Alternative ‘Alt’ Culture is the umbrella term for the communities that exist outside of the mainstream. I personally divide ‘Alt’ culture into two categories: Lifestyle/Fashion and Hobbies/Interest. Of course, these at times overlap. While derived directly from the music genre, it’s also a fashion statement as well — hence making it both lifestyle and interest.
I’ll focus on the Hobbies/Interest aspect of the Black ‘Alt’ community. Funnily enough though, a lot of communities — to Black people — are technically ‘Alt’. Take Musical Theatre for example— the significant lack of Black people within this industry makes being a Black Musical Theatre fan relatively ‘Alt’, while this wouldn’t be the case for our white counterparts. To narrow down this broad category, for the general sake of your sanity and mine, my focus will be on Anime/Cosplay and Comic Books, however, I do intend to touch upon other communities briefly and in later articles.
As an avid member of the ‘Alt’ community and a self-acclaimed Geek, I jumped at the chance to write about, and for, these communities, and the spaces we as Black members have created for ourselves within them. I decided to interview some members of these communities, who’s different stories showcase what it’s like to be a Black ‘Alt’.
Anime and Cosplay Community
The Anime and Cosplay communities, despite many assumptions, aren’t necessarily interchangeable — despite that, most of the time people are members of both. Some Cosplayers focus on Cosplaying characters from ‘western’ shows, books, and movies. Likewise, some Anime fans don’t Cosplay and just indulge in watching the shows and reading the manga.
Black Anime Fans/Cosplayers have created communities for themselves within these communities — becoming a minority within a minority of such. Luckily there is this increasing popularity of these communities, with figures such a King Vader, Caleb City, and Mark Phillips, who have paved the way for a lot Black Anime fans by making such big names for themselves. And more recently, celebrities such as Megan The Stallion and Micheal B. Jordan have discussed the topic of anime on a more mainstream level.
Despite this, however, there are a lot of issues Black people face in these communities. Our identities as Black people seem to always be up for discussion, even at times by fellow members of the Black community.
Common Misconception of the Community — ‘No, we don’t want to be Asian!’
One big issue we as Anime/Cosplay fans face is this common assumption that we want to be Asian — or at the very least, don’t want to be Black. This mentality not only polices Blackness but creates a monolithic sense of what it means to be Black — which is very dangerous rhetoric to have.
TikTok star, Keondra Kelly, even stated that even her mother thought that “[she]…truly wanted to be Japanese”. Our ‘Blackness’ seems to cause conflict as members of these communities — it always becomes an object for discussion. We never get to be ‘Black enough’…
“You can’t cosplay them, they’re not BLACK”
A big issue Black cosplayers have been facing within the Cosplay community is the whole ‘you can’t cosplay white characters’. This often is paired with the ‘well how would you feel if I cosplayed a black character’. The two main issues with these trains of thought are: firstly, these characters aren’t white — Tsukino Usagi, despite her blonde hair and blue eyes, isn’t white. Judging by their names, most of these characters are Japanese. So with that, the policing of cosplayers should extend to other non-Asian cosplayers too right? Not to mention, it’s often white people policing this community despite not fitting the race of the characters they’re cosplaying. Secondly, if you really want to cosplay the small minority of Black characters (as long as you kindly refrain from blackface, or the promotion of blatantly racist caricatures) then please go ahead. You may, however, find that there aren’t a lot of them.
The issue at hand is there aren’t a lot of Black characters to cosplay (especially Black LGBTQ+ Women, but I digress), as long as you’re respectful you can cosplay anyone! Kelly stated that:
“limiting cosplayers like that causes nothing but insecurity and many new and young cosplayers have come to [her] saying that [she] helped them break that stigma for themselves due to [her] cosplaying who [she] want[s] whether the character be white, black, asian, etc”.
This is so important. Within the anime and cosplay community, we need to be better at acknowledging the fact the Black people are held to a much higher standard when they cosplay. We have to be better because our skin itself is already a reason why the cosplay will ‘not look authentic’ to people.
Cosplay allows people to immerse themselves with characters who inspire, thrill them and make their journey through a story enjoyable. Cosplayers are artists, actors, and world-builders. Black people deserve to be a part of that and treated fairly with respect.
The spaces we’ve created within these communities produce BIG trends, period. Like ‘cultural reset’ level trend. Take the TikTok trend to the song ‘JoJo Pose’, made by Apollo Fresh (a Black artist) — which orignally showcases people posing to different anime characters frame by frame. (The song has gone on to even be used further beyond the anime community too). The song takes inspiration from the anime JoJo’s Bizare Adventure.
Likewise you have Kamil’s song, ‘Bakugo’ — based off of the My Hero Academia character, of the same name.This barely scratches the surface of our contribution to these communities. We produce trends, yet somehow our presence is overlooked and undermined — by both members of the communities, and our fellow black people, who view our interests as ‘not black’, hence not valid.
Comic Book Community — From Marvel to DC, and all In-between
With the growth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, being Black and a comic book fan has become a lot more mainstream — with this comes a higher demand for diversity, which is nice. But this demand has highlighted a clear lack of Black voices within the industry. This means the stories we’re getting either doesn’t properly encapsulate the Black experience, or the character is written as a stereotypical ‘strong black woman’ or a Black man with ‘loose morals’. Take, for example, Miles Morales. The Afro-Latino protagonist of Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse — written by Brian Michael Bendis (a white man) and Sara Pichelli (a white woman). Miles’ popularity in the comics was dwindling until the movie’s release (thank you Peter Ramsey!). Prior to the movie, his character was bland and boring, evidenced by the low sales of the comic book.
The Black Geek
Being Black and a Geek/Nerd (especially if you’re a girl too), you often have to deal with a lot of bull from the creators of the things you love. I, for one, remember when I first got into Dungeons and Dragons. The Drow (otherwise known as dark elves) have black skin and are deemed as chaotic/neutral evil in comparison to their white Elven counterparts. Yet, because D&D wasn’t mainstream, no one really talked about these issues or called it out — and like everything you had the surge of non-Black people justifying these racist elements of the game. The Wizards of the Coast (the publishing company for D&D) have recently called themselves out and apologized about these racist elements of the game, yet that doesn’t take away from the fact that a lot of Black Geeks had to put up with this for a long while.
Without a doubt, I know Sci-Fi and Fantasy are the perfect genres to discuss issues of racism and discrimination — yet white people profit off of creating their own made-up suffering as elves, or wizards, yet, can’t fathom the existent of Black people (or any other race at that) in these stories.
Our representation shouldn’t stop with Black Panther
In Civil War 2 (comic spoiler, oops..), Captain Marvel gets ready to arrest Miles after seeing a vision of him killing Captain America. This vision goes against everyone’s understanding of Miles and who he is. Literally everyone — including Captain America, can’t even fathom that scenario ever even happening. Yet, Captain Marvel still decides to proceed to arrest Miles, while Black characters, such as Storm and T’challa watch passively. You expect me, a Black woman, to assume fellow Black people would watch the arrest of a young Black boy, over a vision heavily unlikely to happen (literally near impossible), and not see parallels with the endless black boys arrested under false pretenses in America and across the world? In reading the comic this parallel was immediately obvious to me, and it confused me how the Black characters sat back and watched (in fact Storm even continues to support Captain Marvel after the event). Black writers would have realised this, and seen the parallels. Again, this is an example of how there are not a lot of Black writers or people behind the scene, so these things slip by — irregardless of non-Black writers’ attempt to include diversity.
Essentially, we need more Black characters in these Universes, and more Black voices to tell the nuanced, important stories of these Black characters. What makes me Black isn’t just my skin but also my learned mannerisms — a white writer won’t know how to have a Black character react to her hair being randomly touched, or a response to a microaggression, which may not even register as racism to such a writer. Let us tell our stories, because the fact that they’re only valuable in the hand of a white man, is an issue!
[Note: If you’re a non-Black creator and want to include Black characters in your story — That’s fine! But try to have someone on your team, even just a friend, who’s Black to proofread it. Or, if you can’t do that, Google. Google is your best friend.]
Conclusion — And Advice to any new Black ‘Alt’s?
Overall, we need to be better and do better in supporting these communities. Anime and Comic Books have become more mainstream, yet these issues are still present, so imagine the Alt communities which aren’t as mainstream, or which have negative connotations to people…
There is such a powerful beauty in being Black. We always seem to make a culture and community from nothing, because a lot of us across the diaspora have had to do that, and it’s a shame we don’t acknowledge that more widely. Literally, we now have the first Black-owned anime studio— D’ART Shtajio (like, what! If this isn’t Black excellence I don’t know what is!). Likewise, the anime ‘Fire Fore’ has a Nigerian character, Ogun. We, as members of these communities, need to be proud of the progress we’ve made, especially under the circumstances we’ve been dealt.
We are making improvements and big strides as Black Alts, but there’s still work to be done. Netflix’s The Witcher showcased a lot of diversity — likewise Cursed seems to be promising with the diversity it has. But it’s not enough. We need more Black MAIN characters, more Black ‘chosen ones’, more Black heroes to save the day!
And, I’d like to thank Keondra, Andre, Sailor Goon, and Faith Gardener for allowing me to interview them for this. All of their full interviews are on separate pages (under this Medium account), I suggest you check them out!
Recommendations (compiled by Keondra, Andre and I):
- Eureka 7
- Michiko & Hatchin (Black main character — always a win. Amazing plot with lots of twists! Heavily underrated, but great starter)
- Detective Conan (ICONIC)
- Kamisama Kiss (romance/just cute vibes tbh)
- Inuyasha (very long, but worth it. Action with romance)
- Demon Slayer (two words: episode 19 — you’ll thank me later)
- JoJo’s Bizare Adventure (might as well jump in the deep end)
- HBO’s Watchmen
- Disney Plus: Marvel’s Runaways (not as great as it could have been, but it’s my guilty pleasure soo…)
- Netflix: The Witcher
- Netflix: Castlevania
- Black Girl Anime: Just an amazing space for all Black fans starting out, great recommendations and great vibes
- Joshua David King: Elite humour, deserves more hype
- NamiWear: Make AMAZING anime themed clothes (did I mention, BLACK OWNED)
- Adorned By Chi: Created a Magical girl series, but with Black girls!
- Aishify: Make Anime themed perfume (Black-owned, so another BIG win!)