surprisingly rage-free thoughts on whitewashing

The internet right now is fair teeming with rage on both sides of the upcoming ScarJo cover of legendary anime Ghost in the Shell.
meme credit: @ValerieComplex

I also recently read an article on food gentrification – a phenomenon I’d often noticed but never put a name to – by Sara Peters over at Knowable.

I’ve sat out of the GitS discussion for the most part, waiting for my Filipina Fire to burn itself out enough that I can contribute with as little acidity as possible.

As a lover of movies and a lover of food, I am a lover of stories. Movies tell a story. Food also tells a story, particularly when someone makes the effort of sharing theirs with you.

And I think the most basic thing about whitewashing – whether with movies or food – is the way it corrupts those stories. It takes and proliferates toxic assumptions to a wide audience, whether the level on which it infects that audience is conscious or not.

These assumptions are as follows:

  1. That white people will only find this story about an [Asian / Black / Latino / etc] protagonist interesting / compelling / relevant if we make that protagonist white.
  2. That white people will only care about the character and make an emotional investment if the character is white.
  3. Assumptions 1 and 2 imply that white people feel the same about real-life stories and real-life people.
  4. That if you’re white, you can’t relate to – and don’t have to care about – those “other” people.
  5. That if you’re not white, then you shouldn’t expect white people to relate to or care about you.
  6. That if you’re not white, you can’t ever expect to be the protagonist of any story – not in your work, your community, or your life.

In other words, guys,
Whitewashing is damaging both to the cultures being denied representation, and to the white people who actually do see non-whites as being equally Human.

Growing up in Smallville taught me that yes, there’s plenty of white people who view non-whites as being somehow “less than”.

But spending my late teens and early adulthood in Downtown Vancouver, Kitsilano, East Van, the West End, the Drive, Burnaby, Richmond, and Toronto have taught me that – at least in places where your next-door neighbour lives less than a ten minute walk away and probably isn’t related to you – people in general care about one another.

If you see someone struggling to push the pedestrian button because they’re carrying loads of groceries, you’ll likely also see a complete stranger approach them and save their day (in a small way) by pushing the button for them.

Sure, that story isn’t as exciting as that of a cyber-enhanced soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals… but it’s one people care about – enough to do something about, even if it’s just small.

So please, Hollywood. Please, big-city food scene. Stop telling people that they’re bigger assholes than they are. Stop telling them they should be bigger assholes than they are.

Because if they start believing you, no good will come of it.

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