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JetFueledCar
08-21-2015, 07:57 AM
My MC is a white girl who's about to meet a black boy. He keeps his hair natural and buzzed short but not bald. I don't know how she can describe it that makes instantly clear that he is black while not being offensive. "Nappy" is off limits for a white girl, "curly" is too vague, and while I suppose "kinky" is correct my connotation of the word doesn't fit the image. Any suggestions?

Lavern08
08-21-2015, 08:44 PM
If you say curly or kinky hair, it wouldn't necessarily come across as a description of Black or African-American hair, since I have quite a few male, Caucasian friends who have curly and rather kinky hair as well.

She was smitten by his gorgeous, brown complexion and his deep-set, dark eyes, says "black guy" to me. :Shrug:

JetFueledCar
08-21-2015, 09:18 PM
I'm trying not to use skin tone as the identifier because he's on the lighter side of black (maybe I should have said mixed race) and most of the descriptions I could use for his skin tone would apply just as well to Latino. Besides, I do need a way to describe his hair. It seems like a common style for black men to me, I thought there would be a word for it. >.<

Lavern08
08-21-2015, 10:01 PM
Soooo, I'm wondering why you need to identify him as Black by describing his hair?

Is hair color, texture, and/or length that important in your story?

Maybe a Black guy would know the answer, but from my perspective, there is "Short-cropped," "Afro," "Braids/Dreadlocks," or "Bald." :Shrug:

Lavern08
08-21-2015, 10:10 PM
OK, now that I think about it, waaaaaaaay back in the day, there was a name for the close-cropped, haircut the guys in my neighborhood used to get...It was called the Julius Caesar.

However, you'd definitely have to be (probably from the South), Black, and over 50 years old to relate or remember it. :ROFL:

JetFueledCar
08-22-2015, 07:57 AM
I laughed hard at calling it the Julius Caesar.

I wanted to use the hair because it's a distinctly African-American trait that doesn't require me to describe skin tone. I like keeping all my physical descriptions short and to the point and I find it hard to do that with skin tone. I know, practice, but I find it easier to say "tightly curled black hair buzzed close to his scalp" than to come up with a good description for skin tone.

...Come to think, would that description at least let you know the person in question was Not White? I can toss in a brief description of his skin tone later in the scene.

Lillith1991
08-22-2015, 08:57 AM
I laughed hard at calling it the Julius Caesar.

I wanted to use the hair because it's a distinctly African-American trait that doesn't require me to describe skin tone. I like keeping all my physical descriptions short and to the point and I find it hard to do that with skin tone. I know, practice, but I find it easier to say "tightly curled black hair buzzed close to his scalp" than to come up with a good description for skin tone.

...Come to think, would that description at least let you know the person in question was Not White? I can toss in a brief description of his skin tone later in the scene.

What pray tell on God's green earth makes you think hair is a distinctive Black trait? I don't mean to be confrontational, but I've been thinking about this for hours and it pushes one of my buttons. I'm mulatto, my hair is in all but in its curl pattern typical of my maternal grandma's Ashkenazic Jewish roots. My curl pattern however is not unheard of amoung the Sephardic Jews of the Middle East, North Africa, and extreme Southern Europe. It's little #2 pencil curls , pen spring curls, and bits that are just compacted S shaped versions of the true curls. You don't see alot of it in the Sephardim, but you do see it enough that people aren't entirely thrown off by it. I also have Black relatives, some of whom are lighter than me, with naturally loose waves like you expect if someone wasn't Black. My hair may have come from my father's side of the family in my case, but it doesn't define me as a Black person. Hair really isn't all that signifigant in identifying someone who's Black whether male or female, because Africa and thus the descendents of slaves from there, even without that 10 generations removed White Ancestor, are going to be diverse group from the standpoint of curl/lack of curl and skin color. Of course so called "nappy" hair (how I hate the word) is more prevelent among people of African descent, Solomon Islanders, and some other Island ethnic groups. But that doesn't exclude other non-Black/Black looking groups from having people who's hair looks like mine despite no known mixed heritage anywhere.

backslashbaby
08-22-2015, 09:22 AM
Various fades are very cool for Black guys (in my area, at least), if you'd like to describe a popular hairstyle:

http://therighthairstyles.com/20-stylish-fade-haircuts-for-black-men/

Fades of a slightly different sort are popular with other races, so there's not going to be one identifier in any case unless you just come out and say it.

But lots of textures are found in lots of ethnicities, yeah. The tight curls that can be prone to frizz are definitely a Caucasian thing, too, just the minority of Caucasians. My hair is like that to a great degree myself (white/NDN here).

RKarina
08-22-2015, 09:23 AM
A short, natural hair style would be called a crop (or a fade if it... Well... fades). I don't know of a uniquely identifying name that would say "this is a black guy". A short or close crop "straight across" would be trimmed neatly with a razor around the hairline at the forehead. But... Would your target audience know this?

As for the distinctly black trait... Umm... Not to be negative but...

No, it's not. My son's hair could be described with any of these words: black, kinky, curly, frizzy. When cropped close, it looks like a black brillo pad. He is not black (not even part).

So... What's wrong with simply describing the character and identifying him? Otherwise you are relying on reader interpretation of descriptive words that may not clearly say the same things to everyone, or that risk sounding racist.

Roxxsmom
08-22-2015, 10:17 AM
Springy hair? Light, fluffy texture? Tightly curled? Tightly coiled? Small, tight curls?

Does this story take place in a world where our racial designations don't exist? If not, I'd also mention that he's black, or African American, or of mixed African heritage etc. the first time she sees him That's probably what the pov character would think.

If the story's in a secondary world, you probably have to provide more cues, and possibly name whichever fictitious country he's from.

JetFueledCar
08-22-2015, 10:21 AM
What pray tell on God's green earth makes you think hair is a distinctive Black trait?

Apparently, growing up in a very white and then mostly Indian (Asian Indian) school. I'm sorry to offend, I have honestly never seen a white person with the kind of hair I picture on Nick. Honestly I've only seen Black people with it, but again, that speaks more to a very sheltered life than what actual reality looks like. I'm working on a description for Nick to communicate his appearance better.

Thanks everyone for the comments. Especially why Alex wouldn't just outright say "a Black boy", because now that I'm thinking on it she probably would. So probably something like "A Black boy with short-cropped hair was shooting hoops in the driveway." Something like that. IDK if that's better or worse.

RKarina
08-22-2015, 10:25 AM
That last works for me. If his race is important, that is.

backslashbaby
08-23-2015, 12:51 AM
I think even if race is not important, most people (maybe not all) would notice it as a normal description of the person. Like 'the blonde girl', you have 'the Black guy'. That's if everyone's not Black or if another characteristic that distinguishes him doesn't come to mind first, imho.

It's not offensive to notice that somebody is Black, lol. Back in grade school, I remember some kids used to whisper the word when talking about a Black kid! But obviously teaching kids that it's that sensitive an issue ends up making it seem like there's something wrong with being Black. Blackness is great. No need to shy away from a description that just includes it straight out, and since many readers are so dense about subtle cues, it works better, too, I think, if you want the readers to know the character is, in fact, Black.

Roxxsmom
08-23-2015, 01:21 AM
I think even if race is not important, most people (maybe not all) would notice it as a normal description of the person. Like 'the blonde girl', you have 'the Black guy'. That's if everyone's not Black or if another characteristic that distinguishes him doesn't come to mind first, imho.

I think the main problem here is that blond hair is one variant within the group of people who are most often perceived and presented as the norm, while "the black guy" with no other identifying features given implies that being black is different enough to make him stand out from a crowd.

Consider reading a novel where black people were described in more detail and white characters were rare and always simply described as "the white girl."

Once in a while, it might make for an interesting change of pace or perspective. But if most of the novels you'd ever read were written with that assumption, it would likely get pretty old.


It's not offensive to notice that somebody is Black, lol. Back in grade school, I remember some kids used to whisper the word when talking about a Black kid!

Of course not, nor is it offensive to notice that someone is white. But think about how often a white person is referred to as "a white kid" in casual conversation (or in stories).

Of course, some of this is about numbers. In many places in the US, black kids are still very much in the minority, and it's human nature to focus on what are perceived as broad racial differences when someone is "the other," but to focus on smaller, more individualized differences when someone is a part of our own group.

It's not inherently bigoted or hateful, but it could be seen as a form of institutionalized racism, especially when it doesn't go away in environments with more diversity.

For instance, I teach at a community college where it's not a given that white students will be in the majority in my classes. Yet I still tend to think of white students as "that kid with the blond hair," or "that guy with the freckles," or "the petite young woman with the bangs," while I tend to think of people of other races as "the Asian guy with the buzz cut," or "That young, black woman with the freckles," or "The Latina woman with the braided hair."

I know I'm the product of my own upbringing, and I'm trying to change my perspective so white isn't the default assumption in my own mind.

In a book, of course, you have to portray your character's pov accurately, so having a white pov character think of someone who is black as "the black boy" isn't unrealistic, nor necessarily racist. But if this is going to be a part of my story, it's probably something I'd examine at some point, even if it's done in a subtle way (like maybe hearing oneself referred to as "the white girl" at some point and feeling a bit odd about it).

backslashbaby
08-23-2015, 01:38 AM
I do hear 'the white girl' a lot, so that's probably why it doesn't sound surprising either way to me. It doesn't sound strange to me at all, but then I'm very used to occasions where there is only one white person.

So it's tough. If the mainstream would see it as othering and aren't used to it in both directions, that is very important, yes.

If the guy is playing ball, chances are there are enough people there that his being Black wouldn't stand out as an identifying feature anyway. While not being afraid to start with Black in the description, I really wouldn't leave that as the only description of him. If he's an MC, that wouldn't be likely to happen anyway, I'd expect.

Fruitbat
08-23-2015, 01:45 AM
I'm sure for your purposes you really just want a simple, quick, non-offensive identifier. So, yeah, "A Black boy with short-cropped hair was shooting hoops in the driveway" gets it done.

Descriptions of hair (and eyes) seem to be the first things many writers pick out to tell us about a character and often poor choices because they often don't tell much about what type of person we're dealing with. They frequently may as well be telling us that the MC had two eyes and oh yeah, some hair. (And then he breathed in, and then he breathed out...) :)

However, "short-cropped" includes something about the character's character, I think. It brings to my mind "clean cut," a "nice" kid. So if that's what you want to convey, it works for me. Now if he's a tough kid, I'd probably pick a different adjective, not sure exactly what, though. (no hair expert here).

Lavern08
08-23-2015, 03:26 AM
...So probably something like "A Black boy with short-cropped hair was shooting hoops in the driveway."
Yep, works for me. :)