Authors, You Need To Stop Describing POC Like Food
Why not skip the descriptions and just tell the story?
I’m a voracious reader. If it has words, I’m all over it.
I adore prose, ravening over every word dripping from the page like an addict seeking the next hit. I love stories and the places they can take me.
Though I have this need to fulfil, the one thing that takes me out of it entirely and forces me to drop the book like a hot brick is when authors describe People of Color like cuisine.
Oh. My. Goat. Bob. Please, for the love of all that is unholy, stop describing POC with anything relating to a food or food byproduct.
A story as old as time, and just as passé.
I’m not sure who originated the trend or how it became fashionable, but it’s everywhere.
“Her skin was like chocolate.” “His skin tone gleamed with the color of cinnamon.” “Her face glowed, reflecting the cocoa glints.”
It makes me wonder if, somewhere in the author’s mind, they just want to eat people. Is that it? Are they cannibals at heart?
The irony of describing POC as things like chocolate or coffee is that the ancestors of the people described in such ways likely were enslaved specifically to harvest those very foods.
Some places around the world still use slave labor to harvest those materials, and authors think it’s cute to describe their characters with them.
It’s insulting, damaging, and lazy writing.
Occasionally, I have seen white folks described as milky or peachy, but the amount of times a Caucasian is described with food products compared to a POC is ridiculously small.
That’s even counting the fact that most characters in stories not written by a Person of Color are, by and large, white, themselves.
Would it all be better to describe white folks as having skin like an egg, or the color of mayonnaise? Vanilla ice cream? How about one of those after-dinner mints?
“He undressed her slowly, revealing her skin, gleaming like buttered mashed potatoes…”
The argument for similes.
I get it. Trying to describe characters is work and most writers just want to put something basic in there and be done with it.
It’s an easy trick to just refer to a Black person as having chocolate skin, or someone of Latino descent to be like “honey.” We can just plop that bad boy in there and move on.
The trouble with it is that there is so much more to human skin than the melanin. It goes deeper.
Did you know, as an example, skin is semi-translucent?
Different places on our bodies look distinct from others because of the amount of blood pooled in the musculature and dermis. The spaces on our cheeks, for instance, are “redder” in appearance than on the forehead, because the blood flow there is higher.
The darker the skin tone, the more of an effect that sort of thing has. It takes on a purplish tone with darker skin types, for an example.
If you are going to describe your characters, why not make use of all those amazing, sensual colors available? Paint a picture with your words, instead of being lazy about it and saying they’re something edible.
Similes are easy. Putting real thought and time behind the character is difficult and too many writers seem to pass on it altogether.
Why bother describing them at all?
There is a time and a place in your writing to do descriptions, but I would put forth the argument the amount of space most authors take up to do it is absolutely unnecessary.
Your readers have imaginations. They’re not stupid, and you shouldn’t treat them like they are.
Why not allow them to have a theater of the mind experience with your words? Is it essential to the story the girl is a blonde bombshell? Does that actually add anything into the narrative?
If she is one, and it does nothing to progress the story, leave it out. Let the reader fill in the blanks of what the character is going to look like or even dress like.
If you’re writing a horror story and the character is hiding in the shadows waiting for the Big Bad to pass by, do we really need to know, in that moment, that her boobs are 32–16–44 or something? Does the fact she’s a brunette with curly hair mean anything at all to the situation?
I posit it does not, and is therefore something to be left on the cutting room floor.
Those moments should be spent driving the action. Let us viscerally feel that terror coursing through her veins. Let me smell the stress-sweat exuding from her body as she lies as still as possible, keeping her breath in check. Allow us to hear those tiny gleams of footsteps creeping closer.
You see? I did nothing to describe that person, but I am willing to bet you felt a little something in that paragraph. You connected, though it was only for a second, to that poor girl hiding from the thing haunting her.
Through it all, I did nothing to describe her, tell you what race she is, or what she was wearing. I’m guessing, though, you had a glimmer of an image of a person in mind.
That’s how the theater of the mind experience works. The reader will fill in the blanks of the things you don’t describe, because nature abhors a void. It’ll take care of the descriptions for you.
A last note about descriptions and unrealities.
A woman’s boobs do not have a mind of their own.
They do not think for themselves, and they have no control over what a woman does. They don’t beckon. They are not magical creatures taunting you with their heaving as the woman breathes.
Oh, and they most certainly do not “roll” when her eyes roll.
The descriptions of female characters in stories are almost as bad as writing POC as food. It’s ridiculous, and it’s way overplayed.
Please. Just stop. Let’s have stories about actual people and how they actually work.
I’m not intending to be insulting with this kind of article. I hope you take it for what it’s worth. I’m a Native American, myself, and the amount of poor descriptions our people get are just as ridiculous as calling a white person uncooked chicken breasts.
We don’t have “red skin” and we’re certainly not like potatoes. Just like every other person on the planet, there are degrees of shades and tones, and all of them are beautiful.
We all can, and should, do better.
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