Social media is a conduit that allows us to see communities and various subcultures within a subculture that may be unfamiliar for some of us. The subculture of cosplay is a significant part of nerd culture. However, when you look to mainstream media and mainstream nerd sites that continue to depict the cosplaying geek as white by default, as a Black nerd you feel marginalized and ignored. The portmanteau term ‘blerd’ (black nerd) has allowed many geeks of color to find niche spaces within the interwebs and social media to converse and connect with nerds cut from the same cloth. Blerds finally feel a sense of solidarity that wasn’t quite there before.
The hashtag #28daysofblackcosplay started by popular cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch is making waves on social media and even Image Comics chimed in on the hashtag!
— Image Comics (@ImageComics) February 4, 2015
Chaka Cumberbatch is near and dear to me and she is also a fellow co-host of the #BGNPodcast. I wanted to ask her about the social media campaign and why it is so important to our community:
Jamie: What inspired you to create the hashtag #28daysofblackcosplay?
Chaka: Honestly? The desire to do something more to foster a sense of pride and unity among Black cosplayers. The Black cosplay community is such a funny thing – even if we don’t all know each other personally, we all seem to know OF each other. I’ve had so many moments where I’ll run into someone at a con and be like – oh my god, I follow your page! None of us are strangers to feeling like an outsider in this hobby. We feel like we are passed up pretty often. So I figured, why don’t we start our own way of showcasing our work? A few weeks ago, I got on Facebook and messaged as many of my Black cosplay friends that I could think of, and asked them if they’d be interested in developing a cosplay project in honor of Black history month. Everyone was on board, so I created a group then asked everyone to spread the word and invite any and every Black cosplayer they could think of. From there we developed a schedule, reached out to different blogs, websites and cosplay pages, and the project took shape from there. I remember telling my fiance the night before it started that I was worried nobody would actually take part in it once February started – it’s crazy to think about that now, seeing how big it’s gotten in just a few short days!
The Black cosplay community has given me a lot. I am truyly honored and humbled by the small opportunity to give a little something back.
Jamie: Why is cosplay so important to the blerd (black nerd) community?
Chaka: As Black nerds, it’s important for us to see images of each other. Things are starting to get better, but we still have so few characters of color in our comics, video games, anime, manga and movies. It can be disheartening, never seeing anyone who looks like you in the media you love so much. Being able to physically see Black cosplayers out at cons, literally wearing their fandom on their sleeves is just so intensely satisfying on a level I may not ever be able to accurately describe. I have times when I’ll walk around cons in cosplay, make eye contact with another Black nerd (in or out of costume), and the flicker of hope, relief and wordless recognition that passes between our eyes as we smile and nod at each other routinely confirms to me how important it is for us to be out there representing. My hope is that the more prominent, welcomed and accepted Black cosplay becomes, the more open minded creators will be towards including people of color in our media. Of course, we need more Black creators as well, but that’s a different soap box 🙂
Jamie: Many fans of the hashtag are not even fans of comics nor cosplay, but love the spirit behind this effort, do you think this campaign will bring more Black people and PoC’s to participate in cosplay?
Chaka: I really, really hope so. This movement means so much to me, on a deeply personal level. I remember so clearly what it was like before I started cosplaying – I wanted to, but didn’t see very many people like me out there, and wasn’t sure I’d be welcomed. One of the big things that encouraged me to get started was a Black cosplayer thread on the cosplay.com forums. My friend Jessi (ButterflySamurai) started that thread, and kept it going for many years. I spent hourslurking that thread. Seeing her and her friends put themselves out there is what convinced me to take my first baby steps into this hobby. I remember what a relief it was for me to see examples of Black cosplay, how reassuring and encouraging it was – and I want to help provide that for anyone who may be on the fence themselves.
Jamie: Who is your favorite character to cosplay as and why?
Chaka: There are so many characters I love doing – I feel like every year, as I make new costumes, this answer changes a little – but without fail I have to say Sailor Venus is my favorite. For one, that costume completely changed my life. Aside from that, Sailor Moon is my biggest fandom, and I’ve never identified with a character as much as I identify with Sailor Venus. She’s brave, smart, impulsive and imperfect in all the best possible ways. Easily my favorite Sailor Guardian!
Jamie: The #BGNPodcast will be airing a show about being a plus-sized cosplayer. What are your thoughts on this subject?
Chaka: I love plus-sized cosplayers! It takes a LOT of confidence and courage to put yourself out there, especially as a bigger girl. People can be absolutely cruel. Not being a plus-sized cosplayer myself, I am hesitant to speak on their specific struggles, because I don’t want to distract from their voices – but I support them 100% and will always go to bat for someone who is being bullied online or off because of their size. Like, I don’t tolerate that for a second. I can’t wait to tune into that episode and cheer everyone on!
Jamie: Do you find that the disparities among white cosplayers and Black cosplayers participating in this subculture are shifting? Why or why not?
Chaka: I definitely think more Black cosplayers are starting to feel more comfortable coming onto the scene, and I welcome that wholeheartedly. Cosplay really is for everyone – I don’t feel like anyone has any business being discriminatory in a hobby where people routinely spend hundreds of dollars dressing up as cartoon characters. So I think everyone should be welcome, and I’m beyond thrilled to see more and more Black nerds joining us out here on the con floor!
Jamie: What do you want social media users to learn from the hashtag #28daysofblackcosplay?
Chaka: The number one thing I want everyone to take away from this is that the #28DaysOfBlackCosplay movement is not about segregating ourselves from cosplayers of different races – we are merely lifting each other up. We are encouraging each other. We are empowering each other. The simple act of us doing this should in no way be construed as a slight against other cosplayers. This is a celebration of diversity in cosplay. We seek to inspire and unite this community, one picture at a time.
Chaka Cumberbatch is a freelance journalist, anime brand manager and superhero cosplayer based in Dallas-Fort Worth. A girl detective to the core, she is always hunting down her next story – and working on her next costume. Her work, which often zeroes in on social, race, gender and sexuality issues within the geek community, has been published on sites including XOJane.com, TheMarySue.com and NerdCaliber.com, where she moonlights as a contributing writer. You can find her tweeting about comic books, drag queens, superheroes and more at @princessology or on Facebook at Princess Mentality Cosplay