Those who have followed my blog will know I've recently struggled with the notion that Drow might be somewhat racist as a concept. I've gone back and forth on the issue and some message boards I read about the subject did NOT help. Reading about how good elves have lighter skin to represent how they are pure makes me want to smack whoever wrote that post. Anyway. I've recently settled on the notion that as long as you include actual black elves in your campaign, you've made the distinction that it's not "darker skin = evil". Sure, it says a lot about people that evil races are often depicted by a different skin color (Orcs have green skin, devils have red skin, etc, etc) but at some point you just have to go "There are no purple humans."
Drow have always been depicted with Caucasian face traits. That said, there IS a lot of racism surrounding how people perceive Drow or use them. If you Google 'black elf' you'll actually just find pictures of Drow, which is problematic. I also agree with the idea that anyone cosplaying as a Drow should do it using blue and purple colors instead of actual black to avoid blackface comparisons.
(And I am not attacking Community for this as it WAS the whole point of the joke.)
And there IS a problem when all is said and done regarding representation because I also remember thinking that a black elf in the Dungeons & Dragons movie was not 'true to the lore' or some crap like that when the movie came out. I was young and stupid, but it's how pop culture had wired me.
To make things weirder, I suspect they made her black because she had a romance with a black character, therefore it was done to avoid showing a -GASP!- mixed race romance! If you don't believe me, think about the fact that we live in a world where Cameron Diaz was fired from Hitch because they cast Will Smith in the leading role and they then 'needed' a woman of color instead as the romantic lead. So the first black elf in movie history (which is a good thing!) happened for racist reasons (Which is a bad thing!). Wrap your head around that one. (Oh and none of that changes the fact that the movie sucked.)
Not that long ago I reacted to a RPG product by claiming that it was problematic regarding racial sensibilities. The subject matter was a homage to Pam Grier and blaxpoitation movies. Was it racist or was I overreacting? Honestly, I don't even know anymore.
Here's what Peter Dinklage had to say about Dwarves in Fantasy:
"I try not to read too much into it, but there’s a bit of a bias, where you’re thought of as a mystical creature, which is a bit absurd. I have a great sense of humor — and a dark sense of humor — about everything, but it is a bit narrow-minded sometimes, where if they have a dwarf character, the shoes have to curl up at the end, he has this inherent wisdom, he isn’t sexual, all of that. You look at something like Snow White, and each of the dwarves is just one thing — this one sneezes, this one is angry, this one is tired. And that’s sometimes still true for modern-day stories. But it’s not just for dwarves, that could be the case for anybody, for women, for people of color. Right now it’s Middle Eastern people who are all playing terrorists. It’s short-sighted. But life is too short — no pun intended — to be interested in roles that haven’t got any meat to them."
Lots of valid points, but I'm honestly not going to remove Dwarves from my setting either. But in my head there's a distinction between Fantasy Dwarves and humans who happen to be dwarves.
I have to ask myself; If one of my players was a short person, would I feel awkward including Hobbits and Dwarf NPCs? Again, I'm not even sure.
The comic-book Rat Queens doesn't shy away from having homosexual characters in its pages and recently dealt with the issue of sex change in a special one-shot, Rat Queens: Braga.
The way I'm making peace with all of this is simply to make it clear that Fantasy races are NOT analogues of real-life people and to breathe life in my campaign world, which is supposed to be filled with plenty of different people and beings, I'll make it as inclusive as possible. Not as a 'gimmick', but because life actually is like that. (It's also a good way to weed out people I don't want to associate with. Anyone who has a problem with a black Elf or a gay Halfling NPC is not welcome at my table.)