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.