Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Pokémon Blackface: Jynx

Originally called Rougela in the Japanese version of Pokémon, Jynx is a humanoid Pokémon which resembles a bulky woman.

Jynx are a psychic Pokémon which also have the ability to control ice and snow. Jynx mainly communicate through dance and walk in a dance-like fashion, wiggling their hips in a seductive manner.

Jynx wear a red gown (which cover its feet), have white arms and purple hands. Jynx also have a purple face, large pink lips, saucer-like eyes and long, straight blonde hair.

The colour of her face was changed to purple as her original black coloured face caused controversy.

Jynx's original design.

Jynx's new and current design.

How did Jynx's design change?

Culture critic Carole Boston Weatherford described Jynx as a blackface character. 

She wrote an article where she explained that Jynx negatively stereotyped African Americans. She wrote that:
The character Jynx, Pokémon #124, has decidedly human features [in contrast to most other characters]: jet-black skin, huge pink lips, gaping eyes, a straight blonde mane and a full figure, complete with cleavage and wiggly hips. Put another way, Jynx resembles an overweight drag queen incarnation of Little Black Sambo, a racist stereotype from a children's book long ago purged from libraries.
Weatherford's complaints did not go unnoticed. Jynx's in-game sprites were given a purple skin colour in the American versions of the Pokémon Gold and Silver (released in 2000). By 2002, Nintendo redesigned Jynx, changing her skin colour from black to purple.

In the animated series of Pokémon, the change of skin colour occurred in 2005. In the mangas, Jynx appears dark gray rather than black, implying that Jynx are purple and not black.

Jynx's appearance was also heavily criticised by Washington Post writer Mary C. Morton, IGN and GameDaily.

The defence for Jynx's appearance

There are many explanations for Jynx's appearance, these include:

  • Jynx is based on a Nordic or Viking princess; legends say that the blistering cold turned a princess' skin black 
  • Jynx has origins in Japanese spirits known as Yuki-onna and Yama Uba. Yuki-onna lack feet which is akin to Jynx's feet being covered by her red dress. Yama Uba's traits include a tattered red kimono, blonde hair, control over snow, dark-colored skin and large lips; traits which are evident in Jynx
  • Jynx may be a parody of or paying homage to the Ganguro or Yamanba fashion trends
  • The book Gaming Cultures and Place in Asia-Pacific claims that Jynx's design draws upon the humour of heta-uma (good/bad) and that the design also oscillates between the poles of good and bad
Another possible origin for Jynx:
  • Jynx are also depicted as Santa's helpers in Pokémon episode Holiday Hi-Jynx, which could possibly mean that she's based on Zwarte Piet (the helper of Sinterklaas in Dutch Christmas). 

The original Jynx in Pokémon episode Holiday Hi-Jynx

Weatherford's full letter and a detailed arguments for and against Jynx and her appearance can be found here.

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