Blacktober: There Is No Such Thing as Blackwashing

Laurie and Debbie say:

Neither of us are really anime fans; we’re just both admirers without a lot of deep knowledge. Debbie has been aware of Inktober, the month-long art challenge, for some years, and has known some people who have participated.

From that distance, we missed the controversy about “Blacktober,” so we are grateful for Nicole M. thoughtful and detailed report on Medium. The initial invitation called it “a month-long exclusive event where Black creators get to turn their favorite characters into someone who looks like them.”

As an artist and writer who have spent some 35 years working to provide images that look like the people who need to see them, we could not celebrate this more. The event was started by Celi (art above) and Cel C. (art below).

Harley Quinn by Cel C.

Of course, you would expect controversy over something like this from the white supremacist noise machine, and Cel C. and Celi were certainly prepared for that. Nicole M. focuses on the more upsetting complaints from white people who should know better, many of whom were upset about seeing their favorite characters “blackwashed.”

Let’s clear something up: blackwashing isn’t a thing. It never has been. People would complain about blackwashing when a Black actor plays the role of a character who was originally White. Yet many of those same people will dismiss whitewashing of any kind. Whitewashing has been present in Hollywood and media sources for years and it hasn’t just affected black people, it’s affected people of color in general. It excludes people of color from most roles, even if those roles were specifically talking about our culture, our history, or even our struggles.

She goes on to list examples of Hollywood and other media whitewashing (which is a thing). Making a favorite character Black is a way of stepping into that character’s skin in a media landscape which makes Blackness such an invisible quality. Making a character of color white erases their identity; making a white (or Asian or Latin) character Black widens their scope. This is what the Blacktober artists know in their bones.

Death the Kid, Liz and Patty are beautifully drawn here thanks to rasmen

Yes providing representation and giving small-time Black artists exposure was part of the goals for this event. But overall, Blacktober was just harmless fun. It was an escape to just forget about how terrible the world is and continues to be. There was no need for people to try and ruin it. White people have so many characters in media and they don’t have to worry about being the next George Floyd. So Blacktober wasn’t racist. If you had a problem with it, that was on you.

The only thing we would add to Nicole M’s summation is that harmless fun and escape that also build identity and provide people with empowering images are not just harmless fun: they are a restorative step toward the world we should be living in.

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