This is a question I was recently asked. The question came about when I revealed that The Red Seed has no white characters. It was a shocking question, to be sure. There were a couple of ideas there that fell like they are worth unpacking.
First, that not including white characters is the same as excluding them. There are many, many examples where the lack of a character of color feels like an exclusion. But not the movie Frozen. This movie is simply set in a place with no people of color. The same is true of Moana and anyone who is not Polynesian. So first off, there being no white characters in the story is not exclusion, but rather coincidence. The setting features almost all people of color, like Frozen features all white people or Moana features Polynesians.
Next, is there a special emphasis for white characters in the context of a story with black characters? Is there a required dynamic where black characters require white minders? Do stories with largely white casts require black characters for the same reason on the opposite side of the spectrum? Is there a power/subordinate dynamic that underlies what is presented as diversity? Does the story with a black cast need a white person in charge, somewhere up the ladder, to re-assert a social hierarchy? Do stories with white casts need a less important black character for the same reason? i.e. Shawshank Redemption is about a white person who saves a black person.
Vluut will never feature a single story that reminds its audience that there is a white person in a position of power to which all other nonwhite characters must answer. Nor will POCs depend on a white person to save them, or act as sidekicks to a white character.
So is this racist?
Reinforcing the inevitability of the white power structure is a corrupting influence on our world. It allows white people in power to abuse that power without being held accountable when the victim or victims are POC. Entertainment constantly reinforces this dynamic and the possibilities in storytelling are limited to those which support that structure. So Moana, which does not feature that structure, is able to tell a story that is unique to the culture it comes from.
For all that, the creative team behind Moana is almost exclusively white. Should white people be telling the stories of Polynesians? I think the answer is yes. All writers should recognize and dismantle racist power structures in entertainment. Perhaps by doing this, there can be more room for Polynesians to tell their own stories. A bunch of white people at Disney writing a story about Polynesians does not prevent Polynesians from creating their own stories. If all white people wrote about was white people, change will be longer in coming. I think everyone can be part of the solution, because the problem isn’t white people – it is the unfair power structure they have created and perpetuated. Everyone can help to tear that wall down to allow stories born from equality and respect, instead of domination and subservience.
So am I racist? No. Considering I am white myself, I am not self-hating. I do hate the white power structure that oppresses others and creates prejudice and inequality in our society. There are a few bricks of that wall I might be able to help tear down.