Black erasure in anime constitutes race-bending

Illustration by Myah Anglin | The Signal

Let’s set the record straight: There is nothing racist about Black people and people of color cosplaying or drawing non-Black characters. 

The context of the world we live in makes non-Black people drawing Black fictional characters as white people a racist offense. For centuries, Black people have been mocked and caricatured throughout multiple mediums for our looks and perceived mannerisms. 

When the racist portrayals of Black people in entertainment media became immoral, Blackness’s erasure continued to prevail. Many originally Black characters have been either entirely whitewashed or had their complexion lightened. Having a darker skin tone is erased as well, regardless of the actual race.

Many people still believe this is a hypocritical statement as many non-Black artists have faced ridicule for drawing Black characters as people with paler, white complexions. This phenomenon is called “Black erasure,” and it has dire societal and cultural effects on the Black community. Please note that it is completely fine for white people and other people of color to cosplay as Black characters as long as they don’t implement any kind of blackface.

Creating fan art and tributes of remixed characters with darker skin tones is also a response to erasure.  The yearning to be represented is a drive for its creation. Since the focus is on animation, it’s clear that Black erasure in cartoons affects Black children. Seeing proper and relatable reflections of yourself in the media is of critical importance. It can help inspire creativity and realize their place in society. 

You may have noticed how excited adults were to see Black Panther, which featured a virtually all-Black cast. One can conclude that this elation could result from not seeing much of themselves in the media since childhood.

If you are an active Twitter user, you may have noticed an influx of Black people, specifically Black women, being attacked for cosplaying fictional characters. Commonly, the hostile reception happens when they cosplay Japanese anime characters. 

As many women may know, the anime community is infamous for having members that gatekeep the medium with their gross misogyny. Racism, like in any other fandom, is present as well.

This problem with the cosplay community exists within the art community as well. Observers see Black artists drawing Black versions of white or pale characters as reflections of themselves and take offense. No one can control what another person finds insulting, but this completely disregards the history of oppression Black people and people of darker skin tones have experienced globally.

If you do not possess reading comprehension and still believe whitewashing isn’t racist, you will continue to perpetuate Black erasure in the media. Blackness has been limited and hidden for far too long. It is only utilized when it is convenient for a narrative. In doing so, it strips characters that could be genuinely Black.

This is not to say people with melanated skin are somehow better. No one is drawing Black versions of your favorite Disney character or anime to prove any feeling of significance.

Those who take insult or are confused about why making Black characters white is a problem are simply ignorant of the bigger picture.