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Katana
04-21-2014, 02:33 AM
I describe a character in my ms as being an African American. It's short, to the point, and tells the reader so much in just two words. But then it occurred to me that this may no longer be an appropriate descriptive. Is there a better (or more PC) way of describing my character, or is it still okay to call someone an African American? Thank you.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 03:44 AM
If the character is African American, there's nothing wrong with saying it.

Same goes if the character is black.

Katana
04-22-2014, 06:37 AM
If the character is African American, there's nothing wrong with saying it.

Same goes if the character is black.
I'm relieved to learn that I haven't committed a faux pas. Thank you for your assistance. :)

ellio
04-25-2014, 02:21 AM
I just thought I'd point out that you can't determine if a black person is African American just by looking at them though.

Like, say, if the narrator doesn't yet know the person, "I saw an African American woman walk down the escalator", that would be a bad description. The black woman could end up being Dominican or Congolese, who knows (not the narrator at this point).

If you're writing in third or the character is someone the narrator is already aware of then describing them as African American is probably fine.

peregon
05-14-2014, 05:23 PM
Excellent advice here. And to clarify - black and African American are two different things. The later is a bit of a dated, "PC" (I hate that term, but it fits here...) status for black Americans that is becoming a very poor fit, especially as African immigration to the US continues to rise. Black is fine, okay, and dandy.

If anyone asks, tell 'em Hawk let you swipe in his race card. ;)

thedark
05-14-2014, 07:35 PM
I simply described a character as having ebony skin, just once, and just from her POV. It was subtle and effective. :)

Other characters in my WIP are more location-based, like a Scotsman, an Australian, a Canadian, etc.

It's always more about who they are and what impact they have on the storyline, than their race, for my novel. But I wanted it in there for description and for added detail for that particular character. :)

Good luck.

aruna
05-14-2014, 11:30 PM
The later is a bit of a dated, "PC" (I hate that term, but it fits here...) status for black Americans that is becoming a very poor fit, especially as African immigration to the US continues to rise.
... as well as black people of Caribbean, British, French, even German origin! :) We are everywhere. You just can't tell by appearance. So unless nationality (ie American) is important and has been established already, black is usually better.

kuwisdelu
05-15-2014, 03:26 AM
I simply described a character as having ebony skin, just once, and just from her POV. It was subtle and effective. :)

Personally, that would be eye-rollingly cliche for me.

And wouldn't work for a light-skinned black person.

Chrissy
05-15-2014, 04:19 AM
Excellent advice here. And to clarify - black and African American are two different things. The later is a bit of a dated, "PC" (I hate that term, but it fits here...) status for black Americans that is becoming a very poor fit, especially as African immigration to the US continues to rise. Black is fine, okay, and dandy.

If anyone asks, tell 'em Hawk let you swipe in his race card. ;)

QFT.

My son (half-black) would never refer to himself as African American. He's black, as far as he's concerned.

I guess my question is, do people refer to themselves as African American, or is it a just term that white people use to be PC?

If it's just white people (ime it is, fwiw), can we please just... stop already.

thedark
05-15-2014, 04:48 AM
Personally, that would be eye-rollingly cliche for me.

And wouldn't work for a light-skinned black person.

See, now I want to know if I'm being cliche. I hate being cliche. :) Thoughts?


The squeak of bedsprings came from the cell, then Derek returned to the door with Kay in his arms. The girl was ghostly white, and Ciara felt her ebony skin drain of color as she took in the unconscious prisoner. Derek didnít pause on his way past her, and after a momentís hesitation, Ciara fell into step behind him.

kuwisdelu
05-15-2014, 04:58 AM
See, now I want to know if I'm being cliche. I hate being cliche. :) Thoughts?

Sounds like it's third limited from Ciara's POV, and I could be wrong, but I have a hard time imagining a black girl thinking, to paraphrase, "color drained from my ebony skin".

And while people of color certainly experience pallor too, that imagery makes me imagine she's turning albino.

I'd avoid the reference to "drained of color" and focus on the coldness that usually comes with that feeling.

thedark
05-15-2014, 05:24 AM
Sounds like it's third limited from Ciara's POV, and I could be wrong, but I have a hard time imagining a black girl thinking, to paraphrase, "color drained from my ebony skin".

And while people of color certainly experience pallor too, that imagery makes me imagine she's turning albino.

I'd avoid the reference to "drained of color" and focus on the coldness that usually comes with that feeling.

Thank you thank you - I really appreciate your feedback and your insight. :)

kuwisdelu
05-15-2014, 05:42 AM
My son (half-black) would never refer to himself as African American. He's black, as far as he's concerned.

I guess my question is, do people refer to themselves as African American, or is it a just term that white people use to be PC?

It can still be a useful term, whether it's commonly used to self-identify or not; it's just more people need to understand that it's not synonym or a more "PC" version of "black".

Likewise, I don't really self-identify as "Native American". I tend to just think of myself as either "Zuni", "Shiwi", or just "Indian". But naturally, I still talk about Native Americans and refer to myself that way sometimes when I'm talking to other people. And likewise, there are other terms like "American Indian", "First Nations", and "Indigenous" that all capture slightly different nuances, and then there is also "Alaskan Native" and "Native Hawaiian"...

I don't know enough about African American culture and black culture to draw out the same nuances in them, but I imagine they are there.

But that's also getting away from self-identity...

But in terms of the original question, "African American" doesn't really make sense as a "race". The "race" would be black, which would be more of a mouthful, though African American may exist as a more specific and nuanced ethnicity, possibly as an identity, within that sphere.

But even then, to what extent is "black" a "race" either? There are also black people who are not of African descent.

"Black" is very broad, and "African American" is very, very specific.

"African American" and "Black American" may sometimes be used interchangeably, in the same way that "Native American" and "American Indian" often are, but both of these pairs of terms also capture slightly different things.

...I guess the short and long of my point is both "PC" and "anti-PC" is almost always a cop-out to avoid thinking critically about these things. Nothing is ever as simple as "PC" or "not PC" or "just being PC".

Ken
05-15-2014, 05:50 AM
PoC (person of color) is a neat one-size-fits-all. I might go with that.

kuwisdelu
05-15-2014, 05:52 AM
PoC (person of color) is a neat one-size-fits-all. I might go with that.

"Person of color" is even broader than "black", and includes lots of peoples who aren't black.

"Person of color" is basically shorthand for non-white.

Chrissy
05-15-2014, 06:00 AM
My understanding, at age 42, is that "African American" was originally considered PC. I remember the time when it wasn't appropriate to say "black." Referring to people as black was wrong, rude, disparaging, etc.

It seems silly now. I'm not "anti-PC." I just feel, regarding the "African-American" designation, that it doesn't even really make sense to use that for black people who have been here as long or longer than I have (I'm technically some sort of European-American, I guess). But if people want to call themselves by this, for whatever reason, I have no objection.

But I run into people still, who look at my son, knowing he's my son, and apparently feel compelled to call him an "African American." Well no, he's an American, and he's black. It's not complicated.

kuwisdelu
05-15-2014, 06:08 AM
I just feel, regarding the "African-American" designation, that it doesn't even really make sense to use that for black people who have been here as long or longer than I have (I'm technically some sort of European-American, I guess). But if people want to call themselves by this, for whatever reason, I have no objection.

I don't think the length of time spent in America is really all that important when it comes to that sort of labeling. Plenty of people who identify strongly with their ancestry may refer to themselves as hyphenated Americans, regardless of how many generations ago their family immigrated.

I think "African American" can connote a kind of Pan-Africanism (though obviously referring to Americans), in the same way that "Native American" and "American Indian" tend to connote a kind of Pan-Indianism.

Hapax Legomenon
05-15-2014, 06:10 AM
And let's not even get started on white Africans... once you have to say European African American to have any idea who you're talking about, there is a problem.


Sounds like it's third limited from Ciara's POV, and I could be wrong, but I have a hard time imagining a black girl thinking, to paraphrase, "color drained from my ebony skin".

And while people of color certainly experience pallor too, that imagery makes me imagine she's turning albino.

I'd avoid the reference to "drained of color" and focus on the coldness that usually comes with that feeling.

Obviously in that particular scene, the whiteness is contagious :p

Chrissy
05-15-2014, 06:14 AM
I don't think the length of time spent in America is really all that important when it comes to that sort of labeling. Plenty of people who identify strongly with their ancestry may refer to themselves as hyphenated Americans, regardless of how many generations ago their family immigrated.
And like I said, I don't care. We should all call ourselves what we want to.

That said, black Americans =/= "African Americans."

Even if said black Americans happen to have African ancestry.

I guess I kind of want to get a bullhorn out and say through it that "black" isn't a bad word. But that's probably more due to local exposure to this sort of thing and not necessarily the OP.

kuwisdelu
05-15-2014, 06:18 AM
And like I said, I don't care. We should all call ourselves what we want to.

Yeah, but we're not always talking about ourselves, and sometimes we wish to speak ourselves in a broader context, and then those contexts matter.


That said, black Americans =/= "African Americans."

Even if said black Americans happen to have African ancestry.

I guess I kind of want to get a bullhorn out and say through it that "black" isn't a bad word. But that's probably more due to local exposure to this sort of thing and not necessarily the OP.

Oh, absolutely.

Developing a postcolonial vocabulary is a terribly difficult and complex thing.

Chrissy
05-15-2014, 06:49 AM
Developing a postcolonial vocabulary is a terribly difficult and complex thing.I don't think so.

I think the vocabulary would come along pretty easily if we weren't as concerned with how we describe each other as with how we treat each other.

kuwisdelu
05-15-2014, 07:08 AM
I don't think so.

I think the vocabulary would come along pretty easily if we weren't as concerned with how we describe each other as with how we treat each other.

It's not so simple.

For example, "Indian" is a term I use to identify myself, but it's problematic because it's a misnomer by Columbus based on a historical accident. Gerald Vizenor, an Anishinaabe writer and political activist, always writes "indian" in italics and lower case to emphasize this, and has coined the term "postindian" to describe the condition of those of us who live in modern times and are trying to move past the legacy of colonization.

For example, "American Indian" suffers from the same problems, despite clarifying the ambiguities between American Indians and Indians from the Indian subcontinent, but it also has important political uses since "Indian" is the language used in most treaties between tribes and the US government.

For example, "Native American" is problematic because it emphasizes "American" rather than our tribal sovereignty, and it also has a tendency to leave out Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians. And the issue of tribal sovereignty and nationhood is Very Important: we were not Americans by choice.

For example, "First Nations" is better, but it's not as well-known in the US, and so while emphasizing our nationhood, it does not have the political clout and usage that the term "Indian" gains us in American politics.

For example, "Zuni" is better because it's my actual tribe, but even this term is a name given to us by the Spanish (in our case, we're somewhat more fortunate, since at least it's based on an actual family of some of my relatives, rather than a foreign term or a word for us from another tribe), and is not based in how we actually refer to ourselves.

For example, "Shiwi" is ideal, because it's what people of my tribe call themselves, but generally no one except another Shiwi would be familiar with this terminology, making it not very useful in the wider world.

And what if I want to refer to myself in the context of other American Indians or Native Americans and Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians, which of course, I do all the time?

There is the good term "Indigenous", which I love because of its worldwide broadness, referring also to indigenous people around the globe, but it's non-specificity is also a hindrance if I want to discuss Native Americans or American Indians in the context of the US.

...tell me again how this is easy?

I'm only starting to understand how difficult it is. I didn't understand any of this stuff when I was younger.

Chrissy
05-15-2014, 07:25 AM
Why can't I just call you kuwi, and treat you like a member of the human race? That seems pretty easy to me.

Do you need me to label you? (If so, just let me know which one of the eleventy billion above ;))

kuwisdelu
05-15-2014, 07:29 AM
Why can't I just call you kuwi, and treat you like a member of the human race? That seems pretty easy to me.

That's just colorblindness, which is also a cop-out.


Do you need me to label you? (If so, just let me know which one of the eleventy billion above ;))

I identify as each and every one of the quoted identities in that post, and yes, understanding and recognizing those multiple identities and what they mean is important to me.

Part of the problem of developing a postcolonial vocabulary is that the precolonial terms for ourselves have been stolen. Our identities have been stolen. But part of survivance means interacting with that colonial world and reasserting ourselves in it, which requires use of multiple terminologies. It requires a meeting of precolonial vocabulary with colonial vocabulary to develop a postcolonial vocabulary, which may often even mean new terminologies. Since we are speaking a language that was imposed on us by that very colonization, and its existing terms are an artifact of that colonization, expressing ourselves in it may require new terminology.

I recommend reading Gerald Vizenor for a very good critical take on all of this.

aruna
05-15-2014, 07:30 AM
In Guyana, we officially have six races. Two of them are Indian. So the designation is Amerindian for indigenous people, and East Indian for people from India. Very simple! If someone says simply "Indian" in Guyana, the mean East Indian. The word Amerindian is generic for all Amerinfian tribes, but we can also be specific: Makushi, Wai-wai, Arawaks, Wapishana, etc. Few Guyanese really know the difference., but now we have a Ministry for Amerindian Affairs and political parties led by Amerindians, and they are gaining more and more clout. One of the main Amerindian leaders is of the iconic Allicock family (http://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2010/10/10/visionary-amerindian-leader-sydney-allicock-is-a-%E2%80%98special-person%E2%80%99/) -- the Allicocks are pretty famous in Guyana, and so it's nice to know that my paternal grandmother was an Allicock!

Chrissy
05-15-2014, 07:39 AM
That's just colorblindness, which is also a cop-out.No it's not colorblindness and it's not a cop out. I SEE YOU.

I identify as each and every one of the quoted identities in that post, and yes, understanding and recognizing those multiple identities and what they mean is important to me.I'm sure it is important to you, and I respect that.

We all have things that are important to us. We all have things about us, not just race or culture, but religion, parents, beliefs, traditions--all sorts of things that define us.

It doesn't mean that those things have to be important to everyone else. What ultimately matters is that we treat each other as human beings.

I mean seriously, if I am your friend, and I describe you to my mom as Native American, are you really going to be put out that I didn't include all the other things?

kuwisdelu
05-15-2014, 07:51 AM
We all have things that are important to us. We all have things about us, not just race or culture, but religion, parents, beliefs, traditions--all sorts of things that "define" us.

It doesn't mean that those things have to be important to everyone else. What ultimately matters is that we treat each other as human beings.

I mean seriously, if I am your friend, and I describe you to my mom as Native American, are you really going to be put out that I didn't include all the other things?

No, but I think you missed the point.

You could describe me as any of those. That's fine.

My point was it isn't as simple as what's "okay" to say and what isn't.

(Okay, well, to be fair, if you're just wondering if it's okay to call someone something or not, I suppose it is that simple, but I was trying to move beyond that line of thought. If that's all you're concerned about, you can stop reading here, but I think there are greater issues than just avoiding offending people.)

The point is if we want to express ourselves, our identities, politically, artistically, it's not enough to avoid offense. In fact, oftentimes offending people is good. But the existing words and terminology are often not enough to fully express what we want to say, or have connotations that incorrectly misrepresent what we wish to convey. Sometimes the words we need to express an postindian experience or a postcolonial identity don't yet truly exist. And to fully understand evolving identities, it's important to understand the nuances between all of the words we use to express those identities, how they're limited, what they connote, how they may change going into the future, and perhaps how we might invent new ones.

(Sorry I'm going all metacultural on you.)

Chrissy
05-15-2014, 07:59 AM
I'm mostly concerned with not offending people in general, yeah.

But also, reading your posts and learning from them -- that's important for my own enlightenment, so thank you.

Gone far and away from the OP, but to try to bring it back, I feel that the term "African American" is used incorrectly, to the point of being sort of obnoxious. I'm happy to be corrected though. If I should be using this term, someone please steer me straight. :)

aruna
05-15-2014, 08:10 AM
I have never used the term African American and never will. Not out of fear of offending people but because it is usually useless and inaccurate. If I come to America and you see me at the check-out, would you describe me as African-American? Because you would be wrong. I am neither African nor American; though my roots are certainly, among other things (European and Amerindian), African.

Lillith1991
05-15-2014, 08:41 AM
Chrissy I don't see the problem with people refering to your son as African American. Presumably if your son it like me, his father is descended from slaves brought to the united states that didn't flee to canada. When refering to people who's ancestors were forcibly brought here from Africa and stayed when they were freed it is technically the correct label.

It's a problem when someone like Aruna who is black, but not descended from African slaves brought to the the US is refered to as African American. It's a label meant for a certain group of black people, not every black person.

I identify as black or mulato, but my mother who herself is highly mixed (European, Indian, and some Native American) but looks white, isn't bothered when people refer to me as African American. Now, tell her she didn't give birth to me, and she will rightly be murderous. But that's a different issue that comes with one parently being an obviously (to outsiders) different ethnic group than their child.

kuwisdelu
05-15-2014, 08:44 AM
I think this edit of mine may have been looked over, and I'm curious about others' thoughts on it:


I think "African American" can connote a kind of Pan-Africanism (though obviously referring to Americans), in the same way that "Native American" and "American Indian" tend to connote a kind of Pan-Indianism.

Lillith1991
05-15-2014, 09:02 AM
I think this edit of mine may have been looked over, and I'm curious about others' thoughts on it:

Certainly, as Aruna has mentioned. It tends to get used incorrectly to refer to all black people in the United States. Obviously that's wrong, because not all black people in the US are descended from slaves freed 160+ years ago. Some are of more direct African origin, or from Europe, or the Carribean.

Conversly, a lot of extremely light skinned descendants of said slaves get misslabeled as white. If they have European enough features, even though both their parents may also be descended from said slaves.

Ken
05-15-2014, 02:03 PM
"Person of color" is even broader than "black", and includes lots of peoples who aren't black.

"Person of color" is basically shorthand for non-white.

Hmm. Wasn't aware of that. The term has a broader definition than I figured. Still a neat term. Thnx for the info.

Chrissy
05-15-2014, 03:35 PM
Chrissy I don't see the problem with people refering to your son as African American. Presumably if your son it like me, his father is descended from slaves brought to the united states that didn't flee to canada. When refering to people who's ancestors were forcibly brought here from Africa and stayed when they were freed it is technically the correct label.Sure, presumably. But ime, people use that term to refer to "black people" because they're trying not to say "black."

I personally wouldn't refer to someone as African American unless they had first self-identified as such.


I identify as black or mulato, but my mother who herself is highly mixed (European, Indian, and some Native American) but looks white, isn't bothered when people refer to me as African American. Now, tell her she didn't give birth to me, and she will rightly be murderous. But that's a different issue that comes with one parently being an obviously (to outsiders) different ethnic group than their child.I think your mom and I would be good friends. :D

Lillith1991
05-15-2014, 03:53 PM
Sure, presumably. But ime, people use that term to refer to "black people" because they're trying not to say "black."

I personally wouldn't refer to someone as African American unless they had first self-identified as such.

See that makes sense, your reason for not liking the term. Yes it is technically correct, but it's also used as an excuse not to say option b.


think your mom and I would be good friends. :D

She could tell you about how people still assume me and my sister are adopted.

Chrissy
05-15-2014, 03:58 PM
She could tell you about how people still assume me and my sister are adopted. Argh. My first experience was with now 16-year-old when he was about a week old and I was at the grocery store.

The incident ended with me pretty much yelling at the person: "No, what I'm SAYING is that he came out of my vagina you idiot!"

(ETA: I may have been slightly post-partum :o)

Lillith1991
05-15-2014, 04:16 PM
Argh. My first experience was with now 16-year-old when he was about a week old and I was at the grocery store.

The incident ended with me pretty much yelling at the person: "No, what I'm SAYING is that he came out of my vagina you idiot!"

(ETA: I may have been slightly post-partum :o)

Yup. Funny enough, she has only had other white people assume we're adopted. There was an Indian store owner who thought me and my younger sister looked like our dad was a dark skinned Indian (from India) person when our hair was pressed as small children. But they never assumed we were adopted, just had a hard time believing it was my mother's father who had Indian ancestry and not our dads.

One she would gently remind that her dad was the one who was half-Indian, the other to this day drives her bat crap insane.

Chrissy
05-15-2014, 04:23 PM
The thing too is that if they would just look past the skin/eyes/hair, they would see the resemblance. My black son looks more like me than my two white sons.

To be fair, some do see it. Of course, then it's like... oh my God! I see the resemblance!!! *sigh*

Lillith1991
05-15-2014, 04:31 PM
The thing too is that if they would just look past the skin/eyes/hair, they would see the resemblance. My black son looks more like me than my two white sons.

To be fair, some do see it. Of course, then it's like... oh my God! I see the resemblance!!! *sigh*

That's when you start plotting homicide. Well, that's when my mother would start plotting homicide. :tongue

Chrissy
05-15-2014, 05:28 PM
:evil

LieForALiving
05-15-2014, 06:24 PM
Is there a better (or more PC) way of describing my character, or is it still okay to call someone an African American? Thank you.

To get back to the OP (though it was posted awhile ago), I would take a look at what is appropriate to call a certain race in YOUR book rather than focusing on the Politically Correct Term of the Moment. Race is a sensitive issue that people have a LOT of opinions about, so you will NEVER please everyone. I wouldn't worry about making it PC, I would worry about it fitting the setting of your work.

For example:

Is your novel an omniscient 3rd person set in modern day? Then why not just describe them? "Melissa had curly black hair and dark skin the color of lightly milked coffee."

Limited third person set in modern day? Then what would the CHARACTER think of the person's skin color? How would THEY describe the person?

Are they a black person who thinks of themselves as black? "Melissa stared into the mirror. She barely recognized the attractive black woman smiling back at her, her pretty round face framed in curls. How could she look so happy when she felt so sad?"

A white person who was taught that African American is PC? "Jodie glanced up from her homework, frowning as she caught sight of her roommate, Melissa, staring into a mirror. The beautiful African-American woman was smiling broadly, but the slight trembling in her hands revealed her distress."

A pissed off urban teenager who uses the word 'nigga,' much to his great grandfather's distress? "Peter scowled at his grandfather, crossing his arms over his chest. He didn't care what Gramps thought, his niggas were cool, and if the man didn't like them, he could kiss Peter's black ass."

Is it a third person limited set in 1960? Then how you describe a black person would change: "Melissa frowned deeply as her eyes locked on the fountain. The store manager would be furious if he knew a colored girl had sipped from his precious stream."

Or is it a first person story set in the 1800s? "It was a tough life, living back then. To the white man I was just another nigger; but, to my fellow negroes, my light skin betrayed me: I was the bastard daughter of a white man."

As you can see, all these ways work to get across the point of the person's race but still stay within the voice of the story. I would worry less about what's "PC" to call a person of color and focus on what your CHARACTER would call them. The story's not about what you, the author, would call a person in order to be PC, but what's appropriate for your narrator's voice.

aruna
05-15-2014, 07:36 PM
Certainly, as Aruna has mentioned. It tends to get used incorrectly to refer to all black people in the United States.

The trouble is that the term has come even to include people who have nothing to do with the USA. I have heard Naomi Campbell referred to as African American. I have heard Africans in Africa referred to as African Americans! No kidding. Granted, this was some time ago, but for a long time African America was a PC synonym for black even in truly outlandish cases.

Putputt
05-15-2014, 08:10 PM
To get back to the OP (though it was posted awhile ago), I would take a look at what is appropriate to call a certain race in YOUR book rather than focusing on the Politically Correct Term of the Moment. Race is a sensitive issue that people have a LOT of opinions about, so you will NEVER please everyone. I wouldn't worry about making it PC, I would worry about it fitting the setting of your work.

For example:

Is your novel an omniscient 3rd person set in modern day? Then why not just describe them? "Melissa had curly black hair and dark skin the color of lightly milked coffee."



Yes and no. I used to think that descriptions like that would be sufficient, but nope. Let's not forget the whole Rue-is-not-black debacle. White default happens, and I'm pretty sure if you ask people what race the character is based on that description, many of them would say "tanned white person".

I much prefer to just say the character's race when it is appropriate (as in when it befits the story's circumstances). Fortunately, my last book is a YA contemporary set in the US, so I could say "black girl", "Asian guy", "Latina", "white girl" etc without any mention of "mocha skin" or *shudders* "almond-shaped eyes". It is a sad truth that white default exists, and whenever I can, I will make it undeniably clear that my characters are PoC.

aruna
05-15-2014, 08:17 PM
My novels have mostly all-PoC characters. But as it's a multi racial society I have to say they are black or Indian or Amerindian, or, more rarely, Chinese - but only the first time they appear. Sometimes though I have to mention a white character...
in fact, one of my novels begins with the sentence: When it was all over, all the bodies counted and sent home, I remembered the white woman on the Witte Zee.
In my books, white is unusual and so it is always mentioned when a white person pops in. PoC is the default, and I like it that way!

LieForALiving
05-15-2014, 08:20 PM
Fortunately, my last book is a YA contemporary set in the US, so I could say "black girl", "Asian guy", "Latina", "white girl" etc without any mention of "mocha skin" or *shudders* "almond-shaped eyes". It is a sad truth that white default exists, and whenever I can, I will make it undeniably clear that my characters are PoC.

LOL, "almond eyes" always makes me think about when I took my Special Education Certification test and had to know that people with Down Syndrome have "thick epicanthal folds."

I agree that a white default exists, as I have asked many PoC if they automatically imagine main characters that have not been described as their race, and most say no, they imagine them as white. (Thank you, Hollywood.) I just prefer to only loudly point out race in omniscient view if it is important to the story, as I think part of the race issue stems from the fact that we make it such a big deal what race someone is. Yeah, Rue was black and I imagined her as Indian (from India, not NA). But it wasn't really important to the story what ANYONE'S race was, as there did not seem to be a lot of racial disparagement in this particular future. I mean, Katniss never directly thought "Thresh was a really big, strong black guy," probably because it didn't matter enough to her.

I also totally understand that PoC are dramatically underrepresented in pop culture, and why it is very important to some people to make it clear that their character is a PoC. It's just my personal taste to leave that for when it matters. Of course, I usually write from a limited point of view rather than omniscient anyway, so race is always mentioned, as most modern day people DO notice someone's race right away.

Putputt
05-15-2014, 08:28 PM
LOL, "almond eyes" always makes me think about when I took my Special Education Certification test and had to know that people with Down Syndrome have "thick epicanthal folds."

I agree that a white default exists, as I have asked many PoC if they automatically imagine main characters that have not been described as their race, and most say no, they imagine them as white. (Thank you, Hollywood.) I just prefer to only loudly point out race in omniscient view if it is important to the story, as I think part of the race issue stems from the fact that we make it such a big deal what race someone is. Yeah, Rue was black and I imagined her as Indian (from India, not NA). But it wasn't really important to the story what ANYONE'S race was, as there did not seem to be a lot of racial disparagement in this particular future. I mean, Katniss never directly thought "Thresh was a really big, strong black guy," probably because it didn't matter enough to her.

I also totally understand that PoC are dramatically underrepresented in pop culture, and why it is very important to some people to make it clear that their character is a PoC. It's just my personal taste to leave that for when it matters. Of course, I usually write from a limited point of view rather than omniscient anyway, so race is always mentioned, as most modern day people DO notice someone's race right away.

Bolded mine. The bolded part is why it's important to me to make it clear that my characters are PoC. :) As for whether or not the character's race is relevant to the story, I don't think it should matter whether it's relevant to the story or not, because PoC just...exist. We're here regardless of whether or not we're "relevant", and so whether or not it affects the story, I'm still going to make it clear that hi readers, we exist. :D

Chrissy
05-16-2014, 04:43 AM
Bolded mine. The bolded part is why it's important to me to make it clear that my characters are PoC. :) As for whether or not the character's race is relevant to the story, I don't think it should matter whether it's relevant to the story or not, because PoC just...exist. We're here regardless of whether or not we're "relevant", and so whether or not it affects the story, I'm still going to make it clear that hi readers, we exist. :D

Just a random thought: the above is what my parents would call a "calling." It's not that it's required. It's not that it's what everyone should do. But the people who do it, who are "called" to do it: They are they ones who will challenge the status quo, break down the paradigms, and ultimately, change the world.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's not writers who are trying to respond to demands for diversity, or the writers who 'want to do the right thing' (although that's all very cool, but tends to result in ebony skin, almond shaped eyes, and possibly stilted references to a character being "African American").

When it's the writer who wants this, who feels it in her gut, who wants to make the statement, as Putputt says, that WE ARE HERE, then that's where the authenticity is, and that's where the change will happen.

IMO.

Putputt
05-17-2014, 07:04 PM
Just a random thought: the above is what my parents would call a "calling." It's not that it's required. It's not that it's what everyone should do. But the people who do it, who are "called" to do it: They are they ones who will challenge the status quo, break down the paradigms, and ultimately, change the world.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's not writers who are trying to respond to demands for diversity, or the writers who 'want to do the right thing' (although that's all very cool, but tends to result in ebony skin, almond shaped eyes, and possibly stilted references to a character being "African American").

When it's the writer who wants this, who feels it in her gut, who wants to make the statement, as Putputt says, that WE ARE HERE, then that's where the authenticity is, and that's where the change will happen.

IMO.

Buhhhh :D I never thought of it as a calling, but thank you. I love your post. :) Thank you.

patskywriter
05-17-2014, 07:19 PM
I prefer a simple mention of race. I doubt that all us who come across the phrase "black girl" would imagine the same person.

I don't like such phrases as olive skin and almond-shaped eyes as racial indicators. I know plenty of black people with such features, as well as white skin and green eyes. Some of the darkest people I've met were from India, which I thought was cool and interesting. I have no idea how they felt about it, however.

kuwisdelu
05-18-2014, 05:03 AM
I don't like such phrases as olive skin and almond-shaped eyes as racial indicators. I know plenty of black people with such features, as well as white skin and green eyes. Some of the darkest people I've met were from India, which I thought was cool and interesting. I have no idea how they felt about it, however.

Yeah, if you just mention a dark skin color... that's not nearly enough to tell me whether someone is black.

And if you just mention a light skin color... that's not nearly enough to tell me whether someone is not black.

J.Emerson
05-18-2014, 05:14 AM
If it hasn't been mentioned already - which terms can be safely used to describe someone's race varies by your locality.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, the epicenter of political correctness, and there "African American" was the way of it.

I've been living in New Orleans for several years now, and here, people will get offended if you call them African American. There are actually a lot of true Africans living here (particularly from Nigeria), and the label can get you in trouble. Here, Black is safer. Though, you'll still find be people who object to the term, I've been told here before that the term Negro is better, because it is more accurately anthropologically speaking, Negroid being the true racial group, versus Caucasoid or Mongoloid (it was an older Black lady who told me this; I used to teach classes on cultural sensitivity for behavioral health professionals and let me tell you I learned loads about the local practices). Personally I'd be afraid to use the term Negro, because to ME it sounds offensive. Not that it should matter what I think, but I still wouldn't say it.

But when writing, I personally describe the color of someone's skin before I mention ethnicity. I mean I would never label my White characters White, but I might say her skin is ghostly pale, or sun-kissed tan, or freckled, or that her cheeks are gleaming pink, like they'd just been scrubbed fresh. Whatever. And calling someone African American doesn't actually tell you the color of their skin - is it dark, with inky black undertones? Or like rich like coffee? Or warm like caramel? There are countless variations, part of what makes the descriptive process so fascinating. There's so much to work with.

Describing the appearance is more meaningful than slapping the label on them. Besides, you can't make everyone happy. What pleases someone from one part of the country could offend someone else a state away.

J.Emerson
05-18-2014, 05:22 AM
Also... not only was I brought up in a hyper PC place (Los Angeles), where you always had to worry about offending someone and quite literally getting your ass kicked, but my ex-husband was Chinese, making our daughter half Chinese and half Caucasian. Depending on who she stands next to, she can look either Asian, or White.

Here in the deep South, she is labeled as being White (because the younger kids anyway break it into that dichotomy - if you're not black, then you're White, end of story). But my daughter has always been infuriated by that, not because she objects to being White, which she is in part, but because she is ALSO Asian.

Labels are tricky things. They lead us to assume a lot, based on our biases and personal experiences - and maybe those are things we don't intend our reader to assume. So for me anyway, the more descriptive info the better. No asses of you and me needed :)

Putputt
05-18-2014, 12:15 PM
J. Emerson, if you haven't already done so, do read the entirety of the thread. It answers most, if not all, of your questions. :)


If it hasn't been mentioned already - which terms can be safely used to describe someone's race varies by your locality. Yep, this is true.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, the epicenter of political correctness, and there "African American" was the way of it. When I was attending college in NorCal a few years back, this was certainly the norm. But I've been going back to NorCal pretty regularly and the term is quickly going out of date.

I've been living in New Orleans for several years now, and here, people will get offended if you call them African American. There are actually a lot of true Africans living here (particularly from Nigeria), and the label can get you in trouble. Here, Black is safer. Though, you'll still find be people who object to the term, I've been told here before that the term Negro is better, because it is more accurately anthropologically speaking, Negroid being the true racial group, versus Caucasoid or Mongoloid (it was an older Black lady who told me this; I used to teach classes on cultural sensitivity for behavioral health professionals and let me tell you I learned loads about the local practices). Personally I'd be afraid to use the term Negro, because to ME it sounds offensive. Right. :) I feel iffy saying it too. In Indonesia, that is the term that people use. "Orang Negro" (orang = person/human being) But in the US and UK it somehow doesn't feel right. Not that it should matter what I think, but I still wouldn't say it.

But when writing, I personally describe the color of someone's skin before I mention ethnicity. I mean I would never label my White characters White, why not? Is it because white is the default? ;) but I might say her skin is ghostly pale, or sun-kissed tan, or freckled, or that her cheeks are gleaming pink, like they'd just been scrubbed fresh. Whatever. And calling someone African American doesn't actually tell you the color of their skin - is it dark, with inky black undertones? But why does the color of their skin matter? It actually doesn't matter in the least, unless you're writing something like romance, where the character's appearance does matter. Otherwise, why would the color of their skin matter? Color actually tells me nothing about the character. I'm Asian, but I'm a lot fairer than most of my white friends. So if I were to be described by just my skin, most people would assume I'm white. Which would be wrong. I'd much rather people just say "an Asian girl" if I were to cameo in a book. :D Or like rich like coffee? Or warm like caramel? Please, not the food names. Why the food? Notice that when you describe the white character, there was a distinct lack of food? :) There are countless variations, part of what makes the descriptive process so fascinating. There's so much to work with. The variation and creativity when it comes to describing the color of a character's skin is not the issue here. The issue is that white default happens. If you're okay with people assuming that your black character is a "tanned white person", then that's cool, stick to just descriptions of skin color. I'm not okay with it, so I like to state what race my characters are.

Describing the appearance is more meaningful than slapping the label on them. Nope, it's not. Besides, you can't make everyone happy. What pleases someone from one part of the country could offend someone else a state away.


Also... not only was I brought up in a hyper PC place (Los Angeles), where you always had to worry about offending someone and quite literally getting your ass kicked, but my ex-husband was Chinese, making our daughter half Chinese and half Caucasian. Depending on who she stands next to, she can look either Asian, or White.

Here in the deep South, she is labeled as being White (because the younger kids anyway break it into that dichotomy - if you're not black, then you're White, end of story). But my daughter has always been infuriated by that, not because she objects to being White, which she is in part, but because she is ALSO Asian. Riiight...so...why not just SAY she is half-white, half-Asian?? If you were to describe your daughter in a book, do you think people would get that she's half-Asian and half-white from a description of skin color and even facial features?

Labels are tricky things. They lead us to assume a lot, based on our biases and personal experiences - and maybe those are things we don't intend our reader to assume. So for me anyway, the more descriptive info the better. No asses of you and me needed :) Again, nope. Actually, relying on descriptions is what forces the reader into assumptions. These are your characters. You know what race they are, so there is no assumption on your end. If you were to say "a black student", no one is going to say, "Wait, but you're wrong, he's not black".

Acknowledging someone's race is not a bad thing. What IS bad is attaching judgment to the person based on his/her race.

kuwisdelu
05-18-2014, 12:30 PM
The terms Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid are also inaccurately simplistic and considered outdated and racist by many anthropologists. I wouldn't take their use seriously.

patskywriter
05-18-2014, 06:47 PM
I've known whites who felt that mentioning race is in itself racist and that it keeps us from becoming a color-blind society. So I can understand the hesitation. I don't like the notion that stating the race of a person is rude and much prefer the straightforward approach.

I don't think that the actual color of a character matters unless the writer chooses to show how the features of a person is reflected in how he's treated. I would guess that many writers would assume that dark and light people are interchangeable. Sometimes they are, but it all depends on the situation.

J.Emerson
05-18-2014, 07:26 PM
Oooo, interesting response. I don't agree with all of it, but that's half the fun, right?? :)


J. Emerson, if you haven't already done so, do read the entirety of the thread. It answers most, if not all, of your questions. :)



Acknowledging someone's race is not a bad thing. What IS bad is attaching judgment to the person based on his/her race.

Let's see... yes, I know the status quo in Cali has changed, I haven't lived there since '06. I just know what I was raised with, and since then I was in Santa Fe for 5 years (with a negligible Black population, almost as low as their Asian population), and now I'm in New Orleans, where racial issues are everything and nothing, all at the same time.

As to why I wouldn't label my White characters White - first, yes, it is probably the default unless someone says otherwise, but that's not why I'd avoid it. I'd avoid labeling as White right out of the gate because I personally don't feel like it tells you anything. I'm White, but I think saying so is less descriptive than saying I'm pale, freckled, and red-headed. But that's my own bias. I don't like that label for myself because I feel like it tells you nothing. I'd rather be described as scotch-irish, which connotes culture, than White, which is purely racial and somewhat charged (to me).

And yes, I do write romance, so the appearance is important. But I'm a VERY visual thinker, so appearance is always important to me, whether it's a person, or their surroundings, or whether I'm writing a psychological assessment or a research paper on bullying, being descriptive is important to getting your message across (though admittedly in the mental health mien, my descriptors would be a tad different, lol). I'll put down a book real fast that doesn't at least take steps to 'paint the picture'. So I write it how I like it, though I know not everyone is in that boat.

I suppose I differentiate between painting a visual and telling you about the character. My writing is character development first, plot second. Sometimes I wish it were the other way around, the writing would probably be easier, but with my professional background I just can't help it. <<sigh>>

And as for food names... well, I have no good response for that. It's evocative for me, though, I can certainly understand if it bugs you. And I can't help it if someone's dark skin makes me think, ooo, luscious like chocolate. I know I'm not the only one!

It's not that I won't reference race - I do. But it isn't the FIRST thing I say. I'd rather paint the picture first. From my perspective, being on the end of being raised White and having it connote NOTHING about me, I'm predisposed to making more qualitative descriptions first. To me, race is the least descriptive quality, because of all the variations involved.

Now, that said, I totally get it when someone from a racial minority sees it the absolute opposite way. With dominant White culture basically going around and eradicating anything that doesn't align with it (or saying it isn't important, or shouldn't be dwelled upon, blah blah), I would probably be pretty invested in making sure that part of my identity was represented. I will rethink that part a little. That may be a response to where I'm living now, versus the way I was raised, and my inherent "cautiousness".

And sorry, but I still think painting a picture and letting someone make their own interpretations of that picture is more meaningful than simply slapping a label on them, so I'll have to agree to disagree with you there ;)

As it relates to how I would represent my child if I were writing about her - yes, I would indicate that she was mixed, racially. I'm not saying I avoid the racial labels altogether, I don't, I'm saying that I don't fall back on them and expect they are going to convey a full picture, because all they really do is tell you what continuum you're working from. It then becomes my job to elucidate their place on the continuum... imo :)

Oh, and I'm a psychologist by trade, so I'm very accustomed to people attaching a judgment to someone's race, whether they admit it mixed company or not. I don't want someone reading my work to jump to conclusions that are inaccurate because I know for a fact people do it CONSTANTLY.

Anyway, thanks for your responses!! They were thought-provoking :)

Putputt
05-18-2014, 08:45 PM
Oooo, interesting response. I don't agree with all of it, but that's half the fun, right?? :)



Let's see... yes, I know the status quo in Cali has changed, I haven't lived there since '06. I just know what I was raised with, and since then I was in Santa Fe for 5 years (with a negligible Black population, almost as low as their Asian population), and now I'm in New Orleans, where racial issues are everything and nothing, all at the same time. Yea, I am sometimes caught off-guard by racial issues as well, especially because they are so fluid. I remember that "Hispanic" used to be the polite term to use about ten years ago in Cali, but recently a friend of mine told me she and most of the Latinos she knows prefer "Latina/Latino", so it's always a learning process.

As to why I wouldn't label my White characters White - first, yes, it is probably the default unless someone says otherwise, but that's not why I'd avoid it. I'd avoid labeling as White right out of the gate because I personally don't feel like it tells you anything. I'm White, but I think saying so is less descriptive than saying I'm pale, freckled, and red-headed. I think this is quite a privilege, tbh. :) I wish I could say that the color of my skin tells people more about me than my race does, but I'm not sure what my skin color says about me other than that I'm fair and slightly yellow-tinged. So say there's a "fair-skinned girl" in your book. Most readers would think "white person". But what if she's actually Asian? Or Latino? Or anything but white? But that's my own bias. I don't like that label for myself because I feel like it tells you nothing. I'd rather be described as scotch-irish, which connotes culture, than White, which is purely racial and somewhat charged (to me). On the same note, there is nothing wrong with saying "Chinese girl" instead of "Asian girl" if your preference is to be more specific.

And yes, I do write romance, so the appearance is important. But I'm a VERY visual thinker, so appearance is always important to me, whether it's a person, or their surroundings, or whether I'm writing a psychological assessment or a research paper on bullying, being descriptive is important to getting your message across (though admittedly in the mental health mien, my descriptors would be a tad different, lol). I'll put down a book real fast that doesn't at least take steps to 'paint the picture'. So I write it how I like it, though I know not everyone is in that boat. Being visual is perfectly fine. We are writers, we strive to paint a picture with our words. But I'm saying that pure description cannot take the place of explicitly stating what a character's race is, especially when the character is a PoC. Google "Rue is black" and you'll see why.

I suppose I differentiate between painting a visual and telling you about the character. My writing is character development first, plot second. Sometimes I wish it were the other way around, the writing would probably be easier, but with my professional background I just can't help it. <<sigh>> I'm not sure how this relates to the discussion, but okay. :)

And as for food names... well, I have no good response for that. It's evocative for me, though, I can certainly understand if it bugs you. It's not really about "bugging me". :D It is an actual issue. Again, Google is your friend. And I can't help it if someone's dark skin makes me think, ooo, luscious like chocolate. I know I'm not the only one! I'm not sure how the fact that you're not the only one is supposed to make it right. :D I'm also not the only one who finds food descriptions when it comes to PoC problematic, so...?

It's not that I won't reference race - I do. But it isn't the FIRST thing I say. I never said it has to be the first thing you say. I'd rather paint the picture first. From my perspective, being on the end of being raised White and having it connote NOTHING about me, I'm predisposed to making more qualitative descriptions first. To me, race is the least descriptive quality, because of all the variations involved. I think this is quite a privilege, tbh. See, I'm of Chinese ethnicity. I spent my childhood in Indonesia and Singapore. In Singapore, the Chinese make up the majority of the population, so as someone who is ethnically Chinese, I never once thought about my own race. I thought the same way you do, that it connotes NOTHING about me. Why? Because I'm part of the majority group. Whatever racism there was (and there was plenty) in Singapore, it didn't affect me. So I can see why you would say that race is the least descriptive quality. However, when you write about someone who is NOT part of that majority group, race more often than not becomes a huge part of their identity. If you were to write about a white person who is born and raised in Japan, for example, would you just say, "a black-haired, petite girl" and leave the reader to guess that the character is actually white? Or would you say something like, "Her parents had moved from Scotland years before she was born, and she inherited their green eyes blah blah blah"?

Now, that said, I totally get it when someone from a racial minority sees it the absolute opposite way. With dominant White culture basically going around and eradicating anything that doesn't align with it (or saying it isn't important, or shouldn't be dwelled upon, blah blah), I would probably be pretty invested in making sure that part of my identity was represented. Ah, so you are aware of the erasure of PoC. Yay. I will rethink that part a little. It's interesting to me that this, the crux of why I think it's so important to mention race, especially of PoC characters, warrants only a little thought. :D Do think about it. It's not a small matter. It's a huge problem that is insidious in its nature. Take a look on Twitter and look up #WeNeedDiverseBooks. You'll find plenty of reasons why race needs to be mentioned. That may be a response to where I'm living now, versus the way I was raised, and my inherent "cautiousness".

And sorry, but I still think painting a picture and letting someone make their own interpretations of that picture is more meaningful than simply slapping a label on them, so I'll have to agree to disagree with you there ;) Huh? So despite the knowledge that erasure happens, that readers WILL default to white, you still think it's fine to have readers assume that every character is white? Oh well. I have nothing to say that won't cross RFYW, so I will leave that alone. :D As a side note, acknowledging that a character is "Asian" or "black" or "white" is NOT slapping a label on them. Unless you think that saying a character is "female" versus "male" is slapping a label as well? Or saying a character is "a toddler" or a "teenager"? ;) It's merely pointing out facts, and there's nothing harmful in doing that. What IS harmful is attaching judgment to said facts. For example, if you see a female character and you think, "Ah, female. Therefore, her place is in the kitchen." But the acknowledgement that the character is female does not automatically bring about that judgment. That depends on the reader, which is something you can't control.

As it relates to how I would represent my child if I were writing about her - yes, I would indicate that she was mixed, racially. I'm not saying I avoid the racial labels altogether, I don't, I'm saying that I don't fall back on them and expect they are going to convey a full picture, Right...I'm not saying you should completely rely on explicitly stating the character's race in order to tell the reader everything about them. :D I don't say, "a black student" and then sit back and let the reader make all sorts of assumptions based on just that. I can still show what she looks like, what subjects she studies, what her hobbies are etc. They are not exclusive of each other. because all they really do is tell you what continuum you're working from. It then becomes my job to elucidate their place on the continuum... imo :)

Oh, and I'm a psychologist by trade, so I'm very accustomed to people attaching a judgment to someone's race, whether they admit it mixed company or not. I don't want someone reading my work to jump to conclusions that are inaccurate because I know for a fact people do it CONSTANTLY. Yea, that happens. The answer is not to never mention race. That is all I'm saying.

Anyway, thanks for your responses!! They were thought-provoking :)
.

kuwisdelu
05-19-2014, 01:58 AM
Yea, I am sometimes caught off-guard by racial issues as well, especially because they are so fluid. I remember that "Hispanic" used to be the polite term to use about ten years ago in Cali, but recently a friend of mine told me she and most of the Latinos she knows prefer "Latina/Latino", so it's always a learning process.

Much like the "African American"/"black" thing, it's not so much a matter of politeness or political correctness so much as it is a matter of accuracy.

Hispanic and Latino/Latina are different groups, though there is a considerable amount of overlap. Hispanic connotes Spanish origins, and while most Latinos have some degree Spanish ancestry, not all of them do, nor do they necessarily wish to emphasize it if they do. Hispanics can be white, and many of them are. George Zimmermman, for example, is a white Hispanic. Latinos and Latinas are predominantly people of color.

Putputt
05-19-2014, 02:11 AM
Much like the "African American"/"black" thing, it's not so much a matter of politeness or political correctness so much as it is a matter of accuracy.

Hispanic and Latino/Latina are different groups, though there is a considerable amount of overlap. Hispanic connotes Spanish origins, and while most Latinos have some degree Spanish ancestry, not all of them do, nor do they necessarily wish to emphasize it if they do. Hispanics can be white, and many of them are. George Zimmermman, for example, is a white Hispanic. Latinos and Latinas are predominantly people of color.

Thanks. :) That's along the lines of what my friend told me.

Mayday
05-22-2014, 06:58 AM
Hispanics can be white, and many of them are. George Zimmermman, for example, is a white Hispanic.

George Zimmerman does not look white. His skin is dark and his features are Hispanic. It was the media who labelled him 'white' in order to play the race card.

kuwisdelu
05-22-2014, 08:54 AM
George Zimmerman does not look white. His skin is dark and his features are Hispanic. It was the media who labelled him 'white' in order to play the race card.

Believe it or not, black, brown, or white isn't actually about skin color. Hispanics can be white, and roughly more than half of the Hispanics in the US identify as white. Zimmerman is mixed and could probably identify as either. Many of us who are mixed can pass as white if we wish to, and that's what many did historically to avoid racism. Claiming an identity comes with responsibility. I don't know how Zimmerman himself identifies, but it's clear the trial was decided on the basis of white privilege.

There are even many people of color who are blonde and blue-eyed. That doesn't make them white.

LupineMoon
05-27-2014, 06:56 PM
Hmm. Wasn't aware of that. The term has a broader definition than I figured. Still a neat term. Thnx for the info.

I discovered this when I went to college and was very surprised to find that I (I'm half-Asian, half-white) was also included in this category. Until then, I had only heard "person of color" to refer to African-American or black people, so that was an education for me. Not to mention, I'd been trying my hardest to ignore my Asian heritage, but I won't get into that here. So it was jarring for me to be referred to as such, but I've gotten used to it.

My college had several groups, the Black Student Association, a group for southern-Asian, Mexican, Latin-American students etc. I didn't fit in to any of those categories so I was extremely happy when I discovered a student group for those of mixed-race, although there were very few of us. It was gratifying to have people to talk to about things.

Myrealana
05-27-2014, 07:42 PM
I'm having a problem with this, too.

My MC's best friend is black. She's white, he's black, but his race doesn't play into their relationship, really. They're both from similar enough backgrounds that they're just friends. It's a 1st person narrative, and I just can't hear her referring to him as "Black." I tried describing his skin color in various ways, but they come across cliche. I tried comparisons to a famous actor, but people just read it as a white version of that actor.

Maybe I just suck at creating a believable black character - but this guy is based on a real person, who really acts and speaks much the same way this character does, so I'm stumped.

patskywriter
05-27-2014, 08:01 PM
I'm having a problem with this, too.

… It's a 1st person narrative, and I just can't hear her referring to him as "Black." I tried describing his skin color in various ways, but they come across cliche. …

I have a good friend named Sandy. If someone asked me to describe her, I'd probably start off with, "Well, she's white, kinda short-ish, etc etc." Or if I felt a more detailed description was needed, I'd say that she's half-Yugoslavian and half-Polish. Race isn't an important factor in our friendship—music is. But that wouldn't stop me from mentioning her race if I were to describe her.

I'd lead with the fact that she's a woman only if I sensed that her gender was in question. In other words, if someone asked, "Sandy? Who's that? Describe him for me."

Sandy is very matter of fact. If she were to describe me, I know she'd say I'm black. She'd probably also call my hair "dreadlocks," a term many black folks don't like, LOL, and she'd probably also mention that I'm really tall for a lady.

I grew up in an almost-all-black community and Sandy was raised in a Polish suburb. Although we often come to the same conclusions when discussing news of the day, we're very aware of the "differentness" of our backgrounds. This makes our conversations deeper and more interesting.

Roxxsmom
05-30-2014, 10:13 AM
Yes and no. I used to think that descriptions like that would be sufficient, but nope. Let's not forget the whole Rue-is-not-black debacle. White default happens, and I'm pretty sure if you ask people what race the character is based on that description, many of them would say "tanned white person".

I much prefer to just say the character's race when it is appropriate (as in when it befits the story's circumstances). Fortunately, my last book is a YA contemporary set in the US, so I could say "black girl", "Asian guy", "Latina", "white girl" etc without any mention of "mocha skin" or *shudders* "almond-shaped eyes". It is a sad truth that white default exists, and whenever I can, I will make it undeniably clear that my characters are PoC.

I agree that readers most often default to white when they're not given a cue. I know we've discussed the extra challenge of writing people who more or less resemble members of real-world "racial groups" that aren't white/Caucasian/European when a story is set in a secondary world. A given character might look like someone whose ancestors came from West Africa, or India, or what is now the American Southwest, or China or wherever, but these places don't exist in your fantasy world, and the cultures may not carry over either.

There, I do have to provide a description and attribute a location from my world to them and hope it gets the message across.

I don't think there's a one size fits all approach. In addition to world building issues, how membership in a racial and cultural group is perceived and described will indeed depend on the pov that person is being shown through.

msza45
05-30-2014, 05:21 PM
I ran into this issue too. The way I got around it was not to mention the character's color in the exposition, and wait to introduce it through another character's dialogue.

My story is set in the past when calling a Black person "colored" was normal. So I just had another character say, "Hey, colored boy..." or something similar.

Lavern08
05-30-2014, 06:25 PM
I have many friends who are Caucasian, and if someone asked me to describe one of them I'd say; "Oh, she/he's funny, opinionated, wears glasses and has short/long, curly/straight, brown/blonde/red hair.

I avoid mentioning race because it doesn't matter to me and I usually ask "what difference does it make?" if the person inquiring makes an issue of it. :Shrug:

Oh, and I'm also one of those people who don't mind being described as "caramel-colored" or the shade of a "hazelnut"

I mean, who doesn't like chocolate - milk or dark? :D

Lillith1991
05-30-2014, 07:09 PM
Believe it or not, black, brown, or white isn't actually about skin color. Hispanics can be white, and roughly more than half of the Hispanics in the US identify as white. Zimmerman is mixed and could probably identify as either. Many of us who are mixed can pass as white if we wish to, and that's what many did historically to avoid racism. Claiming an identity comes with responsibility. I don't know how Zimmerman himself identifies, but it's clear the trial was decided on the basis of white privilege.

There are even many people of color who are blonde and blue-eyed. That doesn't make them white.

Quoted for truth. I can't pass for white, that's for damn sure. But others can, and choose to. It's part of the origins of colorism in the PoC community, who can "pass" and who can't.

Kashmirgirl1976
05-30-2014, 08:25 PM
Oh, and I'm also one of those people who don't mind being described as "caramel-colored" or the shade of a "hazelnut"

I mean, who doesn't like chocolate - milk or dark? :D

I'm the same. I don't have an issue referring to myself as "honey-complected", even though I know some people flinch as I do so.

Sometimes food is a good comparison to describe various skin tones.

LupineMoon
06-02-2014, 05:55 PM
I'd also like to add the term "Oriental" to the list of outdated terms. Not sure if I'm the only one, but despite my father's explanation that it's a counter to Occidental, I find it offensive, probably because I've read too much about Orientalism. I've yet to be referred to as such, but if I do, I'd like to tell them that I'm not a rug/carpet, thank you very much.

Barbara R.
06-02-2014, 07:14 PM
"Person of color" is basically shorthand for non-white.

But it's longer.

Still, I agree it's useful, and a more positive term than "non-white," which defines people by what they're not.


Why can't I just call you kuwi, and treat you like a member of the human race? That seems pretty easy to me.

Do you need me to label you? (If so, just let me know which one of the eleventy billion above ;))

Just whistle a happy tune, in other words....? Race, sexual orientation, religion, nationality all go into making people, real and fictional, who they are. They should be celebrated in our writing, not elided.

Have you all been following the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on Twitter and Tumblr? My own thoughts on the subject, based on experience as an agent and editor, are here (http://barbararogan.com/blog/?p=876). You don't have to be a PoC to advocate for diversity, which enriches us all.

endearing
06-05-2014, 04:13 AM
Just whistle a happy tune, in other words....? Race, sexual orientation, religion, nationality all go into making people, real and fictional, who they are. They should be celebrated in our writing, not elided.

Have you all been following the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on Twitter and Tumblr? My own thoughts on the subject, based on experience as an agent and editor, are here (http://barbararogan.com/blog/?p=876). You don't have to be a PoC to advocate for diversity, which enriches us all.

I agree with this. I certainly understand why some people would prefer not to mention race and try to move toward a "color-blind" society, but the truth is that race still matters. I'm Asian and that's an important part of my identity--and though it's by no means a constant barrage, it definitely affects me. For example, not having read a book with a main character that looked like me, in a genre/with a plot I was actually interested in (and not just so I could finally read about an Asian), until quite recently.

To be clear: I'm not saying an Asian can't identify with a non-Asian. Just that there are important categories that do comprise our identity, and I'd rather we celebrate them and talk about them than pretend they don't exist.

Roxxsmom
06-06-2014, 12:26 AM
But it's longer.

Still, I agree it's useful, and a more positive term than "non-white," which defines people by what they're not.



Just whistle a happy tune, in other words....? Race, sexual orientation, religion, nationality all go into making people, real and fictional, who they are. They should be celebrated in our writing, not elided.

Have you all been following the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on Twitter and Tumblr? My own thoughts on the subject, based on experience as an agent and editor, are here (http://barbararogan.com/blog/?p=876). You don't have to be a PoC to advocate for diversity, which enriches us all.

I agree, but if you're white and you get too emphatic with your arguments on behalf of such things, you can end up looking like a complete chump.

Case in point, I was debating this very topic on another writer's forum, and the guy who I'd all but accused of being a well-meaning but ignorant white guy (I think I said that most of the people I knew who insisted that a character's race or ethnicity wasn't important were white), because he said he rarely mentions race or racial appearances in his writing unless it's essential to the story because he usually writes stories in settings where race just isn't important. Well, he let me know (kindly and outside of the forum) that he's a PoC.

So I was "whitesplaining" how hurtful it is to have one's ethnicity erased to someone who would know a hell of a lot more about that that I ever could (I just have the relative paucity of well-drawn female characters in the kinds of books I enjoy reading as a comparison) and is obviously not bothered by it.

I apologized. Not much else I can do.

So now I wonder if most of those writers out there who are blogging about this and are saying how important it is for race to not be invisible in fiction are just liberal white people who are telling PoC how they should feel about the way race is portrayed in novels. But I know PoC who have said it's important to them. But if I quote that, then I'm just falling into that "well my black/Asian/Latinia friend said that..." thing that is used by racists sometimes too.

I don't know what to do or say anymore. I want to do the right thing and present things like culture, race, heritage and so on realistically, respectfully, and appropriately in my writing (and not set my stories in worlds where everyone is assumed to be white), but if I can pull a blooper like that, well then :(

Putputt
06-06-2014, 12:43 AM
I agree, but if you're white and you get too emphatic with your arguments on behalf of such things, you can end up looking like a complete chump.

Case in point, I was debating this very topic on another writer's forum, and the guy who I'd all but accused of being a well-meaning but ignorant white guy (I think I said that most of the people I knew who insisted that a character's race or ethnicity wasn't important were white), because he said he rarely mentions race or racial appearances in his writing unless it's essential to the story because he usually writes stories in settings where race just isn't important. Well, he let me know (kindly and outside of the forum) that he's a PoC.

So I was "whitesplaining" how hurtful it is to have one's ethnicity erased to someone who would know a hell of a lot more about that that I ever could (I just have the relative paucity of well-drawn female characters in the kinds of books I enjoy reading as a comparison) and is obviously not bothered by it.

I apologized. So now I wonder if most of those writers out there who are blogging about this and are saying how important it is for race to not be invisible in fiction are just liberal white people who are telling PoC how they should feel about the way race is portrayed in novels. But I know PoC who have said it's important to them. But if I quote that, then I'm just falling into that "well my black/Asian/Latinia friend said that..." thing that is used by racists sometimes too.

I don't know what to do or say anymore. I want to do the right thing and present things like culture, race, heritage and so on realistically, respectfully, and appropriately in my writing, but if I can pull a blooper like that, well then :(

Gah, I'm sorry you had to go through that, Roxxsmom! I think it's just a matter of people having different opinions. I know fellow PoC who don't really care if race is mentioned at all in books. They know that white-washing happens, and they couldn't care less about it. Obviously I disagree strongly with them, but they're individuals too, with the rights to their own opinions. You have the same right, and you can speak for yourself! You as a human being have the right to feel that having one's race be erased is harmful. You don't have to be a PoC to have that opinion. :)

And just because someone is a PoC doesn't make them automatically right when it comes to issues about race. :D

Roxxsmom
06-06-2014, 01:06 AM
That's the thing. No one is a hive mind, and one mistake white people often make, even when we like to think of themselves as liberal, is to assume that people from other backgrounds are more uniform in their opinions and experiences than we are.

But I feel like a dork for trying to argue eloquently on why it might not be a good idea to ignore these things in stories, because it can be hurtful to people who aren't the race that most people default to, and have someone gently remind me that it's not my battle to fight.

I do think that's a legitimate concern sometimes: white people, straight people, men etc. and other allies telling people of color, LGBT people, and women about their own experiences (I get annoyed with my husband, who is not at all sexist, about this now and again). This doesn't mean I'm going to ignore race, orientation etc. in my own writing, but it does make me more hesitant to tell others how they should approach it in theirs.

And still, we live in a world where this (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2004/12/a_whitewashed_earthsea.html) happened just ten years ago.

Ken
06-06-2014, 02:29 AM
I discovered this when I went to college and was very surprised to find that I (I'm half-Asian, half-white) was also included in this category. Until then, I had only heard "person of color" to refer to African-American or black people, so that was an education for me. Not to mention, I'd been trying my hardest to ignore my Asian heritage, but I won't get into that here. So it was jarring for me to be referred to as such, but I've gotten used to it.

My college had several groups, the Black Student Association, a group for southern-Asian, Mexican, Latin-American students etc. I didn't fit in to any of those categories so I was extremely happy when I discovered a student group for those of mixed-race, although there were very few of us. It was gratifying to have people to talk to about things.

Combinations are nice. It's cool you found a group of people to hang with. I gave up ever having that long ago. I never fit in anywhere. A perpetual outcast. Must be nice to fit in somewhere :-)

Putputt
06-06-2014, 03:56 AM
That's the thing. No one is a hive mind, and one mistake white people often make, even when we like to think of themselves as liberal, is to assume that people from other backgrounds are more uniform in their opinions and experiences than we are.

But I feel like a dork for trying to argue eloquently on why it might not be a good idea to ignore these things in stories, because it can be hurtful to people who aren't the race that most people default to, and have someone gently remind me that it's not my battle to fight.

I do think that's a legitimate concern sometimes: white people, straight people, men etc. and other allies telling people of color, LGBT people, and women about their own experiences (I get annoyed with my husband, who is not at all sexist, about this now and again). This doesn't mean I'm going to ignore race, orientation etc. in my own writing, but it does make me more hesitant to tell others how they should approach it in theirs.

And still, we live in a world where this (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2004/12/a_whitewashed_earthsea.html) happened just ten years ago.
Bold mine.

Reg: the bolded part, I think you're a much more mature person than I am, because despite knowing that everyone's experience is different etc, I still get all ragey whenever I come across people who think erasure isn't a big deal. Especially when it's a fellow PoC, cause then I just want to shake them and yell, "Blood traitorrrrrr!!! You are THAT PERSON. The one people refer to when they say shit like 'My Asian friend doesn't think the term Chinaman is racist, so it's not racist and you're just being sensitive.'"

My brother is one such person. He genuinely thinks terms like 'chink' and 'Chinaman' aren't racist. It makes me want to punch him in the face because he refuses to learn about the history of those terms and why they've become such loaded, offensive terms. He even refers to himself as a "chink" sometimes. Gahhh.

Um, anyway, what was my point...I don't think I had one. :D oh yes, that you are much more patient than I am when it comes to this subject (and many others, come to think of it...).

Roxxsmom
06-06-2014, 06:48 AM
Well, it confuses and upsets me too for all kinds of reasons, but in some cases, you have to shrug and move on.

Barbara R.
06-06-2014, 03:31 PM
So now I wonder if most of those writers out there who are blogging about this and are saying how important it is for race to not be invisible in fiction are just liberal white people who are telling PoC how they should feel about the way race is portrayed in novels. But I know PoC who have said it's important to them. But if I quote that, then I'm just falling into that "well my black/Asian/Latinia friend said that..." thing that is used by racists sometimes too.
n :(

I "know" most of the founders on Twitter and the ones I know are all non-white.




But I feel like a dork for trying to argue eloquently on why it might not be a good idea to ignore these things in stories, because it can be hurtful to people who aren't the race that most people default to, and have someone gently remind me that it's not my battle to fight..

It is everyone's battle to fight because every reader is affected, either enriched or impoverished, by the range of accessible reading material. It matters for everyone, but especially for children who need to see people like themselves (and unlike themselves) in the books they read--and this campaign started and remains focused on a call for more diversity in children's lit.

LJD
06-06-2014, 05:52 PM
I'd also like to add the term "Oriental" to the list of outdated terms. Not sure if I'm the only one, but despite my father's explanation that it's a counter to Occidental, I find it offensive, probably because I've read too much about Orientalism. I've yet to be referred to as such, but if I do, I'd like to tell them that I'm not a rug/carpet, thank you very much.

I consider Oriental outdated too, but it doesn't really bother me. I've rarely heard it used, and the main person I heard use it was my Chinese-Canadian mother.

A term meaning East Asian would be...uhh...useful, though. Where I live, people just say Asian...Asian tends to mean East Asian here, but that can be confusing sometimes. South Asians often refer to themselves as brown (at least in my generation), but my understanding is that in the UK, Asian often means South Asian?

I would also like to point out that person of color is predominantly an American term. I was not familiar with it until somewhat recently. The Canadian "equivalent," I guess, is visible minority, though the precise definition is slightly different.

Roxxsmom
06-07-2014, 12:37 AM
Oriental passed from respectable usage out here in CA a long while ago (the term got raised eyebrows even back in the 80s), but some people in my mom's generation (she's in her 70s) still use the term sometimes without intending to be offensive.

I have a friend who grew up in Hawaii, and he was surprised by the generic use of the term Asian or East Asian as a lump category. There, people focus more on which specific nation or region their ancestors come from the same way people of European ancestry often do. And people of European ancestry actually have a racial term applied there, Howlie, which means foreigner or newcomer. I remember feeling really weird the first time I heard that term. Stupid I know, but I'd never considered that there were places inside the US where my own appearance and background might get me tagged as something other than the default norm. Of course, there's no reason why there shouldn't be.

The thing about the term person of color that has always puzzled me is that it lumps everyone who isn't white together and still defines people of many different cultures and backgrounds in contrast to whiteness. This seems like something that could be seen as old-fashioned, even offensive, someday. But I also don't know what the alternative is, given the current default to assumed whiteness we still have in the US and elsewhere. Officially referring to everyone who isn't of European background simply as non white is certainly far worse.

Mr Flibble
06-08-2014, 02:36 PM
my understanding is that in the UK, Asian often means South Asian?

In the UK Asian generally means someone from the Indian sub continent (So Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Sikh)

I think the term Oriental is not considered so offensive over here (but I could be wrong!) but I'm not sure that using Chinese (which is what most people default to when talking of East Asia) is terribly helpful either, nor is the habit of referring to all South Asians as Indonesian/Filipino I'm sure.

ETA: I think most people would use the country of origin as a descriptor (Frex Thai) but as you might not know.... In the same way that in say Africa, I'd just be European unless they were aware I was British. But that gets all kinds of thorny!

LJD
06-10-2014, 04:36 PM
In the UK Asian generally means someone from the Indian sub continent (So Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Sikh)

Which is South Asian, no?


I think the term Oriental is not considered so offensive over here (but I could be wrong!) but I'm not sure that using Chinese (which is what most people default to when talking of East Asia) is terribly helpful either, nor is the habit of referring to all South Asians as Indonesian/Filipino I'm sure.

ETA: I think most people would use the country of origin as a descriptor (Frex Thai) but as you might not know.... In the same way that in say Africa, I'd just be European unless they were aware I was British. But that gets all kinds of thorny!



I would consider people who are Indonesian or Filipino Southeast Asian, not South Asian.

For whatever reason, people who are Chinese here almost always just say "Asian." Koreans tend to say "Korean." Filipinos say "Filipino." But people from China usually don't refer to themselves as Chinese where I live. Now I suppose many of them actually came from Hong Kong before 1997...The Chinese community is changing a lot here now. Used to be that the language of Chinatown was Cantonese because there were sooo many people from Hong Kong, but it's shifting to Mandarin.

Mr Flibble
06-12-2014, 10:56 PM
Which is South Asian, no?



If that's who you mean when you say South Asia, then yes. It looks more middley to me, because there's quite a lot lower down on the map :D

I'd never even think of referring to someone from those areas as South Asian, and they themselves will refer to themselves as Asian (if they don;t specify which country -- but the local shop will be "The Asian shop" to them). But there you are, that's how things are different over here



I would consider people who are Indonesian or Filipino Southeast Asian, not South Asian.

Ah but if India is, er, Middle Asia....


If you said south Asian, I'd think somewhere south of India tbh (even if it is a bit east)


For whatever reason, people who are Chinese here almost always just say "Asian." Koreans tend to say "Korean." Filipinos say "Filipino." But people from China usually don't refer to themselves as Chinese where I live.

Ah, well again different here. Chinese call themselves Chinese (or at least some do, some of those I've heard talking about it. But they don;t seem to call themselves Asian mostly except as in "person from the all encompassing continent of Asia" the same as I might say I was European. Probably because "Asian" conjures up images of people from the Indian sub continent)

Maybe in each case (US/UK) the people calling themselves/being called Asian were the first of any Asians to be there in any number (at least in modern times anyway)?

ETA I suppose what I'm basically saying is, they get to decide what they call themselves, not me or anyone else. If they call themselves Asian, then that's their call. Why that is, and how it differs from country to country is an interesting discussion though (and may help me avoiding accidentally giving offence somewhere I'm not familiar with the vernacular!)

LupineMoon
06-18-2014, 08:01 PM
Combinations are nice. It's cool you found a group of people to hang with. I gave up ever having that long ago. I never fit in anywhere. A perpetual outcast. Must be nice to fit in somewhere :-)

Well I did until I came back to my hometown. Now I get the perpetual, "What are you?" and "How long have you lived here?" and "You speak English so well" that I never got at college.

Reziac
07-05-2014, 04:16 AM
Excellent advice here. And to clarify - black and African American are two different things. The later is a bit of a dated, "PC" (I hate that term, but it fits here...) status for black Americans that is becoming a very poor fit, especially as African immigration to the US continues to rise. Black is fine, okay, and dandy.

My fave demonstration of nonsense-PCism is when I saw news anchor Tom Brokaw, being ever-so-correct in avoiding the back-then recently-incorrected term 'black', refer to a black native resident of Africa as an "African-American".

aruna
07-05-2014, 07:33 AM
Oh, I've seen this and similar things time and time again. I've seen Naomi Campbell referred to a African-American ( she's British). I've seen black characters in the movie Hotel Rwanda, set in African and about Africans, referred to as African-American!!! If I were in the US no doubt people would refer to me as African-American.
That's why it's such a stupid substitute for black -- unless the fact of them being American is relevant, as in AA voters in an election. There's just no end to the stupid, and some people really think that America is the world.

Reziac
07-05-2014, 09:02 AM
There's just no end to the stupid, and some people really think that America is the world.

Oh, that's hardly limited to America...

Patskywriter makes a good point that boils down to: It's a matter of relevance. If you need to describe a person so they can be recognised by a stranger, then "black, white, green, or plaid" (as the case may be!) is relevant. If you're comparing notes about the opera, it's probably not.

Lady Esther
10-05-2014, 04:06 AM
QFT.

My son (half-black) would never refer to himself as African American. He's black, as far as he's concerned.

I guess my question is, do people refer to themselves as African American, or is it a just term that white people use to be PC?

If it's just white people (ime it is, fwiw), can we please just... stop already.

I am from Maryland, USA. And yes, I call myself African-American. I know nothing about my father's ancestry and the only thing I know about my mother's side is that my great-grandmother was Native-American and my grandmother was black.

So, I call myself African-American to be politically correct, or black for generalization.

Lady Esther
10-05-2014, 04:31 AM
I'm having a problem with this, too.

My MC's best friend is black. She's white, he's black, but his race doesn't play into their relationship, really. They're both from similar enough backgrounds that they're just friends. It's a 1st person narrative, and I just can't hear her referring to him as "Black." I tried describing his skin color in various ways, but they come across cliche. I tried comparisons to a famous actor, but people just read it as a white version of that actor.

Maybe I just suck at creating a believable black character - but this guy is based on a real person, who really acts and speaks much the same way this character does, so I'm stumped.

I've described black characters without mentioning skin color.

My MC has a black neighbor and I make her focus on his hair and how it's always in cornrows. I assume the reader will think he's black because not many white men wear cornrows.

Maybe you can mention something that tells the reader who they are without mentioning skin color.