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Need help with avoiding racefail in fanfic - Me myself and I
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liliaeth
liliaeth
Need help with avoiding racefail in fanfic
As I might have mentioned, I'm currently working on a new fic and I was thinking about all the mentions of race fail and how many shows seem to lack black characters. Now I'll be honest, and I'll admit that I don't always notice this until someone brings my attention to it
I'm sorry about that. But I guess it's easy not to notice such things when you're white, part of the majority religion in your home country and not part of the poor. (well not really, I don't have much money, but I have a roof over my head, a well paying job and I can even think about affording a computer, so I guess you could say I'm well off compared to a lot of other people in the world.)

So yeah, I don't always notice it when minorities are lacking in a show I enjoy. (on the other hand, I don't always get a trigger reflex over a lack of (well developed (and not just in the breast area) female characters either. (except in fandom, where I can get seriously annoyed when people hate female characters, often over reasons that they would love them for, if the chars were male)

But that ain't the point. In the fic I'm writing, I'm using several oc's. Now they won't be main characters, the fic is already over populated, being a crossover between Criminal Minds and Supernatural. But... I do need some characters. So I figured that the sheriff of the town, who will be interacting both with Dean and the BAU gang and his daughter will be black. The one problem there might be with this, is that by the end of the fic, the daughter will be dead.
(and before people mention something about killing off the black characters, the girl is one of a group of victims/monsters who will be dead by the end of the fic)

My main problem though is, how to mention that both characters are black without making it feel like I'm painting an arrow saying "see black characters here, yes they're black, really they are!"

I'm really bad at describing how characters look in general. Hell I haven't even mentioned what Derek Morgan looks like, and he's the one CM char that I've focused on the most. The only reason Dean gets described is well... the vampire he's about to kill gets a good look at him*eg*

So uhm, any suggestions?
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Comments
ficwriter1966 From: ficwriter1966 Date: September 30th, 2009 06:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think about 90% of the time, I don't describe my OCs in terms of race at all - I let the reader draw her own conclusions. I will say things like, they have some distinguishing characteristic (wild hair, they're unusually skinny, something like that), but yes, I feel like defining a race *is* like saying "See, see, they're black! Or Asian! Or whatever!" So I leave it be.
liliaeth From: liliaeth Date: September 30th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
me too, it's not that they're not there, it's just that to me race doesn't really matter that much. Of course, on the other hand it's easy for me to say that, being white and all...
cole231 From: cole231 Date: September 30th, 2009 07:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think its wonderful that you think this about race but its not eactly something that even needs to be carefully pointed out, it's a skin tone not something that you have to tiptoe around because some people may think about it a little to much. Saying things like 'her skin was a dark mocha' or something about caramel skin will show someone that they're just black, not a disease. It's just a description. It shouldn't matter how you describe it.Now as for the whole 'not noticing black people because youre not poor' thing im not quite sure what you mean. Not all black people are poor soo I don't know what your taking about there. I think it's not a big deal to say a characters black and then kill them, theyre people. People die. Doesn't matter what color. You really shouldnt put so much emphasis on the color of skin because in the end it really doesnt matter.
liliaeth From: liliaeth Date: September 30th, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
oh no, I didn't mean any connection between being black and being poor. (see, me being stupid again)

What I meant is that for the place I live in, I'm not actually a member of either any minority group, or in no way underprivileged. Being of a lower social class, or being poor can just as much make you in a way an outcast as seen by people, as having a different skin color from people around you does. (and I'm explaining this wrong.)

steelthorns From: steelthorns Date: September 30th, 2009 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Here's the thing. With an American setting, unless you're off in rural areas or deep in the goddamn South, you're going to have a mixed bunch of people. They'll be Hispanic and Latinos, they'll be African Americans, they'll be Middle Eastern, Indian, East Asian, Native American, and a whole lotta mixed race people.

Now you probably shouldn't mention cliches like 'almond-shaped eyes' or 'chocolate colored skin', but just something like 'Charlie David, a tall black man...' would be enough. If you have tons of OCs, mentioning someone looks Asian or talks to the brothers in perfect English, and answers their cellphone in Spanish because their family is originally from Mexico may be a bit of effort, but I think it's worth it.

How SPN treats chicks is a whole 'nother issue.
liliaeth From: liliaeth Date: September 30th, 2009 08:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well the story's set in Oklahoma so...

Thinking of giving another char a clearly Spanish last name, and maybe mention another of the girls being Asian.
steelthorns From: steelthorns Date: September 30th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, you're not American, but I can promise you there are people of color in Oklahoma. Especially African Americans.
liliaeth From: liliaeth Date: September 30th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I kinda figured that*g*

Just wondering if in a group of ten (or more kids), I should make three or more African Americans? And other chars of color.

Small town, with all the kids in one school. And they're all friends in the same book club.

lilacsigil From: lilacsigil Date: October 1st, 2009 03:15 am (UTC) (Link)
If you go to Wikipedia and look up the town or state where you're setting the fic, the "demographics" header in the article will give you racial break-down for just about everywhere. Remember that the younger your characters, the more Hispanic, mixed-race and first-generation immigrants, so for a group of kids, round up!
shipperx From: shipperx Date: September 30th, 2009 09:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Probably the easiest out, especially with pop-savvy characters like those of Supernatural, is to mention some similarity to an actor or character with whom most readers would be familiar. For example, the sheriff's daughter vaguely reminded Dean of Tara on True Blood. Or sheriff seemed like an older version of Will Smith.

Another (perhaps better) option would be to bring up something that automatically associates, such as the sheriff having a proud picture of his father or grandfather in a gathering of the Tuskegee Airmen, and how his father's flight wings are one of his most-prized posessions. That sort of thing.

Edited at 2009-09-30 09:34 pm (UTC)
just_ruth From: just_ruth Date: September 30th, 2009 09:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just a few brief descriptors - I've used "cinnamon toast" to describe a characters skin. Two dark skinned men in another fic I mention that the one is as dark as the other, but with a note of copper in his skin rather than olive (one was a gypsy and the other a Native American). I've mentioned another woman have hair in hundreds of braids where her beads click when she turns quickly.

This is why I prefer third person omniscient
lit_gal From: lit_gal Date: October 1st, 2009 01:02 am (UTC) (Link)
A couple of people have commented that they really appreciated the number of minority OC in Recovery Epic, so I went to see how I introduced people. I just came out and described them:

Blair always felt more of an outsider when he was inside than when he was outside, which sounded either ironic or slightly neurotic, but it was true nevertheless. Let him sit at the edge of some tribe recording the number of times that children imitated some adult behavior and he felt perfectly at home. But now as Roth pointed out Blair's gray metal desk and Blair's patched rolling chair and Blair's oversized computer with the fragments of half-removed stickers still clustered around the monitor, Blair felt like an utter alien wandering an unknown landscape.

An enormous black woman watched him, her arms crossed over her chest as she leaned against another squat metal desk. A man with a pinched face and thin smile stood near the coffeemaker. A Hispanic woman with a distracted expression and a pencil behind her ear ignored him in favor of a mountain of paperwork. A large man who badly needed a shave walked into the room through a door on the far end, and he didn't even try to hide his displeasure. In fact the sight of Blair brought an instant scowl to his face.

Blair idly wondered whether the desk that was now his had belonged to one of the three officers found guilty of taking bribes or if those desks had been sent away in some attempt to cleanse the unit of the collective guilt of having dirty cops in their midst.
lilacsigil From: lilacsigil Date: October 1st, 2009 03:13 am (UTC) (Link)
I try to describe both the white and black characters as much as each other rather than singling out non-white characters, which white people from majority white countries (like me!) may have a tendency to do.

So, if the POV character is someone who notices race in broad categories, I would describe people as "black", "white", "Asian" etc. If they're someone who looks at people aesthetically, I would have longer descriptions. If they're someone who sizes up people as to whether they're dangerous or not, I would include race as part of that description, but not a primary part.

I do think it's important to have an appropriately mixed cast when writing in a setting where that is highly likely, just as you pointed out about a mixed-gender cast; I'd love to see this happen in professional media as much as it does in fandom! I don't want to be assuming that every cop is a man, or every passer-by is white, and given the fandoms we work with, it is important to specify - it's great that you're putting so much thought into it.
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