Seriously, it surprises me that people still don’t get that “whitewashing” doesn’t just mean “taking a character of color and turning them white,” but also applies to “focusing disproportionately on the stories of white people,” “glossing over or altering parts of a story to make it more palatable or make white people look better,” and “treating ‘white’ as the default race”
The fact that Disney churns out film after film after film after film about white people with a maximum of one film per ethnicity that showcases a group other than white people is whitewashing.
The fact that the story of “Pocahontas” (not her real name) has been substantially altered so that some of the white people in that story don’t look like such villains, with John Smith younger and Pocahontas significantly older, as well as recounting a popular myth of her saving John Smith from near-execution (a story John Smith made up to make himself look brave, the real Pocahontas told him to stop telling and hated him for using her to make himself look good, and he started to spread like wildfire after she died because she could no longer object) is whitewashing.
The fact that the characters on “How I Met Your Mother” are all white, and they supposedly live in New York City, but apparently associate exclusively with other white people (with the exception of Wayne Brady, who occasionally visits from out of town, and a recurring taxi driver) is whitewashing.
The fact that the Doctor has now been a white man a full twelve times in a row is whitewashing even though the character’s always been white, because the idea that there’s a character whose entire appearance can change in a matter of seconds, yet ends up white twelve times in a row by pure random chance, implies that white is a neutral default and other races are a deviation from that norm.
The fact that people get really angry at the suggestion that characters like Newt Scamander or Hermione Granger could be black because the books never explicitly say “they are black” is whitewashing.
Because that’s the thing. People often assume that when someone’s race isn’t explicitly specified, they’re white. People insist that Katniss Everdeen must be white because it is possible for them to rationalize that idea in their head. People think of white as “raceless” and every other color or ethnicity as “raced,” and that’s what we call “eurocentrism.”
And that’s the thing about whitewashing. It’s this idea that a “person” is white, and a “person of color” is black or asian or arab or latin@ or whatever they might be.
It’s why people call John Stewart the “Black Green Lantern” but just call Hal Jordan the “Green Lantern.” It’s why Miles Morales is called “Black Spider-man” but Peter Parker is just “Spider-man.” If you want to throw gender into the mix, it’s why Jennifer Walters is the “She-Hulk” but Bruce Banner isn’t the “He-Hulk.”
People think “character” is white and “character + black” is black. There is no default race. Community did a whole episode about how a truly raceless character would look something like this monstrosity:
But there’s the tricky part: Once you stop thinking of white characters as “character” and start thinking of them as “character + white,” it becomes really overwhelming how many characters are white.
I mean, I know there’s a kerfuffle over Disney Princesses right now, so let’s look at the list of official Disney Princesses, shall we? That is, let’s look at the list and include everyone’s race, not just the princesses of color:
- Snow White + White
- Cinderella + White
- Aurora + White
- Ariel + White
- Belle + White
- Jasmine + Arab
- Pocahontas + Native American
- Mulan + Asian
- Tiana + Black
- Rapunzel + White
- Merida + White
Soon to be added:
- Anna + White
- Elsa + White
4 of those 13 women are women of color. All four of those women of color are different races than one another. At the moment, the number of white princesses is seven, but it’s about to go up to nine. All nine of those princesses are the same race as one another, despite a few of them being different nationalities, although most of them hail from Western Europe.
And a lot of people are saying “but they’re just accurately portraying the parts of the world those stories are set in!” First of all, the presence of a person of color has never been implausible in any part of the world, in any period of human history. Hell, a bunch of these movies were set after Shakespeare had born, lived, and died, but he still managed to write a play set centuries earlier featuring a black male lead in Italy.
Second, and most importantly, it’s not like they are being assigned a setting at random and have to accommodate it in their character designs. The people at Disney choose to set film after film after film in France and Germany and Denmark.
It’s not that those areas produce more or better fairy tales and folk tales than any of the other continents, it’s that the stories that come from those areas are the ones Disney considers universal.
In the eyes of Disney, there’s a Princess for Black little girls to look up to, a Princess for Native little girls to look up to, a Princess for Arab little girls to look up to, a Princess for Asian little girls to look up to, and nine princesses for all little girls to look up to. It’s no coincidence that in almost all promotional art featuring the “Princess Lineup,” Jasmine, Tiana, Mulan, and Pocahontas are all standing in the back, usually obscured by other
whitePrincesses’ dresses, while the blonde lady brigade stands in the front.
And that is whitewashing.
I was reading a post earlier and my phone refreshed and I lost it, so I was hoping someone could send me a link to it? It was about a broad definition of whitewashing and Disney princesses and how they’re almost all white. So yeah, anybody have a link to that post?
ETA: Found by my brother, thank you for the help!
Three weeks into the program, I was raped by one of my co-workers.…I made an appointment to see one of the counselors in Disney’s Employee Assistance Program. I tried to be optimistic.Of course they’ll listen to me. It’s Disney, a company built on childhood innocence and happiness. Wouldn’t they want to fire an accused rapist immediately? (Spoiler Alert: No.)I recounted everything that happened that night while the counselor stayed silent and seemed at least mildly sympathetic. When I told her we had been drinking, her face changed from “concerned” to “you made a mistake.” Still, I told her, I said “no” the entire time and he never listened.The first thing she said to me was “Well, now you know not to be hanging around boys in the middle of the night. You know what they want.”Take a few seconds and re-read that. Now let’s unpack it.A certified counselor was insinuating that it was my fault that my coworker decided to rape me — as if I should have known better than to interact with any man after dark. Not only that, but she was advising me to approach every interaction with a man as if he is a potential rapist, including every man that works at Disney World. If I react to a man with anything less than hostility after sundown, whatever happens is my fault.I told her that “no” means “no” whether it’s day or night. That was apparently too radical an idea for her, as she said nothing in reply. She continued to make excuses for my rapist. She asked where he was from and I told her, “France.” She remarked that “cultural differences” were probably part of the problem, telling me that the French have a “different view of love” than we Americans do.It was at that point that I completely let go of any hope that this woman would help me.Still, I told her that I was worried for the girls he was hitting on and didn’t know what to do. She apparently took that to mean I was jealous that I wasn’t getting his attention, because she told me to show up at the next party looking hot and make him jealous.“You’re a pretty girl. I’m sure you get all the boys.”I was stunned.Why on earth would I want to make my rapist feel jealous? That sounds like it would make my rapist angry and want to assert his dominance over me and the situation in a sexual way. And if I followed that advice and he raped me again, they would probably just tell me I should have known better than to dress so sexy around him. I stayed silent and took a card with our next appointment written down. I never showed up, and instead filed a complaint against her.Over the next few days, I had a breakdown that led to me telling my parents what happened in a frantic, panic attack-induced phone call at three in the morning. They encouraged me to tell the company what happened and said they would fly me home the moment I said I wanted to leave. I ultimately decided to stay another week to report the assault and get all my things together.It was good that I gave myself a week to get the situation straightened out, because it was impossible to find out where to report a sexual assault within the company. There was no information about how to report a sexual assault in the college program, nor any resources for who to contact.I tried calling every department that sounded like they might deal with sexual assault, but ended up in an endless loop of transferred calls until I finally gave up. I went to the front desk of my apartment complex in search of an answer. The look on the guy’s face when I arrived and asked “Hi, do you know where I go to report a rape?” told me he had absolutely no idea. He gave me the number for department I already called. Eventually I had to ask one of my managers, and thankfully she knew who to contact.I made an appointment to meet with Cheri in Employee Relations. When I got to her office, I wrote down my statement recounting everything that happened the night of the assault and waited to be called in. Unfortunately, she handled the situation even worse than the counselor had.“You were drinking?”Yes, I’m over twenty-one. That is legal.“Why didn’t you scream? If his roommates were home, they would have heard you.”Thank you for your brilliant insight. I haven’t beaten myself up enough for that already.“Why didn’t you push him off you? You said he wasn’t that big.”I froze. The rape took me a little by surprise.“Why did it take you this long to report the assault? Are you sure you’re not reporting this as a rape because you wanted him to be your boyfriend and he said no?”… Fuck you.“Now what I don’t understand is why you didn’t call the police first.”Because of literally everything you’re saying to me right now.Those were the things I thought, because I was crying too hard to answer her in the moment. I was told they would still carry out an investigation, but I had little hope anything would come of it. I left her office and immediately booked my flight home.About a week after I got home, I received a letter that said my complaint had been “noted” in the counselor’s file. I decided to make a follow-up call to Employee Relations and get an update on my investigation. I was told my case was closed, but that they were not able to tell me what actions they had taken. I immediately contacted one of my co-workers asking if he had recently seen my rapist at work. He told me, “I saw him yesterday. He was fine.”I’m still floored by how unsupportive Disney was during every step of that process. This is a company with tens of thousands of people working for them just in Orlando, including thousands of college-aged adults living on their premises with very little supervision.There is no information on how to report a sexual assault and seemingly no one competent enough to handle the situation when someone figures out how. To be honest, I feel more violated by the way Disney treated me than I feel from being raped, and I’m worried for every other person that has been in my situation.These past nine months have been incredibly difficult; “Disney” is not an easy name to escape, along with constant reminders of the time I spent there. However after all this time, I’ve managed to turn all of the bullshit in this situation into an immense amount of self-confidence and self-love that I have never felt before.It’s difficult to ask every person that reads this article to stop supporting a company that is so pervasive in pop culture (though be my guest, as they say). Nevertheless, I have a feeling that with enough publicity over how poorly their company handles sexual assault accusations, Disney might actually do something proactive about it. So if you would, share this article wherever your online presence may be. We’ll see what happens.
My sons, along with millions of other kids around the world, joyously awaited The Lion King. I was intrigued because this time Disney appeared to be skipping the old folk-tales with their traditional and primal undercurrents.
I hoped Disney had grown weary of reinforcing women’s subordinate status by screening fables about a beauty who tames an angry male beast or a mermaid who gives up her glorious voice and splits her body to be with a prince.
So off we went to the movies, figuring we would enjoy an original, well-animated story about animals on the African plain. Even before the title sequence, however, I started to shudder.
Picture this (and I apologize for spilling the plot): The golden-maned—that is, good—lion is presenting his first born male child to his subjects. All the animals in the kingdom, known as Pride Lands, are paying tribute to the infant son that will someday be their king. These royal subjects are basically lion food—zebras, monkeys, birds, etc.—and they all live together in supposed harmony in the “circle of life.”
Outside the kingdom, in a dark, gloomy, and impoverished elephant graveyard, are the hyenas. They live dismally jammed together among bones and litter. They hyenas are dark—mostly black—and they are nasty, menacing the little lion prince when he wanders into their territory.
One of their voices is done by Whoopie Goldberg, in a clearly inner-city dialect. If this is not the ghetto, I don’t know what is.
All is not so perfect inside Pride Lands, however. The king’s evil brother Scar has no lionesses or cubs. Scar has a black mane, and speaks in an effeminate, limp-pawed, British style done by Jeremy Irons—seemingly a gay caricature.
Scar conspires with the hyenas to kill the king and send the prince into exile. In exchange for their support, Scar allows the hyenas to live in Pride Lands. But property values soon crash: The hyenas overpopulate, kill all the game, and litter the once-green land with bones.
Already Disney has gays and blacks ruining the “natural order,” and the stereotypes keep rolling. The lionesses never question whether they should be serving Scar and the hyenas—they just worry a lot. They are mistreated, but instead of fighting back these powerful hunters passively await salvation. (Even my 7-year-old wondered why the young, strong lioness didn’t get rid of Scar.)
The circle of life is broken; disaster awaits everyone. But then the first-born male returns to reclaim power. The royal heir kills the gay usurper, and sends the hyenas back to the dark, gloomy, bone-filled ghetto. Order is restored and the message is clear: Only those born to privilege can bring about change.
This is not a story about animals—we know animals don’t behave like this. This is a metaphor for society that originated in the minds of Disney’s creators. These bigoted images and attitudes will lodge deeply in children’s consciousness.
I’m not sure I always understand the law of the Hollywood jungle, but my boys definitely don’t. Scared and frightened by The Lion King, they were also riveted, and deeply affected. But entranced by the “Disney magic,” they and millions of other children were given hidden messages that can only do them—and us—harm. Margaret Lazarus, All’s Not Well in Land of “The Lion King” (via ellesugars)