>Mitali Perkins Facebooked and Twittered a question to her friends: “should an author describe the race of a character or leave it to the reader’s imagination?”
Good question, and she got some good answers. (Thanks, Gail, for the tip.)
It’s a question we also face in reviewing–when do we mention the ethnicity or skin color of a character and when do we not? Sometimes, relaying details of the story will make things clear enough, but it’s tougher when reviewing everyday-life-type stories, especially picture books, where the characters happen to be one color or another in a way that has no particular effect on the story or theme. And, as Justina Chen Headley points out in Mitali’s post, we tend to mention skin color only when that color is not white. Awwwwwkward. I remember when Ms. magazine made a go of using “European American” wherever white people showed up in a story but it didn’t last.
(And, really, there should be some kind of prize for the awkward ways in which well-meaning children’s writers signal skin color: “Kathy’s cocoa-brown-with-a-hint-of-whipped-cream face glowed warmly as she reveled in the attention of her more boringly-tinted friends.” Yeah, I made that up but you know what I mean.)