Friday, October 3, 2014

Whites Cosplaying Characters of Color: Yea or Nay?

I'm taking a Gender and Pop Culture class this semester and this past week we were discussing the racist undertones that can often be found in Halloween costumes because people construct their costumes- both in appearance and action- using commonly perpetuated stereotypes, and because they often appropriate meaningful cultural symbols for the purpose of amusement.




You get the idea.

Anyway this conversation was aptly timed; while wandering around Grand Rapids for Art Prize last weekend I came across a dress in a shop window that would have been absolutely perfect for a  Missandei cosplay. If you don't watch Game of Thrones:
A. what are you doing with your life?
B. this is Missandei:


And I started thinking about race bending cosplays and whether or not it would even be appropriate for a white girl to cosplay a character that is a woman of color. On one hand you have the want to allow for open appreciation and enjoyment of characters and to encourage that expression, but on the other hand you have a longstanding history (and present) of people of color being dramatically underrepresented- and represented poorly when they are included- in popular culture. So, with that history in mind, does a white person cosplaying a minority character contribute to this history of whitewashing colored narratives?

To be clear, I firmly recognize that people of color race-bending characters is a different beast. For starters, to put that limitation on race-bending severely limits cosplay options for people of color because, as I mentioned, they are very seldom represented in pop culture. But even besides that, there is no racist exclusionary history of whites in popular culture for such race-bending to contribute to. Whites are not and cannot be harmed by white characters being race-bent because it will in no way whatsoever contribute to or reinforce any form of political/social oppression because whites do not and have not experienced political/social oppression. Make sense?

I should also probably mention that I don't actually have any intention of cosplaying as Missandei partly because of this question and also because I cannot afford to shop in the store I saw the dress in anyway.

But still. This question interests me. I'm looking for a bit of a discussion here, so tell me: what are your thoughts on whites race-bending colored characters? Is there an acceptable way to do it, or should it just be avoided as a whole?

4 comments:

  1. Such a great point to make! For halloween you also see so many people dressing up as "crazy patients" like psychos and shit and it's so freaking offensive! Bothers me no end! Those posters are really great, I didn't know that people dressed up like that for halloween! Ignorant much! I knew it was a problem - like in general, with girls wearing bindis to festivals or native american headresses and it's not right. I think when it comes to characters from a show, it's different. Because you aren't stereotyping a race or religion of people, instead it's just a fictional character, maybe even from a fictional world. Maybe I am wrong here, and others will be able to teach me more? x

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    1. Okay lets try this again (sorry it took me so long to get back. last week was insane.)

      What was really interesting about the article we read for class was the students who participated in the study quickly identified blatant racism (when someone used the n-word instead of "black" or "african american) but then would simultaneous fail to identify the racism in their own actions. It speaks a lot for just how much further our culture has to go in terms of truly eliminated racism. It is still very very much present; it is just much more subtle now.

      I'm still pretty torn on this. Part of me agrees with you because I think cosplaying a character and turning a race into a costume are two very very different things. At the same time I worry that it could be considered appropriation if out of all the possible options given to white cosplayers due to whites being extraordinarily under-represented in the media we opt to take on one of the few POCs available; I fear that in the process whites would be taking away from the few representations POC have by taking them on ourselves and that it could qualify as a form of white washing.

      I don't know though. Like I said I'm hoping people will offer some more perspectives here. I am very very white so I'm obviously not an expert on this, but I like to try to understand as best I can so I can participate in improving our society rather than contributing to the problems.

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  2. I just wrote a whole long answer and then blogger ate it. I shall re-respond when im on my computer instead of my phone lol

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  3. Ah! I wrote a long answer and Blogger ate it too! I humbly suggest you get Disqus. It's super easy to install :)

    I thought this was a really interesting question. Like you said, dressing up as a character and turning a race into a costume are different things. I don't think it's a problem of appropriation. That's an issue when whites wear things that people of color can't wear (at all, or without censure) on a daily basis. Like when white people wear afro wigs for Halloween while little black girls are sent home from school because of their "unruly" natural hair. Also, as a woman of color, I would never restrict myself solely to Asian characters if I wanted to cosplay, and I wouldn't expect other people to do the same. Anyone can love a character; they're accessible to everyone, and I think cosplayers would appreciate fandom (?). The only weirdness would be if someone actually painted their skin (unless we're talking about Avatar characters). I think a white girl in a Missandei dress and accessories, with a curly style suited to her hair type, would be pretty neat.

    Found this thing you might like: http://www.xojane.com/issues/mad-back-cosplayer-chaka-cumberbatch

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