Wednesday, August 12, 2009

He Tastes Just Like...?

Oh my, it's my day already. Honestly, I do wonder how time flies like that when I'm trying to get things done. I'm not of course but it's all about trying, right? Hehe. So, today, like always, I come to you with a topic that has been in my head for quite some time but needed a good hard shove to finally come out.

That shove came by Emmy Jag. For those who haven't heard of the illustrious Lady Emmy, she's a straight-shooting kind of reviewer, much like Mrs. Giggles. Emmy, however, is perhaps even more blunt, if that's at all possible. I have a healthy dose of fear and respect for both reviewers. Emmy did a recent review and a comment she'd made had me thinking. With her permission, I'm reposting that bit from her review (I'm not linking to the review to avoid wankery and because I'm not picking on this author at all nor do I believe Emmy is. She was just the catalyst to the discussion. The link above is to Emmy's general blog):

"Ok, can we please stop referring to black people as chocolate flavored? Nobody calls white people vanilla flavored, or asians...banana flavored (sorry, ran out of flavors), do they??? It's an old and overused cliche, and entirely inaccurate to boot."

A perfectly fair plea to my mind. I know I tend to come up with the racial issues in stories but honestly, if there weren't so damn many, I probably wouldn't open my mouth about it. These things are annoying, folks. Perhaps it bothers Emmy and I more because we are both black women. That could mean our ire lights up a little faster. But I find this aggravating when it happens to any color.

Maybe we need to stop with the food references all together. No? Okay, I'll relent on that because I admit that it's hard sometimes. Mocha-skinned, honey brown, cafe au lait --I guess we just can't help that and really those don't offend anyone. Frankly, I use food and drink references in description of skin and it's a habit I don't think any writer will ever be able to break. I don't expect anyone too. But the chocolate thing has reached a ridiculous level.

Again, not picking on that author but the chunks Emmy pulled out of that story drove me nuts. The skin it really so hard not to go there? Brown skin is brown skin is brown skin. And yes, I know who to blame.

The worst description I've ever read was "Hershey nipples" in a het contemporary by a black author. So maybe we're not setting the best example here but c'mon, use your common sense too, authors with characters of color. And yes, this is for any race outside of white, not just black. But I'm using black because one, I am black therefore, I know how damn exasperating this is. And two, it happens mostly to black characters.

I've had white authors tell me its hard to walk the line of not being offensive and I understand. But let me tell you this folks: this. is. offensive. It's also overdone just like the damn ghetto black guy is but I've already done that rant, I won't do it again (maybe).

He's not food, I don't give a damn how edible he may look. He's got dark brown skin, pale brown, creamy coffee...just avoid chocolate, please. Like Emmy pointed out, there's no vanilla-skinned or white-chocolate men running around.

So what's with (I'm stealing another quote) the "Chocolate Easter Bunny"?


JenB said...

Aw, you didn't post my list of tasty white food references. :P

You will always be vanilla flavored to me, lovely Zoe. *lick*

Zoe Nichols said...

ROFLMAO. Your food references were disturbing and my stomach is delicate this morning, thank you.

:P Vanilla-flavored.

JenB said...

"He caressed her creamy mashed potato colored skin and inhaled her starchy aroma."

Hey, at least I didn't come up with rocky road. *urp*

JenB said...

Oooh, another one!

"He was so hot for his marshmallow-toned lover he could barely stand it."

Zoe Nichols said...


And this is clearly evidence as to why you are not a writer!

Anonymous said...

I think the dude on Amanda Young's "Hard Candy" (*points to right-hand sidebar*) is probably tutti frutti flavored.

JenB said...

*gasp* Oooh, fightin' words. Watch yerself, youngun.

Jaye - Hehe. I dunno, but I'd love to find out.

Zoe Nichols said...

Jaye - LOL, he does look rather...fruitilicious, doesn't he?

Jen - *flaps hand* Hush, fishy.

Anne D said...

I would like to point out those, that all those flavour description are all the expensive, tasty, desired ones. Chocolate, mocha, various nuts...

Unlike us white folk. Who's going to go ga-ga over mashed potato, skim milk, and cooked cabbage?

(this was written tongue nearly firmly in cheek)

Anne D said...

errr, I wasn't making much sense in that first line there, was I...

Will Belegon said...

I'd be quite happy to have you refer to me as tasting like white chocolate, dear Zoe.

But please, no vanilla. I realize that compared to some of my friends I am not quite as kinky as I am compared to others...but I am definitely NOT vanilla.

BTW, my love turns the mocha cliche around. I know how much cream to put in her coffee because it is right when it is Halle Berry-colored.

Which I find apt, since tasting Halle Berry would definitely wake my ass up.

JenB said...

"As he stared up at the gorgeous hunk of man meat in front of him, he wondered whether it would taste like the savory rice pilaf whose color it shared."

"Her dewy skin, the color of buttered fettuccine, glistened in the Sicilian sunlight."


JenB said...

"His skin was flecked with tiny freckles, like sprinkles of paprika on summer potato salad."

Amie said...

Jen and Zoe, you guys have me cracking up over here! How about cinnamon? “Tasting your cinnamon speckle covered skin the color of cold sauerkraut consumes me with lust!”

Jaye and Will, who wouldn’t want to lick Halle Berry or the guy from the cover of Hard Candy?

My personal favorite for the paler folks like myself are creamy, buttery or snowy with the cherry and strawberry nipples etc. I look stark white and slightly blue in the right light? I look jaundiced and filled with cholesterol? Maybe it’s time for an ER visit! How red is cherry? Are we talking Bing or maraschino? What did you do to the poor thing to make it glow in the dark red? Is this a BDSM story, ‘cause… from my own experience, getting something to be that red hurts a lot! Vanilla ice cream maybe? (I do tend to glow in the dark)

I actually had a coworker who referred to her two boyfriends as chocolate and vanilla not getting that even if she is black, that’s racist for *both* of the guys and offended the hell out of me! WTF? o_O

Zoe Nichols said...

@ Anne - I like being considered exotic!

@ Will - You are now, here and forever, my white chocolate-flavored companion. Tasty!

@ Jen - You. Are. WRONG. <3

@Amie - See, someone gets it! Hehehe and I do agree with you also on descriptions of white people. I guess I'd come to think of it as the norm and that's not good either. Gee but food references are so easy! Maybe if we just avoid chocolate, vanilla and strawberry/cherry-colored anything, we'll start making up better descriptions.

Or become cannibals.

Becky Black said...

People actually still do that? Have I slipped back to the 1970s or something? Honestly, unless you just smeared the guy in Nutella he isn't tasting of chocolate whatever colour he is.

Mmmm... Nutella...

Zoe Nichols said...

@ Junkfood - LOL! Unfortunately, yes, it's still popping up in stories.

Angela Benedetti said...

Even if it weren't racist, it's still bad writing because it's horribly cliche.

"Brown sugar" is another one I've heard way too often. :/

Angie, who's... sort of the color of raw chicken breast. Yum. :P

Zoe Nichols said...

@ Angie - It's not the best idea in terms of pointing out a skin difference, that's for sure.

And...I think raw chicken breast my have beat Jen's fish flesh. *gag*

Emmy said...

Zo-zo: you KNOW I has a hair trigger bullshit meter. the Choco Cock story dang near blew the fuse. not at all like Mrs. Giggles, who is the ultimate review goddess. I'm just a reader who occasionally posts really random thoughts about books. kid you not, I dang near passed out when I found out she reads my blog. it too late to go back to the 'ass like a trash bag full of cottage cheese'?

Jen: you nasteh biatch!!! I approve :P

Zoe Nichols said...

@ Emmy - LOL. I was being diplomatic here, woman. And you are a good reviewer, regardless.

And true, Mrs. Giggles is the ultimate. But if anything you two are both VERY blunt people.

Choco cock? I'm going to kill you if that stays in my head now.

Anonymous said...

Coconut sprinkles anyone? It sounds (and tastes) better for white people than steamed cabbage :)

jessewave said...


Great post. I can't add anything to the comments but I wonder why it's so difficult for authors to describe black people? Are we from Mars? I have friends of all persuasions and I never think of them or their body parts in terms of food.

I have railed against these description time and time again and black authors are just as guilty as those of other races, of crapping out with the food analogies when describing black men. Can we not put a sock in it? Authors, if you can find excellent descriptions of vamps, weres, other races etc., what's so different about black people that you find it hard to describe us without referring to food?

Zoe Nichols said...

It's a mystery that I fear may never be solved. But if it has any chance of being answered at all, it must start at the source.

Those black authors putting out those bullshit references to candy bars need to stop. How to make them, of course, is the answer. Because outside of those crappy descriptions, those books are actually pretty good in terms of plot (depending).

Hard to convince someone that their writing sucks bollocks if people continue to buy them.

JenB said...


Y'all know Mars is a chocolate company, right?

*runs and hides*

Zoe Nichols said...

*very even voice*

I'm going to smack you, child.

Amie said...

Seriously, how about the fact that it’s just plain repetitive as well? It’s very annoying, especially when it’s racist. It’s like the sex formula, 1,2,3, yay! I get so sick of this s*it. Because it’s racist it stands out even more. It’s shoddy writing and almost a “self-hating (fill in the blank)” thing. It’s hard enough to fight bigotry from others, but when you add in this crap from a member of your own community, it just makes it worse. When I read a blurb and see something like “ain’t the only one sprung,” or “I’m-a get with you when we through.” I just… can’t. It’s like any other fake, badly done “accent” that is simply a caricature of a culture. Like the trailer trash spandex wearing slut, the money grubbing Jew, the swishy gay hairdresser or scary bull dike in mainstream movies; it just gives me the squicks. “I just want to know. Do you like your haircut?” cowering hairdresser in elevator to Sean Connery in “The Rock” or the gay track and field guy in “Revenge of the Nerds” or “Say something lesbian”, reply “Home Depot”, Will & Grace, or take your pick from any “Starwars” to name a few. (I can keep going with more, but I’ve gone on too long as it is.) It’s degrading even when it’s directed toward your own group. I make allowance for in-jokes and spoofs, but even that only goes so far till you cross the line from funny to just offensive.

I used to joke that I’d dated the entire UN in both genders (pre-marriage) and I NEVER ONCE thought about how sexy it was to have dark chocolate hands on alabaster skin or vice versa or any other shade of the color spectrum. The *person* is sexy and the sight of hands on skin is arousing regardless of the colors involved, no need to only follow the food groups in describing someone.

Thesaurus anyone?

Maybe it’s a simply a lack of options that is what causes the sales? I know that when there was a severely limited supply of a subgenre, I would end up buying crap because it was the only thing available until I stumbled upon stuff that was actually well written. Maybe we just need more well written diverse books and movies?

(Stepping down off the soapbox and panting from the huge rant… Sorry)

Zoe Nichols said...

Hee, no apologies needed. I totally welcome emotional outbursts because it means I'm not the only going insane about this.

And yes, exactly, to each example you presented but I'm not going to even start on the way gay folks are portrayed in the books/movies beause the list will become just like the song, "This is the list that never ends...yes, it goes on and on, my friends..."

Re better written, yeah, we do. Descriptions, oh most definitely. But like I said to Wave, with the chocolate thing, until black authors stop doing it, nobody else is going to get the clue. But then, much like the oft-maligned gay character in non-GLBT focused works, it has grown to a point where readers have to start complaining themselves because occasionally, writers slide into ruts and start working from the Well It's Worked Before formula.

And writers are readers as well. It doesn't excuse a writer from using this trite cliche nor does it excuse directors and het writers who screw over their gay second characters by making them trampy stereotypes but it is a reason.

People, readers and movie-goers, they have to step up to the plate and start the ranting. Because I'm a reader and I've put my foot down. You'll never see a chocolate man in my stories. I do my best not say ivory and after chatting with a few readers about this, I've dropped the word creamy down the list as well.

It's a matter of learning. I've learned what I don't like, I've listened to what others don't, and while I've always loved my writing, it's shaping into something I'm a little more proud of everyday and its marketable.

That's how change starts.

(Now getting off her soapbox *dimples*)

Amie said...

Here here! And I really do appreciate you letting me vent. I’m a bit… opinionated. So it’s good to have a safe outlet.

I do see change. It's slow and painful but it is happening. If I look back to where we used to be, I think that it helps me a bit. The fact that we are even talking about this stuff shows that society as a whole is moving forward, kicking and screaming though it might be. I boycott the stuff that hits my piss-off buttons and I’m not afraid to write a letter of protest. (Not talking about my personal kinks, ‘cause I’ll be happy to work around that for a good story! *g*)

I think a big problem is repetition. Some things are just bigoted but some are like hearing that same song on the radio. It was o.k. the first time, but now that I’ve heard it every hour? *shudder* I do need a description so I can visualize the characters, so there has to be some sort of reference to what their hair, eyes and skin etc. look like. It just… you know.

I think that as a community, we still have to learn to be tolerant of ourselves. (I won’t be listing those who I’ve noticed doing that, because we’d be back to the list that never ends; and I’m not just talking about the GLBT community either.) Maybe it has to do with either a lack of pride or placing pride in the wrong places? Or maybe owning the slur? In religious school, a lot of the girls called each other princess; or when gay guys call each other f****t. IDK, I never did that kind of thing, I think my mom would’ve knocked me into next week for saying something so hateful if I even thought about it. Maybe it’s a push-me-pull-you? Self hatred combined with in your face, accept me as I am? I might be moving into self help examine my belly button territory…

You hit it on the head. It’s about learning, being aware of others and having pride in your work. See, that’s one of the things that I like about you as a writer. I don’t see you churn out a bunch of poorly written insensitive crap. You rock Zoe!

(I was going to say something inappropriate about creamy but I resisted. It was a bit of a struggle though! *naughty smile*)

Amie said...

I also resisted licking this WHOLE TIME!

Zoe Nichols said...

*applauds* You're a strong woman, dear. Stronger than some (*cough* JenB *cough*).

Aw, I'm glad someone likes my madness...uh, writing.

And I've heard a million reasons to own slurs or to release and disassociate with them. I'm of the "If I don't like it, I don't say it" camp.

I own up to not always following that camp's rules but never let it be said that I'm offensive on purpose.

One step at a time seems to be the key nowadays.

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