I love a:tlab, my kids love it too and when the whitewashed movie came out we talked about it. My ten year old son told me that the reason he thought that there were so few people of colour in the media was because there were not a lot of people of colour in the world. Maybe they couldn’t find Asian and south asian actors for the film because there just aren’t that many of them. This bears repeating:
My son thought that the reason there were so few people of colour in cartoons, in movies and in the media more generally, was because there are more white people in the world.
We lived in Vancouver which demographically has more people of colour than white people. He was in daycare and school with a majority of poc, all of his friends were poc. I had talked to him about racism but not media representations because I imagined he understood.
When we got talking about it and he realized that in fact the majority of the world isn’t white, he said, well maybe the stories of people of colour are not worth telling. Maybe that is why these stories don’t get told.
Maybe there are so few female characters because women are all more similar so there is no point in having a lot of them, whereas men are more different so you need more. Maybe it is the same with people of colour, maybe there are so few because they are all the same.
Whitewashing and the erasure of people of colour effects white people and white kids because it teaches them that the only interesting stories and the only people who matter are white. POC characters “could be anyone”, “we don’t see colour” we can imagine they are “just like us”.
Maybe, he says, in their countries they don’t include a lot of white people. So he imagines that “our” country is a white country and those people who belong here are also white. Other people are visitors here.
I didn’t teach him this.
My kid was saying really racist things. That doesn’t make him a bad person. The culture is a racist culture and he absorbs these things. Everyone lives in this racist culture and it is easy as white people to reproduce hurtful shit.
People of colour are erased all the time. This has effects. This creates a world that is made for white people and reaffirms that white people are the only ones who truly belong in “our” country. It is deeply hurtful.
If you are a white artist you don’t have to participate in this erasure. You don’t have to hurt people. If you have been hurting them, that doesn’t mean you mean it, it doesn’t mean you are some bad type of person. All it means is that this culture has affected you too and you can chose to stop now.
If someone stepped on your toe. You would tell them, hey that hurt, regardless if it was on purpose or by accident. If they did it again, that would piss you off. If you told them and they said “what I did is not as bad as being punched in the face what are you complaining about?” You would probably be really offended. If they then got all their friends to step on your toes, again and again, and say “OMG can you believe how angry she was just because we stepped on her toes? What is wrong with her being angry for no reason. It’s not like we were punching her.” What would you do? That is what is going on here. People said hey whitewashing hurts me, and a bunch of people kept on doing it.
It is not about judging artists. It is not about naming a type of bad person called a “racist”, but about seeing how larger patterns work to hurt people of colour and distort the world view of white people. Do you, if you are a white person, want a distorted world view? Do you want to accidentally hurt others?
A lot of white people are saying on this tag that they are suffering from reverse discrimination. Are you being erased? Do you feel you belong in your country or are you told to “go home?”
When people tell you that you have hurt them, responding with grace is a skill that will serve you for the rest of your life. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I didn’t know I was doing something harmful. Thank you for telling me. I wont do it again.” That is all it takes.