For Black and Brown women, simply existing in non-diverse towns and cities can be an endless drain of emotional labor. There is a silent and very exhausting demand in white-centric places to be as palatable as possible, to not speak out of turn, and to assimilate to mainstream culture. This performance leaves very little room to outwardly express our authentic selves.
When we are not existing with this socially approved mask on and can be ourselves, Black and Brown women have personalities that are as diverse, robust, and expressive as anyone else’s. This includes hobbies, styles, and traits that many white American teens get to experience such as alternative, punk, goth, and weeb subcultures.
We see this continue with the rise of K-Pop and K-Drama fandoms today. However, even in these spaces where white young adults express and explore their authentic selves, Black and Brown women remain ostracized despite the notion that these subcultures claim to be for anyone who feels like they don’t fit into the mainstream.
The effects of being underrepresented in such subcultures rob women of color of the space and ease to be themselves. And while we certainly exist, the pre-Instagram and TikTok era felt isolating. It was as though enjoying and wanting to participate in any sort of subculture was not really for us. In this sense, social media has been a double-edged sword: it’s both created a space to gatekeep subcultures while simultaneously being a pathway of connection for women of color to bolster visibility and share their hobbies and lifestyles with one another.
— ??shaybae?? (@iseeshaybae) June 5, 2021
The element of exclusion is exacerbated by a few factors. One issue is the overwhelmingly white and light-skinned representation within these subcultures. Colorism within Japanese and Korean cultures trickles down into elements of their pop culture (K-Pop, anime, and manga depictions), leading to blatant pushback towards dark-skinned women of color who cosplay non-Black and Brown characters on social media.
This colorism tends to lead to either the stereotyping of melanated people or to their blatant non-existence within the art form that the subculture is based on.
The same outlandish rejection of the possible presence of women of color in anime and manga is found in the classic Sailor Moon series. In the original manga, the character Sailor Pluto is depicted with a noticeably darker skin tone than the rest of the characters (see below). But as the series globalized with the translation of the anime and manga series, Sailor Pluto’s melanin became undetectable.
A quick search on anime and manga fan forums reveals a plethora of excuses as to why Sailor Pluto is not a woman of color but has dark skin, from metaphors around her character to claims that she’s just tan from being in the sun. Many white fans refuse to even entertain the idea that she could just simply be a woman of color. For Black and Brown women who bear witness to this kind of dialogue, it can evoke a sense of imposter syndrome to think that we can see ourselves within these art forms that we enjoy.
Even though social media, a hub of subcultures, is the same space that excludes and minimizes us, it is also where we find other women of color that share our interests in anime, gaming, e-girls, and punk rockers. It’s on these platforms that we build validation in our sense of self.
More and more, we’re also seeing this happen in the music industry. Although we grew up seeing Avril Lavigne wearing studded accessories and Grimes at the MET Gala with her sword, we now also see artists like SZA, who has posted about playing Animal Crossing, or Willow Smith, who is successfully paving the way for Black women to be badass without limitation with the rise of her song “Meet Me at Our Spot”. It is this visibility and shared experiences that allow us to take up space within subcultures that have otherwise been gatekept from us.
Black and Brown women deserve the freedom to indulge in lifestyles deemed as quirky and to embody our whole selves rather than the compartmentalization that so many of us are accustomed to, just so we can exist.