It has always intrigued me: the trope of a white person travelling abroad to “find themselves.” Turn on the TV, open a magazine, look to your left: there it is. Furthermore, despite being the minority in many of these countries, white people still manage to inject their privilege into every aspect of their experience, all under the guise of “exploring and understanding.” This is called white guilt. The classic Hollywood-spun tale of a group of Caucasians briefly changing their race or cultural practices, but refusing to relinquish any privilege.
Films like Seven Years in Tibet, the Last Samurai, even James Cameron’s Avatar, support the problematic view of the white man as the savior to the savage peoples of the “outside” world. Often in these films, the citizens of the country being visited are portrayed through stereotypes and very little meaningful dialogue with the main character. White mainstream media’s opinion of brown people is so consistently low that when important roles do arise for people of color, they are given to white people with vaguely ethnic features. At this point, any depiction of a brown person by someone who is not a person of color is invalid. In a world where white people are being constantly praised and rewarded for having basic human decency and understanding of culture, we have a lot of work ahead of us.
Until we stop encouraging white mediocrity in our media, we will continue to disenfranchise a growing population of young people of color looking for their place in their own cultures. Few things are more affirming than seeing yourself reflected back in a positive light. Representation and mentorship allow people of color to set our goals high, make mistakes, follow our hearts and to grow and glow, unhindered by expectation.
The brown people of the world do not exist to answer your existential questions. We are not props or costumes. White fragility is not sponsored by the continents of Africa and Asia. So the next time you find yourself presented with an opportunity provided to you by your privilege, wield it with intention. Accurate and positive representation is such an infinitely powerful tool and one that is well within our grasp.