It’s been a while since I’ve worked on this series, but I’m back with a vengeance now. Let’s open this can of worms.
There are two major race issues related to cosplay that I’ve noticed: first, the ongoing and loaded discussion of whether Asian or white people cosplay anime characters better, based on how they perceive the race of the anime characters. And secondly, the issue of racebending, or changing the race of the characters in order to cosplay. (This happens both with minority cosplayers dressing as perceived-as-white characters and white cosplayers cosplaying as characters of color.)
The first question is one that brings the covert racism out in a lot of people. Although a majority of anime characters are Japanese or of Japanese descent, their generally large, overexaggerated eyes and non-natural hair colors make a lot of people argue that they don’t look Japanese and that white people cosplay them better. I think this is, frankly, stupid. Most human beings, regardless of race, don’t look like anime characters. Regardless of race, none of us look like CLAMP noodle people, impossibly buff Toriyama characters, or ludicrously booby Gainax women.
The important thing in this case is, rather than judging on a cosplayer’s race, to (if you must judge) judge on the awesomeness of their costume. Perhaps this is just easier for me, as a seamstress and costume creator, but it seems to be the logical way to think about it.
The other race issue that often comes up in cosplay is this: most anime characters are inredibly fair-skinned. Is it right for white characters to cosplay as the few characters with dark skin, and why do some people complain when cosplayers of color dress as perceived-as-white characters? Here’s my take on part one of this sitch (admittedly speaking from a postition of privilege): if cosplaying were a big-budget film (say, The Last Airbender, The Lone Ranger, I could go on) and characters of color were being played by white folks, I’d be livid about whitewashing and racebending and appropriation. But cosplaying is about showing fan appreciation for a particular character. Some people still do this in an offensive way—I don’t condone blackface or any of its variations—but if you’re white and your favorite character is, say, Yoruichi, I’m not gonna bitch you out for cosplaying as her. But white folks then have to extend the same courtesy to cosplayers of color. Don’t walk up to a black Inuyasha and argue with him because Inuyasha isn’t black in the show. Don’t go up to a dark-skinned Ciel Phantomhive and ask them why they didn’t cosplay as Indian prince Soma instead, since a dark-skinned English aristocrat in the 1880s would be unheard of. There are so few options comparatively for black cosplayers that it’s ridiculous and stupid to bitch about them cosplaying as ‘white’ characters. Just, as I said before, live and let cosplay. If you’re going to judge a cosplayer, do it not on the color of their skin but on the strength of their costume and the kindness of their heart.