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PostPosted: Sun Feb 14, 2021 4:23 pm 
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Maybe this isn't quite the thread for this but something that's been on my mind after reading Earthsea. The book is a fairly simple, classic tale - a young hero must undergo a magical quest to defeat evil. That kind of story. Throughout the book, Ursula casually mentions that our hero is brown skinned as are the people around him. No big deal is made out of this whatsoever, it's just mentioned a few times as she describes what the characters and people look like. But despite this, because this kind of classic magical hero's quest story is so very much associated with white people, for the majority of the book, my mental image of all of the characters would keep defaulting to White people. Until at some point a while later, she would once again remind me that these characters aren't white, and I would try again to shift my mental image only for it to default back to white people after a little while. It probably wasn't till more than half the book was over that my mental image of the characters finally stuck to remembering that these characters don't look like your default white europeans. I was quite struck by how difficult it was for me to dislodge the assumption of whiteness by default.

The version of the book has an afterward by the author and she mentions this a little bit, how even though the characters are all explicitly described as brown skinned, people would keep assuming the characters were white, even to the point that the depictions of the character on book covers was usually White. She said it wasn't for years after it was published and successful that a book cover finally depicted the character as having brown skin. Hard to imagine how frustrating that must be as an author and artist.

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Last edited by yovargas on Sun Feb 14, 2021 5:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 14, 2021 5:00 pm 
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Thank you for sharing that!

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 14, 2021 5:41 pm 
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I remember asking for advice years ago on whether I should specify any ethnic markers in my writing or give people the freedom to imagine what they wanted and was told that there is such an overwhelming current of white being the default that the only way to sometimes give readers any freedom at all to imagine something else is to very clearly state that 'something else'. Otherwise they will almost certainly default to white.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 14, 2021 8:07 pm 
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And when the Sci-Fi Channel did a TV adaptation, they made Ged white and then got salty when book fans complained.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 14, 2021 9:49 pm 
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I read yov's post earlier today and gave it some thought. I prefer historical fiction so often the context denotes how I envision the characters. The Whale Rider is a New Zealand tale in which everyone is Maori (South Pacific/brown skinned). Terry Pratchett's Nation makes it clear that Mau is a South Pacific native (brown skinned) and Daphne is a pale European (white). Thinking of other books I've read such as; The Color Purple, Moby Dick, The Grapes of Wrath, The Outsiders, Sounder, Where the Red Fern Grows, Rascal, Little Women, Little House on the Prairie series, The Secret Life of Bees, The Lost Jewels, The Good Earth, or Tom Sawyer the authors make the skin tone or heritage of its characters clear. It gets trickier when one is reading about a fictional world or fantasy.

In Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling rarely mentions the color of one's skin but gives us clues to certain aspects of appearance via the name of her characters. Cho Chang, the Patel twins, Minerva McGonagall, but not all. Hermione Granger, for example is described as having bushy brown hair and having front large teeth, something that can be ascribed to brown, black, or white persons. I don't believe the color of Hermione's skin is ever mentioned, but she is described as upper middle class UK muggle-born and I knew she was loosely based on an extreme version of how Rowling saw herself as a girl so I presumed her to be white. I could understand why someone else might envision her as brown or black but not as likely as if it were specifically mentioned. I recently read Wee Free Men which describes Tiffany as white (very pale) and I presume by the surroundings to be from Great Britain, but the picties are blue (by birth or by tattoo/staining is unknown).

This is something I will keep in mind when reading in the future. I imagine that until fairly recently, by and large most of the literature Americans have had access to have been written by white authors who write about what they know/are familiar with-which is white culture. Hopefully that will change as more authors of color are published. This brings a question to mind.. how does one write characters of another race, culture, etc..? Is it presumptuous to do so? What problems might arise? I would imagine this can also be an issue when writing about a character of the opposite sex. The very first book I ever owned (other than children's books) was a story about a girl coming of age in India*. Everyone in it was brown and I envisioned them as such. I should dig that out & see who the author was.

*edited to add: Shanta by Marie Thøger. I'm going to guess the author might not be Indian.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 23, 2021 4:44 pm 
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I happened on an article this morning through a rather circuitous route, that brought this conversation to mind. The article is from 2012, but still pertinent to the topic. White Until Proven Black: Imagining Race in Hunger Games.

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