I hope you’re ready: It’s Black History Month, and we’re gonna be talking about representation! What are the first images you see when you search “beautiful people”? What about “cosplay”? You will see lots of vibrant colors. However, that doesn’t generally extend to skin color; there’s not a lot of diversity in the skin color of the people who appear when you search. While the number of people of color appearing with these search terms is not zero, they are pretty low. So, how do we respond to this and try to make it better? Find out below the jump.
Because our traditional methods of searching still show a bias toward white people, the Black (nerdy) community has taken to using various hashtags and conversation points to increase the visibility and, and thus, representation, of Black people on the internet. We want to be seen and appreciated more, so what better way than to kickstart it ourselves? I’m not sure if it is just the circles I run in, but there seems to be a fairly large amount of support for these initiatives from other groups outside of just Black nerds. Although we aren’t doing this all for acceptance, it is refreshing to see our white and non-Black people of color allies sharing, spreading, and appreciating the Black excellence on various timelines and dashboards. So let’s get started.
#TheBlackout, #BlackOut and #BlackoutDay are used primarily on Tumblr, but also Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Created by tumblr users T’von (expect-the-greatest) and Marissa Rei (blkoutqueen), participants will post bunches of selfies to be shared, liked, reblogged, and retweeted on predesignated days. It’s a real push to spread appreciation. As stated above, it’s not as common to see Black people represented when people discuss beauty and that sort of thing. It hurts to do image searches including positive adjectives and see a lack of people that look like you. So, it’s nice to see a shift towards diversity. These events happen fairly frequently.
I bring up the #Blackout hashtags as a starting point of sorts: concerted efforts to highlight diversity have been popping up more and more in the greater internet space, and nerd culture especially. We saw this with the #INeedDiverseGames hashtag. This cultural push is continuing with #29DaysOfBlackCosplay (formerly 28, created by cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch). For the month of February (a leap year this year), people will post various pictures of Black cosplayers. This celebration shows that Black nerds are indeed real, plentiful, and diverse ourselves. In her words: “My hope is that the more prominent, welcomed and accepted Black cosplay becomes, the more open minded creators will be towards including people of color in our media. Of course, we need more Black creators as well, but that’s a different soap box :)” A hurdle many people of color face is within their own group; liking geeky things often gets you labelled as trying to “act white”, as if white people are the only people allowed to like geeky things. Efforts like #29DaysOfBlackCosplay work against that, normalizing our nerdiness. Similarly, we face criticisms that our cosplays may be inaccurate and lesser due to the changing of skin tones. I reject this notion completely. Cosplay is for everyone. (Regardless of skin color, body type, or gender.)
In a slightly different direction, #SupportBlackPodcasts has appeared fairly recently. This follows the same train of thought. The face of podcasting is still overwhelmingly white (and male, if we’re being honest) despite there being a fair amount of diversity within the community. This extends to all subject matter, but is especially apparent in tech and gaming. This hashtag aims to give attention to shows that may be disregarded or looked over because of this. The old rebuttal “if you don’t like something, create your own” is a good starting point, but somewhat moot: people are creating the things they want to see. They just need exposure. Places like This Week in Blackness (TWiB), Black Girl Nerds, Fan Bros., and Spawn On Me all do excellent jobs of representing Black people in these kind of spaces, as well as bringing in other creators to spotlight their own contributions.
Overall, these hashtags are not the end all, be all solution to racist attitudes in our society. There are some deeper issues that are going to take more than representing us, but it’s a start. People are out there doing great things: being beautiful, cosplaying, podcasting, just being their great selves and we want culture to reflect that. Again, it’s a first step, but it’s a big one. If you know of any other hashtags or efforts to increase diversity, let us know in the comments—we’re all in this together.