Whitewashing & Why It’s Wrong
After yesterday’s little fiasco where I posted this and somebody thereafter decided to message me and talk about “black people taking white parts” and asking if that’s okay and saying that if a white actor plays the part better, they should get to play characters of colour, I decided to write this post in the hope of making whitewashing and why it’s WRONG more clear to those who may not understand.
First things first: IT IS A BIG DEAL. That is the first thing you need to know and understand; for people of colour, whitewashing is like walking up, calling them a racial slur, and telling them to just get off the planet because they don’t belong here. If it’s racist behaviour, then it’s a big deal, period. And whitewashing is racist behaviour.
Moving on, here is the second thing you need to know and understand: WHITE IS DEFAULT. If you don’t understand what that means, it’s basically exactly what it sounds like. It means that because our society is so historically racist and cruel to people of colour, and because that behaviour is ingrained in each generation, our automatic go-to person when we imagine the average person is WHITE. (In fact, it’s a white cis-gendered man, but that’s a whole other box of cookies.) That might not be what you specifically imagine when someone says “imagine an average human being” but it is what most people imagine because that is what’s default. The factory settings, if you will.
Okay, so, say you’re reading a book, and the author introduces the hero, but doesn’t provide you, the reader, with a race that the character may be. Because of the whole “white is default” thing, you’re usually going to imagine that character as white. It’s not really your fault if you imagine them white… this behaviour is taught to you over and over and over again in school, in the media, EVERYWHERE. White heroism is more important, white deaths are more tragic, white everything is just all around the standard for all things good in the world.
Now, imagine that you’re reading the Hunger Games, and Katniss Everdeen (main female protagonist and narrator of the story for those of you who haven’t read it) introduces Rue to you. Rue is a twelve year old girl that Katniss doesn’t know (at first), but to bring you into the story a little more, this is how she is described for the first time: “And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor.” Mark that. That is the first time of at least twice that Katniss describes Rue. Granted, that might be easy to forget, but like I’ve just said, there is a second time. “She’s the twelve-year-old, the one who reminded me so of Prim in stature. Up close, she looks about ten. She has bright, dark eyes and satiny brown skin…” Twice. In the first one hundred pages. After that, there really should be no confusion unless your reading comprehension skills are just non-existent.
There is no mistaking Rue for a little white girl (Katniss is reminded of her lighter skinned sister in stature and demeanor ONLY, not in actual looks) when she is twice described as having dark brown skin. For anyone to imagine a white girl after that… well, that’s just not okay. The person who called me out on my post yesterday said that people can’t help what they imagine. And I’m sorry, that’s total bullshit when something is right in your face like that, not once, but TWICE in the first one hundred pages of the book. If you’re still imagining a white girl when it’s been said that she’s black, then you’re WRONG, period.
Rue being black is important. Most of the people in the world of the Hunger Games are struggling, but skin colour gives you a whole new set of struggles when your skin isn’t white. People of colour don’t have to be defined solely by their skin, but that is part of their identity. When you take that away by whitewashing them by portraying them with white actors, or lightening their skin colour on magazine covers, this is what you are saying: YOU ARE NOT IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO BE FEATURED HERE UNLESS YOU ARE WHITE. YOU ARE NOT PRETTY ENOUGH, NOT INTERESTING ENOUGH, NOT ALL AROUND GOOD ENOUGH UNLESS YOU ARE WHITE. And that is not okay. It is racist behaviour and you know it. It is not ever okay to portray someone who is a person of colour with a white person, even if you think that white person is a better actor, because that’s just shirking responsibility in casting a role accurately when there are millions of people of colour in this world and some INCREDIBLY talented actors and actresses among them.
It is not okay to lighten someone’s skin colour, take away part of their identity, and essentially tell them “your struggle in life doesn’t matter.” And people of colour do struggle. If you are white, then you do not experience life where white people follow you around in shops in case you steal something. If you are white, then you don’t experience life where you are kept out of schools, jobs, homes, etc. because of your skin colour. If you are white, you don’t experience life where people say “I’m sorry, but we’re either going to have to lighten your skin or portray this character of colour as a white person because your skin colour’s just not good enough.”
So is any of this unclear to you? Because I think I’ve been pretty clear on it. Whitewashing is not okay because when you do that, you erase part of someone’s identity and it’s NOT RIGHT. EVER. If you still think any of this is just my mean ol’ person of colour opinion, then I’m sorry, but screw you; you don’t deserve the time it took to write this anyway.
"should be Caucasian, between ages 15 and 20, who could portray someone ‘underfed but strong,’ and ‘naturally pretty underneath her tomboyishness.’"
Oh for the love of god. Of course they did.
Ugh. See, I loved Jennifer Lawrence in the role, but the fact that they phrased the casting call this way is horrible and another example of Hollywood being stupid and racist.
Blows the whole “Maybe no Black people showed up to the audition?” argument out of the water.
Hunger Games - Panem Districts Hijabified | Faineemae
You are ridiculously talented.
Aw yeah! Let’s get the brown folk back into The Hunger Games!
butex asked: if they've already shot some of catching fire, I'm sure that blonde plays johanna :)
Looking it up on IMDB, that is apparently the Katniss.
And for today I also did a quick Katniss Everdeen. Look at all that metaphorical blood.
When books I like get turned into films, it’s nice to have a point of reference before its visuals completely take over what I’d first pictured while reading.
Katniss Everdeen - THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)