Comment to 'Does this come across as racist? Or, as it is intended, as an explanation of a misunderstanding?'
  • Hello Georgina. As a 6' 2" black man, I can relate to how both parties would feel in this situation. I keep distance and sometimes even cross roads when passing women at night. I notice discomfort in body language: Taking phones out of pockets, moving handbags or holding them more secure etc.

    I myself don't shy away from writing about sensitive issues. Some have of which people have helped me with here before. I believe anything should be allowed to be written about. But his is a tricky one to judge without reading the rest of the manuscript and knowing your character. If other scenes show her in this kind of light, this scene gives more insight into confirming her character. Otherwise, having the colour at the forefront of the description could be a red flag to some readers and possibly alienate them. Similarly to describing a council estate's tenants as, lets say, probably looking at newspaper pictures because they're unable to read them. (May be a bad example but I'm sure you get the drift).

    When I hear people talking and hear them say, This black bloke came over, or A black woman said this or that, I think to myself, you didn't really need to mention the colour of their skin. But I suppose it is the same with any majority race speaking about a minority.

    Basically what I'm trying to say is, I think this passage would work if it serves a purpose later, but if it stands alone it might unnecessarily take the focus away from your story.

    I hope this helps. Good luck with it.

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    • Thanks Jimmy, that is really helpful. I did want to show that Cat was not a bad person but did indeed have in the ingrained assumptions of the time. She has a learning period to go through, not least because in Book Five of the series her daughter by then a mother herself divorces her husband and marries Anthony.

       Interesting what you say about labels… viz ‘hey you know the gay guy who works in the clinic’ or ‘the black woman who lives three doors down’. These days it strikes an odd note but in the past it used to be taken for granted that people were described by their skin colour or sexuality. I think that is because we have become much more sensitive to how we treat others and that is a good thing but it is also interesting how frightening it is to discuss the subject.

      Good that you also discuss anxiety producing problems, it is worth it but it can be very difficult to get right. I have just been reading Burnt Shadows and Kamila deals brilliantly with very sensitive issues.

      Thank you.



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      • As a 6' 2" black man, I can relate to how both parties would feel in this situation. I keep distance and sometimes even cross roads when passing women at night. I notice discomfort in body language

        I've done that a few times - and I'm white, but 6' 3".

        in the past it used to be taken for granted that people were described by their skin colour or sexuality 

        Ah yes, but only of they weren't white and heterosexual!

        But that's flippant. The casual use of 'gay', or 'black' as a first point of call to identify who someone is can betray latent racism, but too many people (mostly white) are so terrified of being perceived as racist that they can't bring themselves to use skin colour as one of a variety of defining features to identify someone; 'that guy over there, the one in the corner' 'what, the guy with the long hair?' 'no, the other one, the one with his side to us, the one who's a bit taller' when 'no, the asian guy standing next to the black guy' is more appropriate, obvious and straightforward, and could just as easily have been 'no, the white guy next to the group of black guys'. All a bit clumsy, but you get what I mean?

        I love to know about people, about their backgrounds. My family are pretty mixed, though European (Irish, English, German, Hungarian Jewish, a bit of Huguenot) so when I come across someone casually who looks or sounds like they are from interesting origins I'm quite happy to open up a conversation about that. But my son once called me out on it as being unacceptably intrusive. Maybe he's right, but after sometimes a bit of initial reticence - understandable if they've previously had that 'where are you from?' 'Bulgaria' 'why don't you go home' conversation, pretty much everyone is happy that you are interested in them.

        What I want to say is that if what is perceived as 'acceptable' gets in the way of straightforward human communication, then in my book it is unacceptable.

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