lerato moloi

Describing PoC and Avoiding Caricatures

uchiha-izuna-the-clan-war-guy said: I keep getting told I’m racist for describing the main character of one of my books as “black-skinned, with short magenta hair,” but I don’t understand how I can indicate race (without using stereotypes/caricatures) other than explicitly, because she lives in a primitive universe where everyone is too preoccupied with the unceasing wars to care about race so there would be no anti-racism groups or POC School Clubs or anything of the sort for her to join…I need help…

First of all, it isn’t racist to be explicit about race. You aren’t racist for saying someone is East Asian, Black, etc. That’s what they are! 

Please see Stella’s lovely post: It is okay to mention my character’s race explicitly? For more on the subject, including on identifying race and how you may go about it, as it may vary by PoV and other factors.

Even if the focus of your story isn’t on racism, does the concept of race still exist? Are Black people known by a different name than the terms we use? If you’re able to get us to understand that your term for a given race or people from certain lands = Black, South Asian etc. then that’d help indicate the race of characters throughout.

And just because people aren’t racist, doesn’t mean society has to be colorblind and just “doesn’t notice” race. Your character sees someone with gold-beige skin and thick, straight hair, perhaps very different from their own springy curls and warm brown skin. They observe the fact, note "Ah, they’re probably from […] or are of the […] people.“ and the end.

As for describing PoC without falling into caricatures; that shouldn’t be too difficult. People of Color are very diverse in looks even where we have common similarities per race.

Take these beautiful women. 

[Pictured above: Lyndsey Scott, Lerato Moloi, Yaya DaCosta, Thandie Newton]

These women are all racially Black/of the African Diaspora, but they look quite different from one another.

Sure, you can see their similarities. The widths of their noses, fullness in the lips, but even there, some noses are rounder, sharper, thicker. Their lips come in variations of fullness and shape, color. Their skin tones variations of browns as is the case with their eyes.

Most narratives aren’t calling for every minute detail of a person. It won’t do to be too skimpy in detail either, particularly for more important and reoccurring characters. Simply noting "She was Black.” Doesn’t say anything about her looks and assumes all Black women must look the same to me, personally. So what does she look like? Is she delicately-featured? Does she have a soft round nose with sharp brown eyes? What’s her hair like, her voice like, is she thin, thick, heavily-muscled, curvy?

To your final question; I never understood what “Black-skinned” meant. Is their skin literally black or do you mean a Black person who is dark brown?

I suppose you could say dark-skinned, though I never truly know people’s standards of dark-skinned outside of the Black community either. I discussed that in this post. You might describe her as having “dark brown skin with short magenta hair.” And maybe note some other features.

As for the magenta hair; i’m not sure if that’s a caricature. I’ve never crossed a dark skin/magenta hair trope.

~Mod Colette