Black Representation in Anime and its Problematic Stereotypes
People of different races and cultures naturally want correct and proper representation in mainstream media. Some cultures and races actually go on to get that proper representation without having to ask for it. However, that has never been the case for the black community. Black people have been subject to representations filled with racism, anti-blackness, and stereotypes originally perpetuated by white media. For decades black people have yearned to be correctly represented and they have been mostly ignored. Ironically, the one form of media black people all over the world resonate with does a terrible job at properly representing us, and that is anime.
Black people being one of the largest consumers of anime, one would think we would be properly represented in the medium. For years we’ve had to overlook uncomfortable representation because we want to enjoy what we love watching. It should be noted I’m not trying to cancel anime or anime that have these racist depictions, I just want to be properly represented in my favourite source of entertainment. To be fair, black characters in anime recently have been given more accurate characteristics drifting away from the minstrel inspired features. Regardless, the problematic representation is still somewhat there.
Anime’s impact on the black community especially on black Americans is immeasurable. The reason for this could be black people, whether consciously or subconsciously, resonated with the stories of oppression or stories that show people overcoming challenges put in place by oppressive systems often seen in anime such as Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and Gundam. The demand for stories of rebellion or of people “fighting against the powers that be” may be the reason why anime became so popular amongst black people as they could relate to these stories.
Anti-blackness is a global problem, having root in many cultures across the world and it would be hard for you to find a culture that doesn’t subscribe to some form of anti-blackness or fair-skin preference. Japan, sadly, isn’t as alien to this phenomenon as people like to think it is. It is not the cultural hotbed people are led to believe. This is further proved by the fact that one in three foreigners are subject to discrimination in Japan. Japan is a very homogenous society, lacking any real racial diversity with 98.1% of its population being Japanese. So it’s safe to say Japan has really never had any experience with black people outside what was portrayed by white media. These portrayals were seen by early Japanese animators as, probably not how black people are, but how they should be portrayed explaining the strong presence of minstrelsy in early anime. This is not to say that ignorance of a people’s disrespect is an excuse to continue to partake in such mockery or disrespect but to explain the reason for indulging in said disregard, intentionally or unintentionally, in the first place.
It’s safe to say that there’s a crazy amount of racism in anime and it has never failed to make fun of the people that love it so much. These problematic features ranged from huge pink lips to hulking features to exaggerated African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) to the point it became unintelligible. This is a version of blackness that has remained in anime for a really long time. For example, you can see these features in characters as far back as Killa and Officer Black (yes, you saw that right) from Dragon Ball Z and as recent as Superalloy Darkshine from One-Punch Man and Sister Krone from the Promised Neverland. These depictions are not half as offensive as Mr Popo from Dragon Ball. Anyone familiar with racial discussions around anime probably expected this name to pop up. Mr Popo has completely black skin, not even dark, with bright red lips, and all the other characters have some sort of mistrust towards him. You could try to deny or unsee it but the fact remains that Mr Popo is an insanely racist depiction of black people inspired by American minstrel.
This isn’t to say that it’s still all bad. There have been more accurate representations of black people in anime in recent years, most notably Onyankopon from Attack on Titan and Ogun Montgomery from Fire Force. It isn’t perfect, but we’re getting there and we as fans can make that progression even faster by not accepting any offensive or improper representation we come across when watching anime. I want a world where anime respects me as a black person the same way I respect it as a medium and I hope one day it fully does away with the minstrelsy and offensive takes.