Sunday, April 13, 2008

Your PCness Offends me

I absolutely hate when I read a MG or YA title, and a character is described as African American. "Nicole is my African American neighbor" Ok so that example sucks, but why can't Nicole just be black. As long as she isn't colored or the N word I am cool. I go completely ballistic if a few pages later another character is described as white. If Nicole's African American then Kelly's Caucasian. Black is to White what African American is to Caucasian. I didn't make this rule I only follow it. When an author goes with a more formal census approach to their character description. I make a few assumption.
1. I assume the author believes that their black readers will be offended if African American is not used. Ironically I become offended because I assume the author assumes I will be easily offended. (hopefully that made sense)
2 I assume that the author rarely has black characters in their work, because they find it necessary to use the more formal coding. (making the inclusion of an African American character seem forced)
3 I assume the author doesn't have many black friends. If they did could ask if should Nicole be describe as African American or is black okay ?
Though this last assumption is the biggest one of all because I am assuming other black people are annoyed by this as well and are cool with Nicole being a black neighbor( I am finished with that example, promise) and I have no idea I've never done any poles.
Black or African American its such a little thing but really its not, race is never easy even in fiction. Though I want black characters to blend easily into a story with no preferential coding treatment. I want black characters to be remembered for who they were, what they did and said, rather then being described as African American. I always think about this when I read a novel that does what I know is possible, it makes me a very happy reader. I just finished Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen, (loved it by the way, Dessen totally threw down) anyhow there's a black character, Olivia in this novel. Olivia is a side character with some substance who I enjoyed fully. Also a few weeks ago I read Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne. Phoebe, one of the main characters best friend is black. Actually I loved their friendship, it had everything a good friendship needed and best of all race didn't matter, though it was not ignored. One of the reasons why I loved Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli is that its does this so beautifully. There's a black and white side of town. Spinelli didn't feel the need to use census bureau pretenses.


Kelly said...

Great question, Doret. Great, great question. I am sending readers your way. I can't wait to read how they respond!

Lee said...

After having lived for 18 years in Africa, I never say or write African American. I use 'black'. And 'coloured', BTW too, which is perfectly acceptable in South Africa but means something different than US usage.

And check out my new novel Corvus - you can read the first chapter online already - and see if you can decide Zach's race! Here's the link:

RM1(SS) (ret) said...

All the black people I know say "black."

Charlotte said...

Nichole has assumed a strange reality in my mind...

I think "black" throws the reader out of the story a lot less, in that it seems less Conscious. I've never tried to write a book, but I think it must be really tricky to make it clear that a minor character is black without putting up descriptive signposts that other minor characters don't get, making the whole thing seem forced. And then if the blackness of that minor character serves no purpose of plot or character development, it just seems silly to have made a Big Deal about it.

With a major character it seems more natural to include, say, a physical description.

Doret said...

Lee, Why don't you say or write African American any more? What countries did you live in?
rm1 I have to agree, also I can't think of single novel by a nonwhite author that refers to a character as Caucasian.
Charlotte, sorry my example threw you, it wasn't that good to begin with, however if an author decides to use African American or black to describe a character usually its followed by a physical description
Descriptive signposts ( I like that I may have to steal it) If MG and YA novels had more diverse characters then descriptive singposts wouldn't be an issue because readers (or should I say me) would expect and look forward to them and wouldn't automatically assume all minor characters are white.

Thanks for posting everyone
And thanks again Kelly