02 May 2010

Cosplay, race, ability, and gender; or, who gets to dress up as whom?

Caitie over at Shakesville started this really interesting conversation about cosplay and race (specifically for Doctor Who fans, but the comments go beyond that).*
The issue is this: there are, as ever, fascinating new characters, some of them at first glance eminently suitable for cosplay; the character around whom this discussion arose was the delicious Liz 10, HRH Elizabeth X of the UK&NI, as portrayed by the lovely and talented Sophie Okonedo.

She's a fun character, with a few great lines ("...higher alien intelligence, hair of an idiot." and "I'm the Queen, mate. Basically, I rule."), and a great easy costume to pull off: red dress, red hooded robe, boots, porcelain mask, all finished, right?

So one of my friends was a little surprised when, after mentioning how easy it would be to do, I stated that I'd never do it.
I have a feeling this will be a thing during this year of cons; Liz 10 was pretty damn awesome, and I can see how white fans, not really thinking about it, might be tempted to cosplay as her. But it would be really problematic to do so, as Caitie points out:
I don't think one can be a serious sf/f fan and not have heard about RaceFail last year, the huge explosion in fandom after some truly unfortunate and highly privileged statements by various authors and sf/f publishing industry people.

One thing it did for me was to point out to my own over-privileged eyes something I should have noticed earlier: the conspicuous lack of visibility of POC in sf/f, and a consequent lack of roles for POC [people of color] in screen-media, as well as a concomitant lack of representation of POC in fandom (or FOC [fans of color]). I make no excuses for that failure to notice: it was privilege, pure and simple.

But it's meant I've had to look a little harder at cosplay, and how easy it is for white fans to appropriate the few roles that POC have won. We all know the roles, because there are few enough of them: Dr. Who's Martha Jones and her family, or Mickey Smith (and what was with Nine's bizarre and unsettling dismissal of Mickey from the moment they met?); Toshiko of Torchwood; various Klingons of TNG and more recent vintage (generally - but not always - played by POC); Storm of the X-Men; Teal'c of Stargate; Zoe, Book, and Fanty & Mingo from Firefly; the entire cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender; and a few others (mostly unnamed because I don't watch the shows in question; I don't even watch Stargate, but I know of Teal'c just from endless commercials thereof - though I didn't know his name!).

And it occurred to me that if I want to see more FOC out to cons and events, then one of the most elementary steps toward that end would be to make sure I don't tread on any of the small number of cosplay options that should, I believe, only be open to FOC. To do otherwise is to tread perilously close to "blackface" (or yellowface or redface or whatever other nasty replacement is happening).

We in the privileged seats have many, many options open to us: by far the majority of the roles continue to be given to people who look just like us, and even then, certain directors feel the need to "whitewash" their casts for the usual Hollywood bullshit reasons: that white fandom won't go see movies built around the lives and stories of POC, that there aren't sufficient quality actors of colour. This is the spurious and racist reasoning behind the horrendous miscasting of the live action version of Avatar TLA, or of whitewashing Ged and others from a broadcast of U. K. Le Guin's Earthsea.

So no, as I told my friend, though the character is delightful and I'd adore playing her, Liz 10 (and Zoe, and Tosh, and the few others) won't be someone I'll be cosplaying in this lifetime.

I hope no Shakers need to be told why it's not an equivalent problem if FOC decide to cosplay roles originally given to white actors.
I think Caitie did a good job pointing out why it's problematic to cosplay as characters of color as a white fan, so I want to talk a little about how this conversation links to other kinds of minority cosplaying (namely, disability and gender). At the end of that passage from Caitie, she mentions that it's not the same problem for FOC to cosplay as characters originally played by white actors. My immediate reaction to that mental image (namely, a POC cosplaying as the Doctor) was, "Fuck yeah. That would be badass." Some of the comments in Caitie's post mimic my enthusiasm for minority fans cosplaying majority-played characters. Beppie, for example, pointed out that this is also an issue with disabled fans and disabled characters:
I'm thinking that there could be similar issues in play in terms of non-disabled people cos-playing characters with disabilities; though of course this is often complicated by the fact that characters with disabilities are often played by actors who do not share that disability.

And of course, this is another issue that does not work in reverse; I think it's great to see people with disabilities cosplaying characters who normally aren't portrayed as disabled. I was at Melbourne Supanova two weeks ago, and I saw a blind woman cosplaying Captain Jack; her guide dog's leash had a Torchwood logo on it and everything. This woman didn't hide her disability in order to play the character, she made it part of the character.
Caitie remarks after this that this costume sounds pretty awesome. And that seems to be a common reaction. Shortly after this, Time-Machine linked to a pretty good blog post about the new-ish trend of dressing as a femme!Doctor:
In regards to Femme Doctor Who cosplay (where a woman cosplayer recreates an existing masculine character into a feminine one) there's a really great post on it over here that dissects it pretty well. I agree with almost every bit of it (except the authors personal opinion on whether we should have a woman Doctor ever in the future). I definitely was entranced with the idea, when I'd never been interested in cosplay before. (It helps that I have the nose and the hair to REALLY pull off a femme!Four).
My reaction to the idea of a racial minority cosplaying as an originally white character (badass!) is reflected in the celebration of this Jack Harkness cosplay and the femme!Doctor trend. I think the excitement about these cosplays is related, but I'll use the femme!Doctor trend as my point of departure. In the femme!Doctor post, she argues that femme cosplay is a way for women to be feminine and Doctor Who fans. She recounts growing up as a geek, when she experienced something most geek women face: the necessity of being an honorary guy, of having to renounce femininity in order to be accepted by other (male) geeks.
But it came at the price of being an honorary guy. Their clubhouse, not yours. Their rules. Honorary guys must keep to the rules of guydom, and one of the first rules of guydom is to disavow and abjure all things girly. Cute is an epithet. [...] If you'd asked me when I was fifteen, I'd have said I didn't mind, that I was used to it, and I just kept my yap shut about the stuff I liked that they didn't. But today, I wonder about the after effects of this kind of cultural programming: I was an honorary guy until I was twenty-two, for heaven's sake. (Computer science major in college.) I didn't buy anything pink until last year--no reason, I just didn't like pink. I thought. Forswearing all things feminine just because they were feminine... well, wasn't that kind of sexist? I called myself a feminist, but aspired to masculinity because I thought it was better, in some vaguely-defined but hugely important way? Screw that. But the prohibition against anything not masculine was deeply ingrained in me, practically a reflex.
This is definitely a part of the femme!Doctor trend; female fans are taking their place in Doctor Who fandom, and they're making it clear that they are unwilling to pretend to be men to be accepted there. But there's something more going on here, and I think the reason that Nightsky doesn't see that is that she is personally against an actual female Doctor:
Nor do I think that the Doctor should regenerate into a woman: not only because there's no precedent for it in the show, but also because it implies that the Whoniverse has a dearth of kickass female characters, which isn't true.
Nightsky dismisses the idea that part of the reason that women want to dress as femme!Doctors is because they want to see themselves in the lead role, despite the fact that femme cosplay is dominated mostly by women cosplaying the Doctor (the lead role). There may be some kickass female characters in Doctor Who, but the companions are definitionally merely sidekicks to the Doctor (even the ones who stand up to him, hold their own, or even exceed him are still sidekicks). And the non-companion female badasses, like River Song, only show up every once in a while. They're not on the same level as the Doctor, if only because the show isn't about them.So I do think that fans doing femme cosplay are not only taking their place in the fandom, but in the show. Doing cosplay as a femme!Doctor (or a black Doctor, or a visibly disabled Doctor, etc.) is part necessity (as in, I am in a lady-body, so if I want to cosplay as the Doctor, he would have to be a lady-body-Doctor, like a person in a wheelchair would have to be a wheelchair-user Doctor, or a black person would have to be a black Doctor). But it's also a way for fans to see themselves in the Doctor, as the unquestioned protagonist of the show. Doctor Who fans can say all they like that DW is progressive enough in its way, but it's still dated by its insistence that the main character be a white, cis-gendered, abled British man. It reminds me of Sady Doyle's commentary about the Star Trek movie:
[J]ust imagine! [...] A crew of diverse nationalities, races, genders and points of planetary origin! In which a white, straight dude from Iowa magically ends up in charge! - and good old-fashioned lecturing ("...and now, the mostly-white crew shall visit the Planet of the Racists to show them the error of their ways"). The problem with writing about the future is that it always catches up with you, and is usually not what you expected: 1966 - the year that the original series began - is not 2009, and one of the chief problems facing JJ Abrams in his brand-new reboot of the franchise is that he has to make us buy a future world that looks so, well, dated.

I can't know how bold and challenging it felt to see a central, friendly Russian character on TV at the height of the cold war, or a central, friendly Asian character at the height of the Vietnam war (Sulu was originally written as non-specifically Asian, and later made Japanese-American - which was still quite a step, considering that Star Trek aired only 20 years after the last internment camp in the US had closed). I can't feel, on a visceral level, how many boundaries Nyota Uhura crossed simply by being there, on the bridge, let alone by kissing Kirk. Those things, to me - a woman born in 1982 - just are not shocking: we seem to have made more progress, identity-politics-wise, in the last 40 years than Star Trek predicted we would in the next few hundred years. Nope, what I notice, looking at the main crew of the Enterprise in the original TV series, is that most of them are white dudes, there are only two people of colour, there is only one woman - who has to do her job, unlike everyone else, while navigating the problematic confines of a miniskirt - and that all of them, unlike George Takei, are straight.
Doctor Who suffers a little from the Star Trek syndrome. Sure, there are women there, and POC, and they are sometimes even awesome, but the white guy is still in charge. Magically! So I find it difficult to believe that FOC cosplaying as the Doctor, or female fans cosplaying as a femme!Doctor, or disabled fans cosplaying as a disabled Doctor, aren't making up for a deficiency. And perhaps our excitement for this kind of play is the result of our recognition of this deficiency and the creativity of the fans in dealing with it. Yay fans!

A tangent: Sady's article takes me to the thing that bothers me a bit about femme cosplay: mainly, the miniskirts and the corsets. There's nothing wrong with a corset in itself--I'm going to be wearing a corset at Gally next year myself (as a steampunk TARDIS)--but there's something a little disturbing about the fact that femme!Doctor almost inevitably means high heels, short skirts, and binding clothes. Uhuru has to navigate the bridge in a miniskirt (a difficult task indeed), but I can't imagine how the Doctor could do such a thing on the bridge of the TARDIS. He already has issues flying it, in pants and with tennis shoes. (Case in point: River Song takes off her heels to fly the TARDIS in "The Time of Angels.") Johanna Mead touches on this in her essay in Chicks Dig Time Lords, "Costuming: More Productive Than Drugs, But Just as Expensive:"
Stomach sinking, I reconsidered the "Femmy Ten" costume. On the one hand, it's a silly little joke. On the other hand, I'd neatly suggested that a female Doctor would be completely useless. Have you ever tried running down a corrider in a tightly laced corset whilst wearing heels? I have (I was late for a panel) and it nearly crippled me. There's be no racing to save the day in that ensemble. All I had considered, initially, was that I look good in a corset (plus, I wanted the challenge of making one with pinstripes.) I can get away with a short skirt, and for heaven's sake, you don't wear flats with a skirt above the knee. Much, much later, I realized that, as a woman who has long ranted about fashion as a conspiracy to weaken women, I'd shot myself in the foot. (59)

*If you go over there and comment, read the first paragraph and don't be spoilery! Here, however, be as spoilery as you like.

UPDATE: For the commenters veering in the "But I totes identify with characters of color! Don't make me have to consider race when making the decision to cosplay!" direction: Stop it. I'm not discounting your identification with characters of color. But your cosplaying doesn't happen in a racism-free vacuum. Don't forget that cosplaying as characters of color problematically whitewashes those characters. And don't act like race isn't important, especially in shows where the characters of color are few and far between.

UPDATE: Because I said it so elegantly in the comment section, I'm reposting some more of my thinking about HOW FUCKING WRONG this:
What [white fans cosplaying as minority characters] does is *appropriate* characters of color as yet another fucking realm into which white people have colonized the black/brown experience. Which may turn off fans of color from cosplaying those characters, quite understandably.
You'll notice I'm all about crossplay when ladies dress up as male characters. (I don't have anything really against dudes crossplaying, as long as the series has a number of bitchin' ladies to choose from and it doesn't turn into "haha! dude in a dress! cross-dressers are hi-larious!") Just like I'm all about cosplay crossing race lines when fans of color cosplay as white characters, etc. The problem arises here when the privileged class thinks it's entitled to claim the experience and bodies of the non-privileged class. Not fucking okay. [emphasis added.]


Gemma said...

I love your Doctor Who posts. Especially this one.

Something I've found problematic about dressing up as male characters is the expectation that you'll make it sexy- not only does that make me feel like I'm only there to be a sex object for male geeks, I just can't do it. If I'm going to dress as the Doctor, or Captain Jack, or whoever, I don't want to be sexy. I want to be badass and cool and feeling like I can rule the world. That's kind of hard when you can't breathe and your feet hurt. I'm all for dressing up sexy if people want to, but sometimes it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I really like the picture of Five up there, because her costume is feminine enough to make it clear that she is the Doctor as a woman without being impractical. And it's so cute!

I'm seriously considering trying out a ladyTen now. I have a long coat, nerd glasses and the right kind of shoes. I think it would be awesome fun, and I was thinking I could get the balance right by having a women's pinstripe trouser suit. The only thing that still puts me off, knowing that people are already doing this, is that some people I know would react really badly to it because the Doctor is a dude and girls are for rescuing (according to them anyway). I'm not sure how to respond to that without getting upset and angry.

Anyway, it was great to see this and have some clicky-links to more info. Thanks!

Courtney said...

Thanks Gemma!

I agree that some of the femme!Doctor stuff is just another tactic to be accepted in a masculine geek community. Being an honorary guy is one way, but being decoration is another. And that is what I find bothersome about the corset/miniskirt/high heels trend. (I actually saw suggested on a cosplay forum once that these would be a good idea for femme!Ten cosplay. Because high heeled tennis shoes are practical. For all the running.) But that's not all of it (or everyone). I'm also a huge fan of the femme!Five picture, because she looks like she could get shit done just as quickly and crazily as the Doctor does.

Honestly, I think you should do it, in part for the exact reasons I talked about in this post. We should be used to seeing feminine women being as competent and badass as the Doctor. We should be seeing POC being as competent and badass as the Doctor. We should be seeing disabled people being as competent and badass as the Doctor. And a good first step to that, I think, is for the fans to make the Doctor their own, to point out that he doesn't have to be a white abled British guy. Also, lady Doctor cosplay! Fun!

The femme!Doctor trend has been pretty much embraced by the DW fan community as far as I know, so are the people who would get upset people you know personally? If so, I would do it anyway, and if they get all pissy, tell them to just stop being sexists. Or tell them that you're having fun and if they have a problem with it, go tell someone else. You don't have to listen to flak for that, or be Ms. education feminist when you're cosplaying. Just let them know in no uncertain terms that you don't want to talk about it, if you don't want to talk about it. But I think you'll get more positive reactions than negative.

Also, if you do it, please post pictures somewhere and link them here! I love looking at lady Doctor cosplay pictures. They make my heart happy.

Gemma said...

Yeah, it's a certain little group of pretentious geeks that I have to interact with in person because they're friends of friends. Thanks for the encouragement- I am basically completely tired of telling them that peoplpe who are Not Like Them can be just as good as them. Maybe actually seeing a woman in full-on Time Lady mode rather than just hearing the explanation would help them to get over themselves.

I'm so excited. I might have to organise a DW season finale party if nobody has a fancy dress event coming up.

Unknown said...

Hrm. What makes me sad about discouraging people from cosplaying across demographic lines is that cosplaying is the sincerest form of flattery... people generally cosplay what they love. "You shouldn't cosplay that person" sounds to me like "You shouldn't identify with them. Remember your demographic differences; they're more important than the bond you feel."

It seems like identifying with somebody is a form of recognizing and celebrating shared humanity (okay, in SF, shared sentience), and if we make that tabboo for fear that some people will do it badly... it makes me sad.

Courtney said...

A part of cosplay is flattery, yes. But to say that cosplay is just flattery or identification is oversimplification. Cosplay doesn't happen in a vacuum, so discouraging (non-minority) people from cosplaying as minority characters that are underrepresented in television is not denying our "shared humanity" so much as recognizing that our "demographic differences" affect how we experience our lives and the sci fi shows we watch.

You can identify with minority characters without cosplaying as them. Sensitivity should trump your urge to dress up as a character in a wheelchair or a character of color, and appropriating the very few characters available to minority fans who want to cosplay as characters who look like them, who have experienced their lives in similar ways as them.

MamaMary said...

Disclaimer: I am not a Dr. Who fan; I got her from following a link from a geek/feminist blog.

I've attended cons since the 80s. I personally make a distinction between con costuming and cosplay, the former being public and the latter being personal. Still, I have to disagree with the writer and most of the commenters about costuming as a character, whether publicly or privately.

Dressing as a character is often done as a form of homage to the character. I've seen people of all sizes, colors, and physicality dress up with little regard to the character's race, gender, or size. I can't see this as equivalent to "blackface"; I see it more as proof that some humans are transcending boundaries - rather than being bound by race, gender, or physicality, it's ignored, and it's the essence of the character, the actual character of the character, that's being emulated outward.
I've seen men portraying women, women portraying men, and everybody portraying various-colored aliens, monsters, and fantasy creatures. I've seen people on crutches, in wheelchairs, and on motorized scooters portraying able-bodied characters, sometimes with a companion animal as a sidekick. At a con, especially the horror/sci-fi cons, you can see anything.
I believe it's freeing to be able to emulate someone/something for a day/weekend. I don't think, as a white middle=aged woman, that I can only play white middle=aged women. That's discrimination, in my eyes.

Britgeekgrrl said...

Interesting thoughts - thanks for the sharing!

I will concede though, that just because *I* feel constrained by "play to your physical type" limits when cosplaying, that doesn't mean I think someone is wrong when they've got the guts to say "To heck with that!". I rather admire them, in fact. ;)

Almighty Tallest Purple said...

My opposition to the Doctor regenerating into a woman isn't as absolute as that bare statement makes it sound--it's not that I'm categorically opposed, more that I feel that it's not really necessary. Even that has changed a little since I first made that post. (What changed? I listened to the audio play "Exile", the expanded universe's lone female Doctor, and was profoundly disappointed at the way the story totally ignored what I thought the most interesting issues would be.)

I absolutely do agree, by the way, that the rise of femme Doctors means that women are imagining themselves in the lead role--I say so in the bullets.

And I think you're right about the delicateness surrounding the issue of cosplaying across demographic boundaries. There's a leather company online that carries a Zoe vest and a Martha jacket. Both characters I love, and yet I'm reluctant to take the plunge and cosplay as them. "Why?" I ask myself; and then I think, "Because I don't look anything like them." But that's ridiculous--I don't look remotely like the Fourth Doctor, either, but I'm still planning a costume. It's a remnant of our racist past that white people playing black people has uncomfortable implications.

Finally, FWIW, I think that the corsets/miniskirt/heels thing may be due to a couple of factors: 1) cross-influence with steampunk, and 2) because femme versions of canon male characters are in their infancy. Corsets/miniskirt/heels were the first thing that came to (the collective) mind, if you will. Wait five-ish years, I think, and femme costumes won't have to shout WOMAN! quite as loudly.

Noel said...

I think you miss the point that strong aspect of cosplay is identifying with a character. You seem closed to possibility that a POC might identify with a white character, or vice versa. Or that a female might identify with a male character, or vice versa. Or that of an abled person identifying witha disabled character, or vice versa. This identification is the recognition of some of our own qualities in a character- or our aspirations. Allowing for such indetifications is tantamount to breaking down the walls that separate so many of us from each other. There are qualities we all share. Personality, values and character can transcend race, gender, sexuality, ability and appearence. Saying that white people can't cosplay as a character of color only enforces the idea that characters and the geekery canon are not up for individual interpretation.

Reaper said...

What confuses me most (apart from the race/gender issue) is that you see a problem with a Doctor in High Heels (since she'd never get anywhere in time), but don't see a similar problem with a Doctor on crutches.
Generally, if you can't get there in heels, you can't get there in a wheelchair.
If you are going to argue about realism, please do it consistently.

Courtney said...

I'm not arguing about realism when I talk about high heels. I'm arguing about sexism.

DJ said...

I just found this through Feministing, and I'm a little confused about something. How is it that white people cosplaying as minority characters treads on the ability of people of color to also cosplay as those characters? Obviously it doesn't physically affect their ability to cosplay, so the argument is about the mental effect. But cosplay is really about the characters, and the people only insofar as we judge how well they pulled their characters off (ie. "She's a great Zoe").

Along those lines, people have a tendency to do stuff when they think they can do it better than others; if you get white people cosplaying minority characters, it seems people of color would more likely to dress up themselves to show everyone how it's really done. If they're going to feel limited in what they're comfortable doing, it would be much more related to, for example, there not being many people of their group around and not wanting to draw extra attention to themselves.

Moreover, there are some minority characters that just won't work with white people playing the roles (not that some white people won't try). I'm more of a gamer, so examples that come to mind quickly are, say, Louis from Left 4 Dead, or if you want to go old school, Barret from FFVII. If you find that a lot of white people are trying to cosplay as a certain minority character, it's often (that I've seen) because those characters hug the demographic lines more closely, and thus it inherently seems less odd to see someone cross those lines.

Probably the most notable example I can offer from personal experience is from when Inuyasha was a big deal. I went to Anime North in Toronto, where we counted a dozen Inuyasha cosplayers and every single one was female. Even then, it didn't strike us as odd that any given girl made that choice, simply that so many did with zero guys doing the same. And while you could absolutely argue that so many female Inuyashas would make a lot of guys uncomfortable cosplaying him, gender is a much more sturdy barrier in our society than race.

Full disclosure: I haven't been to a con with cosplayers in about five years. All I see now are pictures. Maybe something major has changed in the way people approach this issue compared to what I ever saw. But it's hard to believe that people of color, who would otherwise cosplay characters of color, would often choose not to because white people are also cosplaying those characters. You can always find a few examples, and maybe even certain characters who routinely get ruined by white people to the point where no one with sense, minority or otherwise, wants to cosplay as them. So there could well be circumstances where it's very insensitive to cosplay a minority character as a white person. But as a general rule? It's kind of incredible.

Courtney said...


So, when a white person cosplays as a person of color, they *whitewash* that character. BECAUSE there are few characters of color on sci fi shows in particular and on television is general, this is *extremely* problematic. And cosplayers of color who want to play a person that looks like them and was likely to have experienced life like them has, like, criminally few options to choose from. Whereas white folks have a shit-ton of characters to choose from, and thus it's just shitty of them to pick one of the few minority characters available and make them *not minority.*

It doesn't, you're correct to note, physically stop fans of color from cosplaying characters of color. What it does is *appropriate* characters of color as yet another fucking realm into which white people have colonized the black/brown experience. Which may turn off fans of color from cosplaying those characters, quite understandably.

You'll notice I'm all about crossplay when ladies dress up as male characters. (I don't have anything really against dudes crossplaying, as long as the series has a number of bitchin' ladies to choose from and it doesn't turn into "haha! dude in a dress! cross-dressers are hi-larious!") Just like I'm all about cosplay crossing race lines when fans of color cosplay as white characters, etc. The problem arises here when the privileged class thinks it's entitled to claim the experience and bodies of the non-privileged class. Not fucking okay.

DJ said...

I appreciate the response, and I dig where you're coming from. It makes a little more sense if you're specifically referring to black/brown characters; "minority" made me automatically think "non-white", but about 95% of the non-white cosplayers I've met are Asian.

It also ties in to what I was saying about characters that white people just aren't going to pull off easily. Those two examples were black guys. I would absolutely agree that white people in general aren't going to pull off most characters of color, if only because they're not going to look anything like the character no matter how perfect the costume. Someone who wants to do it needs to think long and hard about whether they can do it right, because if they don't, it's a huge-douchebag-poseur situation. (Or, as you say more eloquently, a case of appropriation.)

I just don't think it's impossible. I view it similarly to white people rapping; some of them are clearly appropriating black style and acting like they belong (Vanilla Ice being the granddaddy of these fools), whereas others are comfortably part of the hip-hop culture (Eminem being the most obvious example). It's not a perfect analogy- white rappers aren't pretending to be a person of color, just adopting their musical style- but it's definitely an example of a scene where you can see the difference between some people improperly appropriating the experience and others actually grasping what it's all about.

Likewise, if someone can cosplay a character of color well enough that people say, "Damn, you nailed it," I very truly do not believe that will have a negative impact on people of color who might want to cosplay themselves. You'd get a few who annoyed by any white person playing a character of color, just like there were (and still are) those who think white rappers are a stain on the genre. But most would appreciate a job well done. And if you can do it that well, I'd say more power to you, go for it.

Courtney said...

I see what you mean, but there's a huge difference between a music style and the bodies and life experiences of non-whites.

When you cosplay, you're representing a character, even if cosplay is mostly just costuming to you. The character matters, and you are temporarily representing their body and life experiences in your cosplaying. And, given the history, I think it is just not appropriate for white people to take on the bodies of non-whites. Even if they "pull it off." (I actually can't see this happen, but even granting that it could, I still think it would be insensitive.) Even if you "pull it off," you cannot represent a black or brown character with your white body and not be both excercising a shit-ton of white privilege AND problematically white-washing the few minority characters these types of genres have. (I'm obviously talking only about Western genres.) No amount of "pulling it off" can erase both those problems.

Oliver said...

I hadn't thought about this before, but cosplay puts me in a sticky wicket. (I've only ever done cosplay as Arwen, and then only because my group insisted they needed an Arwen and I'm tall and thin with long dark hair, so it didn't require much work.)

I'm mixed race, but I pretty much *look* white. My children look white (one is blond). This makes me privy to a lot of racism, because people who've never seen pictures of my parents and grandparents don't grok that I'm not entirely 'one of them.'

Last year my sister cosplayed Zoe from Firefly, and won a costume contest. She's shorter than the character, blue-eyed and thin-lipped. When asked what her costume was, she inevitably said, "I'm a Browncoat."

And I've only just realized that she didn't say, "Zoe from Firefly" because she was too light-skinned.

I mean, it makes sense. Either of us would have to show pictures of our family for it to be believed we're not whitebread through-and-through, but our non-white heritage is still very important to us, and I think we BOTH tend to identify more strongly with characters of color.