As we prepare for the sixth year of Black cosplay excellence, it occurs to me that there are a few things to keep in mind.
By Briana Lawrence
New Year. New decade. Same cosplay hashtag ready to sashay onto social media for the entire month of February, and yes, the choice of month is intentional. #29DaysOfBlackCosplay — thank you leap year — sets out to present Black cosplayers in a positive light, from the ones who get every individual hair spiked perfectly with hair gel and prayer, to the ones who combine looks from their closet to emulate their favorite character.
A question that’s often asked by white and non-black cosplayers is, “How can I participate?” As we prepare for the sixth year of Black cosplay excellence, it occurs to me that there are a few things to keep in mind before you hit that retweet, reblog, or share button — and I mean that on both an individual cosplayer level and a bigger, more established brand level. So settle in, cosplayers, writers looking to turn in pieces, geek scene convention organizers, and photographers scrambling to find a Black cosplayer in their portfolio.
1. Don’t just ask where we are:
It’s a little frustrating to be asked time and time again, “Where are the Black cosplayers,” as if we aren’t out here in these convention halls. Though, full disclosure? I’m guilty of this, even enjoyed thinking I wasn’t like “those other girls” as I embraced my unique, nerdy butterfly label. Eventually, I realized how isolating that mindset is, and constant inquiries about where we are further feed into it. Don’t just ask us to do the work for you. Look for us yourself. Then again, we aren’t always included in the geek scene narrative, so maybe shift your “where are they” question toward folks who continue to exclude us.
2. Share because you like us, not because it’s trendy:
Some folks tell on themselves real quick by the end of February, spaces ending their share-a-thon and suddenly ghosting us like a bad date. The point of #29DaysOfBlackCosplay is to keep the momentum going, not walk away until you see the words “Black” and “cosplay” trending again. If you’re only sharing us because it’s the popular thing to do at the time, you’re not really here for us: you’re here to boost your own brand. Acknowledge us beyond February, especially if you’re a cosplayer, fan, or coordinator of an event who tosses around the words diversity and inclusion.
3. Be there when the trolls crawl out from under the bridge:
It’s disheartening to get a negative comment on your cosplay, especially when it’s about something out of your control — cough cough skin color cough cough. Many Black cosplayers have either dealt with racism in the community or know someone who has, and there’s no faster crash from an “I got shared” high than when you have to deal with the sharer’s followers going on the attack. It’s even worse when these pages allow the harassment to go on, remaining silent while the person they shared gets bullied off social media. When the proverbial shit hits the fan, don’t leave that Black cosplayer out there to shovel up the crap your followers dumped on them, especially if you have a significant number of followers.
4. Don’t just use us as racism consultants (unless you are paying us):
Part of what I love about #29DaysOfBlackCosplay is that it’s a chance to see us enjoying cosplay for what it is: fun. I’d realized a long time ago that many of the Black cosplayers I’d met was because we came together to fight some racist anime avatar in a Tekken Tag Team style comment match. I may write about racism and even, on occasion, partake in the slaying of trolls, but that’s not the only thing I wanna be summoned for. If you’re only showing support when we’re struggling, if you’re only using us to get our take on racist incidents that, let’s be real, we’ve already discussed before, then you’re turning us into tokens you show off to prove how “woke” you are. Supporting us completely means supporting our joy, too, not just immortalizing our wounds.
Recommended: BLACK GIRLS LIKE ANIME. THAT’S IT. SEND TWEET.
5. Don’t just share the same cosplayers:
Disclaimer: this is not a knock at any Black cosplayer who gets shared a lot. They are, in fact, doing the damn thing and doing it well. This is a not-so-light jab at folks who only share those cosplayers and ignore everyone else in the community. Please broaden your horizons. #29DaysOfBlackCosplay is about all Black cosplayers, so if your focus is excluding plus-size, dark-skinned, queer, and other underrepresented Black cosplayers within the community, then you’re not doing the hashtag any justice.
6. Don’t derail the hashtag to promote yours:
Not to be confused with the annual, “What about WHITE people,” February discourse you can set a timer to, this particular form of derailment comes from other marginalized groups. There’s this kneejerk reaction to use Black joy to shift focus, other groups sharing a Black-specific moment to ask when it’ll be their turn. Of course, we want other marginalized groups to shine, but sharing our moment and bemoaning the fact that it isn’t happening to you isn’t the way to do it. There’s nothing stopping anyone from creating a specific hashtag and encouraging others to share it, but do not hijack someone’s #29DaysOfBlackCosplay post to do it. We can all eat but don’t steal the food off my plate to do it.
Briana Lawrence is a freelance writer and self-published author who’s trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series, or the pieces she writes for various websites. When she’s not writing about diversity, she’s speaking about it at different geek-centric conventions across the country, as she’s a black, queer, nerd girl at heart. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of comics, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to JRPGs. You can find her work at www.magnifiquenoir.com