On diversity panels and “asking permission” of the marginalized

Tanya C. DePass
3 min readNov 21, 2017

Let me tell you a quick story about a couple of things that happened after the Queer as a 3-Sided die panel. First off a lot of people told me how much they enjoyed the panel. Some even made a point of finding the @INeedDivGms table in the Diversity Lounge to let me know that they loved what I had to say on the panel. A big thanks to @SKenson for inviting me to join the panel and to @skinnyghost for coming along for the ride. Our mod doesn’t have a twitter unfortunately.

Glad we had the convo and that the audience asked (mostly) good questions. But there were the usual “asking permission” type queries that I honestly hate. They are the I want to do X or Y, is that ok?! Question that no one person can ever say yes, go on that’s ok. Yes you’re doing it right. Here’s why this isn’t ok. (to me anyway) You’re asking that person to be the one true voice™ for whatever marginalized groups they belong to. Except we’re not a monolith & none of us can give you permission to go do whatever thing it is you want to do in your game or as you write up a world. It’s putting that person on the spot, in front of an audience to boot.

If I never again get a panel question starting with “I’m a straight white dude and I want to…” I’ll be happy. But I know that won’t ever happen. So my next diversity panel submission is going to be Tanya & her white friends field your 001 Diversity questions for an hour” probably for PAX East & West. The other part to this a shoutout to the dude who felt the need to find me after the panel to tell me his “my black friend and Drow” story.

See, my utter utter loathing of the Drow came up on panel. The person who asked the question even came to apologize about upsetting me by asking about them. So dudes story was about a Kenyan (I think) friend who they introduced to D&D but didn’t know the background of the Drow in canon. Apparently this friend was excited about the Drow because a character in fantasy finally looked like him. subverted the context and made his character good.

The character became some kind of shaman and not the stereotypical, evil Drowof lore. Ok, and? I know I had “cool story bro written” on my face by then. Let’s be clear, I’m going to fucking hate the Drow until I die. I am not interested in stories about your one black friend and the Drow. Also, if you know that your story is not really impacting the person you’re imparting it to? Stop yourself and ask why you felt the need to tell it.

You’re not getting any cookies from me for this tale of triumph. Nor will you get any cookies from any other POC that feel a way about the Drow, Orcs or other D&D characters.

(The twitter thread ended here as I had to board my flight home) Here’s a thing I wrote on roleplaying the other, initially on Patreon then shared publicly later. Also, NK Jemisin brought up a good point re: the whole Drow and my one black friend story I was told:

This is true and I was too annoyed and in a hurry to get back to my table to really think on why the story bothered me, aside from the whole telling me this story just to tell me part of it.

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Tanya C. DePass

INDG Founder, cast Rivals of Waterdeep, Mother Lands RPG Creative Director, diversity & inclusion consultant, freelance rpg dev, speaker & Twitch Partner