So let’s start with a topic that has come up a lot, both on this page and others: Al-Qadim and Oriental Adventures.
First, none of the supplemental settings contradict my point, as I was specifically looking at race as presented in the core handbooks. I did allow myself to be distracted from my focus on the DMG and PH twice – once to diss AQ and OA, and once to briefly discuss the Drow. Pushing racial diversity to supplements merely reinforces its absence in the core texts, especially because their very existence undermines the “European” setting argument – with all the various known worlds (if you will) to draw from, why do the core texts show no illustrations of Arabic elves, Persians, Moorish dwarves, Egyptians, Aztec priests, or Asian adventurers? Each exists as an official canonical part of the D&D universe, yet they unrepresented in the handbooks.
(here let me fully admit to barely looking at 4th edition. Some people tell me it has changed things, but I’m looking at 30 years of D&D vs. the few months 4ed has been out. Perhaps a later post can get around to that.)
Second, a few people who have read AQ more recently than I have reminded me that the setting goes out of its way to have various races get along. Now I am fully admitting to not having read it in over fifteen years, and I am planning on tracking it down to say more about it. However, some thoughts in the meantime. I don’t think that explicitly expressing racial tolerance excludes implicitly encoding racism. Many works that wish to be inclusive fail in the very act of attempting to include: non-white Barbies tend to involve dying a white doll brown or else introducing them as exotic others (Jamaican Barbie in a head-scarf, Hula Honey Barbie, Kwanzaa Barbie, etc.) There is a (not to) fine line between tokenizing and diversity. Tolkien had an explicit theme of racial unity – at the end of both The Hobbit and TLOTR, various races band together to win the decisive battle. While elves and Dwarves DO overcome their adversity, in both cases the good, white, northern and western races band together against the evil, dark skinned races of the East and the South.
All this is to say that Al-Qadim may or may not do what it sets out to. With those questions in mind, I’m going to track down Al-Qadim so I can discuss it specifically. In the mean time, if there is anyone who is more familiar with it than myself, please start things off!