Commentary Media

Seeking Racial Justice in Real Life and in Games

Shonte Daniels

A recent two-day livestreamed charity event that addressed how #BlackLivesMatter was successful in two ways: It eventually met its fundraising goal, and it proved there is still much to teach gamers about how to address race.

Over the weekend, the Spawn on Me Podcast hosted a two-day livestreamed charity event under the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag to honor the many Black lives that have ended due to police brutality. Specifically, the fundraisera gaming marathon that involved different gamers playing mostly non-violent games, such as the party game Fibbage and NBA 2Ksought to “provide a deliberate space for [gamers] to have fun with the community, and to reflect on the unequal way people of color, and specifically African-American people, are treated by law enforcement.”

As of this writing, the event has surpassed its $5,000 goal, raising funds that will benefit the Eric Garner Fund and the New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which “continues to organize protests and bail funds for those imprisoned for exercising their 1st Amendment rights on this matter.”

Having watched the event, I would say that it was successful in two ways: It earned more than 80 percent of Spawn on Me’s goal during the allotted time period, only to meet its goal shortly after the weekend was over, and it proved there is still much to teach gamers about how to address race.

Charity events such as this one are not unique to the gaming community. Awesome Games Done Quick, for example, recently held its biannual charity stream in D.C. to help raise money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. It collected over $1.5 million in donations for the foundation, which provides research and outreach programs to help educate people on how to detect cancer early or prevent it. Gamers have organized other charity stream events to support Child’s Play, an organization that gives games to kids who spend much of their time in hospitals. The difference between the Spawn on Me event and these other events, however, is that it focused on a social issue—one gamers still don’t appear comfortable talking about.

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Likely due to gamers’ resistance to talk about these issues, not many people tuned in to the marathon. While I didn’t follow the marathon for the full 48 hours, whenever I tuned in to the livestream, it was clear the view count was low. The event had been advertised on popular gaming websites like Kotaku. However, when Kotaku raised awareness of the fundraiser, it received comments from gamers who thought the event was unnecessary. “How about you game to raise money for the families of police officers killed everyday by criminals,” said one commenter. Others requested that the organizers change the hashtag from #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter or #HumanLivesMatter, minimizing or erasing the intentional focus on violence against Black people. The commenters’ resistance to acknowledge any sort of discrimination in the gaming community is indicative of how these particular gamers view issues of racial justice both in the real world and in video gamesand they’re not alone.

Joystiq, another online gaming publication, faced similar criticism when it published an article that addressed the difficulties of being a Black gamer. The article focused on the lack of conversations about racial and ethnic diversity both in the game industry and also within games themselves. Commenters, in spite of the article’s thesis, expressed frustration at the publication for claiming Black people who play games have it tough, or that having more Black protagonists in games even mattered. One person wrote, “Please don’t ruin Joystiq with subjects that are completely irrelevant to gaming culture or industry.” Another wrote, “I don’t care about racism or sexism in video games. These issues aren’t going to be solved in our society by game developers.” These gamers seem to think game developers don’t have a responsibility to create racially and ethnically diverse charactersnot to mention sexual orientation and gender diversity—because equality is achieved by disregarding difference completely. But as we all know, that’s just not true.

When I was younger, I shared that mentality. As a young Black girl, I wanted nothing but to be seen as equal to others. The solution was making my race unseen, and living life as if I had not faced any sort of racial injustices so as to avoid being viewed as different from my gaming peers. But as developer Dain Saint points out in the aforementioned Joystiq article, minority gamers are always viewed as different.

“The issues facing black players are the same issues that have been facing black people for decades—misrepresentation, stereotyping and latent prejudice,” Saint said. “When Jason Richardson won Philly Geek of the Year, he talked about the fact that black nerds are often introduced as ‘the whitest black dude I know’—as if it was impossible to be both black and nerdy (no disrespect to Weird Al). So I think there’s this kind of unspoken rule that once you’re ‘accepted’ into nerddom, the experiences that led you there become irrelevant. That kind of whitewashing prevents a lot of black stories from being told, and it’s hard for the community at large to pay attention to issues they aren’t even aware of.”

Saint describes the same experiences I’ve had being a Black person who plays games. When people in my life tell me I “act white” because I don’t speak in a certain vernacular, or because of my passion for games, they are implying there are only a few ways to be Black, and being a nerd who speaks standard English isn’t one of them. Gamers are wildly diverse, yet people both inside and out of gaming culture still believe that being white is the default, and that if you want to be acknowledged you have to “act white” in order to fit in. Thankfully, as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that I don’t need their approval. To the people who refuse to see my race, or acknowledge me: When you pretend my race has not produced injustices for me both in and out of the gaming community, that is the same ignorance that causes more racial discrimination.

But games discriminate just as much as gamers do. As the Joystiq article explains, a study in 2008 found that there are an equal number of Black and white gamers. Another study, from 2011, showed that African Americans were more likely to buy video game consoles than other groups in the United States. And yet, if you look at Black protagonists in games, many are depicted as gangsters or athletes. Black female heroines are almost nonexistent. That also rings true for Latinos and other people of color.

How am I seen as equal in the gaming community when games tend to show Blackness through common racial tropes, if Black people are present at all?

The issues of racial inequality in games is a crucial discussion, and the Spawn on Me event may have helped to spark a dialogue about Blacks in nerd culture, but an ever bigger conversation is needed in order for Black people, and other people of color, to be acknowledged both in real life and in games. The games we play are created through a lens of the real world, and that bridge is not to be ignored. I am Black, I love games, and I hate the racial discrimination going on in our society that is reflected in the games I play.

Better representation of people of color boils down to writers who feel comfortable creating stories with characters who may not resemble them. I almost sympathize with white writers who fear that creating a person of color may result in them being called a racist. Though there are racist depictions of people of color in games, no developer has been shunned from games or even denounced as racist. Even so, that isn’t a good enough excuse. If writers can create fantastical tales of characters who aren’t even human, like robots, aliens, or anthropomorphic animals, or create sci-fi adventures on made-up galaxies, then surely they can create stories with humans who are not white.

It’s important for games—and media as a whole—to provide more diverse representation because it shows different races that they are important and are recognized. When 80 percent of all protagonists are white, games further reinforce the problematic notion that white people are the superior race. They are not, nor is any race, and games should work harder to recognize all the people who play them.

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

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In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.

News Law and Policy

Voting Rights Advocates Notch Another Win, This Time in Texas

Imani Gandy

This makes two voting rights victories in as many days for voting rights advocates. A federal judge on Tuesday in Wisconsin ruled that voters who unable to comply with the state's photo ID requirement would be allowed to vote in the November's election.

The ultra-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a surprising victory for voting rights advocates, ruled that Texas’s voter ID law disproportionately burdened Black and Hispanic voters in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.

The decision means Texas can’t enforce the law in November’s presidential election.

Wednesday’s ruling was the latest in a convoluted legal challenge to the Texas law, which conservative lawmakers passed in 2011 and is among the most stringent voter ID laws in the nation. Voting rights advocates challenged the measure almost immediately, and the law remained blocked until the Roberts Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder revived it.

The Court in Shelby struck down a key provision of the VRA, Section 4, which is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia under Section 5 of the VRA before making any changes to their election laws. States with a history of racially discriminatory voting requirements like Texas were covered by the Section 4 pre-clearance requirement before the Shelby decision.

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Within hours of the Court’s ruling in Shelby, Texas officials announced that they would begin enforcing SB 14, the restrictive voter ID law.

In response, a group of Texas voters sued Texas under a different portion of the civil rights law, arguing SB 14 violates Section 2 of the VRA, which forbids voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race. Unlike Section 5 of the VRA, which requires state officials prove a voting rights law has no discriminatory intent or effect, under Section 2, the burden of proving racial discriminatory intent or effect is placed on voters to prove the restriction discriminated against their voting rights.

Both the district court and a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit agreed and found that SB 14 had a discriminatory affect in violation of Section 2 of the VRA. Texas then requested that the Fifth Circuit rehear the case en banc, with the full slate of judges on the Fifth Circuit.

The full Fifth Circuit issued that decision Wednesday, handing Texas conservatives a decisive loss.

“The record shows that drafters and proponents of SB 14 were aware of the likely disproportionate effect of the law on minorities, and that they nonetheless passed the bill without adopting a number of proposed ameliorative measures that might have lessened this impact,” Judge Catharina Haynes wrote for the majority.

Texas claimed that it had modeled its law after Indiana’s law, which was upheld in another challenge, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. The Fifth Circuit, however, rejected Texas’s argument, finding obvious differences between the two laws that affected its decision that Texas’s law had a discriminatory impact on people of color.

“While cloaking themselves in the mantle of following Indiana’s voter ID law, which had been upheld against a (different) challenge in Crawford, the proponents of SB 14 took out all the ameliorative provisions of the Indiana law,” Haynes wrote.

One such ameliorative provision was an indigency exception, which the GOP-dominated Texas house stripped from the law. That exception would have freed indigent people from any obligation of paying fees associated with obtaining a qualified photo ID.

Although the Fifth Circuit found that the law violates the Voting Rights Act, the Fifth Circuit did not fashion a remedy for this violation and instead, remanded the case back to the lower court, instructing it that the “remedy must be tailored to rectify only the discriminatory effect on those voters who do not have SB 14 ID or are unable to reasonably obtain such identification.”

In addition, the appeals court reversed the lower court ruling that Texas had intended to discriminate against racial minorities. The court found evidence to support such a claim, but ultimately found that the district court’s overall findings were insufficient, and sent the case back to the district court to reconsider the evidence.

Nevertheless, voting rights advocates hailed the decision as a victory.

“We have repeatedly proven—using hard facts—that the Texas voter ID law discriminates against minority voters,” Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement, according to the Texas Tribune. “The 5th Circuit’s full panel of judges now agrees, joining every other federal court that has reviewed this law. We are extremely pleased with this outcome.”

Texas Republicans, including former governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, rushed the law through the GOP-majority legislature in 2011, arguing that it was necessary to prevent voter fraud, even though voter fraud has been found to be almost nonexistent in other Republican-led investigations.

Politifact found in March of this year that since 2002, there had been 85 election fraud prosecutions, and not all of them resulted in convictions. To put that in perspective, from 2000 to 2014, some 72 million ballots were cast in Texas, not counting municipal and local elections.

Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, argued in 2015 that most of the Texas prosecutions would not have been prevented by the voter ID law, since the prosecutions were not for in-person voter fraud, but rather for marking someone else’s absentee ballots without their consent, fake registrations, or voting while ineligible.

“There are vanishingly few instances of voter fraud—incidents flat-out, not just prosecutions—that could be stopped by applying a rule requiring ID at the polls,” Levitt said, according to Politifact.

Opponents of SB 14 cited the near absence of proven in-person voter fraud, arguing that the law was intended to dilute the voting strength of the state’s increasing population of people of color, many of whom do not have photo identification and who would find it difficult to obtain it, as the opinion noted.

Laws requiring photo identification disparately impact people of color, students, and low-income voters, all groups who tend to vote for Democrats rather than Republicans.

Nevertheless, Texas conservatives continue to insist that the law was appropriately tailored to address voter fraud. “Voter fraud is real, and it undermines the integrity of the process,” said Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in a statement on Wednesday, according to the Texas Tribune.

Texas may appeal to the Supreme Court and ask the high court to intervene, although given that the Roberts Court remains short one judge, a 4-4 split is possible, which would leave in place the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.

This makes two voting rights victories in as many days for voting rights advocates. A federal judge on Tuesday in Wisconsin ruled that voters who unable to comply with the state’s photo ID requirement would nevertheless be allowed to vote in the upcoming election in November.