I admit-it often takes me a while to absorb certain concepts and critiques.
I was first made aware of the ways of describing skin tone as food (spices and coffee and chocolate) in a writing workshop. A fellow workshopped found an instance of it in my story. I filed the critique away for future examination. (There was a lot wrong with my story, so there was much to take on-board). The idea that describing people of color using food imagery didn’t bother me before. But since I was alerted to it, I began noticing it all the time.
• My niece and nephew are biracial; they are often called “Cafe Au Lait” or cinnamon.
• Personal ads often use various these descriptors. Mocha skin. Chocolate Princess. Honey.
• And Urban Fiction and Blacksplotation Films are full of titles using those conventions: Chocolate Revenge. Coffee. etc.
Because it’s so ingrained, it doesn’t bother me enough to throw me out of the story. For instance, how many white protagonists are described as being rosy-cheeked, or apple-cheeked or with skin as white as cream/milk? Tales of Snow White (and her occasional pal, Rose Red) depend on these surface descriptors.
Years after that critique, I began to see the point. Describing skin tone as food is kind of lazy. It belongs in the purple prose hall of shame, right along with “russet-maned,” and “chestnut tresses.” (Or “man root” and “secret flower” in describing genitalia). And it does bother me now in erotica (or porn).
Since objectification is one of the purposes of erotica/porn, it strips away all the obfuscation in other texts. It is clear that you are meant to (sexually) consume the Chocolate Mandigo; the Onyx Thug is supposed to dominate you, and his very blackness is part of what is supposed to make you feel dominated.
Food as skin-tone serves as a euphemism for othering.
Some texts are “grandfathered” in such uses. (E.G., If an author is being deliberately archaic or in some cases, viewing a character through the lens of another character). But from now on, there will be no more Cocoa-Mocha-Coffee-Tea-Milk-Cinnamon beauties or hunks in my fiction. (Exceptions made for parodies and satires).
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