So, some cosplayers who are white are saying they are in a lose-lose situation when it comes to cosplaying characters of color. The argument goes like this:
- If I cosplay and put on dark makeup, I am “brownfacing”
- If I cosplay and don’t put on dark makeup, I am “whitewashing.”
There is a distinction between cosplaying a character and presenting yourself as the official character. And hey, being able to acknowledge that the character you are cosplaying isn’t white is already a huge step that many cosplayers who are white are unable or unwilling to make. (If one more person tells me Ichigo from Bleach is white…)
That being said, yeah, on a cursory glance with this lose-lose stuff, yeah, being white and cosplaying a character of color, no matter what you do? You are not going to be able to avoid the unavoidable racial awkwardness that comes with the territory.
(Because, history. And, because, current systemic oppressions intersect in all aspects of fandom including cosplay.)
But is it really that big of a “lose-lose” situation? Or remotely comparable? Because, the feelings of white cosplayers aside, think about it.
- When a white cosplayer puts on dark makeup, it is possible that other people might point out that it makes them feel uncomfortable or that brownface is a racist act, etc.
- When a PoC at a convention sees someone in brownface, it might evoke feelings of being discriminated against, or trigger that uncomfortable feeling of experiencing a microaggression, discrimination, or racism.
- When a white cosplayer is dressed as a character of color, they might run into people who tell them “but your character is supposed to be brown/black/asian.”
- When a PoC at a convention runs into a white person dressed as a character of color, they might be reminded blackface, brownface, yellowface, redface, of the hundreds of times people who are white have appropriated cool characters of color while sidelining PoCs in real life. Or of the subtle and overt cultural messages they have received throughout their lives that their skin color is not good enough. Or that there are not enough characters of color to cosplay.
Being put on the defensive for your costume for “something you can’t help” isn’t fun, and I’m not saying that white people should not cosplay characters of color (which is something that you technically can help, should you want to avoid having to defend your choice to cosplay characters of color.)
That being said, being told that you are brownfacing or whitewashing is—ironically enough—one of the privileges of being white and a cosplayer. By virtue of existing in a media entertainment fandom world where white actors are allowed to play characters of any race while PoC rarely get the chance to play even characters of their own race, you may occasionally be reminded of that privilege. Getting confronted like that? Definitely awkward.
But is this situation lose-lose? Anymore than the situation PoC are faced with when it comes to encountering white cosplayers of characters of color? (Especially since many PoC who express feelings of discomfort are told they are “overreacting” or “being too sensitive” or “putting people in a lose-lose situation.” aka. their concerns marginalized or worse, blamed for the discomfort they are experiencing?)
Will being told you are whitewashing or brownfacing evoke a miasma of shitty feelings similar to the ones that crop up when PoC encounter someone they perceive to be whitewashing or brownfacing? Feelings that are accumulated over time from experiencing microaggressions and systemic racism over a lifetime? Probably not.
Because of systemic racism towards PoC, white cosplayers who cosplay characters of color may be told that they are either brownfacing or whitewashing. But this systemic racism affects PoC, too.
(And to flounce and passive-aggressively say, “This is a lose-lose situation for me as a white person! I guess I won’t be cosplaying this character after all how tragic for me and unfortunate!” really ignores, again, that this situation affects—and hurts—people of color, too.)