I have several friends/acquaintances who are white and also cosplay! And there is nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some popular cosplayers I admire put on “brownface” to cosplay characters like Korra, Katara, and other people of color. That is not ok. What seems like innocent dressup to you is a tradition rooted in racism which dehumanises real people of color. Skintone is not a costume.
There’s a cosplayer I used to follow who has been doing this a lot lately. I have sent them private messages explaining why that was hurtful to people of color in the past, when I saw them giving tips on “how to tan to look like Korra.” My messages to them were ignored. I have seen friends of mine who pose with them, condone it, and turn a blind eye. In a way I did that myself after my messages were ignored, I just quietly unfollowed because I couldn’t support it but I didn’t want to call them out publicly and cause a huge fuss. But these cosplayers and former friends of mine are still doing it, and I’m getting asks about it, saying “I know you are a huge fan of so-and-so! Why aren’t you commenting on their brownface?”
So I’m making this post now to help clarify the brownface issue for white cosplayers who Don’t Get It, if they would actually read about this instead of ignoring those who bring it up to them.
Because I am a myself a white person, I’m really not the best spokesperson for brownface and whitewashing. Instead, I’ll like to some posts from PoC that explain why slathering on fake tan or makeup to look darker is racist:
- There’s many more in the brownface tag.
If you are a cosplayer who does or has done brownface, that is bad and you should feel bad. But there is a silver lining. Now you know! And you can change for the better. Nobody is saying you can’t cosplay characters like Korra- just stop wearing her skin color as part of your costume.
And if you have white friends who cosplay using brownface, talk to them about it. Show them this post. Show them them the brownface tag. Don’t just turn a blind eye to systematic racism.
personally i don’t think it’s quite as clear cut as this. yes there may be PoC that will be offended by fake tanning, but there will also be people that will be offended by whitewashing. i’ve seen just as many people get flack for not tanning as tanning, if not even more so. so yes, skintone is NOT a costume, but i don’t think you can necessarily say it’s NOT ok so definitively, and if you fake tan, you aren’t bad and you shouldn’t feel bad. people don’t get shit for fake tanning for other reasons, and it’s essentially the same thing. they change their skin tone to “look like a race they’re not”. some people can get to the skin tone they want naturally, but don’t want the sun damage that comes with it, it’s not even a matter of racial inability to achieve that skin color. i even know plenty of darker skinned people who are very pale naturally, but tan very easily so they just never go outside.
i feel sort of awkward commenting on these sort of debates sometimes, since i’m still asian, but i’m very light skinned (all year round too, sun doesn’t have much of an effect on me and i don’t go out much anyway). but to be honest, i think that white people tiptoeing around the race problem like it’s some sort of plague is really what’s making it worse. acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step to admitting there is a problem, and that’s a problem. our goal at our asian club back in high school was that eventually there wouldn’t be a need for it, as in racial boundaries wouldn’t exist anymore. but it was there not only as a support group for us, but also because heck, it was fun, and because we have pride in our skin color. not because we feel lower than white people, and we need their pity. because when you’re putting down brownfacing, that’s essentially what you’re doing, you’re pitying us. “oh look at these poor PoC, they can’t wash away their nationality at the end of the day.” obviously i can’t speak for everyone, but most people wouldn’t WANT to. usually, it’s a culture they’re born into, grew up with, and are proud of. maybe white people just forget that other countries have histories, rich with culture, oftentimes much longer histories? it’s a source of national pride, just like white people have. i don’t think it’s offensive when someone wants to be more like another race. there are times when it gets obnoxious, but some people genuinely want to learn more about another culture, but even if they don’t, cosplayers usually aren’t making a mockery of other races, which is really the important part of the definition of brown or blackfacing. i mean, it’s not like we shunned white people from our asian club.
so instead of telling people to stop brownfacing, tell people to stop making race a big issue. obviously, it still is a big problem in certain aspects of society, but we can’t blow up every little problem JUST because race is involved. instead of bickering among your so called “privileged white” circles, talk to more people of other races. be progressive. be positive instead of letting every little thing that other people do get to you. stop being a social justice crusader for people who don’t need it. if they want to, PoC can crusade for themselves. i think that would make everyone a bit happier
LISTEN TO THE BRENDA.
This whole issue is really starting to annoy the ever-living shit out of me. I’m also asian, but my skin tone is naturally darker than a lot of asians I know. I’ve gotten flak about lightening my natural skin tone for Lenalee, who is an asian character. I’m obviously just being racist towards my own race.
Prominently, people blowing up this whole issue are white, not PoC. Not that I’m shunning whites, it’s just that, as Brenda said, we don’t need you to crusade for us and we do not need you to be offended for us.The whole thing is counter-intuitive to what you’re likely trying to achieve: equality, colorblindness, etc. But, you’re just drawing more attention to a person’s race, you are setting them apart and practically screaming “they are different, asians, blacks, indains, they’re all different!”
Outside of cosplay people may tan or stay out of the sun to achieve a certain skin-tone because they find it desirable or beautiful. More than anything, it’s a compliment. Cosplayers do the same thing. They are paying tribute to a character they love- they want to pay homage to them. If they were trying to mock a race, this would be a different matter, but they aren’t. There is nothing malicious in what the do.
What’s more, movie stars tan or pale their skins for certain roles. They can change their hair, their body shape, their musculature all to fit a role. And you will see people praising them for their dedication to the role, not calling them racist. Why is cosplay-costume playing - any different?
If you believe in something or want to support someone’s view about this, all the more power to you. But just because you are so-called “white and privileged” don’t feel the need that we are lesser or need to be defended. We have our own strength and pride and don’t necessarily want our battles fought for us.