No matter what anyone deep inside the D&D dice bag seems to say the world has latched onto the idea that the D&D Orc is a punching bag for white people to take out their hatred of black people on. Which is utter bullshit. Unfortunately, it is a very pungeant bullshit, so much so that Hasbro - the current creator of D&D - has latched onto it and is currently concocting a plan to protect the tender sensitivies of todays youth by slapping warning labels on their older digital offerings.
Granted this statement is not wrong. The product MAY contain yadda yadda yadda in the way that a package of hot dogs may contain rat feces and insect parts. That doesn't mean that it does, but do you really want to see it when you are hankering for a hot dog?
Remember when D&D’s creators came out in defense of the game against allegations that it promoted Satanism. Remember when they held their ground like a beholder and did not burst like a gas spore at the slightest provocation?
Anyways, I’m tired of discussing it, but there is one more thing I’d like to bandy about the orc before all of this becomes just more sewage under the bridge. And that is a quandry. If the orc was not meant to represent black people then who was it meant to represent?
There is a very good chance that it is not meant to represent anyone or anything other than a somewhat generic bad guy. But. The orc is not exactly generic. According to the Monster Manual from 1977 it has two features which separate it from being just another run of the mill subhumanoid.
The first are its porcine features. As far as I know this doesn’t come from Tolkein. It probably comes from just how much Orc sounds like Pork, but it’s good to remember that the game was being written in the mid-70’s and that it eagerly tried to incorporate anything from the youth culture of the age. The Monk was inspired by Kung-fu movies. All the devil imagery likewise came from music and film. Satan was big in the 70’s. There’s no getting around it. In the 1970’s a Pig was slang for a cop, specifically an intolerant white cop, such as these guys from the movie Fritz the Cat.
The big bad guy of the Dukes of Hazzard is Boss Hogg, a fat intolerant white guy who owns everything as well as the police and has a penchant for dressing all in white.
Are orcs cops? They are lawful evil so they could represent bad cops, but orcs are known for going against the law and not enforcing it so it is a bit of a stretch.
That second unique feature of the orc is its tribalism. While nearly everything in D&D which does not exist on its own follows some kind of tribal structure, only the orc provides us with a list of names for its various tribes…
Vile RuneBloody HeadDeath MoonBroken BoneEvil EyeLeprous HandRotting EyeDripping Blade
If you need more orc tribal names, you would do well with some of these.
AnnhiliatorsDevils DisciplesGrim ReapersHead HuntersHells AngelsLaffing DevilsTop HattersWarlocks
All of which belonged to outlaw biker gangs from the 60's & 70’s. Gangs that were notorious for rolling into small towns on their hogs (yet another pig reference) terrorizing the residents and having numerous b-grade grindhouse movies made about them.
Kill the Pigs! Is their battle cry. I wonder what that is a reference to? I doubt it means black people.
So how did we go from orcs representing this...
Well. We didn’t. Politics did. Our age is more politically charged than I have ever seen it and one tactic that both the right and the left revel in is what I like to call the Cult of Victimization. I don’t watch Fox News but I do occasionally listen to NPR (which is rapidly becoming the Fox of the Left) and they are broadcasting just a non-stop drumbeat of victimization stories. If current history cannot provide them with their beats then they will dig into past history to find it. Anything to keep that galvanization going through the election season. Like obsessed people everywhere, if you don’t find what you want where you want it then you tend to find something that works well enough.
In this essay I have done just that. Hopefully I have stuck in your mind the idea that the orc represents bad cops or biker gangs. Do I have any shred of evidence to back up this claim? No not really. But you have to admit that it is far more likely that orcs represented white people than black people.
When I was in college in the early 90’s our DM was black and he was pretty good at it. Reggie was also convinced that the Drow by being of evil alignment was evidence of racism being edemic to the game. At the time I didn't have an answer for him. The idea of the Drow being anything other than the Drow had never crossed my mind, and yet I did have to admit that it was strange that anything living underground should have dark pigment in their skin. Aside from earthworms of course. If I remember correctly, I think I thought that it was more of a stylistic choice, that the game was setting up the Drow and the Grey Elves (who were resoundingly white) as pieces on a chessboard caught in some great eternal secret war against each other.
Which now that I’ve written it does sound a bit racist. Talk about missed opportunities, if TSR had only made the Grey Elves evil they could have had a lot of fun in a Spy vs Spy kind of way.
A thing about white people which many people of color cannot wrap their heads around is that we just don’t think about skin color all that much. It is just not on our radar. Maybe the youth of today are different, but for us older generations you can bring it to our attention and it will stick for a little while, but soon a chessboard is just a chessboard, the black spy is the same as the white spy, an orc is just an orc, and an office full of white people is just an office full of people. It's not that we choose not to see color, we just generally don't pay much attention to it. And those who do are often the worst among us.
So, sorry about any percieved slight, but if it is not there then it is not there. Do you know what black people are supposed to be in the realm of D&D?
They always have been and in my D&D they always will be.