I have to confess, it took me an ridiculous amount of time to understand why many descriptions of darker skin tones are so offensive. It is not that they are likened to precious stones, fine wood or food. As an aside, many find the food category offensive, because it not only objectifies people, but it treats them also as if they are consumable. That rings true to me, but I can think of certain intimate events in the bedroom when I find this totally appropriate.
But the true offence is not the objectification. And I really didn’t understand this for longer I’m willing to admit. The true offence is, that dark skin tones are often the only skin tones that are described in any detail at all in many stories. In beautiful, poetic language. While the skin tone of a white character isn’t even mentioned. It’s the default, not worth mentioning. That is the insult. People of Colour accuse white writers rightfully to not even have the same elaborate vocabulary to describe white skin the same way.
At first, I felt guilty. Then my little brain gears got churning. See, I really like describing skin tones, and coincidentially, any skin tone. It doesn’t matter if the person is white or brown or black or rainbow-coloured. Because I like colour. I like skin and its many qualities beside its tone. It’s beautiful. It’s important. Just leaving it out wasn’t an option. So I decided to pay special attention to all my characters skin tones, and I also tried to not make it the first thing to mention about my black character. I don’t know if that is any better now, but I leave it to the reader to judge.
But is the accusation right that there aren’t as many descriptions for white skin available as there are for darker skin tones? I’ll go and challenge myself now to come up with as many beautiful (purple) descriptions of white skin as I can – and you can chime in and say what you think or add your own.
Truly white skin:
snowy, alabaster, marble, icy, skin like a lace doily, skin like a spray of cherry blossoms, the luminous white of a pearl, as transparent as fine bone china, eggshell, ivory, skin like liquid moonlight, lily white, frosted glass white, whipped cream, …
Rosy and pink skin:
skin like magnolias or daisies, skin like the morning sky before sunrise, skin like a strawberry daiquirí, like rose quartz, like fondant roses, peachy, candy floss, …
Beige and tanned skin:
honey, caramel, sand, golden, skin like yellowed paper, bronzy, the colour of muddy puddles, butter, olive, teak, …
Okay, coming up with metaphors and similes for beige is hard. Harder than I thought, and it doesn’t matter which of my two languages I try. Treating the norm as exotic is not an easy feat. But I won’t give up yet, but instead add to this collection if more comes to my mind.