Anime fandom is not exempt from the tentacles of oppression and it is yet another space where Black women can’t be themselves without judgment.
By Briana Lawrence
Y’all. Season four of My Hero Academia has me up early on Saturday mornings like an afro-puffed kid armed with cereal and PLUS ULTRA footie pajamas. But in the midst of me cheering for series protagonist Izuku “my bones are brittle but my spirit is not” Midoriya, I hear out in the distance, “You like My Hero Academia?”
Most of us look forward to geeking out over our favorite series. This is especially true if you come from the generation of anime that I do—back when the only options were Terry Bogard throwing his cap in the wind, the Home For Infinite Losers, and that spider woman in Wicked City treating her newest lover like a literal snack by trying to eat him with her sharp-toothed vagina.
Those were… interesting times.
Back then, anime was treated like the second coming of Satan, similar to the belief that Harry Potter incited witchcraft. Throughout the years, it has become more acceptable within mainstream culture to be an anime fan. Our movies trend on social media, we got a Goku float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade two years in a row, and Megan Thee Stallion did a photoshoot as Shoto Todoroki. Many Black girl anime fans celebrated the cover, and rightfully so. Todoroki, everyone’s favorite “Icy Hot” quirk user was trending. Because of a Black woman!
Unless, of course, she was faking it. Chasing that precious…anime clout?
Yeah, back to the question I posed earlier about liking My Hero Academia — Black girl anime fans know that any hint of being into a series can lead to the following:
“If you’re really a fan, name all the kids in Class 1-A in their seating order.”
“Oh. You like Boku No Hero Academia, huh? Then why are you calling it My Hero Academia? You don’t watch the DUB do you?”
“You’re just pretending to be a fan because anime is cool now. Where were y’all back in high school?”
These inquiries (typically asked by men who also dabble in anime) are meant to pick apart our interest in these series. Whether it’s how we watch anime, who our favorite characters are, or accusations that we only like it because Michael B. Jordan is two seconds away from doing a Naruto run on camera, so clearly, we want this handsome Black senpai to notice us. It’s more than just assuming we’re only out here because some hot guy knows what the shadow clone jutsu is, we’re also being blamed for the treatment of Black male fans — nevermind the fact that Black girls also get harassed for their interests. Ask any Black girl who dares to share her cosplay on the Internet… assuming her social media isn’t locked down to protect herself from harassment.
Your anime bullying isn’t a unique experience. I can guarantee that we were also awkward kids gushing over fanfic and Inuyasha. We were all bullied, but now, we’re all trying to see Promare. Focus on connecting with your people instead of lamenting the ones who hated on you. More importantly, don’t assume that someone has to like you because you share the same interests; Black women certainly aren’t given the luxury of blaming men for not appreciating their anime wall scrolls.
At this point in my life I try to ignore these geek cred checks, but I can’t deny the knee jerk reaction that I have to say all the stuff I just said. Along with that reaction comes this need to flaunt that I am knowledgeable. Because yes, I am caught up in the My Hero Academia manga, and yes, I did catch the Star Wars references that Horikoshi peppered throughout certain chapters.
But… why? Why do I feel the need to do this?
Bottom line? I loathe the feeling of having to prove that I belong. It’s not because I still remember the grade school “you like that weird stuff” dialogue, nor is it because it’s just fandom, damnit, it shouldn’t be this difficult.
Misogynoir is prevalent and seeps into all spaces, including this one. Anime fandom is not exempt from the tentacles of oppression and it is yet another space where Black women can’t be themselves without judgment.
Growing up, it was easy to figure out that Black women are dissected and questioned for everything we do. Talking to a boy? She’s fast. Queer? She’s confused. Using slang? She’s d*mb. Fat? She’s lazy. Dyes her hair? She’s ghetto. Defending herself? Ugh, just another angry Black woman. So in comes the geek community, a space that claims to be for everyone, but, once again, it didn’t take long to figure out the limitations on that claim. Not only do we have folks questioning our geekery, we have straight up hatred and willful exclusion — toxic elements of our lives that we’re constantly fighting against. In a way, it’d be easier if it were just random dudes bemoaning Demon Slayer (or Kimetsu no Yaiba if you’d prefer) airing on Toonami because “now everyone’s gonna watch it.” At least that’s a niche nitpick, not a global form of discrimination.
It gets real exhausting real fast.
Occasionally, I do feel spicy enough to respond to that anime avatar user, whether it’s directed at me or another Black woman who’s just trying to live her best Crunchyroll subscribed life. But after a while I realized that these “Black girls don’t like anime” hot takes are an ongoing case of misogynoir. There’s always someone out their trying to rationalize our love for anime with anything but the simple truth: we like it. Not because it gets us likes. Not because some guy is into it. We just… like it. Insert shoulder shrug emoji.
The youthful idea I had of escaping the bullshit through geekdom has long since died, but in its place is a reality that I’ve grown comfortable with: fandom is what I make of it. I can dictate who I follow and, more importantly, who I respond to and what spaces I want to be a part of. Hell, I can write my own anime-inspired book series with characters who look like the very women folks claim don’t watch anime. It’s easy to see that I’m not the only Black woman stressing about the wellbeing of fictional sixteen-year-olds in a hero academy. I’m not the only one stacking those JoAnn’s coupons for cosplay. These women are a reminder that there are pockets in this community where I can be my most authentic self.
I’m a Black, queer woman who loves anime. That’s it. Send tweet.
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