I don’t like Korra because she’s brown.
Or, at least, that’s what some people want me to say. Well, I’ll come clean and say that I actually have an issue with Korra, part of it due to the fact that she is brown. Let’s take it one step at a time, though.
The race card has been drawn and abused before by this divided fandom. Following the devastatingly awful season finale of the Legend of Korra, petulant fans of Korra claimed that Asami fans were racist for liking a paler (note: not white) character. Of course, this was back when Asami-hate was still rampant, so attacks on both Asami and her fans was a bit more commonplace back then. Since then, that particular race argument had been long since gutted and discarded.
It’s only recently that a new one—just as gross and accusatory as the last—emerges from the crevices of the LOK fandom. Some Korra fans have already claimed that, because Korra is a “strong” brown female character, she is automatically the role model of people of colour everywhere. In an effort to offhandedly dismiss her critics, they have hidden behind a weak race argument, citing their “brown cousins’” love for Korra as proof of her impact on the POC community. I dare not go into how problematic that is or else this essay will become longer than it should.
Needless to say, that argument is entirely weightless. I am acutely aware of the lack of strong female characters in mainstream media, let alone those of colour, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll blindly worship the first brown female character to present herself. Well, then again, that’s a lie.
When I first heard of Korra, all I did was worship her. I remember this picture very well because this was the first glimpse at Korra I, and many other Avatar fans, got about two years ago. The pure elation I’d felt by just seeing her back was enough to drive my family mad as I prattled on and on excitedly about Korra. Not only was Avatar going to pick up again after its disastrous movie adaptation was aired, but it was going to feature a woman of colour.
From that point on, I had consumed anything Korra-related, from small news on Bryke’s progress to full-length trailers showing off the gorgeous animation. And when I first saw the pilot I’d nearly been moved to tears with glee. Finally, someone who looked more like me would be on television.
The first few episodes were good. But then, things began to go wrong. If you follow me, I’m pretty sure you guys know exactly what those things were.
In short, Korra disappointed me. What could have been a strong brown female protagonist failed to deliver in a multitude of ways. She is not a good character and, therefore, she is not a good character of colour. She slut-shames, she has things handed to her, and, most importantly, she blindly crushes a movement of an oppressed people, namely non-benders.
Korra, a brown girl, a role model to all “brown cousins” out there, is a fucking bully. Mind you, not just any bully, but the kind that can get away with wrecking roads and physically harassing people in broad daylight.
She’s the kind of bully that uses her status to get what she wants when she wants and this show rewards her with a cute boyfriend that likes to threaten to burn the shit out of powerless people.
WHOA, but, wait a minute, I have to like her! I’m a person of colour. Korra is a person of colour. According to the logic of some of Korra’s fans, she should “mean a lot” to me because she kind of resembles me.
To be very honest, Korra doesn’t relate to me in the least. Actually, any person of colour would be lying if they said that they related to Korra on a level that wasn’t purely physical. Korra may be brown, but she sure as hell isn’t one of us. We can’t be bailed out of police custody by a government official. We can’t barge into political meetings demanding that people listen to us and expect to be heard. We can’t do a lot of what Korra does in this show because she is as privileged as our real-life oppressors.
In fact, Korra is the very personification of the forces that work against us in our respective societies. She is “the Man”. She is the privileged brat who forcefully silences the working-class just so she can live in comfort. She is the antagonizer who will victim-blame when informed about unequal power distribution, all the while washing her hands of the matter. She won’t ever have to feel inadequate in her own skin nor will she ever know what it’s like to have her problems go completely unattended. Her privilege as the Avatar—and now, apparently, as the niece of Northern Water Tribe royalty—will never allow it. How in the world are people of colour supposed to relate to a character like this, let alone refer to her as a role model?
There is something truly insincere and slimy about the Korra fans who imply that people of colour should blindly look up to Korra based on the colour of her skin. More likely than not, these people who so comfortably take refuge behind the “you’re just racist” argument don’t give two shits about people of colour. If they’re going to tokenise their own cousins and go off on a tangent about how Mako liked Korra because she “deviated from the norm”, then there is something clearly amiss here. These people don’t know racism. They don’t know what they’re talking about. And they don’t care, either.
So, to wrap this up, I don’t dislike Korra because she’s brown. I dislike her because she’s brown and is granted privileges that are far beyond the reach of regular people of colour while simultaneously embodying the pressures that keep these same people from obtaining equal opportunities and rights. And, from what I’ve been hearing, I don’t think that’s going to be improved upon any time soon.