It’s not that I don’t want people to notice, but I want to describe characters without just putting their description out there. I wanted a good way without going, “They’re not white.”
Ways to Indicate Race
Noting skin color by contrast is perfectly fine, though describing skin color is not necessarily enough to “lock in” the notion that your character is a Person of Color, especially if they happen to be light, white passing, or otherwise.
Even then some people might “miss” or ignore descriptions of even dark brown and tell themselves it’s a White person so that alone tells you extra efforts are at times called for.
- Physical descriptions: Along with describing skin color, you can note facial features and/or any cultural or religious garment worn by themselves or family members. Obviously not to say PoC look the same, but there are common features to a race, such as afro hair to Black people, though there’s incredible diversity even within Black hair.
- Engage in their culture: If a character and their family is celebrating the Chinese New Year, going into their early memories with the holiday and what it means (or doesn’t mean) to them, we’re likely gonna assume they’re Chinese.
- Associations/Club: Maybe they’re in a Black Student Union, or someone attempts to recruit them to a school, club, program or organization that pertains to their race, or even a friend/family member encourages them to join.
- Use another character(s) to state it. A younger or older character might boldly note the differences in their skin or looks to the character. Someone might make a funny, awkward, exoticizing, racist or insensitive comment or joke.
- Use character “voice”: The character might make a quirky or casual statement related to their race.
- Racial Grievance: A character making note of a racial grievance and/or facing racism or micro-aggressions can indicate their race.
- Just state it. There’s honestly no shame in just stating a character is Black, Indian etc. But it’s like with any story detail; it should fit naturally as it’s odd to just blurt it without cause.
Threading indicators like these, at least early once and then throughout the story at your discretion, should be effective for letting us know the character is x race.
I’d also like to add that only stopping to describe your Characters of Color implies White = default so be sure to describe your White characters as well within your writing.
Hope this was helpful!