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The Litmus Test for New Racism

April 11, 2008

MTV Multiplayer is back with two new interesting pieces, one of which is the extension of the Black Professionals in Games series – an interview with Felice Standifer, of Sony US, on being a black woman in the industry. It’s a good read, and I dig that it opens up the race and gender angles a little more, especially after the first two pieces were with black men.

The other piece is N’Gai Croal of Newsweek’s Level Up, again, this time on the Resident Evil 5 controversy that I posted on way back when.  This piece, and the subsequent trainwreck of a discussion that ensues in the comments field, is typical for practically any conversation about race, but especially race and video games, that happens on the Internet. Sadly, plenty of people are convinced that if you’re not wearing bedsheets or gassing people of the Jewish faith, you’re not a racist, and anyone who talks about racism these days is “making it an issue”.

So! In the spirit of public education, I’m going to offer a brief questionnaire. It’s like one of those stupid quizzes from Cosmo, except this time you get to out the insidious racist depths of your soul. The test is simple: first, read the article, then go ahead and give yourself one point for each of the following sentences you could conceivably agree with:

“People who call this racist are being too politically correct. Relax! It’s just a video game. Save your energy for fighting Real Racism – talking about things like this could just make people not like you.”

“How come it’s only racist if there are black people in it? I think THAT’S racist. No one cried foul when the white zombie inhabitants of Raccoon City were killed by the dozen. Or the Spanish villagers in RE4!”

“It was made in Japan, so it can’t be racist! They probably didn’t even know what they were doing!”

That’s it! Got your score tabulated? Let’s see…

3 points: You’re hopeless. Stop reading this blog now. You’re probably one of the dozens of annoying commenters I’ve added to the spam filter.

2 points: Also hopeless, and one of the annoying spam-filtered commenters, but you might have slightly better sense than the 3-point people. Still, you should probably go. That way.

1 point: I was pulling for you, you know, the way you made it through two of the sentences without agreeing. 1 point? Really? Was it that profound that you just had to nod your head? Get out of here.

0 point: You’re probably writing this blog entry.

As you may have figured out, those three sentences were all paraphrased from the comments section; in general, the detractors have all more or less fallen into at least one of those three groups. Let’s take another look at these responses and see what we can dig out of them:

People who call this racist are being too politically correct. Relax! It’s just a video game. Save your energy for fighting Real Racism – talking about things like this could just make people not like you.”

1. This way of thinking presumes that we have finite amounts of energy when it comes to locating racism. Wrong! It’s actually surprisingly easy, once you get the hang of it, because there’s so MUCH of it.

2. You’re right that it might make people not like me. However, the people who wouldn’t like me because I point out that it’s racist are, well, racist. Suffice to say that their opinion doesn’t make me sleep any worse at night.

3. I am relaxed – you’re the one getting all defensive over something that’s “just a video game”. Maybe you’re getting defensive because you’re, um, racist? Just a thought.

4. You’re drawing distinctions between “real problems” and “not real problems”. Protip: Yes, starving children in XYZ country is indeed a problem. But so is an industry that makes billions of dollars off of exploiting racist imagery. Especially when the people who consume those images are the people who are in general positions of economic privilege, and who will eventually end up in a lot of the world’s important places. Besides, if you want to preach at us like that, sell the PS3 and join the Peace Corps. Then maybe you’ll have a leg to stand on.

“How come it’s only racist if there are black people in it? I think THAT’S racist. No one cried foul when the white zombie inhabitants of Raccoon City were killed by the dozen. Or the Spanish villagers in RE4!”

1. Because most of the people doing the commenting on this are commenting from an American perspective, and the USA was built on the backs of black people in chains. This country has a legacy of systematic oppression of people of color – a legacy that continues to this day, mind you – so of course history is going to affect the way we read certain images. And no, saying it isn’t doesn’t make it so.

2. As my previous post indicated, shooting white people is a surprisingly popular activity. That’s why most people didn’t complain about the previous REs. Everyone loves shooting white people. We people of color felt kinda bad about the Spanish villagers in RE4, but that was because they were poor, and we knew what that was like. They’re still white.

3. I think you’re a moron. A racist moron. 

4. Ever wonder why there weren’t that many zombies of color in Raccoon City? Probably because we all had the sense to GTFO at the first sight of white people doing crazy shit like eating brains. You’d be surprised at what kinds of survival skills brown people pick up when living among the color-challenged folk.

“It was made in Japan, so it can’t be racist! They probably didn’t even know what they were doing!”

1. The original intent of the author doesn’t hold nearly as much weight as the cultural and historical context in which the text itself is being consumed. That is to say, it doesn’t matter if Capcom Japan knew what they were doing or not when they created the RE5 trailer, it’s still being watched by Americans with a certain racial common sense.

2. I can’t think of many parts of the world where black people haven’t had to put up with some racist shit or another. Certainly Japan has its own racist baggage with black people, so even if we were to say that the author’s intent did matter, it hardly lets them off the hook.

3. You clearly don’t know what you’re doing, but that doesn’t make you any less of an asshole.

Peace and love,

pat m.

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13 comments

  1. I’m kind of on the fence on this one. I mean, I disagree with N’Gai but at the same time, I’ve never been black. I don’t know what they feel when they see these kinds of things, because my history greatly differs from theirs. Though, mexicans have had it pretty rough and still do.

    With RE:5, I feel like it is still too early to tell if it indeed is racist. We saw a trailer that mostly showed the atmosphere and “gameplay”. Maybe the final game won’t portray black people in such a bad light as the trailer does. Maybe Redfield will meet up with a few black characters that help him put a stop to the whole zombie thing. Who knows at this point.

    I’ve seen other games that are blatant in the way certain characters are portrayed that I’d truly call racist. For example, why is it that Dominic from Gears of War sounds like a normal guy who happens to be some kind of Latino, while Cole Train sounds like they picked him up from the ghetto to fight in the war? Why couldn’t he be a regular black character without falling into some kind of stereotype? Instead the whole time he yells “WHOO BABY, THE TRAIN IS HERE”.

    You didn’t hear Dominic going “AY ARRIBA ARRIBA!”

    Just my two cents.


  2. Yeah, I saw the RE5 article too, but saw the comment thread on gamer website Kotaku. Blew my mind. Hundreds of commenters, and almost no one could even see the tiniest bit of racism within it. Sure, there’s context which could maybe possibly mitigate some of the racism, and true, none of us have actually played the game to see what it’s actually like. But fuck, you really can’t see a clip of a white guy shooting and killing hundreds of black people and say “hmm, that might be a little racist?” It was really depressing.


  3. Alex, I don’t think it’s too early to judge the trailer. Sure, the game may be totally different and we can imagine all kinds of context and humanization that might happen in this imaginary game that’s coming out in the future. But right now, all we have is that trailer. And that trailer is literally nothing but racist imagery. It is nothing but savage beast black people being shot the fuck up by a clean, authoritarian white male hero-figure. That’s the text we have to work with and until Capcom comes up with something to counterbalance it, I think the criticism stands.


  4. you’re getting punchier! i like it. i like punchy pat!

    punch-punch! scrunch-scrunch.. munch-munch.

    okay, i’m officially getting cute-juice all over your comments page.

    a real comment: reading your blogs never fails to remind me how different our audiences are. you spend most of your effort (and words) trying to convince people that racism is real & its home base is all around them. you try to wear down their white, liberal, color-blind defenses with sound arguments, punchy lines, and when those tactics fail, snark. everyone who i write for already operates from that basic assumption.

    you work so hard. you deserve a cookie! (okay, that cute-juice i thought i did away with is back…)


  5. Great read, homey! I do believe this is a perfect example of tackling the race issue with intelligence and humor.

    We’ve been talking about it all day over here at DNA. Needless to say, reading through the literally HUNDREDS of comments at the main gaming sites has just given me more fuel for the creation of our site.


  6. We people of color felt kinda bad about the Spanish villagers in RE4, but that was because they were poor, and we knew what that was like. They’re still white.

    I have to strongly disagree with you on that one. I would recommend that you read the RE4 thread at Iris, as it has a rather in-depth discussion on why Spanish people (and in particular the Spanish villagers of RE4) aren’t so easily shucked into the white/white privilege pile.


  7. [...] of interest: Pat M. over at Token Minorities weighs in with a fun quiz! And there is a good discussion/games as art perspective [...]


  8. So much love for your quiz.

    After finding out about the Black Professional in Games series at MTV’s Multiplayer. Reading through the articles and following comments. Reading the articles and following comments in from sites linking to it (such as here)…

    I’ve had it. I’m giving up on white gamers as a whole. Nearly two decades of gaming with them and the white gaming collective still has yet to prove themselves of any worth.

    I’m still gonna game even after the day I day but I’m through with the general collective of white gamers.

    This and the constant bullshit everywhere else in the gaming world. They bitch and moan about Guild Wars Nightfall being racist because it doesn’t focus on white people but see no problem with anything else–from this to xbox live and everywhere in between? Fuck them! [/venting]


  9. [...] life-defining books, and meet their own life-defining friends. Certainly, I’m as guilty of incredible crankiness as the next wannabe intellectual, but really, bitching people out on the Internet is one of those [...]


  10. Very interesting website. Keep up the outstanding work and thank you…7


  11. If you don’t like it don’t buy it. You people are trying to turn it into something its not. Its a video game, would it be any different if it was a black killing whites? Hell no, if the story line was still good and gameplay fun, i would still buy it. Not everything in this world is a race issue, you try to turn it into one, because otherwise i dont think you would have a job blogging about unrealistic racial issues. Yes RE4 was set in a spanish village, but no one said anything about it. Leave it be, its only an issue of race when you make it one. Do you even realize who developed the game?


  12. One more thing, why do you feel, or at least convey the sense, that blacks are the only ones who have had to put up with racial problems?


  13. dear jason,

    the only reason i’m leaving your comment up is because i think it’s absolutely hilarious that someone out there thinks i get PAID to do this. i wish.

    -pat m



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