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.

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