One Way to Be an Ally

Editor’s note: Although this essay discusses specifically being an ally against structural racism in the United States, the concepts apply to many forms of allyship. The author has requested to remain anonymous.

 

Hi. I am white and I am an ally. I am not a perfect ally—let’s go ahead and get that out of the way. I’m not even sure I could say I am a “good” ally. I would like to be, and I strive to be the best I can. But this isn’t an essay about me. I wrote this essay because I want to encourage other allies to act where they have an opportunity and responsibility to act. This is an essay about one way in which passionate allies—even those who are shy and reclusive—can be effective.

Guest Contributor
“Rock On!”

January 2016 Geek About Town!

Ring in the New Year with these awesomely geeky events!

Friday, January 1: The Princess Bride Quote-Along

SIFF Film Center, Seattle

5:00pm and 7:15pm

$15 | $10 SIFF Members | $14 Senior & Youth

Adapted for the screen by William Goldman from his equally hysterical and brilliant novel, director by Rob Reiner brought to the screen a modern day classic filled with memorable performances, sharp wit, derring-do, and heaping helpings of romance. Thoroughly tongue-in-cheek and forever quotable, The Princess Bride is filled with iconic characters and moments: the Dread Pirate Roberts, insanity-inducing cliffs, a wily Sicilian, a six-fingered count, a friendly giant, the Fire Swamp, and the ultimate story of “Wuv, True Wuv” as read to us by that most lovable of grandpas, Peter Falk.

Saturday, January 2: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in Smell-O-Vision

SIFF Film Center, Seattle

12:00pm and 2:30pm

$15 | $10 SIFF Members | $14 Senior & Youth

SIFF’s annual extravaganza celebrating the 1971 musical family classic returns! Sign our giant contract on the way in the door, then enjoy fragrant and tasty treats from our legendary Wonkariffic goodie bags. Bring your nose, your taste buds, and your sense of adventure as you tour the most eccentric and wonderful candy factory of all, made even more outrageous by Gene Wilder’s wonderfully eccentric performance, utterly singable songs, and those lovable hardworking Oompa Loompas.

Seeing this film on the big screen (with candy!) makes for an experience that is “ninety-three percent perspiration, six percent electricity, four percent evaporation, and two percent butterscotch ripple.”

Saturday, January 9: Rat City Rollergirls presents: Star Wars Benefit Bout for Food Life Line

The Rat’s Nest, 19022 Aurora Ave N, Seattle

Doors open 4:30pm, first whistle 5:30pm

If you sense a disturbance in the Force, it’s probably because there’s a battle of Death Star-proportions brewing. Join us Saturday, January 9th for a Star Wars themed evening featuring lots of fast-paced derby action. First up, Rat City skaters split into two teams will take the track in Rebels vs. Empire. Will you choose to cheer for the light or dark side? Following that bout it’s an intergalactic clash as our Washington State Conference team takes on Overbeaters Anonymous.

Jedi robes and light sabers are encouraged (though you’ll have to leave your droids outside), and you’ll have the chance to meet Garrison Titan’s stormtroopers. And don’t forget your canned goods – as always, we’ll be accepting non-perishable food donations on behalf of Food Lifeline. So save the date and join us in Shoreline – as a wise master once said, ‘Do or do not, there is no try.’

Tickets are $20 or at the door.

Friday, January 15: Black Lives Matter in Hip-Hop (featuring local artists and community members)

Town Hall Seattle, Downstairs

Doors open at 6:30pm, event starts at 7:30pm

From Sir Mix-a-Lot to Macklemore, the face of Pacific Northwest hip-hop has changed. How does that affect the historical link between hip-hop and social activism? This panel discussion (featuring performances by local artists) will explore the gentrification of Seattle hip-hop and its effects. They’ll also discuss the local Black Lives Matter movement and ways to preserve the integrity of the music and its social effects. Featured panelists include moderator Wyking Garrett and Black Stax member Jace Ecaj, among others. This event is in conjunction with MOHAI’s exhibit, “The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop.”

Tickets are $5

Thursday, January 21: I’ll make a man out of you: Redefining Strong Female Characters

Meydenbauer Center, Bellevue

7:30pm

From the webpage: There has been a significant increase in the number of television shows and movies that showcase female action heroes, challenging and transforming the historical representations of women. But are these truly examples of “Strong Female Characters,” or do they simply replicate traditional masculine archetypes in a sexualized, female body?

In this lecture, Anita Sarkeesian deconstructs the “Strong Female Character,” and argues for a better approach to how women are portrayed in media, one that breaks out of oppressive interpretations of gender and supports feminist values to promote a more just society.

Tickets are $5.

Friday, January 22: It’s Our Right: 43 Years of Legal Abortion (presented by Planned Parenthood)

Town Hall Seattle, Great Hall

7:00pm

Recent attacks on Planned Parenthood locations, national talk of defunding the organization, and allegations of the sale of fetal tissue here in Washington, have thrust the group into the spotlight. This celebratory event will recognize a woman’s reproductive choice and the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade (the Supreme Court case upholding a woman’s right to access abortion). The evening will bring together storytellers from across the state to commemorate this landmark decision, highlight the impact of Shout Your Abortion, and help destigmatize abortion and those who choose it. Learn about this constitutionally-protected (and controversial) right and show support for reproductive freedom.

$10 early bird tickets; $15 general admission; and $50 VIP entry. Tickets at the door are cash only.

Thursday, January 28: Campout Cinema: Blade Runner blade_runner_poster

Sky Church, EMP Museum

Doors open 6:30pm, screening starts 7:30pm

Experience Ridley Scott’s dystopic vision of the future, Blade Runner (The Director’s Cut) (1982), as part of EMP’s Campout Cinema.

In this timeless sci-fi classic, humans have developed the technology to create replicants, robotic human clones used to serve the colonies outside Earth. In Los Angeles, 2019, Deckard is a Blade Runner, a cop who specializes in terminating replicants. Originally in retirement, he’s forced to re-enter the force when four replicants escape from an off-world colony back to Earth.

This Director’s Cut version of the film, made with direction from Scott, was officially re-released in theaters in 1992.

Tickets include admission to Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction, where you can see several artifacts from the film, including costumes from Pris and Zhora, Deckard’s pistol, and more.

Tickets are $12 ($10 EMP members), 21+ only.

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

GeekGirlCon ’15 Programming Highlight: We’ve Got Intersectionality!

Here at GeekGirlCon, we pride ourselves on promoting the interests of all types of geeky women, be it in the sciences, or in gaming, comics or popular culture. However, our mission is considerably broader than that: we value diversity in all types, and celebrate in particular the space where these differences overlap.

Some of our panels also touch on the intersectionality between gender and another issue, such as race, ability, gender identity and orientation, or size. And now with our schedule available online for GeekGirlCon ‘15, here are some freshly-picked panels at the intersection of geeky lady-ness and everything else:

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

Celebrating Asian-Pacific Heritage

Written by GeekGirlCon copywriter JC Lau

Did you know that “ketchup” is a Chinese word? Or that the first female gunnery officer in the navy was a Korean-American in 1946? Or that the current Chief Justice of California is a Filipino-American woman? Or that a Chinese-American biologist co-invented the oral contraceptive pill and pioneered in-vitro fertilization?

Asian-Pacific Americans have long since been a part (albeit understated) of the American landscape, and May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. It’s a time to commemorate the contributions that they have made, and to celebrate the ongoing relationship and cultural diversity that Asian-Pacific Americans provide to American society and culture.

May was chosen because it was both the month that the first Japanese immigrated to the United States (in 1843), as well as the month that the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, where the majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

Mako Mori, Empowerment, and the Search for Representation

Written by GeekGirlCon Copywriter JC Lau.

There’s not much I could love more in an action movie than giant robots and giant alien monsters, but in 2013 Pacific Rim brought me giant robots fighting giant alien monsters. In a futuristic world, an underwater portal allows monsters known as Kaijus to rise from the sea and destroy coastal cities, so, naturally, humans operate giant robots called Jaegers to fight them. The film tells the tale of an international team of Jaeger pilots ending the conflict.

But that’s not all. Pacific Rim brought me Mako Mori. She’s one of my favorite female characters ever, not just because she’s a dynamic woman of color, but because she represents the possibility that there could be such characters in Hollywood. In this post, I’ll discuss how she’s unique as a character, and why her presence is important for film.

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

Chatting with Chaka Cumberbatch, Cosplayer Extraordinaire!

Interview by AJ Dent, GeekGirlCon Staff Copy Writer 

Being a professional cosplayer can’t be easy—it surely takes nerves of steel, cunning craftswomanship, and all the character of a superheroine. Chaka Cumberbatch not only pulls off this career with grace and humor, but continuously keeps conversations open about race and gender in cosplay communities. I was thrilled to have the chance to chat with her about these topics and am pumped for her appearance at GeekGirlCon ‘13!

Storm: Photo courtesy of Patrick Sun

Storm: Photo courtesy of Patrick Sun

In what ways do you see cosplay as empowering for women?

Honestly, the most empowering part of it for me has always been the different skills that I learn. It just makes you so handy! I like it because it keeps me thinking all the time; it’s constantly presenting new problems for me to solve, new skills for me to learn, and new trades to acquire. I’m always learning something new, and it keeps me going. If you want to make bigger, more intricate costumes, you have to learn more skills. It always keeps you on your toes, always keeps you leveling up.

What was your very first cosplay outfit, and what was your most recent?  How did that first experience and your latest one differ?  In what ways were they similar?   

My very first cosplay was Misa Amane, from the anime and manga series Death Note. My most recent cosplay was Red Sonja, The She-Devil with a Sword. In a lot of ways, Misa kind of paralleled how I felt about myself as a cosplayer at the time—not 100% sure I could stand on my own, somewhat naïve, but completely enthralled by and willing to jump headfirst into a world I didn’t fully understand. Sonja, on the other hand, is strong, independent and resilient. She’s unapologetically sexy and she takes no prisoners. Her scale mail bikini, while it may appear tiny to some, was the result of weeks spent weaving over 700 pieces of scale mail and jump rings—whereas I put my Misa costume together in about a day, and didn’t even wear a wig! I really feel the two characters really kind of mirror who I was as a cosplayer then, and who I am now.

Huntress: Photo courtesy of BentPics5

Huntress: Photo courtesy of BentPics5

What are some ways that you tap into your inner superheroine in order to pep yourself up or steel yourself against the criticism of others?   

I’m not going to lie—sometimes, it’s hard. When you’re at the convention, 99.9% of the time, everything is sunshine and rainbows, everyone loves your costume and everyone wants your pictures. The negativity, in my experience, usually doesn’t creep in until after the convention, when pictures start to make the rounds online. You have to remind yourself that when people online are criticizing your body or your costume that they don’t know you, and they don’t know what went into that costume. They don’t see all the hours you spent fighting with the bobbin on your sewing machine, they don’t see all the YouTube videos you watched and tutorials you read to learn how to weave scale mail or sew different seams, they don’t see the painting, the sanding, the sculpting, the false starts, the do-overs—all they see is the final product. And it takes a lot less time to say something snarky about someone’s costume than it actually takes to create a costume from scratch.

So to that end, you can’t let negative comments derail your entire experience. You have to remember how much of a thrill it was to put the costume on for the first time, look in the mirror and see your favorite character in the reflection. You have to remember how exciting it was to have someone recognize your character, compliment your work, and ask you for a picture. Honestly, it sounds cliché, but you have to focus on the positive. With cosplay being such a visual hobby, people are going to say things both good and bad about what they see. You have to be prepared for that, and you have to try not to let it derail you.

Do you view cosplay as a form of healthy escapism, an expression of self, or both?

I kind of feel like it’s a little of both, at least for me. I have no problem waking up every morning and facing the world as Chaka Cumberbatch. I’ve worked hard to build the life that I want, and I love living it. But as a girl with a runaway imagination and a fascination with bright colors, I love being able to put on a wig, snap on some armor, and suddenly take on a completely different identity. So in a way, it’s both escapism and a form of expression for me. It’s escapism in that I get to pretend to save the world for a few days on the weekend, and it’s a form of expression because bringing a character to life is the best way I know how to show my love for that character or that series.

If you could attend or sit on any panel at the intersection of race and geekdom, what would the specific focus of the panel be?

I would love to sit in on a panel that discussed ways we can encourage creators to include more people of color in our comics, video games, books, movies, and cartoons. The audience is there, but we aren’t being spoken to or represented in the mediums we love!

Amazon: Photo courtesy of Lemon Ikon Photography

Amazon: Photo courtesy of Lemon Ikon Photography

As encouragement to others considering cosplaying characters of different races than their own, when was a time when you felt especially validated in choosing to do so?

Ever since I wrote my article earlier this year, I’ve gotten messages, emails, and letters from around the world from people who previously hadn’t had the courage to attempt cosplaying a character of a different race—or even cosplaying at all—but were going to give it a shot after reading about my experience. There is nothing more validating than that. The idea that I could have even played a small part in introducing someone to this hobby, or helping them get over their fear of trying feels bigger than I am, if that makes any sense. It’s so humbling, I don’t feel worthy of it. But it’s so gratifying to know that I had the chance to turn something that was a negative experience for me into a positive experience for someone else. If raising my voice helped someone else find their own, then seriously, that makes it all worth it.

What lessons about geek communities and life at large have you learned by cosplaying characters of different races?

Full disclosure—I’m an Air Force brat. I spent my childhood on a series of different Air Force bases, surrounded by friends and classmates who were a mix of different races. So while I don’t agree that it’s possible to “not see” color, I definitely think it’s possible to not see color as someone’s #1 defining characteristic, because when I was growing up, I didn’t. None of us did—there wasn’t much of a point. We were all kids, and we didn’t care. I remember being annoyed by how every time I’d make a new friend at school, my biological mother would want to know if that friend was black, and if they weren’t, she’d lose interest. I never understood why my friend, whom I was so excited about, was somehow less important if he or she wasn’t black. As I’ve grown older, I’m much more aware of the different races that are around me, but still, when I look at a person, the first descriptor that comes to my mind isn’t related to their skin color.

The number one thing that cosplaying outside of my race has taught me is that I may not see others as a “race first and a person second,” but many, many other people do. It’s something I still struggle to wrap my mind around and may never truly understand. Mostly because, I mean, the hobby is called cosplay. It’s short for costume play. The last time I checked, skin color wasn’t part of the elements that make up a costume. So explain to me why it matters if a black girl cosplays Sailor Venus? If the actual costume is accurate, why are we even considering her skin color?

How do you think geek communities can become more welcoming to and inclusive of all races and genders?

Oh goodness, there are a lot of ways. I think one thing we could do as a community is just listen more. When a cosplayer of color brings up an issue, maybe not telling them, “Oh, that isn’t racism because of: this. I don’t want this to be racism, I don’t want this to be a problem, because then we have to acknowledge that there’s a problem. Why can’t we just be quiet and act like everything is ok?” Essentially, down-voting them and making them feel like they don’t have a voice is an issue in itself. Maybe we can just listen to them; we don’t have to solve every problem of a cosplayer of color or a different gender, but just listening to them and acknowledging that some of their complaints may actually be valid may help us find out why they’re making you uncomfortable. If we just ignore them, then we don’t have to talk about it and the fact that there is probably sexism or racism going on. Instead of shutting that down, let’s have that discussion, and that way people will feel more welcome to come in, because people just don’t feel like they are.

I’ve gotten emails from people all over the world who just didn’t feel like they were welcome to do these things—they honestly felt like it was something they weren’t allowed to do. I was at Dragon Con last weekend and a little girl came up to me—I mean, she was maybe in her teens—and she told me she had no idea that black people quote-unquote “were allowed” to cosplay. To be completely honest, it almost feels like it’s an unwritten rule, because you don’t see it as often. I see it, because I know other cosplayers of color, but I know that from the outside looking in, when you look through all the galleries of cosplay at all the big shows, you don’t see people who look like me, so people don’t know that we’re there. So inviting people to participate in the first place, and making them feel welcome to talk about it, will open it up to more people.

Akasha: Photo courtesy of Hell or High Water Photography

Akasha: Photo courtesy of Hell or High Water Photography

Since you’re a superheroine to many people both in and outside cosplay communities, if someone was to cosplay as YOU one day, what would you envision them wearing?

Oh man! So I actually polled my friends for this one, and judging by their responses, any combination of pink, glitter, polka dots, cupcake jewelry, hair bows, velociraptor-related accessories, and red lipstick would make up a pretty accurate Chaka.

Thanks so much for the inspiration and encouragement, Chaka, both in and outside the cosplay world!

We at GeekGirlCon can’t wait to see everyone’s costumes in October! Pick up your passes, charge your camera, and get ready to come see Chaka in person at GeekGirlCon ‘13!

AJ Dent
“Rock On!”

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