Color Cosplay

October 14th, 2014 by | Tags:

I’ve been trawling tumblr here and there for the past few days, looking for people talking about me the panels I ran at NYCC this year (I need the feedback), and also cosplayers who were at the con (cosplay is dope). A side effect is I’ve seen a fair number of essays or statements kinda policing cosplay, drawing lines in the sand in the name of diversity and respect.

A sentiment I’ve seen that rubbed me the wrong way was the idea that white people shouldn’t cosplay characters of color because it’s disrespectful to take those characters from the culture they belong to. Which has something of a point, but technically most of those characters were invented by white men, at least as far as comics go, so the culture point is on shaky ground to begin with.

But I understand where the sentiment comes from. It’s fundamentally coming from a place of good intentions. Our culture is a white supremacist one, and a side effect of that is that fans and characters of color tend to get short shrift. It’s a protective position—”This is yours, it is for you, and I do not want to do anything to take that from you.” I respect that a great deal, but I think a hard-line position here with regard to who does what is ultimately harmful.

Part of the reason that characters of color don’t often get shine is they don’t get market support, and they don’t get market support because they’re viewed as being aimed directly and only at one particular audience, or even worse, the (adjective) version of something else, like the Black Avengers, the Lady Thors, and so on. They’re treated as a niche instead of fitting into the greater spectrum of things like everything else does.

There are no Cosplay Cops to enforce the rules, I’m no dummy, but by suggesting that white people should avoid cosplaying characters of color, you’re reinforcing the idea that these characters are not for everyone, that you must pass some test before you’re allowed to do anything with them.

And that’s silly, because pure, honest enthusiasm knows no boundaries. I met a black female Space Dandy at NYCC who was PSYCHED somebody recognized her. She loved the show but not a lot of people caught her cosplay. I took a selfie with a white female Space Dandy at SDCC. There were two black ladies cosplaying the best versions of Rogue and Gambit at NYCC. Though none of these people were the canonical versions of these characters, they wore the costumes because they loved the stories and characters. It didn’t matter they weren’t the right demographic. They threw their own spin on it and came out looking fresh to death. And I want everyone to have that experience, no matter how much melanin they may or may not have.

Obviously, white cosplayers should be respectful when cosplaying non-white characters. Don’t paint your face, don’t lean into a stereotype…don’t be a weirdo. Don’t be a jerk. But if you love Blade, if you love whoever, you should be allowed to do your thing, because then others will look and realize that hey, maybe this thing isn’t just for the colored folks after all.

I get where people who believe this are coming from, and I empathize. But I honestly think this belief is down to inexperience and a lack of examination. They’re trying very hard to be good people, to be people who love others despite or because of their differences, but they’re going absolute with it when real life requires fluidity. Not to mention that it’s an incredibly reductive position since it pits whites against everyone else, which prioritizes whiteness over non-whiteness in and of itself.

It’s a complex situation to be sure, and no one is technically at fault, if you dig me. It’s all good intentions and cultural quagmires. But if it’s love that’s making you do something, and you’re doing it in a way that you aren’t inadvertently spreading hateful messages, why shouldn’t you do it? It’s the respect that makes the difference. Culture vultures swoop in and steal what was created by others, claiming it for their own and icing the originators out of the equation. True fans pay homage to the originals and represent out of love. I was a casual Lupin the 3rd at SDCC this year, despite being neither French nor Japanese. But I love that dumb guy and wanted to do my part to spread the word.

We’re in this together. Fundamentally, objectively, realistically: we’re in this together. It’s easy to go way overboard and land on Condescension Square instead of Supportive Place when trying to better yourself and provide an example for others. If something ends with you putting up a wall between you and someone else, and it’s not for self-protection? Rethink it. Walls aren’t the answer. Walls are how we got here in the first place.

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11 comments to “Color Cosplay”

  1. D&D fandom has a variant of this problem that I don’t vary them: Drow cosplay. Drow are basically blackface elves, so when fans cosplay as drow (and there’s at least one very popular drow character in D&D novels), guess what they look like.

  2. I figure this is generally about the Drow cosplay thing? Because people getting angry over that are stupid. If you can’t tell the difference between a guy dressed as a dark elf and Ted Danson, well, get some damn glasses because Ted didn’t wear leather armor and a sword.

    Getting outraged over everything ends up making a lot of people hostile to your cause, whatever it is.

  3. I’d love to cosplay Amanda Waller (pre New52) but with someone like that, it’s hard to differentiate yourself from any other lady in a suit – and that’s if you ARE black. Sometimes you have to go an extra mile to do a racially different (from yourself) character. Do it anyway! Wear a nametag. Show your love.

  4. @Michael P: Ah yeah, I read a few of those novels as a kid!

    @rizzo: It’s not about the Drow cosplay thing.

    “Getting outraged over everything ends up making a lot of people hostile to your cause, whatever it is.”

    This is a dumb thing to say and that kind of thinking is exceedingly unwelcome on my website.

  5. @david brothers: It sure seems to be about the Drow cosplay thing, at least generally since that’s part of ‘policing cosplay’.

    “This is a dumb thing to say and that kind of thinking is exceedingly unwelcome on my website.”

    It’s basic psychology and I’m sorry if you don’t recognize the truth in the statement. The Boy Who Cried Wolf is an enduring lesson for good reason.

  6. @rizzo: It’s not about the drow cosplay thing because the first time I heard of the drow cosplay thing was after I wrote the post.

    It’s not psychology. It’s unkindness. People complain about things for reasons, not just to complain, and if people expressing their pain makes you hostile, you’re garbage.

    Finally, the thing about screwing with wolves is that you occasionally get bit. So: you’re done. Peace!

  7. @rizzo:

    He’s covered this kind of stuff before: http://4thletter.net/2013/03/ask-dr-racism-blackface-cosplay-intent-reactions-and-responsibility/

  8. For real, though, who the hell reads this article and thinks this is “outrage”? This ain’t even angry.

  9. @franzferdinand2: Racists, would be my guess.

  10. Mr. Brothers, I want to thank you for writing this and putting these things in a proper perspective, because I =sorely= needed to read this today.

    One of the first things I saw when I checked facebook yesterday morning was a just awful post in support of the German girl who’s working on a Michonne cosplay featuring not just a dread wig but full-on blackface. The post called criticism of her “racism at its finest… so its ok to cosplay as “black” superman but not this?”, coming from some fairly well-known cosplayers/fan-film makers (I have no problem naming names, but I have a feeling you don’t get down like that). One of whom I’ve actually met and considered kind of a friend. It really threw me for a loop to see people that I [formerly] respected being so racist and dismissive of the efforts of black cosplayers, not to mention seeing the hundreds of racist comments that followed the post.

    Your words have helped me get a handle on things, and to see the situation with a clearer perspective. So again, thank you.

  11. “Vary them”? What the heck was I on? I mean “envy them”.