Sorry to my patrons for forgetting to post the writing poll a week late. It completely slipped my mind. It’s up now, so go vote for what you want to see me write for this month! I’ll spend the free time working on my edit of Being More Social as well as another commission piece I want to get done this month. (It turns out editing nearly 250,000 words takes a bit more time than I originally thought.)
A well-intentioned comment on a third-party site asked me the other day why I pointed out that the minor character Grant was white. It seemed strange to them. On some level it makes sense – I’m a white guy writing about a mostly white suburban neighborhood in Massachusetts. To describe every person’s skin tone would get redundant after a while, so we only point out the outliers.
The simple answer to this is that Quinn isn’t white, so from his POV, he’s going to notice whiteness much more quickly than white people. If this story took place in China, Quinn wouldn’t feel the need to point out most of his classmates are Asian. But there’s also a longer more complicated answer to this.
All white-town-raised white erotica authors that have included a non-white character in their story have to figure out how to point out their race. It’s kind of pointless to include a black character, never mention they’re black, and then declare that you get Good Boy Points for meeting the diversity quota after the fact, revealing that Jason or Bob or whoever was actually black the whole time. But at the same time, for (hopefully) most writers, you don’t want to be weird about race.
I’ve seen a lot of weirdness and awkwardness in bringing up race, some even from myself. I don’t ever just want to say, “Jason and Bob walked out into the hallway. They’re black, by the way.” That’s weird and awkward. The bad way to do this is to clumsily observe some feature on their face or something like that, like I did for Kenny in Being More Social. The good (or at least acceptable) way to do this was to put it into context, like I did for Tyler in The Mystery of Lakeview Mall. I’m sure some people will ask why I had to make race a factor for Tyler’s and Quinn’s stories, but my answer is, to some extent, because in a mostly-white high school, some kids will make it matter. Some kids will inherently treat you differently for nothing more than a pigment in your skin, so like it or not, it becomes a part of your identity, whether it’s worn with pride, constantly defended from racists, or some other factor.
Some erotica writers like to fetishize race. I don’t. I think it’s weird. This will often come in the form of exaggerating a facial feature like I said earlier, as well as working on stereotypes. One way you can tell if a writer is sheltered and also bad at writing is if they write black men two different ways – pointing out that they’re black, or pointing out that others are white. Doing my best to not name names here, but there is a well-known erotica writer online who has two flavors of black male characters – “You want this black cock inside you baby? You want this chocolate?” is one, and the other is “sheeeit, these white people are crazy!” Is that racist? To me it seems so, but I’m not really the person to ask. It sure as hell is stereotyping, and they’ve written hundreds of thousands of words, possibly millions, across their many stories – the fact that their black men are always one of these two caricatures is bizarre at best. Their white characters, which will often have one of five personalities as well (but that’s more that they’re not a very talented author than anything), are almost never focused on race, unless it’s fetishizing the race of another. Some people are, understandably, creeped out by this level of fixation on race, especially for some races more than others, for sexual purposes.
I try to be mindful of these things, but something I’ve realized recently is that it’s considered weird to point out that every character is white when they are white, but not when they’re black, or Asian, or Indigenous, etc. I can’t speak on matters related to racism etc at this time, and I’m willing to accept a big part of it is just that a lot of us reading this are white sheltered suburban kids that grew up in white sheltered neighborhoods. I went to school in a white neighborhood but actually grew up in a black one, so I’m gifted with a bit of insight from my friends growing up in this way. To a lot of people, white is the automatic, the given. If Tom said hi to a girl, she’s white. Otherwise, the author would have said “Tom said hi to the black girl.” On some level this bothers me. It’s not always the case, but whiteness is often semi-automatic in erotica, and there’s no real solution to this. I find myself wondering if I ever said that Adam or Molly was white explicitly, or if I even should. Quinn being one of the only Chinese students in his school was a part of the plot, so I mentioned that explicitly, plus, as a number of emails have let me know, there were a few readers that really appreciated seeing not only representation, but also, a few stereotypical-but-true aspects of being from foreign-born parents in the United States. (I have a Chinese friend who helps me write the home scenes, so thank him for that, not me.)
I frankly don’t know if there is a solution to this semi-automatic phenomenon. I don’t know if there needs to be one. As long as there is a majority race in a country, people will assume people fall into that race until told otherwise. That’s just math. And yet… if I point out that characters are white, especially from the POV of a non-white character, why do people immediately ask, “Why did you have to say he was white?” That level of defensiveness, even if not intended, speaks to something greater. But as to what it is, I don’t really have that answer. IT’s food for thought, I guess. I’ll talk to you all next week.
4 thoughts on “Semi-Automatic”
I would bring another POV to explicit mentioning of race/skin colour, based on information it brings. My understanding is near all students were white, some were black and Quinn+Kevin (see name vocal similarity) were the only Chinese ones.
Regardless of Quinn being Chinese or white, it would make sense mentioning somebody was black or other non-white, but not much sense in mentioning the default white. Like there is not much sense in mentioning an orange is round and a zucchini is elongated because we already know that. But there would be definitely sense to mention it for vice versa.
BTW if designation “black” is racist for some people in some US circles, “white” or other colours must be racist too, otherwise such attitude is racist as well in the first place.
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“Black” is not a racist designation as a descriptive item as far as I know. Beginning and ending a character’s description and character with “they’re black” is, and I think that’s very fair to highlight this as such.
Neither I think it is, but some people circles think so, even in much larger context. My European perception is many US people are downright crazy in these things lately,
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I like the way you introduce minorities, you always find a situational and appropriate reason to mention it. In Mutual Benefits, it’s Quinn’s mother that brings up ethnicity, because she’s older and blunt. In Phil’s short story, he recognises someone from their black skin. That is also an appropriate way to mention skin colour without making it their defining characteristic.
Those are just the one’s I remember, but I’m always impressed with how you write about potentially sensitive topics. It isn’t politically correct to not be an arsehole
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