Karina Martsinkevich, known as “Karupups”, of Lithuania decided to cosplay the character Lifeline from Apex Legends. Part of the getup was to paint her face brown while streaming. This got her suspended from the platform, Twitch, for 30 days, and elicited condemnations from media such as Unilad. Here we have a Lithuanian who is not involved and is likely unaware of the backwards racial politics of the United States. Yet, somehow, she needs to suffer the consequences for not being ‘sensitive’ about something that is a problem almost exclusively in America.
Despite my immense admiration of the American tradition and my sincere belief in the existence of something that might be considered American exceptionalism, one of my major pet peeves has always been Americo-centrism.
Americo-centrism, that thing you get when a fellow South African asks me whether I am “a Republican” because I support free markets. Or when an American commenter on an article about an attempt to amend the constitution of a Commonwealth country, dismisses those concerns and says nothing will happen to “our [the American] Constitution”. I have seen it happen more than once that any discussion about constitutionalism in any context, anywhere, gets reduced to the Constitution of the United States, when particular Americans pitch up. It also often happens when I discuss South African immigration and border policy, people arrive in the comments talking about how Donald Trump will secure our border and send the Mexicans packing.
But Americo-centrism is not just something that annoys me on an academic level on social media. It has real world consequences, which should concern us especially in light of the fact that the authoritarian left now controls whatever cultural or social exports from the United States, despite not being in political control of that country.
Cosplaying is when we impersonate our favorite fictional characters in real life. Depending on how seriously one takes cosplaying, you will do it with more and less detail. Some white people who decide to cosplay black characters will not go as far as using makeup to make themselves appear black. Others, who consider cosplaying to be a serious form of expression, will go that extra mile.
Emily Brown of Unilad arrogantly writes that “hopefully the Twitch ban will serve to educate Martsinkevich about why it’s offensive, and prevent any future use of blackface”. Prevent future realistic cosplay?
Twitch – ostensibly – has a policy that prohibits blackface. I could not find such a policy. But this policy, if it were to exist, to any reasonable observer, would imply contextual application. In America, a white person painting or otherwise making up their face black or brown has historical connotations. It was a form of racist mockery. But elsewhere, like in Lithuania, this is not the case: It’s simply cosplaying. Even in America, if someone cosplayed a black character, it should not be seen as blackface for the purposes of this policy or for purposes of senseless condemnation. Instead, it must be considered a form of artistic expression rather than racist mockery.
But the history and culture wars of the United States – the apparent center of the universe – now have to be extended to contexts and places where they do not apply. The rest of the world has to toe the line and adhere to the Overton window created in the halls of American universities and in the streets of Hollywood. This is ludicrous.
I hope Twitch’s fans and users are outraged enough by this nonsensical conduct to boycott or otherwise correct the direction the company has decided to embark in. The libertarian position on the Martsinkevich debacle is clear: Twitch is a private company and should be left alone to do as it pleases. But the cultural libertarian, for lack of a better term, inquiry cannot stop here. Liberty thrives best where liberty is not only tolerated, but respected, loved, and extended. Twitch’s nonsensical application of this rule to a context it was never intended for deserves our contempt and rejection.
The American social justice movement is engaged in the very thing they condemn: Cultural imperialism. It is perhaps the most arrogant manifestation of what they would call white, suburban privilege, when people all around the world need to live according to the outrageous uppity rules they have laid down for a rich, Western society. Ideally, they should stop it, but the onus is also on non-Americans to stop uncritically gobbling up whatever comes out of the United States.