Thursday, June 7, 2018

Blackwashing Is Racist Too

Whitewashing is just simply weird, ridiculous, racist and unnecessary. So … let's turn the tables and make justice by "blackwashing"? Well, I'm afraid that it's a horrible and extremely racist idea: Because blackwashing means denying racism.

Who else wants to see big-budget movies and TV shows about exciting events like the Haitian Revolution?

Racism is a horrible thing. I believe this is something we can all agree on. Yet racism is also part of our history. And part of the history of art as well. One might think that in 2018 it should be in the past. Yet, apparently, it isn't.

The Ridiculousness of Whitewashing


Sadly, such things as "whitewashing" still exist. This term is used in various contexts, but in general it means: replacing coloured people with white people. When a white person is cast for the role of a coloured person in a movie it's whitewashing. When a character's race is changed from coloured to white it's whitewashing. When the creators don't seem to have the guts to make a character fully coloured and give him or her one white parent (so that the character is not too coloured) it's whitewashing as well.

Whitewashing is an old phenomenon and it still exists. The problem with it is that whitewashing suggests that "white" is somehow better than "coloured". White people are a minority, but somehow most fictional heroes we know today are white. And some people also seem to think that white actors are somehow better than coloured actors.

Whitewashing is just simply weird, ridiculous, racist and unnecessary. So … let's turn the tables and make justice by "blackwashing"?

Blackwashing BBC Style


This might be what the people at BBC thought when they decided to cast David Gyasi (whose family is from Ghana) for the role of Achilles for the TV series Troy: Fall of a City. This might also be what they thought when they filled The Story of Britain, an educational cartoon, with coloured characters, creating the misconception that coloured people always used to be all over the country.

These decisions are even backed up by some scholars, arguing that today we can't be sure what Homer meant when he wrote that Achilles had "golden" hair. That a high-ranking Roman officer and father of a "typical Roman family" could be black. Both Troy and the cartoon try to be inclusive and some people say their decisions might even be historically accurate.

Well, they probably do mean well, but ... Well-meant is not automatically well-done.

Why Blackwashing Is Bad


Just when I was about to write down my own criticism of the blackwashing at BBC I discovered that Metatron, one of my favourite YouTubers, already had listed all the points I had in my mind (and even more) and far better than I ever could. Yet I'll still list just a few of my points.

Firstly, why are most of the black characters from central Africa and not northern Africa (which would be more realistic)? Because different people in different parts of Africa actually look differently. (Oh, surprise!) Yes, there were black Roman soldiers and officers, but was the majority of them really that shade of black shown in the cartoon? People from the north of Africa usually look much fairer than people from central Africa. Isn't it racist to lump all those different ethnicities together? Just remember the controversy when multiple main roles in Memoirs of a Geisha were given to Chinese actresses.

Secondly, and more importantly, portraying white and black people living peacefully together paints a false picture of history. This criticism applies more to the Story of Britain cartoon which features characters like a black blacksmith during the Iron Age, a black Celtic warrior fighting against the Romans, a black medieval monk ... You get the idea.

The problem here is: Let's not forget that the British (as well as other Europeans) and their descendants living on other continents used to have (and possibly still have) that weird belief that they're somehow better than the rest of the world. During the colonial era they committed horrible atrocities against people of other races. Would they have done so if they had lived peacefully with coloured people earlier as portrayed in the cartoon? I don't think so. Why would they? By the time of colonialism they would've long become a mixed race. That is, if coloured people really would have been all over the place since the Iron Age.

Blackwashing Is Worse than Plain Racism


Blackwashing European literature, myths and history means denying the crimes white people committed against the rest of the world. Slavery, massacres, torture, putting people in zoos, robbing them of their freedom and resources ... The wealth of the "Western" nations and their white citizens is built on the blood, sweat and tears of coloured people. Pretending that white and coloured people used to live peacefully together in the past is like telling stories about Auschwitz being a cozy little bakery where Nazis and Jews made friendship cakes.

In my eyes, blackwashing is even worse than plain racism. It's denying racism. It's forgetting chapters of history that should never be forgotten. Sadly, racism is a real thing and the only right way to talk about it is to treat it as a real thing. How will all those coloured children growing up with blackwashing media feel when they learn what actually happened to their ancestors? I really don't want to be in their shoes.

Alternatives I Really, Really Want to See


But what are we supposed to do instead? We do need more coloured heroes, after all. We generally need more "colour" in our culture. Coloured people need proper representation that isn’t built on stereotypes.

Well, why not actually bring in more "colour"? Why didn't they cast David Gyasi as Memnon? Why are European stories, European history, European myths and European literature adapted over and over again while the existence of Africa's history and many cultures is generally ignored? Why are so many other fascinating non-European cultures being ignored? And what is so difficult about casting coloured actors to play leading roles for which race doesn't matter (the majority of roles in stories set in the modern day and future, actually)? What is so difficult about telling more stories about coloured people in the colonies? Real history is so fascinating and so full of drama - why not tell it?

Blackwashing is merely forcing coloured people into white people's stories. Proper representation, however, is about telling the stories of coloured people. Stories that have been ignored for too long.

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