A Frank Opinion of How Geeks Can Do Better
By Aitch Cee
The Geek community needs to do better and not just when it comes to cosplay but in other areas as well. The first place to start is to read and comprehend everything ahead here PRIOR to replying. READING IS FUNDAMENTAL. One that is done, communicating and comprehending our thoughts gets a lot easier.
Before I get started, this entry comes as a result of not only the backlash that Kira Markeljc received for doing a costume, but the greater backlash that people taking offense to it got for voicing their opinion. Kira and I had a nice and pleasant chat via Facebook. She expressed that she was not aware that what she did could be perceived as offensive and she did not know about black face. I am inclined to believe her. As of now she wants the focus to be taken off of her, which is fair.
In my opinion, this conversation about blackface, racism, cultural sensitivity and the many discussions that I have had with others is much less about Kira and more about how we as a people are willing (or not) to come to the table and listen to issues that affects us. Honestly, I am disappointed with many that I have come in contact with. For one, a lot of people don’t read and are willing to make assumptions and dismissals without ever trying to educate oneself. Along with that, many are willing to simply say ‘get over it’ or ‘stop being so sensitive’ over an issue that is still an ugly scar not just here but worldwide. Sure some of us may or may not agree with what she is doing but for those that disagree, find a way to state your disagreement without being a jerk or disrespectful. In this, I offer a challenge. Kira is nervous about doing this cosplay.
After talking with her directly, I am cool that she could do this and pull it off without insult or slight and she has no other intent in mind. Why? Because she has now been properly informed what she is doing and the effect it may have on others that see it. In short, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. I am not 100% comfortable with it but this was a rare moment that conversations like this could happen. I ask that if there is anybody that knows her, watch over her and keep her safe. If you meet her, I challenge you to find the good in her cosplay and accept what she is doing and doing it without malice or hatred. Not too many others have this intent.
But an even bigger challenge I offer to those with whom I have discussed this topic with which goes beyond Kira. OPEN YOUR MIND when it comes to racially and culturally sensitive issues. If someone tells you that they feel slighted and they tell you why, don’t shut them down. I challenge you to ask the right questions and rather than be dismissive, be more empathic to what bothers them. EDUCATE YOURSELF. If you have no idea of my culture or anyone else’s, ASK. Heck, Google is your friend! If we can do that, then there is a lesser need for me write blogs such as this. If you want to shrink the gap of the world and end some of the differences that keep us apart, you have to be willing to take the first step. Go to her page and give her support. She needs to know that she has it.
With that covered, let’s move on.
When it comes to comics and movies
Someone told me last night that it seems like bigots have infiltrated the safe space of geekdom. While there is some truth to that, my belief is that it’s always been there because for many of us, before we learned about comics and sci-fi, we learned what identified us and others and our similarities and differences and what we were and were not comfortable with. As much as many of us like to believe that ‘we are different’ or ‘we are an all-inclusive’ group or ‘we accept everyone as they are’, we really are not. The biggest proof is the fact that I am writing this blog. One of the biggest fails that has come from the geek community when it comes to comics and movies is the failure to accept change. Too many of us fight over what comics should be. Yes, many of the comic companies have changed our beloved characters over the years and the moment they do, comic geeks lose it. Why as a community that is supposed to be all accepting have such a hard time embracing that the Human Torch can be black in a film and have a white sister? In a community that has no trouble in people who can fly, walk on walls or go into space without a vehicle, something that is so reality based and actually done in real life it needs explanation. No it doesn’t. EDUCATE YOURSELF. Furthermore, many people clamor for ‘purity’ and ‘don’t change my characters’ , I am sorry, those ‘characters’ don’t belong to you. Those characters are on loan to those writing and drawing them and they belong to all of us. And the sooner that the world at large realizes that, the better off we will be. For those of you arguing for purity and ‘sameness’ realize this, many of these characters have been around for decades and were created by whatever was going on at the time and over the years have changed to suit the needs of the audience and the company selling the books. If companies decided to stay static for the sake of ‘purity’, the comic industry would be out of business. Great example, considering that villain of focus in Marvel’s Axis event is Red Skull, for purity’s sake would you still be comfortable if he still had a swastika? Would it be ok for Falcon and Luke Cage to have afros and talk jive? Or would it still be proper to color Shang Chi orange? Comics have evolved like most of us have evolved and because comics are popular with everyone they have to be available for everyone. What many of us choose to ignore is the huge fact that especially among the big 2, there is still a huge dearth of creators that represents and reflects everyone that is reading. Many of us are content to stay in our own little corner reading Superman, Batman and Ms. Marvel and not ask, why aren’t there more Gails and Kelly Sues and the next Dwayne McDuffie coming along to showcase a greater diversity in comics. Many of us are content to just be ignorant of that and not rock the boat. Thus when someone comes along to ask these questions, it makes some of us so uncomfortable, we immediately go into shut down mode.
When it comes to cosplay
This comes right out of everything I have been stating to this point as well as the main reason why this is being written. We as a community have to do better when it comes to having a cultural understanding of issues when it comes to cosplay. Again, we claim that we are an inclusive and all accepting community when in many ways as shown this week, it’s a lie. And we are all lying to ourselves in many degrees if we claim that we are blind. And actually the fallacy of that logic is, if you are truly blind to issues then it makes you incapable of understanding of situations that goes on right in front of you. The biggest problems we have amongst us of course have to do with bullying, sexism, racism, and size-ism. It’s something we are ALL guilty of at one point or another and you know why? CULTURE and what we see. The whole Michonne issue and if it’s ok to cosplay as another race would not even be an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that OUR CULTURE and WHO WE ARE at some point kicks in and makes us ask, hey is what they are doing sit well with me? Am I comfortable that this person is doing XYZ costume and I sit by and say nothing? And we all have a right to voice our concern but how we go about doing so is the key. Many of us remember the history of this world and how many of us have been depicted in the media and it makes us consider when we see characters done in certain ways, we react. Our safe space becomes unsafe when we feel like our cultures are taken for granted. How many people know that some Asians have a problem with anime cosplay? How many people know that some Blacks have a problem with blackface / whiteface? How many people know that some in the LGBTQ community have problems with gender-bending or stereotyping? How many people know that some people in cosplay have a problem with people who monetize cosplay without a care in the world about knowing who the characters they portray just that if they show enough cleavage and enough butt, they can sell calendars, photos and so on to make enough for the next boob job. So what must we do? EDUCATE OURSELVES (seems like a recurring theme huh?)
How to minimize issues within the geek community
So without sugarcoating anything, it boils down to this. People are going to be people wherever we go. What we face in our community is no different than the world at large and only a fool would believe differently. What we have to learn to do in the community is the same when it comes to talking politics, religion and relationships. That simply is learning to speak clearly and respectfully and learning to listen to ask the right questions without talking over others and ignoring them or at worst, troll them.. When people learn this basic lesson, we can accomplish so much.
A few examples:
MEN: And yes, I am talking to ALL of you. Married, single whatever have you. Basment dwellers, those with spouses, girlfriends etc. IT’S NOT OK for women to be objectified especially if told explicitly that they don’t appreciate the attention. In the conversations I have seen among the sexes regarding the Milo Manara cover, the woman who is now Thor and many others, some of us MEN prove to be the DUMBEST creatures alive. Yes, the issues are deep in regards to how the characters are perceived but for us to continue to ignore that there is still a huge gap in understanding how women are portrayed and received in the geek community shows how far we still have to go before we have any equality in terms of male and females being represented. There is no need to enumerate the issues, most of you already know; which also leads to in terms of cosplay. MEN, how many more times must it be expressed that NO MEANS NO? This is not a new concept. Just because you see someone in a scantily clad outfit or because she speaks to you does not mean that she wants you putting hands upon her, snapping uncomfortable pictures, stalking her, or putting her in a position of discomfort. She did not dress up as slave Leia to be your girlfriend, she did not to a femme Captain America for you to do upskirt pictures and the sooner that MEN realize that even in a fantasy setting such as a con, there are real world legal actions that can and will take place, the sooner we can squash the need to keep telling people that this isn’t ok. The shaming of women (and people) of certain sizes. Stop. JUST stop. because the sad reality is, many of you that are doing this aren’t even the picture of perfect health and even if you are some of you aren’t even smart enough to know that what you are doing is wrong. You are so busy complaining that a heavy person is doing a cosplay character wrong yet, I don’t see you out there doing what it takes to create a costume and face the same critics. Your hypocrisy needs to end now.
WOMEN: You want respect? Respect yourself. Remember when you go out in public, what you get in return for an action is what you give out. Yes, some of the men are looney toons certified sexist but, how are you handling the situation? Are you fighting fire with fire? Because when you do, that blaze only serves to get bigger and out of control. So, sure if a guy (or another girl) comes at you incorrectly, coming down to their level does not help your cause and saying “well I am a woman” only goes so far. It’s not always ok to play the helpless female card, especially when some of you are also culprits in how you treat the guys. Yes, the “no means no” rule goes for you as well. I can’t tell you how many times women have done things with men in front of their spouses and significant others after being told ‘no’ and try to feign it as ‘he was asking for it’ or ‘he liked it’. Remember how you didn’t like it when a man does it to you? Same rules apply and there is no double standard in this case.
Non-minority people: If someone comes to you with an issue that bothers them because they feel like their culture has been violated, there are a few things that you should not do. 1. Do not say “you are being over sensitive”, or “get over it”. Because when you are saying that, it’s an immediate sign that you are actively choosing to ignore the issue and not bother to learn about the issue and why it’s a problem. It’s an immediate sign of dismissal and you would rather not deal with it. 2. Do not argue for worse. What does that mean? In the course of discussions, inevitably someone reaches a point where they say, “…but there are bigger problems in the world to talk about.” Sure, there are bigger issues but many of us can multi-task. We all know that there is an ebola outbreak but we can also discuss why we agree or disagree with the Fantastic Four’s casting. Again, it’s a shutdown mechanism. 3. The “but my best friends are ___” or “well I grew up in a neighborhood around ___” . That by itself is a conversation killer. If nothing else, being in both situations may give you a close view as to what your minority friend may be going through but you still (especially if your present circumstance is not reflective of theirs) don’t have an idea of people’s daily struggles. It’s great if you want to empathize but just having people near your circle without them being IN your circle does not give you context unless you kjnow that person implicitly. 4. Arguing false equivalencies. This one has been my personal favorite this week. For example, in the course of talking about the black face issue, so many people were quick to jump on the idea that if others can color themselves, green and blue or pink with purple polka dots, then why isn’t it ok to change their race? Simply put, it’s NOT the same thing, it never was and until we evolve to have other primary colors as part of our pigment it never will be. Not to mention, just don’t do things (this applies to everyone really) just because it’s there or you think you can. Just because YOU think it’s cool it may not sit well with someone else. Think it thought before you do anything that possibly will offend others. When having any discussion, if you try to equate something that does not exist with something that does, that argument will always and forever be flawed. It’s and apples and oranges kind of flawed. When things that aren’t right are brought to your attention, first of all know the facts…wait I am jumping ahead of myself. 5. When something factual is brought to your attention, DO NOT IGNORE IT. READ IT AND…what? EDUCATE YOURSELF. I can’t think how many times, I have gotten into debates and presented something factual and the other person dismissed it without ever reading and this is especially true in conversations when it comes to culture. Many hang on to so many false truths like black on black crime is high or the majority of welfare moms are minority people, all illegals comes from Mexico and all Muslims hate America and practice Sharia law. And what is astounding is that a lot of these fallacies can be cleared up with a simple click to Google or whatever search engine floats your boat. Take a minute, listen, research and go back and ask the right questions and you can better interactions from those not like you.
Minority people: Hey our hands aren’t clean either. A lot of things we can learn to do better as well. 1. Don’t be so quick to condemn. This is what I ‘love’ about my people and all people who call themselves minorities. We have passion. We have fire and…we are so quick to leap down the throat of a perceived slight, rip out their innards and scorch the earth without ever asking what was going on. You know what it’s called? It’s called assuming. In many cases we are quick to judge and assume that because someone does a certain thing it’s racist or whatever kind of -ist we want to apply without ever bothering to clear the air. Stop it. Slow down and get all of the facts straight first before going in on someone because you never know when you could be totally wrong about a situation. 2. It’s that recurring theme again, EDUCATE YOURSELF. Get your facts straight and even with what you THINK you might know go back and investigate and make sure that you are in the right. Things change and people change and sometimes your line of thinking may be outdated which leads to 3. Learn to be flexible with change. This goes for both minority and non-minority people and goes back to what I said much earlier. The world we live in has changed much since we were born and is rapidly changing faster than we know it and some things that we learned as children we must unlearn and if we aren’t asking the right questions ALL OF US run the risk of looking stupid when engaged in sensitive topics. 4. The ‘You don’t know my struggle’ argument and how to properly use it. Yes, you are right, your friend may not know what you are going through heck, I may not know what you are going through but at that point if you are ready to to tell a parson that they don’t understand, it’s now on you to help them to understand. Turn that time into a teaching moment. I had someone tell me, “If someone misconstrues my actions even when it’s clear my actions weren’t malicious, I don’t feel the need to kowtow to them. It’s on them at that point.” and “……if I have to explain to you what my intent is, to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, “you just might be an idiot.” . That’s not how it works precisely. No one is a mind reader and it’s a bad assumption to think that everyone should know. But yes, there are some common sense things people SHOULD know but you know what they say about assuming, right? if you are willing to let someone assume without taking a clear opportunity to explain, it’s your fault if you are told that someone else doesn’t understand and you fail to make yourself clear. You can’t educate a mind if you are unwilling to teach. 5. Learn how and when to disengage. At some point in discourse we know that it’s time to just leave it alone. But some of us feel like we have to have the last word. We have to stop that behavior and learn to walk away. Some minds will never be opened but the worst thing we can do is allow someone to pull us down to their level and let name calling begin. We are all guilty of it including myself. But as I get older and admittedly my patience gets a little shorter with the ignorance of some people, I am getting much better with the art of staying above the fray and learning when to say, “… ok, I have had enough” and keep it moving to something better. I would be lying if I say it’s easy but the alternative is I find myself baited into a discussion with someone who is taking pleasure at beating me down on their playing field. So yes, that age old adage stands even in the electronic age, walk away. It’s better to be called a fool than to keep posting negatively and remove all doubt. We must remember, a lot of people are really brave when a few thousand miles and a keyboard separates us but are they able to find that same bravado in person with the people they put down?
To sum this entire issue up, if we want to progress as a community, communication is key. Instead of shutting down each other, we all must learn to actively listen and what? EDUCATE OURSELVES. If someone comes with a problem, we can’t say that they are over-sensitive nor can we allow our passions to overwhelm us so much that we allow issues to spiral out of control. Also we must know and respect the boundaries of other because we expect fully for others to do the same. So, how can we ask others to respect us if we don’t respect ourselves or the wishes of other people? If we truly wish for the geek community to be ‘all accepting’ and ‘all inclusive’ then we must be willing to take everyday life lessons and continue to apply them. Be responsible for your actions and own your words, learn what make others tick and be understanding of what makes others different. Some may feel it’s easiest to never get involved but why miss a good learning opportunity? It’s as simple as doing to and for others as you want them to do for you.
In case you didn’t know, come also check out the CosLove initiative
Excellent. You really covered this, and I could not have said it better!
An amazing write up! Thank you for taking the time. I’ll be spreading this around.
Part of the difficulty here may be that there are multiple questions going on that people are conflating into a single reaction. You point to that your other piece. Is this blackface? Is this racist? Is this offensive? What are the relative weights we place personally and culturally on authenticity vs. sensitivity? Do we use an American or German historical and cultural frame to appraise her cosplay? What’s the rhetorical context (i.e. “I hadn’t thought about the issue from that perspective–I still want to cosplay, but I understand why someone might be offended,” vs. “Sorry it bothers you but I can cosplay whatever I want”)?
But we’re responding to something as complex and multi-facted as that on social media like FB. FB and Twitter are conducive to reaction and identity formation/circulation, but which makes analytical and substantive argument impossible. That kind of soial media is great for linking to a cartoon, youtube clip, or some other ideograph that points to a set of values and ideological assumptions. It’s great for getting people aligned on sides, but terrible for helping people on different sides talk thoughtfully and respectfully to each other.
So the medium itself is a serious constraint on good argument. And then our personal stakes are a huge impediment. “Culture is contested, temporal, and emergent.” That is, culture is a kind of messy fight (it has political stakes, with winners and losers), it isn’t static/pre-existing and evolves constantly over time, and it’s never done or settled. That means that we are all actively creating culture now, and we all have a stake/angle/skin in the game. How many people here are willing to make their first move self-criticism rather than other criticism? As a scientist, starting with “How could I be wrong?,” was a very difficult habit that took years of guided practice to develop, and one I must do work on constantly to maintain and improve.