Let’s talk about Racism in the Cosplay Community

Racism in the cosplay community

For a community that claims to be liberal and supportive, it is almost difficult to believe that racism is still one of the most significant issues in the cosplay community. Dressing up in wigs, props, and costumes to portray a favorite character accurately is more than a hobby for a lot of people. They have found joy in cosplaying and indulge in it as a career. However, there are deep racist issues that plague the community. From fans to the key players, racism in the cosplay community is not in drops or a tinge but a full-blown problem. From the use of racial slurs and other racially abusive languages on people of color to the constant display of Blackface by white cosplayers every other week, it is made worse by the fact that blacks crying out against this are met with backlash instead.

POC Cosplay
POC Cosplay

The problem with Blackface

Many people in the cosplay community think that making your skin color look darker or using prosthetics to mimic other ethnic features is not that different from painting yourself green to cosplay an alien. They argue that they are “appreciating” the character by giving an “accurate” cosplaying representation. But aliens are not real (based on our knowledge so far) and they do not have a problem with the color green. Black people, on the other hand, are very much real and have a dehumanizing history with Blackface. While white cosplayers may think that Blackface or raceface isn’t mocking people of color, they have been told over and over again how disrespectful it is to believe that race can be seen as part of a costume. This is a practice that has its roots in years of violence where white people thought it was okay to paint themselves black to abuse people of color. 

During the era in the United States, where emancipated slaves began to demand their civil rights, this triggered racial hostility that people started to darken their skin with greasepaint or shoe polish, combined with other exaggerated facial features to denigrate Black people. It was meant to be an assertion of control and power where they imagined the Black race as not being fully human. Its roots can still be traced further back to European theatrical productions in the 18th century, especially Shakespeare’s Othello. White performers used Blackface to perpetuate terrible stereotypes of ignorance, laziness, and criminality of the African American people. Given this harrowing history, why then is it so hard for white cosplayers to listen to Black people when they say that this is not right and don’t want it in the cosplaying community? Why do they insist on seeing Blackface as a neutral form of entertainment despite its foundation in mass incarceration, violence, and lynching of Black people? This is because racism in the cosplay community is well and truly present. 

Dismissive arguments that describe this as ignorance and just pranks have to end as this only serves to perpetuate damaging stereotypes. This is not relevant in only the United States as it’s a global issue. Now more than ever, we are more connected as a global village with advanced technology and can see racism in different actions around the world. Why do we have to condone racism in the cosplay community, which will only serve as justification for the thousands of other racist atrocities that happen in different countries? The cosplay community doesn’t exist in a bubble outside of the subject of racism. It’s a reality, and no one can ignore it away. Instead, we have to recognize its tragic roots and realize that Blackface or raceface should never be condoned in the cosplay community.

POC Cosplay
POC Cosplay

Colorism in the cosplay community

Closely related to racism in the cosplay community is colorism, which has fair-skinned cosplayers being more recognized than black cosplayers. Social media has always given more nods of approval at white cosplayers than black cosplayers as they get asked more to photoshoots or given invitations to cons. Black cosplayers, on the other hand, have to struggle twice as hard to be seen. If they do get invited as guests to cons, more often than not, it is to be on a diversity panel or fill the diversity quota. We can trace the inception of photography to Kodak’s early Shirley cards, which used the white skin as a standard for setting calibrating colors and lighting during photo printing. White skin is still very much favored as the standard to many photographers as they believe this is a better skin tone for all kinds of photo settings. When POC do get photographed, the photos end up being quite disappointing as they try to lighten and bleach out the natural skin color. With this, Black cosplayers find it difficult to find photographers who can photograph their skin tone and be willing to work with them. Subsequently, they don’t get featured in articles as much as their white counterparts, which creates the false impression that the cosplay community is exclusively white. This doesn’t even begin to highlight just how sidelined people of color are in the cosplay community.

Even more disturbing is the fact that Black people are met with disgusting comments when they try to cosplay white characters. Looking at comic books, anime, and manga where a considerable chunk of the cosplay community draws their inspiration from, there aren’t a lot of black characters. Putting this simply, white cosplayers have thousands of options available by default, but people of color are expected to cosplay only characters that share their skin tone, leaving them with not so many options. When they do try to step out of the box and cosplay any of their favorite white characters, the gates of criticism are thrown wide open. The cosplay fan community responds with very loud and nasty responses, showing their displeasure at this switch. The silence on Blackface, on the other hand, is deafening.

Sadly, racism in the cosplay community is being normalized. While most white cosplayers would boldly use Blackface in depicting black characters to the utter agony of People of Color, black cosplayers get more criticism when they cosplay as white characters. However, there is a need to put an end to this. It starts with the high-profile cosplayers lending their voices in support of black cosplayers facing discrimination and harassment both online and offline. It also involves speaking out boldly against racism in the cosplay community, so that the white people who pretend not to know that Blackface is not acceptable can be engaged in this dastardly behavior. Yes, there is a risk of upsetting the apple cart, but the time for being silent is over. The more prominent names in the cosplay community are less likely to be subjects of toxic behavior from the fan base, and they can let everyone know where they stand on this issue. 

It’s time for the cosplay community to live up to its title of being an inclusive and liberal space by fixing problems of racism. White cosplayers should stop hiding because talking about racism makes them uncomfortable. It’s difficult for people of color in the cosplay community, and they have to think beyond themselves at this point. They should take active roles towards putting an end to the racism in the cosplay community.

POC Cosplay
POC Cosplay

Tags: Cosplay, POC, Racism, Convention, Black