Race bending and whitewashing aren’t one in the same.

There has been a lot of speculation about the sinister mechanism of erasure i.e. whitewashing in recent years.

While writing this piece, I decided to do a little research on the phenomena that is whitewashing and stumbled on an interesting article on censorship. Encyclopedia Britannica defines whitewashing as a means of “glossing over vices, crimes or scandals or to exonerate by means of a perfunctory investigation or through biased presentation of data”. There is so much to unpack from this definition, but I think the poignant takeaway is the biased presentation of data — for the purpose of this piece, we’re going to remix that; let’s say ‘biased representation through media’.

White supremacist dogma extends beyond the realms of politics. People of privilege tend to think laterally because they don’t have to worry about their ideals or very existence challenged. Appreciating the power of the whole means that you understand that popular culture, socio-economics, religion and social strata directly influences the mobilisation of media. Every cartoon, comic, article, blog post, song, movie etc. that you consume is fuelled by something, nothing exists in a vacuum!

White washing is insidious because it is vehemently defended. We get the over-flogged rhetoric of merit and of course the convenient speeches on solidarity. I trust that readers understand how representation shapes reality, you know how carefully tailoring every narrative possible specifically for the straight, able-bodied white populace is toxic. Erasure is a powerful tool used to oppress, I personally find it more sinister because it is powered by subtle gaslighting when minorities speak up about their erasure and get honest about the injustice of self-serving narratives their valid concerns are weaponised.

Instead of dialogue to focus on restoring the power of story-telling to marginalised groups, it shifts to “love is stronger than hate” — you find my request for edifying representation, or any at all, and not your erasure of my very existence hateful? It’s high time people realised that there are two sides to anger’s coin — anger inspires action, anger should lead to progressive dialogue, anger inspires mediation and resolution. There is power in anger when it is received appropriately. People have the right to be angry that people of privilege, people opportune enough to have every narrative crafted with them in mind consistently take it upon themselves to take food out of people of colours mouths, and make them conceptually obsolete.

There is no justification for whitewashing, Encyclopaedia Britannica says it all — whitewashing glosses over vices (privilege), crimes (racism) and exonerates (makes a case for privilege and injustice).

Racebending.com was established in response to the casting of Avatar: The Last Airbender’s live action adaptation, the team coined the term ‘race bending’ and define it as an instance in which “a media content creator has changed the race or ethnicity of a character.” Although this is a practice that has stood the test of time, it is now being reclaimed in a sense — characters usually perceived to be white can be represented by actors of colour, however, a lot of people fail to understand the practice and in turn label it an act of political correctness or affirmative action. The site explains the positive effects of race bending and reconcile this with representation, ‘The casting of Samuel L. Jackson to depict Nick Fury in Marvel films added a person of color to Marvel’s otherwise all-white slate of Avengers and matched the modern Ultimates version of the character. In 1997, the Wonderful World of Disney retold the universal story of Cinderella with a black actress in the lead role of Cinderella and an Asian American actor in the role of Prince Charming. It was also one of the first television programs to represent an interracial family. In 2009 and 2010, Cartoon Network’s Scooby-Doo films featured a multiethnic actress in the role of Velma Dinkley.

These rarely-seen depictions of people of color challenged historical stereotypes: A black male action hero leads a military organization. A woman of color is a beautiful princess. An Asian man is a love interest. Interracial, mixed, and adoptive families exist. Scooby Doo will work with non-white mystery solvers, too!”

Race bending empowers people of colour and gives them the agency to experience life the same way that white people do — normally. While I find it slightly vexing that people of colour in a sense are only perceived as ‘normal’ if they share the same experiences of white people, I am smart enough to see past that. What race bending inspires is the chance for people of colour to have a narrative, it enables the socially disadvantaged to exist free of external inhibition.

If that isn’t beautiful, then I don’t know what is.

Written by:

Tara Nafisa Olajide

+ posts

Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!

You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.

From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.

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