DragonCon Has Black People But It Is Not Black
On September 10, 2014, Darrien Hunt was murdered in Saratoga Springs, Utah for “brandishing his sword” at police. He was dressed as Mugen from Samurai Champloo, a popular anime, and carrying a prop sword. Despite police accounts, eyewitnesses and surveillance cameras would later reveal that Darrien never reached for his sword and was running away from the officers when he was murdered.
Darrien Hunt was murdered in 2014 for cosplaying while Black. This also marked the year I decided to never carry prop guns when cosplaying in public.
Carrying prop weapons was a concern for Halloween, but never at DragonCon. It never once occurred to me that being in a cosplay space with thousands of other cosplayers would put me in danger of police violence, not for cosplay, anyway. For years, cosplayers, including myself, brought steel swords and Airsoft guns to make our cosplays look more realistic. In 2008, I remember taking the time to paint all the orange tips on my toy guns black to get better pictures. Fast forward six years and I didn’t feel comfortable transporting toy guns in a crate in the trunk of my car. Darrien Hunt’s murder forced me to rethink that.
But that’s what it means to be Black in amerikkka. You find yourself having to constantly assess your surroundings and the emotions of everyone in your environment in an attempt to diffuse potentially life-threatening situations before they happen. It’s a constantly shifting goalpost, where you can find yourself detained by police for driving through your neighborhood, falling asleep on campus, talking on the phone in your backyard, or doing any myriad of activities that seem benign but are not because white people love exercising their institutional racist power over Black people.
I live a life where I have to constantly assess whether defending myself or even asking a question can get me assaulted or killed by white people or police. I can be arrested for being in a bad mood, or not sounding deferential enough to the white person with the telephone. It literally takes nothing more than existing in a space with white people for them to feel the need to try to control me in some way. It’s a shitty thing to see. It’s a shitty thing to know. And it’s a horrible realization to live with, yet I’ve lived with it all my life.
That’s why it’s hard to see people making light of this situation, especially in predominantly white spaces where we have intentionally carved out a space for ourselves. This is why seeing the pictures featuring BBQ Becky cosplay at DragonCon’s 4th annual Black Geeks Photoshoot being featured is so damn problematic. Full disclosure, I wasn’t there when this event occurred. I made it to the tail end, as in the LAST photo of the shoot, but since the event I’ve seen numerous shares of the staged BBQ Becky photo.
From what I’ve understood, someone reached out to the Black Geeks organizers and asked if it would be okay to cosplay BBQ Beckie at the shoot. They thought it would be humorous and agreed to it. The cosplayers attending the shoot didn’t know about it and have had mixed reactions since finding out ranging from angry, insulted, and dismayed to completely dismissive of the issues this type of “joke” creates.
Personally, I’m in the “what the fuck” category. As in, what the fuck were the organizers thinking? What the fuck makes this funny to Black people when Black people are literally being kicked out of their own apartment complexes, universities, schools, homes, even their AirB&B for offending white people’s sensibilities by existing? What the fuck is funny about white women calling the police on Black people for enjoying their lives? And what the fuck makes it appropriate to contaminate this intentionally curated Black space with this fuckery?
We spend so much of our day to day lives compromising ourselves and trying to ascertain which situations we’re allowed to defend ourselves in without risking our fucking lives and someone thought it was “funny” to fucking mock that? I guess it’s funny because nobody died when BBQ Becky pulled this shit in Oakland, but we live in a country where Black people have been murdered by police while sleeping in their cars, so, um, no. This was some silly ass, inappropriate shit.
Since seeing the picture, it’s grown in popularity and is being shared all over Facebook. It’s been shared so much that Heavy.com picked it up because isn’t it funny how the white woman pretended to call the cops at the Black Geek shoot? So now this would-be empowering event has gone viral because of a white woman. Good job.
The part that irks me the most about this is that the organizers could have said no. They should have said no. Instead, they are going to double down on this shit and probably find something similar to do next year. It’s vexing to see this constant accommodation and centering of whiteness in our spaces that we’re always supposed to ignore or tolerate because the rest of it is awesome. And I’ve heard there were some awesome moments – Christine Adams who plays Lynn Pierce in Black Lightning came and spoke to the cosplayers. You can see the 360 video here. Not to mention that there were loads more Black cosplayers than in previous years. The event continues to grow yet we stay with these toxic elements that literally de-center and eject us from our spaces and are told to get over it.
DragonCon is not the Black geek mecca. While there are a lot of Black people attending and participating, it’s still a very white space. DragonCon is a space where we can have a Welcome to Wakanda party that’s majority white people. DragonCon is a space where you’ll find white Wakandans, including a white Queen Ramonda, because “cosplay is for everyone!” Despite the dearth of Black characters out there, we need to make space for white people dressing as Black characters or else we’ll be just like the people who say Black people can only cosplay Black characters. Except it’s not the same because there aren’t infinite recognizable Black characters out there from which we can choose. In fact, it’s a very finite number.
DragonCon is a space where Black people are so attuned to centering whiteness that they don’t think about it, they just do it. And you become the problem for exposing this not-so-obvious truth. And despite the new addition of the Diversity track, there are no Black spaces at DragonCon, so you either compromise or stop attending.
I’ve compromised in a lot of areas when it comes to DragonCon. This year, they invited a known misogynoirist by the name of John Ringo as a guest. I’m not familiar with him, but I am familiar with the type of rhetoric he spews. A few people I know withdrew from DragonCon because of his invite, which I applaud. DragonCon has become its own monster of an event that tens of thousands of people attend and it’s actually pretty easy to avoid people there. The issue is that DragonCon staff don’t seem to have a problem knowingly inviting anti-Black, sexist guests into their space.
This is also what it is to be Black in amerikkka. It means rarely, if ever having safe spaces. It means interacting with Black people who aren’t comfortable prioritizing and centering Blackness. It means watching Black people twist themselves to accommodate whiteness because of the access they gain when they do. It means recognizing those Black people in your circles and protecting yourself from them, because whether they intended to or not, they do you harm. And if they didn’t intend to harm you but choose to double-down on their bullshit after they learn that they did…well, that’s not unintentional anymore. And you have to decide how you’re going to address that, if you address it at all.
Being Black in amerikkka means constantly picking the poison you’ll drink today, because everything about this country and this society is toxic to Black people. And unless we stand strong in our efforts to create our own safe spaces, it will continue to be. Holding your line and creating your space is unending emotional toil and it’s lonely. It’s sometimes punishing because you are going against the norm, but your efforts may make things easier for those behind you.
Unfortunately, you’ll never truly know if you did make shit easier for someone else and you have to figure out what actions you can and cannot live with. I live with the hope that something will get better, that there will be no more Darrien Hunts because cosplay isn’t seen as a white thing. And if calling out and creating alternatives to the status quo is how we get this shit to change, so be it.
I’ll learn to live with the consequences of that shit, too.
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