Actions

Work Header

Another Dedue Essay

Work Text:

Intro :

This is yet another essay about Dedue and race. Before tackling anything, I want to encourage people to continue engaging with the source material and how it interacts with racism. Critical reading is an important skill to develop, and the ability to look at media you love but still see the way it perpetuates bigotry within it is vital. It’s fantastic that more discussions about Fire Emblem and racism have occurred, and I hope everybody continues to maintain these conversations with a game we are all so passionate about. 

I hope to continue this discussion of Dedue by analyzing the role he plays in the story and how the writers’ perpetuate racism in their portrayal of his character.

So, Who is Dedue?

Dedue is a playable character within the game Fire Emblem: Three Houses who originates from the fictional country of Duscur. I am assuming that this is known by most people who would read this essay. Dedue occupies a specific role in the narrative as a “retainer” to his house leader, Dimitri. Within Three Houses the other two characters with the same status are Hubert and Hilda. All three engage with their house leaders in different ways that matches their backstories and personalities. Neither Hubert or Dedue are recruitable to other houses, and both are limited to supports within their own house and some staff members. 

Narratively speaking, Dedue is a vassal for Dimitri. He is the survivor of genocide that has sworn his fealty to Dimitri as a debt he believes he owes for Dimitri saving his life. On all routes Dedue is by Dimitri’s side helping him in the war against Edelgard, with the exception of if Dedue has died in game as a result of not completing his side quest.

To best understand Dedue as a character we have to begin by discussing the genocide of Duscur and the continual racism he faces in the story by the people of Fodlan. 

Some genocide and racism

As stated before, Dedue is the survivor of a racial genocide against the people of Duscur four years prior to the start of the story. Scapegoated as murderers, the people of Duscur were nearly entirely wiped out by Faerghus armies as punishment for their assumed roles in the King’s assassination. Dedue himself was only able to survive by Dimitri risking his own life to save him. 

To this day, Dedue is still heavily discriminated against by Faerghus in several ways. Throughout the monastery, we can listen to several npcs comment on Dedue as untrustworthy and a possible criminal. Within his paralogue, Faerghus soldiers refer to the people of Duscur as filthy beasts. Dedue himself says that his time in the kingdom’s capital was plagued by people spitting at him and throwing sticks when he walked down the street. 

This bigotry doesn’t end with npcs, however, but can be seen replicated by Dedue’s house members. In his support with Ingrid she warns Dedue to stay away from her, and admits that she was happy to hear that the people of Duscur were murdered. Similarly, although racism is not named, Felix is extremely hostile towards Dedue and refers to him as a dog. 

The effects of this is clear on Dedue, where he comments several times that nobody cares about the people of Duscur and that there is no use in correcting these prejudices. 

These interactions are framed by the narrative as bad where the writers are clearly trying to condemn this behavior. That said, intentionality does not always yield the results one is hoping for, and the way the writing presents race ends up being harmful. 

Okay, “racism bad” isn’t that good enough?

I mean, not really. Stories of race are difficult to create because of how many different factors one has to consider. Although some of these things may sound like nitpicking, it is crucial to understand the way this all works together to reproduce racism in a fandom space. 

The place we see racism most clearly outlined is in Dedue’s supports with Ingrid. So there is no confusion on this subject, I will be blunt: I think this support chain sucks. 

We are first introduced to the two’s dynamic when Dedue is checking in on Ingrid to see if she is safe. Ingrid rebuffs him and tells him to stay away from her, citing her reasoning of distrust towards the people of Duscur. Dedue says he will stay away, but asks for her to allow him to help her on the battlefield. 

This exchange is mostly self explanatory, but I feel as if some of the nuances within it can be missed. The most important one is the power dynamic between Dedue and Ingrid, and how this is reflective of a history of dark skin men being viewed as threats to white women. This isn’t an issue of one singular race, but instead is a racist stereotype all dark skin men face. This can be seen in the racist caricatures of Native Americans in western television shows where white men were portrayed as heroes for slaughtering the “dangerous” and “savage” Native American as a way of maintaining their own white masculinity. We can also see this history reflected in the violence Black men endured in the Jim Crow era where the primary defense of lynchings were to protect white women from the stereotype of a Black rapist. Both these stereotypes interact with one another and persist to this day to enact violence against men of color. 

Seeing Ingrid’s interactions with Dedue leaves a sour taste on one’s tongue, but for many people of color, especially those who are black or brown, her treatment of Dedue doesn’t come off as simply rude, but as a direct threat to his safety. The fragility of white womanhood is a weapon utilized against dark skin men of color, and it can be deeply disturbing to see Ingrid snap at Dedue considering the role white women have played in the oppression of men of color. 

I only bring this up because I think it’s worth it for people to examine some of the nuances in Dedue’s interaction that they may have missed. The bigotry Dedue faces in the game isn’t created in a vacuum, it’s contained within a historical context of oppression and stereotypes. Small things like listening to Ingrid demand for Dedue to stay away from her can sting a lot more for people of color playing this game, whether that was the intentions of the writing or not.

Ingrid doesn’t stay like this forever, she does issue an apology to Dedue in their B support, but it is poorly handled by the writing. Ingrid’s apology is the last instance we see of her addressing her racism, where we as an audience are supposed to assume that her prejudices are now unlearned and that the process for growth has begun. But, it kinda sucks. Instead of addressing the fact that it is wrong for her to view the people of Duscur as a murderous race, she justifies her behavior by explaining the individual tragedy she suffered. By doing so, she shifts the conversation of racism to an individualized level, where her tolerance doesn’t extend to the people of Duscur and the harmful beliefs she holds, but instead focuses on how Dedue personally is ‘one of the good ones.’ She describes Dedue as having been caught up in the mess of Duscur, but doesn’t ever condemn the genocide or racism Duscur faces as a whole. 

(Also she said she was happy when the genocide happened and honestly what the fuck?)

There is no real conclusion to Ingrid’s racism. She receives no repercussions for her beliefs and by the nature of the game there is no way for other characters to challenge her on this. Dedue himself doesn’t speak out against her (although he does say “save your breath” which basically means stfu). By acting loyal and kind he is able to “prove himself” as worthy of humanity and her friendship. This is incredibly offensive on several levels and disappointing to see. Ingrid doesn’t change her mindset, she simply places Dedue as an exception. 

Okay, that’s a lot about Ingrid

Yeah, it is, and a lot of fandom understands that even though she’s a fun character, her writing is very racist. There are more ways that this game fails at addressing racism, however. 

We, the player, are not able to challenge npcs or anyone really on their racism. Even though this is a game mechanic, it’s important to think about what this inadvertently says. By not including a feature or scene of any kind to challenge racism, the game accidentally places Byleth and the player as passive actors against bigotry. 

Within Dedue’s paralogue the player is to fight Duscur rebels in an attempt to save their lives. Even though the reasoning is to keep them safe, the narrative setup for this is not the best. The white characters (and Dedue) are presented as taking care of the irrational Duscur rebels. Although they can empathize with their struggle, the students are still shown as a reasonable voice in comparison to the foolish whims of Duscur survivors. We do not get a chance to challenge the Faerghus army. Even if this can’t be done by combat, a scene at the end expressing disgust to the general would have shown that the player and Dimitri are challenging oppression on an institutional level. 

Most glaringly, however, this is the last time in the game's plot that the entire Blue Lions class is given an opportunity to engage with Duscur and it’s oppression. We never revisit the Duscur rebellion or get a chance to partake in agitation against the state through a Duscur lead initiative. Duscur soldiers do save Dedue later on, but the player’s inability to help with the cause of liberating Duscur within the game is an issue. We only get to do so in the games ending thereby continuing the decentering of Duscur from the narrative. 

Speaking of decentering, what about Dimitri?

Great question! By far one of the most consistent parts of Dedue’s character is Dimitri. Dimitri, prince of Faerghus and extremely white, is an integral piece of Dedue’s story. He is the one who saved Dedue’s life years ago during the Genocide of Duscur. He’s Dedue’s ticket into Garreg Mach, the leader of his class, and his future king he will serve in almost all endings. Their relationship isn’t a simple one to define, but one feature of it stands out more than anything else: white saviorism. 

“White savior” is a term that is often brought up when discussing Dedue and Dimitri. White saviorism is the idea that people of color are inherently less capable of solving their struggles usually due to lack of ability, knowledge, resources, or intelligence. This concept believes that it is necessary for a more abled white person to assist them. The role of the white savior is often not named in the stories they appear in. These are narratives such as The Blind Side, The Help, or Freedom Writers where an audience is presented an inspiring story of people of color able to escape hardship through the helping hand of the relatable white main character. This is a trope that lives all around us. It is deeply embedded in media, and often goes unnoticed by unaware audiences. Someone may not set out with the intention of writing a white savior narrative; often they are attempting to write about race and overcoming differences, but instead they create relationships between characters that evoke centuries of racist prejudices. 

Fire Emblem did not look at Dimitri and say “I want this boy to be a white savior” - that would be silly. However, that is still what we are presented with. 

Dedue has little autonomy in his story, and what choices he does make are almost always in relation to paying back a debt to Dimitri. This debt isn’t one that Dimitri is trying to collect on. In fact, the game shows Dimitri actively discouraging Dedue’s subservient behavior, but this is part of the problem. At every turn Dedue is saved by Dimitri. In a literal sense, where Dimitri physically places himself in harm’s way to save Dedue’s life, but in smaller ways too. Dedue is only able to live in the palace because of Dimitri. Dedue was only able to learn to read and write because of Dimitri. Dedue is allowed access to Garreg Mach because of Dimitri. Dedue is only able to escape a fraction of the racist harassment he faces because of Dimitri. Dedue is able to save the Duscur rebels because of Dimitri’s blessing, thereby indirectly placing Dedue’s fate in his hands once again due to completion of this paralogue being necessary for Dedue to live. 

By no means does this make Dimitri a character who is bigoted or abusive, but it does show a deeply disturbing pattern of infantalization of people of color by denying Dedue a narrative that stands on it own. These choices create a severe imbalance of power between the two, and although it is commented on and discussed in their supports, little is done otherwise to allow Dedue to hold substance in his character arc outside of Dimitri. In fact, there is only one ending in this game where Dedue explicitly is no longer employed by Dimitri, and that is through Byleth, yet another white character. 

Okay, but I love Dedue as his own character, not an add on to Dimitri or Byleth!

Me too! I think Dedue has so much potential for a truly kind, complicated, and interesting character, but FE3H wastes that. By keeping him tethered to Dimitri, we have few options to see him flourish on his own. Not only that, but this treatment seeps into other aspects of his character, forcing people of color to have to wade through racist tropes and situations to enjoy one of the few brown characters in this game. 

Dedue’s character suffers because of FE3H’s unwillingness to treat him as fully human. Take his support with Felix for example. Not only do we have to listen to Felix call Dedue a dog–a racially charged statement even if it is unintentional on the writers’ part– but we see glaring inconsistencies in Dedue’s characterization. Despite being a survivor of a literal genocide, Dedue claims to be willing to slaughter children and the elderly if commanded by Dimitri. This is an incredibly offensive and inappropriate trait to assign to him considering the real world impact of genocide on many people of color. What we have here is a character of color ready to enact inhumane violence on innocents if a white character desires it. 

We see this same disregard for Dedue’s own life and others in Crimson Flower when Dedue passes out crest stones to soldiers to transform himself and others into demonic beasts. The use of crest stones in this manner is shown by the narrative to be an action marking removal of humanity. From Remire Village we can see that forcing these crest stones onto humans is a deplorable action according to the game. These transformations are created through unethical experimentations on unwilling participants. The use of these stones is purposefully set up to show a character crossing the line into inhumanity for their cause, something that is also reflected in Edelgard during Azure Moon.

Having Dedue willingly give up his life in such a grotesque way in support of Dimitri just really fucking sucks. It assigns a complicated amorality to his character, something that should be done with care considering his place in the story and what this may reflect on people of color in real life. Thought has to be given when writing characters of color and those who are survivors of genocide engaging in amoral decisions, and it’s clear that the writers’ have not taken the time to consider the implications of these dehumanizing actions. 

Speaking of dehumanization

This game loves dehumanizing Dedue. The most glaring example of this is him transforming into a crest beast. Cool mechanic, but kinda sucks when we take into consideration the history of associating people of color with animals, demons, and beasts. 

An important thing to remember in regards to racism is that dehumanization is essential. To be able to commit atrocities such as slavery, colonialism, and genocide the victims must be viewed as less human. This is why black people are referred to as apes and chattel, or indigenous people are called savages. This is constant and exists in many forms. Slurs and derogatory names. Human zoos and internment camps. Caricatures and carefully laid propaganda. Media is a crucial player in disseminating these messages to audiences - that’s why Disney has such a hard time releasing old movies. 

Even in the game Duscur faces this. Repeatedly the people of Duscur are spoken of as traitors and not to be trusted. At times they are referred to as demons and beast. This is an intentional choice by the writers to demonstrate the racism in Fodlan, which makes it all the more confusing of why they would then choose to ascribe these stereotypes to Dedue himself. 

Dedue’s transformation into a crest beast is an extremely literal example of this, but of course, it occurs in other places throughout the game. We see this same dehumanization occur when he is called a dog by Felix. We see him do this to himself when he affirms that he is only a weapon for Dimitri to wield. These are all things that more thought and attentiveness should have gone into when writing a character of color. 

All these things I discussed in this essay work in combination with each other. The role of a white savior, sidelining of Duscur, player mechanics, his interactions with others, the dehumanization and inconsistency in morality–these all produce a narrative marred by biased, racist writing. 

Okay, so what now?

So, FE3H is kinda racist. Sometimes it’s really racist. But that doesn’t stop any of us from loving his character and begrudgingly throwing in hundreds of hours of commitment to this game. It’s more than possible to acknowledge the flaws of his writing while still enjoying his character, but there is some work to be done. No media is perfect, and some media is worse than others. Critical engagement is essential if we are to undo racism. 

Being a critical reader doesn’t mean being a negative one. This is a common misconception that we can see a lot in fandom. 

Fun fact, but there are some parts I actually really like about Dedue’s writing. Him talking to Mercedes about the food of Duscur was a really sweet moment that allowed the player to comprehend that he lost more than just his family, but huge parts of his culture too. It was a great way of discussing the Tragedy of Duscur, and I especially loved that he asked Mercedes to teach him things as well because it ensured a balance in their relationship. Another support of his I really liked was with Shamir. Personally, I thought it was fun that the two of them were able to talk about being outsiders from Fodlan, and it gave Dedue an opportunity to find support in others. 

Finding the ways that a story resonates with the audience is part of critical reading. We examine the good and the bad and we figure out what this says about not only the characters, but our real world associations. When a piece of media consistently shows brown men as being aggressive animals, that is reflective of the way our society dehumanizes people of color. When people read stories such as that without being challenged, they form unconscious biases. These biases are then acted out onto real people of color. Whether these actions are through direct violence, political power, or unintentional microaggressions, it is still hurting others.

But that is if we don’t challenge these narratives. By critically examining the media we consume, and yes I mean all of it, we are able to identify harmful stereotypes. From there we can discuss them, find out why they are hurtful, look at the history behind them, and the ways in which they  still affect us today. By doing that publicly and with others, not shying away from difficult conversations and embracing the discomfort of acknowledging racism, people who may not have noticed these things are able to educate themselves. 

Acknowledgement is only the first step, however. As members of fandom it’s crucial to then find ways to engage with our own work and undo some of the racial harm within it. Maybe the game doesn’t see Dedue as anything more than Dimitri’s sidekick, but we are able to humanize him in our own fic, art, headcanons, and more. 

More than that, we have to also learn on our own. Fiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and that includes fandom. If we are word for word creating the same stereotypical and oppressive narratives of racist mass media, then that’s a problem. It’s important to read about the history of racism in our society. 

People often mention being scared to write characters of color because “what if I’m accidentally racist?” My hope would be that those people are making efforts to surround themselves with trusted friends willing to let them know when they are unintentionally causing harm. But a proactive approach is still necessary. Read about people of color! Read about anti racism! Read the creative works of authors of color! Read their thoughts on writing people of color! 

It isn’t easy, but it is necessary. Fandom for many people is a form of escapism. As things are burning down all around us, it’s an enticing idea to retreat into the safety of fanfiction as a distraction from the chaos of 2020. That is a completely normal wish, but I would challenge people to consider who is capable of using fandom as escapism.

When someone opens up a fic about their favorite character of color only to see them mistreated and referred to with derogatory terms, who does this hurt more? For some, especially white people, it may be an annoyance if they even notice it. It’s frustrating to see that not everybody is on the same page when it comes to being educated about racist writing. It can definitely sour your mood or inspire a tweet thread about it, but for the most part it’s only an annoyance. 

For others, especially people of color, it can be a lot more than that. It can evoke memories of their own racial trauma. It can be another reminder of the way they feel isolated in fandom. It can be another instance of them feeling less than human. It hits a lot harder when you’re a person of color trying to escape racism, only to be presented with it once again in fandom. 

Being antiracist isn’t easy. It isn’t a mindset, it’s a process of constant self evaluation and critical engagement. Even though it may be difficult work, it is still work that needs to be done.