Get To Know: Whitewashing in Asia
In the past, we saw how in the West, even if the nuts and bolts of whitewashing are heavily diffused, it’s still a discussion’s topic. Whitewashing is recognized as a social issue, and more and more people are fighting against it. ‘Only’ one ocean away the situation is as similar as different. White-washing in Asia — especially in the Far East — has throughout time been tendentially normalized because of the two historical and cultural derivations, as well as the social one, and has rooted since way before the western colonialism or the white culture influence on eastern Asia. In Asia, the color of one’s complexion can be associated with stereotypes, positive ones, if it’s extremely pale, or negative ones, in case of a darker tone. Although people are drawn to think that these stereotypes are caused by the desire of Asian people to “be white” and “blend in with the white society,” as if they see it as superior, they’re just wrong approximations. It’s definitely a widely spread commonplace, that’s why believed to be accurate, but the praise of pale complexion and the desire of looking ‘white’ don’t lead to the desire of complying with the white race because, naturally, it’s not something born with the European colonialism, but historically it goes way back before it.
It’s very similar to the idea Italian people had back in the days. White was associated with wealth and royalty since they didn’t have to work a single day in their life, while darker skin tones were associated with farmers and the working-class. The same goes for East Asian countries and the strong hierarchy they had back in the days who still affects, in some proportions, today’s concept of why having white skin is better.
Here comes another important point: it’s not only a matter of history. We can ‘blame’ history for colorism, but it would be wrong to think that it’s the only reason why colorism is still so deeply ingrained in East Asian countries.
Nowadays, in a similar way to what Hollywood keeps on doing in the West, by portraying a most-white world, in Asia, media are the 1st ones to blame for the ongoing colorism. Pushing the idea that only fair-skinned people can be admired and become famous, media are playing a significant role in building a wall blocking inclusivity. Not only ads promote white skin as better and more beautiful than tanned ones and the best ways to obtain a fair-skin, but they also require famous people to shape up to reflect those beauty standards they promote. It’s a vicious cycle in which an idol will undoubtedly be more excited if his, or her, skin is more fairy-like, and this pushes them to try to reach an imposed beauty standard. Of course, isn’t always like that, but let’s be honest and face the reality of facts: tanned idols are still the minority, and some idols themselves are part of the problem. Online there are tons of compilations of group members, from famous groups, who keep teasing and belittling that one or two members who have a less light skin tone.
VIXX’s N talked about how his tanned skin tone often affected him as well as EXO’s Kai who, in the past, stated that doesn’t intend to ‘change his skin tone’ referring to special body treatment which can make your skin paler. Just like them, other idols have faced, and keep on facing, colorist observations and not so rarely idols who got darker skin-tones are forced from their companies to portray different culture by making them wear traditional clothes or by combing their hair in ways that belong to other cultures, often the black culture, ending up with doing cultural appropriation.
In the past, the boy group of BTS faced backlash and criticism for some colorist statements they made towards some of their co-members. Once when RM, the leader, was asked about his first impression of his co-members, he answered that he wasn’t able to see V and J-Hope since they were “too black.” Great thing is that over time, they addressed the colorism ingrained into their sentences and started to be more aware of the precedents those statements can create. Being followed with so many fans who are likely to copy or at least getting inspired by what you say and how do you act colorist statements can be dangerous and helping spread colorism further.
Even if colorism is still ingrained into east-Asian society, whitewashing is still a thing — white skin is still promoted as better and as more beautiful — and there is still an ongoing anti-black feeling, it’s essential to recognize that society is changing, and idols can play a big role in creating awareness. Most of the time, thanks to the minorities who are in their fandoms, who can help them get to know more about these important issues, k-pop idols can then help to spread positive messages. Idols consciousness can have a big impact on the industry and can help eradicate colorism, racism, and creating inclusivity. No matter what, even when it’s about the people we love and admire the most, it’s crucial to hold them accountable and make the difference. However, most important is the work we decide to do on ourselves: let’s take a moment to be our most severe judges, we have the option to slowly change things for the better by starting working on our attitude, remembering to keep on paying attention to minorities and then, when we are finally able to share what we learned, letting ourselves be heard and openly educate ignorant or insensitive individuals in the industry.