Author Topic: Need politically correct advice: colored or black for a person of color?  (Read 2176 times)  

Offline Becca Mills

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I will have to face this problem soon, just a bit further down the line for a series I am writing. The way I am going to tackle it is by using none of those terms to describe black characters. I will try to describe my black characters using the same methods as I would describe white characters.

When I describe white characters, I don't feel the need to tell the reader that the character is white; it becomes evident from the various attributes that I do describe. So that's what I will try to do. The reader will come to under stand that some of my characters are black without me explicitly telling them. That, I think, is something black people would understand and respect.

U.S. readers are likely to think your characters are white unless you tell them explicitly, and perhaps repeatedly, that they are not. (Not sure if "default whiteness" is as strong in any other nations as it is here.) This was talked about a bit when the first Hunger Games film came out and some fans of the series were furious that the film had "made" Rue black.

ETA: Here are a couple pieces on the Hunger Games thing, hopefully not paywalled: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/white-until-proven-black-imagining-race-in-hunger-games; https://jezebel.com/racist-hunger-games-fans-are-very-disappointed-5896408. N.b., these both contain racially offensive quotations.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2020, 07:03:51 pm by Becca Mills »

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    Online Lorri Moulton [Lavender Lass Books]

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    I would use Black up until the 1980s or 1990s, then I'd switch to African-American.  I use the latter in my contemporary stories but in one of the fairytales used an overall description instead.

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    Offline Clay

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    If you're referring to her in the 1950's, you would definitely say colored, at least in the American South. I grew up in Mississippi and my grandparents referred to black/African Americans as "colored". Ironic, isn't it that the vogue nom du jour is "people of color"? Or "Colored?" Full circle. I even remember my grandmother saying in 1967 that "they" wanted to be called "black" now. So there you go.

    The phrase "person of color" is an umbrella term basically referring to anyone who isn't white, not just blacks.  Educate yourself, please.

    Offline Cecelia

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    Interesting point Gareth. The Indians who told me that are people who still spend one month a year back in India. I believe nationalism and resentment of the British occupation is growing.

    Offline Kathy Dee

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    U.S. readers are likely to think your characters are white unless you tell them explicitly, and perhaps repeatedly, that they are not.

    Good point. I'll certainly bear that in mind when I come to write my descriptions. But I do still think I can write them in such a way that will allow me to avoid using the kind of labels we are all sensitive about.

    Offline Kathryn Meyer Griffith

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    Thanks all...now I am even more confused. I will mention (and should have before) that the young cinnamon colored girl is mainly alive in a 86 year old's memory (and appears as a ghost twice to her once her bones have been unearthed). They had been best friends in 1950, though they'd been of different races, and then the girl disappears....70 years later the 86 year old learns what really happened to her friend when the girl's bones are uncovered in someone's backyard. SO...I guess I can either call my long dead girl, in the old woman's memory, by the term Colored, but that the old lady would then mention that these days they were more often called Black. OR I could never mention the words Colored or Black, if I can manage it, and just say she had skin the color of cinnamon or something like that....

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    Offline Doglover

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    Thanks all...now I am even more confused. I will mention (and should have before) that the young cinnamon colored girl is mainly alive in a 86 year old's memory (and appears as a ghost twice to her once her bones have been unearthed). They had been best friends in 1950, though they'd been of different races, and then the girl disappears....70 years later the 86 year old learns what really happened to her friend when the girl's bones are uncovered in someone's backyard. SO...I guess I can either call my long dead girl, in the old woman's memory, by the term Colored, but that the old lady would then mention that these days they were more often called Black. OR I could never mention the words Colored or Black, if I can manage it, and just say she had skin the color of cinnamon or something like that....
    Dark skinned; dark complexion; a look of Whitney Houston?


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    Offline kathrynoh

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    Thanks all...now I am even more confused. I will mention (and should have before) that the young cinnamon colored girl is mainly alive in a 86 year old's memory (and appears as a ghost twice to her once her bones have been unearthed). They had been best friends in 1950, though they'd been of different races, and then the girl disappears....70 years later the 86 year old learns what really happened to her friend when the girl's bones are uncovered in someone's backyard. SO...I guess I can either call my long dead girl, in the old woman's memory, by the term Colored, but that the old lady would then mention that these days they were more often called Black. OR I could never mention the words Colored or Black, if I can manage it, and just say she had skin the color of cinnamon or something like that....

    Kids don't tend to notice race like adults do and they definitely don't put a stereotype to it unless it comes from adults around them. So you could have the woman remembering her friend being called coloured by some adult and even have her confused over the term.  Like - why is my friend's skin considered coloured and mine isn't? I know when I was a kid, that word confused me in relation to skin colour and I never knew why I was "white" when my skin is more a pink colour.

    But yeah, having the racial difference brought up by someone outside their friendship would work better. To the old woman, even now the other girl was her friend, not her "Coloured" friend.

    Offline Sapphire

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    As she remembers her friend, she is going to remember discrimination: places her friend was not allowed to go, activities from which she'd have been excluded, parents not wanting their white children to play with her, her friend forced to use a different bathroom and drinking fountain. This is the way it was in 1950s southern life, so, pretty easy for the reader to know the child's race.
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    Offline Kathy Dee

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    Dark skinned; dark complexion; a look of Whitney Houston?

    Exactly!

    Offline Gareth K Pengelly

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    This thread just reminds me of that Family Guy sketch, where Peter is trying to find someone in an office, but absolutely refuses to mention their race.

    "Hey, have you seen Reggie?

    "Which one's Reggie?"

    "Oh well, err, today he's wearing yellow pants, yellow shirt, yellow hat, yellow shoes. He's, err, got a gold tooth. Diamond earring. He's got that big necklace with the dollar sign on it. Always grabbing his crotch when he's telling a story, you know, like the one where he found out his mother was actually his grandmother."

    "Could you be more specific?"

    "Err, oh. Let's see. He always wear cheap cologne. Drives a Mercury Cougar with a crown on the dashboard. Never pays his alimony. He's extremely cut for a guy who never works out."

    *White guy walks up, exactly as he described*

    "Oh, there he is! Hey, Reggie!"
    « Last Edit: July 16, 2020, 03:48:37 am by Gareth K Pengelly »

    Online unkownwriter

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    This thread just reminds me of that Family Guy sketch, where Peter is trying to find someone in an office, but absolutely refuses to mention their race.

    "Hey, have you seen Reggie?

    "Which one's Reggie?"

    "Oh well, err, today he's wearing yellow pants, yellow shirt, yellow hat, yellow shoes. He's, err, got a gold tooth. Diamond earring. He's got that big necklace with the dollar sign on it. Always grabbing his crotch when he's telling a story, you know, like the one where he found out his mother was actually his grandmother."

    "Could you be more specific?"

    "Err, oh. Let's see. He always wear cheap cologne. Drives a Mercury Cougar with a crown on the dashboard. Never pays his alimony. He's extremely cut for a guy who never works out."

    *White guy walks up, exactly as he described*

    "Oh, there he is! Hey, Reggie!"

    That's hilarious, and a statement on how people perceive others by the stereotype.

    At any rate, back in those days, the official term was "colored" or more officially, Negro. I'm almost certain that this was in the entire US, not just the South. I think "black" didn't come into use (small "b") until the later 60s. It was common usage during my later school years (graduated in 76), without offense. All the black people I knew (and I knew a lot, I didn't care what someone looked like, what religion they were, what social class) had no problem being called black, again, small "b". Black Pride was a big thing in those days (remember the guys in the Olympics?).

    At any rate, I believe we should be true to the time period we're writing. We use the terms that someone would use, maybe not as narration, but in dialog for sure.

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