While Quirkcon made its debut to the world, I was attending the now controversial Colossalcon in Sandusky, Ohio. Not only that, I’m probably coming back next year.
I’ll be honest, I felt guilty coming to a convention that was just recently in trouble over social media. Just a month before its annual event, one of the convention’s Facebook page admins dragged someone who was criticizing them for snubbing the panel Cosplaying While Black.
You can read about this entire debacle here.
As a veteran Colossalcon-goer, it hurt to see one of my favorite conventions do something insensitive and tone-deaf. It doesn’t matter if it was the action of one person, it’s the responsibility of the leadership to ensure that kind of unprofessionalism doesn’t leave the cutting room floor.
Did the con change after the controversy? No. Did the culture change? Also no. It might have even gotten worse.
I like Colossalcon, but it also has an issue of being problematic. It’s a perfect microcosm of the nerd and convention culture in the Midwest, especially Ohio. The attendants are mostly white, some very open and inclusive, others racially insensitive/ignorant or just plain racist. Like many nerdy or alternative scenes, the demographic is often predominantly white or “unconsciously segregated,” save for a few tokens like myself. Both my friends and I have witnessed congoers say racist, sexist or homophobic comments on the convention floor as if we aren’t sharing the same space.
The reason I came to Colossalcon was because of the commitment and nostalgia already attached to the convention. I already made plans for a hotel with my friends and bought my ticket. I also participate with my friends on one of the most popular panels, “Waluigi Time.” It’s a panel I’ve spent three years co-hosting and building with them. Beyond that, Colossalson is one convention I’ve consistently attended since 2015. It’s been my annual “vacation.” I come for a nice weekend away from my 9 to 5, the bills and anxiety to cosplay, buy merch and hang by the pool with friends I’ve made over the years. I don’t come to feel singled out, unsafe or unwanted like I do existing while black in predominantly white spaces.
This year I had a friend tell me some drunk white dude was complaining to them that his girlfriend cheated on him. They were sympathetic, until he happened to mention that the worst part was that she cheated on him with a black guy. What about this con, this space, made him feel comfortable saying that?
But Colosslalcon does have a constant, it is fun. There are times at this convention where I do belong and feel safe. There are moments when someone comes along with a portable Bluetooth speaker blasting EDM, social barriers break down and everyone parties together. Strangers becoming friends in water park group photoshoots. Even the simple act of helping someone fix their cosplay on their way across the Kalahari Resort. I saw something in those moments; I saw the potential for inclusion and diversity driven by Colossalcon’s party convention nature, not in spite of it.
Colossalcon still needs more inclusion and opportunities for it. The schedule provides more racy panels than it does panels about race.
However, “canceling” Colossalcon may not be the best solution. I spoke with other marginalized people and I was reminded that sometimes walking away only gives environments more room to breed into homogeneous groups that don’t care about people’s race, gender, or sexuality. Those who want Colossalcon to only be a party convention, with no discussion of politics, sexual consent or race, will feel justified without the people who push back. I don’t think the panelists did the wrong thing. In fact, I’m proud that they and others have decided to walk away from Colossalcon. But an alternative protest is attending the convention, seeing what problems there are and advocating for yourself and others.
I’m probably coming back to Colossalcon, but it has a long way to go to before it gets my unwavering trust. It needs work, it needs time, but it needs our voice to let them know.
My advice is keep going if you know you’d like to, if you know it’s fun. That’s how we can thrive while black in these spaces, we start with being visible. Then we can get vocal. Also while attending the con support LGBTQ and PoC artists, cosplayers or panelists with time, attention or funds. Criticize the convention organizers; they are listening.