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

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Mark Twain't

Staff member
Global Moderator
Folks, we're starting to get into an area outside of the original discussion, and the conversation now borders on politics. Please return to the original subject or this thread will have to be shut down. My warning is not based on the viability of anyone's comment, but strictly on WF policy.
Sorry. Just shows how easy it is to veer off in that direction with this type of subject.
 

LadySilence

Senior Member
One of the problems I encountered in writing:
If you are a white writer, many people assume that your characters are all white.

I focused more on the character, I have hair.
But in this novel, I need to explain that they come from different parts of the world.

If I describe them, I can be wrong, and I become a racist.
If I don't describe them, I look racist.

I don't see a way out.


I found these two articles interesting.


 

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
One of the problems I encountered in writing:
If you are a white writer, many people assume that your characters are all white.

I focused more on the character, I have hair.
But in this novel, I need to explain that they come from different parts of the world.

If I describe them, I can be wrong, and I become a racist.
If I don't describe them, I look racist.

I don't see a way out.


I found these two articles interesting.


You have to understand you're not meant to be right. The game is rigged. Those who rely on labels to gain power, virtue and control have no intention of conceding the position that got them there. Forget what they say and do you. Write what you want, when you want and how you want. The worrying is the control mechanism. It's the subconscious firewall they're deliberately battering into your head. You don't fight it. You don't follow it. You ignore it.
 

KeganThompson

Staff member
Board Moderator
One of the problems I encountered in writing:
If you are a white writer, many people assume that your characters are all white.

I focused more on the character, I have hair.
But in this novel, I need to explain that they come from different parts of the world.

If I describe them, I can be wrong, and I become a racist.
If I don't describe them, I look racist.

I don't see a way out.

One of the problems I encountered in writing:
If you are a white writer, many people assume that your characters are all white.

I focused more on the character, I have hair.
But in this novel, I need to explain that they come from different parts of the world.

If I describe them, I can be wrong, and I become a racist.
If I don't describe them, I look racist.

I don't see a way out.


I found these two articles interesting.


I mainly read the first article and I must say....that is not a good mentality to have and view others. I completely understand if she thinks its cliche and annoying. But to go as far as comparing someone's skin tone using mocha is offensive because "slavery" ???
Its FINE when they describe themselves as such, but its wrong and automatically "racist" when we do. She said things like comparing it to chocolate is fetishizing them and it's a dominance/dehumanizing thing because...we eat chocolate. Also NO to spice comparisons? But white people aren't POC so using peachy for them is fine because white people can't be looked down on and yet...her attitude suggests just that.
"white people can't be fetishized/dehumanized"? How? Of course they can be.
She comes across as superior in her attitude and automatically thinks less of a group based on their skin tone. I dont wanna say the word but isn't she being "racist"? she is making assumptions about a group of people based on how they look and are telling them what they should and shouldnt do. Racism is individual too not just systematic...we are individuals first, not groups.
Yes using things like mocha is cliche, and can we do better as writers? yes. And I'm not saying using certain words in a certain way DOESNT mean you're NOT fetishizing but. does doing so automatically mean fetishizing a group of people? No. Context and intent matter.
The people with this type of mentality, you won't please them no matter what you do.
Your intent is not negative and it was a simple description. so write what you feel is best. People will always find something they won't like.
 
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LadySilence

Senior Member
You have to understand you're not meant to be right. The game is rigged. Those who rely on labels to gain power, virtue and control have no intention of conceding the position that got them there. Forget what they say and do you. Write what you want, when you want and how you want. The worrying is the control mechanism. It's the subconscious firewall they're deliberately battering into your head. You don't fight it. You don't follow it. You ignore it.


Whatever I write will never go well. There will always be some people who will find what I write wrong.
my subconscious always creates a lot of problems
 

LadySilence

Senior Member
I mainly read the first article and I must say....that is not a good mentality to have and view others. I completely understand if she thinks its cliche and annoying. But to go as far as comparing someone's skin tone using mocha is offensive because "slavery" ???
Its FINE when they describe themselves as such, but its wrong and automatically "racist" when we do. She said things like comparing it to chocolate is fetishizing them and it's a dominance/dehumanizing thing because...we eat chocolate. Also NO to spice comparisons? But white people aren't POC so using peachy for them is fine because white people can't be looked down on and yet...her attitude suggests just that.
"white people can't be fetishized/dehumanized"? How? Of course they can be.
She comes across as superior in her attitude and automatically thinks less of a group based on their skin tone. I dont wanna say the word but isn't she being "racist"? she is making assumptions about a group of people based on how they look and are telling them what they should and should do. Racism is individual too not just systematic...we are individuals first, not groups.
Yes using things like mocha is cliche, and can we do better as writers? And I'm not saying using certain words in a certain way DOESNT mean you're NOT fetishizing but. does doing so automatically mean fetishizing a group of people? No. Context and intent matter.
The people with this type of mentality, you won't please them no matter what you do.
Your intent is not negative and it was a simple description. so write what you feel is best. People will always find something they won't like.

Your answer makes me think a lot, You are right.
I have to change my mindset.
Thanks everyone for the answers.
It is time for me to remove all my doubts and uncertainties
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Whatever I write will never go well. There will always be some people who will find what I write wrong.
my subconscious always creates a lot of problems
Possibly the definitive answer on the question of the criticism:

A few nights ago, we were watching the latest version of what's now called the $100,000 Pyramid. It's hosted by Michael Strahan, who is black. One of the two celebrities was black. A white contestant was giving the black celebrity clues, and they failed to get "caramel". Strahan decided to kibitz to see if he could give a clue that would have succeeded. He asked the white contestant, "What color is he?" The white contestant was obviously a bit taken back by the question, and unsure what to say.

After a few moments, Strahan said, "He's caramel. You'd call his color caramel". This was not offensive to Strahan OR the celebrity.

If what you write is honest and comes from a good place, don't be made to feel guilt. Do your research, then do your best, and never expect to please every reader.
 
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Joker

Senior Member
Possibly the definitive answer on the question of the criticism:

A few nights ago, we were watching the latest version of what's now called the $100,000 Pyramid. It's hosted by Michael Strahan, who is black. One of the two celebrities was black. A white contestant was giving the black celebrity clues, and they failed to get "caramel". Strahan decided to kibitz to see if he could give a clue that would have succeeded. He asked the white contestant, "What color is he?" The white contestant was obviously a bit taken back by the question, and unsure what to say.

After a few moments, Strahan said, "He's caramel. You'd call his color caramel". This was not offensive to Strahan OR the celebrity.

If what you write is honest and comes from a good place, don't be made to feel guilt. Do your research, then do your best, and never expect to please every reader.

Wait hold on... former New York Giants Super Bowl champion Michael Strahan?
 

BornForBurning

Senior Member
I advise you to not listen to most anything Writing with Color says, tbh. While that might seem indiscriminate, they tend to have bad or just not very useful advice. And the mods are weird. One of the first nations girls thinks that any depiction of Christianity in native religion is colonization.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I'm reminded of a Aesop fable that had the moral: Seek to please all, and you'll please none. A blank page offends no one but robs the world of your story.
That's the way it seems with a lot of controversial subjects. So, do your research, meet people similar to those you describe, and be respectful. If someone looks for something offensive they'll either find it, take things out of context, or create it themselves.
All we can do is the best we can and remain honest.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
This might sound a little silly, but sometimes if I can't figure out how to describe the colour of someone's skin (character), I'll go pull out my
pencil case and look at my large collection of coloured pencils and read the names of the colours, as well as a paint company fandeck from
the days I was still in the paint industry.

Believe it or not, they do help sometimes.

-JJB
 

CyberWar

Senior Member
English language has plenty of beautiful words for different colours, in fact quite more so than my native language, which relies more on metaphors and likenesses to convey an exact shade. Any number of them could be used to describe the skin tone of a character. Naming a character in a name typical to a particular ethnicity is also a good way to convey a first impression of one's appearance. For example, a character named Ahmed or Muhammad will hardly evoke association with blonde blue-eyed Scandinavians, already creating certain expectations in regards to his appearance in the reader, i.e., swarthy and dark-haired.

As for the professional victims who might stir up their usual fuss about anything remotely pertaining to skin colour, just ignore their whining and complaining. A lot of folks these days seem like they can't even take a piss without making it political somehow.
 

Tyrannohotep

Senior Member
The way I look at it, your readers should be able to criticize any aspect of your work. Doesn't matter if it's your word choice (in this case, what words you use to describe certain skin tones), certain storytelling tropes you employ, your spelling and grammar, etc. It's up to you to decide whether you want to heed their criticism and revise your work (or otherwise acknowledge your mistakes) accordingly, or whether instead you'll just "haters gonna hate" and ignore them. This should hold true for any creative endeavor you undertake.
 

Sinister

Senior Member
What's interesting to me about this topic is that I now realize, that despite having a very specific understanding of what my characters look like... I barely bother to describe their physicality at all. Not a choice insomuch as it is a habit.

If I were to hand one of my written works to someone and they were to picture a black person, where I picture a white person, or, indeed, any other race or ethnicity... I don't know how I would react, but I'd be interested in their impression of the character through the limited window I've given them to construct the character through the lens of their own experience.

I have written only one work, where the main character was of any definitive race and it was pertinent to the story, because I was drawing on the Cultural Relativism of his ethnicity.

Understand, I'm not advocating that anyone write their character any particular way. I just think the idea is fascinating and not one I had considered.

-Sin
 

TheManx

Senior Member
Go to Home Depot or any home improvement store. Go to the paint department and look at the color samples. The color names have been extensively vetted through market research to be non-offensive.

For example, your character's skin color could be described as Cinnamon Cake, Midsummer White, Elegant Taupe and so on. Additionally you could provide a link or a URL to the actually color sample -- and no harm done!

Good luck with your writing!
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
The vast array of tones the human skin can achieve are all beautiful. You can describe it however you like and don't listen to people we are being weird solely to leverage power over others. If that person's skin tone, that's what it is. The truth can't be racist.
 
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