“Whitewashing” is a term we’ve all heard before; it’s usually applied to POC characters in media that have been recast or re-designed to appear either more Caucasian or less ethnic. (I mean, look at how they massacred my girl, Orange Blossom.)
Why did they whitewash Orange Blossom from Strawberry Shortcake pic.twitter.com/t1UdqilayN
— Momo ? Illustrator (@MomoSweetPeach) November 17, 2019
The term has found new meaning on Tiktok, and people are reveling in the discourse. “Whitewashing” is now being applied to black women who don’t ascribe to traditionally harmful stereotypes or preconceived notions about how black women should behave. “Whitewashed”, in this context, is a pejorative term used to describe people of color–namely black women–that appear to have assimilated to white culture. The term is also applied to black women who have a proximity to whiteness due to their friends, academic backgrounds, romantic partners, residential environments, or regional dialects. Black women who love coquette and cottagecore vibes, fantasy novels, alternative clothing, and preppy aesthetics are now being ostracized by other members of the black community; simply for being themselves by engaging in activities, aesthetics, and behaviors that are not traditionally associated with black women, mainly due to prejudice.
Earlier this week, Tiktok user sexyrichlibra posted a rant on the platform stating her frustrations with being labeled a “whitewashed black girl,” namely by other black people. Black women who don’t adhere to stereotypes about themselves are somehow considered to be “less black” than those that do. And not only is that unnecessarily divisive, but it’s incredibly harmful on both a societal and personal level. For starters, terms like these reinforce preconceived notions about how black women should conduct themselves. The term also invalidates the experiences of blackness, racism, and discrimination that black women constantly go through, simply on the basis that they aren’t “black enough” to receive it. It’s also used to further villainize, isolate, and ostracize black women who don’t conform to prototypical racial characterizations. She states “Literally my whole life I’ve been told I ‘talk like a white girl.’ I dress like a white girl. My taste in music is ‘so white’, [purely] as a method of insulting me.” The video went viral, with over 4 million views, and 700,000 likes.
@sexyrichlibra Here’s to being unapologetically ourselves all 2023 #chitchatgrwm #grwmmakeup #storytimemakeup #makeuproutine ♬ original sound – Bey ?
While the definition and usage of the term is fairly new, the idea behind it is not. Words like “coconut,” or “oreo” (foods that are “black on the outside, and white on the inside”) have also been used to demean black women who do not adhere to societal conceptualizations of blackness. The use of these terms are problematic in more ways than one. Many people who use this terminology either derogatorily or in jest, are other black people. And they don’t realize that they’re contributing to the same harmful stereotypes and systemic racism that they’re aiming to criticize. Just last year, social activism writer FeminismGoddess published a personal essay about the concept, stating the following: “I was STILL considered ‘whitewashed’ at the predominantly black school. That left me confused and very much lost. I didn’t know where I would fit in, and it’s no secret that society loves to put us in these little boxes. That leaves me with the question, Where do I fit in all of this? I just wanted to exist in a space where I was allowed to be me and not get judged for it… Do I go to a HBCU (Historically Black College/University) and get “in touch” with my blackness, or do I go to a PWI (Predominantly White Institution) where I would most likely fit it for the way I act but stand out due to my skin color?”
The “whitewashed black girl” hashtag has taken Tiktok by storm, with many people pointing out how offensive and harmful it is. After a video of a black girl and her friends (who happened to be white) went viral, the internet was ablaze with criticism. One response from user swagmonkeypinkietoe highlighted an important point: Why do black women need to ascribe to a stereotype in order to be received positively, or even just accepted by the black community?
@swagmoneypinkietoe #stitch with @thehannahleeyoder I HAVE SO MUCH TO SAY ON THIS TOPIC… #christian #racism #stereotypes #whitewashed #blackgirl #liberals #conservative #fyp #hottake ♬ original sound – aaliyah
As exemplified in commentary analyst Danisha Carter’s TikTok videos, Danisha is often called “whitewashed” in the comments primarily because of her elegant and verbose diction. But let’s examine this further: to call someone “whitewashed” for being educated is a show of internalized anti-blackness. If someone is “whitewashed” or “less black” simply for possessing eloquence, then by that logic, academia and eloquence can only be associated with white people. It draws the conclusion that it’s “unblack” to be educated, which is a racial stereotype that is a result of a larger systemic issue. Furthermore, adhering to alternative aesthetics, having white friends, or being well-educated doesn’t nullify experiences of racism these women are constantly subjected to. Danisha has also faced criticism for her appearance for wearing blue contacts, with people accusing her of “wanting to be white.” She addressed these comments with an admirable amount of poise and dauntlessness, posing the question: Must black women be criticized for everything we do?
@danisha.carter shop now bestiessss @desioeyes ? #makeup #beauty #fashion ♬ original sound – DANISHA CARTER
The term “whitewashed” sows the seeds of division within an already divisive community. Black people are villainizing other black people for not ascribing to their own preconceived notions on how their culture should behave. These preconceived notions about blackness are being used as a litmus test for who deserves to be considered an “accepted” member of the black community, yet those preconceptions are a result of both institutionalized and internalized racism. Institutionalized racism is why black women get made fun of for engaging in hobbies, dressing feminine, or being educated, and the black community only contributes to the system of internalized anti-blackness, division, and systemic racism by calling other members of their own community “whitewashed”. Earlier this year, TikTok user tiktoksbyalexa posted a video stating similar concerns, while highlighting the larger implications of what it means to be called “whitewashed.” “We must broaden our horizons of what we expect and think black people should be.” And she’s right. Black people are not a monolith, and in an effort to thwart internalized blackness within the community, we’re just perpetuating more of it by pigeonholing ourselves into stereotypes.
Black women are constantly being criticized, whether or not they’re adhering to traditional ideas of what blackness should look like. As a society, there is little to no benefit from putting people in boxes based on how well they ascribe to preconceived notions about the communities they come from. These terms make it harder for us to make progress; we’re dividing the community and further isolating those who already feel alienated from their culture as it is. Blackness is not monocultural. Maybe the issue isn’t with black punks or lolitas, or with well-spoken content creators. Maybe the issue is just you and your own prejudice.
Photo By Clarke Sanders Via Unsplash