When I was little, I wanted to grow up to be white. I cried when I got sunburnt, and covered myself up during sunny weather, all because I didn’t want to get any more tan. I straightened my thick, curly, frizzy hair every day, despising the curls. I saw the pigment of my skin as something I didn’t want. Something I wish I could have changed.
Being half Pacific Islander, half Caucasian, I was already dark. But I didn’t want to get any darker.
I grew up in an overwhelmingly Anglo neighbourhood. I went to schools where there was probably under 10 students with skin tones similar or darker than mine. Therefore, I didn’t have much opportunity to see that being dark was another “normal”. I just wanted to fit in with everyone that I was surrounded with.
It wasn’t until I left high school and went to UNSW that I started mixing with diversity every day. Over time I grew to accept the person that I was—a beautiful, non-white woman, surrounded by other beautiful people of various nationalities and skin tones.
I embraced the colour of my skin and slowly began to exorcise the internalised racism that I had carried with me throughout my childhood. It was tremendously freeing, realising that I was a different kind of beautiful to the models and actors I had seen in magazines, television and film I saw growing up. Just because I wasn’t white, or have silky hair or have blue eyes, didn’t mean I wasn’t beautiful in my own way.
Tumblr and Instagram were both the social media platforms that helped me most in my journey to accepting my blackness. I made an effort to follow accounts that celebrated the beauty of diversity, and made a stand against society’s preferred “white” standards of beauty.
But this is 2016, are there are girls like me growing up wishing that their skin could be lighter, that their hair could be straighter, or that their eyes could be anything other than brown.
This is why diversity in the media is important, and why whitewashing in Hollywood has got to stop.
The inadequate representation of people of colour impacts upon the psychological wellbeing of a multicultural audience and allows these particular cycles of racial bias [to] constantly emerge. (Ireland, 2016)
Maybe I would have learned to love myself earlier if I had been able to watch more films and television shows with strong, beautiful black women in roles that were fully formed, rather than just the sassy best friend. Or one of the girls that dies. Or the perpetually angry, “crazy” women that play against the white leads for comedic relief.
To think that in 2014, only 21.8% of leading characters in film were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups is astounding. This is 2016?
I won’t let people tell me that I should lighten up about whitewashing and you shouldn’t either.
It’s time to let Hollywood know that characters of colour aren’t a financial risk. It’s an investment. Stand up for diversity in film and don’t let Hollywood whitewash us anymore.