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  1. Sara Olive

    Sara Olive New Member

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    Tips for expressing African-American culture

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Sara Olive, Apr 10, 2020.

    I would like some insight on traditions or perspectives that people of African-American descent experience.

    I have a character called Zira who’s of African descent but I have little to no first hand relationships (??) with anyone of the heritage.
    ANY insight is appreciated :) it can be ethnic foods, dialect, standards of beauty or myths/lores people grew up with. Honestly, I’ll absorb anything given to me :)

    Also, is it believable that Zira is a character of African-American descent as I’m an oriental Asian myself and there are some names that are popular and perceived as “Asian” when they aren’t common at all. E.g Sakura, Haru, etc.

    Lastly I would like to apologise if I offend anyone. I know this is in no shape or form a valid excuse but English is not my first language. I’m also not here for writing but because I’m an aspiring comic artist who didn’t know where else to turn to for help.
     
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  2. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody The Ole Frazzle-Dazzle Contributor

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    personally, we are just like anyone else. We dont have a "culture" like most ethnicities do but we have a family culture or a regional culture. For example, my southern family have different rituals than my family in the north. There are some who are more in tuned with their heritage than others (those who have traced their relatives or have a clear family history back to Africa). I do not have this. I can trace my family back to plantations in New Orleans, but that is the extent of my history.
    So I'd say I am simply American. I celebrate all the American holidays. Eat the same foods, etc.

    What is different is how we are treated and how we treat ourselves. There is racism (other races against blacks) and colorism (blacks aganst blacks). Colorism dates back to slavery where the lighter you are, the better you are treated by whites and the prettier you were said to be, which made other blacks start to dislike those who are lighter/darker. This can be seen in my family. My grandfather is significantly lighter. His parents can pass for white. My grandmother is super dark skinned. My grandfather's parents didnt like my grandmother and would call her names like "field slave" and "darky." My mother and 3 of her siblings are light skinned and her younger brother is dark skinned. He became my grandmother's favorite became he looked like her. My sister is significantly darker than my brother and I, and a boy in school told her she was too dark for him.
    I went to a predominantly black high school, and colorism was a thing there too.
    (EDIT: it is common but not a norm!)

    Hair is another huge thing. Our natural hair is very sensitive and breaks easily. So some use protective hairstyles like weaves, braids and wigs. Sometimes I will twist my hair to keep my curls from knotting and breaking, but i dont like weaves and wigs because they are itchy and annoying. Relaxers straigtened our hair but also does extreme damage. The reason we straighten our hair is because in the past, it was more acceptable to have straight hair and our naturally curly hair was seen as messy and unprofessional (my mother straightened my hair for years, but when I became an adult, i cut it all off and grew my hair back curly, to which she told me it was unprofessional. I've had non-black coworkers tell me that i would "look pretty if i straightened my hair"). Mixed raced people generally have looser curl patterns
    [​IMG]

    Language is the same as non-blacks. depending on the region, dialects and slang changes. East coast slang is different from west coast slang. Midwesterners speak different from Texans, etc. There is AAVE (African American Vernacular English) which, depending on who you speak to, will tell you that that is our "language", but i FULLY disagree with it and personally find it offensive....like it is a caricature of a black person.

    If your character is mixed, you may want to incorporate the other culture she is mixed with as well. I went to school with a girl whos father was african american and her mother was Japanese. She is very outspoken on both cultures and in tuned with Japanese traditions as well as her father's traditions. Another classmate in college, her mother was from Africa and her father is white. She identifies as African and her traditions are distinct to her mother's country.
    Also, think about where this character is coming from. If she is living in another country, traditions and how she is treated will be different. Different regions in America have different traditions (ex. Juneteenth is an African American holiday that I had never even heard of until I moved to the Midwest, and apparently it is a huge thing in Texas). Same with food.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2020
  3. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody The Ole Frazzle-Dazzle Contributor

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    While I think your questions are good questions and very considerate... are they really relevant to your story? You dont want to force these things in there just to establish that your character is black. Basically... write your AA character as if they are any other character :)
     
  4. Sara Olive

    Sara Olive New Member

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    Wow thank you so much for so much information!
    as a comic artist, I like to perfect everything around the character so I needed more information. I’m also simply interested in different cultures :)
    Anyways, thank you so much
     
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  5. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody The Ole Frazzle-Dazzle Contributor

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    ah! comic book artist makes sense :superagree:
     
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  6. Partridge

    Partridge Senior Member

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    That was useful for me to read as well, as I have a black character in my current WIP. Thank you!
    Ian Fleming must have consulted AAVE when he wrote the Bond books. It seriously dates his works, as every black character he portrayed in Live and Let Die talks like a Loony Tunes parody. I can't begin to imagine how ridiculous it would sound to a black American if they read it today.
     
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  7. Thorn Cylenchar

    Thorn Cylenchar Senior Member

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    Posting here instead of actually writing
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  8. Hammer

    Hammer Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Another great go to is Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward
     

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