SCBWI's Blueboard - A Message & Chat Board

Current PC words to describe different races

Discussion started on

Reader, reader, reader...
Administrator
Poster Plus
  • ****
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region rmc
In my current WIP, I have a group of boys which are made up of many races -- and they're celebrating this fact.  I'm not sure what the current words are for different races these days (I don't want to use anything even remotely offensive).  I tend to use (and hear around this area) 'black' or 'latino/a' or 'Asian', but I'm not sure if these are country-wide or still inoffensive.  Unfortunately, because of the makeup of this group (and the fact that they're proud of their different cultural and racial backgrounds), I can't just leave it to the readers' imagination.

Any suggestions?  They all come from Michigan, if that helps at all.  Thanks :)
#1 - April 11, 2012, 11:15 AM
Robin
Unspun: A Collection of Tattered Fairy Tales: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BSR6CPJ/
Website: www.robinprehn3r.com

i've lived in canada and the US (although, never in michigan!) and the black people I know describe themselves as "black." i had a black friend who grew up in the washington, dc, area and not only did she and her family always use "black," they thought that people who used what i thought was the politically correct term of "african-american" were trying too hard to be politically correct.

amongst asians and latinos, i've noticed people are specific about where exactly their families hailed from. eg: my korean friend describes her ethnicity when asked as "korean" not "asian" although she was born here. same with latinos i've met--they'll say "we're colombian" not "we're latino"

i imagine you'll get a bunch of different answers from blueboarders and as long as you're not using derogatory terms, you should be fine :)
#2 - April 11, 2012, 11:27 AM

I would agree that Asian could be more specific. I have a lot of Asian friends who will reference the fact that they're Asian, but if they are interested in their heritage, will also talk about being Chinese or Korean, etc. For instance, a friend of mine who is Chinese sends her kids to Chinese school on Saturdays and is active in the greater Chinese community, is well versed in the different regions of Chinese food, makes fun of her husband's "peasant" Cantonese nose...etc. So while she'll talk about being Asian, it's also important that she's Chinese.

I also have a friend who has always described herself as Mexican, not the more generic Latina...
#3 - April 11, 2012, 11:48 AM
Robin

Member
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region britishisles
My husband would never say Latino and he's from Chile. One of my good friends from El Salvador would also not describe herself as a Latina. But they may be exceptions. As the others have said, they'd be more specific.
#4 - April 11, 2012, 11:58 AM

As long as you don't use the term oriental, Asian is a good catchall. Especially when people don't know which specific Asian country the person's background is. Then Asian is the best way to go. But if you are talking specifically about your POC characters, then the more specific you are the better! Good luck!
#5 - April 11, 2012, 12:11 PM
PROPHECY: Prophecy Series (January 2, 2013)
WARRIOR (winter 2014)
KING (winter 2014)
HarperTeen

http://ellenoh.com

Member
Poster Plus
I live in Texas, just a few hours from the Mexican border. Whites are often referred to as Anglos. Hispanic is a more common word than latino or latina here. Mexican or Mexicano are also used. The language and statistics from my city's 2010 census is as follows: 59.7% Hispanic/Latino/Spanish, 33.3% white, 3.9% African American, 1.8% Asian. (I didn't include the statistics on Native American, Pacific Islander, Mixed Race, etc.)
#6 - April 11, 2012, 12:13 PM
« Last Edit: April 11, 2012, 12:16 PM by Lill »
Making metaphors out of molehills for over thirty years.

A friend of ours is a graduate student in an African American Studies department, which she regularly refers to as Afram. Don't know how widespread that usage is, though. 
#7 - April 11, 2012, 01:04 PM

Admins and Mods Emeriti
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
I read something somewhere that there are regional variances, so that what's perfectly acceptable and common in one part of the US is seen as offensive elsewhere. (Which is probably true on an individual basis as well, I suppose.)

One example I know of is that, while as Lil notes, Hispanic is still very common in some places, all the people who would meet that description whom I know personally in the Northwest find it mildly offensive and prefer Latino/Latina.

Are YOU from Michigan? I'd say just go with your best assessment of what's common there and maybe plan to discuss it with your editor (who, most likely being a New Yorker, may have a different take) later.
#8 - April 11, 2012, 01:20 PM
The Farwalker Trilogy
The Humming of Numbers
Reality Leak

www.jonisensel.com

As an aside, I was talking to a man once with a thick Spanish accent and he referenced his country, so I referred to him being "hispanic" - I got a very informative lecture after that about how one is not hispanic if one is from Spain. He was deeply offended, but very kind about and wanted very much to educate me on the subject. ;)
#9 - April 11, 2012, 02:29 PM
Robin

Reader, reader, reader...
Administrator
Poster Plus
  • ****
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region rmc
Well, that's interesting to know.  Even though many of the Latinos around here are from Mexico, calling them 'Mexicans' is definitely considered derogatory.  So I guess I'll start by asking my aunt from MI (though I'm not sure she pays attention to such things), since it looks like Latino isn't preferred, either.

I will mention the specific Asian countries, as well -- thanks so much for all the information, folks!  I appreciate it :)
#10 - April 11, 2012, 02:32 PM
Robin
Unspun: A Collection of Tattered Fairy Tales: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BSR6CPJ/
Website: www.robinprehn3r.com

When I lived in California, the rule of thumb was that to call a group of hispanic people "Mexican" was unkind because they weren't necessarily from Mexico. But, if someone had Mexican heritage, they were generally proud of it and owned the term themselves. I think it could come down to your individual characters, and then the terms they use to describe themselves may not be the terms others use to describe them, or that they'd prefer others use to describe them when talking about their race...
#11 - April 11, 2012, 02:49 PM
Robin

Member
Poster Plus
A friend of mine read a story in which I had a character with a Mexican surname, and she thanked me for including a Mexicano.  The tile man who recently repaired my shower referred to himself as Mexican and his wife as Mexican-German -- he also threw in a few eye rolls and mutterances at that combo -- apparently his wife is on the feisty side.
#12 - April 11, 2012, 03:32 PM
« Last Edit: April 11, 2012, 03:49 PM by Lill »
Making metaphors out of molehills for over thirty years.

Member
Poster Plus
I googled. And this is probably useless information ... but ... I found it interesting to see the terms researchers in Michigan used while doing a study on residents in South Texas.

http://www.umich.edu/~strokepg/BASICforresearchers.html
#13 - April 11, 2012, 03:47 PM
Making metaphors out of molehills for over thirty years.

Reader, reader, reader...
Administrator
Poster Plus
  • ****
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region rmc
That's interesting, Lill -- Mexican-American is a term I've never heard before around here. 

And Rob, I think I will probably have to include their countries, as well...probably a good idea, anyway.  Even though they're secondary characters, because of their group's role in the book, I should have them expressing their cultures more specifically.

You all are great!
#14 - April 11, 2012, 03:55 PM
Robin
Unspun: A Collection of Tattered Fairy Tales: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BSR6CPJ/
Website: www.robinprehn3r.com

Dionna

Guest
Could you leave the terms out all together and perhaps simply refer to the differences in their languages, hair, eye, and skin color, and parents' background without using labels?

In the schools where I've worked here in VA, younger Kids rarely use terms....maybe by middle-school the terms become norm.

As mentioned in a previous post, many African-Americans refers to their families as black, but those same individuals will in a formal setting say African-American. Personally, knowing that the heritage of many blacks here in this country cover many countries besides Africa, I believe the term is limiting and sometimes prefer saying "a person of color".

(In one nonfiction ms, I used the term European-American and African-American to keep it consistent!)
#15 - April 11, 2012, 04:24 PM

Member
Poster Plus
I've never met anyone from Mexico who considered it derogatory to be called Mexican! (Although of course people who WEREN'T from Mexico would be offended if they were assumed to be Mexican just because they looked Hispanic or spoke Spanish.)

That reminds me of a relative-in-law who very gingerly and hesitantly referred to me as "from a Jewish background." She seemed to think that calling a Jewish person "Jewish" might be offensive. Which naturally made me wonder why she considered "Jewish" an insult!

Anyway, I agree about naming specific nationalities, but would also add that many Americans come from mixed backgrounds. If someone has a father who's half Cuban, half Colombian, and a mother who's Puerto Rican, they may just call themselves Latino or Latina.
#16 - April 11, 2012, 06:19 PM
AROUND AMERICA TO WIN THE VOTE
ANYTHING BUT ORDINARY ADDIE
MESMERIZED
GINGERBREAD FOR LIBERTY!
THE GRUDGE KEEPER
more at mararockliff.com

Member
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region easternny
I've never met anyone from Mexico who considered it derogatory to be called Mexican! (Although of course people who WEREN'T from Mexico would be offended if they were assumed to be Mexican just because they looked Hispanic or spoke Spanish.)

That reminds me of a relative-in-law who very gingerly and hesitantly referred to me as "from a Jewish background." She seemed to think that calling a Jewish person "Jewish" might be offensive. Which naturally made me wonder why she considered "Jewish" an insult!


Well, I could see if she doesn't know if you are a practicing Jew or what... like, I have an Irish last name, and my background on all sides is extremely Catholic, and I went to Catholic school and Catholic college... but in fact, I am not actually Irish OR Catholic, and I would think it was odd if somebody said "oh that Jennifer, she's Irish-Catholic" when I don't identify as either of those things. I mean I wouldn't be OFFENDED, I'd just think the person didn't know me very well. AT ALL.  :bunnyrun

Obviously Jewishness is not just a religion but also a cultural identity, and one doesn't have to be a practicing Jew to be Jewish... but, yanno. People just don't want to say something wrong and step on anyone's toes, I guess.

As for the Mexi-spa-tino thing: In Los Angeles, where I grew up mostly, Mexican and first-generation people were called Mexican, Dominican people Dominican, etc. Second-generation would be Mexican-American, etc. Unknown origin latin-american people were Latin-American, Latin or Latino/Latina. My friends would get super irritated with "Hispanic."  However, when I moved to NY, a coworker got super irritated at me for saying "Latino" and insisted on "Hispanic", saying Latin-American or anything like that was offensive. But I personally think Hispanic sounds like "Oriental" -- just terrible. I'm not going to warm up to that word. So. *shrug* I try to stick with the country of origin if possible. 

Same with Asian countries of origin - specificity is both more accurate, and more polite, when possible. (IMO)
#17 - April 11, 2012, 10:09 PM
twitter: @literaticat
ask the agent: http://literaticat.tumblr.com/ask

Administrator
Poster Plus
  • ****
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region dakotas
Regional differences (hispanic vs. latino)--yes. I've noticed that, too. I want to say I heard an NPR group discussion once about black vs. African American, and it was really a regional divide. Um...do double check this, but from what I remember, the people on the show who were from Philadelphia considered themselves black. The "Old Country" was Mississippi. The Southerners on the show were African-American, and the "Old Country" was the Rice Coast of Africa. Both groups were rather adamant about what the correct words were to use. It was a fascinating show!
#18 - April 12, 2012, 06:03 AM

In Memphis, you generally hear black, white, Asian, and Hispanic. African-American seems to be a passing trend.

#19 - April 12, 2012, 06:25 AM
SWAY, 2012 from Disney-Hyperion
CIRCA NOW, 2014 from Disney-Hyperion
http://www.ambermcreeturner.com
https://www.facebook.com/SwayByAmberMcReeTurner

Member
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region northtexas
I think being country specific adds something....instead of hispanic or latino celebrate the heritage as "Puerto Rican" or "Guatamalan"...instead of Asian use "Laotian" (or whatever applies)...it would round the character.
My background is Black Irish, and we are very proud of our roots.  My husband's family is German. My mother-in-law loves to have long conversation with out dachshund in German.  (btw: he seems to understand her...what a dog!)
#20 - April 12, 2012, 11:27 AM

Reader, reader, reader...
Administrator
Poster Plus
  • ****
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region rmc
Your insights have definitely convinced me to specify countries -- thank you!

And I think 'black' will work, as well.  Siska, I can't use other characteristics because it's such a varied group -- and they're all very proud of the cultural and racial variety in their group.  Otherwise, it's a good idea. :)
#21 - April 12, 2012, 12:58 PM
Robin
Unspun: A Collection of Tattered Fairy Tales: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BSR6CPJ/
Website: www.robinprehn3r.com

Emeritus
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region florida
Robin--if it helps, Carrie Harris (a member of the BBs, at least she used to be, and a YA author) lives in MI if I remember correctly. She's super nice and I'm sure would answer an email or PM...
#22 - April 12, 2012, 02:28 PM
KISS ME KILL YOU (Entangled Crave, June 12, 2017)
@lchardesty all over the internet

I lived in "multi-cultural" bradford where asians and people of other background celebrated their origins in that context. Rarely did they refer to themselves as "types", but nearly always celebrated their country of origin.  And afro-carribeans always referred to themselves as black and were quite adamant about it.
#23 - April 19, 2012, 05:40 PM
« Last Edit: April 19, 2012, 05:46 PM by thunderingelephants »

Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region nymetro
  • WNDB
I'd echo Ellen's no use of Oriental at ALL.

Hispanic and Latino aren't necessarily interchangeable and can be regional.

Asian can be more specific but I think default for many is to think Asian = East Asian areas (China, N/S Korea, Japan, Taiwan, etc.)

Indian is seen more for those from Asia and Native American for American Indians (however I would highly suggest reading Debbie Reese's post about Native Americans to note precise terms used). 

Black tends to cover a wider range of those with African lineage including Africans, African Americans, and those from the Caribbean.

I've seen that sometimes someone simply says "So and so was Latino" or "There was a Latino kid standing by the door" to signify the diversity of the area. Personally, I found that a bit easy in a way rather than delving into characters more with description, however that's my personal feelings on that and many may feel differently.

Take care,
Jenn
#24 - February 05, 2015, 03:17 PM
« Last Edit: February 05, 2015, 03:20 PM by jennifer-baker1 »

mclicious
Member
Poster Plus
It's also important to note whether you are trying to describe a character's RACE or their ETHNICITY - which are not the same. Race is biological (well, not really, but let's not get into that - generally speaking, in sociology, "race" is the thing that biologically marks your skin, your features, your body, etc) and ethnicity is culture and heritage. "Black" is a racial indicator, "African American" is one particular mode of being black in a particular culture.

One of my professors in college described the difference as your race being something you can't shake, while ethnicity is culture and can be chosen or rejected. Getting those two mixed up and assuming that labels are only about being "PC" and not just about identifying someone physically vs culturally can lead to problems like when news outlets reported that Nelson Mandela was the first "African American" to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
#25 - February 11, 2015, 02:26 PM

If you have to use the words 'Politically Correct' then you have missed the mark by a long shot. It is not about PC it is about respect and authenticity. It is about being as accurate with your words as you possibly can so that you are not misunderstood. If you don't know what groups call themselves then I assume it's because you are not within that group so in that case why are you doing this? What is your motivation? Please understand that while you grasp at PC there are diverse writers who could do the job beautifully and the point is that the industry needs to give them a chance at publishing their books too.
#26 - February 15, 2015, 02:07 PM

Always capitalize 'Black' if you are using it as a racial term. It is a term popularized during colonization and rooted in racism to describe not only sub-Saharan Africans but all people with darker pigmented skin including Indians and Oceanic peoples. It was African-Americans that re-appropriated the term into one of strength and beauty by making the color black an icon representing the civil rights movement. Therefore, always capitalize 'Black' when using it as a racial term along with 'White' for that matter. Also...as an African-American writer/illustrator I would hope that publishers see we are capable of telling our own stories just fine.
#27 - February 15, 2015, 02:13 PM
« Last Edit: February 15, 2015, 02:15 PM by rae-pleasant »

Dionna

Guest
As an African-American writer, I wrote a story from the first person POV of a 13 year-old, White boy from 1941 living here in my rural county. My friend's husband whose family is from here probably as far back as the European time line goes, read it and said it was very realistic. He believed my story.

While what you say is true, Rae: "We are capaable of telling our own stories just fine," as members of the human family, we all cry, laugh, feel grief, feel betrayal, fall in love.... True, the way we personally express ourselves may be unique to a certain family background, our neighborhood, or our culture. But if we  listen to, watch, absorb the surrounding of, and empathize with our neighbor, wouldn't you agree that it is possible to write authentically from the viewpoint of someone different from us?

(P.S. I capitalized white, as per your suggestion!  :dogwalk)
#28 - February 15, 2015, 02:40 PM

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region ksmo
Well said, Dionna.
#29 - February 15, 2015, 02:50 PM
DREAM JOBS IN SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY (Rosen 2018)
THE GROSS SCIENCE OF BAD BREATH AND CAVITIES (Rosen 2019)

http://www.authorjessicashaw.com

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region iowa
But if we  listen to, watch, absorb the surrounding of, and empathize with our neighbor, wouldn't you agree that it is possible to write authentically from the viewpoint of someone different from us?
This.
#30 - February 15, 2015, 02:51 PM
Learning to Swear in America (Bloomsbury, July 2016)
What Goes Up (Bloomsbury, 2017)
Twitter: KatieWritesBks

Members:

0 Members and 2 Guests are viewing this topic.