Filed under: PotA, Star Trek, Writing.
I’ve written before about whether authors should feel nervous about specifying the race or skin colour of characters. My position is simple: you either do it for all characters or none; neither position is racist. What’s racist is only specifying it when deviates from some assumed norm — for instance, when books tell you if a character is black, but leave unstated that other characters are white, because, y’know, normal folk are white, so you only have to mention it when someone isn’t normal.
A fascinating example is the description of the character of Vince in Dexter. In the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter (an excellent book) by Jeff Lindsay, Vince Masuoka (as his last name is spelled in the book) is introduced as “half Japanese” — what the other half is is left unsaid, because, of course, it apparently goes without saying:
Sitting on an overturned plastic milk carton on the far end of the Dumpster, poking through a handful of waste matter, was Vince Masuoka. He was half Japanese and liked to joke that he got the short half. He called it a joke, anyway.(In fairness to Lindsay, Darkly Dreaming Dexter is a first-person narrative from the point of view of the character Dexter Morgan, so the description of Vince is illuminative of Dexter’s character, not necessarily the author’s.)
In the pilot script for the TV series based on the book, though, scriptwriter James Manos, Jr., introduced Vince in a way I find more acceptable (slightly altering the spelling of his last name):
VINCE MASUKA (30’s), slight, half Japanese, half white, sporting a slicked-back “Don Ho” haircut, meticulously brushing for fingerprints around the exterior of a large green dumpster …
(C.S. Lee, pictured, the actor who plays Vince so memorably in the TV series, is actually Korean — born in Cheongju, South Korea, in 1971.)
Ah, well, even Starfleet Command is guilty of lapses in this area, as you can see in this screen capture from the Star Trek episode “The Menagerie,” in which Spock is referred to not once but twice as “Half-Vulcan” — the other half, of course, it goes without saying, is human. ;)
(There’s more from Robert J. Sawyer on this topic in the “Comments” section, below the following picture.)