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January 1, 2013
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African American depictions

:icon67shadesofgrey:
67shadesofgrey Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Student General Artist
So I have an African American character in the young adult novel I'm writing. I know that black people are frequently the "sidekicks" and comic relief in literature and popular culture, so I'm trying not to write him as such. Or they're written to be The Most Black Person Ever and the fact that they're african american is brought up every five seconds. This is not anything like how the african american people I know and am friends with or related to act, nor is it how I percieve their experience to be.
I'm white, however, so I don't know how to accurately depict him as african american. I don't want to be racist or try too hard to be PC or thrust it out there that he's black- it's not super important to the plot, it's just about as important as him having black hair. But I do want the reader to know that he's black, simply because I don't think there's enough positive depictions of black people in our white-dominated culture.
Does anyone have good ideas in how to solve this dilema? All of my black friends have shown complete disinterest in my writing in general, so I can't really ask them to review it.
Thanks! Hope I haven't offended anyone.
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Devious Comments

:icontiganusi:
tiganusi Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2013  Professional
I write all my black characters with harsh Ebonics speech and they all live in the Mississippi delta, even if the story is set in Shanghai.

:iconbangkillplz:

Also, watermelon.
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:iconeve-lang-el-coup:
Eve-Lang-El-Coup Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Write him or her as a person and then do the details as they fit.
Is it supposed to be a representation of one of your friends?

'so I can't really ask them' - Does that mean you didn't ask them?
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:iconneomerlin:
neomerlin Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013  Student Writer
Do you mention any other character's skin colour?
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:icon67shadesofgrey:
67shadesofgrey Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2013  Student General Artist
My very light-skinned character I have- not really as a matter of importance, but simply like you'd mention the fact that they have blonde hair or brown eyes. I'm simply wondering if there was a more effective way of mentioning it or portraying it than I already have.
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:iconneomerlin:
neomerlin Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2013  Student Writer
The good thing about a term like "light skinned" is that it can apply to any ethnicity. Some people are more pale than others within their own colour of skin. It doesn't actually imply a race.

I can think of only one time that I've made race important and that is when writing about a character in China, surrounded by Chinese people and the character in question is not Chinese.

On the whole, I find mentioning race or skin colour a little tacky. Race can be implied without being explicit. In the case I mentioned above, it's safe to assume that the main character is not Chinese because A) She lives in small town Australia B) Her birth name is Rebecca Williams D) She's only ever seen speaking English C) When she is in China, surrounded by Chinese people she feels isolated. A lot of this implies that she is probably Caucasian but I never felt the need to confirm or deny that.

The best I can suggest is that you absolutely have to make a point of it, describe in terms of ethnicity and not colour, be delicate and don't make it into a big deal, if you can imply it without having to state it explicitly then do that and if that's absolutely impossible then work it into some kind of narration or description about the character as a whole.
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:iconthetwn:
TheTWN Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
If you cant find a way to express his race, that means his race is irrelevant.

Just by you trying to find a way to show his blackness for no reason, but not in a racist way, seems to be moving you closer to the norm.

The character is a person. African Americans are people. We should be depicted as such.
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:icondisappearing-inkwell:
Disappearing-Inkwell Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013
the only reason 'black' people are looked at the way they are is because of the negative way they are portrayed in media, im white and i have a lot of friends that are black.

skin color should be looked at the same as eye color, its a part of you, and all the parts work the same on everybody. the color of your skin shouldn't matter, we all have skin... as we all have eyes.

but sadly to humans, being different is the same as being radioactive.
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:iconparadigmfallen:
ParadigmFallen Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Professional Artist
This ^

It's how I generally try to handle differing sexualities/races in my stories. It's also how Marvel's Runaways (a brilliant written series) has handled it.
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:iconsaints-fan-12:
saints-fan-12 Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Well, just write the character as he is. The majority of black people in the community make the rest of us black people look bad, leading to stereotypes and hate (in some cases). Anyway, it doesn't matter how you write him as long as he fits with the plot.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
"The majority of black people in the community make the rest of us black people look bad"...really? Really really?
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:iconladyander:
LadyAnder Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Personally I wouldn't say the majority since it is concerning where you live and how you were raised that changes your perspective. I've met an equal amount of stupid black people who believe they are constant victims of hate and are racist themselves and those who aren't. The thing is, the petty ones who get offended are the loudest. Those of use who aren't petty racist are pretty quiet and people don't think we exist. I think at this point it has to be 50/50.
Maybe that ratio isn't that balanced seeing how often I get comments of me being the exact opposite of what other black people they have met.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I was taking issue with their comment for the same reasons you mentioned initially (haven't met self-victimizers in person). :nod:
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:iconladyander:
LadyAnder Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Oh I've got two uncles and a cousin or two and I've actually worked with one as well. The woman I use to work with was probably the worst I've seen.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Awesome. :/
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:iconsaints-fan-12:
saints-fan-12 Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
y-yes, just look at rappers.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I aspire to be Lupe Fiasco someday.

Also, since when were rappers a majority of black people? This sounds incredibly stereotyped.
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:iconsaints-fan-12:
saints-fan-12 Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Good for you. I swear i'm not being self-racist, i just worded it wrong. ^^;
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I strongly recommend restating it because it looks pretty bad right now. :B (Also, I'm having a hard time seeing how Eminem is generating hate towards black people.)
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:iconsaints-fan-12:
saints-fan-12 Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
What i meant to say was "most black people who are the stereotypical people make the rest of us who are the opposite look like them." Plus, i love Eminem, so others often say he's 'dominating' the rapping industry.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
So you're basically saying that stereotypes are stereotypical—when people see a stereotype confirmed, they use it even more.

But why should anyone who's acting stereotypically be embarrassed about it? It's on the stereotyper to know they're being a twit. No one should be shamed into being something they're not just because it's common.
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(1 Reply)
:iconsaintartaud:
saintartaud Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Professional General Artist
Agree with what everyone has said, especially `PinkyMcCoversong's point about reading work about black protagonists and/or by black writers.  Context is important too; every individual has a different relationship to their ethnicity, and socioeconomic standing factors in as well. 

One example that pops up offhand is Octavia Butler's Dawn.  The protagonist is African American, but it's only brought up maybe once or twice in the novel.  I think most of her work is the same.  If you like science fiction or fantasy, she's definitely one to read.
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Professional Writer
What everyone else said about people are people, and story is story, and also this: Read more fiction with black protagonists, especially those written by black authors.  I think that might help.

Also, I've written across race a few times and I always find it helpful to find a beta reader from that cultural background to take a look at the story. 
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
People are people. They have all kinds of personalities, and frankly socioeconomics plays a bigger role in a lot of this stuff than race.

If you are trying to not be like 'token positive black dude,' focus on the story instead of trying to counter all the stereotypes.

(Personally it drives me nuts when my minority is thrown in to show off the author's skills at not being stereotypical. Worse yet when it's deliberately in a non-stereotyped area, because sometimes stereotypes are based on truth.)
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:iconladyander:
LadyAnder Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Just write the character how you want to write your character. There are some black people who are looking for something to be offended by. You know how you get over it, write what you want and don't worry about offending no one. Let him be his own person. He might be accused of not being black enough by blacks and then they will flip that card and say he's being a stereotypical black. To be honest, there are some short-sighted and superficial members of my race and those will be the ones who will complain no matter what you do. So what let them complain. As a black woman, I would probably be accused of writing my black character not black enough, since in the opinion of a lot of black people, I'm not black enough. I write my characters how I see them.
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:iconsachi-pon:
Sachi-pon Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
ohmygoodness XD you are so right! mini-rant: i am black too and it frustrates me that some black people make a big deal out of everything about racism- they start drama, they accuse people of racism when they aren't actually doing anything wrong. those annoying people make the rest of us look bad. sometimes i see a white person say "blacks are too oversensitive and whiny about race" or something like that and the sad part is that they're not completely wrong.

(although i'm not trying to say that MOST blacks act like this. it's some here and there, but they are so attention-grabbing that it SEEMS like there are more of them than they ACTUALLY are...)
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:icon67shadesofgrey:
67shadesofgrey Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Student General Artist
That's true- there's always someone who's not going to be happy about something. Thanks for the advice. I'll try and just write him as him and put it in naturally.
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:iconsachi-pon:
Sachi-pon Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
no, your post is not offensive. stop worrying so much about offending people. and i'm black and i'm still saying that XD

i think it's great that you want to positively portray a black character! thank you for that!!

the person below is right. just mention it once or twice. (also, try to do it early on in the story.)
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:icon67shadesofgrey:
67shadesofgrey Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Student General Artist
Cool. Thanks for the feedback! I think I want to write it early on, I just didn't know the most effective way to introduce the idea.
Yeah- most of my friends growing up were black, and it always made me sad and frustrated when they told me how difficult it was for them to not have anyone that was black in the media they could relate to. I mean, almost all the barbie dolls are white- and only recently was there one with natural hair. What's up with that?
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:iconsachi-pon:
Sachi-pon Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
that's sad =( i'm glad you care :hug:
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:iconultimateridley:
UltimateRidley Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
There are many ways to go about it, but the best way I've found would be to casually describe the character as having "dark" skin once or twice (any more and the reader might think you're trying to say something), or have him go through some situation applicable to the story in which the character is forced to give several details about himself, such as his name, date of birth, marital status, and ethnicity (for example, have him be interviewed by a census record-keeper, if that's at all possible in the story).

Another thing you could do is establish another character as some degree of racist and have said character refer to your black character as either "black" or, if you want to risk it, something more racially insensitive.

Otherwise, write him as you would any other character (which you already seem to plan to do).
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:icon67shadesofgrey:
67shadesofgrey Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Student General Artist
Thank you for your detailed feedback! I might have to take up your suggestion of having a racist character- it seems the easiest way to make it obvious. Everyone is assuming that all the characters are white unless explicitly told otherwise, which irritates me.
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:iconultimateridley:
UltimateRidley Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
You are welcome, and kudos to you for diversifying your cast.

The reason many assume all characters are white unless stated otherwise is because people of European descent are primarily white, and it serves as a sort of template; it's what we're used to seeing. The same occurs in, say, Japan--over there, people will always assume a character is Japanese or otherwise of East Asian descent unless otherwise stated.
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:iconcarusmm:
carusmm Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
To be simply conscious of race is not the same as being racist, yet affected writing is affected writing.
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:icon67shadesofgrey:
67shadesofgrey Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Student General Artist
True- I'm hoping to avoid as much affected writing as possible. But then I'm having a hard time making people understand that he isn't white. People seem to assume that everyone is white unless told otherwise.
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