7 Offensive Mistakes Well-Intentioned Writers Make

Food-Colored Skin

Not only is purple prose obnoxious; sometimes it can be racist. For some reason, certain writers have a fondness for describing dark complexions, and only dark complexions in food-related terms. Sure, while most of these things are things that people like (like chocolate), having people (especially strangers) keep likening your skintone to an inanimate edible object can be more than just a little creepy.

Skin Color Only Described When Not White

In many stories, the color of a character's skin will only be described when the character doesn't have a fair complexion. This typically happens because the writer is white and subconsciously thinks of xir own skin color as the default and everyone else's as the outliers. One can avoid this by describing everyone's skin color.

Written Accents

Written accents are offensive because they essentially tell the group whose accent is being written that "your way of talking is weird; my way is normal."

Not only are written accents offensive to the group being represented, but they're offensive to read because you have to spend extra time trying to sort out what the writer was trying to say.

If you want to write a character who is supposed to have an accent, use grammar and slang associated with people who have that accent. You could also just mention that they have an accent. But don't butcher the spellings of the words. "He's got himself in a right pickle, he has" is fine, but "'E's got 'imself in a right pickle, 'e 'as" is not.

Things Appropriated From Other Cultures

Many new writers are bound and determined to make sure their characters have meaningful and unique names. I see many people who have clearly scoured the bowels of online baby name sites to find the perfect Vedic/Japanese/Aztec name for their white character.

This sort of thing is a form of cultural appropriation, which is a pretty huge faux pas. For the uninformed, cultural appropriation is when a member of a dominant culture takes something from an oppressed/minority culture and uses it in a shallow, trendy, or superficial way - and there's really nothing more shallow or superficial than trying to make your character stand out by giving xir an "exotic" name instead of giving xir a memorable personality and story.

Likewise, people give their characters katanas and throw youkai into their stories for no other reason than "it's more interesting" than Western culture. Throwing things from another culture into your story for no other reason than you think it's "more interesting" reduces that culture to a cheap gimmick, which is pretty rude and potentially offensive.

For more on this subject, see What's Cultural Appropriation, Anyway?

"Harmless" Stereotypes

The Japanese plant-lover. The wise Native American. The sexy Latina. There's nothing bad about loving plants or being wise or sexy, so why would anyone find these offensive?

For one thing, it can create unrealistic expectations and assumptions about these people. Many Asian-Americans find themselves having to explain to people that no, they don't know squat about gardening, really. Many Latinas would rather people didn't expect them to be hot and spicy lovers based on their race. And contrary to what some think, Native Americans aren't really born with a magical connection to the Earth and tend to find assumptions that they are quite irritating.

The Supercrip

There are two varieties of supercrips: the first is a disabled person who is treated as a hero just for doing everyday things that most people take for granted. Many people find it a rather condescending attitude to take and would thank you to knock it off.

The second type is the character who has amazing skills or abilities because or in spite of xir disability. While a writer might be trying to say "just because a person doesn't have a disability, doesn't mean they can't be amazing!", due to the continuous lack of not-so-super disabled people in fiction, it tends to create an impression that disabled people having amazing abilities that make up for their disabilities is the norm, which unfortunately isn't true.

The Mighty Whitey

The Mighty Whitey is a white person (if not physically, then culturally) who finds xirself faced with the task of saving a marginalized group (often as not from other white people). The character is usually male and ends up becoming the leader of the people he just liberated, and he usually ends up with a hot ethnic-looking gal to boink. (Think Jake Sulley from Avatar, and you've got the Mighty Whitey in a nutshell.) The Mighty Whitey will learn the ways of an ethnic group, and xe will become even better at them than the people who have been studying them all their lives.

What makes this trope so horrendous are the undertones of white supremacy: it implies that non-white people cannot solve their problems without a white person to help or even lead them, and that white people will always be better at everything.

Also, becoming a leader of a people whose culture you have only known/studied for a few months - or even a few years - is one of the most ridiculously puerile fantasies in existence. Would you let some guy you barely knew become your leader just because he could pull off some fancy-pants moves on a flying animal? Sure, he might be a flying ace, but that doesn't mean he won't have some really obnoxious ideas about how the homefront should be managed.

Further Reading/See Also

7 MORE Offensive Mistakes Well-Intentioned Writers Make
Basic Tips To Avoid Tokenism
Basic Tips To Get More Racial Diversity In Your Writing
Basic Tips To Write Subcultures & Minority Religions Better
Cultural Appropriation: Homage or Insult? (offsite)
Appropriate Cultural Appropriation (offsite)

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