An Entirely Too Complicated Discussion About Race and Picrew

I’ve been a very vocal supporter of representation in media.I’ve paneled on the importance of having one’s skin color, religion, orientation and more represented in the media they consume be it comics, movies, television and more. But when I’ve had these conversations, I’m always quick to say that we demand representation in Western media and to many, I give Asian media a pass. There are indeed methods to my madness; Japan is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries on Earth. For many of the religions that are minorities in the United States, they are minorities in Asia (hence the fetishization of Catholics and Catholicism in anime and manga). And, to be very real here, most of Asia still has incredibly conservative and strict views about homosexuality, transgender rights and more. It’s one of the reasons why yaoi is so odd as far as “representing” queer people since it’s mostly coming from a place that has strict sodomy laws and continues to fetishize and trivialize the lives of gay men.

To summarize, I just can’t hold manga and anime to the same standard I hold American media as far as representation goes. There is no excuse for an American comic book movie to have no black people in it. There is no excuse for a television show to not have queer people in it. There is no excuse for an American book to feature protagonists and characters of different body types, races and religions. I can’t ask Japan to represent me: a small black Catholic queer.

Picrew is an avatar creation generator that is Japanese and is incredibly popular. I started noticing these elaborate avatars being made by people and noticing variations on the same format. In fact, there’s a very famous Picrew template that features pride flags and has a huge variety of skin tones, pride flags and colors and gender and presentation options. Picrew is great for someone like me in that I have a great visual eye and style aesthetic but I could not draw a straight line if you threatened me. If you’ve seen some of my newer icons and branding online, those are all Picrew creations. 

Picrew is full of fun generators that allow users to make icons, avatars and more. I love Picrew but there’s been something that I’m very aware of: not all generators accommodate skin tones like mine. I don’t have this issue with many of the Western avatar generators: I’ve even found some that are pretty dead on. But every once in a while, I’ll click on a auto-translated title hoping to find someone in the options for skin tone that look like me and I just can’t find them. Some have no options at all for different skin tones while others have one option for “brown” that are either way too light for me or way too dark for me. 

I’ve always had an odd relationship to my skin tone: I’m not so detached that I don’t feel black but I’m lighter in tone than most of my family and in comparison to some of my friends, I’m also usually the lighter skinned one. There’s a lot of colorism within the black community that tends to favor lighter skinned black people and a resentment from darker skinned black people against folks like me. In all fairness, we’re the more represented of the entire group so I can understand the resentment while also being hurt by it.

There’s a strange dysphoria that particularly comes to finding a Picrew generator that has one or two options for brown skin tones and neither fit. I rarely feel dysphoric whether it comes down to gender or race but to see a generator that has either a tone far too dark or far too light, it’s almost painful. I had a similar moment playing Pokemon Sword when I began to question if I was truly as dark as my character is. I’ve been honest about me using skin-lightening productions for hyperpigmentation but recently, I stopped because I was spotty and far too light. I looked like a bad Monique Heart highlight job because of the bleaching agents in the cream and it caused even more pain about my race, my skin and my skin tone. After a few weeks of cocoa butter and vitamin E oil, I’ve been able to get back on track to what my tone is and now I’m even more concerned about the concealer I was matched to. What is my skin tone? What am I? How black am I? 

These questions are new and are frankly distressing and recently have come about from a silly avatar generating website.

On the flip side of that, there is a euphoric bliss to finding a match to my skin tone and making an avatar or icon just like me. It’s incredibly fulfilling to look at an icon and think “Yes, this is it. This is perfect.” I’m proud of most of the icons I’ve made and I do swap them out every once in a while just because as of this time, I’ve made quite a few of them mostly just for fun. Picrew became a way to work through my desire for kawaii avatars and icons without having to commission someone. As a long time lover of anime and kawaii culture, it’s nice to have chibis and bishojo and anime-inspired icons that do in fact look like me.

So by now, you may be asking: well, what do you expect? You did just say that you can’t ask more of Asian creators. To that I say, fair point. I do maintain that I cannot ask Asia to represent me; I can also say that it’s been sad to not be seen or represented in a medium I love so much. What’s even more interesting is seeing some of the generators’ creators mentioning that they have no intention of adding new skin tones or such after people ask for them which to me goes beyond simple ignorance and moves into full on intolerance. It’s one thing to not think of darker skinned people due to a lack of exposure and another to entirely just wish to not acknowledge them at all after people ask for more options on a generator that is popular. 

So what do we do? Well, Picrew is great even though it’s a little memetic at this stage to have a Picrew avatar (several even made an appearance in Contrapoint’s excellent video on Canceling). If you are of color: commission artists. There are plenty of artists all over the social internet who would be willing to accept a commission for an avatar or icon. Start drawing! Every once in a while, I’ll sketch out stuff: you’ll never see them because they’re bad but sure, I’ve done it. 

It took me years to feel proud of my melanin. It took me years to reconcile my blackness while being an otaku and lover of Japanese media and culture. It took me years to feel even a little bit confident in my skin and not finding avatars that match my skin or creators that refuse to acknowledge that darker people even exist seemed to push some of that progress back to nearly the same place I was as a teen that almost delighted when my great grandmother said she was happy I wasn’t a “darkie”. 

Not finding a skin tone that matches mine in Picrew seemed to bring up every moment of internalized racism I have kept in my body for the last two decades. So here is where I soft revise my statement. I do still think that, if you are a person of color, queer person, religious person or similar looking for representation in Asian media: abandon all hope, ye who do weeb stuff here. But can I also say that it is detrimental, painful and unnecessary for creators to actively and continue to ignore people of color as their media increasingly becomes global?

I sure can. 


Tending Your Social Media Garden

It is the new year and with that, many people are doing what they can to take a break from social media. Now, with the current times, I understand that social media is a cesspool for many. There are trolls. There are racists. There are homophobes and misogynists. There be devils out there and in this post I have no intention to take away the validity and power of those things. I am fortunate to not be that famous and I get to screech about feminism, the arbitrariness of the gender binary and why female anime characters are intentionally written poorly by bad writers. But I have been trolled. I have faced my fair amount of backlash. I am old, despite how young my face looks. I know what hate is on the Internet. And thus, I do not tolerate it.

Today, I’d like to share with you all how I keep my sanity online.

Now, for those of you who do not know, my day job is as a social media manager. It is literally my job to stay online. And in today’s climate that can be…taxing. I know about every mass shooting, every celebrity death, every terrible thing said by a terrible politician. I am aware of all those things and it’s an emotional drain each and every time. But I do what I can to put that in a little box. Every generation faces hardship and I use that discontent to do something to make the world a better place: I continue to panel, foster productive conversation and I vote, dammit I vote. But back to being online. I keep my online news on a pretty strict diet. Once I’m home, it’s nothing but Live P.D. and cat videos. Whatever breaking news happened will continue to be breaking when I get back into the office.

As far as my own personal social media: I am a strict and intense gardener. Let’s explain that metaphor. When I was younger, I tended to roses (because I am an anime boy and of course I did). Roses are fickle. You have to remove ones that are not as strong as others. Water but only so much. Prune back thorns and branches. Gardening is a lot of work and it’s exactly how I approach social media.

Someone who is toxic and does nothing but complain about a situation they can and should leave? Hide all posts or mute. Someone spouting transphobia or hate speech? Full block or removal. Someone says something cruel to me or one of my friends? Full block!

Social media is your garden: especially when you’re like me and have both a public and “private” persona. I set an expectation and basic level of understanding that if you read my blog, see my panels or follow me on social that such behavior like coarse language, homophobia, transphobia or general ignorance or hatred are simply not tolerated. Like O-ren Ishii I do always try to be respectful during these times where people are not so kind but much like O-ren, I have very little patience for trolls. I spent too many years on the Internet being berated, spoken to in not so kind ways to and other not so wonderful things. I am old now and full of ennui and wisdom: I know my worth and I know the worth of my friends; cruelty towards me or those I care about are simply not tolerated.

Back to gardening. Muting or removing people doesn’t always mean that I do not care for that person. There are plenty of people that I care about but do not have the time, patience or energy to deal with the nonsense that seems to surround them. It is entirely like a garden, prune and keep the roses that are show-stoppers and trim back the ones that are losing their luster.

But wait, you may insist: what do I do if I’m already being trolled? Well, I’m glad you asked. I do my best to be civil when civility is allowed. Most trolls are incredibly thrown off by simply engaging with them. They aren’t expecting a response, yet alone one that isn’t filled with fire and fury. I simply try to kill them with kindness. And if kindness doesn’t work, communication is a two-way street: it’s just as easy to block them as it is to continue to engage with them. I tend to think there’s two kinds of trolls, the defensive kind and the reprehensible kind. The defensive ones just have opinions and they’re ready to fight you if you so much as look at a beloved property the wrong way (something that puts me, your beloved Prince of Unpopular Opinions, at times at odds with this type of Internet warrior) they have fifteen comments already queued up as to why you’re wrong and usually will throw in an insult or two just to add “strength” to their point. This kind of troll can be reasoned with sometimes if you engage kindly and simply explain your position: even if you can’t convert them, sometimes, they’ll see your side of things. The reprehensible one is another sort of beast entirely. This type of creature wants to get under your skin, wants to say something nasty, wants to get a reaction; they are waiting for that reaction.

Don’t give it to them. For the love of all things good, do not give them that attention. That’s exactly what they want and I know how easy it is to say that. I know how easy it is to say that from the comfort of my apartment and relative obscurity. For those more in the public eye or more under scrutiny, know that I feel for you.  It’s hard to ignore those comments but it’s vital to do so. And every time you want to respond to a hateful person, know that you cannot change their mind.

Now, some will say this sounds a lot like Tina Fey and her cake analogy that many people hated her for after the horrendous Charlottesville protest and subsequent violence. Her SNL skit centered around eating a cake and screaming into it whenever something terrible happened in America. Many compared her to Marie Antoinette and her famous “let them eat brioche” line and while I am empathetic to those who think the comment was out of touch: I don’t disagree with the sentiment, just the delivery. There are plenty of instances in real life that many people have no luxury to quietly and in a dignified way endure hatred; there are lives at stake. But as far as online trolls go, it’s hard to get any proper context online: it’s simply not worth it sometimes. But when it comes to real life, well, that’s another post perhaps.

In this new year, I hope that all of you find more comfort in social media. The social internet was not invented to isolate us into tribes but it has. I want things to get better. I’m sure things will get better. I hope these tips are helpful.

Nothing Exhausts Like a Microaggression

_Women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions which men think it manly to pay to the sex, when, in fact, men are insultingly supporting their own superiority._ Mary Wollstonecraft.png

You’re so pretty for a black girl.
You’re so well-spoken, I’m impressed.
You went to college? Amazing. Were you the first one in your family to do so?
Your hair is so straight! Is it like that naturally?
Did you grow up with both parents?
I only date black girls.
Those are just a few microaggressions and all things I’ve heard before in some form or fashion and all of them make my eyes roll so loudly that you may just be able to hear it from wherever you call home, dear reader.
Let’s talk about microaggressions.
A microaggression is a seemingly innocuous comment usually hurled at people of color that to the deliverer of the comment (typically a white person) does not seem problematic but to the person of color is either mildly or highly offensive.
The problem with microaggressions is that due to its mostly harmless appearing nature, it’s difficult to challenge them or call someone out on their statement. It doesn’t sound racist and overreacting is a surefire way to to essentially confirm many of the stereotypes attached to people of color (being sensitive, overreacting, being dramatic).
So today we’re going to go over a few microaggressions and we’re gonna discuss why they are problematic and how to respond to them if you encounter them in the wild!

You’re Pretty for a Black Girl/I’ve Never Dated a Black Girl/I Only Date Black Girls
Welcome to the beautiful world of exoticism, my friend. There’s nothing like a qualified compliment. I hear this one a lot from mostly white men and they mean well, they really do. But short of a little extra melanin, I’m not too far off from a white girl. I like comic books, video games, anime, costumes, I bake, I go through a book a week: none of those things have anything to do with race. Now, if it’s a statement about how “hood” one may be, well, that’s a whole different bag of troublesome. I’d also like to point out much of the irony in these sorts of statement. I as a black biological female who mostly dates white guys am frequently called a racist for it. But if a white man dates black women because of how “hot” they are, he just likes something different. And if a black man dates white women because black women are too “mean” or too “dramatic”, he just wants to avoid crazy. Thus proving that the patriarchy knows no bounds.
You’re So Well-Spoken./Did You Go to School?
Apparently, it’s a surprise that a black girl can read. Apparently, it’s still a surprise in 2018. Dear reader, if only you knew how my eyes do roll when I’m told that I’m well-spoken, intelligent or smarter than expected. I’ve been told I talk “white” which unless you have synesthesia, shouldn’t be a thing. I’m fortunate that I was always a curious kid. I’m lucky that I was able to go to college and finish school with a degree and I’m even more fortunate that I get to work in a field I love and studied for. I’m aware of all of my brothers and sisters regardless of race that are not able to do what I did: but a thinly veiled statement about how surprised you are because I am black and educated happens to be tiresome.
Did You Grow Up With Both Parents?
No. I did not. I was raised by my aunts and other family members. But Death was the factor that separated my family not a “deadbeat dad” or the American prison system. I’m aware of the stigma that any people of color have strained relationships with families: realistically, that’s a very universal thing. Sometimes families are not nuclear. And sometimes that’s okay. I am so lucky my aunts raised me after I lost my dad and I know plenty of well-adjusted people who happened to be missing a parent or two due to a myriad of reasons. I am not the person I am just because I’m a member of the Bruce Wayne Orphan Club and it’s never an excuse for anyone alive on this planet.
Is That What Your Hair Looks Like Naturally?/ Your Hair is So Pretty! Can I Touch It?
Nope, it sure is not. I get relaxers because I was told from a young age that I couldn’t be too black and I needed relaxers to fit a certain hegemony. I’ve been getting relaxers since I was 7 and now I’m somewhat dysphoric about my hair. I do not feel attractive or good when I have too much new-growth. Also, never try and touch a black woman’s hair or anyone’s hair without their explicit consent. If I had a dollar for every well-intended person who thought it appropriate to touch my hair…well, I wouldn’t have a day job. I feel even more for my brothers and sisters who go natural. Hell, even at times I’m tempted to touch Amber’s hair but I would never because most black women have hair full of secrets. Now, you are allowed to compliment my hair! I spend plenty of time and money on it for it to be seen. However asking if this is what it looks like naturally is naive. Also, please do not ask if it’s real or not…we’ve made excellent advances in weave technology for a reason.
Where Is Your Family From?
My family is from Texas and Alabama and I have family all across this great nation, even on up in Yankee territory. Oh, you meant like which part of Africa? Good question! You see, there’s a problem when a person is not considered a whole person for over 100 years and continued systemic racism suppresses any data or information about them: it’s hard to find records. Now, I can get a DNA test and find out based on genetics and such but I personally have very little interest in where in the Motherland I came from. That being said, I do have a DNA Kit in the trunk. Who knows, maybe I’ll use it.

Do You Celebrate Kwanzaa?
No, my family has been Catholic and/or Christian for decades. My Father was Baptist and ended up at an anti-science fundamentalist Church in North Texas that wouldn’t let me read Harry Potter or play Pokemon as a kid and Mom was born, married and buried Catholic. I’m a lapsed Catholic but a Catholic at that. And while yes, I am black, I celebrate Christmas like any other Christian and I eat an entire Advent Calendar on Christmas Eve like any other bad Catholic.

You Have a White Name!/You Don’t Have an Ethnic Name.

No, you are right. I do not and that was very intentional. And the idea that a black woman should have a more “ethnic” name is troubling for a startling list of reasons. I was given my name because it fits me and my family. There have been plenty of studies that confirm what many black men and women knew forever: having names that are too ethnic does sometimes stifle you as far as opportunities go. It shouldn’t, but it does. Also, feel free to ask where my last name came from: the answer is slavery.

Microaggressions suck for an enumeration of reasons, mostly because they maintain a certain level of exoticism to people of color that we thought was lost in the Victorian era. It calls back to a day when people of color were spectacles and were described lushly while simultaneously being enslaved and mistreated. There’s plenty of blatant and labored discussion of how beautiful many slave owners found their slaves: but not beautiful enough to consider a full legal human until 1865. And they don’t just happen in Tinder conversations: they happen at work, on the bus, at the bus stop, in coffee shops, in bars, in Ubers and more. And while it may be petty to clock a microaggression, handling such things with grace is at times difficult.
And sure, there will be plenty who say I’m being too sensitive and that microaggressions aren’t real and that they were invented by libertard beta cucks or by militant feminists (which is a thing!) but rest assured, microaggressions are real, happen often and they do wear on the soul.