Hello Ebi! Hello Family! 

My people are from the Caribbean.

My mother told me that I am a descendant of the Maroons. The Akan Asante people of Ghana that were stolen from their home and brought to Jamaica during the Transatlantic slave trade. When I first started writing Amachi’s Hope, I planned to write a fantasy influenced by Jamaica’s culture. But the more research I did, the clearer the connection between Jamaica, Africa, and other cultures had become. Jamaicans are truly “Out of Many One People.”

Fast forward to the present, I stumbled upon a blog post written by N.K. Jemisin in 2009, where she talked about appropriate descriptive terms for characters of color. When I think of the terms I would use when describing an individual of the African Diaspora, I feel as if I am lacking. Just because I am of Caribbean descent, just because I am a POC doesn’t mean I’ll always know the appropriate terms to describe my people. To a certain extent, it’s almost embarrassing. It makes one question their skills as a writer.  But even the most seasoned author can sometimes struggle with appropriate terms regardless of race, gender or culture. Writing outside the box, creating characters influenced by people you are not familiar with can be intimidating.

Jemisin pointed out that the use of food when describing a POC is a no-no. I did not realize my faux-pas until I read this…

“There is a wordset that’s commonly used in African-American Interest fiction, but it’s problematic. Lots of coffees, chocolates, and flavors based on coffee and chocolate (e.g., mocha, cafe au lait). I pointed out to someone on my LJ, as it was pointed out to me (by someone else, whom I would attribute if I could remember -_- ) that black slaves got used to harvest coffee, chocolate, and related crops, so there’s some very creepy historical irony in using these commodities to describe a people who were themselves commodified.”

Yes, they say the more you read, the broader your vocabulary will become. But can being well-read really make a difference? What if you were raised to see the world differently? What if your choice of books was restricted to a particular POV? Would you be open to changing the way you label the world and its people? It looks like the days of using food to describe an individual have passed. LOL!

Do you struggle with descriptive terms when writing about certain characters in your story?  Have you fallen into the habit of using food or other ‘lazy’ words to describe a COC or a character in general? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

Ibukun! (Blessings)

Jemisin, N.K. “Describing characters of color in writing” N.K. Jemisin. 11 Apr. 2009. nkjemisin.com/2009/04/ways-to-describe-characters-of-color/ Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.