You know how, just a few weeks ago, I was like, "If you want to write diverse characters well, you have to educate yourself. Follow other authors and readers, people who are willing to tell you what they want, what works or what doesn't. Have meaningful conversations around what representation means."
Yeah, I was trying to do that. And I still messed up anyway.
In the podcast episode that I mentioned last post, Sharonda from Three Black Chicks straight-up said that she wanted less fetishization of this form: [33:50] "You got this white man talking about how he loves her chocolate skin . . . he can't just love this woman, just to love this woman, he gotta love this woman because you know, her skin dark, or caramel, or silky brown or whatever the hell."
I heard her, but I thought to myself, "That's not why Asher is attracted to Lina. He doesn't make creepy comments about it, or call her 'exotic' or anything stupid like that. So I'm good!"
But I still used these words in Falling for You:
"[she] was a caramel-skinned fitness model who could make anything look sexy."
"...her long, smooth, creamy-coffee limbs on full display."
Both Asher's thoughts. (I don't think there are any other instances, but I could be wrong. 😱)
When I wrote them, I didn't think they were fetishizing. I'd even asked some friends if I should take them out, and they said no. They're just descriptions.
I left it at that.
But if I'd just gone the extra step of GOOGLING it, I would've found this very popular blog post on the topic, or any number of forums where people discuss why it's fetishizing and offensive to compare a POC's skin to food, especially Black skin to coffee and chocolate. Plus the fact that it's overdone and clichéd.
And like, if I'd just paid attention to the books by Black authors with Black characters that I've read / bought, I would've noticed a pattern. Some examples:
I just finished reading Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon on Overdrive, which didn't have a search function, but I do not recall seeing any mentions of skin color after Xeni's initial, "By the way, I'm Black" moment.
42 mentions of skin in Queen Move by Kennedy Ryan, no comparisons to food.
48 mentions of skin in Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (on sale now!), no comparisons to food.
16 mentions of skin in Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole, no comparisons to food.
I should've done more homework.
I've had several pairs of eyes on the book by this point, some of them belonging to Black folks, but no one has said anything. One half-Black friend even told me that she would use the term "light caramel" to describe her own skin. She suggested that, if I wanted to please everyone, I could just use the hex color code. (I LOL'ed, but I'm not going to do that.)
I'd thought that what I'd done was fine, because a few people told me that it was okay. It's not. I'm glad that I didn't offend them, but Black people and POC are not a monolith. And it's also not their jobs to tell me how to do mine.
This may not seem like a big deal, but micro-aggressions matter. Othering matters. The default character skin color should not be White, but repeatedly pointing out someone else's skin color emphasizes it unnecessarily. I would hate it if someone said, "her peanut butter skin" etc. over and over. It should not be a focus. It is not there for you to devour. I'm writing about people, not food. And I'm sorry for not figuring this out earlier.
I sincerely apologize to anyone I've offended, and I thank the folks who have been willing to offer their opinion / help me learn. I'm going to remove the offending terms from the book (woo, self-publishing!) and add a comment in the Afterword that points them to this post.
Like I wrote in the previous post:
The lesson was clear: we all make mistakes, no matter how woke we think we are. If you do mess up, it's okay; acknowledge it, and work to educate yourself. Do better.
I still have so much work to do.