Following up on the entry I wrote in response to Brandon Boyer‘s talk at Indiecade, I thought I would put a very broad and general post on why diversity is important, how it is being hindered even by the well-meaning white person (myself included), and the impact diversification of games could have on society.
The quote that names of this entry comes from Lisa Nakamura’s book Digitizing Race. It is from Colin Powell’s son Michael Powell when he was appointed head of the FCC. The quote signifies a general malaise toward government help with various social problems because those social problems are seen as the problem of individual effort (laziness) rather than one of institutional trends. Here is where I will begin.
Discomfort and Defensiveness
Race and racism is uncomfortable to discuss. This discomfort is based on historical development of trying to get past race through white groups forcibly forgetting about it; gender falls in to this as well. Put simply and generally, it begins during the aftermath of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and culminates in the Barack Obama election.
We are all currently on a precipice of race discussion that needs to be pushed into the public light.
First, a generalization. We, white society in America, have lost the ability to seriously discuss race without being defensive and it is this lack of discussion that perpetuates race based problems.
The most basic way to describe this effect is that the Civil Rights Act was a collective effort of many groups that culminated in a major majority shift to wait for minority groups to reflect majority norms and values. In essence, the white reaction to the incredible ’60s Civil Rights Movement was one of passive waiting for normalization. Normal, in this case, is whiteness.
Imagine discussing a political belief with someone who is violently opposite to you but is your boss. Your boss is passive aggressive. While he or she is your boss, they are, in reality, just another person, they just feel differently than you. Somehow, this person has been designated as above you and culturally, this means more successful than you and success is a culturally favored goal.
Perhaps your job skills are actually better than your boss. It doesn’t matter.
How often would you bring this subject up? What would happen if each time it was brought up, he or she would simply brush it off. If pressed, they would ask why you had to play this political card. In the end, if you were just more hard working, you could be the boss.
Only, your boss would still be above you. Would the stress of that get to you?
Could you keep up a fight against your boss if you knew that that they could simply end your job at any time? That your organization would simply believe your boss because of how much trouble your political beliefs caused.
This discomfort is normal life for a large amount of people; this discomfort should be fought against; this discomfort should be relieved. I do not mean by running down to your local minority based nonprofit group or anyone nearby who looks different from you, I mean by actively discussing it with friends, family, and everyone you know. By not letting someone tell a racist joke, by recognizing certain aspects of humor as racist, by recognizing that all of us are in some way racially motivated and hold racially localized beliefs. In essence, be active about race and gender.
Passivity within discussions about race, gender, and diversity is the very thing that causes that discomfort. It does this through removing it from public discourse.
I am going to pull from as many sources as possible. This is not because I want to say things with other peoples words or take shortcuts through vast disciplinary structures within academia, it is because so many of these sources say the same thing about a huge variety of subjects.
It may be a bit of an overload but if I have a goal in making this post, it is to give readers the ability to recognize the problems within American society about the subjects this blog is interested in: Video Games and Internet Technology.
The term and concept that sits at the crux of this post is multi-faceted but singular in its function. Color-blind, or institutional racism, is typically defined in two different ways, a violent dialectic that is impossible to debate.
The dialectic forms through two different interpretations of the term color-blind. Through explaining one end of the pole, the other end will make itself known.
I Don’t Even See Color
We live in a society that tells itself it is post-race. Race neutral (gender neutral as well) terminology is everywhere. Phrases like, “I don’t even see what color they are.” or other similar sentiments are kin to this definition of color-blind.
From Lisa Nakamura, a quote from another scholar, Vijay Prashad:
“Color-blindness is a symptom of racism.” Vijay Prashad identifies this gentler form of racism as the greatest problem of the twenty-first century – the “color-blind” replaces the color line as the prevailing practice that permits resources to be unevenly allocated based on racial identities. – 3 Nakamura
Blindness to color doesn’t work because there are cultural differences between races/ethnicities in society. From motherhood or parenting to pay gaps, even type of industry (source) or media representation, the difference can be seen rather blatantly if we actually looked at the data. and this definition serves as a means through which this difference can be ignored by the dominant group (White People). Further, because the dominant group can ignore these differences, those whom are affected by them can only serve to rock the boat. The origin of “The Race Card” or “The Gender Card” resides in this blindness.
The opposite end of this dialect then, recognizes the impact of this passivity. Please note that liberals as well as conservatives fall into this discussion. It is not a political topic but a universal ignoring of race that perpetuates these issues.
This series of ideas is from a book by Barbara Trepagnier called Silent Racism: How Well Meaning White People Perpetuate the Racial Divide:
- Race awareness in well-meaning white people—including racial progressives—is both sorely lacking and a crucial piece of the racism puzzle.
- Well-meaning white people who are passive around others’ racism encourage it, whether or not they intend to.
- Slavery and segregation have been transformed into a less obvious structure: institutional racism.
- Race awareness entails understanding three facets of racism: the history of racism in the U.S., how institutional racism operates, and insight into one’s own silent racism and passivity.
- Both silent racism and passivity in well-meaning white people are instrumental in producing institutional racism.
- Throughout U.S. history a small group of white Americans has stood against the racist institutions of their day.
Each one of these items represents an extremely defensive conversation. Time and time again, college students in multi-cultural classes around the country read this book or others like it: Racism Without Racists by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, White Lies by Jessie Daniels, White Like Me by Tim Wise, and dozens more. During class, students often listen to endless lectures about racial problems. However, once outside of class, a common phrase or sentence outside that classroom might be, ‘I’m not racist, I have black friends, but I wonder why…..”
These statements are acknowledgements of a racialized belief but are masked by passive defense against understanding that belief. The term social distance here designates a distance between the speakers understanding of a group. In this case, the understanding is very little but the speaker is positioning themselves as extremely close to that group. That no one would question it is how these racialized beliefs continue, uncountered and unchanging. This is based on the idea of privilege. Whites can do all of these things because they are the dominant group.
If the training students receive in these classes doesn’t create active participants in discussions of race, how can we begin to discuss these things.
From this quote, I will enter into video games and video gaming. Video games are often used in education debates as a means through which arithmitic and computer use is taught.
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a random sample of 12-17 year old children in the U.S. found that 73.9% of all white children play video games while only 26.1% of all non-white children play.
The skills learned through computer use at school and home are used later in life and is represented through different data collection efforts. Recently (2009 report using 2007 data), a report of unskilled workers was released. This study looked at what job skills unskilled laborers used during their time at work. From that study comes this quote:
Only 39 percent of Hispanic workers hold jobs that require daily use of computers, compared with 67 percent of white workers. The daily job tasks required on noncollege jobs held by black workers are more similar to those held by white workers, with two notable exceptions—arithmetic and computer use. Only 41 percent of black workers use computers daily, compared with 67 percent of white workers. And nearly half of whites in noncollege jobs use arithmetic daily, compared with one-quarter of blacks.
The interesting thing about this study is that it looks at 3 particular groups: whites, blacks, hispanics. Asian cultures are often left out of studies like this because of a particular function Asian groups serve in diversity discussions. In color-blind discussions Asian groups are often used as tokens of success, distracting from larger problems, especially in technology sectors. From Lisa Nakamura:
The discourse of color-blindness is relatively new in American racial politics and Robert Lee identifies it as a key feature of Colr War liberal ideology…[An example] Asian Americans were posed as models of this type of “ethnic” poliical subject because their low usage of welfare and political docility, along with their successes in the education sysem, made them prime examples of racialized subjects who had overcome the barrier of color, or race-as-biology, to become model consumers of commodities as well as creators of economic value: as Lisa Lowe would put it, they were positioned as both labor and capital. They were also seen as ideal liberal subjects in that they were figured as not needed intervention of the state, particularly in reference to education and technology.” 4
Race and Gender Safe – White Privilege
Video games are almost all white and all male. Within the industry, there are what I would call “safe” individuals. Non-white individuals who act white enough to allow for a false inclusivity and false diversity. This is not meant to belittle or make less of accomplishments so much as it is to point out that there are significant gaps between white males who make video games, and nonwhite males and females who make games. The need to be mindful of this difference should not be confused by a visible but tiny minority of minorities.
As I posted last time, less than 7% of most “tech” industries are nonwhite. Tokenism is an old practice and in the video game industry, it can be difficult to see. The issue becomes more visible when we examine how the term video games is operationalized.
There are typically 3 different ways games are operationalized:
- Do you play console games? (Male Dominated, Females around 1/4 of all gamers)
- Do you play games on a computer? (Female Dominated, Females age 54 dominate)
- Do you play games on a computer or console? (Males dominate, Females 40% of gamers)
The differences in these numbers are vast. Without Computer games, females constitute almost 30% of all gamers. When including computer games, females comprise as much as 43% of all gamers.
Getting a little further in to some data, Nielson reports that, 12-17 year old males living in homes making $75k or more make up the most active group of gamers. This statistics refers to console gaming, a type of gaming that dominates most sales categories and is commonly referred to as “the game industry.”
If we go into the “Essential Facts about the Gaming Industry” from NPD group, the average age of video gamers is 34 years of age and male but Adult women represent a more significant portion of the game playing population (33%) than boys 17 or younger (20%).” However, this study combines the console an PC markets and includes games like Hearts. Solitaire, and games like it and is funded by the game industry itself.
Finishing Up – Problems with Diversity and Criticism
I have tried to say that discussions of race are uncomfortable. What is more troublesome is how we have come to passively allow (covertly) more aggressive styles of racism (overt) to continue. My main point here is that allowing it to “work itself out” is more damaging than being out and out overt about race.
When race discussions happen, the normal response is typically that of defensive “I’m not racist” posturing as well as more blatant and hyper-energized discussions of how something “isn’t white” (See Donald4Spiderman for an example or discussions of female Shepard in Mass Effect).
Video games matter because of what they mean to life for people later, they are an introduction to computer use, to interaction with a digital environment. As we have seen, this has translated to more computer use for white groups even in the unskilled labor force.
The need to diversify video game development, given these facts, represents a significant and important step in solving a wide array of problems, not just more minority groups within video gaming itself but more technological socialization for a wider portion of society that it manages currently.
Focusing on technology use by making a more intimate experience of video games while aiming to gain a greater audience will have a tremendous impact in the home life of a huge variety of individuals whose parents could never have dreamed of what their children will be able to do.
Simply using computer technology in a classroom everyday has already proven to have a significant affect on children’s learning outcomes and possibility spaces later in life.
This effect can be multiplied and furthered through emphasis on diversification of games through the diversification of game developers. Equity and Equality are within reach during our lifetime but must be actively pursued. Let us not sit idly by and let another opportunity pass us by.