Where is it that your piece is set that there just aren’t any POC there? I mean, I’m sure there are places like that. Wherever it is that white people fly to when they take white flight comes to mind. Maybe you’re writing a story set in a gated community in the suburbs of Portland (Ranked Whitest city in the US based on census data!) Maybe you’re writing a story with a very limited cast, like a family saga of a white family, or a Protagonists-vs.-nature survivalist story where there just aren’t very many people.
But even if that’s the case?
It is relevant to ask yourself why you chose to set it there.
Because this brings back the argument of ‘It wouldn’t be realistic to have POC there!’
I mean, it’s not TRUE that there were no POC in medieval Europe… But it’s a well-accepted cultural myth. And given that myth, the question still begs: Why are so many people so eager to choose to set their stories there? Why are people deliberately choosing places where the audience will accept ‘POC just don’t exist here’?
Why are the fairies in Ferngully white, when the movie is set in Australia?
Why is it that the only black people in Middle Earth are orcs?
Why are there Chinese words but no Chinese people in Firefly?
Why did Pixar make a movie set in (whitewashed) Medieval Scotland?
What’s the explanation for the overpowering whiteness of LA in Buffy The Vampire Slayer?
Why are white Disney Princesses from ahistorical fantasy-worlds, but POC princesses have to be from quasi-historical locations? Pocahontas is from Virginia. Mulan is from China. Tiana is from New Orleans. Meanwhile Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Aurora are from unknown and untagged Kingdoms. Ariel lives in what appears to be a Caribbean reef, but all the humans and mermaids are white. Why do the POC princesses need scaffolding to explain why they’re there? Why are the POC Princesses -not actually Princesses- (unless they marry into it, in Tiana’s case)?
The answer to all of these is, of course, ‘creator choice’. Individual TOTALLY NOT RACIST (tm) people made individual choices.
But these choices aren’t made in a void.
So, yeah. If you don’t have POC characters in a piece with a sizable cast, it’s probably pretty racist. Even if you set it somewhere where GOSH, there just AREN’T any POC and that’s not your fault! They just aren’t there!
Because why are you setting it there?
Does the story REALLY demand that? I mean, some stories do; Downton Abbey is set in WWI Era England among a particular rich, landed family; the story is kind of about how awful that place and time was. The Secret of Roan Inish is set in a remote area of Ireland that hasn’t seen immigration since the vikings stopped showing up, which is relevant because some dude decides to fuck a sealfairy because she’s a slightly different shade of white and that’s kind of a crux of the story. Both of these are good and sense-making narratives where POC are thin on the ground.
They still don’t exist in a void.
The creators chose these stories about white people as the important ones to tell.
That’s worth looking at critically.