There’s something really amazing about books. This actually isn’t a thing that’s either positive or negative about books, but it’s an observation.
Mainstream books have this thing where the basic aspects of the character are described. Physical aspects. Red hair. Piercing blue eyes. Medium build. Well tanned skin. That kind of thing. But when we want the reader to actually know the race of the character, we actually mention that in the book. And it`s in the weirdest way. “He was a Senica Indian”, “she could trace her roots back to Africa”, “she was first generation, her parents spent time in a Japanese internment camp”.
So basically, we have to describe the race of a character so the reader understands that the person being described is identified as First Nation/African American/Asian (which in and of itself is a lot more than just Japanese or Chinese).
There is other ways to describe a black person. Maybe by saying she is black. Same with other races. But we don’t do it when we’re talking about or describing white people. Rarely. We add only the most minute of details. “Spoke in an Irish accent”, “last name was Romanov”. Even when it’s something very vague, such as saying the individual was an ex-MI-5 operative, the reader will automatically think the character is white.
Sadly, that’s sort of the thing we’re faced with when talking about or describing people of colour in a story. I really wish it were different, but it’s not. I know there are some readers out there who will dream of someone like Idris Elba for a character when they are described racially ambiguous (five o’clock shadow, stocky build, tall). Even when someone is described to have “vibrantly pink hair” it’s still racially ambiguous (people of colour dye their hair too).
So is this the fault of the writer or the fault of the reader? I don’t think it’s really either who is at fault, but I know it’s based on an historical progression where it’s always been taught that being white (and often times male) is the default.