The powers that be have clearly been testing my patience of late. That could be the only reason why I've seen about 10 Black video game characters turned white in various pieces of fanart in the last 14 hours. So, know it is firmly in my spirit when I say, I don't care who you are, the whole practice of whitewashing is fucked up and if you participate in any way, you are an active participant in the perpetuation of racist fuckery. Let's talk about why.
1. There are Plenty of Lily White Characters to Draw
It's really easy to get wrapped up in defending the objective fact that there is a lack of representation of Black representation in video games so, let's take that as a given in this discussion. Also true is the fact that white people don't suffer from this issue at all. They have "diverse" cast of white characters to draw from any number of backgrounds, so why take one of the few characters who are part of the sorely needed representation of Black people and erase that?
I wish I had an wise, well thought out answer to that question, but it doesn't even sound right. I don't get the inclination to take that which is interesting and new about a character and toss it in the bin when there is no shortage of white characters to draw. Wait, that's because there is no good reason. Leave the few things people of color have in video games alone. Anyway, moving right on along.
2. Whitewashing is Always Racist. Always.
I think I might have read an artist defending their decision to white wash a character from a show once by saying, it's okay because, it's not like they were actually doing anything with the art, it was just a "re-imagining" for funsies. So, why is taking Lucio's Black Brazillian ass and turning it white fun? Re-imagining is an exercise of taking something which exists and recasting it in a different style to, hopefully, uncover something interesting, funny, nostalgic, or compelling. If you find any of those things apply to a straight forward pallet swap dark skin to light, ask yourself why. It might be your implicit preference for white skin. Which, by the way is implicit racism whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.
If you didn't arrive there, think a bit harder, cause you may have stopped short of the point.
3. It's Hurtful
Every time a movie comes out with a character that should be a person of color cast as a white person, it hurts the community of people who were robbed of that work. Though video games present a fundamentally different situation, what is similar is the harm the practice of whitewashing inflicts.
It gets back to what I wrote in my first point when artists decide to take a Black character and make them Black, it's essentially saying, "Hey, um, fuck your one moment of limelight. Let's make it about the whites." On a personal note, I am shook whenever I see these images pop up on my screen. It is, in essence, one of those small indignities that is totally avoidable. So, why not avoid that?
4. Many Artists Feel Like Their Re-interpretation is an Improvement
I mean it. I've seen that exact reasoning out in the wild. Someone said on an image of white Doomfist that he looks better white. Meanwhile, Doomfist hasn't even been around for more than a week and he's already getting ruined. Meanwhile, Doomfist is a beautiful boy.
I really have got nothing for this one besides the same reaction I have whenever I see this trotted out. Fuck you mean? Nah. That's the type of reckless crap that causes Black people to do bodily harm to themselves in the pursuit of whiteness they will never obtain and frankly, we ain't need it.
5. Dark Skinned People Ain't Teeth, No One Should Look at a Dark-Skinned Person and Think About Whitening them
Here's a real life example of this entire ideology enacted in real life. In my senior year of high school, we got professional portraits done and mine was pretty great they photoshopped all of the features on my face that whoever behind the keyboard deemed unsightly. I had none of my scars on my face, no acne, and my skin was, at least, a shade or two lighter than my natural skin tone. It was messed up. Later down the line, I bared witness to year after year of the Greek organisations on my alma mater's campus receive composite pictures where everyone, white people included, were lightened.
The idea that anyone and everyone would benefit if they were just a bit closer to ghost white is deeply disturbing. What it says, particularly to girls of color, is that they will never be light enough because of the way they came into the world looking. It is an extraordinarily shitty lesson to teach people and leads to abusive practices that must be changed absolutely. From this very same mindset, directly, crawls the whitewashing of existing characters in fanart and tolerating a practice which originated from a horrible, harmful idea is akin tolerating the horrible, harmful idea to begin with when we should be doing everything within our power to move against it.
This isn't just an issue for people making fanart. In games with the option to apply different skins to characters a frequent practice is to take a dark skinned character and give them a light skinned skin. Does it happen the other way around? Not to my knowledge.