A Lesson on Color

Okay, I know I said we weren't supposed to hate on the haters about the whole Rue and racism thing. And I don't intend to hate, but there was one tweet in particular that, two months later, still nags at me:

So I guess "dark brown skin" is not the same as "all the way black." I'm not entirely certain what color palette they were using, but in the interest of teaching instead of hating, I'm going to give a color lesson.*

Presented here are people with varying skin color. For each image, I have taken both a light and dark average of their skin and placed it next to the colors implied by traditional skin color terms.

This is white:
These are the color averages of this girl's skin:

This is yellow:
These are the color averages of this guy's skin:

This is red:
These are the color averages of this guy's skin:

This is black:
These are the color averages of this girl's skin:

I know I'm not the first person to point out that "black" does not, cannot, literally mean black (shoot, even Drizzt is basically gray). But let's go back to the comment in question.

Rue's description in Hunger Games was "dark brown skin," which a number of people interpreted as meaning "brown but not black," and so were upset when Rue appeared in the movie as "black." Let's compare:

This is dark brown:
These are the color averages of Rue's skin:

So . . . Hollywood actually lightened Rue from her description in the book. Weird.

* If the person who tweeted that actually reads this, I do apologize for the semi-snarky way this is presented. Feel free to chew me out for hypocrisy.


Matthew MacNish said...

People are such morons. Didn't they get mad about Cinna too? Ridiculous.

I'm actually experimenting with this in a new WIP. I never describe the main character, but give clues to what he might look like in other character's reactions to him. I'm not sure exactly what I'm trying to say, yet.

Sarah Ahiers said...

People are dumb. Sometimes i forget this, but the internet always has finds a way of reminding me, sooner or later

Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to figure out how Collins could have been any clearer. You're an astute reader, but if I recall even you pictured her as white originally, yeah? And even if it wasn't you, there are tons of people who did, despite the "dark brown skin" comment.

There's no way to win. If she had been like, "This was Rue. Rue was BLACK, a little BLACK girl, did I mention BLACK" then people would have complained she made too much of a deal about skin colour. But when she just makes two very clear references, people ride right over it. I dunno.

Adam Heine said...

Your description made me laugh :-)

Looking back on it, I'm pretty sure the reason I missed it was because (a) I often skim descriptive details, not just relating to people and (b) in each place Rue's skin is described, she is also described as being a lot "like Prim," who was white in my head.

Now a careful reading shows that she was only "like Prim" in non-appearance ways, but then see (a) above.

Kelly Barnes said...

I didn't even know this was a deal until just now. I haven't seen the movie, and I just finished the book earlier this week.

I took the descriptions as they were written. Collins was describing Americans separated by their relationships to the dominant power.

I imagined that Rue was a pretty little girl with dark skin. This is the first time I've seen her character's picture. She's a pretty little girl with dark skin.

It depresses me that people do go straight to race.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I liked this post. Great research and posting of the colors to make me think about what people are saying about skin tone.

Jay Noel said...

It's incredibly sad that we're even having this discussion. I honestly think when it comes to race and skin color, some people just want to stir the pot and rile people up.

And there were tons of Tweets about how some thought Cinna was white. I read one Tweet that said he/she was thankful that Rue was black, as it made her death much less horrible.


Jack said...

This was helpful. In my newest series one of the characters is black. And I wasn't at all sure how to describe it without making people mad. Maybe there is no way around it, and someone will end up being mad anyhow, but reading this has given me ideas.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I love your color palettes! Now, if you can just tell me a good way to describe those 10 different flavors of skin color that doesn't offend anyone ...

Unknown said...

Awesome post.
I read plenty of hateful tweets regarding Rue's skin color and her being black took the sting out of her death. The news covered it well too. People are so hateful.