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How to describe the color of the skin? (1 Viewer)

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LadySilence

Senior Member
How can i describe a person's skin color without being offensive?
The protagonists of my book come from different parts of the world, not everyone has white skin.
They pointed out to me that the descriptions I used could be offensive to some people.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Who are they and tell them to get lost. This whole thing is getting beyond a joke and until people ignore it and behave rationally, it's only going to get worse. There is absolutely nothing wrong with describing the colour of someone's skin and if someone's offended, they should be ashamed of themselves.
 

PiP

Staff member
Co-Owner
How can i describe a person's skin color without being offensive?
The protagonists of my book come from different parts of the world, not everyone has white skin.
They pointed out to me that the descriptions I used could be offensive to some people.
Someone somewhere will always be offended. They need to get over themselves. Her skin was the colour of a conker/ebony/dark chocolate/coffee/rich coffee beans Her skin the colour of boiled lobster/snowdrop/milk/clotted cream/

Is her skin colour relevant to the story?

When I read a book I personally don't think about the colour of a person's skin any more than I would consider their political beliefs or religion.... unless an integral part of the story.
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
"could be offensive to some people."
I don't know what words you used, but a description of someone's skin color isn't offensive in itself. EVERYONE is getting offended bout EVERYTHING now. the main female character of my story is mixed and I described her skin as caramel. If you were simply using colors to describe someone's skin Idk what would be offensive about that. If someone is offended over pointing out a character's basic characteristics like the fact they arent white by describing a skin color...then I'd say they are the problem. and maybe they need to question how they think/feel about people.
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
In my stories I include characters of all shades, and believe that as long as we are even handed no one will complain.
  • A pale blond man
  • A dark girl with curly black hair.
  • A woman with straight black hair, tan skin, and almond shaped eyes.
---- an aside, my wife is half Indonesian, and I used to refer to her as a 'mocha person'. An acquaintance once said that reference was demeaning, but my wife replied, saying that I liked mocha so it was a compliment... then added, "and I got me a WHITE boy", that pretty much ended the conversation.

Just describe them. Yeah, there are some folks out there with a stick up their butt that see racism everywhere, but there's nothing you can to to appease them so don't bother trying.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I try not to describe too many physical characteristics unless they are pertinent to the story. But I do say what people's nationalities are because that's important to character development. For example, my protagonist has a Chinese mother and a Mexican father. People can draw their own conclusions about her skin, hair, and eye coloring.

I recently learned that the term "color blind" to indicate one does not see race, while good intentioned, is not socially acceptable. People are proud of their race, and they want it to be acknowledged. Another option is to say what race she is and then the rest will follow.
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
I try not to describe too many physical characteristics unless they are pertinent to the story. But I do say what people's nationalities are because that's important to character development. For example, my protagonist has a Chinese mother and a Mexican father. People can draw their own conclusions about her skin, hair, and eye coloring.

I recently learned that the term "color blind" to indicate one does not see race, while good intentioned, is not socially acceptable. People are proud of their race, and they want it to be acknowledged. Another option is to say what race she is and then the rest will follow.
. I always thought the term "color blind" was kinda silly because there is more to peoples looks than color like facial features ect...BUT I dont know why you would be proud of your genetics. It says nothing about the kind of person you are. If you want to love your culture background and have pride in that, thats fine. But wanting your race to be acknowledged as a forefront of who are doesnt have anything to do with your character. so I dont see the point in focusing on that. IMO
 

Tiamat

Patron
Have you asked this question to someone whose skin tone you're trying to describe? I've talked to some black friends of mine about descriptions, and the common denominator in their answers is that they feel uncomfortable when people of other races, particularly white folks, romanticize their skin tone. It paints them as foreign or exotic, and basically fetishizes them. The specific people I asked, for instance, hated it when white people described their skin tone as chocolate or coffee.

Basically, as a white person, I can't and SHOULDN'T tell you how to describe non-white skin in your writing. Full stop. And (unpopular opinion to follow) I'd be willing to bet that most people who say that this sort of thing shouldn't matter and that people are just too damn sensitive these days are of the Caucasian persuasion.
 

BornForBurning

Senior Member
his skin was black as coal and racist
This is my poor attempt at imitating a Matchu post, sorry.

I love visual description. I think it's a strong element of any character's central aesthetic. "Brown like caramel." One reason someone might react negatively to this: connotations of eating, delectability, sensuality, perhaps fetishization. Consider the aesthetic implications of your imagery. "Black, brimstone-flecked lips..." very, very different vibe.
I'd be willing to bet that most people who say that this sort of thing shouldn't matter and that people are just too damn sensitive these days are of the Caucasian persuasion.
I wasn't even going to respond to this, but it just struck me as so incredibly foolish. If only most, what about the others? Don't they get a say? Do their voices get erased just because they have the misfortune of diverging from their racial mean?
 
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Foxee

Patron
Patron
It's a huge problem to me that a writer might feel we can't have a discussion about this. For one thing, the lurking specter of Someone Will Be Offended isn't going to be satisfied or entirely go away. For another, I don't want to be so afraid of asking a possibly-controversial question that I can't get the straight scoop, like the friends that Tiamat talked to. That's actually helpful to me to know.

I have pinkish 'white' skin decorated with a bunch of freckles (and blotches). If someone were to describe me in the winter they might call me 'pasty' even (trust me, when these legs are revealed every spring they're pretty blinding).

My friend who cuts my hair is gorgeous with deep brown skin, incredible bone structure, and she has a different hairstyle every time we meet. If I were to describe her in print I would want to paint the picture with not only what I see but also how I feel about her. She was initially reserved and not very talkative but as we've built up some friendship I've come to know her as the warm and encouraging person that she is. So it would be tempting to describe her skin color (as a character) using warm words...which might be seen as 'romanticizing' or, maybe, could just be what a writer does.

Thing is, when you're describing a character it's unreasonable for that description to be seen as anything more as the description of that character. Skin can show that someone is sickly, nervous, or angry. Like it or not, the description also reveals the character describing the character, what attitude they have.

Is it impossible to write a character who is racist and reveal them as such without the world burning down because of the words in our book? Does context matter? Truthfully, I think I'd be too intimidated by the possible blowback to try it even if I had a compelling story to tell.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
It's a huge problem to me that a writer might feel we can't have a discussion about this. For one thing, the lurking specter of Someone Will Be Offended isn't going to be satisfied or entirely go away. For another, I don't want to be so afraid of asking a possibly-controversial question that I can't get the straight scoop, like the friends that Tiamat talked to. That's actually helpful to me to know.

I have pinkish 'white' skin decorated with a bunch of freckles (and blotches). If someone were to describe me in the winter they might call me 'pasty' even (trust me, when these legs are revealed every spring they're pretty blinding).

My friend who cuts my hair is gorgeous with deep brown skin, incredible bone structure, and she has a different hairstyle every time we meet. If I were to describe her in print I would want to paint the picture with not only what I see but also how I feel about her. She was initially reserved and not very talkative but as we've built up some friendship I've come to know her as the warm and encouraging person that she is. So it would be tempting to describe her skin color (as a character) using warm words...which might be seen as 'romanticizing' or, maybe, could just be what a writer does.

Thing is, when you're describing a character it's unreasonable for that description to be seen as anything more as the description of that character. Skin can show that someone is sickly, nervous, or angry. Like it or not, the description also reveals the character describing the character, what attitude they have.

Is it impossible to write a character who is racist and reveal them as such without the world burning down because of the words in our book? Does context matter? Truthfully, I think I'd be too intimidated by the possible blowback to try it even if I had a compelling story to tell.
Foxee makes an important point - we cannot allow ourselves to be silenced for the sake of political correctness. Writing milquetoast characters and story lines makes for a frightfully boring book. My plots include political and social topics, but do my best to not let those issues take center stage. IMO, the best books are about people; I treat my characters as individuals, with their own past troubles, goals, and dreams. And yes, they come in different colors, but beyond description, that's a non-issue.
My political leaning is toward Libertarian, and when I get confused looks I tell people that it means that I like libraries.
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
I can see why your skin being described as food like chocolate, coffee, caramel can be like ehh.
But I personally think it sounds nice and depending on the description and how it is used, most people aren't using those words to fetishzie a skin color. I'd rather be described as "snow" than "eggshell" cuz ew egg shell? Also something like soft beige is fine but it's a boring description imo.
Also if you look at cosmetic companies they have been more inclusive lately and they tend to use words like "honey" "tawny" "mocha" for foundation and skin products. To be honest, I personally don't find it odd to describe someones skin color as something nice like chocolate.it just depends HOW you do it (and that goes for everything when writing honestly) If you want to paint the picture for the reader why not describe the features and complexion of a character? The way a character looks doesn't even have to matter to the story but if u have a picture of a character in ur head, especially an important character, don't you want to describe them? Including their skin color?
🤷🏼
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I try not to describe too many physical characteristics unless they are pertinent to the story. But I do say what people's nationalities are because that's important to character development. For example, my protagonist has a Chinese mother and a Mexican father. People can draw their own conclusions about her skin, hair, and eye coloring.

I recently learned that the term "color blind" to indicate one does not see race, while good intentioned, is not socially acceptable. People are proud of their race, and they want it to be acknowledged. Another option is to say what race she is and then the rest will follow.
Should we be proud to be white? Try it and see how that goes. They are the racists.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
No, because "race" is a stupid concept that doesn't even exist. There are ethnicities, not races - we aren't different species.
I can go along with you that the word "race" is a social construct, the product of history and government policy, not of our genes. Perhaps nationality or ethnicity are better choices of words. (We are all learning.) But who mentioned species? That's a scientific term that has nothing to do with this conversation.
 
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KeganThompson

Senior Member
I can go along with you that the word "race" is a social construct, the product of history and government policy, not of our genes. Perhaps nationality is a better choice of word. But who mentioned species? That's a scientific term that has nothing to do with this conversation.
I think he is tryna say regardless of our backgrounds socially or genetically, we are all human. And the concept of race, as we see it, doesn't matter.
That's how I read it.
 
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