Thursday, October 30, 2014

This Halloween, Don't be a Racist.

Halloween is literally just around the corner, and I have a few thoughts to offer about the some of the hypocritical behavior that is racism in cosplay.

There are ways to portray a character - a character - without going too far. A person of any race or gender can sucessfully pull off any character by sticking with the costume elements and quirks that are unique to the character. But there are some costumes that are just plain bad taste - the KKK costume and Hitler come immediately to mind.

The issues of racism in cosplay have been at the forefront of news from the Con worlds lately. People are choosing to cosplay characters of a different race than their own by doing so in blackface or changing their own skin color with make-up to match that of the character they're trying to portray. There are also people choosing to portray historical figures who were notorious for their racial crimes:
  • Certain colonial leaders. 
  • Certain politicians. 
  • Hitler. 
  • The KKK. 
People choosing to portray stereotypes: 
  • Mammy
  • Jim Crow
  • Buck
  • "Aunt Jemima" (a Mammy stereotype character used in advertising)
There are the ones that might be intentionally offensive, or they might just be ignorant:
  • The white boy wearing make-up to darken his skin color and getting a fade cut and tight jeri curl perm so he can "BE" Blade.
  • The African-American girl straightening her hair and dying it blonde to go with her Buffy the Vampire Slayer white skin make-up and stake prop.
  • The white girl dyeing her blonde hair black and using makeup to color her skin to be Pocahontas.
  • The Chinese kid wearing a yarmulke and speaking English with a bad Yiddish accent.
  • The blonde-haired, blue-eyed teenage girl who dressed as Hitler (yes, I've actually seen this one).
  • The little white kid who said his dad told him he was just a ghost with a pointy head and a belt to hold his guts in (saw this too).
There's no excuse for that kind of ignorance or hypocrisies in this day and age. Not when we have better choices available. Characters like Mulan, Blade, Buffy and Pocahontas can be done easily with good, relevant wardrobe design, props, body language and catchphrases. There's no need to change the color of your skin to match he character's race. Think about it - what is the most recognizable thing about Blade? His shades, and the daywalker bit... and the blade that he carries. Buffy and her stake and "Dawn's in trouble... must be Tuesday." And of course, her friends as props work well too. And Pocahontas is all about the costume and her penchant for breaking into song ("Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon...") to identify her character. The point is: You can be easily recognizable as a specific character just from their costume, without needing to do something that you know will hurt other people.

Example A of "How to Cosplay Another Race Without Being a Jackhole"

I know that there are people in the geek/nerd/cosplay/gaming world who will still point and go "Hey! you can't do that... Buffy's a blonde white girl and your name is La'Keisha!" or "Oh no he didn't!!! White boy thinks he be Blade all up in this place, oh hell no..." That's completely against the spirit of cosplay and Halloween. The point of dressing up is to dress as any character you'd like. However - that doesn't give you an excuse to, again, do something that you know will hurt somebody else.

And before we hear the usual "Well, what about dressing up as a blue character? Is that racist?" argument: Sci-Fi/Fantasy characters are subject to somewhat less hypocrisy, given the fact that  there are characters that aren't of the Human race. Of course, there's a whole galaxy of fictional characters to cosplay. A whole universe of Rodians, Gungans, Bothans, Martians, Eletians, Klingons, Daleks, Andorians, and Borg. Most Star Trek and Star Wars races are largely humanoid, and generally the race isn't necessarily defined by skin color. For example - the Bajorans are a humanoid race. They look human, except for the nose ridges and the ears. They are not all of the same skin color, but they are the same race. Painting yourself up to be a character from an alien race isn't offensive because those races are fictional. You're not actually hurting anyone with your actions.

Those of you who aren't hugely into cosplay are likely to still be finding a good reason to dress up this Friday, for Halloween. It's usually all in good fun. There are some people who will choose to make a statement with their costumes, and that's fine too - but keep in mind that when you send your message, please do it respectfully. Think about your decisions and who you might hurt.

Raven is an avid cosplayer and big fan of Halloween.

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