Anonymous said: The MC in my story is a Korean teenage boy living in a apocalyptic sort of world. I’m not sure how to write him considering he’s had almost no interaction with his culture or people of the same ethnicity. I don’t want to white wash him at all. Thanks
Hi, Anonymous! Glad you wrote in :)
Let’s have a chat about “whitewash” first, so we can get on the same page.
Bear with me! There are TWO different contexts for that phrase. One is when POC living in the West are accused of being “whitewashed” when someone thinks they don’t act ______ enough. POC face discrimination from both white people and fellow POCs who try to police our cultural identities. It’s like when people call Koreans/Asians ‘bananas’ for not being “Asian/Korean” enough on the inside.
"Whitewashing" in that context is not a real thing. It’s offensive to say someone is "whitewashed" not because it’s bad to be white. It’s offensive because it implies there’s a wrong/right way to be Korean. Access or familiarity with Korean culture/community isn’t what makes somebody Korean. You’re Korean if you’re of Korean descent, period. Mixed-race, mono-ethnic, adopted, doesn’t matter. Koreans are Korean.
White is not a culture. It’s not an ethnicity. White is a status of privilege, not of skin color, which is why light-skinned POC or white-passing POC still don’t have true white privilege.
Please remember that being American or Canadian =/= white.
It is perfectly understandable for people to reflect and be shaped by the dominant culture of where they were born/raised. Some choose to keep closer ties to the culture of their heritage, and some are more comfortable with the culture of the country of their birth. SO, if your character is of Korean descent but don’t have many ties/access to Korean culture, that doesn’t mean they’re “whitewashed”!
The second context/meaning of “whitewash” is when characters of color are represented by white people. It’s most often used to describe characters of color in literary media who are portrayed by white actors/actresses. This kind of “whitewashing” DOES exist. It leads to erasure, misrepresentation, and/or tokenism. Those are legitimate, valid concerns when writing characters of color, particularly if you are not of the same ethnic background as the characters you are writing. Please reference the diversity and tokenism tags for more information on that!
Because your work does not have a character who is originally Korean that is being portrayed by a white person, I don’t think you have to worry about “whitewashing” in the second context. (If your book gets optioned for a film, though, try hard to make sure they don’t cast a white guy as your MC!) But tokenism is still a genuine concern.
Now, getting to the rest of your ask!
This ask is a little vague, so it’s hard to give specific advice. Is your protagonist someone of Korean descent that grew up in a country other than Korea? Or are they being raised by non-Koreans? Do they know they’re Korean?
You mention that your world is apocalyptic, but not where it’s actually set. If your MC is a Korean teenager, then there’s obviously still the concept of certain nations (like Korea) around. What difference does knowing he’s Korean or being Korean make in your setting? If your MC doesn’t have a connection to Korean culture/community, what culture/community are they plugged into? PLEASE be sure not to turn this Korean character into a token/shallow stereotype.
Given how many people fetishize and exotify Asians in general and Koreans in particular, please ask yourself why you decided to make your character Korean. Don’t write a Korean character who has no ties to their culture because you want a character who “looks” Korean but don’t want to research Korean culture. That’s not going to lead to a positive/realistic representation of Koreans in your work.
Koreans who grow up in non-Korean environments definitely struggle with their identity, so research that! Many people are who ethnically Korean don’t feel like they are culturally Korean, and that can be a painful struggle. Some even have close ties to Korean community/culture, but don’t “feel” like they’re Korean. (A famous example is comedian Margaret Cho!). Others feel this way because they are adoptees or being raised by non-Koreans. Does your MC feel lonely because they’re one of the only Koreans they know? Or does that not matter to them?
A good way to ensure diversity/non-erasure in your work is to have actual diversity. So consider the culture/community your protag is in and make it one that is diverse and respectful in its representations. Have MORE than just an all-white cast of characters and one Korean. Also remember, just because your MC is Korean doesn’t mean his entire identity/existence has to revolve around being Korean, Anon~ Hope that helps!