cosplayer. vlogger. fitness freak.
the pack mom of inner mind theater.
i like to write things.
So, okay. I know I’ve said I’m done with talking about this subject. But there’s just a few more things I need to get off my chest - not just for myself, but on behalf of a lot of people. Specifically my friends and followers because now you guys are being attacked and called ignorant/uneducated and that just ain’t cool.
This is one gigantic post of everything I possibly feel relating to the issue of Race and Cosplay. I cover a variety of topics, and I’m sure it will step on a few toes, but these are things that I need to say right now, if only so I can get the thoughts out of my head before I go crazy.
I’m making a list because I have to keep my thoughts organized, otherwise this is going to turn into even more of a novel than it is already. [Side Note: It took me three hours to write this, so you’ve been warned. It’s long.]
NOTE A: As a precursor to this post, I’m going to temporarily direct you to Kristen’s explanation of Brownface/Blackface vs. Cosplaying. Throughout this thought process, I acknowledged that the practice of brownfacing/blackfacing has hurt their respective races in the past, and the appearance of it in modern society (i.e. Hollywood movies) continues to hurt people.
That being said, I do not agree that tanning oneself for cosplay is the same thing, and as such, I do not believe that cosplayers who choose to tan are Horrible Ignorant People who put their desire to do an accurate cosplay over the feelings of others. If you choose to interpret it that way, that’s fine! But just be aware that it is not a school of thought I subscribe to and as such it holds no basis in the points that I’m presenting.
NOTE C: I am not an expert on this subject. As far as my education goes, I’m a fashion business major. I’m approaching this from the viewpoint of a cosplayer. (Furthermore, I’ve never tanned for a costume. I’ve avoided the sun to be pale for costumes, but shockingly, I’ve never received criticism for that. This is something that has influenced my viewpoint.)
To sum it up: this is a debate of opinion, not fact. Everyone has a right to feel the way that they do based on their own personal life experiences. There are advantages and disadvantages to tanning/not tanning, and ultimately, it is the cosplayer’s choice. Most cosplayers recognize that they are going to offend someone, and they tend to choose the option that will result in less harassment/bullying for themselves. This is not a bad thing. It’s human nature to not want to be a victim of bullying. No one should be shamed for choosing the option that will bring them less personal attacks; for some people that means tanning, for others, that means using their natural skin color.
My stance is always going to be that people can cosplay whoever they want to cosplay. Race/gender/body type shouldn’t be a deciding factor. If you’re a skinny Hispanic chick and you want to cosplay Mako? Do it! If you’re a buff Latino dude and you want to cosplay Cinderella? All the power to ya’! If you’re of mixed heritage and you don’t necessarily identify with any particular gender, but you’re really drawn to Fionna’s personality and think it would be fun to pay tribute to her by spending time, money, and effort on a costume? Sounds like an adventure to me!
This leads me to my first point.
#1: If you start telling one group of people that they can’t cosplay outside of their race, that’s going to translate to other groups.
The double-standards of this debate primarily revolve around this point. Most cosplayers insist that you should cosplay whoever you want, regardless of your skin color. The Social Justice Crusaders (or SJCs) are now insisting that white people can’t cosplay any non-white characters.
They have a reasoning behind it (“There are so many white/pale characters available! Leave the non-white characters to the POCs!”), but honestly? It sends a terrible message. If we’re boxing one group of people into their race, soon we’ll be sectioning off the rest of them, too. And as a cosplayer? That is something I never, ever want to see happen to such a diverse community.
And yet, I’m already seeing it happen. I’ve lost count of how many friends have said they’ll never cosplay outside of their race for fear of backlash. Most worryingly, I’ve received dozens of comments and messages about my Cosplay 101 video for beginners, from people who want to try cosplaying, but they’re too scared of being bullied for not dressing up as a character of the same race.
This is the only truly racist element of this entire issue. The tanning/not-tanning isn’t racist. Telling people who they can/can’t cosplay based on their race is racist. And the fact that it’s primarily the white (!) SJCs doing this is incredibly disheartening, especially when it is really not their place to be making any sort of definitive statements about what is “right” or “wrong” when it comes to race.
#2: You cannot tell people that they should/shouldn’t be offended by this issue.
Everyone has had different life experiences that lead them to form their own opinion. Everyone is allowed to have their own opinion. No one has the right to tell anyone how they should feel about any topic at any point in their life. Because, surprise, feelings are a very individual thing and we can’t necessarily control them! (Hello, my fellow uterus harborers, I do indeed know dat feel.)
#3: Just because someone is pro-tanning doesn’t mean they’re ignorant/uneducated.
Earlier today, there was a post made, in which the OP claimed that everyone supporting the statements Brenda, Courtney, Megan, and I have made are “[struggling] with blind loyalty.” That people who share our opinion are simply defending us as friends and people they admire. Brenda, as a ~POC, was even accused of “[saying] what [her] oppressors want [her] to say,” i.e. implying that everything she has said on this subject was simply because she didn’t want to upset her Oppressive White Friends.
(Spoilers: we held Brenda at gunpoint until she agreed to let Courtney tan for Korra. True story.)
Those accusations are appalling to me. They insinuate that everyone who is pro-tanning is simply going along with what their friends/favorite cosplayers are saying for fear of rocking the boat. Let me translate what this SJC was implying: if anyone - especially POC - disagrees with the anti-tanning movement, they can’t think for themselves and they’re deluding themselves into supporting this opinion simply to avoid upsetting their friends.
Tied into that is this outrageous concept that All POC Should Be Offended By This, And If You Aren’t, You’re Misguided and Betraying Your POC Brethren. Apparently, all POC should think the exact same way and are not in fact individuals who can come to their own conclusions.
And I just want to emphasize that this is not true. You are not betraying anyone no matter what stance you choose to take. That is how you feel and you should never, ever feel ashamed or guilty for it.
[Side Note: But if you’re white and you support tanning? You better Check Your Privilege ™.]
This ties back into Point #2. Everyone is capable of forming their own opinion on this matter. If that opinion is different from yours, it doesn’t make them wrong or ignorant. Agree to disagree, and move on.
And, protip: being friends with or fans of someone does not automatically invalidate someone’s opinion. Just something to keep in mind.
Speaking of things to keep in mind!
#4: Race and racism are not limited to skin color.
I feel like this is an extremely basic concept that most people have forgotten. While skin color is a primary factor of racism, plenty of racist actions occur based on aspects of races that have nothing to do with that race’s skin tone.
Brenda has been told that her opinion on this matter as a POC “doesn’t count” because she’s light-skinned and Chinese. Because apparently her light skin protects her from experiencing racism (???).
A person’s race runs far deeper than seven layers of skin cells, and this entire argument focuses on the crux that (1) race is your skin color and that’s it, (2) only dark-skinned people experience racism, and (3) race is a strict segregation of colored and white, but actually, from a non-biased, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of colorly-wolorly… racey-wacey… stuff.
PLOT TWIST: People can be of a particular race and not share the general skin tone of that race. This does not mean they are not of that race. This does not mean they don’t experience racism due to their race.
I’m going to get personal for a moment. Something most people don’t know about me is that I’m half-Armenian. 1/4 Russian, 1/4 German, 1/2 Armenian. While Armenia is considered to be part of the South Caucasus, its culture, location, and appearance of Armenians relates it primarily to similar cultures and people of the Middle East, as it is surrounded by a Muslim region.
The fact that I don’t commonly tell people that I’m Armenian isn’t due to me being ~embarrassed or anything ridiculous like that. I personally don’t connect strongly with Armenian culture because it’s very closely tied to Christianity, and as someone who isn’t Christian (and doesn’t really like the taste of tjvjik), it isn’t a part of my heritage that I really identify with.
However, oftentimes when I do tell someone that I’m half-Armenian, they immediately relate it to the stereotypes of the Middle East. I’ve been called a terrorist, told I better put my burka back on before I get stoned to death, asked if I’m planning to join Al Qaeda during summer vacation, and - perhaps the most relevant for the purpose of this post - praised, “Wow, you’re lucky you’re so pale for a desert rat.”
[Side Note: Armenians are not terrorists; they were actually victims of genocide. Armenia is not a Muslim nation; it was the first nation to declare itself Christian back in 451 AD. Skin tones in Armenia range from pale to deep tan. However, although Armenian women were never made to wear burkas and at one point the society was very progressive and granted them many rights and opportunities, the culture has lately started to go backwards on that front. This has been another segment of ~*The More You Know~*!]
Because, yeah, my skin is pale if I don’t go out in the sun. (That’s why I’ve stayed in doors all summer to be pale for Asami.) I tan very easily, and when I do, I look much more “Middle Eastern”. But most of the time, I look Russian, so no one thinks to ask twice about my heritage. Does this make me “lucky”?
Maybe I have the privilege of “flying under the radar.” Maybe I have the privilege of more cosplay options (even though my beliefs, people can cosplay whoever they want so we all have equal options, limited only by our craftsmanship skills). But I’ve still experienced racism, so when people assume I’m white and therefore can’t speak on the matter, it bugs me a bit.
No, I don’t think I have a right to speak for those who experience racism based on their skin color. Because I haven’t experienced that myself. But the fact that many people (specifically some specific SJCs) believe my race isn’t relevant because of my skin color is very troubling. Race and heritage is so much more than that, and while having lighter skin does grant you certain privileges in this world, it doesn’t grant you a Get Out of Racism Free card.
Most importantly, having lighter skin does not mean you need to take it upon yourself to stand up for and speak for POC.
#5: This debate is saturated with White Man’s Burden and White Savior mentalities.
To put it simply: “White people feel guilty for past crimes against people of color, and in order to ‘make up’ for past crimes, they take it upon themselves to protect the poor, oppressed colored people.”
As a refresher: this was a huge issue during the STOP KONY 2012 movement. White people took it upon themselves to !! SAVE AFRICA !!. The white teenage population of America bombarded every social media outlet to ~*Raise Awareness*~ so Kony could be stopped and Africa could be saved! :’)
My roommate told me about a presentation she’d attended for the KONY team several years ago, and at the end of the presentation, the spokeswoman shouted, “BUY THIS T-SHIRT AND YOU CAN SAVE THE AFRICAN CHILD SOLDIERS!” And everyone in that audience just flocked to it, because if they bought a t-shirt, it made them feel like heroes.
There are more than a few things wrong with that, don’t you think?
While this Anti-Tanning movement is on a much smaller scale, it still contains many of those same elements. It’s being spear-headed by the Social Justice Crusaders of Tumblr, and guess what that group is primarily composed of? Middle-class white girls. But don’t fear, POC, they’re here to make sure your feelings are protected and that your experiences are reblogged! They WILL get the word out, don’t you worry! Signal boost, signal boost, we MUST protect the rights of the oppressed colored people and stop those Horrible Tanning Cosplayers!
It’s a little exaggerated, as (un)fortunately most SJCs are a tad more eloquent, but doesn’t it sound scarily similar to the KONY mentality? “Reblog this post, and you can save the POC cosplayers!”
I don’t know about you, but that totally squicks me out.
Especially since most of these SJCs aren’t even involved in the cosplay community and have little to no understanding of its dynamics.
#6: The majority of cosplayers view characters differently than non-cosplayers, and understanding this thought process can lead to greater understanding of the tanning/not-tanning practices.
I’m going to share an anonymous quote that sums this up perfectly:
“In case you haven’t noticed, we’re costumers. The good ones take every detail into account. We wear wigs or baldcaps, we use prosthetic teeth, noses, chins, ears, scars, and warts, we wear corsets, binders, packers, padded bras, and fake facial/body hair. We wear shoes to make ourselves taller and use trick photography and editing to make ourselves shorter. We make ourselves all genders, ages, species, and even colors. We paint ourselves blue, grey, green, purple, and polkadotted. Why? Because we want to get as close as possible, because we love costuming, and we love the character.”
Yes, there are naturally societal racial connotations when it comes to characters with non-pale skin. But some costumers tend not to see it as such. They see it as another detail of the character’s persona to replicate. Some cosplayers don’t share this way of thinking, and that’s completely fine! Because, surprise, we’re not a giant collective hive-mind.
You may not agree with the approach that cosplayers choose to take. That’s okay. But you need to respect their decision as an artist, as they are the ones putting themselves out there. This isn’t Hollywood where they’re casting white actors/actresses as POC characters. This isn’t a comic book company that suddenly changes a character’s skin color to fit the ideal of Pale Beauty.
These are nerds who love a character so, so much that they’re devoting time and money and effort into bringing that character to life. They want to be that character, if only for a day. And if that character is a different race than they are, and they still want to dress up like them? That is progressive. That is change.
A couple years ago, a documentary came out about children and the toy industry - specifically, dolls. Black children were shown to be continuously drawn to the pale dolls because they thought that doll was the “pretty” one. The discussion this video sparked revolved around the fact that black children didn’t see their skin color as desirable.
And now, in 2012, we have this wonderful character. Korra. She doesn’t have pale skin and she certainly doesn’t fit the stereotypical depiction of “feminine beauty.” It could be said that Asami fits this stereotype: the curvaceous, pale, beautiful woman with luxurious hair.
Yet, the character that females are most drawn to, regardless of their race, is Korra. Korra is the one that everyone wants to be, whether they’re black or white or Indian or Latino or Korean (and so on and so forth). This is progress, and no one is seeing it because it’s been lost in outcries of racism and bullying. But I urge you to try to think of it from this perspective.
Perhaps now, if given the choice between a Korra and an Asami doll, more children would choose Korra. Because the cosplayers are certainly doing it.
In conclusion, I don’t think we’re ever going to reach an answer on this subject. Both sides have very strong arguments and reasons behind those arguments, and as I’ve tried to emphasize, neither is right or wrong.
But the bullying needs to stop. The crusading needs to stop. People are scared and hurting on both sides, and it is so beyond the level of Not Cool it boggles my mind.
At this point, no one is “defending their right to play dress-up.” I, personally, just want to see an end to the racial bullying that is coming from both sides. I want to see people cosplaying the characters they want to, regardless of race and without fear of harassment.
So! If you’ve gotten this far, I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to read this novel of feelings. I appreciate it, and I hope that it helps you - even if you disagree with me, you won’t feel bad/guilty/shamed for doing so. Come to your own conclusion, and stand by it, but don’t forget to acknowledge the other side and understand that other people may feel differently based on their own experiences. It doesn’t make you wrong and it doesn’t make them right, or vice versa.
And to my fellow cosplayers: keep calm and sew on. Please, please don’t let anyone stop you from cosplaying. Cosplay whoever you want however you want, and have a blast while doing it! We all know the saying: haters gonna hate, and if this debate has proven anything, it’s that. Hold your head up, stand by your artistic choices, and pay tribute to your favorite characters.
But most importantly, have fun. That’s what this hobby is about. And never, ever lose sight of that.