The Legend of Korra premiered Saturday and naturally the fans are all abuzz with fan art and other ways to celebrate the show. A recent Tumblr blog by Where’s The Beef? did a great job talking about a problem that is prevalent in the fanbase, and other fandoms that have characters of color: whitewashing.
Whitewashing — or racebending as it’s referred to in the Avatar fandom — is taking characters who are non-white, and making them lighter-skinned or just flat-out Caucasian. This was seen in the movie version of Avatar: The Last Airbender with a predominantly white cast playing Asian characters.
When you get your own slang term for whitewashing because of a terrible movie but it sticks around for fan art, you’re being a bad fandom. There are people out there who consider themselves huge fans and dedicate their time and energy in artwork, only to think (whether knowingly or not) “This character is just too dark-skinned for my tastes, better lighten them up”. This is a problem and it helps explain why we got a casting call looking for white actors for Asian characters.
As WTB brings up the importance of role models and the effect such figures have on everyone, especially children in regards to self-worth. He talks about how there are people out there who already hate the color of their own skin, how they don’t feel good enough when compared to white or lighter-skinned people. How it’s important that the media positively portrays more characters of color, so children have one less system against them in regards to their skin. Whitewashing a character reinforces this and it should make everyone furious.
WTB mentions how it could very well be that the artists of such whitewashed fan art don’t even realize how racist their actions are, but he makes it clear: unintentional racism is still racism. He goes on to explain the reciprocated feelings between society and the media:
And that’s the problem here: unconscious racism IS STILL RACISM. What lesson do you think Hollywood is taking away from this whole debacle? The sad truth of the matter is that the reason so many racial stereotypes exist in Hollywood is that part of appealing to a wide audience means appealing to their prejudices, whether those prejudices are conscious or not. They’ve learned that if they don’t cater to all our preconceived notions, their movies won’t make money.
He’s right, and I can’t say it any better than he already did, so go read what he said. Pass it around, reblog it, post it where you can. His message is right and it should be widely known.