Okay, so, recently, I came across this blog: DAMN, LAY OFF THE BLEACH. It’s a blog dedicating to calling out artwork that has whitewashed characters that are originally darker/dark skinned and generally not white. There was some controversy over a few pieces of artwork, fights over whether or not lighting that’s making the characters look pale, over the forward and blunt tone of the owners of the tumblr, and how sometimes the whitewashing is unintentional/different art style/’look it’s hard coloring and I like it this way so shut up’.
As an artist myself, I just want to say a few things:
I believe when someone draws a character lighter than they really are (and it’s not lighting/stylistic/etc), they aren’t just unintentionally, accidentally choosing a lighter palette. There is a conscious decision, even if just a little bit, that goes on. Because as an artist, I use references when I draw. I get screenshots of the character, I look at official art, I even use the eyedropper tool to see exactly what colors there are. And I’m pretty sure plenty of other people do that too. So if they do, how is it that they can get the skin color several shades lighter/completely wrong? Even if you don’t use references and draw completely from memory, once you’re done, how can you look at the picture and not see where you have gone wrong?
That’s just the technical art aspect. Then there’s just always that colorism, that underlying mentality that lighter skin is preferable and darker skin just isn’t and you just don’t want to draw that character with darker skin than you’re used to. You lighten up the colors a bit, you use the special effects photoshop gives you, you make them as dark as you have too. You think, let’s make them tanned. Like after someone went to the beach, someone who is outside in the sun a lot. You don’t really think, They are brown. Dark-skinned. Not white.
I know this because I used to do it too. And I still sometimes do so, until I realize what I’m doing and stop myself. I made original characters that were South American/South Asian, but I always stopped myself from giving them ‘too dark’ skin. Just enough so they didn’t look completely white.
I’m Chinese American and I have light-ish olive skin, but I tan easily. All my life, I’ve been told to stay out of the sun by my family because light pale skin was preferable, and darker skin was just not as pretty. I’m always hearing my mom lamenting about how dark I got or how dark I am, even though at most I tan to an olive skin tone (and not even that much). And until a few years ago, I listened and shared the same colorism mentality. It’s not just my family - it’s the whole culture we live in. Just look at the beauty ideal, look at black actresses on covers photoshopped until they look almost white, at the skin whitening cream on sale in stores. It’s a mentality that’s really not easy to break out of. When you start drawing, your characters turn out pale too. Like the ideal you’ve been told to follow your whole life.
I know there are people who think the same way. They won’t say it out loud, they might not realize they’re thinking this way, but they are. It’s not lighting, it’s not wrong palette, it’s not a coloring problem. It’s just racism, pure and simple.
So, everyone, when you’re told you have whitewashed a character: listen. Apologize and change the drawing and/or promise to do better next time. It will help you better as an artist and a person.
CC: *awkward slow clap*