This entry is an expansion on a post about how the ethnicity change of Tiger Lily is not equal to the ethnicity change of the Human Torch
. It's a good rant, but I think he lets folks off easy.
When a historically straight white male character is changed to be more representative in a new telling of a tale, and the straight white male audience complains that they can no longer relate to the character because of the change, then they are proving WHY it is so very important. It’s often said that a variety of representation is necessary to give minority people characters with whom they can relate, but that is false. Minority people have been relating to characters not like them for forever, because that’s all the choices they’ve had. Minority people ALREADY KNOW that people can empathize with others that aren’t like them, the people that REALLY need to learn this lesson are the straight white males that have been shown time and again that their perspective is the only valid one by virtue of how much entertainment is told from that point of view. (Yes, some straight white males get this, but every time the ethnicity of a white character is changed to something else there is a disturbingly huge number of comments along the lines of not being able to relate to or respect the character any longer said with such oblivious sincerity that it demonstrates just how deeply ingrained the racism is, as well as the shocking inability to empathize with anyone else’s viewpoint.)
The reason that a variety of representation is necessary is NOT to give minorities their own characters JUST for them. We’re NOT endeavoring to keep things separate which is the implication of that line of reasoning. No, the reason that a variety or representation is necessary is to validate the experiences of those minorities, in their own eyes and in the eyes of the straight white male audience that has not been pushed to see any other experience. Let’s take bisexuality as an example. It’s invisible because it’s not something that you know about people when you only know them casually. Hell, you can know someone pretty well and they may never reveal this because of a fear of being judged. So without representation in media it becomes a “secret” classification, the general populace of heterosexuals and even homosexuals think that bisexuality isn’t real. People that start having bisexual feelings are often confused; they feel like they have to make a choice between being heterosexual or homosexual and that they are mutually exclusive. These people struggle with something that shouldn’t actually be a big deal whatsoever because they feel the need to choose one based on how society and people are portrayed in the media. Just imagine how worse it gets when the only available portrayals are negative or dismissive. Being bisexual doesn’t mean someone is a ravenous predator lustfully looking at everyone as a potential fuck, nor is it just a phase that they’ll get over once they find the right person, but that’s what the media tells everyone. And so someone that is just realizing that they feel this way is pushed to make that arbitrary choice between heterosexuality or homosexuality, not even realizing that there is actually a complex spectrum of options available for people to explore of which bisexuality is just one valid option.
But it’s more than just sexuality, it’s every single minority. As a member of any minority, when you are FINALLY lucky enough to see a character like you portrayed and they are just secondary characters AT BEST, but are typically comedic roles, villains, or just faces in a crowd, then you feel unimportant. Because no one tells tales about someone like you, you feel like your existence and therefore your whole self is not as valid, as real, or as worthwhile as those that are being told onscreen or in the books you read. You can still enjoy the works, you can feel for the characters, you can love them even though their life viewpoint is so much different than yours. But when you look at yourself you feel like nothing that you do will ever matter. The insidious thing again is that it’s not just the minority peoples that feel like this, it’s also the straight white males that begin to think that all those other viewpoints are less important than their own. And that’s what we see again and again in comments and message boards, and don’t forget politics, where straight white men can’t even conceive of another life experience or viewpoint different from their own as being something worthwhile to even acknowledge let alone accept or celebrate.
All of this is why it's OK to change a historically white male character to something else, but it's not OK to change a minority character to white.