Women of Colour in Geek Culture
For the last few years I have been thinking to myself why aren’t women like me being represented in geek culture. Yes we can be few and far between but we are there. I am not saying that black women should get priority when creating on new characters, artists/writers have their freedom and what not but there are very few strong female characters I can look at and see familiar features looking back at me. Why I ask you? Why are black women in geek culture poorly represented?
I am a geek, there are so many things I love and one way I express my passion for this culture is through cosplay; but one issue that always seems to come up is who to cosplay. You might be thinking to yourself “It’s not that hard to pick a cosplay…” and if you are I envy you. I am a woman but first of all I am African. My race is something I am proud of and will be until the day I die but when it comes to finding a female character that falls within my “Range” my race seems to leave my options lacking.
I love to cosplay and most things to do with it. I love the wigs, make-up, costumes, masquerades and all round sense of achievement when you pull it off. I am not a cosplay expert by far but I have thrown myself head first into this vibrant colourful world and I do not see myself going back. I have spent days upon days and weeks upon weeks agonising over every tiny detail to perfect my last few cosplays but the thing that seems to take the longest is deciding on what cosplay to do.It’s not easy for me to pick a cosplay at the drop of a hat. It is a difficult and extremely frustrating process.
I read an article recently that was demanding better representation for women in geek culture and I for one could not agree with her more. If I asked a random person they could probably name ten female geek icons before they start to have think hard about it, ask the same of men and there is no problem. Now add in race and black women in geek culture seem to be few and far between and when new ones are brought into the limelight they seem to be one of three types:
- Strong willed, independent women who needs no man
- Sassy young woman with attitude for days
- Sexualised bodacious temptress
(chances are the first two will also be sexually desirable)
These are stereotypes and all stereotypes that give people unrealistic expectations of people who look a certain way should be avoided. Examples of black female characters would be along the lines of Storm, African Queen and Goddess, Uhura, who helped pave the way for interracial kissing on-screen, Zoe Washburne, military mind and loving wife, Michonne, not even a Zombie apocalypse. But what do they all have in common? Strong, black and independent, which if you think about it really pigeon holes black female characters. We can’t be anything outside of this box! And if we dare step out of it then we better at least be funny or have an attitude problem!
Whenever I read a new comic and see a woman of colour my heart sings a little because every female poc (person of colour) is a win in my books even if she is going to be a stereotype. Black men have a bigger presence than their female counterparts. But why I ask you? Why are black women not represented as much as men or people of other races? I am so over the token black character in games (usually male) , TV shows, comics and books. I am sick of having to accept and feel grateful for every black character just because there are so few. I am so fed up of the racist remarks to people of colour being cast in roles and I’m not talking about the 1950’s either, this is still happening.
Think back to the release of “Hunger Games” movie, personally I was elated to see that Rue was kept the way she was described in the book as having “dark brown skin”. I don’t know about you but when someone is described as having dark brown skin, I expect to see someone accurate cast for that body type but obviously some people weren’t happy when the twittersphere exploded with racial comments.
Hollywood has been white washing characters for years but only recently has it been creeping it’s way into popular geek culture. Avatar: The Last Air bender is one example that has stuck in my mind. A cartoon that has never been shy of talking about racial and cultural differences but the movie completely missed the point; Katara and Saka, of obvious Inuit descent, were a lot paler than they appeared in the movie adaptation of the TV show but on the other hand Zuko, the villain, was a lot darker than he was on the TV show. This isn’t just a blatant example of white washing but more race swapping, white people are the good guys and dark skinned people are clearly bad guys! (That’s the vibe that came across).
This brings me back to cosplay and although Katara is one cosplay that has been done by many races I have seen a lot more darker skinned girls get harassed for it. Don’t get me wrong I know many light skinned women who have gotten stick for it too but since that movie adaptation those numbers have decreased frankly.
Being told to stick to your range is undeniably one of the most infuriating comments that has ever been made towards me in regards to a cosplay I planning to do. As angry as that comment made me it has also scared me into “sticking to my range” or “crossplaying”. Sticking to my range is so far from easy unless I want to repeat cosplays every few months. I do not have the guts to cosplay a white woman because I know for every positive comment there will be ten negative which brings me to the ridiculously offensive practice of “Blackface”.
Even the name fills me rage. I would much rather a person cosplayed in whatever skin they were born with. You don’t see me layering ivory foundation on my skin to get that perfectly pristine and pale look. Michone from AMC’s The Walking Dead is a character who is being “Blackfaced” quiet a lot recently. If you’re not familiar with the practice of ‘blackface’, it is literally painting yourself black/brown to imitate African skin tones, it was a theatrical practice and while many credit it for the assimilation of certain African-Amercain cultural habits, music it is considered racist and highly offensive but it’s still being practiced today and cosplayers aren’t immune to it.
“It’s harmless”, “Just a bit of fun”, “It looks hilarious” comments like those accompanied the images, my identity, my race isn’t a joke!
I’m not going to deny that I have thought about what I would look like if I did that to do my favourite cosplays. River Song, Rogue, Catwoman and a few others but what I really want is to implore writers of comics, TV, movies and games to think of the world as a whole. To think of the multitude of faces they pass when going to work and ask themselves; is everybody equally represented? Are we doing all we can for all people of colour?
I am sick of not seeing faces like mine when I read comics and play new games unless of course they are villains, criminals or glorified gangsters. I am sick of being questioned about things I am interested in or being asked a million questions about my cosplay choice because a girl can hardly be a geek but a black girl, you must be kidding?!
I am over having to be grateful for every mediocre black female character that graces my screen because it’s so rare. I attend conventions, stay up late to get new games and dedicate hours on my time into all things geeky that I love.
Don’t I deserve decent representation? Don’t little girls of colour deserve role models who they look up to and see a familiar face within this community? I know that this topic may ruffle a few feathers but if you don’t agree with me please write your own response I want to see this get discussed and hopefully spread far wider than my own social circle and my own experiences.