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View Full Version : Shadism: How dark of a color?



missesdash
12-20-2011, 06:39 AM
For those of us who write "brown" characters, do you ever take skin color into consideration? As in, sure your character is black, but are they Sudanese black or african american black or Vanessa Williams black?

Does it make a difference to you as a writer? Or to you as a reader?

I ask because I never really imagine characters with skin tone much darker than my own. They tend to be mixed and some are definitely black, but they're never dark skinned or even average colored for an african american. My black characters have freckles or curly hair. The thing is, in the US, that's still considered black. Obama is "mixed" but he's African American.

So do you think skin shade matters? Should we strive to show a range of colors as much as a range of races? If it does matter, is it just as important? Or more a matter of preference?

toogrey2
12-20-2011, 07:02 AM
I think skin shades help the reader relate to the characters. Gives them someone they can identify with.
Great forum. Much needed.

maxmordon
12-20-2011, 07:57 AM
I feel my Venezuelan upbringing has brought to me to the idea that black is one thing, white is another thing and "moreno" (mixed-raced) is yet another thing. I wonder how much the idea of the "one-drop" rule has influenced what you say, missesdash. It's like if all cultures and/or races where solid rather than organic entities.

Or at least that is how I feel it.

backslashbaby
12-20-2011, 08:21 AM
I'm pretty sure I've heard that paler, mixed folks are supposed to be considered to have more 'mass appeal', so I'd probably avoid a lighter skin color to try to even things out a bit if the character could just be anybody (a studious engineer who had too much pressure from his dad in his surburban home? Could totally be a very dark-skinned dude.).

My actual work so often has the theme of being in-between and not completely fitting in one world or another (I do magical realism most), so I do use ambiguous descriptions for the reader very often instead. My characters tend to be mixed, but that's thematic and from not wanting the reader to get too focused on any one aspect of what I'm showing about the person. I don't usually spell out what their exact race or culture is. I write mainly shorts, keep in mind.

Jehhillenberg
12-20-2011, 08:39 AM
Yes, I have a distinct vision in my head. I describe skin tones. For African Americans (Black) we come in all shades, and I depict that in my work. Brown, dark-skinned, caramel, light-skinned, tan, bronzed, golden, russet, whatever. Would the average/typical color for African-American be brown? Or darker?

I know Latinos/Latinas come in different shades, that's depicted as well.

But yeah, most of my characters are mixed with something.

America's the "melting pot."

Kitty27
12-20-2011, 09:13 AM
I made it a point to have my MC,Yvette,be dark brown. That is a skin tone that is frowned upon in the AA community and I wanted to give those girls who love to read someone they can identify with. From talking with my teen betas and their friends,they flat out said they wouldn't be interested in a MC of a YA novel if she was very light or biracial because they don't look that way and that skin tone is highly regarded in the BC. They also said that they are tired of the media/community telling them their skin tone is passe.They feel they would have nothing in common with such a girl,even though I have told them you must look beyond a person's skin tone and find that you might have a new friend or at the very least,something in common. They didn't want to hear such a thing and repeatedly said they want a girl who looks like them.

So,yes,the skin tone of a character means a LOT to some readers.

The colorism within the AA community is horrendous and sadly, affects even the younger generation. Being a brown chick,I am neither dark nor light so we are just forgotten about in the ridiculous color war.

I write dark skinned characters all the time-especially female-even though I can best be described as caramel. I feel like it is very important,given the conversations I've had with friends and family. Reading about someone who looks like you taking on the world and being chased by the boys means a lot to some girls who feel dissed and unwanted within their own culture.

I see characters in all shades but to be honest,I wanted to rep for my darker sisters with characters who resembled them.

I like to see a range of shades because that is how I see and view Blacks. I don't want to see one skin tone represented over and over. Variety is what we are visually and my reading experience should reflect that. I am immediately turned off by a writer who writes Black characters but they are basically the same color with minor physical differences.That is not how the real life BC looks and it would definitely be a problem for me as well.

escritora
12-20-2011, 09:37 AM
I ask because I never really imagine characters with skin tone much darker than my own.

I'm a Puerto Rican who "passes" so my characters have a darker skin tone. Usually my main character is triguena like Jennifer Lopez.

kaitie
12-20-2011, 10:05 AM
It's interesting because I have characters in my current book that are of various ethnicities, and in my mind they do have a very distinctive look, but I never really describe actual shades of skin. One boy is of mixed race and rather light-skinned in my mind, but another is a girl who is incredibly dark-skinned. The funny thing is that my boyfriend read it and they're reversed in his mind.

I'm not entirely certain I would mention it, though. I might make it clear that a character isn't white, but I don't usually go much more beyond that. I'm not very big on describing characters and would prefer the reader see them his/her own way, if that makes sense.

missesdash
12-20-2011, 10:25 AM
I just realized I imagine all of my older, black female characters as dark skinned. They're secondary characters, and always in positions of authority. Feels like I might be stereotyping a bit.

backslashbaby
12-20-2011, 10:32 AM
Kaitie, I know, right? It has to do with artistic sensibilities so often, too.

I'd almost forgotten about our very dark friends whom I've known and loved. One gentleman who used to call me Snow White all through high school, for instance (did I mention I'm very pale?).

I usually avoid that kind of description in writing, but I'm going to make a point of using a very dark-skinned description. Absolutely no reason not to.

(As a matter of fact, I find that skin color intoxicating, which nobody gets to hear far and wide because we never talk about these things. Aesthetically, I've always been sold. ;) ) But then you run into the other stereotypes. :( It's a trap, I tell you.

The very dark attractive man is also cast as a sex stud in a bad way historically if you're a white woman, so we must hush about any attraction, for fear of a different sort of offense.

Dunno. Old offensive stereotypes aside, I have no problem saying that very dark is an awesome skin tone to have, imho. It just looks cool. Sue me ;) :D

Psychomacologist
12-20-2011, 04:53 PM
I typically describe skin tone in terms of the actual colour of their skin rather than a race, because I usually write SF set on other planets where there isn't any such thing as 'African American' (there's no Africa, or America) so it wouldn't make sense. I also invisaged the society as being increasingly racially mixed, so race definitions would start to blur and everyone would eventually end up various shades of brown.

So typically I describe skin tone (brown, mahogany, caramel, honey, whatever) rather than race. I tend to physically describe the characters rather than racially label them, if that makes sense. I've found that approach to be more subtle.

Most of my casts are very diverse and feature a range of skin tones. There's usually at least one dark skinned character but it depends how they present themselves to me and what 'fits' when I'm getting the feel of the character.

Jcomp
12-23-2011, 10:46 PM
I try to describe skin tone in longer works. I feel it's important for descriptive purposes and, depending on the work, can be important to how the character is viewed as well. I think this applies to characters of any race.

dolores haze
12-23-2011, 11:05 PM
Hm. I've used golden and bronze to describe two different characters skin tones. I have a WIP set in the future, where the darker the skin, the higher that person's status.

Does skin shade matter? I think it depends on the story. In Spike Lee's 'School Daze,' for instance, the plot couldn't have progressed unless folks thought that it mattered a great deal.

Jehhillenberg
12-23-2011, 11:41 PM
Yes, it was VERY important in School Daze, the whole plot. It does depend on the work. I'm more of a "big picture" person than "every little detail", so if I want to paint a specific picture of a character for a reason, shades are useful and I acknowledge the spectrum. But otherwise, it's not excruciatingly made a big deal of.

Polenth
12-24-2011, 02:20 AM
In longer works, I'm likely to mention relative colouration. I think it is important, because one of the classic stereotypes for any group is to show them all as looking the same.

And in a contemporary work, someone light brown faces some differing issues to someone very dark brown, even if they're technically the same race. So for a group to be realistic, there will be people facing different issues because of their different looks.

Mr Flibble
12-24-2011, 03:09 AM
As a reader it makes zero difference to me, except that I like to be able to visualise a character, so tell me what they look lime, whatever colour they are



As a writer - I cannot hep but say I've been influenced by many writers. My pirates are not white (except for to specific characters) - they live in a very hot zone and, biologically speaking, it would be silly for them to burn whenever hey went out. As an author, I kinda did it on purpose. Because it needs to be done. It's easier in second world because attitudes etc are what you make them.

Again with WIP I envisaged it originally as a future earth, so everyone would have mixed to a greater or lesser extent. When I changed it to second world (cos I r crap at future tech) they stayed the same. Almost everyone is 'dusky' (how my protag describes it). But I don;t make a huge deal out of it, because for my protag is ISN'T a huge, or even small deal That is how people are.

Sheila Muirenn
12-24-2011, 08:39 AM
I think the type of book and writing style affects character description. In my current WIP, the MC doesn't have a race, or a description other than oblique references that create a picture based more on what she does than what she looks like. The genre is experimental slipstream. So literary with sci-fi elements. The writing is stylized. It is not escapist.

I had some critters at one point who were younger than me, female, and wrote mostly paranormal YA. Definitely MS commercial. The first thing they wanted to know was what she looked like, what color eyes she had, how old, etc. etc. My character doesn't have those things. She has no 'self.' Other characters get descriptions, but they are closely tied in with the character's purpose.

Thinking about it, I'd say that mainstream fiction needs specific details. Literary fiction needs carefully chosen descriptions that advance the purpose of the book/or whatever is going on at the time, and experimental fiction like slipstream, magical realism, modernism, and the like, needs no description. Well, unless the experimental work feeds off that character's looks, for whatever reason. :)

I do have a future book planned that will have a female MC who is AA. She is very dark-skinned. Based on a lot of the women I'm friends with in looks and overall character. I can't imagine it will be mainstream, probably more literary. So again, any description will be there for a particular story reason, not in order to let the audience have an immediate picture, though that could happen right away.


OH! That got me going! (Runs off to grab pen. See ya!).

Silver-Midnight
01-04-2012, 06:34 AM
I try to have a range of characters. However, and I think this has more to do with the fact that I'm writing it, not a colorism type thing, most of my characters tend to have skin tone similar to mine, which I describe as dark brown/medium brown. If I'm doing a black character, I typically use dark/light/medium brown to describe them. I have yet to use another character that has a similar color range, like Native American or so on, but if I do, I'll probably just use the same words. I mean that in the least offensive way also, if that point did not come across. (I'm trying to break away from using food-related skin colors; I think I'm really, really bad at them. Haha.)

Cyia
01-04-2012, 08:07 AM
I tend to use specific color references, like sepia.

Otherwise, I try to make practical references to hint at skin tone - one character is described as having skin dark enough to obscure tattoo lines on his arm, another feels blood rush to his face, but doesn't have the pronounced blush a fair skinned character would.

Silver-Midnight
01-04-2012, 08:24 AM
^Really? Usually when I have a character blush I usually say their skin became a dark red or has faint hints of red. Then again, that's just me, and my experience with blushing. I haven't actually seen myself blush, but others have been able to tell that I was blushing. So, I just make an estimate how I(or the character) looks. It might be the wisest idea though I guess.

Cyia
01-04-2012, 08:36 AM
I had a friend in school who went on a rant because of that very issue in a book she read ("I can feel heat in my face, but I do not turn red!!!") and it stuck with me.

Sheila Muirenn
01-24-2012, 05:26 AM
And I blush redder than most (no matter the race), which was a PITA when I was 13 and quite shy! People always pointed it out.

Luckily not much of an issue at 42;) Though on the very, very rare occasion that I turn red, they still point it out.

And in that vein, I've never had a character blush.

Ever. :rolleyes:

missesdash
01-24-2012, 07:46 AM
My face can turn red when I'm hot or cold or crying, but I've never blushed in my life. But I've never seen a black person blush.

I had a friend, when I was younger, who would blush if you said "don't blush!"
Thinking back, I don't imagine she found it as amusing as we did.

Tyrannosaurus Rex
01-24-2012, 07:57 AM
My current WIP features two African leading characters, a woman whom I imagine as very dark brown and a man who's more of a medium/mahogany color. Honestly, I find darker skin more attractive on women, so most of the African female MCs I've created are quite dark unless they come from a real ethnic group that generally isn't so dark.

I find the tendency for Hollywood Black leading women to have lighter skin very annoying if not downright offensive. I want to see less Rihanna types and more Oluchi Oweagba types in the movies.

Corinne Duyvis
01-24-2012, 05:58 PM
I definitely make a point to figure out race and relative color for my own characters, since it will affect their experiences, and thus them as a character. Whether that makes it into the book or not depends. I usually do try to mention race/skin tone here and there, because I've seen far too many people assume characters are white otherwise. Of course, I've also seen a lot of authors--usually white--shoehorn in skin color in the most awkward ways -- eg. She grabbed something from her purse with light brown fingers.

And yes, lighter skin definitely seem to be preferred by mainstream media, especially when it comes to women. Dark enough to be exotic and/or get points for being diverse, not dark enough to be threatening. It's cringe-worthy.

Kitty27
01-24-2012, 06:25 PM
My current WIP features two African leading characters, a woman whom I imagine as very dark brown and a man who's more of a medium/mahogany color. Honestly, I find darker skin more attractive on women, so most of the African female MCs I've created are quite dark unless they come from a real ethnic group that generally isn't so dark.

I find the tendency for Hollywood Black leading women to have lighter skin very annoying if not downright offensive. I want to see less Rihanna types and more Oluchi Oweagba types in the movies.


I definitely make a point to figure out race and relative color for my own characters, since it will affect their experiences, and thus them as a character. Whether that makes it into the book or not depends. I usually do try to mention race/skin tone here and there, because I've seen far too many people assume characters are white otherwise. Of course, I've also seen a lot of authors--usually white--shoehorn in skin color in the most awkward ways -- eg. She grabbed something from her purse with light brown fingers.

And yes, lighter skin definitely seem to be preferred by mainstream media, especially when it comes to women. Dark enough to be exotic and/or get points for being diverse, not dark enough to be threatening. It's cringe-worthy.

It's even worse within the Black community. There are so many color classifications that it makes my head spin. My mother is a yella bone but I am a brown sugar. My daughter is a red bone,in between us on the color scale. My Nan used to have a terrible habit of doing this and assigned us all these colors. It saddens me to my soul that we haven't evolved beyond this foolishness.

Even the one media outlet,hip-hop videos,where you'd expect to see a variety of women,there is still the old light over dark messiness.

That's why I stand my ground about how my YA MC looks. Too many girls feel left out because it never seems to be an end to colorism from the Black community and shadism from mainstream.

Corinne Duyvis
01-25-2012, 12:24 AM
That's why I stand my ground about how my YA MC looks. Too many girls feel left out because it never seems to be an end to colorism from the Black community and shadism from mainstream.

I'm currently editing a YA novel with a dark-skinned love interest, and decided to emphasize it a little more here and there for that reason. Anything we can do to combat those sorts of ideas, right?

issac1
01-28-2012, 12:13 PM
My main character, who is usually a teen male, is always pecan brown. I personally prefer a darker shade in men, but I remember reading somewhere that a medium brown is the shade most black people feel the most comfortable with and attractive to. I still throw in characters that spans the spectrum of color within the race though, from very black to light caramel.

Kitty27
01-28-2012, 10:44 PM
My main character, who is usually a teen male, is always pecan brown. I personally prefer a darker shade in men, but I remember reading somewhere that a medium brown is the shade most black people feel the most comfortable with and attractive to. I still throw in characters that spans the spectrum of color within the race though, from very black to light caramel.


Huh?

I have never heard this before. Now the BC has color issues that are nearly at the level of insanity,but this is new to me.

issac1
01-28-2012, 11:25 PM
Hi Kitty27,

I don't know what 'BC' means, but I'm curious why black people who have color preferences within their own race is anymore insane than white people who have a preference for blue eyes or blond hair or red hair or whatever. People have preferences. It's a fact of life, but it’s not insane. It should be noted that there is a difference between preference and prejudice. I believe the color preference survey was in an Essence magazine article I read years ago. I always thought it was because Blacks in the middle of the color spectrum are perceived as having a balance of all the traits we associate with the difference shades of our race.

Kitty27
01-29-2012, 01:46 AM
Hi Kitty27,

I don't know what 'BC' means, but I'm curious why black people who have color preferences within their own race is anymore insane than white people who have a preference for blue eyes or blond hair or red hair or whatever. People have preferences. It's a fact of life, but itís not insane. It should be noted that there is a difference between preference and prejudice. I believe the color preference survey was in an Essence magazine article I read years ago. I always thought it was because Blacks in the middle of the color spectrum are perceived as having a balance of all the traits we associate with the difference shades of our race.


It is insane with regards to how it is used to classify beauty,worth,and how the use of colorism impacts a person's self esteem.

Preferring blondes is nowhere near how the Black Community(BC) assigns SELF worth according to a person's skin tone. If a man says he prefers brunettes,he rarely says that blondes are ugly,losers,waste of life,etc. He has a preference for women with light hair but doesn't degrade or feel women with dark hair are somehow lesser.

But in the Black community for some,light is right and dark skin is hideous. It goes beyond preference to outright intra racism and that is the difference.

Cyia
01-30-2012, 05:21 AM
Have you ever seen the "healthy" test? It was an online experiment about two years ago (IIRC) where a selection of faces would appear on screen, and depending on how far to the left or right you put your mouse, the person's skin tone would deepen. (The models were a mix of Caucasian, African American, Asian, and Latino.)

There was only one prompt: "Click when you feel the skintone of the model is at its healthiest." meaning, when he/she didn't look sick or anemic or burnt based on their facial features. It was meant to determine how people perceive "correct" coloring for a given set of facial features. I never saw the results, but at the time there was a bit of surprise over how many people said the lighter skin looked wrong on so many of the given models.

backslashbaby
01-30-2012, 09:06 PM
I'm not surprised by those results, and apparently folks can really be paler when they are sick.

I wouldn't know, as my natural skintone doesn't leave any room for looking more pale. Doctors ask me if I should look the way I look, no joke, and when I was anemic I looked no different. This is when I haven't been in the sun long without sunscreen, btw, as I can tan pretty deeply if I tried hard at it: think Johnny Depp's different colors :D

lemonhead
01-30-2012, 09:11 PM
I read an article where an agent or editor or something complained about the overuse of shade specific details-- especially overused adjectives like caramel, coffee, cream, (yum!) to describe people's skin color. It was ranting.
But they had an excellent point that it's often more impactful to show the color not tell it. So for example, in my YA, my MC is puerto-rican and white. But I don't talk about her tan/golden skin, I just have her mom yell at her for not wearing sunscreen and thinking it's fine because she's darker than her friends. Because that's what a mom would do and that's what a darker than average (in her circle) teenager would do. Her skin color has nothing to do with the story, so it's only small details like this that are neccesary.

In my WIP, the male MC is mixed black/NA/white and it is important to the story. I really did not want make him a "shade" because in real life it's more complicated than a specific shade-- it's the culture that plays a role more than color. He's dark enough to be out of place in Pigtown (white section of Baltimore), but not dark enough to be straight black in the part of Baltimore he lives in (a charachter tries to hook him up with his cousin, saying she likes "lighter skin" dudes.) I never describe his skin, but everyone else responds to him, in part, based on it. Including POC.

I learned this in real life though, because despite being light skinned, my NA husband can blend in black Baltimore without anyone even noticing. Meanwhile, I stood out in the worst way. People would come up to me and the first thing they would say was "You're white!" And I have darker skin and brown hair.

I mean, who thinks about their skin color? Except in response to how others treat/speak to you based on your skin color. Right?
I don't know...

backslashbaby
01-30-2012, 09:51 PM
I only think of it myself because I'll get a hella burn if I get too much sun at one time. That really hurts, so I have to think about it. And skin cancer concerns.

But society places so much thought on it that comes out as pressure or comments. Add up the skin lightening and tanning industries and I wonder what a ridiculous figure we all spend on trying to change our colors.

For white people, even the rudest comment doesn't have real cultural baggage anymore, so the tanning industry doesn't have to be added, either. The very real baggage about how light someone's skin is must feel devastating. I feel bad enough with so many folks mentioning my color, and that's just a generic 'ugly' thing. There's no racism that goes right beside it.