Questions about writing PoC

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call-of-the-mind

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Hey guys! I have a super diverse world that I'm writing, with my main character being latina, and many others being various other PoC. I want to ensure that I'm writing everything in the most positive and uplifting way.

I am a cis white female writer, and as such I do not share a lot of experiences that many of my characters may - since I'm writing many LBTQ+ and PoC characters, I really want to ensure that my writing comes off as authentic and positive as possible. So, without further ado, here are my questions:

1. What are some words to use for describing skin colour?
- I ask this because I find food metaphors so irritating - like bruh my skin does not look like vanilla iced cream please stop - so why would anyone else want to be compared to food? I read so much about "mocha skin" that I really have a hard time thinking of other words to descrbe skin colour. Some words I have been using are: beige, chestnut, russet, tan, taupe, etc.

2. Is it a problem to portray a race in a culture different to their present day one? Ex. People outwardly presenting as various East Asian cultures, but the culture is poached from Roman History.
- I am writing a fantasy novel. As such, the cultures for every group of people are made up, but potentially taken from various other cultures. Another example is the culture I have that is similar to the French 1800s but it's people outwardly present as Latina/Latino.

3. Can I use an aspect from a culture I really like in my story?
ex. I think the tradition of the Day of the Dead in Mexican tradition is super beautiful, and would love to incorporate it into the world I have, using it as a sort of way to connect to my characters ancestors. Is taking aspects of cultures like that (regardless of whether they are PoC cultures or not) problematic?

Sorry if this has been asked before but I appreciate your help!!!
 

Roxxsmom

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I'd strongly recommend this site. It provides lots of information of the sort you are asking.

https://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/

This part of the site is quite useful and informative

https://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/post/96830966357/writing-with-color-description-guide-words-for

As a side question, you said you are writing a diverse world, and your protagonist is Latina. Latina as a word for a cultural identity means she is of Latin American ancestry (a very broad and diverse group of people), which makes no sense in secondary world (where there is no America, Latin or otherwise). I assume you mean someone whose appearance and possibly cultural traits are similar to some people's from Latin America in our own world, even if there is a different name for that region within your own world?

The whole issue of appropriating elements from existing cultures in fiction, particularly those that have been marginalized, is extremely complex and controversial. Lots of writers seem to do it with impunity, but now and again a case will attract a lot of rancor. Some of it may be related to target audience and genre, and some may relate to the way a culture is appropriated or stereotyped, as well as the nature of what is appropriated. Something that is very sacred and central to an underrepresented, frequently misrepresented, or marginalized culture and slapped into a different fantasy world context can possibly hurtful to some.

This article may answer some questions as well.

https://writingtheother.com/appropriate-cultural-appropriation/
 
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Snitchcat

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2. Is it a problem to portray a race in a culture different to their present day one? Ex. People outwardly presenting as various East Asian cultures, but the culture is poached from Roman History.

No. I mean this in the nicest possible way: never superimpose Roman culture, or any other "western" culture (I'm aware there are plenty of different cultures) on East Asia. We have our own unique cultures whose traditions, beliefs, and modern day lives that differ very much to each other.

Also, you'll need to define "East Asian". Please don't tell me you mean Chinese because "East Asian" is NOT a synonym for "Chinese". There are many nationalities on this side of the world; would highly recommend researching the exact culture you wish to write about.

3. Can I use an aspect from a culture I really like in my story?
ex. I think the tradition of the Day of the Dead in Mexican tradition is super beautiful, and would love to incorporate it into the world I have, using it as a sort of way to connect to my characters ancestors. Is taking aspects of cultures like that (regardless of whether they are PoC cultures or not) problematic?

No.

I strongly suggest reading up on cultural appropriation.

Roxxsmom has provided some good links.
 

Cobalt Jade

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Here's where it helps to read widely in history, anthropology, and sociology. Many, many cultures have a day, or days, set aside for honoring the dead. Something like a "Day of the Dead" is pretty universal. How they do it varies. Visiting the graves or burial places of the dead on that day is common as well. So I wouldn't worry about pinching either of these concepts. They are cultural constants.

What approaches appropriation is taking specific aspects, like, for example, the Mexican tradition of decorated sugar skulls and setting up altars inside the home where flowers, fruit, and other offerings for friends and family who have passed on are placed.
 

call-of-the-mind

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By East Asian I meant I have a large country which is separated into territories, each with a unique east asian culture (one chinese, one korean, etc.) that were all amalgamated after the war in my novel. The Roman thing was just an example but same sort of idea, though the 'superimposed' cultures so to speak are most, if not all not western.
 

Snitchcat

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Amalgamated? Just exactly how homogenous is this side of the world?

Superimpose? Still nope.

Seriously: a tonne more research is needed.
 

Morning Rainbow

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1. What are some words to use for describing skin colour?
- I ask this because I find food metaphors so irritating - like bruh my skin does not look like vanilla iced cream please stop - so why would anyone else want to be compared to food? I read so much about "mocha skin" that I really have a hard time thinking of other words to descrbe skin colour. Some words I have been using are: beige, chestnut, russet, tan, taupe, etc.
That Writing with Color site Roxxsmom linked to is helpful. And yeah, don't use food; it's demeaning.

2. Is it a problem to portray a race in a culture different to their present day one? Ex. People outwardly presenting as various East Asian cultures, but the culture is poached from Roman History.
- I am writing a fantasy novel. As such, the cultures for every group of people are made up, but potentially taken from various other cultures. Another example is the culture I have that is similar to the French 1800s but it's people outwardly present as Latina/Latino.
Do not do this. Even if you're only trying to show that cultures have blended, to readers (especially readers of color) it will seem like the effects of colonialism. Basically, we'll see your characters as adhering to French culture because the French forced them to adhere to that culture by means of slavery/indentured servitude, genocide, or other forms of oppression. If there were no oppression, your characters would still have their Latin American culture.

3. Can I use an aspect from a culture I really like in my story?
ex. I think the tradition of the Day of the Dead in Mexican tradition is super beautiful, and would love to incorporate it into the world I have, using it as a sort of way to connect to my characters ancestors. Is taking aspects of cultures like that (regardless of whether they are PoC cultures or not) problematic?
Since your MC is Latina, it makes sense that she would participate in Day of the Dead celebrations. But anytime you write about a tradition that you have not taken part in yourself, you have to do a ton of research to portray it accurately and ensure it conveys the same spiritual sense as the real thing or you'll offend people.
 

Samsonet

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Be really careful & respectful. You will make mistakes (everyone does — one of my first stories was pretty racist toward Asians and I’m Asian) so if someone tells you to rethink something, don’t take it as a condemnation but as advice.

It’s okay to just say “dark-skinned”, “tan”, etc. I don’t have any thoughts on the other questions that haven’t been said already.
 

call-of-the-mind

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Thank you so much everyone!!! So sorry if any of my questions were offensive but I geniunely just wanted to ask before I made some mistake that really would hurt and/or insult any readers I may have. Thank you everyone for your help and I will most definitely be rethinking my portrayal of cultures to make everything much more positive :)
 

Klope3

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2. Is it a problem to portray a race in a culture different to their present day one? Ex. People outwardly presenting as various East Asian cultures, but the culture is poached from Roman History.
- I am writing a fantasy novel. As such, the cultures for every group of people are made up, but potentially taken from various other cultures. Another example is the culture I have that is similar to the French 1800s but it's people outwardly present as Latina/Latino.

It's been a few months, and I know your questions have been answered, but I have a follow-up question. Are you saying that you are using real-world cultures as inspiration for the cultures in your fantasy world, or that you are lifting those cultures out of the real world, mostly intact, and inserting them into your fantasy world?

If it's the second one, I can understand why some would object. But if it's the first, it really doesn't seem reasonable to me that anyone would object. What are we supposed to do, invent new cultures completely from scratch? Even if that were possible (and it's not--real cultures are so complex that invented ones just wouldn't be credible), it would be lots of extra work for little payoff, in my opinion.

In my own fantasy world, I use a variety of skin colors, and draw loose inspiration from several cultures in history, because it gives the world greater depth and creates opportunities to explore cultural tension and discovery. I don't want to write about an entire planet of only white, vaguely Anglo-Saxon people just to tiptoe around a few unreasonable objections.
 

Snitchcat

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just to tiptoe around a few unreasonable objections.

It's not tiptoeing. It's respect and due diligence.




ETA:

If you haven't already, I highly recommend you read the stickies and you also research "cultural appropriation".
 

AW Admin

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I don't want to write about an entire planet of only white, vaguely Anglo-Saxon people just to tiptoe around a few unreasonable objections.

I understand what you're trying to say; that you want to write a rich, believable world.

But I'm going to take your comment as an opportunity—

Anglo-Saxons, that is the peoples living in England and speaking various forms of what we call Old English or Anglo-Saxon were not all white.

The Vikings were not all white.

The Celts were not all white.

We know this for a fact, not only from the written records, but more importantly, from DNA.

Think of it this way: Rome is in Italy. The heart of the Roman empire. But before the Romans there were Phonecians and Etruscans and Greeks living in the same general area. All three traveled widely, in Europe and to the coast of Africa, and to Persia and India.

The Romans were all over Africa and the Near East.

The Celts were migratory and mercenaries all over Europe, and yes, Egypt.

The Vikings followed rivers, right into Russia.

People traveled. People settled People invaded and sold other people. The Romans, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Vikings, the Celts—all of them sold and traded and captured slaves.

There were people of African descent living in London when it was a Roman town. The were people of African descent on Viking longboats.
 

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Hey guys! I have a super diverse world that I'm writing, with my main character being latina, and many others being various other PoC. I want to ensure that I'm writing everything in the most positive and uplifting way.

I am a cis white female writer, and as such I do not share a lot of experiences that many of my characters may - since I'm writing many LBTQ+ and PoC characters, I really want to ensure that my writing comes off as authentic and positive as possible. So, without further ado, here are my questions:

1. What are some words to use for describing skin colour?
- I ask this because I find food metaphors so irritating - like bruh my skin does not look like vanilla iced cream please stop - so why would anyone else want to be compared to food? I read so much about "mocha skin" that I really have a hard time thinking of other words to descrbe skin colour. Some words I have been using are: beige, chestnut, russet, tan, taupe, etc.

2. Is it a problem to portray a race in a culture different to their present day one? Ex. People outwardly presenting as various East Asian cultures, but the culture is poached from Roman History.
- I am writing a fantasy novel. As such, the cultures for every group of people are made up, but potentially taken from various other cultures. Another example is the culture I have that is similar to the French 1800s but it's people outwardly present as Latina/Latino.

3. Can I use an aspect from a culture I really like in my story?
ex. I think the tradition of the Day of the Dead in Mexican tradition is super beautiful, and would love to incorporate it into the world I have, using it as a sort of way to connect to my characters ancestors. Is taking aspects of cultures like that (regardless of whether they are PoC cultures or not) problematic?

Sorry if this has been asked before but I appreciate your help!!!

Others have provided you with excellent answers to your questions, but I just wanted to add my voice as a PoC with regards to question #2...

I actually would LOVE to see a race presented in a different culture, especially if it's a fantasy setting (i.e. totally different from our world). As a kid, I resented that all I had to represent my entire race was Mulan. No offense to Mulan, who's an amazing character to have, but hey, I also wanted to wear the fluffy princess dresses and shit, you know? Mulan's costumes are fabulous, but compared to the other Disney princesses, they're kinda...plain. I wanted to see Asian princesses wearing big-ass dresses or Roman-style dresses etc. I want to see more Asians in fairytale settings and living in huge castles and being knights etc. I wouldn't go down the route of lifting from actual cultures in our real world, but yeah, for sure, I am dying to see Asians in westernized settings, why not? I don't want to just be limited to sticking to Asian cultures. That always made me feel so excluded whenever I read books, like oh, these adventures aren't for me because I'm not white.

AND I am dying to have ethnically Asian characters who are NOT Asian, if that makes sense. Asians who aren't culturally Asian. Again, Mulan is amazing, but I grew up with the whole "don't bring shame to your family" thing and it's exhausting to have to keep getting reminded that this is all I am supposed to be about. I want to see more Asian characters having problems that don't necessarily have anything to do with Asian culture. I can see why it might not be possible to do it if the story is set in our world, but if it's a fantasy world, why not?

Having said all of this, I think a lot of research is needed to undertake such a huge project, and of course, what matters in the end is the execution.
 

MacAllister

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Folks, I'm getting reported posts regarding the term "aborigine" which is an offensive term in Australian culture.

Thank you for taking the time to draw our attention to the thread, and we are indeed watching closely. My interpretation of the post in question, though,
is that the term in question is in fact part of the title of a work being referenced.

If I'm mistaken in that reading, please let me know.
 
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mccardey

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Folks, I'm getting reported posts regarding the term "aborigine" which is an offensive term in Australian culture.

Thank you for taking the time to draw our attention to the thread, and we are indeed watching closely. My interpretation of the post in question, though,
is that the term in question is in fact part of the title of a work being referenced.

If I'm mistaken in that reading, please let me know.
It is the title. I’m not sure if a text with that title would be considered relevant or acceptable today by Aboriginal Australians. Especially if it suggests that being adopted by white folks proved that even an “aborigine” could be as smart as white folk.

disclaimer: I’m not POC - but I don’t think we have any Indigenous Australians on the boards, so I will speak out, though I’m happy to be corrected by them.
 
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mccardey

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Here’s a thing. If you want to know more, google “stolen generations.” Or if you do know some Indigenous Australians, run it by them. Or by pretty much any of the Aussies here on the boards. I know the poster meant well, but meaning well hasn’t worked well for Indigenous Australia
 

MacAllister

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I'm with you. Title of a story or not, there are many ways to phrase the same argument without using racially offensive terminology.

Thank you for taking the time to help with this particular minefield.
 
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AW Admin

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Here’s a thing. If you want to know more, google “stolen generations.” Or if you do know some Indigenous Australians, run it by them. Or by pretty much any of the Aussies here on the boards. I know the poster meant well, but meaning well hasn’t worked well for Indigenous Australia

It's also a huge problem on another level. There are more than 100 extant (there used to be hundreds) of specific Australian indigenous languages; there are also various dialects of those languages. Those languages represent different cultures, very different geographic areas, and different peoples. So even if it weren't an offensive term, it's ignorant at best, and verging on idiotic to treat all those peoples as a single entity.

I'm locking this unless Mac receives a reason to unlock it.
 
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