Last semester in a Post-Colonial Literature course I took, we discussed a concept called “white-washing”, where, in the case of what was studied specifically, we see a phenomenon of the African man or woman being influenced by (or mimicking) the European countries colonizing them. They manage to straddle the two identities, in that they are reading, writing, speaking, and being educated under colonial influence, and yet still maintaining the appearance of their native identity. The issue with this phenomenon of “white-washing”, however, is that as a result, the diluted figure can be seen as a threat to the colonial power and a betrayal to the native identity. As a result, the subject becomes shunned by either race, no longer relating completely to either identity.
This is described by Freud in BhaBha’s work: “Their mixed and split origin is what decides their fate. We may compare them with individuals of mixed race, who, taken all round resemble white men but who betray their coloured descent by some striking feature or other and on that account are excluded from society and enjoy none of the privileges.” (130)
This phenomenon can be related to the Tyra Banks Show, on which Tyra interviews an Asian woman who has chosen to “correct” her eye lids by making them appear more Caucasian. In the way that a colonialized African country might begin to mimic their oppressors, we see women and men of Asian decent (as well as other minority races in North America) adhering to the dominantly Euro-centric idealized vision of beauty. In having this surgery performed, it was suggested that perhaps the woman in question is betraying her race in order to fit this whitened standard of beauty, or, “white-washing” herself, rather than embracing the ethnicly attractive features she already possessed
This idea of white-washing is disturbing in its name alone. When something is white-washed literally, it is covered up and diluted from its original form in order to fit a cleaner, whiter standard. What might have once made a thing original is now covered or altered into a state of near white; a blank, in-between state with no belonging.
This leads one to grasp for a solution to this problem of white standard serving as the superior, which perhaps can be found metaphorically in the Walk This Way music video. The video starts with Aerosmith oppressing the creativity of Run DMC with the overpowering of their music. In retaliation, Run DMC replies by rapping Steven Tyler’s lyrics back to him at a louder volume. In some ways, this might be seen as a sort of white-washing of Run DMC, as they are rapping the words of their creative oppressors, but one can also look at it as the creative darkening of the original song. In rapping the song back to them, they are not diluting themselves, but instead are colouring the original song to make something positive and new. As a result, we see a joining of Aerosmith and Run DMC, who together make one song. This song does not dilute the racial identity of either artist, but in contrast, embraces both. So perhaps racial identity should not be looked at as “one vs. another”, but as a collective that can be influenced positively and equally by all members.