When is "black-facing" okay? Personally, as a POC cosplayer, I go out of my way to find characters of color such as Static Shock, Yoruichi, Esmeralda, etc—to cosplay so I can potentially be "cannon" in my cosplay but I also cosplay fun characters like Natsu, Mizore, Raven, and others because my skin color doesn't dictate what I can and cannot cosplay. Not once have I ever thought, "I should lighten my skin" for a non-POC character, so why is the cosplay community suddenly a breeding ground for "black-face" cosplayers?
There's a new "trend"—if you want to call it that—of cosplayers of non-ethnic backgrounds (yes, I mean white people) who are going out of their way to be as cannon as possible for their cosplay—up to and including changing their skin tone to be "accurate." Historically, white people used to dress up as black people to make fun of them and it was blatantly racists. Even good ole' Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse used to sport black face back in 1933. In Hollywood, white actors used to dress up as black people and it made it easier for racists directors to avoid hiring actual POC actors. There's a list of past and current issues with white people dressing up as black people and no matter how "innocent" the intent is, the track record is far from clean.
Now, I'm not saying white cosplayers that dress up as black fictional characters mean to be racist or hurtful in their display, but we as a community cannot ignore that, even in cosplaying, politics and racial tensions cannot be ignored.
In 2012, DailyDot posted an article about diversity in the cosplay community and discussed the issue of "black-facing" among white cosplayers. Tumblr celebrity Yamino responded with an open letter to the community, "I’ve seen some popular cosplayers I admire put on ‘brownface’ to cosplay characters like Korra, Katara, and other people of color. That is not ok. What seems like innocent dress-up to you is a tradition rooted in racism which de-humanises real people of color. Skin tone is not a costume."
So far any attempt at darkening someone's skin for the sake of being "cannon" has been met with a negative response from the cosplay community, but there are still some people who praise the skin tone change. Not just from white people, but even some POC don't mind it, but the fact of the matter is, it's NEVER okay to alter your skin tone for the sake of your cosplay.
Cosplayers should love THEIR skin color and not alter it for their character. The whole point of cosplaying, at least for myself and many others, is to NOT be yourself for however long the convention is. If I'm cosplaying a white character then I will make sure my outfit is on point and people will recognize me for that. For a weekend my skin color won't matter, my breast size won't matter, the parts of my body that I cannot change won't matter. All that matters is that I'm having fun. It might "look better for aesthetic reasons" to be darker, but to feel like you have to change yourself to such a degree is harmful. Cosplayers shouldn't feel compelled to darken—or lighten—their skin!
Personally, I enjoying seeing cosplayers take a character and change it and make it new again and that is what cosplaying is—freedom of expression not rigid "cannon" standards that cause you to feel bad about yourself if you're not dark enough to cosplay a character. If we cosplay only exactly what we see then we won't have amazing crossovers like Black Wonder Woman and Jessica Rabbit and others.
Keep cosplaying fun and skip the tanning booth or brown sharpie or whatever it is you're using to darken your skin. Love YOUR color, YOUR body, and rock you. Do NOT throw on some brown skin cause you want to look "cannon."
Fem Natsu Cosplay with fellow Fairy Tail cosplayers.