Let’s stir the controversy pot today. I’m caramel colored, so to speak. Or café au lait to embrace my NOLA roots. I’ve never had a problem with this description of my coloring or other food related metaphors. Not long ago, I was made aware that this type of description is frowned upon and considered racist and in general out of touch. (On an aside, I always find it comical that the ones who should be offended about such things often are out of the loop of their radical peers and the white panderers leading the mob think.)
I don’t want to be fetish-ized and I know that is possible, as is over-reaching of a description, a relentless reminding of the color of a character’s skin, in general objectifying of a person. Yeah, that is bad. As bad for blondes and big breasted women and black men and any human. Don’t. Just don’t. But that is a different issue and has nothing to do with a vivid, lyrical description of a human to plant a seed in the reader’s mind of how to perceive the character if it is important to the story. If it isn’t then, yeah, why are we even talking about color?
What we look like matters. I hold up as examples girls posting pictures of their ‘big’ noses encouraging others to do the same in a one finger salute to anyone who has called them ugly or ‘body positive women’ or proud Latinas etc. doing the same. Time and again I’ve clicked into such posts and the responses are always filled with attractive to down right beautiful people posting, but it is obvious they have been stung by hateful words/perceptions. I guarantee these people have taken the unfounded criticisms or straight up racists reactions to their looks and it has shaped them and their outlook. That these kinds of posts exist are evidence to this fact.
To say it would be disingenuous to insinuate otherwise in our writing is putting it mildly. It would be a blind lie to pander to an ideological thinking that is no more healthy than the ignorant racism it is supposed to replace. The fact is the way we look has a real impact on the way we go about life and a character’s defining characteristics, in particular if they were subject to the colonial realities of our history, will and should impact their outlook and behavior in a story.
So then why can’t we use words that fill the mind with delicate ideas of these looks, ideas that swim in beauty instead of some pedantic pre-approved description that leaves the imagination floundering for the beauty of the written word? I’m reading, indulge me, but I like descriptions and I like the descriptive.
I realize for now I will have to temper or all out remove this sort of writing from my repertoire. Or maybe I won’t – I haven’t decided. I don’t like being railroaded into conformity by extremists. I know it’s a zig zag line than any author who tries to balance will step to the wrong side of time to time. (And god knows the mob is waiting for such a misstep) So long as they learn and do better I’m ok with that. This is the purpose of growth not erasing blatant truths to calculate our vocabulary in some policed goosestep.
Where are we headed with words if this is what we allow ourselves to be forced into? It’s no better than book burning. All we’re doing is controlling and shaping the words as they are written so we don’t have to bother with the burning of the books later. Gotta think about the environment, right?
Yeah, this topic annoys me. I’m a writer. We are writers. Our words are going to be beautiful, sparse, flowery sometimes wrong, offensive, hard to read. But silencing them does not resolve the problems of the world. I argue they exacerbate them to a danger degree. Dialogue is good. And the current dialogue is inspiring and I think shifting things. Are we going to use this new power to become no better than that which we are replacing?
There is a path to change and I know we’re on it. Let’s not get lost in the forest because of the trees.