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Blackface in Cosplay is (Still) Not Ok 

Because I’ve been seeing the issue come up yet again, I feel I should reiterate my stance on it: Blackface, or any other racial variation of the practice, for cosplay is not ok with me. It’s not ok with many people.

It is insensitive. It is odd. And it is typically visually unappealing. 

Cosplay whoever you want without trying to mimic an actual race/ethnicities skin tone. Yes, fantasy skin tones are fine. Purple body paint is fine. Green body paint is A-ok. Please don’t try to bring up perfectly acceptable forms of bodypaint to derail the issue. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, pretty much nobody seriously thinks that a white cosplayer is “whitewashing” when they cosplay a character of color. In fact, in the POC Cosplay group on facebook that I used to be a member of, several white cosplayers who cosplayed black and brown characters without blackfacing were met with massive amounts of praise and approval. I don’t personally think people should be praised for doing the right thing, but that’s beside the point. 

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As a black cosplayer, I have cosplayed characters of various colors, and people always know who I am. I’ve never once had to change my skin color to cosplay a white character, and have still been complimented on accuracy, execution, etc. Seriously. Look. These are all characters I’ve cosplayed who are nowhere near my skintone. They’re all still extremely recognizable as the intended characters.

With that in mind, it’s clear that accuracy isn’t an excuse to do something that is known to be unacceptable and offensive. It is particularly troublesome to see so many cosplayers come to the defense of those who knowingly engaged in blackfacing, and yet I see PoC cosplayers routinely bullied, turned into memes, and laughed at for cosplaying outside of their race with only a handful coming to their aid. People should absolutely cosplay whoever they like, regardless of skin tone, size, etc. “Racefacing” isn’t necessary to do that, especially when you know it is not something most of us are not ok with for extremely valid reasons. Whether or not you “intended” for it to be offensive is beside the point because the impact is still negative and harmful. As I’ve said in another article,

Look at it this way: If I attempt to toss you a ball and it ends up hitting you in the face, it will still hurt you, and I still hit you in the face, even though I didn’t mean to. Rather than me growing indignant and laughing off any reaction you may have, the right thing for me to do would be to apologize and be more careful next time. The same rule applies when it comes to the issue of blackface in cosplay, as it does with anything else in life.

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Defending, excusing, or ignoring the issues surrounding blackface and other “race face” in the cosplay community does not create the welcoming, accepting, “cosplay is for everyone” environment that we all like to claim and promote. In fact, con coordinators have reached out to me on how to implement policies that make sure to address this issue. They’re aware of the fact that when we allow things like blackface in the cosplay and convention community, it makes things less welcoming for all. We can’t pride ourselves on being an accepting community when we willfully continue to allow and overlook things that offend, hurt, and cause discomfort to a large majority of our members. 

I’ve written at length about this several times before. It’s not something I want to have to keep addressing, because I’d like to see it become less of a common occurrence. If you’re a person of color who is unbothered by it, that’s fine. That doesn’t mean you get to dictate how others should feel about it, particularly not when the majority of us are, at the very least, put off by it. It’s a simple matter of decency and respect. For example, I’m not bothered by people cursing, but I’m not going to go out of my way to drop every “fuck”, “shit”, and “bitch” around people I know aren’t cool with it, and I’m not going to encourage other people to go ahead do it in a room full of people who are uncomfortable with it just because I don’t mind. 

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With all that’s unfolding in the world, particularly with the increased racial turmoil and tensions going on in my home country of the USA, let’s not add fuel to the fire. I’m a human being. My skin is not a costume or a prop. The history behind the practice of blackfacing, and other forms of racefacing, is an ugly one. Intent does not matter. I’ve seen the argument that cosplayers who decide to blackface are actually just fascinated by “black beauty.” If that is true, why do they never share, defend, or uplift actual black cosplayers? Why is it still such a novelty to be a black cosplayer? If you are blackfacing out of “admiration”, put down the 12-shades-too-dark foundation and simply show your support to actual black and POC cosplayers instead of trying to become one yourself. I am willing to be more understanding in rare cases of genuine ignorance, but once you’ve been informed, there’s really no excuse to continue unless you truly do not care. If you don’t care, don’t expect my support in any way, shape, or form. Every other month there’s always some huge scandal in the cosplay community concerning this issue. Most people know by now that it’s not going to be well received. They know why. The information is out there. If I can be a black Misty or Harley Quinn and still be complimented on my “accuracy” and execution, there’s no reason why anyone should be slathering on peanut butter and Nutella colored foundation in order to portray Storm or Casca. If you really think color is going to make or break your cosplay…your cosplay probably isn’t that good in the first place.  

~DeLa Doll 

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One thought on “Blackface in Cosplay is (Still) Not Ok 

  1. Kristin says:

    Agreed! I’m a white-passing half Latina and Lana Kane from Archer. Didnt use darker makeup (already olive toned with dark brown hair anyways). Not needed. Also, you owned your costumes! My favorite Sailor Mars cosplay was done by a WOC who owned it too.

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