Obviously no white person has ever actually been offended by a black family cosplaying as the Simpsons. So what is going on here? It’s possible Kelsey is just trolling, but let’s take the principle of charity (for once) and assume that it’s more complicated than that. What would make Kelsey say something so stupid?
Doubtless Kelsey noticed some examples of cosplayers getting called out for race-bending. She probably should have noticed that this is not the most common reaction to a white person dressed as, say, an anime character. Any trip to any comic convention should reveal plenty of people cosplaying outside their race with no repercussions. But of course just as every conceivable text is available in the Library of Babel, every conceivable opinion in available online, and we all know that there are people who would be angry about a white Luke Cage costume, and that they would express their anger on a scale that ranges from “you are a monster” to “you should go kill yourself” (the Steven Universe-fandom level).
So she did noticed that some people, the most vociferous people, care about cosplaying outside one’s race, and that most people don’t. Also, that no one has ever cared about black Simpsons. She (as part of the subset of everyone) has never cared about black Simpsons.
Kelsey probably should have said, “I am not the same demographic as Steven Universe fans, and I will probably never embrace their values, so let me reiterate that I believe all people should be able to cosplay as whomever they wish.” But instead she tried to extrapolate an ideology. And an ideology cannot endure this kind of contradiction. We sometimes create elaborate justifications to persuade ourselves that our beliefs are not a crufty assemblage of demographic signals, but it’s not going to be easy to explain how becoming a walking advertisement for a Japanese property like Sailor Moon is cultural appropriation. There were two simple ways for Kelsey to resolve this contradiction: either
A. white people are allowed to cosplay as nonwhite people (people who believe this: the vast majority of fandom) and nonwhite people are allowed to cosplay as white people (pwbt: all humans); or
B. white people are not allowed to cosplay as nonwhite people (pwbt: a few loud people) and nonwhite people are not allowed to cosplay as white people (pwbt: no one).
Let’s tabulate the votes. If x is the the population who knows what cosplay is, then for option B, the vote is .8x+x=1.8x; for option B the votes are .2x+0=.2x. Let’s take a moment to see which is larger, 1.8 or .2. Annnnnd Kelsey chooses…
Ha ha! Of course Kelsey chooses option B. She was going to choose option B from the start and none of your votes counted. It’s like the time the student council asked the kids to vote on whether smoking should be allowed in school.
We look at the question “should people be allowed”? and note that some people vote one way and some people vote another way, and then we always move in one direction. We always say “people should not be allowed.”
Where maybe someone may once have said, “How come it’s racist to fake a Chinese accent but not an Italian accent?” now we just toss off phrases like “despicably racist Italian accent“(careful: that link looks like it’s about cartoons, but it’s actually about sports) as though we all agreed that what we really needed was more rules about how people should speak.
(I speak, of course, as someone whose latest book has been called racist because of some jokes about France. (The reviewer also seems to think the book is marketed at six year olds, instead of sixth graders, so what are you going to do?))
Kelsey, and by extension all of us, chose this option for several reasons. It gives her the opportunity to engage in a fantasy of oppression. It gives her the self-righteous justification necessary to tell others what to do. In a word, it gives her power — a small rush of power she can cash in online. All she had to give up to get it was the give up autonomy over how she dresses next Halloween.
I learned last week of a phrase of Coleridge’s: “The motive-hunting of motiveless malignity.” He was talking about Iago, but of course I see this phrase as more broadly applicable. At the risk of violating the principle of charity, perhaps it even applies here.