De-centering Whiteness in storytelling

One of the great things I’ve come to enjoy about being an Evil Regal woman of color is how that has allowed me a new prism through which to view the stories I’m being told on a daily basis. My infatuation with Lana Parrilla aside, it’s given me a great way to practice de-centering Whiteness in narrative media. Ever since I first asked, “What if Regina/The Evil Queen from Once Upon a Time isn’t White?” I’ve gotten a lot better at doing this. I’ve started picking up patterns and questioning the narrative that they’re trying to feed me.

For instance, on my Tumblr (amidst the Evil Regal fangirling), I noticed a pattern in quite a few TV shows where a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Nordic heroine is pitted against a villainess who can best be described as swarthy. It’s particularly fascinating to me how often we code good versus evil this way, particularly with women characters. What sorts of messages are we reinforcing with that? How does allowing the dark/evil/Other be the center of their own story  (as opposed to who we’re “supposed” to identify as the hero/protagonist) change those messages?

As a case study, let me draw your attention to an Episode 12 of this show called Chase. Chase is pretty much your standard investigating then chasing down bad guys drama. Because I hate it when a post that’s meant to analyze a show just gives you a recap instead of analysis, I trust you to Google a synopsis yourself. Let me tell you two things about this episode that I found very intriguing.

  1. We’re supposed to view law enforcement as the good guys and the criminals as the bad guys.
  2. This view shifts drastically when you fast-forward through the cop-oriented parts and watch the parts that focus on the criminals,

We’re supposed to root for the cops to find and capture this Really Really Bad Lady. We’re supposed to see them upholding law and order for the greater good. We’re supposed to cheer them on as they do everything in their power to take down this drug cartel. And we’re supposed to blame Pablo for what happens to his family.

But if we focus on Isabella Cordova, we get a different story. We see a fierce, resourceful woman who is trying to save her family from being torn apart. We see her conflict not with justice, but with government lackeys who could care less what happens to her or her family. We see a woman sacrifice her own freedom to save those she loves. And, in the end, we see that resourcefulness, loyalty, and sacrifice come to nothing.

For a White person, this outcome may be unfortunate, even tragic. To a person of color, it is a potent reminder of who truly has the power.

What about you? What are some narrative media that you can subvert by shifting the central POV?

14 thoughts on “De-centering Whiteness in storytelling

  1. I’ve always wondered about The Count of Monte Cristo, since it was writen by a black man, why Edmond Dontes is not black? I mean the story would change drastically if the lead character was black sea captain. Also d’Artagnan from the Musketeers. I wonder if Hollywood had hired black actors to protrayed the characters, how it would effect the story and audiance.

    • That’s an interesting view, but the main thrust of my post is not, “What if we changed the race of the main character?” but “What if we chose a character of color already present as the center of the narrative?”

      • Oh, you know that if the Narrative was switched around let’s say in the Chronicle that the black guy lives and the story was told from his perspective instead of the two white kids. I say that the narrative would be far more interesting.

        Also the white savor movies I bet it would be different from the perspective of the people that they are saving

  2. “…We see a woman sacrifice her own freedom to save those she loves. And, in the end, we see that resourcefulness, loyalty, and sacrifice come to nothing…”

    Say hello to Kendra of Buffy fame.

    Also, let’s look at, say..Rocky III.

    Here we find Clubber Lang (Sylvester Stallone’s movie version of famed Philly boxer Joe Fraizer). Growing up in the shadows of the areas of Philadelphia not celebrated by Rocky fans, Clubber quickly moves up the ranks of the world heavyweight division, unheralded by the boxing press and unloved by his hometown. He eventually goes on to win the world title, but still has to face the spectre of a hostile press and a town more concerned with finding a way to restore Rocky Balboa to his “rightful position” as world heavyweight champ. Rocky gets the help he needs in having Apollo Creed (again, movie version of Muhammad Ali) and his trainer, who give Rocky the skills required to defeat Clubber in a rematch.

    After Rocky defeats Clubber Lang, he is quickly forgotten by the boxing press, the local Philly media, the local fans, and the rest of the boxing world, as Clubber would no longer be considered a contender for the title ever again. Clubber’s hard work and perseverance, which paid off early with his holding of the world title, were all for nothing in the end.

    [Real Life Note: The accomplishments of Joe Fraizer are all but forgotten in the eyes of the casual Philadelphian. At sporting events, the “Rocky” theme is played sometimes. A statue of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky once adorned the Art Museum steps before it was relocated the Sports Complex…before being returned to Art Museum. Stallone and Rocky are invoked as being “The Spirit of Working-Class Philadelphia.” While Joe Frazier, who started as in working class job as a youth, worked his way through the boxing ranks to become world champion on several occasions. His story was not “worthy” of a movie deal. His contributions to Philadelphia were not deemed “good enough” to be celebrated. He does not have a statue for his glory. This glory even escapes him in death.]

      • Re: real world ramifications, look at the black mother who was locked up for sending her kids to another school district because she was trying to keep them safe.

        Had she been a white woman, she would’ve garnered more empathy and people wouldn’t have allowed her to get arrested. Or if she had been arrested, she would’ve been painted as a courageous heroine fighting the system to protect her boys.

        In reality, she’s an evil tax cheat who deserved what she got.

    • And Rocky wasn’t even a real boxer! He was just a character in a movie! D: That’s just horrible.

  3. Here’s a classic of mine: CASSANDRA CAIN!!!!!!!

    Now Cass, a woman of color, as we ALL know was regularly dicked over in the Bat Family for being a woman of color and Batman’s ace in the hole as far as operatives go. She beat Shiva in one on one combat, a feat not even Batman could do.

    While the writers keep trying to make all the male sidekicks Batman’s heir apparent: Dick, Jason, Damian Sue, Terry, Tim, the fact remains that when it comes to being a machine and possessing that inhuman drive and dedication to the mission, Cass is Bruce 2.0 more than anyone else.

    And what does Cass get for her trouble? Dick Grayson is constantly undermining her and telling Bruce that she’s a murderer who can’t be trusted, yet his hypocritical ass is constantly coddling Damian Sue and let’s not forget that he had a hand in Blockbuster’s murder. Yet he wants to act all high and mighty.

    Even when Bruce adopted Cass, Dick still treated her like shit.

    When Batman “died” (or did the time warp again), it was actually Cass who formed a network of Gotham heroes to pick up the slack and keep Gotham safe. And what does Dick do in all of his DICKery? He kicks her out of the Network she built because the white guy knows best.

    AND LET’S NOT FORGET, that Bruce made Cass give the Batgirl mantle to Stephanie Brown so the blond fair skinned white girl with self esteem issues can feel good about herself. Even though this is the same lying ass piece of shit who started Gotham Gang War and got Orpheus murdered.

    And for all of her sacrifice and effort to be accepted and even though she strove to be the best and in certain respects was superior to her peers, she was resented by the writers and characters alike for being a phenomenal woman of color.

  4. Thinking aback, I wondered how does the POC (in the fiction) feels about the Might Whitey trope. I bet they fell annoyed. like in those White Teacher and inner city youth. I wonder did they students see am aloof white teacher who actually don’t care about the students.

    Also speaking on comic book characters, like i saw about the Runaways, instead of having Alex like a mole and every other POC gets writeoff. I mean they missed an chance to make a diverse cast of characters. But they failed and starting to write more Arryan-minded characters despite having a POC lead.

    • I’ve always wondered if Chase Stein isn’t the insert for the writers/target demographic. Straight white guy slacker with awesome tech toys and is surrounded by girls (granted he only has chances with two of them but since when has that ever stopped guys from fantasizing about lesbians/that guy from Kick-Ass saying that he’s saving himself for Hit Girl).

      Oh, and he’s blond and blue-eyed (I think?) too.

  5. Now I haven’t seen past the first episode of Power Rangers Samurai but the fact that the leader, the Red Ranger, is a white guy should qualify it for centering on whiteness. While I would still roll my eyes at the previous seasons for making the white guy the leader, I find it especially egregious for this season. Here we have a season whose motif is based on something distinctively Japanese, so wouldn’t it be appropriate to cast someone of Japanese descent as the leader? It’s not like the series is shy about casting PoC as Red Rangers either. To make it worse, I hear they specified wanting a white person for the role of Red Ranger which, um, why? It almost reminds me of Showdown in Little Tokyo.

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