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You know nothing Jon Snow

George R.R. Martin Adresses Race in the Game of Thrones Universe

When casting for Game of Thrones’ Red Viper was announced, I wondered if anyone who’d read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire would take issue with the actor’s race. Apparently a few did, so Martin took to his LiveJournal to explain a few things from his point of view. 

Chilean actor Pedro Pascal was cast as Prince Oberyn Nymeros Martell, a.k.a. The Red Viper, for Season 4 of the HBO series. It didn’t strike me as unusual for the Dornish character but then again, some people were surprised to see a POC cast as The Hunger Games’ Rue even though she was described as having “dark brown skin” in the text. My point is, readers can picture things differently in their minds.

Martin replied to a commenter on a Game of Thrones graphic novel post on his blog who asked:

I was wondering what you thought about the most recent casting decision for the Martells…as a reader and a person of color who really appreciated the diversity in your novels, I was wondering if this means that the Martells will be white on the show. If so, that’s disappointing to me because given how they were described in the novels, with their darker features and unique culture (particularly the way Andal Westerosi saw them) it definitely like they would match up to people of color in our world (eg. call out to Moors or different Middle Eastern cultures.) Is there anything fans can do to help encourage the showrunners to cast the Martells diversely?

“I do know that David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] and HBO do favor having a racially and ethnically diverse cast on the series,” wrote Martin. “It is true that we’ve lost several black characters who appear in the novels (Chataya and Alayaya, Jalabhar Xho, Strong Belwas), but to balance that, characters like Salladhor Saan and Xaro Xhoan Daxos, both white in the books, have been played by black actors. Missandei as well, though in the books the Naathi are golden-skinned, not white.”

He continued:

As for the Dornishmen, well, though by and large I reject one to one analogies, I’ve always pictured the “salty Dornish” as being more Mediterranean than African in appearance; Greek, Spanish, Italian, Portugese, etc. Dark hair and eyes, olive skin. Pedro Pascal is Chilean. (Check out Amok’s version of the Red Viper, that’s how I saw him. Or Magali Villenueve’s beautiful and sexy portrait of Princess Arianne).

When and if the show introduces Prince Oberyn’s daughters, the Sand Snakes, I expect we will see the same diversity as in the books, ranging from Tyene (blond and blue-eyed) to Sarella (light brown skin, as her mother was a Summer Islander). And I expect that the crew of the CINNAMON WIND will all be cast with black actors… assuming, of course, that Sam’s voyage remains in the story.

So there you have it right from the horse’s mouth.

And how does Martin think Pascal will fair in the role? ”I wasn’t present for Pedro Pascal’s audition, but I understand that he really killed it with his reading,” he said. “And since his casting was announced, the producer of another TV show on which he appeared recently has written me to say how terrific Pascal is, and to congratulate us on the casting. So I suspect that he will turn out to be a wonderful Red Viper.”

(via Blastr)

Previously in Game of Thrones

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  • Javiera Villegas

    Dear complainers: Chileans are not white/Anglo. Having a Latino actor cast in the show is a big step for diversity. Sorry we are not toasted enough for you. I’ll remember that next time I get the malojo from a bigot. Sincerely, Chip-on-my-hombro (and a Chilean)

  • Nicole Elizabeth Currie

    Agreed. While I personally did picture the Viper as more middle eastern, this casting certainly isn’t white washing. It’s still casting a person of colour in the role.

  • Robert McCoy

    I’m conflicted over this. Like many, I pictured the Martells as Arabic or Central Asian and was a little disappointed with the casting. On reflection, this was unfair to the actor, who is probably going to be good (with a few exceptions, the show has been spot on with casting.) Plus, it seems wrong when fans, most of whom are white, are telling a Latin person (or any person) that they aren’t dark enough for the role.

  • Robert McCoy

    Glad to hear someone’s opinion about this who is actually from Chile. The whitewashing charges over this actor leaves a bad taste.

  • Nat

    Holy crap I was relatively spot on with my thoughts in the Viper casting post? *flails* Yay for geography. And props for Martin for being cool for saying ‘yeah, my book, this is how I imagined Dorne so please stop pushing your expectations on me kthnx’.

  • Anonymous

    I know! I’d pictured Dorne as Sicily or Corsica, looks-wise Pedro is spot on.
    Are people confusing Dorne with the Summer Islands?

  • Nat

    That’s the only explanation. Like I said in the other post, there is no geographical way that Dorne WOULD be Middle Eastern or Indian. Westeros is a tiny island! Sure you have people passing through but there really doesn’t seem to be a large immigrant population despite port towns and I always surmised that those “Crazy Targareyns and their dragons” kept most people away.

    I understand being upset by whitewashing but latino =/= Anglo Saxon actor and it’s disturbing and ridiculous and it’s great that you imagine a certain place in your head as one thing, but none of us wrote these books so you know, pretty sure GRRM has the final say on what a real world comparison to a place would be.

  • Anonymous

    I always thought of Dorne as the Latin America of Westeros, so I was incredibly pleased to see a “neighbor” being cast for the role. Even though I did picture Oberyn having slightly darker skin (confession time: something like Oded Fehr in The Mummy), some of the comments I’ve seen from people unhappy with the casting, especially on Tumblr, have been so disgusting and disrespectful that I’ve become the greatest advocate for Pascal on the role!

    Dear white people from the internet: we don’t need your misguided notions of social justice. You don’t speak in our name. Sincerely; a mixed race Brazilian.

  • Anonymous

    I always read them as Southern Europeans having a more tanned or darker complexion than people from Central Europe or the British Isles. I always picture the northmen as being really pale with the complexion getting darker as you go south.

  • Anonymous

    I always read them as Southern Europeans having a more tanned or darker complexion than people from Central Europe or the British Isles. I always picture the northmen as being really pale with the complexion getting darker as you go south.

  • Ashe

    Admittedly, I thought they cast a tanned white guy to play Prince Oberyn. Upon closer inspection, it’s pretty obvious he’s Latino.

    On one hand, it would’ve been nice to see someone a bit darker playing him. Not only does it fit the book’s description better, but it’d do a good job breaking the ‘dark-skinned people as background props and villians’ mold.

    On the other hand, Latino actors need more exposure, too, and it’s good they avoided whitewashing.

    Even better that we might see more diversity in episodes to come and Martin is at least…a LITTLE aware of the problems. A little. We still have White Savior Daenerys, so I won’t give too much credit.

  • MeatyStakes

    I’m still not very convinced with the casting choice, to be honest. Nothing to do with the actor, he is amazing! (of course, since I’m chilean myself, I’m biased) I love that they are casting latins as the Dornish, It’s what I’ve always wanted, but I do believe that Pascal is kinda on the too white side. And apparently this is a bad opinion to have.

    An european with the same skin tone would be considered a miscast, and I can’t help but feel that the meta overpowered the context with the show trying to have his cake an eat it to. He is not as dark skinned as a lot of people assumed him to be, but since he is latin, do we HAVE to be 100% okay with this?

    I mean, compare Pedro Pascal to Leonor Varela; both chilean.,0,214,314_.jpg

    Or even Oona Chaplin, she is of chilean heritage as well, and looks much more dornish to me

    Am I being too picky about this? Of course, I’m elated that casting latin actors as the dornish opens wondrous possibilities, lot of choices.

    And the bad thing is that I’m not really against it, I want to see him as Oberyn. I kinda have to be critical to not feel like a hypocrit, because in reality I’m all YEAH, CHILEAN ACTOR!!!

  • Michael Roglitz

    Though chapter 1 in the books describe Jon Snow, a very Starky half-Stark, as being darker in complexion than Robb, who closely resembles his Southron mother.

  • SpaceWalrus

    I don’t remember the books mentioning Jon having a darker skin complexion, I do remember it saying he had darker hair and eyes which was a common trait with the Starks, whereas Robb had lighter brownish hair and blue eyes which was common with the Tullys.

  • Anonymous

    Plus, it seems wrong when fans, most of whom are white, are telling a
    Latin person (or any person) that they aren’t dark enough for the role.

    Very much agreed. It’s kind of ironic that you have white people speaking for everyone else on issues of minority representation.

  • ruxepokutivi

    мy coυѕιɴ ιѕ мαĸιɴɢ $51/нoυr oɴlιɴe. υɴeмployed ғor α coυple oғ yeαrѕ αɴd prevιoυѕ yeαr ѕнe ɢoт α $1З619cнecĸ wιтн oɴlιɴe joв ғor α coυple oғ dαyѕ. ѕee мore αт…­ ­ViewMore——————————————&#46qr&#46net/kkEj

    I don’t remember the books
    mentioning Jon having a darker skin complexion, I do remember it saying
    he had darker hair and eyes which was a common trait with the Starks,
    whereas Robb had lighter brownish hair and blue eyes which was common
    with the Tullys.

  • TheChief

    I’ve always considered the Dornish to be more Spaniard. Never really thought middle eastern.

    Also as a Hispanic myself, I don’t really consider being Hispanic making you a POC. First time I heard that being said.

  • Shannon

    I also pictured Dorne as largely middle eastern! (ok i know that’s a mixed bag but so is Dorne) It’s interesting that so many people did, considering it never said as much in the books. Still, I’m happy with nearly anything that doesn’t end with a bunch of irish people running around in the desert miraculously sunburn free.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, yes and SO MUCH YES. I am discovering that even otherwise sensible people get really cranky when their inner idea of what something is in a book clashes with others and the author’s. So I will allow myself a teeny-little Haw-Haaaaw here, and try to be nice and non-committal elsewhere.

    Btw I seem to recall descriptions of Dorne architecture that were reminiscent of Spanish and Roman villas. Am I mis-remembering?

  • Anonymous

    If the guy could act worth a damn, I wouldn’t give a damn if he was green. But he’s a passable B-movie/background supporting guy. Barely a notch above an extra and that’s a bad draw.

  • Anonymous

    Please. The guy is so Latino that if it wasn’t for his first name, nobody would even know. He’s always playing characters who are not Latino at all. And anyway, he’s terrible, that’s my main problem. I didn’t even know anyone was bitching about the race casting until now. The Martells are probably going to be reduced to a sideline anyway, which is the real shame.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve never been to fond of the whole “person of colour” stereotype. Pedro Pascal looks so Anglo, he’s always playing whitey white characters so I don’t think it really matters where he was born. Doesn’t make him a “person of colour”

  • Anonymous

    He’s not really good. Seen him in numerous shows and he’s pretty unremarkable, which really saddens me because that means the Viper is probably reduced to the bare minimum.

  • Anonymous

    They’re not speaking for everyone else, they’re speaking for their view of the book, from the descriptions the author made. It’s not a question of representation, it’s a question of fidelity to the books. It’s a moot point anyway because as soon as the guy walks in a scene, everyone will forget the character ever existed. It’s not that he’s not dark enough, it’s that he’s transparent and has the charisma of a wallpaper.

  • Anonymous

    And by not caring whether he’s good or not, but where he was born, you are just about as race-oriented as they are.

  • Anonymous

    Corsica? You know that people from Corsica look just like people from the rest of France, right? I promise you they are not any darker than anyone else living on the Mediterranean coast.

  • Anonymous

    I think the whole “white savior” crap that most people got in their head from that 3 seconds shot in the season finale got to their heads.

  • Anonymous

    It’s all very funny when you consider how many Latino people are bitching every time Kevin Alejandro is cast to play a Latino because he has blue eyes and of course they can’t cast a “real Latino” in that part but everyone’s happy that Pascal is cast even though he looks whiter than Alejandro, just because he was born out of the US. Racism is found everywhere.

  • Ashe

    You put quotes around white savior as if it isn’t a thing. That’s nice.

  • Ashe

    While I agree that white people should leave their white opinions at the door, there’s still a valid point being raised over shadeism, which I’ve noticed GoT is very susceptible to.

  • Ashe

    There’s nothing wrong with being race-oriented if you’re desiring positive representation.

    You’re skirting dangerously close toward the ‘caring about race makes you racist too’ concept.

  • Jason Hunt

    How does he look Anglo Saxon? He looks nothing like an Anglo Saxon. The Angle And Saxons were not dark haired people with brown eyes.

  • Robert McCoy

    I doubt that.

  • sukeban

    I’m Spanish. We’ve got plenty of people with swarthy complexions and Arabic looks in the south and east of the country, for obvious historical reasons.

    For example, the Andalusian politician Julio Anguita used to be known as “The Caliph” because he looked like this.

    Then again, the southern shore of the Mediterranean has a sizeable Berber and Arab population, too, and there’s often not much difference in looks between someone from Tunisia and someone from Sicily or Majorca.

  • Anonymous

    I never said I only care about where he was born, my dear, don’t distort my word to prove your point, whatever that is. I finally rewatched those The Good Wife episodes he’s in and seen for myself that the guy really is a good actor, and even if I hadn’t, I’d rather trust D&D chose someone good to play one of my favorite characters than assume he’s a horrible actor just because his skin isn’t dark enough.

  • javipaxville

    I share Pascal’s skin tone, I’m educated, and I dress well but that doesn’t stop people from following me in stores, calling me a spic, or refusing me service in some places. “Doesn’t make him a person of color?” Yell to the skies all you want but you can’t take away his race. Just because he’s not the Latino stereotype that IS represented on television it does not take away his identity. Glad to know he can “pass”. By the same token (ha! puns!), a biracial person who is both black and white, on the lighter side, and could pass as Anglo would not be a a person of color according to you. Argue against his acting skills, that’s fine. Again, sorry we’re not toasted enough for you.

  • Ashe

    If ignorance were roses, you’d be a bouquet.

  • Ashe

    Spicy casanova is a stereotype. Person of color is a classification.

  • Anonymous

    Dorne is geographically similar to North Africa (primarily desert in the interior), and also comparable to it in terms of latitude, which is why I think of the Dornish as looking roughly Arabic. And at least some of the Dornish are described in terms that would fit an Arabic appearance.

    Dornish food is certainly in line with how people think of Latin America, though, so a Latino actor also makes sense.

  • Space Marine Lysana

    Your white privilege, let me show you it. *hands you a mirror*

  • Jessica K. Martin

    This is a medieval fantasy world that is very realistic in portraying real, actually-did-happen savagery, injustice, and cultural inequities. People are surprised that this world that so closely mirrors ours isn’t some color-blind, multicultural, melting pot utopia? Seriously? Iran has geography similar to Dorne as well. And guess what? They’re ethnically Caucasian, assholes. Some Arabic tribes had blue eyes. I’m a Caucasian mutt, blue eyed, with just a teeny tiny drop of Cherokee, and if I have the slightest tan, people ask me where I’m from, like they think I was born in Riyadh or something.

    This reminds me of the crazy people who practically get violent insisting that Cleopatra was black, or that ancient egyptians looked like Nubians.

  • Anonymous

    But, you’re acknowledging that opinions on the issue can be nuanced, diverse, and yet still valid! That’s not allowed on the internet! (For the record, I agree with you entirely.)

  • Ashe

    Never mind this fiction is all about gender, racial and physical divides.

    Do you read with your eyes closed?

  • Ashe

    Claiming racism and homophobia and various cultural inequities as inherently realistic qualities of medieval-based works whilst completely neglecting the dragons, magic and zombies? Check.

    A white person claiming teeny tiny bits of Cherokee heritage as if it shows, matters or counts in the debate? Check.

    Believing that Iranian people are white? Whatever. Check.

    I think I hit a bingo. You’re a putz.

  • Ashe

    Apparently not!

    According to these reactions, I need to either not care about race representation whatsoever, or I need to be so enamored with an almost white-passing Latino actor I don’t scrutinize. Hm.

  • Anonymous

    It’s amazing how often internet comments boil down to “stop caring so much! You are a terrible person for caring about things!” And are posted by people who care *deeply* about how much you should stop caring.

  • Jessica K. Martin

    I didn’t neglect the fantastical aspects of Game of Thrones because it discredited my point of view… in my opinion they’re irrelevant to this particular conversation. A common, reoccurring critique (I’ve only heard it brought up positively) of novels and the HBO adaptation is how ‘gritty and realistic’ they make the world, while still having magic and dragons. The characters, cultures, and religious and political power plays are very real-world and have parallels to world history across the globe. It’s a medieval work of fantasy, yes, but the magic bits are blended so well that it doesn’t break the “realism” of the rest of the story.

    My point was, and maybe I explained it poorly, that human history is messed up. Institutionalized, culturally entrenched racism, sexism, and discrimination of infinite varieties have existed in some form everywhere on Earth, in every culture to ever exist. If a large section of viewership is going to praise the author and show producers for the truthfulness they show to even the most unpleasant aspects of human history/culture/politics/what the heck ever else… I don’t think it makes sense to then turn around and peck and moan about how this group or that group didn’t get their “Everybody’s a Winner!” participation trophy

    Re: the bit of Cherokee? I stated it was only a drop as part of my point. I’m “white” as any descendant of European immigrants can be (98% of my ancestry is German, Scottish, and Irish – As casper the friendly ghost as you can get without going into Slavic countries), and I’ve been often mistaken for being of an Arabian ethnicity because my features randomly came up a unique combination that isn’t “typical” to your average white person. Being lighter skinned than your average Chilean/citizen of any other Central/South American country doesn’t make this guy any less of a Latino, or person of color. Being constantly mistaken for being from a different area of the world because of atypical features doesn’t make me any less “white”, because that’s who my family is and are descended from.

    Honestly disagree with me? More power to you, and I’m not trying to sound sarcastic or pissy when I say that.

  • Ashe

    It’s a delicate tightrope and I won’t pretend for a second it isn’t.

    Martin decided he wanted to keep a lot of familiar prejudices in his story, yes. At his best? He’s empowering, sending strong messages, subverting stereotypes.

    At his worst? He does the exact same things that make sure biases, cliches and status quos stay right where they are.

    We get good ol’ fashioned girl-power in Brienne, then good ol’ fashioned Mighty Whitey in Daenerys. We get brutish brown savage in Khal Drogo, then we get the dangerously charming and nuanced Prince Oberyn…conspicuously lightened up for the screen. It’s a dance between progress and regress.

    (for the record, his skin-tone doesn’t make him less of a person of color, of course, but he is viewed more favorably because of it)

    His works may be fiction, but if he wants to keep our current social mores, he’s going to be scrutinized on how he treats them. Oppression may be a fun fantasy romp for straight cis white men, but there are real people dealing with these real problems, every single day.

    It’s when the realism of a fantasy story clashes too hard with reality. And some people are sick of being fed it in the name of entertainment.

  • Jessica K. Martin

    And that is a perfectly well put reason for your opion. As a heterosexual, white female in the U.S.A., my experiential perspectives is going to fall short. I can study and imagine myself in a certain discriminated characters shoes, but I never have nor will be.

  • Ashe

    Likewise. I may be a woman of color, but I’m also straight, cis, able-bodied. There are lots of experiences I haven’t had either.

  • Endros

    I have to ask, Have you read the books? If you have, then I ‘m curious about your interpretation of “Mighty Whitey” with regards to later events. If not, I won’t spoil anything but there are… events. Note: I’m not trying to be condescending or mocking. I’d be interested in discussing it at length.

  • Tiny Tina Booom

    Like the Italian, we seem to be POC (with “olive skin”) by default in the US… but of course, they are also surprised some of us are blond and blue/green eyed. They can’t quite place our mix of Arab, Goth, Celts, etc… so they picture us like (what they think) Mexicans look like.

  • Tiny Tina Booom

    I honestly read it with the coded “olive skin”=Mediterranean many US authors use in their books.

  • Anonymous

    Westeros isn’t a tiny island, actually. GRRM has stated it’s about the size of South America.

  • Ashe

    I’m almost done with Book 3, with plans to start Book 4 the moment I can get my grubby hands on it.

    Which later events are you referring to?

  • Aeryl

    Her white savior act falls apart in Mereen.

  • Aeryl

    Dany’s story is completely a white savior storyline, if you didn’t catch that, you are an idiot.

    It’s redeemed by the fact that Martin demolishes that trope with what happens to Dany next.

  • Ashe

    Does it, now?


  • Aeryl

    Yes an outsider CAN’T just waltz into a city, throw into complete upheaval, and enforce “enlightenment” from the top down!

    Amazing, I know!

    Of course that doesn’t happen until Book 5, she doesn’t appear in Book 4(neither do POV chapters for Jon or Tyrion).

  • Aeryl

    Food, not skin tone, is the TRUE indicator of ethnicity in GRRM’s world.

  • Endros

    Indeed, She spends a lot of Book Three and ALL of Book 5 putting out figurative and literal fires, everything from terrorist attacks to dealing with a plague. It’s a pretty brutal put down of “Mighty Whitey”

  • javipaxville

    Son, you don’t know me, my privilege or lack-there-of. As far as I know, Snoop is just another white guy offering his two cents. Or, perhaps I’m wrong and he/she is someone who genuinely desires to see more color represented on TV. My point is the argument of “he’s too white” becomes invalid in a country where, in some states, Latinos can be asked for their ID by a cop without probable cause and for no other reason than not being white. It’s happened to me, so forgive me if I’m soured on the experience. I’m struggling to name more than 5 roles for a Latino actor where he’s not required to play the suave lothario, the help, or a mariachi. To tell someone “You are too white for this role” is as racist as telling him “you are too dark” especially when color is color and despite what the census says, we are not white. I guess the point is moot since Martin and Co. will do whatever the hell they want. I’m just glad they gave one Chileno a chance.

  • Lex

    Dude, don’t be that guy that cries “reverse racism,” just… no. One Hollywood casting isn’t going to balance out centuries of people discriminating against those darker than them. Your personal beef of being discriminated against (congrats! me, too!) shouldn’t mean you dismiss what is the OVERWHELMING majority of situations that happen in the U.S. and other countries around the world.

  • javipaxville

    Seriously? No, this isn’t going to balance out history but it’s one small victory for a race that is under represented on TV. My race. “Reverse racism” implies that only white people are capable of it. Clearly not the case. My beef, as you call it, is not denying that historically folks with darker skin have had it tough (which is an understatement.) My beef is having my kin called “white” by people who have no historical context for Chilean mestizo past and had to Google the place to find out where we are on the map. When it’s convenient, Latino’s are called too light or too dark in the U.S., depending on who’s looking at us. Yes, were a spectrum (which includes Cameron Diaz) and I don’t speak for all Latinos. I can only speak for my experiences and I can speak on behalf of my countrymen (who average Pascal’s shade) because everyone and their mothers seem to want it to do it for us with regards to this GoT thing. Also, Peter Dinklage is too handsome to play Tyrion. But I’ll forgive him. Because he’s handsome. **Steps down from soap box**

  • Lex

    “It’s one small victory for a race that is under represented on TV. My race.” Dude, mine, too, but this isn’t a sports team. NO minority wins. We whine about being Latino lovers and maids, Lucy Liu about being type casted as a ninja warrior, and this whole site we’re talking on complains about how women in general are under-represented, too. That’s why I’m taking umbridge with you a little bit and your confrontational language re:”toasty.” Seems to me the description of the character in the books was open to interpretation so acting like it’s a battle between two have-nots gets nobody anwhere. If we’re (as in you and me, based on your discussion re: skin color) gonna be psychos about source material, go after Jennifer Lawrence playing Katniss cuz that was way more obvious.

    As for the general xenophobia against Latinos – historically Americans (and other countries, too, China and Japan are good examples – it’s a *human* thing) have experience xenophobic backlashes against mass immgration. The Irish and Italians, for example, faced lots of predjudice in the 19 and 20th centuries and, BTW, they weren’t considered white when they came over.

    Latinos (excluding Puerto Ricans in the East and Mexicans in the West) have only been coming en masse since the 80s due to cheaper/easier travel. We’re also the first racially diverse “group” to get here, which wigs everyone out for some reason. I’d honestly be interested to see how this new phenomen plays out as the decades pass. Will we continue to participate in this coalition? Will we break down by country as Americans become more exposed to Latinos and start to be able to find our countries of origin on maps? Or will we adopt American racial dynamics like Tony Mendez (Argo) who doesn’t consider himself Hispanic? Maybe this mixed-race babies thing will become a fad and all this will be moot?

    Who knows?

    And finally – “no historical context for Chilean mestizo past” – BUAHAHAH. We are talking Americans, right? And how they’re herald for their global awareness and excellent public education? I haz a gif for you:

    P.S. This post is not intended to explain away the really obvious predjudices. Way I see it, I lead by example but am prepared to fight douche-y individuals like cops who’ll pull you over for driving while Latino. I’ll need you badge number now!

  • Ashe

    Lots of good points you raised here.

    Race in media is such a clusterfuck, ain’t it?

  • Ashe


    I can safely say I am really looking forward to this.

  • Lex

    For shiz. I wonder if it’s due to lack of racial/cultural exposure or lazy writing?