Is Korra’s Era Post-Racial?

Typically in this blog I aim to examine how various social constructs manifest in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but this week I want to talk about how the show is more unrealistic. Although the points I want to make will carry us into sequel series The Legend of Korra’s territory, I feel our weekly topic of post-raciality carries us there naturally. For those who don’t know, post-raciality is the concept that we no longer live in a world where racism is a major problem, or that the issues of race have been resolved to create a more harmonious society. Given the astounding amount of ignorance and privilege in our real life society, it is clear that post-raciality is more of a myth than anything else in the real world, but what about in the world of Avatar?

As you all know, the Fire Nation waged an imperialistic conquest over the other three nations that would have succeeded if not for Aang. They slaughtered an entire nations worth of air benders, placed the earth kingdom in shackles, and routinely purged benders from the Water Tribe for nearly 100 years. These kinds of acts would certainly create a great deal of prejudice towards the Fire Nation and its inhabitants, and certainly the other way around as well, however when we fast forward a generation to the era of the next avatar Korra, there is very little evidence of any serious social conflicts related to fire nation prejudice. It seems despite 100 years of systematic and militaristic dominance, the other nations have miraculously undone and forgiven the old systems of oppression responsible for one of the most violent eras of suffering this world has seen. Korra somehow lives in a post-racial world, and I’m not sure how that came to pass.

Despite the fact that after the fall of the insane Fire Lord, the Fire Nation was reformed under the good care of Fire Lord Zuko, who undoubtedly rewrote most of Fire Nation law and provided compensation to the other nations for the damages they caused, but the aftermath of the previous rule still created boundaries between nations that I feel would be too hard to overcome through simple reform.

The Avatar comic even features a segment where a Fire Nation colony in the Earth Kingdom is examined, and it is clear that Fire Nation citizens are considerably more wealthy than Earth Kindgom citizens. Zuko even makes a remark that things are much better than they used to be, which is in itself a minimizing post racial perspective that is clearly an issue, however 50 years later when we reach Korra’s time, we are given no explanation of how this was fixed. Earth benders are not known to be poor or at any disadvantage anymore, but how? Did the money magically even out over time or is there some unsaid social revelation that elevated earth benders out of poverty?

The Legend of Korra is supposed to reflect a world closer to the one that we live in, but by minimizing the social interactions between the races of this universe I feel the creators might in turn misrepresent the real world. White privilege has not been so easily reformed in the real world, which makes me skeptical of the transformation the Fire Nation made by going from invaders to controlling class to everyday folk in the span of 150 years. Prejudices born out of slavery still persist in the real world as well, but you don’t see any such residual attitudes presented by benders in Korra’s era.

It is a real possibility that these attitudes do still exist in this universe, but were not touched upon in Korra’s journey due to plot constrictions or the fact that this is pretty heavy material for a kids show, but the fact remains that the climate of the racially neutral world capitol, Republic City seems to lack historical validation. In the real world, post raciality is just an excuse to minimize the oppression of those who are suffering, and to give some folks a green light to stop feeling guilty about their own privilege, which is why I suspect that there is much more going on below the seemingly placid representation of racial interactions in Korra’s adventure.