[Throwback] Cosplaying while black

Earlier this week we invited you to showcase the contributions of black fans, and initial response was disheartening. It looks like our community just isn’t too aware of the work black fans and creators are doing in anime and manga fandom.

To begin addressing that, let’s take a look at a 2013 post by Chaka, a.k.a. @princessology, creator of February’s #28DaysofBlackCosplay.

I’m a Black Female Cosplayer And Some People Hate It (XOJane)

The depths that the insults sink to are enough to scare many interested cosplayers away from even trying. I had an Indian friend who refused to cosplay anything other than Indian characters after watching the way people tore into my costumes online. When called on it, most will say that it’s an “accuracy” thing, that in order to “look better” it’s best to stick to characters “in your range,” which is a popular rationalization for shutting down plus-size cosplayers as well. Characters in my range? Comic book heroines and anime characters are typically about 6 feet tall, have basketballs for boobs and probably weigh around 110 pounds. They’re not in anybody’s range.

I first read this post when it was published, and as a POC who was pushing 30 and had never cosplayed despite wanting to for over a decade, it made a big impact on me personally.

I became conscious of racial politics in my mid-teens, when I first experienced overt racism and began to notice patterns of microaggression. At university I went through something of a racial identity crisis and awakening. Unpacking the internalised racism, educating myself on the intersectionality of racial politics and building a network of people who have undergone similar experiences was – and continues to be – a long and hard journey.

On the way, I began to describe myself as brown, to research my family’s ethnic background, to actively stop subtly racist thought patterns about my appearance. After a childhood spent underplaying and disavowing my ethnicity whenever possible, I became reluctant to ‘whitewash’ myself in any way. I liked the idea of cosplay but only wanted to cosplay as a character with whom I shared a physical resemblance and an emotional affinity – and I never found one.

Social media did not exist in 2003 the way it does now, and my concerns were entirely about the “accuracy” Chaka mentions. I had internalised these messages of what is or is not ‘good’ cosplay before Facebook, before Twitter, before Reddit, long before Instagram or Tumblr. Those social channels only elevate and reinforce the messages which are already in society, give them a form and sharpness where they used to be just a mental cloud. In 2003 I worried that people might think my cosplay was bad; by 2013 it was reasonable to worry that they might actually tell me, anonymously and in large numbers, for reasons which had nothing to do with the quality of costume.

At the same time, these are the very channels through which cosplayers of colour have gained visibility. Social media has enabled broader representation and a set of positive messages to counteract those POC fans like me had internalised without even realising it. I wish I had read a post like Chaka’s in my early twenties, seen examples of the range of brown cosplay possibilities and understood that cosplaying characters of any colour could be a way to own my ethnicity, not to reject it.

Read the full post, follow Chaka on Twitter @Princessology, Instagram at Princessology and Facebook at PrincessMentalityCosplay, then let us know what you think of her post in the comments!

 

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  • galliath

    Hi, I’m also a mixed-race black and white girl. I feel like I read that you were too at some point on here, but I apologise if I’m making a mistake.

    I’m not American, so I don’t really subscribe to the one-drop rule, but I do identify a whole lot more with black identity, culture and politics. I really get what you’re saying about not being able to find a character that fully resonates with you that you can identify with. I feel like this post kind of made me realise that the reason I’ve never considered doing cosplay is because I’ve never come across any fictional characters that look like me: women with light skin and acutely afro features (nose, lips and hair). Maybe I have, but I don’t remember them because they’re really far in the background, or really terrible, or hyper-sexualized or whatever.

    I know this post is about trying to get away from that mentality, and wearing what you want to wear regerdless of “accuracy” – more powers to those that do, like the woman in the Jezebel article. But I feel like I couldn’t, or really that I don’t want to. Maybe I’m just lacking in empathy or imagination, but trying to identify with a character who doesn’t look like me at all just turns me off. Maybe Darth Vader would be cool, somehow, I’m not sure why. Maybe I wouldn’t feel this way if there was plenty of representation for everybody, and if I wanted too, I could choose from loads of characters that look like me, and all the others that didn’t. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I feel largely excluded from anime/comic book/nerd culture in general, and it makes me kinda salty, and turns me off from trying to get involved at all. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    Sorry for the rambling.