Is this description unlikely to give offense?

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Tiger1b

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The point people are trying to get across is that in many Western cultures - including the US - a character undescribed will be assumed to be white. (A character described will also often be assumed to be white. I know this first hand.)



If I understand you, you're saying you do specify the character's ethnicicty at some point in the narrative, in which case I am not sure where the argument is.

This “I’d think that a large part would depend on the POV of who’s is doing the describing or from whose POV a given subject is being observed” followed by this “Um, nah. I don't think we (white writers) get to hide behind "my MC sees 'white' as the default so I can let my readers do the same." Is where the argument began. I’m having difficulty seeing where it is now.
 

Brigid Barry

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But describing the skin tones of only non-white characters makes a statement, whether the author intends it or not (and I suspect most don't). If your characters are all white? Yeah, probably doesn't make a difference there, but as a reader I'm going to be curious about your worldbuilding.
Hope you don't mind, this resonated with me. Is this something you wouldn't mind elaborating on? I took it to mean that if an author only describes non-white people's skin tone that the author is setting white as the default. This is definitely NOT something I want to do.
 

Brigid Barry

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For anyone who needs it, running a search for "is white default" brings up numerous promising articles from what appear to be many sources, including Wikipedia for those who are more comfortable with that. Identified as "Whitness Theory" and "White Default" and variations thereof.
 
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lizmonster

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Hope you don't mind, this resonated with me. Is this something you wouldn't mind elaborating on? I took it to mean that if an author only describes non-white people's skin tone that the author is setting white as the default. This is definitely NOT something I want to do.

Yes, that's exactly what I mean.

Describing the skin tone of only non-white people implies white is the default in the universe you've built. Which is fine, if that's what you want for your story! But I think a lot of white writers want a diverse cast, and earnestly describe all their non-white characters without recognizing they're othering them by not doing the same for their white characters.

It's a hard habit to break. I'm a work in progress myself.
 
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Brigid Barry

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Yes, that's exactly what I mean.

Describing the skin tone of only non-white people implies white is the default in the universe you've built. Which is fine, if that's what you want for your story! But I think a lot of white writers want a diverse cast, and earnestly describe all their non-white characters without recognizing they're othering them by not doing the same for their white characters.

It's a hard habit to break. I'm a work in progress myself.
Thank you for clarifying, I appreciate your time. I will read through my character descriptions as I rewrite and see what I can do to make sure I'm not doing that. That is not the world I intended to build.
 
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Roxxsmom

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The words a given character uses to describe other people's appearance, including characteristics we tend to associate with race, will say a lot about them and about the society they live in. The things they notice and think are default norms also says a lot about them and the society they live in.

If I wrote a novel set in the Newport Beach CA of the 70s and early 80s (which I have no desire to do for many reasons), and wrote it in a character referenced viewpoint (first person, limited third), the narrative might very well have to reflect a naive, distorted sense of normalcy and blase White privilege.

Actually, discussing techniques for making it clear that the viewpoint character's reality is NOT a general statement about actual reality or even the author's viewpoint, let alone proscribing a particular set of values, is an interesting discussion in general. Authors do it all the time, though.

Another thing to think is that internal dialog and narrative in novels is always going to be verbal, where a lot of what we feel and think and notice as we go through our daily lives is non verbal or only partially verbal. When at the store I don't think in so many words, That gal next to me in line is Black, while the checker is White and the bagger is probably Indian. I still am aware of their possible ethnicities at some level, though, even if I only attend to a smattering of their physical traits and am more absorbed with how much higher my grocery bill has been lately.
 

Tiger1b

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The words a given character uses to describe other people's appearance, including characteristics we tend to associate with race, will say a lot about them and about the society they live in. The things they notice and think are default norms also says a lot about them and the society they live in.

If I wrote a novel set in the Newport Beach CA of the 70s and early 80s (which I have no desire to do for many reasons), and wrote it in a character referenced viewpoint (first person, limited third), the narrative might very well have to reflect a naive, distorted sense of normalcy and blase White privilege.

Actually, discussing techniques for making it clear that the viewpoint character's reality is NOT a general statement about actual reality or even the author's viewpoint, let alone proscribing a particular set of values, is an interesting discussion in general. Authors do it all the time, though.

Another thing to think is that internal dialog and narrative in novels is always going to be verbal, where a lot of what we feel and think and notice as we go through our daily lives is non verbal or only partially verbal. When at the store I don't think in so many words, That gal next to me in line is Black, while the checker is White and the bagger is probably Indian. I still am aware of their possible ethnicities at some level, though, even if I only attend to a smattering of their physical traits and am more absorbed with how much higher my grocery bill has been lately.
I'd argue that fiction writing is, as does any other art form, involves interpretation more than creation. I'm also a visual artist and as such am the one choosing the colors on my palette-- which I would call direct analogs to the words on my page.

Perhaps, I'm looking at this wrong and this is just a Caucasian writer thing so I'm missing it, because I can't think of a time when I didn't describe a white character as I would any other or when I've described a POC character through a white-tinted lens.

I'll read any more replies I receive here but I'm bowing out of this one. I don't know the races of my penpals here, but I know mine. I'm a POC who grew up very sensitive about ethnic depictions of people in various media especially when they're my own.

In the end, I'm just here to tell a story.

Cheers.
 
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Brigid Barry

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The words a given character uses to describe other people's appearance, including characteristics we tend to associate with race, will say a lot about them and about the society they live in. The things they notice and think are default norms also says a lot about them and the society they live in.

If I wrote a novel set in the Newport Beach CA of the 70s and early 80s (which I have no desire to do for many reasons), and wrote it in a character referenced viewpoint (first person, limited third), the narrative might very well have to reflect a naive, distorted sense of normalcy and blase White privilege.

Actually, discussing techniques for making it clear that the viewpoint character's reality is NOT a general statement about actual reality or even the author's viewpoint, let alone proscribing a particular set of values, is an interesting discussion in general. Authors do it all the time, though.

Another thing to think is that internal dialog and narrative in novels is always going to be verbal, where a lot of what we feel and think and notice as we go through our daily lives is non verbal or only partially verbal. When at the store I don't think in so many words, That gal next to me in line is Black, while the checker is White and the bagger is probably Indian. I still am aware of their possible ethnicities at some level, though, even if I only attend to a smattering of their physical traits and am more absorbed with how much higher my grocery bill has been lately.
Thanks!!
 

kinokonoronin

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Actually, discussing techniques for making it clear that the viewpoint character's reality is NOT a general statement about actual reality or even the author's viewpoint, let alone proscribing a particular set of values, is an interesting discussion in general.
I'd love to hear more experienced people's advice on this actually, but it sounds like a separate thread.