My African American-somewhat magical character.

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llyralen

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Linda is a secondary character who is continually reincarnated in the first part of the book (later becoming the main character for the mid-section). Linda was once Nanny of the Maroons, she was also Shakespeare's Dark Lady and probably a lot of other interesting people who I might get to write about at some point. I thought I could give her some Native American blood as well (your thoughts, please?). Linda wants to recruit my white MC (who is also a reincarnist) to be a Time Traveler.

Do I want characters of different backgrounds, ethnicities and colors in my books? Very much! So I really hope I can get it right. I'm thankful in advance to hear your thoughts.

2 questions:

1. Physical Description--- How much physical description do people want?
When I was describing Linda, I felt like readers would want a detailed description. I described full lips and prominent cheekbones, and I wish I just hadn't, you know? I described her as about 6 foot tall, muscled, afroed (it's the 1970's). Linda loves to dress to the 9s in the most up to date styles and my homespun, short, pregnant, white MC is kind of intimidated by Linda-- plus Linda is a forceful character and has a Ph.D in Art History, but it also seems invasive to me now to describe full lips and cheekbones, which is kind of sexy. Linda would objectively have sex appeal to many people in real life and she likes having sex appeal... but...I wouldn't feel comfortable describing lips if I were trying to describe her in real life to someone and neither would my MC... I wish I'd just said she looks a lot like Diana Ross, which is the type of thing I would say to give a general impression in real life. I don't know what readers think of this sort of thing and especially descriptions of lips. I have been reading old books all my life and need to get up to date on all sorts of trends, including trends in descriptions. I'm not there yet by a long shot, please advise...

2. Is Linda the "Magical Black Person" stereotype?
I was watching a show with interviews of black actors talking about this stereotype, among others. They showed a bunch of movies like The Green Mile and The Family Man where the only black person in the show is a black "magic" person. In the 2nd half of my book, Linda becomes the MC where the story is told through her POV. Will a whole middle section be enough so that Linda is not just a stereotype?
 

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I'm not the best person to ask about potentially charged physical descriptions of PoCs or "magical Black" tropes, so I'll let others with more experience writing these characters weigh in.

But as for physical descriptions in general, my personal taste is to err on the side of less detail. Let me picture the character in my own way based on my preconceived notions of what a character of that age in that time and place and using those words and taking those actions would look like, being completely aware that my mental picture is going to be subject to the racial and ethnic notions (however faulted and inaccurate) that I bring with me. Going into too much detail often looks like the author trying too hard. In what cases would it help me to know that her raven-black hair cascaded across her sky-blue-eyed face that has never seen a pimple to spill over her narrow shoulders, the part of her hair revealing a tiny sliver of a cloud-white scar from a long-forgotten mishap on a bicycle?

But, opinions vary widely on this. I've seen SYW excerpts where I thought the physical descriptions were overdone while other posters clambered they wanted more more more description. To each their own.
 
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Linda is a secondary character who is continually reincarnated in the first part of the book (later becoming the main character for the mid-section). Linda was once Nanny of the Maroons, she was also Shakespeare's Dark Lady and probably a lot of other interesting people who I might get to write about at some point. I thought I could give her some Native American blood as well (your thoughts, please?).

Why do you want to give her Native American blood? Is there going to be an instance where the story needs a wisewoman, or someone who knows about Native American culture (which also asks if she's Cherokee, Sioux, etc., as they all have different cultures, traditions, beliefts, etc.).


1. Physical Description
Does your MC POV notice every little detail about someone's appearance? Or does the MC need to know all this information for a plot point or several? IMO, it's enough to say that the MC had to crane her neck to meet Linda's eyes or MC had to take a step back and put more distance between her and Linda because Linda's physique was intimidating. Or something not so blunt / badly worded.


2. Is Linda the "Magical Black Person" stereotype?
I have no idea about this specifically; I'm not Black. But as a POC, I can say that if I were to read a description that Linda had Chinese heritage and was a whiz at maths, I'd be YEETING the book across the room and writing a scathing review of the author. I'd likely have the same reaction if Linda were a martial arts expert in all the martial arts.
 
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llyralen

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Why do you want to give her Native American blood? Is there going to be an instance where the story needs a wisewoman, or someone who knows about Native American culture (which also asks if she's Cherokee, Sioux, etc., as they all have different cultures, traditions, beliefts, etc.).
Because she reincarnates along her bloodline. In this case it will open opportunities for interesting stories in history to be told.
1. Physical Description
Does your MC POV notice every little detail about someone's appearance? Or does the MC need to know all this information for a plot point or several? IMO, it's enough to say that the MC had to crane her neck to meet Linda's eyes or MC had to take a step back and put more distance between her and Linda because Linda's physique was intimidating. Or something not so blunt / badly worded.
Well, my white MC is pretty observant in general. It’s really Linda’s caliber of dress and general affect that intimidates her because my white MC doesn’t care much about her own clothes or what she looks like and fine avant- guard fashion is very important to Linda. The MC worries that Linda will be embarrassed to be seen with her. Linda is also highly educated and is very direct in speech, things my white MC is not.
2. Is Linda the "Magical Black Person" stereotype?
I have no idea about this specifically; I'm not Black. But as a POC, I can say that if I were to read a description that Linda had Chinese heritage and was a whiz at maths, I'd be YEETING the book across the room and writing a scathing review of the author. I'd likely have the same reaction if Linda were a martial arts expert in all the martial arts.
Okay, that doesn’t have much to do with what I’ve written, but does this mean people who are Chinese can’t be into martial arts or math ever in your opinion? My best friend is Vietnamese-American. She has been into martial arts at times in her life and she is pretty good at math… but she has many sides to her besides these abilities. I would think it all depends on how deeply you develop a person’s character and if we are able to see all sides of them and understand them within their own cultural context and without, right?
 
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llyralen

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I'm not the best person to ask about potentially charged physical descriptions of PoCs or "magical Black" tropes, so I'll let others with more experience writing these characters weigh in.

But as for physical descriptions in general, my personal taste is to err on the side of less detail. Let me picture the character in my own way based on my preconceived notions of what a character of that age in that time and place and using those words and taking those actions would look like, being completely aware that my mental picture is going to be subject to the racial and ethnic notions (however faulted and inaccurate) that I bring with me. Going into too much detail often looks like the author trying too hard. In what cases would it help me to know that her raven-black hair cascaded across her sky-blue-eyed face that has never seen a pimple to spill over her narrow shoulders, the part of her hair revealing a tiny sliver of a cloud-white scar from a long-forgotten mishap on a bicycle?

But, opinions vary widely on this. I've seen SYW excerpts where I thought the physical descriptions were overdone while other posters clambered they wanted more more more description. To each their own.
I agree. I will re-work it to mg own likes. I know some people live for the descriptive details.

I hope to hear from someone if I can overcome the Magical Black Person stereotype. I hope to hear from someone black, but I can hopefully stand by what I wrote earlier, if Linda is a deeper character, which I think she is, not just someone with one message or purpose, then I think it is probably going to be okay, although if I wasn’t giving her her own time to be MC then I can see where she might have fallen into this category of stereotype. And I’m still listening as I hopefully always will be for those with other experiences to temper my opinions.
 

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I'm white and I think there are issues with your premise.

I hadn't heard of Nanny of the Maroons - google/Wikipedia tells me she was a guerrilla leader and revolutionary fighting to free Jamaica from colonialists and slavery. Given what I learned about her since I read your post, I think you're on dangerous grounds with regards to "magical black person" stereotypes. Seems that people attributed her success to the use of magic, however that strikes me as a typical sexist denial of her military skills because of the prevalent belief was that women can't be good at anything to do with warfare and military tactics, so it must be magic (even if Jamaican people take this line, it's still sexist.) Then consider the "magical black person" thing on top of that, which seems to me to be similarly denying black people's intellectual and other capabilities. Nanny of the Maroons gets a double dose of this dismissive attitude, once as a woman, and again as an African. I think it's really important for her to be remembered as an astute military strategist not as some magical black person stereotype (maybe she used the "magic" thing as part of her strategy, making colonialists afraid of her and men respect her, but that might have been the only way she could be heard in a greatly male and white dominated environment - and even if she herself believed in magic, magic isn't real so what she achieved she did with real skills, intelligence and other abilities which should be acknowledged). You make her into the "magical black person" stereotype if her success is put down to magic. It's not the same as having a fictional character in a magical world where lots of people of all different ethnicities can do magic and a few of them just happen to be black - this was a real person who did those things without magic.

Another thing: I find it weird that you would see a character's reincarnating soul as "black person" or "white person" - rather than just being a human soul. Ethnicity is the culture you grew up in and your very, very recent genetic heritage, and skin colour is a physical characteristic of a body. Wouldn't these apply to one incarnation only? "Whiteness" is socially constructed - it's important to be aware that white privilege exists because of people believing that "whiteness" is a thing, but the things that we associate with "race" are extremely superficial adaptations to local climates and latitudes. Genetic evidence doesn't even come close to supporting the way we divide humans up into "races". This and our very recent common ancestry (which is African) is why scientists don't classify people into "races"; we are all one subspecies: Homo sapiens sapiens. The false idea that there are different types of human is a core belief behind racism and I don't think it should be encouraged. And as humanity isn't biologically divided that way, it's not logical for souls to behave that way. Why can't your white character have been African in a previous life? Or your African-American character have been white?
 

llyralen

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I'm white and I think there are issues with your premise.

I hadn't heard of Nanny of the Maroons - google/Wikipedia tells me she was a guerrilla leader and revolutionary fighting to free Jamaica from colonialists and slavery. Given what I learned about her since I read your post, I think you're on dangerous grounds with regards to "magical black person" stereotypes. Seems that people attributed her success to the use of magic, however that strikes me as a typical sexist denial of her military skills because of the prevalent belief was that women can't be good at anything to do with warfare and military tactics, so it must be magic (even if Jamaican people take this line, it's still sexist.) Then consider the "magical black person" thing on top of that, which seems to me to be similarly denying black people's intellectual and other capabilities. Nanny of the Maroons gets a double dose of this dismissive attitude, once as a woman, and again as an African. I think it's really important for her to be remembered as an astute military strategist not as some magical black person stereotype (maybe she used the "magic" thing as part of her strategy, making colonialists afraid of her and men respect her, but that might have been the only way she could be heard in a greatly male and white dominated environment - and even if she herself believed in magic, magic isn't real so what she achieved she did with real skills, intelligence and other abilities which should be acknowledged). You make her into the "magical black person" stereotype if her success is put down to magic. It's not the same as having a fictional character in a magical world where lots of people of all different ethnicities can do magic and a few of them just happen to be black - this was a real person who did those things without magic.

Another thing: I find it weird that you would see a character's reincarnating soul as "black person" or "white person" - rather than just being a human soul. Ethnicity is the culture you grew up in and your very, very recent genetic heritage, and skin colour is a physical characteristic of a body. Wouldn't these apply to one incarnation only? "Whiteness" is socially constructed - it's important to be aware that white privilege exists because of people believing that "whiteness" is a thing, but the things that we associate with "race" are extremely superficial adaptations to local climates and latitudes. Genetic evidence doesn't even come close to supporting the way we divide humans up into "races". This and our very recent common ancestry (which is African) is why scientists don't classify people into "races"; we are all one subspecies: Homo sapiens sapiens. The false idea that there are different types of human is a core belief behind racism and I don't think it should be encouraged. And as humanity isn't biologically divided that way, it's not logical for souls to behave that way. Why can't your white character have been African in a previous life? Or your African-American character have been white?

You’ve got some assumptions that, if true, would be problematic. Let’s me discuss the stereotype of “The Magical Black Person” that was featured on a show I watched, if you don’t mind. I don’t think I’ve seen this stereotype discussed much elsewhere, but I will now go digging after I write this to make sure I understand it in depth. As far as J understand it right now, the problem isn’t that “The Magical Black Person” is magical, the problem is 1. that they are the only magical person in that world (Linda is not the only person with reincarnation and Time Travel in my book) and so therefore kind of serving the white MC without 2. Any other aim or character building. So they kind of 3. Sweep in to save the white person like a fairy godmother without any needs or motivation of their own. Ultimately, Linda does not fit this stereotype at all, however initially there is a danger that it might look like it.

At the beginning of my book, there are some hints that Linda is very much there in her own mission, not just for my white MC’s mission, however Linda is definitely not a stereotype as time goes on because her motivations and wishes become very clear and Linda becomes the MC for a good portion of the book. Other people are “magic” as well, but actually none of it is really magic in a traditional sense, in my book, it’s just reincarnation and time travel which is partly explained by physics in my book.

With reincarnation you are reincarnated along your bloodline in my book, so Linda can be reincarnated as a white person along her blood line either in the future or her past, depending on the ancestry that I set up. I never said she couldn’t be reincarnated white or of different cultures skin colors. I just have to set it up so that DNA and timeline work— but also so character works—Nanny of the Maroons is someone who I’ve thought might be neat to have in her ancestral line and who I think fits Linda’s character. It’s a device that allows me to explore different points in history, but I have to do a bit of set-up with ancestry for my rules. Wouldn’t I love to research Nanny if the Maroons more than I have already for a future book? Yes! In my book there are also some people who reincarnate as male or female and others who like to stick to one or the other. There is a procedure or rite (that is technically magic… I mean I dont know of or personally believe in such a thing in real life, although the Iron Age Scandinavians had their rites that they felt produced reincarnation) that makes it a somewhat voluntary process, but I have made my mechanism as something to do with ancestry and DNA. I don’t think it’s wrong that this is one rule I’ve made. I also know there can be all sorts of colors of people in her past and future. This is a lot to go into, but I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, I think I just needed to explain these things a bit more. I personally trust that what I am doing will not produce a stereotype over a few pages.

I don’t think of Nanny of the Maroons as actually magical. I see her as a powerful and resourceful war leader. What she accomplished is very impressive to me which is why I was interested in including her and I plan to research her extensively. I will make sure she could not be confused with any one-trick stereotype. Although, like you said she may have thought she was magic and other people might have thought so— we both study religions that believe in magic, or I do anyway, so I know I am a good person to understand and write about such things in the culture. But including magic doesn’t mean she is automatically the “Magical Black Person” stereotype. That’s not the problem.

A problem, I’m realizing, is that it takes time to write a more developed character always. The sliver of a person that you present of someone first can sometimes throw people off if they have learned that thing is a stereotype—- like if I was writing a story about my best friend who is Vietnamese-American and mentioned first that she likes math and martial arts even though these are just two things about her. Linda is not really magical, not more so than the white MC and not more so than anyone else in the book. Linda also has her own complex motivations and is not in the story to just help the white MC.. The reason I wrote the post was to find out if someone black can tolerate those first slivers that they get of her, and maybe they can’t. Maybe the first presentation just jives too well with a known stereotype, so I might want to reconsider what slivers I show of her first because I know she isn’t a stereotype. Just like I probably wouldn’t want to write that my Vietnamese-American friend is good at math and likes martial arts first… but is she a whole person to me, yes. Do I know much more about my best friend? Yes. Linda is also a whole person. Writing this will take confidence that I know I understand the word-on-the street culture and can work with it, confidence that I understand what actually is harmful to people of a certain culture and experience, and also confidence in myself that I truly want to avoid harming and can avoid harming. More research! :)

Hopefully this makes some sense. Some trust is always required between writer and reader.
 
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Okay, that doesn’t have much to do with what I’ve written, but does this mean people who are Chinese can’t be into martial arts or math ever in your opinion? My best friend is Vietnamese-American. She has been into martial arts at times in her life and she is pretty good at math… but she has many sides to her besides these abilities. I would think it all depends on how deeply you develop a person’s character and if we are able to see all sides of them and understand them within their own cultural context and without, right?

I'm going to do my best to be nice here. And for context, I'm so white, the only person I've met with paler skin than me had albinism.

Just because there's a stereotype that X people do Y, it doesn't mean that you can never have an X doing Y in your writing. But first impressions matter, a LOT, so if you have a character named Cho Chang and the first thing we learn about her is she's Really Really Good At Math, even if there's all this other stuff about her, people are going to remember this the most. They're going to remember "oh the really Asian character is good at math, of course she is." And for people who don't have much tolerance for bs aren't going to give you the chance to explain yourself.

What will help you, a LOT, is reading books about X written by people who are X. Like, I'm trans, and hoo boy I can really tell when a writer is cis when they have a trans character, because how the character thinks and acts is more like a caricature of trans people than a person who is trans. There's a lot of us! And we're all very different! We all want different things and have different struggles! But if you have a trans character and the first thing she does is go "oh no I want to use the women's restroom but I can't :( " then I'm walking away. But if the first thing she does is bemoan the loss of both Radioshack and Fry's, then I know that you have REALLY done your research. (And I expect most people reading this won't get why this is Very Trans, and that's my point lol)

You're being very defensive in your posts and you're trying to explain WHY your thing, in your opinion, isn't problematic, and that's all well and good, but you need to remember that death of the author is a real thing. When someone picks up your book, they probably have no idea who you are, what your intentions were writing this, they're going to read the book and run into this and think "huh this feels Bad." As a writer, it's your job to make sure that your intention is communicated to the reader in the work itself. So figure out what about your high-level concept is Not Good and fix that.
 

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And I’m still listening as I hopefully always will be for those with other experiences to temper my opinions.
You asked for POC opinions; you got a POC opinion that didn't support your OP and resulted in a defensive post that included whataboutism. Not a good look if you state you're listening for other experiences.

Bolding: mine.
 

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Honey, you asked and people answered. Do what you like, but don't expect people will change their minds.

For myself - I think Magical *Not White* Person is lazy and possibly offensive so I wouldn't bother...
 

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Just because I'm not bothered by Sven and Ole jokes doesn't mean I get to tell other people what they are or are not offended by. I take these discussions as an education that certain tropes, no matter how I frame them, are going to hit my readers a certain way. I'm not going to keep my readers beyond an initial gut reaction they have to something I've said but that is made "all okay" later.
 

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We're done here. The Magical Negro, like the entire category of Noble Savage tropes, is hugely problematic and offensive.

Yeah butting doesn't help.
 
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