“I’m conscious of race whenever I’m writing, just as I’m conscious of class, religion, human psychology, politics — everything that makes up the human experience. I don’t think I can do a good job if I’m not paying attention to what’s meaningful to people, and in American culture, there isn’t anything that informs human interaction more than the idea of race.”
― Dwayne McDuffie
Black lives matter. An anime blog isn’t necessarily the best place to make that statement, but I felt the need to do so. More than simply leaving it at that, however, I want to write my own thoughts about the intersection between race, racism, and privilege, because I see in parts of anime fandom an alarming component of rancid intolerance and ignorance. I’ve tried in the past to couch explanations of privilege in more analogous terms—comparing it to a fighting game super meter or imagining worlds where privilege is more concretely shown—but I’ve come to realize that such approaches only go so far. There’s a reality staring us in the face about the way black lives are not valued in the United States.
I recently watched the 1942 film The Talk of the Town. While it features a primarily white cast and is not explicitly about racial discrimination, the spirit of the film is very much in line with some of what I’m feeling:
“The law must be engraved in our hearts and practiced every minute to the letter and spirit. It can’t even exist unless we’re willing to go down into the dust and blood and fight a battle every day of our lives to preserve it. For our neighbor as well as ourself!“
It’s easy to think one can avoid controversy and sensitive political topics by just sticking to one’s fandom. Shamefully, I thought for many years that I could stay distanced from these matters—concerned and saddened, of course, but powerless to do anything. However, even geek fandom itself is rife with discrimination and passive exertions of privilege in ways that poison the ability for something like anime or superhero comics to bring people together through love and passion. When a black cosplayer dresses as a non-black character, there is inevitably a reaction from a vocal segment about how they’re doing it “wrong,” that dark-skinned people should cosplay as dark-skinned characters. A lot of media assumes lighter-skinned characters to be the default, yet when those who don’t match the inherent appearance of a character try to express their own personal take on it, they’re harassed. When light-skinned characters are viewed as the “standard” in so much of our entertainment and media, and dark-skinned fans face gatekeeping that discourages them from expressing themselves through cosplay or other means, there’s a very stark message about what we as a society consider to be “normal.” It’s not that far a leap to go from seeing this, to seeing how black people’s lives are disregarded in America.
I am not black. I am Asian-American, and because of that, I’m going to bring up a topic that is hotly debated among Asians in the US: affirmative action. Examples of affirmative action such as college admission and hiring are sometimes framed as evidence of how white people and Asians are discriminated against in favor of black people. The idea is that because there are these systems in place to give black people help, they are therefore the real beneficiaries of our society. “How can white privilege exist when black people can get into college more easily? Isn’t that black privilege?” But that reaction in itself is very telling. To those on the outside who don’t understand the tacit power their appearance grants them in society at large, “privilege” comes only in the form of concrete milestones like receiving higher education or landing a job.
Privilege is at its strongest not in these big tent-pole life events, but in the small everyday interactions that permeate every single person’s life. Consider the simple choice of how we dress. You might choose to dress well because you like to look good, or maybe it gives you confidence. Maybe you don’t care about fashion and just want clothing that is functional. Or perhaps you grew up in a place where you were ridiculed for your clothing, and you began dressing a certain way as a form of protection against bullies or assholes.
For black people in America, their choice of clothing can be the difference between being viewed as a “respectable member of society” and a “dangerous criminal,” and even then, it might not be enough. There’s a 2016 CNN article titled “For affluent blacks, wealth doesn’t stop racial profiling.” In it, a black Republican senator, a black trauma surgeon, and a black Harvard professor all recount the police approaching them as potential criminals because of their blackness. When Amy Cooper threatened to call the police on Christian Cooper, who simply was trying to tell her to follow mask-wearing rules in Central Park, she purposely pitched up her voice to ham up her role as a “frightened white woman” up against a “scary black man.”
Philando Castile was shot by police in his car in front of his wife and daughter despite following all the rules. He mentioned to the officer that he was a licensed gun owner, and that his gun was in the same place as his license and registration. He was compliant in every possible way, and he still died for it. By default, black people are seen as potential threats to a country and society built on white privilege and black labor, and no amount of dressing well or making enough money can paper over that inherent injustice. What hope did Amadou Diallo, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, or countless others have?
What’s more, you can even see the damage white privilege causes to black people and the US at large in the malignant counter-arguments against “black lives matter.” “All lives matter” is an attempt to take focus away from a specific and stark problem brought about by the US’s history of enslaving black people and building its economy on their bones. “Blue lives matter” is an attempt to inflame tension and reinforce the dichotomy built upon the assumption of black criminality. These are disingenuous in their intent, and need to be understood as such.
I say it again just as much for myself as I do for any readers: black lives matter. I hope the energy that has come out of the worldwide protests and the calls for justice continue for as long as it takes.