just like that. Those people. All of them."

It's cultural behaviour falsely attributed to biological ethnicity. It's the archaic belief that nature is everything and nurture is nothing.

So, in describing racial prejudice on Roshar, I think the word you're looking for is "realistic."

Edited by Belzedar
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8 hours ago, Llarimar said:

*snip*

Ugh. This is totally beside the point. Why do you think it's necessary to start comparing different systems of oppression to each other, which is better, which is worse? There isn't a right answer to these questions? The Indian caste system, much like the Rosharan caste system, is inherently terrible to a lot of people in the lowest castes. The same is true for capitalism as well and a lot of other systems. I'm getting too heated, so ducking out early. 

Edited by Vissy
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