I've been aware for a while now of the penchant that many white writers have for using food metaphors to describe brown skin colors. But what I haven't often seen is a good discussion of how to do it better. (I vaguely think there's a discussion of this in Writing the Other, but my copy is packed away at the moment.)
So I was very pleased just now to come across a set of useful posts on this and related topics:
- A couple months ago, N K Jemisin provided some of the descriptions she's written and some other helpful notes. (She prefaces her list with this: "Not a claim of correctness or The Best Way or anything of the sort. Just my way.") Several other writers chime in in comments with some of their own descriptions. N also briefly discusses things other than skin color that can indicate culture or ethnicity; see below for more on that.
- Also back in April, zvi provided an excellent discussion of skin color comparisons in fiction, especially in sex scenes in fanfic.
- A couple days ago, afro_dyte started a great thread asking for "words, similes, and metaphors we can use to describe Uhura's complexion." The primary focus here is Trek fic (see below), but it's a useful discussion for anyone wanting to describe skin colors.
- In addition to skin color, there are a lot of other ways to indicate culture and ethnicity in fictional characters. Afro_dyte posted last week about Spock and ethnic body language: "how can culture and ethnicity be conveyed through body language? And by body language I also include shibboleths that take into account pronunciation and even the octave of speech."
(I need to provide some context so y'all won't go into those last couple of links expecting something other than what they are: the uhuranspock4foc LJ is explicitly a community for fans of color and about Uhura/Spock relationship fanfic, not a general place for discussion of race, racism, writing, etc. I found a bunch of the posts there fascinating and helpful to me personally, but the idea isn't to educate people like me, it's for the participants to have a place to talk about this stuff that can avoid the racefail of (for example) a certain recent discussion of Uhura's straight hair.)
Here are a couple of other indirectly relevant posts that I came across while looking at the above: