Only noting some characters' race/ethnicities

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ZeMegwin12

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I’m writing a story where the main theme is about white privilege (and racism). The setting begins in a tiny midwestern town, with a population primarily white. It’s first person POV and when the MC (white) describes her friends and family there, she doesn’t use race/ethnicity. For her, white is the norm, so I don’t think it would be something she would note (example of white privilege).

My story progresses and the MC begins spending time with a diverse group of people. I’m cautious of the fact that as an author by noting their race/ethnicities, without noting the previous characters’, I’m playing into the “white is normal and PoCs are other” problem. I took out direct mention of race/ethnicity but that was confusing and it felt like I was going down a “color-blind path” which is not what I want. Race/ethnicity is central to my story, and I just want to make sure I get it right. What do you think is the best way to handle this situation?

Thank you so much in advance for your help!
 

kevinwaynewilliams

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If the theme is white privilege, then the behaviour you note is normal. The question is whether you have an explicit come-to-Jesus moment for your character in which she realises she's been doing that (a choice which could easily be heavy-handed and awkward) or whether you simply have some white minor characters show up later in the book and have her explicitly notice that about them.
 

LJD

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Hmm. Well, from what you describe, it wouldn't make sense for her to mention race/ethnicity at the beginning of the book for white characters, especially in a mostly-white town. So that seems in keeping with the characters voice. You could show how she changes throughout the story...IDK.

I do have my POV characters occasionally noting the race of white characters in my books, but 1) my books are set in a diverse city (Toronto) and, 2) the majority of my POV characters aren't white.

I'm not really sure.

(Though tbh, as a POC, I am not particularly interested in reading a book about a white MC discovering white privilege and racism, so maybe that is why it is hard for me to answer this question.)
 

MaeZe

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Privileged white, discriminated against female here so YMMV.

If you are reflecting their natural dialogue, you might see references to ethnicities of everyone but white. But your POC characters would certainly mention white persons' ethnicities. The white people mention black and brown and the black and brown people mention white.

The other option is called hanging a lampshade on it. That would be when your white character points it out.
 

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