I sort of hate the term “people of color”.
It makes me feel like I’m segregating people, and I’m all about integration.
Also, since I don’t “qualify” as a “person of color”, I’m left out and damn it, I’m a whole conglomeration of pale, pink, yellow, red, brown (freckles)… tee-hee. Okay, that’s petty, but sort of true.
Its occasionally difficult, as a fantasy writer, to find that perfect phrase to describe a character’s complexion or outward appearance without coming off as cliché or politically correct or worse, racist. At least, I have come across it and found it to be troubling.
“Incandescence” features a pretty big and diverse cast, but the three “mains” are all related and all “white”. Hannah is pale with gorgeous reddish hair and weird eyes. Michael has his grandmother’s coloring – exotically tan with big dark eyes and brown hair – but he’s still considered
Caucasian. I picture a sort of Italian/Grecian type. Like my own mother – you’d never guess we’re related since I’m all pale Irish with reddish-brown hair and she’s black hair, dark eyes, olive skin. And their great-great-grandmother, who has gone grey/white, was dark-haired, dark-eyed, and olive skinned in her youth.
Many of the other characters at the Freehold are white. But some are biracial, or Hispanic, or Black, or Asian, or Native American, or Middle Eastern. Because this is a “real world” novel, its pretty clear that a fellow named Sreejith is likely of Indian heritage. I don’t have to beat his skin color and appearance into their heads.
But what about Luke and Beth? Their skin color is mentioned when they’re introduced, I believe, but not again afterward. Because it doesn’t matter to the story – they are important for who they are, and what they do, not for being black.
It makes me think of the controversy that popped up (especially from young people on Twitter) after “The Hunger Games” movie came out. No one was upset that Thresh was a “big, black dude” (semi-barbarian, and compared to an ox by Katniss). But dear Lord, when they saw that a character that they liked and empathized with was black (sweet little Rue) – they flipped out.
And I’m not sure why – it was made very clear in the book that Rue had dark skin. Without coming out and saying it in modern US-slang (calling her black or saying outright that she was likely of some African descent)… it was apparent to Jack & I when we first read it.
Whitewashing. That’s what they call it when we (globally a minority) privileged Americans assume all characters are “like us”. Most of my fantasy worlds include a vast variety of skin colors. Frequently, people are what I would call “shades of brown”.
But how to get that across without repetition of “chocolate” “teak” “mahogany” “brown” “tan”… and is it offensive to use things like “white as milk” or “dark as fine chocolate”? It wouldn’t bother me if someone said I was the color of vanilla ice cream, but maybe someone who has been marginalized for their skin color would object to being compared to food?
Its a pretty complex subject, when it comes down to it, and I’m not qualified to give advice or anything. But I think it is important to think about these things; not to get mired in them, but to really consider things like this.
I mean, who am I to say?
…aaaaand now I’ll be singing that Leah Andreone song all damn evening.
Love & Rainbows (hah!),