Originally, I wanted to save some of this for a video series I have in the works about diversity and representation in the media we consume but a recent photo popped up in my newsfeed last week that really needed my two cents.
This is racism.
Plain and simple, there’s no two ways about it. “Disrespectful” doesn’t even cover it. The comments made by this particular cosplayer are outright derogatory. And when called out on it, of course they turn to the coward’s defence of their right to say what they want.
She doubled-down on that right so I have zero hesitation in leaving the name uncensored for all to see. Her eventual apology is rather pathetic, which only came about when big name cosplayers from around the world spoke up and condemned such comments.
Some of you may be wondering why I’m bothering to talk about this now, days later, after the storm has died? Some of you may even think that she doesn’t deserve the shit being thrown at her for a simple “mistake” (spoiler alert: she does).
The horrible truth is that this is not uncommon and keeps happening over and over and over again. Each time it’ll light up the interwebs, people will go nuts, a bunch of people will defend it, someone will make a half-arsed apology, and in a few days it will die down only for it to start all over again two weeks later with some other nutbag with no filter.
No one seems to learn from this. No one seems to understand the difference between expressing an “opinion” and being a racist prick!
So as far as I’m concerned, the time for educating one another with touchy-feely civility is in the past. Such abhorrent attitudes and actions have consequences and if it takes being ostracised from a community and lose out on potential future endeavours within that community (or anywhere for that matter) then so be it!
Hiding behind “accuracy”
The idea that a cosplay is somehow worth less because the skin colour of the cosplayer doesn’t match the original character is complete and utterly missing the point of cosplay!
Cosplay is an expression of the things we love and are passionate about and we do the best we can with the things we are given… a little like life.
But when we are denied that expression based on standards we have no control over then that is not in the spirit of this art form.
All art is open to criticism but most people suck at criticism. Criticism based on race, gender, sexuality, body shape, or whatever else the artist is in no control over is NOT criticism nor is it an opinion, nor is it harmless or “just words”. And most importantly, opinions can be wrong!
The expectation that we should “stay in our lane” and only cosplay to our body type, gender, or skin colour denies the cosplayer the same dignity to enjoy the hobby as so many others do. It ignores the fact that most of the media we consume was made for a specific demographic that is considered the default (mind you I am glad to see an eventual shift to something a little more diverse, even if it is slow going).
To limit people in such a manner is to go back to the days of segregated drinking fountains and the inability to vote.
Using “accuracy” as a way to criticise a person’s skin colour is the defence of cowards and the insecure.
Tolerance and acceptance – a paradox
A common retort to appropriate reactions to racism is to point out the apparent hypocrisy of all the calls for tolerance and acceptance regardless of race, gender, sexually, etc.
What these folks don’t realise is that all those are usually about accepting people regardless of how they were born (ie something they cannot control), as opposed to potentially harmful and divisive rhetoric, which is something that is learned and chosen.
Everything has its limits so to allow harmful attitudes to infect a society just to see it grow and then eventually destroy the ideology that allowed it in the first place is self-defeating and parasitic.
That’s not to say people aren’t capable of change and growth if allowed to and shown the way. I genuinely believe this, in fact I am a work in progress but we’re living in a time that most people should know better. Yet the cycle continues and we see even more egregious incidents of this each time!
Of course it’s only sensible to read the situation to determine the next step. Some people may be misguided and require a tap on the shoulder and a quiet word. But if they are belligerent, actively defending hate speech then they no longer deserve to be part of a community they crave the attention of and previously benefited from.
People are given second chances all the time. Some are given the benefit of the doubt. But often they squander those chances in the blink of an eye or the speed it takes to press send on a derogatory defensive tweet. In my experience, people only learn when they lose the thing they desire the most. In cases like these it is the attention of their peers.
The media we consume
As an Asian-Australian, growing up consuming the Western media, letting it shape and guide aspects of me, my interests have been primarily focused on western-made media. As I mentioned before, the majority of it was made with the white heterosexual male demographic considered as default. So when I cosplay, it’s going to be a lot of Caucasian characters.
Of course there are a few exceptions. There are even a few alternate choices I could have made but if I were to do so simply because I didn’t look the character I was actually interested in, then where is that choice for me? Where is that freedom to choose and express myself?
And if you’re pointing to the media being created in Asia as something I should look to for inspiration then you are missing an incredibly obvious point: we express our passion for the things we love.
Why in the hell should I cosplay a character from a series I’ve never watched or enjoy just because they’re Asian? Why the fuck should I invest all the time, money, and effort into something I don’t care about?
If the stuff coming from the part of the world that looks like me doesn’t interest me then what the hell is the point?
I was born and raised in Australia and for most of my life I was expected to and told to assimilate. And I happily did because I accepted the place of my birth and enjoy a good balance of my home as well as my heritage. But to have some backward fuckwit claim that that’s still not good enough because of the way I look, that everything I do is worth less due to how I was born, or that I should be limited in my choices and my freedoms… that’s not on.
It frightens me to think that maybe some people look at me and my work the same way the racist cosplayer did to that excited fan and that everything I do is considered for naught.
It’s all about respect… earned and lost
Respect is seen in two different ways depending on which end of the stick you’re staring at: most minorities use the word “respect” to mean “being treated as equal and with dignity”, others see it as “being treated as a boss”.
I’m all about respect for those who continue to treat others with compassion and open arms but I am at my wits end when it comes to backward, harmful, hate speech. Divisive language and racial slurs that belong in the last century.
We tell each other all the time that when someone is a toxic influence on your life then it’s more than okay to walk away from them and block them out of your life. This is the same sentiment. If someone is being a toxic influence on a community then they should have no part in it.
And it’s not just a problem overseas, there are cosplayers right here in Australia (apparently, even one headed our way as a cosplay guest at a con in July) that have caused so much hurt.
Have you noticed I haven’t used the phrase “cosplay is meant to be fun”?
It’s because it undermines what we do. It trivialises an art form by limiting it as something without importance and merit and by extension any controversy like racism associated with it is considered less important and easier to get away with. It’s that trivialisation that allows such hate speech to grow into something bigger and more harmful.
It’s very easy to say that we should be better than those that seek to harm us, and I agree with that, but if you don’t stop it where it sprouts then you’ll struggle to combat it when it grows wild and out of control.
We are all allowed a second chance to learn from our mistakes. But we also have to prove we are capable of learning. It’s the consequences of the choices we make.
Here endeth the sermon.
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