Is this description unlikely to give offense?

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Set2Stun

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So I'm an Old White Lady, and my opinion should be taken with that in mind. But unless you're writing about experiences of racism, I don't think there's a problem making your cast a different ethnicity than you are yourself. If your story doesn't depend on ethnicity, it doesn't matter what ethnicity your characters are. (There's also nothing wrong with writing white people if that's what your story is calling for.)

Of course I write SF, so I'm not dealing with modern society anyway. My Black MC doesn't experience bias based on his skin color, because that's not a thing in my far-future universe. Which may bug some readers, and that's a completely valid response. But I feel quite strongly the future isn't going to be White Guys In Space, so skin colors and ancestries are varied. And the more I write, the better I'm getting at not being coy about that.
I'm taking your opinion with your experience in mind; you have plenty, and I'm just a noob. Maybe I should be more open to it. I write science fiction as well, and we do get to "cheat" a little if we want to with our visions of the future.

Maybe it's just a matter of making sure that if you include characters of certain ethnicities, you describe them respectfully and try to make sure that's not their main characteristic?
 

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I'm taking your opinion with your experience in mind; you have plenty, and I'm just a noob. Maybe I should be more open to it. I write science fiction as well, and we do get to "cheat" a little if we want to with our visions of the future.

Maybe it's just a matter of making sure that if you include characters of certain ethnicities, you describe them respectfully and try to make sure that's not their main characteristic?
I think you write characters, and they look like what they look like. Yeah, it's worth knowing what is and isn't offensive, like food metaphors; but as this thread has shown, there's no need to be delicate. "Dark" is an OK word. "Black" is an OK word. "Beige" is an OK word.

And if you're worried, get other eyeballs on it! I've run whole sections of WIPs by other people, asking them to beat me up if I describe anyone offensively, or leave anything out. You'll find folks around here are Not Shy about such things. :)
 

Set2Stun

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I think you write characters, and they look like what they look like. Yeah, it's worth knowing what is and isn't offensive, like food metaphors; but as this thread has shown, there's no need to be delicate. "Dark" is an OK word. "Black" is an OK word. "Beige" is an OK word.

And if you're worried, get other eyeballs on it! I've run whole sections of WIPs by other people, asking them to beat me up if I describe anyone offensively, or leave anything out. You'll find folks around here are Not Shy about such things. :)
Thank you for your input on this matter. It's something I have been thinking about a lot lately. I'll have to read more in this section; I just noticed this thread and was interested in the discussion. If I have more questions, I know where to post them !
 

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To be honest, I want to avoid the whole, "this isn't your story to tell" kind of thing. But then again, one could be accused of not including enough diversity at the same time. So the "let the reader decide" felt like a fair option.
As others have said, the reader will decide that everyone is white.

Assuming your characters are human or human-like: Unless they are severely visually impaired, they will see the characters they interact with. Humans naturally see skin colour and categorise accordingly. It's one of the first things we notice about people. Skin colour, hair, height, body shape. It's how we recognise individuals. Humans also notice things that are different to them. White people don't categorise other white people based on their skin colour because for them it is the norm.

So if none of your characters notice each other's skin colour, that means that they all share the same skin colour. And for readers, the default is white. Even for readers of colour. Because that's all that got published for hundreds of years.

ETA with the caveat that, like Liz, I am an old white lady. Except even older.
 

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I'm reading Parable of the Sower and assuming Lauren is black. Because of the cover and the author. So, it can be done.
 
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Was not aware of that; fascinating, but sad. I have to imagine that's changing now with people growing up with shows like say, Star Trek: Discovery. It's changing in fantasy too. The Witcher show comes to mind.
I think that's because we see them, in TV and movies. Just like in the Hunger Games movie-- people realised Rue was black because, well, she was black! Some of 'em weren't happy and went all racist asshat about it, but there it was, in their face. Rue was described as dark skinned etc in the book, but readers glossed over it because it wasn't what they wanted or expected.

If the actor, or the book cover, or something visual depicts a character as looking a certain way, the viewer/reader will probably get it. But in prose, it takes a mighty big hammer to get the point across to readers who come with pre set expectations or assumptions.
 

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I'm taking your opinion with your experience in mind; you have plenty, and I'm just a noob. Maybe I should be more open to it. I write science fiction as well, and we do get to "cheat" a little if we want to with our visions of the future.

Maybe it's just a matter of making sure that if you include characters of certain ethnicities, you describe them respectfully and try to make sure that's not their main characteristic?
I reckon it's about being true to your setting. If humans don't really notice skin colour because everyone has tie-died skin or flashing light implants or glow in the dark paint etc, then it's realistic for people not to notice natural skin colour and instead notice the skin modifications. If your futuristic world has more non human aliens than humans, it would be realistic that humans would categorise people by species, then planetary affiliation, then number of appendeges, and finally oh, they're also human, look at their skin colour as a poor afterthought. But if your futuristic world is like Gilead, and is as or more racist than our own, skin colour is gonna be the first thing everyone notices and judges by.
 
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Set2Stun

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I reckon it's about being true to your setting. If humans don't really notice skin colour because everyone has tie-died skin or flashing light implants or glow in the dark paint etc, then it's realistic for people not to notice natural skin colour and instead notice the skin modifications. If your futuristic world has more non human aliens than humans, it would be realistic that humans would categorise people by species, then planetary affiliation, then number of appendeges, and finally oh, they're also human, look at their skin colour as a poor afterthought. But if your futuristic world is like Gilead, and is as or more racist than our own, skin colour is gonna be the first thing everyone notices and judges by.
You've made some interesting points. I often shake my head when reading the news, decrying human nature. But it's the same here, isn't it? Humans are gonna human. Even in an ideal Star Trek: TNG kind of universe, there are implicit and explicit biases.

I don't *think* I've had the same experience reading, the white assumption thing. I pay attention to descriptions for the most part. The first example that comes to mind is that the protagonist in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) is a Hispanic man with a physical disability in a plural marriage. That did not escape me, but also his female, white friend disguising herself in blackface to escape the authorities after a violent incident might be a touch problematic.
 

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Did you read The Wizard of Earthsea? How did you see the characters there?
I have not, and a couple of people have mentioned it now, so I suppose I should look for a paperback for my next Amazon order ;)
 

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You've made some interesting points. I often shake my head when reading the news, decrying human nature. But it's the same here, isn't it? Humans are gonna human. Even in an ideal Star Trek: TNG kind of universe, there are implicit and explicit biases.

I don't *think* I've had the same experience reading, the white assumption thing. I pay attention to descriptions for the most part. The first example that comes to mind is that the protagonist in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) is a Hispanic man with a physical disability in a plural marriage. That did not escape me, but also his female, white friend disguising herself in blackface to escape the authorities after a violent incident might be a touch problematic.
It's a matter of having those descriptions, and writing them in a way that creates a picture.

Ricky Set2Stun tugged at his red company tie, its contrasting stripes the same shade as his skin and crisply ironed dress shirt. "Yes, sir," he said. "The MC president's men will deliver the shipment at midnight."

Enrico Set2Stun tugged at his red company tie, its contrasting stripes the same shade as his skin and button-down work shirt. "Si, jefe," he said. "The cartel's men will deliver the shipment at midnight."


Readers may assume and picture different things from those two, even though the only colour mentioned is red.
 

Set2Stun

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It's a matter of having those descriptions, and writing them in a way that creates a picture.

Ricky Set2Stun tugged at his red company tie, its contrasting stripes the same shade as his skin and crisply ironed dress shirt. "Yes, sir," he said. "The MC president's men will deliver the shipment at midnight."

Enrico Set2Stun tugged at his red company tie, its contrasting stripes the same shade as his skin and button-down work shirt. "Si, jefe," he said. "The cartel's men will deliver the shipment at midnight."


Readers may assume and picture different things from those two, even though the only colour mentioned is red.
I was just thinking about names while I was searching for a Wizard of Earthsea book (looks like it's one of those ubiquitous things that I have somehow missed?) and I remembered that the character I mentioned earlier was named Manuel. Even a few hundred years into the future, names and language might be appropriate signifiers that would be less likely to be found offensive than a description.
 

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Here's the transcript of an extraordinarily good discussion on the subject:

Writing the Other Roundtable: Writing Characters of Color When You Are White

Long and worth the time. One of many excellent bits:

Justina: So, my first thing is, if you think your audience is nothing but white people, then you have no business writing a character of color. Because that tells me you don’t know any people of color, and so you’re already in the wrong park. And I think that’s a big problem, is that a lot of folks who go out and write these books, they don’t know any Black people, they don’t know any Asian people. And they’re just like: “I’m just going to borrow this character because I’ve heard diversity is a thing right now, and I heard it’s going to give me a better chance to get published.”

So, my first thing is, is you have to keep in mind who your audience is. If I hear one more person say, “Well, I wrote about elves, and I don’t know any elves!” I’m going to punch them in the mouth. Because elves don’t exist; Black people do. And an elf is not going to show up and say, “You mis—no, that’s not how we live in our trees at all!” you know, “Our cookies are much more delicious!” What they’re going to say is, nothing, ’cause they don’t exist.
 

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Yeah, this.

I prefer to be very clear about this (in part because some readers will view as a character as white unless very explicitly told otherwise).*

BUT I write contemporary romance, and this approach won't necessarily make sense for, say, SFF, because the words used might not be the same.

*Also because we often make these assumptions about a new person when we meet them. We don't think "monolid eyes, likely East Asian." We think, "he looks Asian," maybe. And as someone whose appearance is "ethnically ambiguous," ppl ask me questions like "what are you?" within minutes of meeting me, because it bugs them they can't slot me into a box.
Embarrassed to have to confess this, but I caught myself making this same error recently. In the final volume of the Goody/Grant OddJobs pentology, the implacably detail-oriented Vivian wakens in a hospital bed and attempts to rise, seeing for the first time in a long while “her brown feet.” The series has characters of every ethnicity and appearance you could hope for. Even though Vivian is a Brummie by birth, l did a mental facepalm on realizing I’d lazily imagined her as White for most of the preceding four volumes.
 

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White-passing/ethnically ambiguous mixed person here, so I haven't had food associations for my ethnicity, but I do live in a heavily marginalized body, and I'm not anyone's pastry. I'm a human person. Please describe me in human person terms.

There really is no inoffensive way to objectify people of colour when you're not one (of the same ethnicity), be it by likening their traits to tasty food or be it through less "friendly" associations. In general, tread lightly when describing marginalized bodies, be it black, fat, female, disabled, or other, and pursue neutrality. Also be mindful of social imbalances that make it problematic to apply the same rules to your own people and to people outside your group: what may be a humorous way to describe yourself - such as foodstuff - may be hurtful when directed at a marginalized group.

The description you posted sounds quite neutral. "Dark" alone however may not give away his skin colour as "dark" can also mean "grumpy" or "unfriendly" when speaking of faces. Brown, dark-skinned, brown-skinned etc. are, as far as I know, neutral ways to describe black people.
 

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