Writing Marginalizations: Why “Tan Skin” Isn’t Enough

I’ve been meaning to write series of posts talking about how to write marginalized characters. With everything that’s happened recently, now feels like an excellent time. For anyone wondering what qualifications I have to give you writing advice about marginalized characters, I’m a queer, neurodivergent, non-binary POC finishing off a degree in Creative Writing and working as an editor for two lit mags. My #ownvoices book comes out in a week.

(P.S. I chose the image above because it’s one of the worst/most offensive descriptions of skin tone I’ve ever seen. If you want to start with what you shouldn’t do, see above. The image is from Skin Renews Skincare on Pinterest.)

So, tan skin. I can’t even detail the number of times I’ve heard, “but it says they have tan skin. That means their a POC.” If you’re wondering why this doesn’t make sense, take a second and think about summer and beaches and yacht parties. Really, just think of an basic white movie. Remember all the people talking about how they want to get tan. It’s so wild! It’s almost like “tan” is a super ambiguous, rather subjective word that means different things to different people and can very frequently be used to describe white people!

So, without further ado, here’s a little “How To” when it comes to writing skin-tones for POCs.

Continue reading “Writing Marginalizations: Why “Tan Skin” Isn’t Enough”

But Why POCs?

So I’m winding down the final edits on my first novel, and there are a ton of insecurities and concerns running through my mind. It’s never easy to release your life’s work to the world, and with so many different things that people could possibly harp on, it’s really hard for me to figure out which decisions are the best ones.

That being said, one big concern my betas have expressed is the setting of my story. Originally, I wrote the entire thing in a sort of dystopian future in which everyone was a POC because I felt like the idea of POC being the majority in a couple hundred years wasn’t too unrealistic. I’ve gotten a whole horde of comments about how I need to explain the world, explain what happened that led the world to being mostly POC, and explain how this new world works.

I started brainstorming different ideas, different government rulings and cultural changes and all these different reasons why there would be so few white people in my story, and honestly, I’m kind of annoyed that I had to do that in the first place.

Walk into a bookstore right now and pick up a book. If you have a bestseller on your shelf, maybe start with that. Unless you were specifically looking for own voices books or books with characters of color, odds are, every character or the vast majority of characters in that book will be white. If you ask the author why they wrote all/mostly white characters, they’ll probably just say that they wrote what they know. My question is, then why is it wrong for me, a biracial author, to write what I know and create a world that has mostly POC characters, especially a world that involves man-eating angels in a fairly distant future?

I hate this idea that all-white characters is the default, and having mostly POC characters better come with an explanation. It makes no sense for there to be mostly POC characters unless its the result of some authoritarian government or weird plague or something. Why is that? Is it because there’s no way that POC could reasonably be the majority at some point in time? Or is it the fact that, despite POC already existing in droves on every continent on the planet, people still think of us as ‘other’, as a rare exception to the white norm?

I’m writing in my POC characters. Why are they there? Decide for yourself.