There are many components that go into cosplay:
Choosing a character, deciding on which outfit is the most notable, or the most doable, whether or not you have to craft something together, or will buy it outright, etc.
But if you’re a Black cosplayer, you probably have to decide if it’s worth the trouble to choose a character with a signature weapon, and whether or not to carry it in public.
As a cosplayer who is Black, this isn’t something I considered initially. Cosplaying in my mind was a safe activity. For a time. Innocent fun, harmless. I was naive, and ended up learning the hard way.
I am a woman. The trouble is, I’m not ordinary.
I’m exceptionally tall, I’m not slight, and the most obvious thing to note, is that I’m Black. My blackness in conjunction with my stature, thanks to societal rules, means that the implicit bias perception of me includes, but is not limited to, my having some sort of superhuman strength, that I’m just as physically strong as a man, and that I’m suspect (if seen by certain parties). My Michonne (The Walking Dead) cosplay compounded all of those things. Previously, I’ve had police called on me under false pretenses a couple of times, and like most Black people, I’ve been followed in stores. But my harassment was made all the more severe while cosplaying as this character with a prop (and sometimes plastic) sword.
A little background: Michonne was one of the lead characters and love interest of the main character (Rick Grimes) on The Walking Dead. Her signature weapon was a katana sword. Rick’s, conversely, was a colt python.
It is because of cosplay I met my boyfriend; I was Michonne, and he was cosplaying as Rick. Since we’ve been together, we’ve done couple’s cosplay at a multitude of events. Mostly comic cons, but there were also a few non-con related events.
The first non-con event that we went to on cosplay was in El Cajon, CA. I knew before we even stepped out of the car it was a bad deal. It was as if the racism hung in the air. My gut instincts weren’t paranoia (for Black folks in situations like this, it rarely if ever is paranoia), and were proven true once the police officer on duty notified me of the many people who came to him and not only complained, but falsely accused me of “running around with a sword.” I was with a group, under the weather, and with my boyfriend, whose weapon was, you guessed it, a realistic looking colt python.
Being white, there were zero complaints about him and his “weapon” made that day.
There was even one man who insisted to the cop that he “do something” to me. Apparently, I had no right to have a sheathed, prop sword on my back for an event to which I was helping to introduce an award.
Of all the instances I could note, the most traumatizing one was at a Halloween party at a Hard Rock hotel. Again, I was with my boyfriend, he with his signature weapon, and I with mine. We were there for an event and pictures, let in by security, and yet…
As I leaned against a counter, waiting for my boyfriend to inquire with the concierge about something, I was forcibly grabbed and yanked around, pulled by my hair by a voice that only said, “You aren’t allowed to have that.” Turns out it was a security guard who assaulted me for my prop sword that I was allowed in with for photos. Of all the times I’d had police called on me or have been followed around, looked at suspiciously, I’ve never before been physically assaulted. As you can imagine, it was initially anger inducing. And as it settled in that nothing would be done, that being assaulted for no reason was just allowed to happen to me, my anger morphed into anguished sorrow. I felt impotent with this lack of control.
I’d like to say I’m over it, but I’m not. Since then, I’ve felt a level of apprehension walking as that character in full gear. Before COVID and con cancellations, I’ve repeatedly considered putting the cosplay of the character down not because I’m tired of it/want something new, but because of safety. Even at San Diego Comic Con last year, as my boyfriend and I walked towards the convention center, anytime I saw a cop, I was on alert, unsure if they were watching me or viewed me as a suspect. It’s a feeling that’s there already when I’m not carrying a sword on my back, and it is compounded now, when I do.
And that makes me incredibly sad.
Cosplay was meant to be a respite from the real world. Perhaps it was a foolish notion to ever think such a thing.