From Springhole.net [x] [x]
Not only is purple prose obnoxious; sometimes it’s downright racist. For some reason, writers have a fondness for describing dark complexions as “chocolate” or somesuch.
But wait, people like chocolate! What’s so bad about likening a skintone to something almost everyone likes?
The problem is that food-colored skin is a phenomenon mostly limited to dark-colored complexions. And it’s more than just a little creepy when strangers keep likening your skintone to an inanimate edible object. Plus, in some places “chocolate bar” is a playground taunt used to goad black children.
Not a very tasteful choice in similitudes at all.
Skin Color Only Described When Not White
In many stories, the color of a character’s skin will only be described when the character doesn’t have a fair complexion. This typically happens because the writer is white and subconsciously thinks of xir own skin color as the default and everyone else’s as the outliers. Even JK Rowling, whose books frequently focus on tolerance and equality, is guilty of this.
The solution is simple - just describe everyone’s complexion, and all will be well.
Written accents are offensive because they essentially tell the group whose accent is being written that “your way of talking is weird; my way is normal.”
Not only are written accents offensive to the group being represented, but they’re offensive to read because you have to spend extra time trying to sort out what the writer was trying to say.
If you want to write a character who is supposed to have an accent, use grammar and slang associated with people who have that accent. You could also just mention that they have an accent. But don’t butcher the spellings of the words. “He’s got himself in a right pickle, he has” is fine, but “‘E’s got ‘imself in a right pickle, ‘e ‘as” is not.
Things Appropriated From Other Cultures
Many new writers are bound and determined to make sure their characters have meaningful and unique names. I see many people who have clearly scoured the bowels of online baby name sites to find the perfect Vedic/Japanese/Aztec name for their white character.
This sort of thing is a form of cultural appropriation, which is a pretty huge faux pas. For the uninformed, cultural appropriation is when a member of a dominant culture takes something from an oppressed/minority culture and uses it in a shallow, trendy, or superficial way - and there’s really nothing more shallow or superficial than trying to make your character stand out by giving xir an “exotic” name instead of giving xir a memorable personality and story.
Likewise, people give their characters katanas and throw youkai into their stories for no other reason than “it’s more interesting” than Western culture. Throwing things from another culture into your story for no other reason than you think it’s “more interesting” reduces that culture to a cheap gimmick, which is pretty rude and offensive.
The Japanese plant-lover. The wise Native American. The sexy Latina. There’s nothing bad about loving plants or being wise or sexy, so why would anyone find these offensive?
For one thing, it can create unrealistic expectations and assumptions about these people. Many Asian-Americans find themselves having to explain to people that no, they don’t know squat about gardening, really. Many Latinas would rather people didn’t expect them to be hot and spicy lovers based on their race. And contrary to what some think, Native Americans aren’t really born with a magical connection to the Earth and tend to find assumptions that they are quite irritating.
There are two varieties of supercrips: the first is a disabled person who is treated as a hero just for doing everyday things that most people take for granted. It’s quite frankly condescending, and many disabled people would thank you to knock it off.
The second type is the character who has amazing skills or abilities because or in spite of xir disability. While a writer might be trying to say “just because a person has a disability, doesn’t mean they can’t be amazing!”, what the audience hears is “disabled people often have amazing abilities to make up for their disability,” which unfortunately isn’t true.
The Mighty Whitey
The Mighty Whitey is a white person (if not physically, then culturally) who finds xirself faced with the task of saving a marginalized group (often as not from other white people). The character is usually male and ends up becoming the leader of the people he just liberated, and he usually ends up with a hot ethnic-looking gal to boink. (Think Jake Sulley fromAvatar, and you’ve got the Mighty Whitey in a nutshell.) The Mighty Whitey will learn the ways of an ethnic group, and xe will become even better at them than the people who have been studying them all their lives.
What makes this trope so horrendous is the attitude of white supremacy: it implies that non-white people cannot solve their problems without a white person to help or even lead them, and that white people will always be better at everything.
Also, becoming a leader of a people whose culture you have only known/studied for a few months - or even a few years - is one of the most ridiculously puerile fantasies in existence.
Getting Mental Illnesses & Different Neurologies Wrong
Want to create a chilling plot twist? Just the killer the hero’s evil alternate personality! That’s called schizophrenia… right?
Wrong. And this type of thing is incredibly insensitive and offensive.
Aside from the fact that schizophrenia does not create multiple personalities, most people with schizophrenia and multiple personalities are quite harmless. Yet thanks to their portrayal in fiction, many people expect them to be dangerous, which makes their already-difficult lives even more difficult.
Occasionally, some people go the other direction and portray these people as innocent or even mystical. That’s positive discrimination, and that’s also bad because it creates unrealistic expectations.
Whether it’s schizophrenia, multiple personlities, autism, Asperger’s, psychopathy, sociopathy, or anything else, you’re going to use a mental disorder or alternate neurology of any kind, make sure you research it. And whatever you do,NEVER give your character a mental illness just to make xir more “interesting,” because that’s ableism.
Trying to Create an Aesop About Discrimination Without Actually Understanding the Discrimination in Question
Most people think they have a pretty good bead on what racism is all about - it’s about segregation, ugly slurs, and pointy white hats. Same goes with sexism - women can get jobs and vote now, so it must be over, right? Ha, if only.
In real life, these people are very rarely overt - in fact, most racism is extremely subtle, so subtle that the offender doesn’t even realize that what they’ve said or done is offensive or hurtful and will vehemently deny the possiblity that what they said or did could have been offensive. (A common response from these people is “I can’t be an X-ist! I have X friends!” Yeah, if only.)
Some examples of subtle discrimination:
- Telling rowdy children to “stop running around like a bunch of wild Indians!”
- Describing a non-white character or person as “exotic.”
- Dressing up in Halloween costumes depicting ethnic stereotypes.
- Insisting that a woman who does not want children right now will “change her mind” in the future.
- Asking a woman why she’s still single if she’s so attractive.
- Asing a woman who is angry about something if she’s on her period.
- Insulting males who don’t live up to expectations of perceived masculinity by accusing them of acting “girly” or calling them gay.
If you want to learn more about what real discrimination of all kinds look and feel like, I recommend readingMicroaggressions. (Language warning.) Also, check out this handy-dandy list of links to privilege checklists so you can check your own privilege before writing off into the sunset.
Trying to Satirize a Thing Without Understanding Why it’s a Thing
The film Death Becomes Her satirizes the perceived vanity of performers who spend mind-blowing amounts of money on beauty products and plastic surgeries to stay young. Funny film? Yes. But it’s rather sexist in that it treats this perceived vanity as something that just happens to some women for no real reason. It ignores the fact that we live in a society obsessed with youth and that our consumerist culture has commodified it and tries to make us feel inferior every day for not buying it from them. It ignores the fact that the men in control of the entertainment industry constantly pressure women into getting plastic surgery and enhancements, even flat-out refusing to hire women who don’t meet their exact standards of beauty, regardless of their talent.
Killing Off LGBT Characters to Make an Allegedly Non-Hateful Point
There’s this thing that some writers do - they introduce an LGBT character, try to build some some sympathy for xir, and before you know it they’ve killed off this character in a manner that’s reminiscent of that old and noxious “too good for this sinful Earth” trope that pervaded Puritan literature.
This sends an absolutely terrible message to LGBT people - that the only way they can escape the shame and the hate that so often comes with being LGBT is if they die. LGBT youth are at a higher risk of committing suicide already - clearly, this is not a message we want to be sending.
Forgetting Women of Color in Female-Oriented Entertainment
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Charmed. Pan Am. Sex in the City. All of these female-aimed shows exhibit distinctly monochrome casting choices. Sure, Charmed was sort of justified in that the three leads were supposed to be sisters. But Pan Am has no excuse - and there were plenty of non-white stewardesses in the 60’s.
Multi-Racial Groups Always With a White at the Helm
This wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t keep happening all the time. But invariably, whenever there’s a multi-racial group or team of some kind, the leader will invariably be white. The implication is that while non-whites are good enough to have on a team, they still aren’t leadership material.
The Fairytale Gypsy
You know the character type - they live in wagons, wear colorful clothing, read fortunes, and play a mean fiddle.
The trouble is, what you see in fiction is a romanticized version of a very ugly reality: “Gypsy” is actually a racial slur for the Roma and Dom people. The reason they’re nomads is because racists have a habit of routing them out whenever they try to settle down, and their eclectic fashion comes from having to wear whatever they can get. Also, they’re no more magical than you or me.
Their portrayal in many fantasies perpetuates the myth that these people are fairytale creatures who vanished along with Long Ago And Far Away, rather than real people who suffer systemic oppression today.