Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Skin Tone in Art

Here is an illustrated discussion about racism in comics. First, it's an example of the peskiness that people of color deal with all the time. Second, it's a sharp reminder to build clear character sheets if you are working on a team, and what can go wrong if you're careless about that or change things over time. Whitewashing tends to annoy people a lot.

So now let's take a tour of Terramagne. Local-America has a considerable amount of ethnic blending; T-America has even more. (Skin tone crayons, colored pencils, and other art supplies are much easier to find there.) Thus, there are plenty of European-American characters with light skin, but there are also a lot of other options.  There are also characters from other countries.  An approximate range ...

* White, pale, milk-pale, porcelain, peaches and cream -- people who should not be exposed to direct sunlight without protection. Soups, redheads, albinos, and other people with little or no skin pigment. Alpine and very far northern regions. (Over in Schrodinger's Heroes, Kay is one of those very fair Latinas; I describe her skin as vanilla latte, and that's one I'd use again if I needed it.) The Archivist is an albino and Clement is milk-pale.

* Fair, pinkish-fair, tawny-fair, light-skinned, ivory, peach, tinted -- common lightish range for most of Europe and a lot of America, varied depending on the particular mix, so for instance the tawny tones may include lighter Asian, the pinkish notes show up in Irish, and you can get a pretty true peach from some Native American tribes. Tinted is the lighter end of naturally tan. Heidi Langenberg is pinkish-fair and Miradoir is tawny-fair.

* Olive, golden, tawny, toast, sandy, beige, brass, ruddy, naturally tan, gray -- sometimes called the Mediterranean group, these moderate tones appear throughout the middle to warmish latitudes around the world, plus it's what you most often get from a mixed palette. Lovely complex shades include hints of yellow, pink, brown, and almost green. Italy, Greece, Spain, the Middle East, northern Africa, much of Asia, Polynesia, and Mexico are some places where these colors appear; plus the Great American Melting Pot. Ireland has a rather bright shade of pinkish-red. True gold, lighter earth tones, and some actual olive greens appear in this approximate intensity among soups. Ham is olive and Professor O'Cuinn is ruddy.

* Light brown, milk chocolate, cafe au lait, honey, brown sugar, mocha, copper, cinnamon, mahogany, bronze, terra cotta, brick -- these are the deeper earth tones, heading toward the equatorial zones, and also what you get from mixing just a little between very light and very dark groups. Parts of Africa, South America, and Australia are known for these, along with many Native American tribes. Soups with protective skin often lean toward the dark end of the spectrum. Fiddlesticks is milk chocolate and Joseph Elkdog is copper (the ordinary version, not the metallic version). Shithouse really has dark red skin, like certain bricks.

* Dark brown, chocolate, dark chocolate, coffee, umber, sienna, walnut, black, blue-black -- here are the equatorial and desert tones, people who developed maximum sun protection. (Over in Kande's Quest, I used kola nut as a comparison, that being an African item with positive cultural significance.) Some African people are so black they look almost blue in the sunlight. Some soups have a pure black skin, and black hair with peacock sheen is pretty common. Saraphina is dark brown and Keane is black.

* Chromatic red, yellow, blue, green, purple, etc. -- the "crayon soups" have skin tones not found in ordinary humans. These may be flat, but are more often shaded similarly to human skin so that a blue person tends to be a darker turquoise over most of the body, paling to aquamarine on the palms. While these often appear in conjunction with other powers, a lot of soups have just one low-level power. Many people have only an exotic color of skin/hair/eyes and no other power. It makes them popular as fork targets because they have no special defenses. Exotic coloration was among the first superpowers to be cited as harmless and never grounds for shutting someone out of a public venue. A bunch of schoolkids got transformed temporarily into bright colors, and Aquariana is permanently watercolored.

* True patterns, and chameleon skin -- some soups have striped or spotted skin, which may or may not be furred or scaled. Chameleon skin refers to all the variations of color-changing, and is another power that was early acknowledged as being completely harmless. All of the exotic colors and patterns draw fire from racists as well as forks; and they don't care if the person started out with a socially favored skin tone. They're people of color, hated by the same bigots, but their ethnic origin doesn't change just because their skin is different. Pythia has patches of python-patterned snakeskin, and Neon Girl can make multiple colors.

Most of the time, people in the same family share a resemblance. However, sometimes unexpected things can pop out of the woodwork as rare recessives combine. The Australian aboriginal features seem to wash out very quickly, and there are a bunch of blackfellas who look like whitefellas -- sometimes causing ethnic dysphoria, as one man said, "I'm a blackfella in a whitefella's body." Contrast that with the tendency of African features to stick very strongly when mixed with other populations. Laylan (light brown skin, dark hair in tight spirals, brown eyes) and Luke (light brown skin, blond hair in tight spirals, blue eyes) are fraternal twins. Similarly, multiracial people may show features from different ancestors. The Rescuer has shoulder-length wavy black hair, brown almond-shaped eyes, a wide flat nose, and tinted skin.

Examples of ancestral and ethnic heritage explicitly cited include but are not limited to: African, African-American, African-British, Anishinaabeg, Apache, Australian, Bangladeshi, black Creole, Blackfeet, British, Cajun, Cherokee, Chinese, Corsican, Cuban, free Creole of color, French, German, Greek, Haitian, Hispanic, (east) Indian, Inuit, Iraqi, Irish, Italian, Japanese-American, Jewish, Korean, mestizo, Mexican, Nigerian, Polish, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Russian, Scottish, Shoshone, (mixed) Soviet Union, Swedish-American, Swiss, Taino, Turkish, Welsh, Wendat, Yaqui. Why list variations like "African" / "African-American" / Nigerian or "Hispanic" / "Spanish" together? Some people know more details about their ancestry than others, and some want to make cultural distinctions like African-in-Africa vs. American-with-some-ancestors-from-Africa. Someone with a simpler background might list "Nigerian and British," while someone with ancestors from dozens of places probably doesn't know more than a handful of specifics if that. Some descriptions are widespread, while others are very particular to a locale; you rarely hear things like "free Creole of color" outside of Louisiana. These are things I've come across when researching different areas; I like to look at the demographics for inspiration, and try to find model images from the right region.

And that's just ONE setting I write. I used it as an example because the character sheets in Polychrome Heroics make it easier to run a quick search and list the results. Doing this out of my head makes people stare and grumble at me. Apparently not having my characters sorted by skin tone already is a weirdness. *shrug* I have dozens of settings and a jillion causes, I just don't use the skintone sort often enough to have it memorized. But I do have the diversity.  I don't think of skin tone or ethnicity as the most important parts of a person, but I keep an eye on diversity overall because the world around  me is racist and I don't get to live in a nice place that isn't.  Just not contributing to that mess requires some extra work.

No, character ethnicity is generally not malleable for me. Only a few of mine can racebend, like The Blueshift Troupers, and if they're not doing it then I'm not writing it. I did once have a character accidentally racebent from white to Asian, which had some odd impact on the dynamics of the story "Peaches from the Tree of Heaven," but not so much that it didn't work. The character simply read differently to my West-Coast editor than to me here in the Midwest.

My favorite tools for boosting diversity:
* Pick a place and look up its demographics.  Make characters to match.
* Randomly generate something.  The Bingo Card Generator has a list of ethnic groups.
* Start with a set of character roles  for a team, then dice up traits for ethnicity, gender, etc. using a dice emulator.  I used this for Schrodinger's Heroes.
* Whenever someone says "Nobody writes any X" or "All the portrayals of X suck," I check to see if I have any X.  If not, I write some.
Tags: activism, art, entertainment, ethnic studies, how to, networking, reading, writing

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