Why Blackface in Cosplay and Costume Appropriation Sucks

So I stumbled upon a post on Tumblr that garnered a lot of negative attention recently in regards to blackface in cosplay, and it (understandably) sparked quite the argument.

Also, halloween is coming and so the controversial “we are a culture, not a costume” issue gets tossed about a lot as well. I wanted to talk about these issues in the most objective, straight-forward way possible.

Cosplay blackface and racist costumes are a big problem. Here’s why.

cosplay-brownface-blackface-problemTumblr is an interesting place because the community tends to react very passionately and strongly to things they find problematic. This in of itself becomes an issue, especially when it comes to individuals speaking FOR groups that they don’t necessarily belong to.

Because of this I think it’s generally unproductive when that the response is always “OMFG U RACIST GO FUK URSELF” instead of offering an explanation. Yes, you can argue that in this day and age people really ought to know better, and you’d be right. But the reality is they often don’t know better. Some people are raised in a bubble and privileged – even I, as a latina, was unaware of many of these issues growing up and even well into adulthood. I was thankfully educated (usually kindly) by my peers, but it wasn’t always an easy thing to deal with.

Now, you’d think something like the subject of racial appropriation (and especially black face) is obvious. But again, it’s not. There are still many people out there who don’t understand why.


So really, what is appropriation and why is it a problem?

Before we get to blackface, let’s start with appropriation. It is hard to define, but simplified it is when one privileged culture adopts or takes aspects of another underprivileged culture without proper context or sharing in the later culture’s burdens or history.

This is an issue because the cultures being “borrowed” from are also often the victims of cruelty, racism, oppression, and/or inherit biases that are maintained by the “ruling” culture or class. The privileged group can put on a “mask” or adopt a piece of another culture and make it acceptable or trendy or forgivable, but at any time take off that mask. But the actual people being taken from are often looked down upon, ridiculed, or thought lesser of for those very aspects that are being adopted. Further, appropriation is very often stereotyped, often perpetuating negative and at time damaging the people being mimicked. Not all appropriation is explicit or intentionally cruel, but it almost always is subtly damaging.

Let’s take for example urban black culture, arguably one of the most hated groups in the United States. Dozens of studies have been done that show how deeply rooted our biases against blacks in America is (and I’m sticking to the US here though this is often true internationally as well). Many aspects of black culture – the clothing, the music, the language – are heavily feared or resented by upper class white America. When teenage white girls date black boys, it’s a problem. When white kids listen to rap music, it’s a problem. When white kids want to piss off their parents, want to rebel against the status-quo, they look to black urban culture as a means to do so. This is perpetuating that idea that blacks and black culture are bad, less then, and dirty.

cosplay-blackface-appropriationBut when Miley Cyrus gets on stage and suddenly twerking is a thing, and now that white kids all over are doing it on vine, it’s cool, it’s funny, it’s part of pop culture. But twerking has been part of black urban entertainment for years, and before it was popularized by white pop stars, it was dirty.

Katy Perry can get on stage and dress up as a sexy geisha and nobody blinks an eye at the deep rooted and still pervasive hyper-sexualiztion and trafficking of Asian women.

A group of latin friends can speak Spanish to one another loudly on a train, and people see this as threatening or an unwillingness to assimilate.

And so on.

Where does blackface fit into all this? And what does it have to do with costumes and cosplay?

Does this come with a dose of smallpox in XS? No?
Does this come with a dose of smallpox in XS? No?

Blackface has a history that goes far beyond young cosplayers trying to look like an ethnic character. Back during America’s long history of anti-black rhetoric, white actors would often literally paint their faces black and purposefully make of blacks – it was a genre of entertainment known as minstrelsy. It was not only a major and popular thing to, it’s the literal origin of blackface that eventually lead to real black actors performing in a self-depreciating and stereotyped skits for white entertainment.

This history extends beyond blacks – many cultures such as the East Asias, Native Americans, and Latinos have had a long history of being appropriated and stereotyped by whites – and it’s still prevalent today.

When white people “dress up” in blackface or put on a sombrero for cinco de mayo or post videos of them twerking on youtube or put bindis all over their faces, they never have to suffer for it or even be asked to understand the origin of those practices. They don’t share the historical burden. When a white person darkens his or her skin for a costume, it’s a hugely ironic slap in the face for those of us with darker skin who are considered less beautiful because we don’t fit society’s Euro-centric ideal of beauty.

Bringing Cosplay into the mix – cosplay culture has a long history of being implicitly racist because likeness to a character is taken into account as part of the overall appeal of a costume. And since cosplay is deeply rooted in entertainment that features a very small selection of characters of color, darker skinned cosplayers (especially black) hardly ever win any contests or are often told they are “too dark” for the characters they are representing. White cosplayers get away with dressing up as Asian characters because Anime and Manga is so often drawn with features that are considered more Caucasian than Asian for visual appeal, leaving other ethnic groups out of the fray and further appropriating Asian characters as ” white by default”.

This is why it’s extremely insensitive to go the other way around, not even taking into account the aggressive history of black-face. A black or brown cosplayer will have a hard time getting away with putting on “white face”, and so to have a white cosplayer come along, darken their skin, and be celebrated for something that ACTUAL dark-skinned people suffer countless issues for is horrible.

Simply put, white people will never have to suffer the burden of being part of the cultures victimized in the past and stereotyped in the present, and those of us who are never get to take off those masks. We always have to work to simply be equal – we don’t want to be special or other or exotified or demonized. We just want to be ourselves and celebrate our differences without those differences causing a stir. And until that happens, it is not and will never be OK  for white people to appropriate our skins or our cultures.

This is why racist costumes are bad. This is why black/brown/yellow/red face even in cosplay is bad. Cosplay who you want but don’t change your skin to do it.

So I hope this is a clearer, shorter explanation of the issues at hand to help people understand (without being yelled at) why blackface and costume appropriation is a bad idea and something that really needs to be avoided.

Updated on July 28, 2015 for clarification, sources, and accuracy adjustments. 

Updated on Oct 19, 2017, comments closed because we can’t talk about issues without shitting on each other, apparently.

  • anon

    awesome article, i totally agree. also agree about the character thing. you should be able to love and connect and dress up as characters of all races, be it tiana or pocahontas or mulan or whoever.

    • izziebot

      Thanks for commenting.

      Yeah, I’m not as sensitive to specific characters as I am to tropes / stereotypes. I used to cosplay and I know there’s been a lot of snafus about women of color dressing up as white / asian characters, or white cosplayers darkening their skin to fit a character better.

      The latter is very controversial – the former is less so for me. Dress as who you want to be, and nobody should judge anyone for that. But changing skin color gets tricky.

      • Gabriel

        I’m sorry for replying to such an old post but I have to say that I do not really agree.

        I’m planning on cosplaying the character Dorian Pavius from Dragon Age Inquisition. His character is orlesian and have a more toned skin like if I would tan for a hell of a long time. However I can not tan since I get red as a lobster and because I’m as pale as a snowman I’m planning on using some makeup to darken my skin some because it’s a big part of the character and it would just look off if I cosplayed him as the snowman that I am.

        However this does most certinally not make me a racist and nor is it connected to blackface. The thing with blackface is that you are awaringly rediculating a ethnicity and throwing on stereotypes. That is something I am absolutely not doing when darkening my skin a tad to make myself look more like the original character. Now it might very well upset some because it can remind of the passed just as a cosplayer being in character of a homophobic or transphobic character would upset me since I am a homosexual transman.

        However with that said one needs to make the distinction and before lashing out ask themselves “is this Person doing this to degrade, mock or de-value me?” if they awaringly are then talk to them and say how you think it’s wrong. So don’t say “oh this is blackface!” when someone is not doing what that act stands for.

        • But it IS mocking and it IS devaluation, whether you want to believe so or not. Racism has many levels and facets, and you don’t have to actively hate or disregard a race to play into racism.

          I’m usually pretty open to seeing all sides of a story, but this is one of those topics where I just do not believe there is any middle-ground.

          Blackface is NEVER EVER OK. Black people don’t have the option to “take off” their black-ness, and by just being black they are subjected to blatant racism and ingrained social biases. Every single freaking day. This goes for most minorities but blacks by and large suffer some of the worst of it in western society. When you darken your skin for a costume, you are essentially rubbing in the face of dark skinned minorities everywhere that you can do this for a time and not suffer the consequences of having dark skin in real life has. It’s extremely selfish and perpetuates making light of a really long and nasty history of mocking blacks for white entertainment.

          Black cosplayers, to boot, are also exposed to tons of implicit bias in cosplay because they can’t make themselves pale to “fit the character” and will rarely be included in group photoshoots or win contests. This is extremely unfair and total bullshit.

          A PERSON’S SKIN IS NOT A COSTUME. You should respect that boundry and simply cosplay who you want with your natural skin tone. And if you know this and choose to do it anyway, then don’t go making excuses or trying to justify your actions.

          You are not going to get my, or any other ally or minority’s approval for your actions, and you will deserve any backlash you get for it.

          Some reading: http://www.vox.com/2014/12/26/7443979/racism-implicit-racial-bias

          • Elfwitch

            I don’t agree it is not blackface for a white person to imitate a tan skin tone. Many white people can naturally get this skin tone by risking skin cancer. I think actually imitating a person of color is something different and wrong. Also say using black make up to become a drow elf is not the same. Drow are a fantasy race and don’t exist in real life. I think you need to be sensitive

          • Brakinja KJ

            Sorry to reply to something like this two months after the fact, but I’m going to this time, just a bit, if that’s okay.

            I’m a mixed bunch. I’m African-American, Puerto Rican, and a lot of other things. I’m a high-grade minority, if you will. That said, I’ve seen racial backlash my entire life (whether I realized it then or later) from people who either don’t appreciate me for being black OR being hispanic.

            Why am I mentioning that? Easy. I’m saying all that because I’ve seen enough arguments and defenses from (Albiet) white people about appropriation, and this argument you’re using is one I’ve seen a lot. I feel like you’re dodging the argument of blackface by pointing to other things that aren’t blackface. If you want purple or black (the color black) skin to be a drow elf (standard drow elf skin tones), then go ahead, by all means, they’re a fantasy race. If you get suntanned, that’s cool too, you’re not hurting anyone (except maybe your skin but that’s totally up to you). I feel like comparing black face to these other harmless things devalues how harmful black face really is, and it’s a tactic I notice a lot that’s meant to take heat of a very heated argument. But a good thing to realize is that there’s a reason these arguments are heated; they’re important. You can’t compare a high-tide wave to a tsunami just to make the tsunami look less bad, because tsunamis are terrifying and people should know they’re terrifying.

            I get the deal, I really do. Talking about race when you’re white sucks, because that’s usually where it goes. I’ve had plenty of white friends (and partners) who get uneasy, and often times vocally violent, in race discussions because they’re terrified of feeling like they’re perpetrators of the horrible crime of racism. My only advice is the same advice I give anyone: Relax, then ask questions of you’re confused. Relax first because so long as you’re confident that you’re not horribly racist, nothing bad should happen. And what if it does? Ask questions, because you may not know as much as you think, and you have to be comfortable with that. There’s plenty of people, family, friends, and co-workers who will explain the deal about racism to you in a calm and civil manner, and they won’t crucify you for being white in a pretty racist country.

            In short: Please don’t devalue this argument to make it seem like less of a big deal. It’s a huge deal, and it’s enough to just say, “wow, blackface sucks.” Don’t feel so anxious in these arguments, because they’re about white people who don’t know any better (yet), and that’s totally fine so long as you’re willing to accept that and learn to know better.

            This was meant to be a paragraph and it became an essay. Whoops.

            Anyway, I hope this helped to sort of explain this whole thing.

          • Elfwitch

            Don’t lecture me. As I said in my post it is wrong to imitate an actual culture. Dressing up as a slutty Indian princess comes to mind. My point is in cosplaying “fictional” characters we need to look at it differently. If you are attracted to a character and you want to put your time and effort into making an authentic costume then that should be all that matters. This blog was about cosplay after all.

            So you are black and want to be Wonder Woman by all means go ahead the same should be true if you are white and your favorite character is from anime. This idea that white cosplayers can only ever cosplay characters that look like them but people of color can cosplay anything is insulting to all cosplayers.

            Nobody ever criticizes the multitude of Asian girls who appropriate sugar skull make up on You Tube for Halloween yet what they are doing is a perfect example of cultural approbation. They are taking an important part of Mexican culture and turning it into a costume. Yet they get a pass because they are not white.

            Again my point is it is wrong to use real cultures as costumes no matter what your race is. But fictional characters should be judged differently.

          • Herbert Klauss

            You are racist because of your assumption that black people MIGHT need to “take off the black-ness”. It’s something weird, like in this poster

          • It’s not an assumption – it is a total reality. Blacks “shift” as a survival mechanism in modern culture, aka change their tone of voice, along with dressing and acting a certain way to be perceived as less threatening, more professional, etc. Basically mimicking whiteness as much as they can, sacrificing their individuality, for the sake of appealing to uncomfortable white people.

            Tone shifting is a thing. It’s not a mask per-say and in a perfect world they wouldn’t have to, but with the way urban black culture is percieved in America, they often feel forced to put on a mask of their own just to be taken seriously. It’s horrible.

            Read this article for more: http://mashable.com/2015/08/08/black-men-dressing-up-police/#v.HPTCiNikkR

          • Marionetta

            Izzy… You are fucking retarded.

          • j

            Can you please tell me then, since I’m a “white” american woman what I’m allowed to wear? What is my cultural garb? Am I limited to skinny jeans and UGG boots? Do I not get to have a culture? Or must I choose to wear ALL of my ancestors at once, or can only choose from one of my ancestors…but wait, I can’t do that because they were victims of poverty, British rule, climate conditions, wars, take overs, and one side was eventually walked across this country to unknown lands. So please, tell me which white stores I can shop at and what white clothing I’m allowed to buy to complete my whiteness. If I visit another country, and try to adapt out of respect to their culture as is the custom in many parts of the world, can you tell me what parts of being white do I have to keep in order to affirm my whiteness, and not offend others while attempting to do as they do so as not to offend them? If I get a tan, should I then bleach my skin back out? If I portray a character that is played by an actor who has undergone hours of makeup until their skin tone is no longer their real one…am I allowed to match the fake skin tone? Even if that is still a true flesh color though it is not MY flesh color? Or can I wear whatever I want and have the only reason simply be that I like that shape/silhouette,color,geometric pattern when it is resting on my white body.And NOT have a white agenda to assert my whiteness, when really it’s because I need to get dressed to get my white self to work.Nudity, even white, is frowned upon there. Sorry, I just want to make sure I white correctly.

          • You can consider why you’re so insulted that marginalized people are asking you to not appropriate their cultures. It’s actually not that hard. You don’t have to devalue yourself to a “basic white girl” trope to avoid stepping on other people’s past.

            The idea is that dark skinned people’s lives are harder simply for having dark skin is the central issue here. If you can’t see that beyond your own ego than there’s really not much else anyone can say.

          • j

            The issue I have is now you are using the previous argument as the explanation of said argument. Which is the definition of being circular. The underlying point, of what actually made me angry in reading all of these posts, that I was hoping you would see is the racism laced in the idea that a black man wearing a suit, trying to be more “white”. When in fact it is just a man wearing a suit. His race has nothing to do with his wardrobe.There was a deliberate idiocy in my asking about the white stores. First is that there are no “white only stores” any more..well legally and ethically there shouldn’t be.Yes sadly I know they do exist somewhere out there.

            But to continue.. There are demographics that businesses recognize and they market to. It is an aspect of business psychology, and crucial to the success of any business. There are standards of dress for every type of profession.Which falls into that demographic of say..a mid-thirties male whose profession is a tax account in a fortune 500 company.That standard of dress is typically a suit. That is far different than a fashion designer taking important cultural elements from a people and using them for profit. However, sometimes the of taking cultural elements is not to mock them. It can also be a sign of respect.

            Which leads to the the second point I was making, is that as a white person there are more cultures to our history than just our skin color. You can be pale/ Caucasian but be of German, Irish, English, Scottish, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Persian, Scandinavian, Pacific Island,Mexican and even Native American or African descent. And then there are subcultures within each of those.

            But by the explanation further above, we are not supposed to take on the cultural aspects of any that could have been victimized. Even if the victim is “white” and the aggressor is “white”? Yes I realize this article is specifically on cosplay/costume. But I don’t parade around pretending to be an “Indian” wearing a headdress. There is a heavy cultural significance in headdresses. And I personally don’t pretend to be another culture for giggles. Yes, that extreme blatant mocking is wrong. I grasp that. Sadly most drunk college kids don’t.

            But I do celebrate the elements I love about my Irish and Scottish descent. But I am also of Cherokee descent.So if I wear feathers in my wardrobe it is because I am proud of that. However I refuse to wear my family tree on my back to apologize for my whiteness. To ask others to think “no,she’s cool! She has some one on her side that was a ‘poc’.”

            Yes I recognize that it happens, but not every cross cultural element is an attempt to mock others, or counts as mocking when others try to force that definition on to it, because of their own ignorance of the person standing in front of them.

            There is also an element that people miss about cosplay and costumes. The point is to pretend to be something you are not. If I create a character who has traveled the world, and assimilated into different cultures, or hell just bought something they liked at a market, and then portray that character, I am not mocking them. I am celebrating them. I am celebrating the education I sought out on another culture, and welcome the conversations it could start with others who do not know about them.Because they too may learn something fascinating that doesn’t involve an iphone or a starbucks. How can we accept others if we do not learn of them.Celebrate them. And encourage others to do so?

            There is true genuine racism and racist acts in this world. And there are truly horrible things that happen to people in this world. One of which, like the suit issue above, is someone within any given culture trying to keep those around them back in terms of education or profession because they are “trying to be white”. THAT should also piss you off.

            That children are raised to believe they could never be anything better.By their own families. THEN music and movie industries use that to make a buck. And young adults then emulate it. It is a disgusting cycle, that can not be broken without active choices by ALL. But….then..when people with means attempt to help those in poverty, it is deemed as being patronizing.

            THAT is ego.Not my original comment. That is the double minded self afflicting poverty or racism that should piss everyone off. Yes it really does exist.

            There is an ideal perfect world we want to achieve, and then there is a very bleak reality of what it is. No, we can not ignore the past to achieve the future. But there are instances when a persons actions can be corrected with a simple conversation.Not posting their picture,name, public life to the rest of the world and demanding retribution. The internet’s love of witch hunting doesn’t help anyone. Please explain to me how many women today were saved from sex trafficking because of this article. How many poverty stricken families were able to afford a meal today. Which child went home to a safe, sober household because of this article? Let alone how they FELT.

            Across the board there needs to be education, not rhetoric. Discussions, not viral persecution. Activism, not violence. And acceptance rather than the continual placing of blame. By ALL races, financial classes and education levels. Because although the point this original blog was making is for the benefit of others, and is in the good hearted attempt to make the world better, at the end of the day some white girl making her skin tone darker for one night did nothing in a negative or positive way to directly affect the millions across this globe. I’m not saying it was right, or should go ignored, but if you want to make a change, people need to do something within their social and community spheres, where they can be heard and make a difference to the lives around them. Instead of just soap boxing. (Yes I see the irony..)

            Foundations and organizations to consider

            Days For Girls : Getting reusable sanitary products to girls in 3rd world countries, who would otherwise not get an education because of their reproductive organs..


            Tender Loving Care: Sends clothing and personal hygene items to the impoverished children of the Appalachian Mountains


            International Justice Mission: Actively fights to rescue men women and children from human trafficking.


            mikeroweWORKSFoundation: Scholarship program for those willing to attend a vocational school to learn a pliable skilled trade.


          • Your original comment just seemed steeped in sarcasm so my reply wasn’t exactly full of eloquence.

            My point about black men in suits was drawn from real life stories – stories from my black friends who taught me what shifting tone even meant (I had no idea it was a thing) and from an article that I read where real black men talk about dressing purposefully and using fashion as a means of survival. And also from my own experience of being called “white” because I’m an educated professional who speaks without any sort of real accept or inflection.

            I promise I wasn’t pulling that stuff out of thin air.

            To that end I don’t necessarily disagree with some of your points. I’m also not trying to make some grand shift in society with my article. It was just trying explain why costume appropriation and cosplay blackface are problematic. There’s only so much I can say or reply to before it goes beyond the scope of what I was hoping to achieve here. Just trying to shift some mindsets and have a discussion.

          • ddd

            “you can be racist without even knowing it” get the fuck outta here. there is literally nothing wrong with what Gabriel said.

        • AnabelMartinez

          Dorian is Tevinter, not Orlesian. 🙂

  • Nina

    The ignorance in these comments make me fear what my future kids might face with this nonsense. This article is fantastic. BUT I’M SO DONE. SO, SO DONE.

    • Thank you for reading. And yeah… it happens every year, sadly. I can tell when I get an influx of traffic to this article. This fight is still going on

  • AllieBear

    I don’t know where I stand on this scale because I am Latina, I am latina my mum born in Italy and my dad born in South America and my Grandfather is even native American… however I am pale as crap XD (this is because somewhere up the line there was some sort of french thrown in there also I hardly go into the sun because the Australian sun is damaging)

    So where are my limits?

    People assume I am white because of my paleness but I also have dark hair and dark eyes and I already use fake tan cosmetically. I feel there is a gray area here because as a person who has POC ancestry I don’t want to appropriate cultures and I know I don’t get a Get Out Of Jail Free card either.

    • I’m in the same exact boat as you. I’m a light skinned latina with a european last name, so that puts us in a weird spot (along with bi/multi-racial folks).

      Every day is a learning process. And the truth is you can never be 100% sure or 100% correct. What offends or hurts one person won’t apply to the next one.

      Falling in this middle ground comes with its own set of challenges and privileges, I have found. I simply try to use my ability to be transient and my privlege to help others as much as possible. People let their guard down around me and I sometimes have to gently remind them to be aware.

      I think awareness is key. Key your ears and eyes open – and ask questions! Ask people about what their struggles are like, what they are comfortable with, what you can do to make them comfortable. Have those conversations. That’s how we move forward, imo

  • Shaun Salisbury

    The real problem is a lot people still for some reason think that skin color makes you a different race when it doesn’t and science has proven this years ago but people ignore it.

    • Marionetta

      There’s a thing called forensic anthropology that can determine race.

      • Shaun Salisbury

        That’s nice but it’s just putting it in the terms of the social construct as a human is a human regardless of the color of the skin we are one race of people.

        • MusouTensei

          This is incorrect, europeans have a different ancestor than africans, it only proves that evolution will choose the humanoid form as superior to others.

          • Shaun Salisbury

            Nope if you examine humans on a genetic level we are all related as a race as we all evolved from a common ancestor and our DNA proves it.

      • HeyyyWait

        And you do know what forensic anthropologist study mate? They study bones. The colour of a person’s skin is 100% arbitrary, the only “race” that people can be is a homosapien.

  • BonnieHalfElven

    It’s a tricky issue. I darkened my skin back in the 80’s to cosplay as Tina Turner. I really didn’t know any better at the time. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I thought she was badass. I wouldn’t do it now, with what I’ve learned.

    I met a tall, beautiful black woman this year cosplaying Zoe from Firefly. She said she was disappointed more people didn’t cosplay as her. But honestly, I think white girls stick with Kaylee for the most part because she is white and not terribly young or skinny like River, and we don’t want to step in the PC poo by cosplaying a black woman, darkened skin or not. We want to look like the character we’re cosplaying so we’ll be recognized. Maybe if I get a little more ripped, I’ll take a shot at Zoe (or even Book). But would people recognize a pale, white girl, maybe with a cascade of blonde ringlets, as Zoe?

  • Marionetta

    Well, it doesn’t have exaggerated black lips. Not blackface.
    Tumblr is the fucking worst place to learn about anything.

  • Fluttershade

    >Is Asian/Filipino
    >Is light-brown skinned
    >Cosplays Lucian from League of Legends

    >Darkens face to match contour of the character AND skin tone.

    Wanna know how the people in the convention scene at my place reacted?

    “Holy shit! Lucian! Awesome!”
    “Hey look its Lucian!”
    “Lucian! Can I have a pic with you?!” and similar responses in the scene

    tl;dr of your argument is stupidly invalid.

    And oh! I plan to cosplay a lot of dark-skinned characters because I LOVE THEM, and most badasses are the dark-skinned ones like Mohammad Avdol of JJBA, Aran from MapleStory. If you think this is racist, then you need to get your brain checked. Case closed.

  • Jomar

    The debate against cultural appropriation is counter-productive. If you are really want to remedy this on-going problem that is racism, shouldn’t we appreciate culture appropriation instead of creating this divide based on history?

    It is not mockery and devaluation if the intent is to wonderfully portray a person of color, it is appreciation.

    If you want to repeat history and continue the great divide between cultures then continue this childish tumblr rant.

    • I was about to post the exact same thing.

  • GesuGesu

    So what if I’m part of a minority group and want to darken my face to cosplay another minority group? (I am from Canada, the “multi-cultural” country, with an Asian heritage)

    I think this concept of blackface-racism tends to apply to countries with histories of bad treatment against certain peoples. Let’s say: European powerhouses such as England, France, Spain, and ex-British Empire countries like America, Canada, Australia… etc. who engaged in slave trade with Africa and South-Asia/SE-Asia.

    In countries where the population is mostly native (few immigrants), I haven’t really seen this problem arise in the cosplay community. In China and Japan, where I like to follow cosplayers, no one really gets rapped on for cosplaying characters with dark skin (such as Aomine Daiki (KnB) or Kotetsu T. Kaburagi (T&B). They only see it as accurately portraying a character. I know that the characters I mentioned have Japanese names (and are mentioned in canon to be Asian), but they have dark skin. Are the characters themselves racist by existing?

    Only where the population has a fair mix of white/black/asian/middle-eastern does the racist card really get called upon. This means America/England/Canada/Australia, usually, though the biggest gripes have always come from America due to their much larger black population and more prominent racism actually hitting the news and media.

    Personally, I think that a white person darkening their skin to match a character is not racist. I know black-face historically is racist. Whether it is racist in modern days completely depends on the setting. In mostly homogenous countries, racism exists, but is a rare issue that doesn’t pop up in the news all the time. In a country of mixed races, it’s completely based on people’s opinions. A sensitive, Tumblr-browsing, socially-justified person may call is racist. A regular cosplay hobbyist might just appreciate the effort the cosplay took in looking the part.

    In addition, because white folk are afraid of being called racist for cosplaying POC characters, they won’t. If they don’t look accurately like the POC character for not darkening their skin, they still get in trouble. Thus, it leads to POC characters seem as if they’re being under-appreciated, and under-cosplayed. This leads to more cries of racism in the cosplay community. Just relax. Let people do what they want.

    Finally, the word POC doesn’t even exist in some countries because the entire country IS what the Americans call POC. Remember that black-face and name-calling about racism is a concept -usually- by whites, against the whites, and about the whites. I only learned about these words like “POC” because of the internet. No one uses that word in my place. We call everyone “people”. Am I a Person of Colour? According to the American internet, yes I am. But when people dress up in cheongsams and squint their eyes? I don’t really care about these kinds of things. I am just one of many. At this point in time, at 2015, I would think that we have all progressed to a time that the targets of the racist stereotypes can accept and agree/disagree and even laugh at the typecasting. I highly recommend asking a black person if they would feel annoyed if a white person cosplayed a black character. We can argue forever about it amongst ourselves, but the quickest and easiest way to resolve this is to ask the “victims” in question if they are hurt by this.

    I’m very sorry for pinpointing most of this problem to America, but you guys are a big country and your news always reach us. Also, almost all the arguments I’ve seen about racism online have arisen almost always from America.

  • Jackson Barker

    >Looks up “blackface”
    >looks at cosplay

    15/10 Would look at retards trying to make a cosplay become a race thing again

    • joy

      Pretending racism doesn’t exist does not stop racism. You’re an idiot.

    • Anubii

      This just in! Racism is actually created by the people who suffer it because they talked about it!

      Thank you presumably white idiot.

    • Invinc Lim

      In fact, I believe in the complete opposite. The only way to deal with racism is to talk about it more. Talk about it until we are completely inoculated.

      In fact, avoiding the topic tends to makes things worse. Problems get swept under the carpet and boil in a pressure cooker until it explodes.

    • MusouTensei

      Because it gets talked so much about it I stop caring more and more, I mean when everything is racist, sexist, homophobic whatever (like Anita likes to say), why even bother?

  • Samantha Clark

    This isnt freaking racist…..I AM PLANNING TO COSPLAY CHARACTERS WITH A DARKER SKINTONE THAN ME LIKE DOGKEEPER AND SURE AS HELL IM GOING TO GET SOMEONE TO HELP ME DARKEN MY SKIN. With good cosplays if you didnt know they were that race you wouldnt be able to freaking tell.Its not mocking or anything like that! Is getting a spray tan black face then?? the cosplayer here doesnt even look black, just like someone who got a very dark tan.

    • Anubii

      Congratulations. You’re a racist piece of shit and I can say that with confidence because even after this article perfectly explained WHY it’s racist, your melanin-deficient self said “fuck that, I’m going to blackface anyway.” You’re a fucking racist and whatever flack you get at any con for your racist act, you wholly deserve.

      You’re the trash of the cosplay community.

      • MusouTensei

        And you’re the trash of human kind, now what is worse?

    • a few seconds ago
      The day marginalized ethic groups’ lives stop being difficult soley based on their skin or culture is the day we can start thinking about if changing ones skin color is acceptable.

      But right now that is not the case so darkening your skin is insulting. You are saying that your ego is more important than other people’s lives e, intent or it. It’s not OK. Someone’s skin is not a prop. Do what you want, you are free to do ‘so but accept that you are being willfully ignorant because your costume is more important.

    • Ok, let’s make an analogy.

      I make a delicious dinner based on an old family recipe. It smells great.

      – I ask you to come to dinner and enjoy the food i made so you can see all the love and history that went into that meal. I’ve invited you to join me in this moment in my home. That is OK!

      – You walk by and smell the food. You say “Hey, that smells great! I’d love to try it.” And I say “Sure! I’d be happy to let you try my dinner tonight, if you’d be willing to listen to the history of my family’s recipe.” You agree. That is OK!

      -You walk by and ask to try it but you don’t want to bother with the history. You just want to try it because it smells good. That’s NOT ok.

      -You walk by and ask, and say “Hey, I’d love to try this and learn more about the history of your family recipe!” But I say, “I’m sorry, tonight this meal is for me and my family.” You get upset. That is NOT OK. You say

      —“But my other friend invited me to dinner and said it was ok.” If I say no, it’s still NOT OK.

      -You walk by and don’t even bother asking. You come into my house and take my food. And when I say that it was wrong to just take my food without being invited or asking, you say “But I just LOVE your food and I wanted you to know how much I appreciate it because I ate it all.” STILL NOT OK.

      – You steal my family recipe and make it yourself. You say it’s OK because you didn’t steal the actual food but just the recipe. NOT OK.

      – You steal the recipe and claim you created it yourself. You suck.

      Now replace that meal with someone’s culture. It still applies.

  • lily

    “White cosplayers get away with dressing up as Asian characters because Anime and Manga is so often drawn with features that are more Caucasian than Asian for visual appeal, leaving other ethnic groups out of the fray.” Sorry to bother you, but I kind of have a problem with this statement.

    Unless East Asians are drawn as stereotypes, practically caricatures of a race, we are viewed as white. If westerners see pale skin and do not see straight black hair and narrow eyes, they will not assume a character is Asian.

    Saying that ani characters who are intended to be Japanese somehow do not count as POC erases Japanese people (and arguably East Asians in general). It implies that we are not POC enough and that, because some have pale skin, we are interchangeable with white people.

    Westerners tend to default to thinking of characters as white because we are surrounded by a white majority and western media depicts the “average citizen” as conventionally attractive and white. It’s not that anime characters are “drawn as white” so much as they are “seen as white” by westerners.
    The large eyes, and small noses and mouths that are associated with anime are pretty standard of animation in general (remember the Powerpuff Girls?). When people talk about the pale skin tone of anime characters, they do this forgetting that many Japanese people have… pale… skin. And yeah, some have blonde hair and blue eyes, but many more have impossible hair and eye colors, even among a more “naturally” colored cast (Ayanami Rei, I’m looking at you). The argument of physical features is irrelevant.
    Of course, this does not apply to series where the characters are NOT Asian (ie. Hunter x Hunter which is set in another world, and Shingeki no Kyojin where most characters are actually white).

    tl;dr: Anime characters are not usually drawn with the intention to look white, and the truth of the matter is that white people are more or less able to get away with cosplaying any character regardless of race anyway.

    • I apologize for the wording of that statement. I’ll re-work it when I get a chance. On my phone right on.

      Thank you for pointing this out to me, and I’m sorry if I offended. I’ll fix it asap

  • Invinc Lim

    Who gives a fuck?

    If a White person tries to be more Black because the character is black. So be it.
    If a Black person tries to be more White because the character is white. So be it.

    Cosplay is a unique hobby and medium simply because it draws a symbiotic (or parasitic) bond to other mediums from which the fandom comes from.

    If a certain character’s design is inherently racist, majority of the blame should fall upon the original medium. Not on the cosplayers who are trying their best to reflect the media they are trying to portray.

    The ultimate goal we are looking at is equality.
    We’re not looking for an end game where White people cannot cosplay characters of other races, while everyone else can try to cosplay White characters.
    We want a world where anyone and everyone can cosplay the character they respect and love without being damned for it.

    Of course, a White Girl cosplaying a White Girl character, or an Asian girl cosplaying and Asian girl character will always be more desirable and accurate, while cross racial cosplaying will never be as desirable simply because we can never fully portray the character as it is due to biology, but that should not stop people from wanting to do more to portray a character that is dear to their hearts.

    Ultimately it’s all about intent. And the intent of cosplay should always to be to celebrate our love for a series, character, whatever.

    • In a perfect world where marginalized people were treated equally it’d be a different story. But they’re not, and until they are, it just isn’t cool. It isn’t fair.

    • Travis “Travie” Lionel

      White people can cosplay black characters, but to put on blackface to do it is racist.

  • MusouTensei

    There is no such thing as “cultural appropriation”, this is just a made up term by people who hate themselfes so much they only feel good when they can prevent others to enjoy themself, that’s why they love censorship. Nazi germany had that problem, after WW1 the germans hated themself so much seeing other parts of the world enjoying life, that they ultimately decided to bring sorrow to those countries. Nowadays it’s often black people who feel like that, they hate themself so much, when they see that someone trying to be like them but actually having fun with that, they get so pissed that their only life goal becomes to make those happy people feel as miserable, so they become negas (as in negative), and they cause a thing called white guilt turning a lot of crackers into negas as well because now they also feel so miserabe, it’s a chain of negativity and saddnes caused by self hatred and will eventually lead to their demise.
    Ultimately I have to say to everyone who believes that “cultural appropriation” is a real thing, I have bad news for y’all, you will eventually wake up and realize that all you do, every day, is making other people feel miserable, this is why you never can be truly happy, this is why you will fail in everything eventually, because even success can not give you happiness anymore. Basically with preventing others to have fun by blackening their skin tone for a short amount of time, you are blackening your heart and soul. forever.

  • Eunice Smith

    … I’m really surprised and hurt by the comments I read from fellow cosplayers.

    For years, I would never cosplay a light skinned character. I felt that I didn’t deserve to, as if my costume would not be up to the accuracy of people who could match the chraracters skin tone, and I heard the horror stories of black cosplayers being judged.

    I cosplayed Miku and a regular Chrizard once. No one who isn’t black would understand what it feels like being called “Black Miku”… More over being called “Black/Shiny Charizard”, even though it is a pokemon without human representation. Even if people don’t say it to your face, even if they do it unintentionally, the “Black” titles will always come to represent you.

    In anime, without a doubt, the ratio of Light skinned vs. Dark skinned characters is disproportionate. If you are black, there is no avoiding eventually coming to love a character who isn’t your skin tone. And black cosplayers all over have come to the to love themselves and come to terms that my skin color does not reflect the accuracy of my cosplay. I came to peace with myself as well. My commitment and dedication to a character is not affected by my skin tone, by the way i was born… And I don’t need to change to match the hue of another human being.

    So… When I see this, that this cosplayer literally is simulating my skin tone, it’s a major slap to the face. It hurts to see while I came to terms that I never needed to color my skin light peach to cosplay a character, and that it would be extremely impractical. Its not easy coloring black skin white. And I’m sure that if I were to do it, my friends and family would think I has confidence issues, or didn’t love my heritage. Yet… This cosplayer can easily color her skin, and on top of that, is widely celebrated.

    While I can’t easily lighten my skin if I felt like the accuracy of the character I am cosplayer is jeopardized, other light skinned people can, and choose to, despite EVERYTHING insensitive about it.
    I felt like the trials I went through with myself are meaningless.

    My skin tone is being used for a costume.

    Doing a red, yellow, blue green, pure white, pure black character does not have the same impact as doing the skin color of another human being. While Im sure no cosplayer has the intention to hurt other people’s feelings, But just know, I, and maybe other black cosplayers… When we see this, it just hurts.It’s best not to even touch on simulating the skin tone of another real person. Theres underlying problems with society, whether you realize it or not, why black cosplays often are represented by “Black – “, why almost all popular cosplayers are light skinned… It does not help centuries of marginalization defending that proclaiming painting yourself another humans skin tone isn’t racist if it is for costume, that might not be the biggest issue. It’s simply, when someone who has a skin tone sees you costuming the way they were born, something they simply can’t take off, it may just hurt them.

    I can’t summarize all my feeling, or put this issue in perspective as perfectly as you did Izzie. I thank you so much, and I cried the whole way through. This brings up parts of my life I never wanted to think about, and empowered me. You’re right, it isn’t fair, and if people haven’t exprienced it first hand, I feel like they wouldn’t understand what significance a simply cosplay could mean to someone.

  • I’ll direct y’all to this rather long but interesting comment I’ve found while searching on the subject: (http://popcultureuncovered.com/2014/10/14/breaking-down-the-michonne-cosplay-blackface-and-some-of-the-fallacies-within/)

    (note: the comment is not on this cosplayer but on another, c.f. the link I gave before)
    “I’m sorry but while you’ve shown that her responses were insensitive there is a really great reason why she did everything right.

    With cosplay does come responsibility. Cosplay is an act of love. It’s an act of love for a character. It’s an act of respect for a character. We live in a time when mainstream media minimizes people of color, or worse it stereotypes them.

    This kind of cosplay sends a very strong clear message that the characters you love, the ones you look up to transcend all lines. They transcend gender and race. It breaks down the racist mantra that color matters. We’re all shades of brown and we all bleed red. More people should “Race bend” cosplay (notice not blackface or whiteface but race bend) because it sends a clear strong anti – racist message that we as a community don’t care about the racist trappings that the rest of the world clings so strongly too. We reject your notion that your skin color makes you better or inferior. It’s one aspect of a fictional character the same as their hairstyle or their eye color.

    This is a positive movement saying let’s throw off the trappings of the past and move towards a future where color isn’t the singular defining aspect of a person. It shows that we can relate to anyone of any color.

    This is the future I want to move towards. I would like the media to see that women of color appeal to EVERYONE so that we can move towards more equality in representation.

    You yourself admitted this isn’t blackface. Logically if it isn’t blackface there is no reason to be offended by it. You mention she should have apologized for hurting people’s feelings. I say no! You don’t apologize to those who would drag us backwards when we’re trying to move forwards. They need to search inside themselves and discover why a message OF LOVE AND RESPECT upsets them so much.

    Historically black people performed in blackface. They did it to break down the wall that said blacks can’t perform in the entertainment world. They then used it to mock their racist counterparts. They earned the respect of fellow white performers. It led to the spread of interest in black culture all over the world. It eventually led to reclaiming black spirituals and other aspects of black culture that had been stolen and appropriated by white culture. Those forward thinking blacks got flack for it and yet they did more to advance us than those who sat back and cried that this is racist and yet did nothing. Yes it was racist but the smart ones used the opportunity and ended up helping make the world a better place. It didn’t fix all problems but progress is progress.

    Cosplay isn’t racist. It doesn’t even start from a bad place as blackface did and still we want to condemn a forward thinking message of equality. Learn from the past but don’t live in it and don’t punish people for the sins of other’s ancestors. I’m a black woman and I applaud her and I encourage her and I say don’t apologize for being better. Don’t apologize for breaking down racial lines. Don’t apologize for sending a clear message that we’re all brown and we all bleed red. I’m more than my skin color and if I didn’t support her I would be sending a clear message that color matters. That is the message of the racist.

    It’s a sad world we live in when someone who is doing the exact opposite of what a racist would do gets called a racist. It’s time to look inside ourselves and see where the real problem lies because it’s not with this young woman.”

    But hey, what can I say, people get offended by breathing nowadays. If you lot don’t see the very problem of your paradoxial thoughts, maybe logging off the internet could help you ponder on the matter.

    >inb4 I get called a racist white cishet kek

    • Badis Rabah

      I’m proud of having a friend with so much insight and such a beautifull spirit.

  • Vitor Burin

    Cultural appropriation is a ridiculous term just as your post is. If I like another coutry’s culture, I’ll be part of it. If I like another race’s culture, I’ll be part of it. If I like another fucking planet’s culture, I’ll be part of it.

    Black people suffered? Yes! Was it me? No! I respect every individual in this planet because of their acts, not because of the color of their skin. I respect every race and every culture, so if I fucking feel like cosplaying a black character, I’ll make myself look as much like him/her as I can.

    The only racist piece of shit here is you, who keep saying that we shouldn’t try to understand and like cultures of other people.

    I am sickened to think that I read something so racist, something that is so agains free will like this.