Is this a good way to point out that a character is not white without being super obvious; "The white snow provides a high contrast against her russet skin." ?
It’s not that I don’t want people to notice, but I want to describe characters without just putting their description out there. I wanted a good way without going, “They’re not white.”
Ways to Indicate Race
Noting skin color by contrast is perfectly fine, though describing skin color is not necessarily enough to “lock in” the notion that your character is a Person of Color, especially if they happen to be light, white passing, or otherwise.
Even then some people might “miss” or ignore descriptions of even dark brown and tell themselves it’s a White person so that alone tells you extra efforts are at times called for.
- Physical descriptions: Along with describing skin color, you can note facial features and/or any cultural or religious garment worn by themselves or family members. Obviously not to say PoC look the same, but there are common features to a race, such as afro hair to Black people, though there’s incredible diversity even within Black hair.
- Engage in their culture: If a character and their family is celebrating the Chinese New Year, going into their early memories with the holiday and what it means (or doesn’t mean) to them, we’re likely gonna assume they’re Chinese.
- Associations/Club: Maybe they’re in a Black Student Union, or someone attempts to recruit them to an school, club, program or organization that pertains to their race or even a friend/family member encourages them to join.
- Use another character(s) to state it. A younger or older character might boldly note the differences in their skin or looks to the character. Someone might make a funny, awkward, exoticizing, racist or insensitive comment or joke.
- Use character “voice”: The character might make a quirky or casual statement related to their race.
- Racial Grievance: A character making note of a racial grievance and/or facing racism or micro-aggressions can indicate their race.
- Just state it. There’s honestly no shame in just stating a character is Black, Indian etc. But it’s like with any story detail; it should fit naturally as it’s odd to just blurt it without cause.
Threading indicators like these, at least early once and then throughout the story at your discretion, should be effective for letting us know the character is x race.
I’d also like to add that only stopping to describe your Characters of Color implies White = default so be sure to describe your White characters as well within your writing.
Hope this was helpful!
Do you believe "race" is important even thought all humans are approximately 99% the same.
Race is a social structure, not biological. It matters because society makes it matter. It would be great if a person of color could say “but I’m just like you” and they would be treated that way. But we live in a society that treats people differently based on race.
Race shouldn’t matter, but it does
Serious question: Do you think it's okay for a white writer to have POC as main characters in their stories? I've gotten feedback from teachers and others ranging from "there's no reason to have X be Y race" to "it's disrespectful to write as another race you're not".
May I just jump in on one point, here? When teachers say, “there’s no reason to have X be Y race” what they really mean is “There’s no reason to have X be a race other than white.”
Which is bullshit.
There’s no reason to have X be white either.
That whole mindset of only having a character of colour if it “means” something or serves some “purpose” in the story is reinforcing the paradigm of white as the default norm and dominent culture. It’s a really easy trap for white writers to fall into to take a character’s race or ethnicity and make it into a story conflict. A “reason” to be Y race.
While a person’s background will affect how a person handles conflict, your teachers are wrong to insist that people who are Y race need a “reason” to be allowed into a story.
^ Reblog for anyone who that might need that pointed out ;)
In my fiction workshop this past spring semester, I wrote a story in which all the main characters were chicano.
Why were they chicano? Because I set the story in Texas. Because my family is largely chicanos from Texas. The actual story was about two brothers, now teenagers, dealing with their mother’s suicide, which had happened a number of years earlier when they were both young. The characters didn’t need to be chicano for me to tell that story.
When my story got workshopped, I was asked repeatedly to ‘explore their cultural/ethnic background’ in subsequent drafts.
One of the other stories was about a family reunion. It was written by a white writer about a white, southern family, and the experience I described was like nothing I had ever experienced with my family. The food described was like nothing you’d find when my family gets together. The names were often distinctly white, southern US names. But the story was absolutely not about the experience of being white and southern, it was about families keeping secrets, and there was no reason for the family in the story to be white US southerners. Still the comments that writer received were all about how relatable his story was, how that was exactly the way family reunions were, and no one asked him to spend more time exploring this family’s southern heritage in subsequent drafts.
I couldn’t help feeling that I was either being asked to justify my characters being chicano by making the story about chicano identity (which was never the story I wanted to tell), or that I was being asked to address my story to a white audience that wasn’t expected to be able to understand and identify with a chicano character the way I was expected to understand and identify with white characters.
I didn’t want to write a story where it ‘meant something’ that my characters were chicano. I wanted to write about brothers. Did my character’s ethnic background inform how they handled trauma in their life? Of course, in some ways. But the intense focus on the character’s ethnicity during the discussion of my work was distinctly uncomfortable. (I was asked if they were poor, despite it explicitly stating in the story that they lived in a fairly middle class neighborhood. I was asked about their immigration status (these are fictional teenage boys in a story that was in no way about immigration!). I was asked if they lived on a reservation, presumably because all brown folk in the US southwest live on a reservation? I wasn’t sure what to make of that one.)
It was a weird, frustrating experience that made me very self-conscious about the story I’d chosen to share. About a quarter of the students in the class were not white. Only one other student in that class wrote a story where the main character was not white. I wouldn’t be surprised if other people felt uncomfortable having the class comment on stories about POC characters. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they’d simply been conditioned to think of white as the ‘default’ in literature and assumed that to write a character with their own racial or ethnic background, they’d have to justify it or make it a plot point.
^ A perfect and detailed example of how this functions in practice. Thanks for sharing your experience.
- Me: (after demonstrating a piece of software I had written to be used for quality reporting by Medicare health plans): So that's how it works, any questions?
- Medicare Official: Wow, it's great. Who is the programmer?
- Me: I am.
- Medicare Official: But who actually wrote the code?
- Me: That would be me...the programmer.
- Because apparently Black, women programmers don't actually WRITE CODE. 10 years ago, at headquarters in Washington, D.C. I felt irritated at having to explain that yes, I am a REAL programmer.
hi! i think that an important point to consider when talking about race and latin american immigrants in the united states is the fact that the construct of race here in latin america is distinct from the concept of race in the united states.
for instance, you mentioned white mexicans. while in latin america race depends more on skin color and less on ancestry, in anglo america it’s determined mainly by where someone is from and their ancestry. someone born in mexico will never be white in the US, regardless of how light their complexion is. even if they dont speak like a foreigner, they will only pass for white until it’s revealed that theyre from latin america. thoughts?
We definitely agree on the idea that race as a concept is different in Latin America than it is in the US. For one, inequality in Latin America is often talked about in terms of class (often ignoring the fact that those who are poorest are the darkest and most indigenous) while in the US inequality is talked about in terms of race (ignoring how class further oppresses black people and other POCs)
However, we will respectfully disagree on your last statement. You CAN be considered white EVEN when your Latin American heritage has been disclosed.
We will use Alexis Bledel as a prime example.
Alexis Bledel identifies as Latina. Her father is Argentinian and her mother was raised in Mexico City. She has done countless articles talking about her “Latin American background.” And she is ALWAYS featured during Latin@ Heritage Month in “[insert number] of [white] celebrities you didn’t know were Latin@” articles.
BUT she is NOT racialized in the same manner that say Jessica Alba is. In fact, in almost all her roles she plays a white woman, DESPITE being completely fluent in Spanish, DESPITE being open about her Latinidad. She is treated as the white person that she is.
Now we know now you’re probably saying her name helps her out. And it’s true. Carlos Irwin Estevez (although technically he’s not Latino, he’s Spanish) changed his name to Charlie Sheen to help him pass as the white man he is. But we have another example of white Latin@s being racialized as white in Frankie Muniz.
Another celebrity heavily featured in the ubiquitous Latin@ Heritage [inser number] white Latin@ celebrities we rather feature instead of brown/black celebrities fluff pieces, Frankie Muniz is Puerto Rican. Yet despite his obviously Latin@ last name, he also has not been racialized as non-white. Instead, he consistently plays non-Latin@ white roles.
And last but not least we have Christina Aguilera
She is proudly Latina, much like Alexis Bledel. She even has a VERY Latina sounding name. She’s recorded albums in Spanish. BUT even during her Dirrrty phase, she was not hypersexualized in the same manner that other WOC artists are. Instead, her expression of sexuality and its reception were more reminiscent of how Madonna’s overt sexuality was performed and received. In contrast, artists like Nicki Minaj and Rihanna (two black female artists of Caribbean descent) are criticized for their expressions of sexuality and often villainized and their respective crafts dismissed because of how they choose to express their bodies and sexuality.
so tl;dr, No. Sorry, we refuse to accept the lie that White Latin@s are always racialized as ‘other’ in the US upon realization of their Latin American heritage. This is patently not true. Yes, some light-skinned Latin@ have conditional white passing privilege. But to say that no matter how light and bright they get they will never pass as white, I’m sorry but the evidence shows otherwise.
White Latin@s are white. This will never cancel out their Latinidad. But Latinidad can also never cancel their white privilege, so long as white supremacy is rule of the land.
A lot of Latinos get on my nerves with this shit “in Latin America we’re all just Latino!! Nobody notices the difference” man bye with that bullshit.
ALL OF THIS!