Cosplay and conventions go hand in hand, and for some it’s about winning that top prize in the cosplay contest, but at the 2021 Blerdcon the top prize turned sour when a white woman was declared the winner. For those wondering, wait...what? Blerd means Black nerd. So when a white woman won it rubbed many the wrong way. Some even went as far as to bully and harass her although she has apologized for entering and taking “an opportunity away from a black cosplayer.” Which both Black cosplayers we talked to about this agreed was not the right move because really, bullying? They agreed on that and some other things, but did vary on whether or not the winner should have even entered in the first place.
So who are our cosplayers? First up is Gina, a first time Blerdcon attendee who actually opted out of the contest to visit family in the area. She admitted to being surprised about who won but didn’t give it much thought until everyone started to have such a negative reaction. On the flipside is Cheslie AKA Curly Blerd, who was attending for the second time and a bit surprised and felt that a white person winning took away from the idea of Blerdcon, “While I’m all for Blerdcon being an inclusive space, it is particularly supposed to highlight the Black creatives in our community. Not only the institution, but the people attending should have the same mindset. We already are an overlooked/undervalued part of the community so having a white person win invalidates the reason behind the convention.”
In many ways, I could see where they were coming from in that regard. Especially in hearing how each of them felt about the Blerdcon experience. “Being surrounded by all the melanin and knowing that there are so many others like you that are here to enjoy the same fandoms just feels like home in a way,” said Cheslie. Gina echoed similar sentiments, “I felt so much more comfortable there, I felt so much more seen. For the first time at a con I didn’t feel out of place especially when going back and telling my family about the event. I think Blerdcon does such a good job at creating this safe space for us but also focusing on inclusion for all. I brought one of my best friends, who happens to be white and they also said they felt so welcomed and at home.”
However, while both felt a certain type of way about the event, they didn’t really see eye to eye on the big winner. Like we already mentioned, Cheslie felt that win took away from the overall idea of the convention, and knowing just how much society likes to appropriate Black culture, this sort of felt like another way of mining the well, “We see it all over social media where white influencers/brands are being recognized and awarded for work originally done by Black folks. They take ideas, dances, hairstyles, use AAVE, and continuously appropriate our culture for likes and profit.” I wondered if they thought if that cosplayer shouldn’t have been allowed to even partake in which they said, “Not allowing them to participate would be wrong, but there’s other ways their cosplay could have been recognized for the work that was done.”
In regards to the appropriating and sort of borrowing from other cultures, Gina pointed out that every culture borrows and is influenced by other ones, “I’ve never been one to gate keep my culture or anyone else’s because at the end of the day, we all borrow. If it weren’t for Asians, there would be no such thing as anime.” Which, she has a point. Anime conventions are stacked full of people who are not of Asian descent, but those cosplay contest winners never seem to make headlines. Do they?
Nevertheless, Gina believes whoever won at Blerdcon shouldn’t have been an issue then or moving forward, “A white winner does not defeat the purpose, but encourages coexistence. At the end of the day, I would have loved to see a POC as the winner of the contest, but I ain’t mad. White people still control 95% of all cosplay/nerd culture. Imagine how this event makes us look? It makes us look mean and uninviting. I know a lot of folks will bring up being unapologetically Black and all this other Black pride stuff. I’m here for that. I’m just not here to use that as an excuse for racism.”
Both cosplayers who shared their thoughts and opinions with me both brought up valid points. Cheslie was right in that a Black space shouldn’t leave one feeling unseen, but Gina was right when she said that Blerdcon should strive for inclusion. As should every convention, right? It’s hard to be the other in any regard. It’s like if you aren’t a straight, white, man with Christian beliefs and a huge bank account - you are the other...at least in America.
So while it’s wonderful that these various cons like Blerdcon exist and highlight a myriad of people that feel left out otherwise, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day cosplay is for everyone, and everyone should be able to dress up like their favorite characters without falling prey to bullying. Because let’s be real, we’re all mostly nerds here and have been picked on for one thing or another and yeah, it’s not fun.