[It's Black History Month! Time to celebrate diversity and maybe learn ya a thing or two. In this article, Kurosune talks about some encounters she's experienced as a black female gamer. As a mixed-race gamer (often mistaken for Latina) and a friend of groups like Chocolate Covered Cosplay, I've seen these same types of instances for years. I hope this article helps open your eyes to casual racism in nerd culture. - SR]
…Let it be known. If anyone eeeeeeever approaches me, or any other black, female gamer this way, as a way to start a conversation, then don’t be surprised if she just hauls off and punches you/tazes you/maces you.
The amount of overwhelming ignorance I have encountered on public transit, or just in public in general, is so mind-boggling, it makes you just want to take a step back, observe the situation, and go, “Did he/she really just say that to me?”
This article is a bit of a mini-rant/meant to be informative for the, well, less-informed masses of gamers I have have the misfortune of encountering who have this mindset of thinking that black girls absolutely do not like to game, watch anime, cosplay, or nerd out in any way because we are too busy listening to rap, tending to our twelve kids by different fathers, snapping our fingers, and being as loud and as obnoxious as Family Guy and other lovely outputs of media make us out to be.
(PS: Let it be known that I absolutely hate rap as well. Go ahead. Take this moment to pick your jaw up off the ground.)
Our story begins earlier this week. As many of you know, I have an impending State Board Exam for my CNA license on Saturday, and I had gone up to my school, demanding to know why they would put my test in the insufferable 7am slot instead of the noon time slot.
As I sat on the bus, I pulled my Crimson/Black Gameboy DS out of my purse and began to try to finish playing Pokémon White 2. Two stops later, a guy maybe around my age plopped himself down next to me, leaned over, and basically screamed into my ear, “Holy shit! That’s Pokémon White 2!”
Me, being the ever-patient one, smiled brightly at him, and said, “Yup! Sure is. Do you play?”
“Yeah, I got Pokémon Black 2 back when it came out. What’s your team? Who’s your favorite?”
And of course, this turned into good-natured conversation between two twenty-somethings and their love of the Pokémon franchise. This continued for the next seven and a half blocks, until I realized my stop was coming up. Like the gentleman he was, he pulled the cord for me. Ding! He stood up and walked with me to the door, and as I put my Gameboy away, he smiled and said, “Man, you’re cool, girl. I don’t find many girls who like playing video games.” And just when I was about to write that off as him not having enough cool friends of the opposite sex who love video games:
“I mean, I didn’t even know black girls played video games.”
Yup. That was all it took for me to suddenly see this relatively nice guy as an uninformed, possibly racist douchebag. (And yes, to clarify, this guy was white. Oh, but here’s the best part – him trying to justify his ignorant remark with another–)
“I mean, no offense! But black girls just don’t like video games. It’s just the truth.”
“What do you mean it’s “just the truth”? I don’t know if you missed the memo, but I’m black.”
He peered at me for a second, and then said, “Yeah, but I thought you were mixed. Your skin isn’t that dark.”
And here I was, in the situation, absolutely beside myself with confusion, anger, and the sudden urge to knock his teeth down his throat. How could anyone be that vapid? I couldn’t even believe it.
Oh, and you know he asked for my number as I got off the bus.
I was so pissed off for the rest of that day, I stormed around my neighborhood looking like I might spit fire from my eyeballs and my head would spin around multiple times. And the worse part is, this isn’t even the first time something like this has happened. It’s happened two times before:
Picture it: Anime Central, 2011. I had ventured into the lower levels of the hotel, where they had all of the console gaming set up. I was dressed up as Kan-u Unchou from Ikki Tousen, aka (by its manga name) Battle Vixens.
She’s my absolute favorite anime character, for so many reasons, so I was stoked to cosplay her, didn’t mind all of the pictures, and, yes, got a bit irked when people said, “Hey, Sailor Moon!” (…Morons.) Well, I had rushed downstairs in a frenzy when I heard they had set up an old Sega Genesis with Sonic 3/Sonic and Knuckles. I was scanning the room, looking for said games and consoles, when a guy tapped me on the shoulder. First, he asked me for a picture, and then he asked me if I were looking for someone.
“Yeah, Sonic and Knuckles. Where are the Genesis systems at?”
He looked at me confused for a moment, and then: “Are you looking for your boyfriend?”
I grit my teeth and said, “No. I want to play it. Where are they?”
Now, this man (dressed as Cloud Strife), looked so confused. And then that’s when I realized something: as I looked around, I realized that not only was I the only black girl in the gaming room (at the time), I was also the ONLY woman in there. Of course, there were plenty of black men, Asian men, white men, etc, etc, but I was the only woman of color in that entire room. Hence, the reason I MUST have been looking for my boyfriend, correct?
I got so pissed off, I turned around and started casing every table until I finally found it. But the men were looking at me as if I were some angry, pissed-off girlfriend either trying to find her boyfriend or being forced to be there by someone and didn’t want to be. And the messed up part was that their “logic” was only two-pronged:
1) I’m a woman.
2) I’m black.
So, when I finally did settle down at the abandoned console just sitting there, I vented my frustrations through three levels of Sonic 3, playing as the unlocked Knuckles, until another girl joined me. She was dressed as Felicia from MVC3, and she had the same angry look on her face as I did. Jokingly, I asked, “Are you looking for your boyfriend?”
And we both burst out laughing, knowing the inside joke. Even though we weren’t the same race, we were still the same gender, and got the joke. I can’t imagine what she must have gone through trying to find Sonic 3 like I did. We played a few rounds of VS mode and called it day. It was bad enough that I had to be labeled a “skank” and a “whore” for choosing to cosplay a scantily-clad character in what I believed to be my own element of nerds and otaku, but as a black woman, I got the ass end of, “You’re not light enough to cosplay that character,” and, “Your skin is too dark.”
Of course, the irony of those statements is that if they’d ever picked up an issue of Battle Vixens, then they’d know that Kan-u and I share almost the same exact skin tone, as she is portrayed as dark-skinned (but not black), and was lightened a bit for the anime. Of course, even if she hadn’t been dark-skinned, I still would have cosplayed her.
Anyway, moving on: The second instance of the color of my skin calling my “gamer” nature into question was at none other than San Diego Comic Con 2011, later on that year. I recycled my Kan-u cosplay, dropped the wig, and went as Sakura from Street Fighter.
(I even got to meet Mindy Sterling, aka Frau from Austin Powers!)
There was a MVC3 tournament being held, and the lines for this thing were crazy long. Still, I stood in line, entered, and was ready to beat some tail dressed up as my favorite character. The entire time I was in line, I noticed two things:
1) The lack of women.
2) The lack of black women.
There were, in fact, maybe only two standing in line in the two hours I’d been waiting for my shot against the reigning champion. When I finally got up there, all I heard were catcalls, whistles, and yes, inevitably, “Whoa, is she black?!” I managed to survive five rounds with my team of Amaterasu, Sakura, and Morrigan when I was finally knocked out. I wasn’t mad – just really excited for the chance to showcase my skills. After I had shaken my opponent’s hand, and stepped down grinning, a black girl came up to me and said, quote:
“Thanks for representing black girl-gamers up there,” she said with a smile. “These people just don’t know we game just as hard as they do.” And then she walked off. I wasn’t sure why, but that had made me feel happy. That maybe I wasn’t alone in my thinking that too many people have the mindset of black girls not being gamers when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, a lot of my exes were always surprised that I was a gamer. Period. Even my current boyfriend told me he was surprised that I was so nerdy, because he’d always thought “black girls just weren’t into those things.”
Well. We are. More and more, you’re seeing a plethora of nerdy, dark-skinned girls cosplaying, gaming, and nerding out at comic cons, and it really comes as this enormous shock to people. Like, why?! We’ve been around for years. In fact, the coolest chick I know, a fellow SuicideGirl by the name of Milloux Suicide:
has her entire house CHOCK-FULL of countless graphic novels, Final Fantasy plushies, a TON of video games for the PS3, and even some of her old N64 games lying around. She’s one of the most hardcore gamers I know, and don’t even get her started on Skyrim. And what do you know? She’s black. (I’ll even go ahead and tell you right now, it’s a whole ‘nother tale of woe and ignorance being a black SuicideGirl. The facebook comments are just lovely.)
But really…what year is this? How is it that I can still manage to shock men of different races, and yes, even black men, with the single phrase:
“I love video games.”
Really. Black girl gamers exist. We do. We’re waiting and accepting any and all challengers. I won’t even sugarcoat it: it’s bad enough being a female, and having your “gamer” nature challenged. It’s worse when you have someone say to your face, “Yeah, but you’re black. You’re not a REAL gamer.”
And then that opens up a whole other can of words (and some whoopass).
Believe me, I have several douchebag friends on Facebook who spend 99% of their time posing memes and pictures that have that sexist and just plain stupid, “Gamer Girl Vs. Girl Gamer” bullshit.
“This is what a real girl gamer looks like.”
“This is how a real gamer girl acts.”
GIRL GAMER. GAMER GIRL. WHAT THE HELL DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? We’re female and we play games. SO what.
I’m a girl gamer. I’m a gamer girl. Why can’t I just be a gamer? Why does my sex has have to dictate what specific group I belong in?
(Wait. Stop. Did you hear that just now…? …Uh-huh. As I thought. That’s the sound of some moron out there labeling me as an angry feminist.)
Guess what? It doesn’t. I’m a gamer. Period. Regardless of the color of my skin, your skin, or her skin, she is still a gamer, regardless of what she plays or how many hours she spends playing it. Is a girl who takes an hour break in the day to play some Donkey Kong any less of a gamer than the girl who spends countless hours on WoW?
No. It does not. And the color of her skin certainly doesn’t make me any less of a gamer, just as it doesn’t make me any less of a person.
So, the next time you find yourself gaping, absolutely blown away by the sight of a black girl trying out the new MW game at GameStop, or with her handy PSP in hand on the train, think before walking up to her, asking her if the game in question is actually hers (and not her brother’s/boyfriend’s/etc), and you actually utter the words:
“Wow! I didn’t know black girls play video games!”
Because you’ll only manage to successfully piss off said gamer, and yes, make yourself look like an racist, ignorant asshole.