If you inhabit the social media-verse the way I do, you may have noticed a rise in black visibility over the past couple of days. Of course, this is due to it being Black History Month, and if you follow the hashtag you'll see all kinds of historical tidbits that they probably never taught you in school.
But the month isn't just about the history. It's very much about the accomplishments of the black community every single day. We're here to celebrate who we are, and there's no better time than right now to compliment blackness with a dash of geekery.
I don't have to remind anyone about the voyage to Wakanda that we're about to make, or the fact that a black super dad is winning at television right now. I don't have to point out that sharp coat Lando's wearing, or the afro-puffed April O'Neil that's making our hearts go pitter patter. But I am here to point out one thing going on this month, one that's taking the costuming geek community by storm: 28 Days of Black Cosplay (or #28DaysOfBlackCosplay for the hashtag savvy).
Unbeknownst to the general public, February 1st was circled on a lot of black cosplayer calendars. This is when #28DaysOfBlackCosplay starts, and it runs alongside Black History Month. The idea of celebrating black cosplayers throughout February came from a woman named Chaka Cumberbatch-Tinsley (Princess Mentality Cosplay) back in 2015. The idea was to make black cosplayers more visible in the community, more importantly, she wanted them to be highlighted in a positive, more encouraging light.
Many black cosplayers deal with disparaging remarks, something Ms. Cumberbatch-Tinsley has spoken about before. It's uncomfortably easy to find us in a negative meme that's meant to be funny, or to see us compared to an animal that you'd buy a plush souvenir version of at the zoo. We're no stranger to characters being labeled as ghetto when we decide to portray them, or if someone's feeling particularly bold, they'll drop an n-bomb or fried chicken joke.
There's also the "compliments" we receive – and I'm sorry you missed my irritated face when I did those air quotes. This includes such gems as "That's really good for a black cosplay" or "darkie waifu": the newest contender in an ongoing list of chocolate and mocha commentary. And no, I'm not sure how anyone thought 'darkie waifu' was swoon-worthy, and I'm forever perplexed at the need to turn us into food. You're not trying to feed us to Majin Buu... are you?
Beyond the questionable commentary is that dawning realization of not being represented in your community. There's a lot of people who assume that black people simply don't cosplay.
Of course, spending half a second spent reading the hashtag proves otherwise, which is just one of many reasons why it's so important. We're rarely on the "best of" cosplay lists, and if you flip through a cosplay photographer's album you'd be hard-pressed to find us in it. As discouraging as the average chicken or watermelon comment is, the hard reality is that we've heard those before, whether it's a personal attack or the classic "I was just joking, ha ha" from various forms of pop culture.
But there's something truly heartbreaking about not being included in a community that, let's be honest, is a home for outcasts. Geeks know what it's like to be seen as something outside the norm, so a lot of black geeks feel at home in the space. But when you're greeted with negativity or just flat out ignored, it gets lonely, and that loneliness morphs into frustration when you're told that there just aren't any black people involved in the hobby you love.
Fortunately, #28DaysOfBlackCosplay was made to counter that argument. It instantly negates any "they just aren't here" argument, as every year, it becomes a trending hashtag in just a couple of hours. More importantly, we're seen engaging in cosplay for the very same reason anyone else stays up way too late to get that final costume piece done: for the love of the character, the fun of the craft, and the blood from sticking yourself with a needle one too many times.
As the rest of February continues, I encourage you to take part in the movement. If you're a black cosplayer who's hesitated to engage in cosplay, I'm here to tell you that we want to see your creativity. If you're not black but you've always wanted to support the black nerd community, now's the time to boost our voices and show support (and if you need a bit of inspiration, this list by Petite Ebby Cosplay is an excellent start).
I also want to remind everyone that this should not, by any means, stop at 28 days. #28DaysOfBlackCosplay is meant to serve as a starting point for the love and encouragement black geeks should receive throughout the year. It's just the beginning and should never have a foreseeable ending.