Black Nerd Girl Problems: Cosplaying While Black

Chaka Cumberbatch as Sailor Venus

Chaka Cumberbatch recently penned a piece for xoJane on what it’s like to cosplay as a black person. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term cosplay, it’s short for costume play and if you want to see cosplay in action, look no further than Comic-Con. Just from viewing photographs from past events, you will see people dressing up (or “cosplaying”) as their favorite characters, especially from video games, comic books and anime. In Cumberbatch’s article, she references an age old problem in the cosplay community where some white cosplayers bully black cosplayers (or other cosplayers of color) for choosing to cosplay as characters who are not of their own race. White cosplayers also cosplay outside their race but they don’t receive the same kind of backlash that black cosplayers do. White cosplayers are also given a pass by many in the cosplay community for doing blackface when they are emulating darker skinned characters. Yes, I know your reaction.

Going back to Cumberbatch’s story, she decided to play Sailor Venus from Sailor Moon for an anime convention and upon seeing a photograph of her look online, the racists started to come out the woodwork. She was called names like “Nigger Venus” and “Sailor Venus Williams,” and people also made fun of her features, even saying that her face “[looked] like a gorilla.” Cumberbatch did receive compliments among the online community as well but some were tempered with a “she did a great job for a black cosplayer” feeling—as if black cosplayers constantly ruin character costumes.

Among the arguments from many white cosplayers against black cosplayers dressing as characters outside of their race is for authenticity. Since most of the characters in comic books, video games and anime are light skinned, certain white cosplayers believe that they are more suited to emulate them than black cosplayers. It does not matter that black cosplayers can have a great costume, like Cumberbatch. They are still treated as if their character portrayals are second-rate, especially if those portrayals are of non-black characters.

I was under the impression that cosplaying was supposed to be fun but how can everyone have fun when racism and bullying is alive and well in the cosplay community? What does it matter if someone is black and cosplays as Sailor Venus or any other non-black character? As long as they are having fun, it shouldn’t matter and they shouldn’t have to feel isolated just because of their race.

For all the black nerd girls out there who aren’t feeling the love from the general cosplay community, here are some helpful links to share among yourselves and your friends: Cosplaying While Black and World of Black Superheros.


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