I'm writing a scene where the skin tone of an adult person of color (POC) is brought up in conversation. The POC has the nickname "Ghost" and another character asks if it's ironic like "Tiny" etc. (we later find out it's because of certain supernatural abilities.) The character who brings up the topic is made out to be an ass and has been trying to get a rise out of Ghost. The scene serves to show that Ghost is very self-controlled.

I wanted Ghost to think back to when he was a child, when another POC bullied him for having darker skin. Upset, Ghost runs to his grandmother, who calms him and explains that sometimes people just want to pick a fight and it can be over the stupidest things and that we're all human and your skin tone makes you no better or worse than anyone else.

I was going to try use a coffee analogy, something like "Some people like it strong and black, while others like creamer and more sugar than you'd find in a cake, but it's all still coffee. Each way is no better or worse, and you wouldn't fight with someone over how they take it, right? It's just the way they like it." And then I was going to end on something like "Me, I like my coffee good and strong, just ask your grandfather" ... which would make Ghost smile, as it was something he didn't quite understand at the time, but as an adult reminds him of his grandmother's humour.

But... the coffee analogy suggests preference. I don't want it read that I'm saying it's fine to like or dislike a person based on skin colour. I'm also wary of coffee after reading some articles on coffee/chocolate being problematic to use due to links with slavery and plantation crops.

Question: How should I approach writing a scene where the POC grandmother explains to the bullied POC young child that having dark skin isn't a bad or good thing?

For context: I'm a white male. The work is a fantasy novel set at the start of this decade. I'm quite happy with the way the Ghost character has been written in the rest of the book, after this chapter there is a severe lack of humans and race is never brought up again. I chose to make one of the main characters a POC because the rest of the limited cast of humans were white.


2 Answers 2


Perhaps, rather than just what people prefer, you should also work in what people are used to.

If someone has only ever had creamy, sweet coffee, and they get served a strong, black coffee, it can surprise them. But over time, as they get used to it, they'll realise it's coffee all the same.

Also, you could try to de-link the colour from the preference slightly: White coffee and black coffee can both be either bitter or sweet - just like people. And that's what usually gets the complaints.

Finally, if you are still worried about coffee, might I suggest apples?

"Red, green, yellow, we eat them all the same. What matters isn't the colour of the skin, but rather that they're good on the inside; any colour can be rotten to the core."

  • Really good. Love the example you put at the bottom! Jun 7, 2020 at 22:55
  • Thanks, really helpful answer, and the apples idea is excellent. I think I'll try use both, removing the focus from the coffee by starting with the apples, but keep a reference to the grandmother preferring strong black coffee, just so I can have the character chuckle to himself.
    – Frankie
    Jun 12, 2020 at 12:52

Very interesting story. I'd say that you're pretty fine.

You can make the coffee comparison. It's perfectly fine. People have preferences, yes. But that, in no way, shouted about "bias!" to me. It's fine.

And about the coffe thing (like how it was linked historically to slavery/plantation crops), relax. Yes, let's keep history in mind. Let's make sure we never do that again. But do we have to freak out over things now (which have a different meaning now, by the way), when we could just relax and give them a meaning ourselves? I mean, it's not like that coffee and chocolate came from back then. It's from now, correct? If it's not from that time, then why are you worrying? The HISTORY of the CROP is related; not the food that you are currently eating.

I'm a biracial male, by the way.

(Also, I have a question: Do you think People of Color can be racist, or no? Answer honestly. I won't attack anyone for their answer)

  • 2
    Anyone can be racist, though they shouldn’t. That’s all there is to it.
    – Naomi
    Jun 4, 2020 at 12:15
  • 3
    “Just because someone's a member of an ethnic minority doesn't mean they're not a nasty small-minded little jerk.” ― Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay
    – GarethN
    Jun 4, 2020 at 12:58
  • 1
    @Naomi Agreed (Sorry have to type out more letters) Jun 4, 2020 at 15:13
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    @GarethN Very good quote. Will keep that with me. Jun 4, 2020 at 15:13
  • 1
    Note that many other people of color do not share your views on the coffee/chocolate thing. For example, see this article about describing skin tones. Jun 4, 2020 at 19:31

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