Alright, so, given the last post, I wanted to make one that was dedicated to this. This is a hot button issue in the cosplay community right now, and quite frankly, it baffles me that things have to be explained at all. We all agree, easily, that darkening your skin to impersonate another real life people of color is bad. You don’t do it. We all are familiar with the old caricatures of Blackface that every Halloween, some teens in some small town will do it thinking they’re ~edgy and ~oh so cool, and they’ll get publically dragged through the media and have to apologize for it. What some people don’t realize is that darkening your skin at all to impersonate a race is also racist.
You would be surprised at the amount of people who try to defend their racism be saying “Well, my face is obviously not black” because they painted their skin tan, yellow hues, red overtones, ect, but always very very clearly darker than their actual skin tone because a character they were cosplaying was of a different race. You would also be surprised to know that people literally tape their eyes to appear Asian for cosplays.
Sometimes, it’s for obvious cosplays: darkening their skin to look like Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Other times, the stylization of the media makes it a little less obvious: Urbosa from Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild. Katara is pretty obviously a person of color, and should be a no brainer not to copy her skin tone. Sure, Avatar the Last Airbender doesn’t take place on Earth as we know it. Be that as it is, you can tell by context clues that Katara’s tribe are based off from a real life race of people. With Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, people will argue that Urbosa is orange. You have to go to her official game art to see that she clearly is not orange (and any fan of previous LoZ games with the Gerudo in it would tell you that they were not, in fact, orange). The confusion comes from the highly saturated color pallet used for the game, which paints every character in an unattainable hue of skin, in spite of what their official canon game art looks. Any person can tell that the influences for the Gerudo also come from real life people of color, and as such, you need to avoid coloring your skin when you cosplay as one.
But I really enjoy ____ character! You can’t say I can’t cosplay them because I’m white!
No one’s saying that. The idea that your skin tone has to match a cosplay for accuracy is asinine and gatekeeping at it’s finest. Get rid of the idea that your cosplay has to be less about creativity and expressing yourself, and more about being the living embodiment of that character. Cosplay should be what that character is for you, and if you already have the skin tone to match, cool! If not, then, unless it’s something like green, blue, purple, ect…try to stay away from coloring your skin.
If people can’t tell who you are because your skin isn’t that of the character’s, the problem isn’t your skin. It’s probably your cosplay.
After all, the amount of characters out there that read as people of color are so marginally small, most POC end up cosplaying characters that read as white or at least very light skinned, and they do so without changing their skin color. Guess what! You can still tell who their cosplaying!
But telling me I can’t change my skin color isn’t acceptance! That’s gatekeeping!
It’s actually not. You don’t get a free ticket to be racist just in the name of cosplay accuracy. You see, racist things are inherently racist, regardless of context. Telling a “racist” joke, is still a racist act. Using a racial slur, even as a pet name for someone, is still a racist act. Even if one of your favorite POC friends say it’s okay, it’s still racist. Does that make you a racist if you slip up and do something you didn’t realize was racist? Not at all! What makes who you are, is how you deal with the information when confronted. Do you get defensive and say “Gee, lighten up! I was just cosplaying/joking/ect. My friend says it’s not racist/I’m not a racist/ect.”? Or do you say “Well, shit, I didn’t know! Could you explain to me what I did, so that I can make sure not to continue this behavior in the future?” If you do the first one, I’m gonna go ahead and say you’re being purposefully racist. You can get a pass from most people if you react the last way, because at least they know you actually care.
It’s not gatekeeping, because no one is saying don’t cosplay the character, or that you can enjoy or idolize a character who isn’t of your race. In fact, heck, I think it’s kind of cool to find more people idolizing POC heroes like Black Panther and wanting to cosplay them. The problem with the changing your skin to do it, is that every day, POC live punish and at times killed for simply being born into their skin. In the cosplay community, they’re constantly given shit for “Your costume would be great, except that character isn’t black” and told that they don’t belong or can’t be good for the color of their skin. Meanwhile, you wearing their skin as a costume not only makes light of the struggles they face every day, but you get to wash it off at the end of the day and go on with your life. I’ve heard people argue by saying “I’m just trying to honor the character!” But most of these people aren’t even found when POC are being bullied, beaten, and shot. It’s not about the skin color or the people who are born into it for these people, it’s their selfish need to have whatever they want free of guilt.
I’m biracial, but white passing. Am I allowed to change the color of my skin?
No. You’re not. It doesn’t matter what you’re mixed with. I’m biracial too, and I would never darken my skin to portray a character, regardless of the fact that I’m half-black. People who are fully black, but perhaps lighter skinned on that melanin spectrum don’t get to darken their skin either. There’s a whole other can of worms not cosplay related when you want to get into some of the intricacies of that, which I won’t get into now. But long story short, no, be proud of the skin you were born in and rock it like that.
But, I get darker during the Summer from all my time in the sun!
That’s fine! Unintentionally getting darker is fine. Heck, tanning for the sake of just getting a tan, is fine. Tanning for the sake of being _____ character that is a person of color, not fine. You see? I know that it may sound like we’re arguing semantics here, but it really is important. The only time you get to darken your skin tone is if you have a medical condition like vitiligo and you’re trying to cover up the effects of it. To that end, do you boo-boo. If you feel more comfortable hiding it, do what you feel like doing with it.
I really want to be _____, but I can’t tell if their skin is poc tones or fantasy tones. It seems on the border.
Easy fix! Don’t change your skin tone. It’s just easier to err on the side of caution, rather than ask your best friend who knows you’d never be problematic, and just happens to be a POC and will give you a free pass all the time. Rock that costume, and people will still admire you for it!
In the end, cosplay does not exist in a bubble, and your actions reflect the person you are in and out of costume. Take that to heart. It costs exactly Free.99 (thank you, Will, that’s literally my favorite thing to say now) to be a good person. Don’t argue about “omg this pc culture is killing me, fuck the sjw”. If you have a friend who is bothered by ______, it’s really easy to just apologize and not be a jerk.
This has been my TedTalk. Thanks.