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Drachen Jager
07-29-2010, 08:20 PM
So what's PC, how can I describe a Jamaican character without offending anyone. He's not African American because he's neither. Some people are offended by, "Black". The narrator is unaware that he's Jamaican on first seeing him and some of my betas have found describing him as Jamaican a little later on to be confusing, they don't know what he looks like because I didn't go into skin colour on the initial description and not all Jamaicans are black.

I know others have had the problem, I was totally unaware that the announcer for Qiddich in HP was black until I saw the movies. After watching the movies I re-read the stories and noticed that yes, it was subtly hinted that the kid was black but it was really easy to miss.

How would you put it?

DeleyanLee
07-29-2010, 08:21 PM
Dark or light skinned, his accent should peg him for what he is. I'd focus a bit of the description on that, personally.

quickWit
07-29-2010, 08:32 PM
Unless it's of particular importance to the story I wouldn't worry too much about it. Let the reader visualize as they will.

Wayne K
07-29-2010, 08:43 PM
If he's black why not say it? African American is offensive in the way most people use it because they have no idea if their roots go back to Africa. If people are having a hard time with it describe him, but don't trip over people who are easily offended--they'll find something else if not that

Monkey
07-29-2010, 09:03 PM
I don't think you should shy away from skin color. I've seen some beautiful, evocative descriptions of skin colors...and I think that's the trick. Whether they're dark or light, make the color of their skin sound lovely and then don't harp on it.

Cassiopeia
07-29-2010, 09:10 PM
I'd drop hints here and there as to his appearance. Bear in mind, labels are telling and while sometimes we do tell details, showing them is far more entertaining. :)

defyalllogic
07-29-2010, 09:28 PM
I'm am Jamaican. I was born there and raised here in American. I am not African American. I am Black. or Jamaican American.

or West Indian.

defyalllogic
07-29-2010, 09:29 PM
like the Haitian in Heroes. that drove me CRAZY! how did all these people know this SILENT man was a Haitian?

Susan Littlefield
07-29-2010, 09:32 PM
I think Defyalllogic just gave you most of your answer.

However, there are many ways you can describe a character's nationality- through dress, speech, the things they say, etc.

defyalllogic
07-29-2010, 09:39 PM
also, just describe him the way he looks? but i wouldn't say hmm, Jamaican = dreads, unintelligible accent, lithe frame, gap in the teeth, overly friendly... (the motto of the country is "out of many, one people.")

Jamaican's are just as, if not more, varied than Americans. Mixing races has been OK for centuries and my family is full of Indians, Whites, Chinese, etc. Light skin is more common, probably because of this. Dreds are not considered stylish among regular society. that's something for the rastas, badmen (sometimes), and tourists.

kuwisdelu
07-29-2010, 10:43 PM
Say he looks like Bob Marley.

More seriously, if it's important to the story, just say he's black and let it come out he's Jamaican.

Drachen Jager
07-29-2010, 11:14 PM
also, just describe him the way he looks? but i wouldn't say hmm, Jamaican = dreads, unintelligible accent, lithe frame, gap in the teeth, overly friendly... (the motto of the country is "out of many, one people.")

Don't worry he's not a cliché. He's well educated, speaks English clearly and correctly with only a few colloquialisms thrown in and he's clean cut. The only part that's a bit of a Jamaican cliché is that he's a runner, tall and friendly.

Thanks for the input all, I think I'll just go with dark skinned in the initial description, the fact that he's Jamaican comes out a couple of lines of dialogue after that so people can imagine what they will.

Susan Littlefield
07-30-2010, 12:55 AM
also, just describe him the way he looks? but i wouldn't say hmm, Jamaican = dreads, unintelligible accent, lithe frame, gap in the teeth, overly friendly... (the motto of the country is "out of many, one people.")

Jamaican's are just as, if not more, varied than Americans. Mixing races has been OK for centuries and my family is full of Indians, Whites, Chinese, etc. Light skin is more common, probably because of this. Dreds are not considered stylish among regular society. that's something for the rastas, badmen (sometimes), and tourists.

I am reading a book by Jodi Picoult right now, in which the main characters are Amish. She is clear up front that they are Amish, but she also uses attributes and description to show who the characters are- their language, clothing, physical appearance. This way, I become part of the story.

Wouldn't it be the same in describing someone from Jamaica, India, Ireland, UK, especially if it's important to the story? I mean, maybe the story centers around the MC learning about cultural differences. For example, I know several people from India. I love the beautiful sari's and scarfs they wear, the bright colors, their language, etc. There are so many ways to describe people of every culture that, as writers, we need to figure out the best way to do it.

Personally, I think it's find to say a character is Jamaican, Irish, African American, German, or whatever descent it is.

backslashbaby
07-30-2010, 01:28 AM
Just call him a dark-skinned Jamaican, maybe?

I ran into the 'African-American' issue abroad, and it's quite confounding. No, they aren't American at all :) And I knew Africans -- as in from Africa, like yesterday (Black and White, at that) :). I just said Black if I needed that part of the description, lol.

Chase
07-30-2010, 01:28 AM
My view is so many labels are often inaccurate and almost always misleading.

American? I live in the USA, so I'm definitely American, but so are folks from Canada to Chile.

White? My family's nearly 100% Anglo-Saxon, but I've a darker complexion than a "black" friend. "Red" and "yellow" are definitely out of style, with good reason.

Indian? Didn't that get screwed up to a fare-thee-well?

Native American? Anyone born on one of the American continents, right?

Descriptions of what they do and how they do it seems lots more sane.

Drachen Jager
07-30-2010, 01:45 AM
Actually here in Canada most, "first nations people" (the PC term here) prefer to be called Indians. It's what they're used to and the government still has a "Ministry of Indian Affairs" (which I don't think involves extramarital sex at all).

Interesting conversation. I can't call him a, "dark-skinned Jamaican" Backslash, because when he's first physically described the narrator doesn't know he's Jamaican.

Chase
07-30-2010, 02:53 AM
Actually here in Canada most, "first nations people" (the PC term here) prefer to be called Indians.

Yep, I taught a foreign language (English) at Fort Belknap Indian College. A group there tried to make "Amerind" their generic label for a while, but most "on the rez" liked to wear FBI caps, sweats, and jackets. They sold like hotcakes. Wearers loved to tell all who asked that it stood for Fort Belknap Indians.

Their bison, which someone misnamed "buffalo," numbers are increasing, and pronghorns, mislabeled "antelope," have always run free.

kuwisdelu
07-30-2010, 03:45 AM
Actually here in Canada most, "first nations people" (the PC term here) prefer to be called Indians.

Same to the south.

Unless you know our actual tribe, I'll take "Indian."

Unfortunately, here in the midwest there are enough Indians from, well, India, that it gets confusing. In the Southwest, it's less confusing.

StephanieFox
07-30-2010, 05:01 AM
Most of the American Indians I know prefer the term American Indian. One guy told me that anyone who was born in the USA is a native American. Among American Indians, the terms seem interchangable. A local American Indian newspaper refers to national Indian news, but also refers to the Native American Journalists Association.

http://www.google.com/webhp#hl=en&source=hp&q=the+circle+newspaper&aq=0l&aqi=g-l2&aql=&oq=the+corcle+new&gs_rfai=CLnixqyNSTOmAB4uWMJe8sc4CAAAAqgQFT9BO_6M&pbx=1&fp=fb0bee69b5aae820

backslashbaby
07-30-2010, 06:55 AM
My brother was engaged to an Indian from Sri Lanka, as an Indian from the Eastern Woodlands :D They never did figure out which culture 'sitting Indian-style' came from.

Monkey
07-30-2010, 09:48 AM
I recently had a Native American friend tell me that he felt the word "Indian" was disrespectful. And I have a black friend that hates the term "African American" because he's the blackest dude around, but his family ties are all in South America and Brazil. And my husband has a friend who was born and raised in Africa, but is now an American, who feels like he can't claim his African American heritage because his skin happens to be white.

It's all a mix, but a beautiful mix. As I said earlier, I wouldn't shy away from skin tones, and I wouldn't worry about labels. A person will often take their skin tone into account when picking out colors that look nice on them, and poetic language can cover a lot, such as Piers Anthony's description of Hari in "The Willing Spirit". He's described as having skin the color of fresh wheat, which is lovely and evocative and accurate, without really even acknowledging the sometimes difficult terrain of color and caste, and, it seems, without any fear of offending an overly PC audience. I say be fearless! Skin color doesn't equal nationality, or stereotypes. Skin color is part of your character, part of what makes them unique. Heck, we just had a bunch of friends over who were mostly white, and I could spend quite a while talking about the different shades of white. Such as my friend who glows like a freakin' beacon when he takes off his shirt. :tongue

Maiden
07-30-2010, 10:30 AM
Honestly I would just describe the skin color. If it is important enough to the story then bring in a visual. Nationality says nothing about a persons color. There are fun and creative ways to bring skin color into play without mislabeling someone.

I am native american/american indian... I hear the term native american used more in this area and usually what I use myself. Though I am in Oklahoma, so some even just refer to specific tribes.

shaldna
07-30-2010, 03:35 PM
So what's PC, how can I describe a Jamaican character without offending anyone. He's not African American because he's neither. Some people are offended by, "Black".

In my experience it's usually white people who offended by 'black'



How would you put it?

Black.

padnar
07-30-2010, 04:23 PM
My brother was engaged to an Indian from Sri Lanka, as an Indian from the Eastern Woodlands :D They never did figure out which culture 'sitting Indian-style' came from.

Sorry what do you mean Indian from Sri lanka . Actually they are called the Sri Lankans
Padma

backslashbaby
07-30-2010, 04:48 PM
Sorry what do you mean Indian from Sri lanka . Actually they are called the Sri Lankans
Padma

True, and that's what I thought, too. She called herself an Indian, so that's what we went with :)

Kitty27
07-30-2010, 05:15 PM
He's black. He isn't from America so he can't be African-American.
The folks that get their wind up about being called black are possessed by the old demon known as colorism. Silly twits.

Kalyke
07-30-2010, 05:16 PM
If being Jamaican is important to the story, then insert some stories or memories of "growing up in Jamaica" or some other character developing scene. With Jamaica, perhaps the sound of some music brings back a recollection of childhood or something of that nature. As far as color, as Defyalllogic said, there are many skin colorings in Jamaica. I am not from there but my step mother's parents came from an island near there, Trinidad. Their skin color was very light. I had no idea whether they were "black" or "white" and I did not ask.

Alan Yee
07-30-2010, 11:21 PM
Sorry what do you mean Indian from Sri lanka . Actually they are called the Sri Lankans
Padma

Maybe her family is ethnically Indian, but for some reason or other they moved to Sri Lanka? Both of my paternal grandparents are ethnically Chinese, but my grandfather was born in North Borneo (now in Malaysia) after his parents moved there from China.