… because the color thing is a load of surface level excuses that let people look tolerant without having to educate themselves from either side.
My next story is going to feature a protagonist named Lakeesha. Lakeesha grew up in an upper middle class suburb, her parents are lawyers. She played softball through middle school, switched to volleyball in high school, got a 30 on the ACT, and is now studying business in Michigan.
But she’s diverse, because she has a stereotypically “urban” name!
Anyway, the point is that her skin color has zero impact on anything. You wouldn’t be getting a brand new worldview from reading her story (unless she was one of those psychotic Tumblr social justice warriors), there’s no cultural exploration—I specifically built her off the most whitebread pieces of my friends—and if a publisher featured her as their “colored” protagonist of the year, it’d have about as much impact as when the Republicans tout their three black supporters.
Presumably Americans are realizing that their cultural heritage demands increased diversity in media, but if that’s the case, how is Lakeesha a better candidate than, say, five year old Marshall Mathers in Detroit (his new album is pretty solid, by the way)?
So I saw a writing prompt. I’m not going into details because they don’t deserve all this rage directed at ’em, but I think I have every right to use “dump some POC characters/settings into Western tales” (paraphrased a lot so don’t try Google!) as a jumping point to discuss inside-whitewashing. Sure, there’s a friggin’ rainbow on the inside, but on the inside?
Indians can be pretty conceited. This may have something to do with my relatives and the people they spend time with, but my experience has involved a lot of people who believe—and yeah, it’s partly subconscious—that sharing out Indian culture is some type of privilege, and that when they appropriate Western culture they do it better than the Westerners. (Protip: y’all don’t. Those are not the dance moves I was looking for.)
So for starters, I’ve yet to meet an Indian (subcontinent…I’m subcontinental) who is desperate for inclusion in Western media. Of course, no one’s going to say no to seeing more brown faces up in the TV box, but seriously. Not a top priority.
I made the mistake of imagining Indian Cinderella as a nice Hindu family in the 1800s. First off, the stepmother would have immolated herself, but then the girls would have all been married off as fast as possible by their immediate families, and that would be that. In fact, the stripped down family nucleus in that story is, unless we’re talking immigrants or like the unluckiest family ever, un-Indian. I’m sure Bollywood has riffed on it, but the outcome would be hella different, not least because there’s some kind of allergy to less-than-happy endings.
It just wouldn’t be Cinderella, because the culture is totally different.
Also, can’t believe I’m citing Disney, but neither Mulan nor Tiana got tossed into a context they didn’t fit in, although the Mulan sequel was an abomination I wish I could forget about. Yeah, no, you princesses are getting married.
Actually, that sequel is not a bad example of inside-whitewashing: where characters from a different culture are given relatable modern, conflated with Western, values and end up behaving in ways that aren’t appropriate to their society at all. ‘Warehouse 13’ does it with H.G. Wells, too…. Sometimes, people do stuff we can’t admire them for. It’s a recurring theme in history, almost. If you’ve seen ‘Django Unchained,’ some of those scenes are just painful. Tarantino isn’t my favorite director ever, but he gets props on portraying attitudes that are distasteful to modern viewers without flinching.
And that’s my two cents on why slapping a good intentioned but poorly informed Band-Aid on things is a terrible idea.