When I was a child, I was taught “black is beautiful,” so it was a huge surprise to me growing up that black faces were not represented in common society. When I turned on the TV, when I flipped through magazines, even when I read books, a sea of white faces stared back at me. Heroes and heroines in books were described as having flowing blonde hair and blue or green eyes. There was nothing black about them. I began to wonder; was black really beautiful? Surely not, because if we were, why were there so little of us in popular culture? I went through the phase of wondering why my hair didn’t grow like Kasey’s, my white best friend’s hair. I’d supplement this by getting long synthetic braids put into my hair. I’d tell myself that my braids were long, and so they were pretty, just like Kasey’s blonde locks. Pretty soon; I didn’t think I was that beautiful at all and I found myself wishing I were white. Story sound similar? That’s because it was, and still is, the story of millions of girls today. How does this relate to cosplay? Let me tell you.
Last year, a wonderful woman named Chaka Cumberbatch wrote an article for XOJane entitled “I’m a Black Female Cosplayer and Some People Hate it”. It spread like wildfire upon my Facebook newsfeed and Tumblr dash, and made the cosplay community open their eyes to the racism and prejudice black cosplayers face. This also inspired many to speak out against such prejudices and thus propelled many black cosplayers to reach out to one another. It was a breath of fresh air and what many thought was a step in the right direction toward the end of racial discrimination within the cosplay community. What I’ve encountered in the past week tells me that unfortunately we have a long way to go.
Recently, some words were said that resonated loudly throughout the cosplay community and even louder with black cosplayers. A photographer made the implication that black cosplayers do not inspire, therefore are absent in their portfolio. This wasn’t the surprising part; as another photographer has made a similar declaration in a Youtube video. What was surprising however, was the fact that there were people agreeing with this sentiment. It is no surprise that many cosplay photographers prefer white or people of fair complexion as their subjects as evident by their portfolios. It is absolutely within a photographer’s right to choose who they want to photograph but what disappoints me, is that these statements were made publicly, then given a pass because of a weak excuse of us not being “inspirational”. The sentiment that black cosplayers are somehow grouped and considered non inspirational is absolutely prejudice, as there is NOTHING that ties us together other than our race and there is no way to get around that. Yes we are a minority in a sea of cosplayers that do not look like us, but that is not a weakness. We look just as great next to fair skinned cosplayers. We sew, craft, construct and put our all into costumes just as any other cosplayer would, so why are we always overlooked or downplayed?
Much of this stems from the fact that like I said before, we are a minority within such a large community. Hell, we are a minority within many of the fandoms that we love. If black cosplayers were to strictly stick to characters that look like us, we’d have pretty slim pickings. That being said; that shouldn’t be the case anyways. No one should be made to nor expected to stick to characters that represent their skin color or race. Sounds simple right? let me tell you another story.
Con Goer: Hey Who are you cosplaying As?
Me: Harley Quinn
Con Goer: Oh that’s what I thought. I just wasn’t sure because you’re black.
This was said to me by a black person at an anime convention. Similar things are said to black cosplayers everyday. We become “the black -insert character-” or the “chocolate” version. There are also those who add some sort of praise to this as well (wow a black Tifa! Awesome!). This is JUST as bad as overlooking us altogether. The worse part is that many people don’t know they’re being offensive and when confronted, do not see anything wrong. Singling out a person’s race automatically negates any notion of a compliment being made. If you think it isn’t a big deal consider how many other times a person has heard this. Believe it or not, it HURTS to always be reminded of your race in how it separates you from a community that you’re so close to, even though it shouldn’t. It is discouraging and may cause someone to stop cosplaying altogether.
Fortunately, there are many people from all walks of life who still speak against discrimination of any form. There are also pages such as Cosplaying While Black and Best Black Cosplay that showcase black cosplayers doing their thing. While these pages exist, I think black cosplayers need to be positive and confident in THEMSELVES. We are just as nerdy, beautiful, talented, sexy, cute, as other cosplayers. The only thing we can do is keep creating a presence and keep inspiring each other. There is no greater feeling than getting a message from a budding cosplayer of any race saying that I inspire them. In actuality, the discrimination may never end. It is important to remember that ALL OF US are in a community that is misunderstood by a majority. From the outside looking in, we are a bunch of adults who spend lots of money to play dress up and that is weird to those people. Why further ostracize? Just keep calm and cosplay on.