Cosplay’s Color Problem: Blackface has No Place In The Cosplay Community
By: Miss Momo
Blackface has no place in the Cosplay community. Look cosplay is a fun hobby, loved by many nerds and geeks alike. Cosplay requires prop making skills, sewing skills, posing skills, and a whole lot of creativity! However, there’s been a recent disturbing trend among mainly white cosplayer costumes pertaining to the “accuracy” of their cosplay. What kind of cosplay can shake the geek world up so much and cause cosplayers to delete all social media and retreat into obscurity until the storm blows over?
The cosplay community has seen a surge of cosplayers who don brown makeup in order to darken their skin color to be more like the characters whom they’re trying to portray. However, a lot of these cosplayers are met with backlash for doing this makeup. With some even resorting to deleting all social media accounts because of the backlash. The first black face cosplay I remember seeing is one of the German cosplayer who posted a makeup test of blackface Michonne from the walking dead. The cosplayer’s blackface costume makeup not only featured the darkened skin (black face), but also a prosthetic nose to create the illusion that she had black features.
The second to gain lots of attention was the ridiculous Steven Universe Garnet cosplay by the cosplayer, which featured the iconic Cartoon Network show character with painted own brown skin, never mind the fact that in canon, Garnet’s skin is well; garnet and not brown at all, though she is coded as black throughout the show.
What’s the big deal with painting your skin for a character? As a black woman, I have a very specific and not a very good opinion on painting your skin darker, or yellow for that matter for the purpose of “accuracy”. Blackface history is painful, especially in America. Blackface began as a show in which white people would paint their skin with black paint to act as a black person in a play, usually for comedic purposes (usually with characters such as the “mammy”, “Pickaninny”, and other black stereotypes.) and even though that is in the past, it still holds all of those painful connotations for me. I don’t want to go through the whole history of black face or this will turn into a novel. If you want more information about black face, I suggest visiting these links: black-face, The Grio, History of Minstrelsy
When I see pictures of white cosplayers who paint their skin darker for “accuracy” of a costume, I remember all of what I was taught as a black woman growing up, seeing hatred for my race. I see the way my race is persecuted. Deemed less than dogs, as comedic relief, as idiots or clowns. I feel this person most likely doesn’t respect black people as a whole because what it shows when they coat their face in that brown makeup is that they don’t deem us worthy of respect. Like my race is a costume are just a costume.
“OMG! THAT’S REACHING!” Well, it might be for some, but if that doesn’t explain it well enough let me explain it this way: as a black woman, who has to be brown for everyday of my life, who has to face the stigma that comes with my skin which includes: being followed around stores, being told you can’t afford something just because you’re black (Oprah anyone?), being told I can’t do certain things because of my race (such as wearing alternative fashions, dying my hair certain colors, etc), that I’m “loud” and “ghetto”, or any other black stereotypes there are. Then there are the white people who paint themselves black for a day, who don’t have to face any of those hardships then go right back to their normals lives as a white person. Using my skin as a costume piece, something for fun.
While we’re at it, let’s also talk about the way black cosplayers are treated compared to white cosplayers.
Already, black cosplayers don’t even have as much freedom as their white counterparts in cosplay. Black cosplayers are labeled “ghetto X character name here”, “Black X character” ,or some stereotypical ethnic name mashed together with the character name.
Even when they cosplay canon black and darker skinned characters, they don’t receive as much attention as their white and asian counterparts, that would be cosplaying the same character. Sometimes even labeled a less accurate version of the character. Black cosplayers are pushed to the back and given the crumbs and the underbelly of the cosplay community. Usually facing racism and hate just for cosplaying a character they love (in a non-offensive way). While white cosplayers who paint themselves black are deemed to be just doing it for “accuracy”, or just having fun, and tends to gain more attention and support. It makes you wonder why no black cosplayer is as popular as Yaya Hahn, or Jessica Nigri…
If all the cosplayers who’ve painted their skin a darker color has faced backlash why does it keep happening? The answer is: no one knows. It could be lack of research but there is no real answer. Some people suspect it’s just pure ignorance. Some believe that they do it as a last ditch effort to gain popularity and more views on their social media. Others say it’s just for “accuracy” of the cosplay. The problem within the problem is that not only do they do this offensive makeup, but more often than not, they also claim that they have a right to it! and that everyone who tells them they’re doing something offensive is just over reacting. Kou, the SU Garnet cosplayers, released this semi-apparently-apologetic:
I know people can exaggerate quite fast, especially on the internet. But I never experienced it myself in this kind of way. I know the black and white issue is very, very explosive. But I NEVER EVER intended to hurt anyone with this cosplay. I wanted to look like Garnet. I put most effort on the outfit. In the end, in time rush, I had problems finding fitting tights (for the arms), gloves and body paint. I think that my skin tone is not perfectly red-brown. I thought that even before this shitstorm came up (I know some of you won’t believe me, though). But I was proud of the wig and I knew that on conventions there is often no time for good photos, so I wanted to have them before. I know that many of you won’t accept this as a justification. You will find negative responses for every word I say, so I keep it short. I wanted to cosplay as a character I love. It’s Garnet from Steven Universe. I did not know the word “blackfacing” until now. But now I do.
I am sorry for every negative emotions my cosplay caused in you. I did not intend to offend anyone or be racist in any kind of way. For me, cosplay is not a way to express any political or social statements. It is a way to show how much I like an anime or cartoon character. And I would never call myself a racist. It hurts when you do. I grew up in the very tolerant cosplay community of Germany. I have friends from all over the world.
When I was in Kassel, where the convention took place, cosplayers as well as people of every kind told me that I looked cool. The children loved it. So I think that the cosplay itself is good. I was very sad to see the reactions here. So I will delete my photos. But I will not stop cosplaying, or stop cosplaying as Garnet. I will paint my skin differently, but I will paint it because it belongs to the Garnet’s design. Please stop discussing here, I will not read your comments or respond to them. Thank you to everyone who discussed for my sake or wrote comments or notes to cheer me up.
It sounds like a nice apology right? Wrong. Read this again:
But I will not stop cosplaying, or stop cosplaying as Garnet. I will paint my skin differently, but I will paint it because it belongs to the Garnet’s design. Please stop discussing here, I will not read your comments or respond to them. You’re probably wondering what they did wrong in that response,right? What they did wrong is that they said that while they realize that painting their skin brown is offensive, that they will continue to do it. Then continued on to silence the people who are telling them that what they did is offensive, while in the sentence right under that, giving praise to those who’re telling them that they did nothing wrong.
Its pretty clear this individual doesn’t get what the issue is. But there is a way you can help! Here is what can you as a non black cosplayer do to about blackface in the cosplay community?
1. Call it out – Calling out other white cosplayers about what they’re doing is on major part in helping eradicate it, aka, be a good ally.
2. DON’T DO IT – want to cosplay that cool brown character? Go ahead! you do you! Just don’t paint your skin brown! The character is more than just their skin color, I’m sure people will recognize you without the brown skin. If you’re looking for other cosplay ideas, just ask around.
3. Help to teach others – most of the time, white people like to dismiss brown folks as people who just love playing the race card. By helping educate other people, you hopefully make it one less “race baiting” remark we have to hear.
4. If someone calls you out on something offensive don’t attack them, try to learn about why it’s offensive, and if you’d like, ask about more information on why it’s offensive and the history behind it. Then make a sincere apology ( so not Kou’s crappy one. no, that one sucks) apologize for being offensive (remember, just because you didn’t mean to offend didn’t mean you didn’t offend people. so try to leave out “ I’m sorry you’re offended” and say more of:
“I’m sorry I did something offensive, I’ve learned a lot from people who have educated me on the topic and I’m very thankful for it. From now on, I will never darken my skin, or paint myself as another race, I encourage everyone to be sensitive to other people when making choices on how they choose to present themselves.”
Here are some cosplayers that didn’t have to paint their skin to get the point across:
I promise, you can do this without painting your skin. Its so easy!