Last fall, I was standing around shooting the breeze with a bunch of people at a comic book convention when one of the guys turned to me and said, “You know who you should cosplay?” I cringed internally because if you’re a white guy talking to a non-racially ambiguous plus-sized black woman, this type of conversation never ends well, especially for the party on the receiving end of such a question.
I scrunched up my eyebrows, one lifted slightly higher than the other, giving off the appearance of being both minimally interested and highly skeptical. “Who?”
Wait for it…
“Nell Carter’s character in Modern Problems. She was Chevy Chase’s maid in the movie, but she was also, like, a voodoo priestess or something.” He threw his head back and laughed, missing the fact that I was giving him a side eye that probably could’ve melted plastic. Did he really just tell me I should cosplay…a maid? He continued describing the movie to everyone around us but I tuned out. I was so angry that I felt lightheaded. I walked away, thoroughly disgusted by the casualness with which he othered me. These kinds of situations are unnerving because you never know when they’re going to happen; you can never really mentally protect yourself. (Sometimes you can’t even physically protect yourself.)
For the record: I don’t cosplay maids or servants of any kind. Not even those cute little Japanese maids in anime and manga. Do you know why? Because that’s not how I see myself. And how I see me is far more important than how you see me. What’s really being said when someone tells me who I should cosplay is “let me check out your physical characteristics and determine your worth.” No bueno. You don’t get to do that. Ever. Especially not with something that’s supposed to be as fun and carefree as cosplay.
The beauty of the Twitter hashtag #28DaysOfBlackCosplay is that neither I nor any other African-American cosplayers have to be limited by what others think we’re capable of or by who others think we are. Cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch (of Princess Mentality Cosplay) came up with this fantastic idea and while I haven’t been cosplaying long, seeing all of these great costumes sported by black folks all over the country makes me want to cosplay even more. Do yourself a favor and check out the hashtag. You’re missing out if you don’t!