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I was reading about a little kerfuckle in the Harry Potter community over the character of Blaise Zabini, who was revealed in The Half Blood Prince (more than half way through the series, despite being introduced in the first book) to be black. Specifically, some members of the Harry Potter community continued to depict Blaise Zabini as white in various fanfiction/fanart after the publication of the Half Blood Prince. This was interpreted by other fans as whitewashing. The fanlore wiki has a pretty good summary of this.

What is whitewashing, and is portraying Blaise Zabini as white an example of whitewashing?

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Whitewashing is distinct but related things.

  1. Changing an existing non-white character to be a white one.
  2. Using white characters in a setting that would typically have non-whites.
  3. White actors, directors, writers, singers (i.e. content creators) receiving the majority of awards and accolades.

The fact that it is white people being accused off this action fits perfectly with an already existing definition of whitewash (or whitewashing):

A deliberate attempt to conceal unpleasant or incriminating facts about a person or organization in order to protect their reputation.

In context it means that the white community is making deliberate attempt to conceal the contributions of the non-white community to the arts because it is considered unpleasant. This is why it is such a big deal, it is a form of racism.

If you are going to argue against any racist undertones being associated, the primary definition is to basically paint something white (as one would expect).

A solution of lime and water or of whiting, size, and water, used for painting walls white.

For works of art your would be taking a non-white character and almost literally "painting" them white.

Yes, portraying Blaise as white would be considered whitewashing.

Or at least it would be after the race of the character was established. If the race of the character is not established or even hinted at it seems reasonable that one would assume the Blaise would be white given the context of the story (majority white nation, white author, majority of established characters are white; unlike say Cho Chang, who based on the name would reasonably be considered of Eastern Asia descent).

Once the canon fact of Blaise's race was established, continuing to portray him as white is whitewashing. Since we are dealing with fan-fiction the waters are a bit muddy, the writer of the fan-fiction is essentially creating their own story and own character. However, it is easy to see why the "accusation" of whitewashing would be made in this case.

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    For the record, many people in the British-Chinese community were unhappy with the name Cho Chang; genius.com/Rachel-rostad-to-jk-rowling-from-cho-chang-annotated – Valorum Dec 20 '17 at 18:44
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    @Skooba Re: the point about fan-fic - I understand fanfic authors often do change things in stories (gender changes, new characters, different settings, etc), in this case, I don't think that excusing the whitewashing as "oh it's fanfic, they're creating their own story" is a good thing - they're still based in a canon with established characters. – Ash Dec 20 '17 at 20:29
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    "Once the canon fact of Blaise's race was established, continuing to portray him as white is whitewashing" ... But what if it was not to conceal their non-whiteness, but rather because of years of expectation and assumption that the character was white? Why is it reasonable to assume that can be overturned in a single page? – muru Dec 21 '17 at 20:20
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    @muru because the character is not "yours". The assumption was wrong. How would this be acceptable in any other situation? – Skooba Dec 21 '17 at 20:34
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    @muru How is the character not being actively controlled? Just because "you" don't like how it is being controlled doesn't change the situation. Fan fiction is gray area to begin with... many authors do not like it as they feel it is stealing their properties. Sure we can debate what authorial intent was and how much it matters, however there is no speculation on this... the character is black. – Skooba Dec 21 '17 at 21:44
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In this case, whitewashing is basically exactly what it sounds like. It's taking a canonically PoC (Person of Colour) character and portraying them as white instead, either through art or film or fanfic or what have you. Basically, taking away any reference to their race and making them look/act like a white person, even though the canonical media states/references them being...not that.

So in this case, where canon clearly establishes Blaise as being Black, fanfic authors saying he has features associated with whiteness, or artists drawing him as such, are whitewashing. They're removing any reference to his canonically PoC description as established in the books.

This is very common in films, where PoC roles will be cast instead with white people. Note that this is different from blackface or yellowface where the white people are made up to look like they're a different race - instead, the whole idea of them being non-white is completely removed from their representation in the (usually visual) work.

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    Is this still true where people have had years (a few movies and five books) to imagine that Blaise could be white? If the expectation is that the character can realistically be white? – muru Dec 20 '17 at 7:50
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    @muru If canon has established that they're non-white at any point, then no, it's not. – Ash Dec 20 '17 at 18:29
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – user58 Dec 20 '17 at 22:09

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