Recently I read one of your books for the first time. I enjoyed it for its dialogue and romance, even though a lot of the story’s elements were predictable. I could see why you have a rather devoted following for your romances. But one thing that really bothered me was the language you used to describe race and ethnicity. I get it, white author, you were trying to insert a bit of diversity when you made one of the prospective love interests a Latino guy with “tan” skin and black hair (and somehow blue eyes — which would be rare, but it definitely happens, so I guess kudos for not making him look too stereotypical). The problem, for me, wasn’t the Latino love interest — who was definitely swoon-worthy — but the way that later in the book, another character tells the protagonist she understands why he’s so attractive, because “He’s got that whole Latin-lover thing going.” Um, no — but more on that later.
The really, really egregious thing about the author’s misguided treatment of minorities is not just how all three of them in the book are relegated to working class status, but in particular how the Asian kid was described. The only other minority (besides the hunky love interest from the wrong side of the socioeconomic spectrum and girl with “mochacolored skin” described in passing) is a complete throwaway character the protagonist encounters at school. The boy is described as kind of gothy looking with longish black hair and guy liner. Kind of reminded me of Park for a second until I realized the main character thought: “thick black eyeliner curved around slanted eyes” (emphasis mine). Then a classic mean girl calls him “Long Duck” as a joke (ha ha — only the biggest Asian stereotype in high-school movies ever!). I’ll forget that, since the girl calling him the name is supposed to be cruel. But do you see the word slanted up there? Much later in the book, the boy again is referred to by his “almond-shaped eyes.”
Now the whole “Latin-lover” trope and using words like “tan,” “caramel-skinned,” “mochacolored” and “almond-shaped” are all ridiculously stereotypical and overused (and in my book, indicative of lazy writing) and should be avoided whenever possible. But they’re not necessarily offensive; what IS offensive (and inaccurate) is “slanted.” East Asians don’t have “slanted” eyes — that would be the stick-figure caricatures that little kids draw. Even though it is a word often used to describe people with epicanthic folds, it’s really offensive, especially coming from a non-Asian character’s point of view. It’s like the word “nappy” to describe textured hair or “mulatto” to describe a biracial person. Just DON’T use it.
If you don’t know this already, then ask. Someone should have told you. Why didn’t your editor point this out to you, I wonder? I’m not out to play the PC police, but gimme a break. People of color read too, and we want authentic (or at least heartfelt) representations, not stereotypes. I appreciate you trying. I really do. And hooray for cute Latino boys with big hearts and buff bodies. But can you (ALL) please try a little harder? Not every teen of color is the child of a service worker in need of a scholarship. Mentioning the “mochacolored” skin and “slanted eyes” of characters you couldn’t bother to even really name are tokenism not diversity.
Author, I hope you keep trying. Just be more thoughtful when you choose to make a character, even the insignificant ones walking around school or sitting in the cafeteria, minorities. Know that teens of color are more than their skin shade or their eye shape. And they are definitely more than whatever stupid stereotype exists about their sexual prowess or beauty or lack thereof.
Teen Lit Rocks
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