A Guide on How to Write POC

I had originally posted this thread somewhere else but I decided to bring it here.

So, everyone is worried on describing their POC characters without getting offensive to us when we read it. Valid worry.

I am here to guide you on what can and cannot be offensive for us POC as sometimes it becomes offensive or the descriptions rely too heavily on stereotypes.

Now before we start, the offensiveness of certain descriptions I will aide you on will be in a North American/Western context. What is considered offensive to minorities in the Western world may not apply to the origin countries. This is because people in Western world countries were regarded as lesser than white people are were treated as such so meanings behind words eventually became the words’ meanings.

This happens a lot with the English language (or language in general) since language is always transforming. The word “nimrod” originally was a name for a biblical hunter but now it means “dimwit” in the English language. This was due to the popularization of a Looney Toon’s episode where Buggs calls Elmer a “poor little Nimrod” and people assumed it means he was dumb. If you were to call someone a Nimrod today, they would take offense immediately. Sure, maybe you meant you were comparing them to the biblical figure but it not will stop the person from being offended and will tell you to use better word choice next time so more people would not get offended.

If you go to another country, they will get offended if certain customs and manners are used while it may not be offensive to your home country. That’s why people educate themselves before traveling usually.

These contexts will hopefully aide you to have a clearer picture on why certain language should be avoided. It’s showing respect to a group and to continue to let others think this sort of language is acceptable in media and even everyday language, then it is indirectly saying that the past (and ongoing) struggles of the race are invalid and should be regarded as equal.

If you still would like to debate about this subject, then please go make your own thread. This thread is for learning how to portray us without using problematic language as well as sharing resources on how to achieve that so please keep this thread drama free.

If you find other resources on this topic (maybe even links to other sources on the history behind offensive language) then I highly encourage you to share!

Enough history! Time to learn writing.

First step: Describe the characters normally.

Now, you can take the easy way out and be blunt. X is Asian American. Less hassle and people don’t need to know every single detail of your story and how each blade of grass looks different from the other when it sways in the wind and it’s not offensive. Maybe, you’re writing first person and your character takes a guess “X could be Vietnamese or Korean, but I don’t bother to ask as most of our conversations consist of silent nodding and fist bumps.”

There’s a difference between being blunt on the description and saying something along the lines of “That person is Asian loking” or “They have black features.” Now that makes sound weird and othering. Most people don’t say, “You’re white looking” or “You have white features” because there’s a lot of variety in white features and other races also have a laaaaaaaaarge variation of features. It feeds into this idea that all minorities look the same and cannot have individuality which is dehumanizing. Don’t be wishy washy vague on the descriptions. Be direct or don’t be lazy on describing POC features. I don’t want to be described as “Asian looking” because I am Asian. If I am not Asian, what else would I be?

Onto how to describe the features.

Imagine I’m someone else who doesn’t know what an Asian or Black person looks like. To describe someone as “Asian looking” in of itself is offensive since not all Asians look the same. It’s like telling me that some guy was “French looking.” What do French people look like? I don’t know, you have to tell me.

Ask questions like: What’s their face shape? Do they have high cheek bones? Are they chubby? Are they self conscious on their large forehead? etc.

Second step: Which descriptors are acceptable?

So, you want to make sure your reader absolutely knows they’re whatever race you choose and you don’t fall into offensive terms. There are lots more ways to get that across without going into the “food description.” Do not describe your character with food features unless they’re people made out of food. Why you may ask? It’s fetishization. Fetishization is a HUGE problem.

Why is fetishization a problem? It stems from the history in the Western context of how minorities were treated in times before they were given proper rights such as how they were referred to negatively by white people during

I have provided links I found to be helpful on a list of acceptable descriptors for your characters.

Link on how to avoid fetish descriptions: http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/post/147301349347/hi-im-writing-a-short-story-for-my-english-class/embed

Resource for representation in general (such as harmful tropes and suggestions on what people want to see more of): Factsheets — TTIE | Think Tank For Inclusion & Equity

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.


Super helpful thread! Im writing POC characters now and needed a lil guidance so thanks for the resources!


This is such a helpful thread! Thank you for taking the time to sort of this together! I’ll bookmark this so I can come back to it later.


@JJJ000YYY Lovely as always, Joy <3

Is there anything besides this that I can re-link for our thread later


Someone created a new version of the big thread on how to get reads


Good to know, I’ll find it! And maybe I’ll actually use your thread this time around


Sounds good


If anyone has more tips to contribute I welcome it

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Made a few edits for clarity

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This was a wonderful TEDTalk LOL.

I’m a Black woman and I’m unsure of the issue with comparing someone’s skin color to food. I’m not offended by this, it just depends on the food.


I always knows it’s iffy when non-POC people use food descriptions. I feel like it’s reclamation when POC use the terms but then if a non-POC person use such terms it’s like “that’s… not right” but that’s my take on it anyways. I know whenever race is brought up there will always be two sides going “that’s fine” and “that’s not fine” within the minority group so conversations where people can talk and give perspectives always are good to have.


What comparisons have you read to food recently?


I don’t read super often but I remember stumbling across a work where the author described Asian eyes as almond and really went hard describing on the eyes. Not an official publication or anything but I remember feeling uncomfortable since it felt like it was too much focus on the Asian character looking Asian and the white characters got, “she got blue eyes and blonde hair.”

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Overkill on the description is never good, in my opinion. Character appearance should be there to give us an image. Usually, more than that, I tend to find it’s too much. I don’t mind “almond” as a description, but any physique of a person shouldn’t be longer than a paragraph…


I prefer descriptions like an Al Capone lookalike or she could have given Diana Ross a run for her money rather than focusing on apperance based off food/colours. I get why people get kinda annoyed at that, to be honest. I get what people are trying to say, but it is quite same-ish a lot of the time.


I don’t mind, I guess. Whatever fits an author’s writing style…


The almond eyes thing I always find weird because Asian eyes never truly look almond? I always read magazines where Caucasian eyes are almond shaped. I know there’s a bad historical context to calling Asian eyes almond as it was used to identify and discriminate against Japanese people in North America.

Agreed on the overkill tho, overkill on descriptions just makes it feel like they’re different from white characters. It doesn’t feel like it’s a good way either.


I think I’ve seen almond eyes descriptions for hazel, light brown eyes. :joy:


Yeah, usually it’s for like… not Asian people. I just wouldn’t touch it myself.


The thing is, like with every race, East Asians have a variety of eye shapes. They’re not all the same. So it really depends on the character. And I agree, it’s people of Western European descent that tend to have almond-shaped eyes.