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Topics - Godheval

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General Discussion / Entertainment and the Burden of Being Conscious
« on: October 15, 2009, 11:49:34 am »
This post could also be entitled: "Uncharted 2 and why I can't enjoy anything anymore."

There is no video game forum on HEF, and I don't know if most of you gals and guys even play games, so I'm posting this thread here in hopes of starting a broader discussion.

It's not so much about video games as it is a larger problem I've come across that maybe some of you can relate to.

Ever since I've taken on a more, shall we say "militant" bent, I've become aware of things that I had taken for granted before.  I've had discussions with various people - particularly African-Americans - about video games that brought up their problem with the prevalence of white protagonists.  They felt a disconnect from the characters they were playing for this reason, felt they couldn't "relate" to them.  For most of my life, whenever I've had this conversation, I've thought that was silly.  For one thing, I didn't feel that.  For another, there were plenty of ways/reasons to identify with a character outside of race/ethnicity.  For another, in my view, most of these games were taking place on other worlds - worlds where our racial categories do not exist.  Even where themes of discrimination were visited, as in the game Chrono Cross, it was likely a problem between humans and some ACTUAL other race - like Elves or Metahumans or whatever else.  So what did it matter that the hero in this world happened to be a blue-eyed blonde-haired ubermensch?  I'm looking at you, Cloud Strife.

But, as you can imagine, something has changed for me.  I still maintain my "other worlds" argument, but the fact is that these games are made BY people from THIS world, and so I have developed a bone of contention not with the white protagonists, but with a development community that completely ignores diversity, or where non-white characters are featured as stereotypes or mockeries.  I'm looking at you just about every game out of Japan.

This new problem became even more present in the case of the latest game I've played - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves for PS3.  In it you play as Nathan Drake, the white treasure hunter (thief).  Let me give you a quick background on this guy.  In the first game, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, we learn that Nathan is the descendant of Sir Francis Drake - one of many (as I know now) brutal conquerors of the Western world.  Nathan is pursuing a lost treasure that his ancestor is said to have left behind.  My problem with that game, ASIDE from the fact that Nathan is plundering cultural sites, is that it maintains the mystique of Francis Drake the explorer, rather than Sir Francis the conqueror.  Now you may say, it's a just video game, not a social commentary.  But that's just it.  It doesn't have to be a social commentary to at least acknowledge that Sir Francis Drake was a piece of sh*t.  

Anyway, this really created for me the problem of not being able to relate to the main character that others had described to me in the past.  And my "other world" argument doesn't work in this case.  Here we have the descendant of a plundering conqueror doing some more plundering - and he's the goddamn HERO of the story.

He starts off fighting native soldiers of what looks to be some place in South America, and ends up fighting some kind of zombies or some other bullsh*t.  I'll let the killing natives thing slide, because it's to be expected that the villain - some other plundering asshole - would recruit locally.  Cheap labor and all that.  >:(

The "zombie" thing could've been interesting if they were the vengeful dead left behind by Francis the conqueror, but it was nothing so relevant as that.  It was some magical B.S. that changed people into creatures.

That was the first game.  And I brought all that baggage with me into the second game.  There was not a moment of playing Uncharted 2 where I wasn't thinking "I don't want to be this plundering white boy".  Nathan Drake for me, by his very premise, is character with few redeeming qualities.  As the game proceeds, we see Drake robbing a museum in Turkey, but at least having the moral sense to use only tranquilizer guns on the museum guards - at least those he isn't pummeling into unconsciousness or choking out.  These guards are all dark-skinned, which from my understanding of Turkish demographics, is rather improbable.

He goes on to loot temples and other sites in Nepal.  The villain - some burly homicidal Eastern European - is exploiting some sort of Civil War in Nepal to raze temples to the ground in search of a certain artifact.  Drake is hot on his trail, not to stop him, but to beat him to the punch.

Disaster happens, Drake ends up isolated in some snowy mountains, and is rescued by a Nepalese mountain man.  A popular story.  When he wakes up, he finds himself in a village where, as is to be expected, no one speaks English.  Drake makes a number of snide references like "Yeah, I still don't speak that." and "Why do I bother?".  Oh, SORRY to burden you, white plunderer, by having the gall to not speak your f*cking language up here in the Nepalese mountains, and hinder you from stealing from us.

By some sheer coincidence, Elena - Drake's reporter friend from the first game - she's white, too, and for reasons unknown can speak the language of the Nepalese mountain people - is there waiting for him when he wakes up.  She proceeds to take him to someone who "really wants to meet him".  At this point I was expecting the Nepalese equivalent of the "magical Negro", some sagely old woman or diminutive hunchback, maybe.  But imagine my surprise when it's some jolly old white guy wearing the Nepalese garb - obviously a transplant.  Turns out he was once an "explorer" like Drake, looking for the same elusive artifact, but he gave up and settled in this village.  Phew!  Good thing there was another white guy around, because for a minute there Drake's quest for plunder might've been obstructed by a language barrier!

Drake's presence in this mountain village eventually brings a full scale assault from the villain down on the natives, who are mowed down relentlessly as Drake himself runs for cover.  We're talking men, women, children - being gunned down by soldiers and a TANK.  A tank.  Seriously.  In exchange for your hospitality, kind villagers, I bring you DEATH.  In spite of the mass devastation of innocent villagers, the only two moments of mourning in the game are upon the deaths of Elena's cameraman - also white - and Schafer, the former treasure seeker.

Maybe the moral of the story is, if you're a Nepalese mountain person and find a white man collapsed in the mountains, leave his punk ass there to die.

Oh, and did I mention Chloe?  Well, she is Drake's OTHER potential love interest, a direct contrast to Elena, his reporter friend.  Elena is white - very white - with blonde hair and blue eyes and an investigative journalist.  Chloe is dark-skinned, green-eyed, dark-haired, and a fellow thief.  She's the "exotic" one.  In only her second scene in the game, we find her straddling Drake, ass in the air, putting his hands on either of her hips before leaning in for a kiss.  Completely forced and disingenuous sexual banter continues between the two throughout the game - brilliantly written lines like "You know you're going to miss this ass", and "I think you're enjoying this too much" as she climbs a ladder.  

And of course she's all kinds of shady, her motives and loyalty repeatedly questioned, whereas Elena is the reliable mainstay.  Elena's also the only one to call Drake on being a pig, and to have anything close to a sense of feminism.  She's also the one that Drake chooses to "love" in the end, with Chloe going on to...who knows where.  But no worries, because Drake points his friend, a lecherous cigar-smoking old white man, in her direction.  So we can assume she won't be alone for long.  You know, because she's just waiting around for the next white dick.  All women should be so fortunate.   >:(

Once upon a time, I was able to just play video games and enjoy them.  I didn't see race, I didn't see cultural issues, didn't see gender issues, didn't see ANYTHING.  Games were, after all, my escape from such heavy things.  But now, being more "conscious", I can't help but notice them.  And DAMN if it isn't a burden.  This burden leaks into just about everything these days.  There is hardly a movie or a game or a book where I'm not looking for and easily spotting a slew of cultural faux pas that can only be attributed to the dominance of an oblivious majority.

Does anyone else get this?  Do you mournfully reminisce the days of blissful ignorance?  I do sometimes.  Yet, I don't think I'd be willing to trade it for my current awareness.


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http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=137

The speaker's name is Tim Wise, and he's got quite a few books on the subject.  It's funny, is it just me or does he sound like he's either preaching or freestyling?

May serious discussion follow...


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Vox Populi / Blackness: A Call for Discussion
« on: September 29, 2009, 10:46:12 pm »
I have been searching for years for a place where I could get some serious feedback on this essay I wrote, and this may or may not be the place, but here's hoping that it leads to some stimulating discussion.

The thesis is simple.  It is that identifying one's self as "black" is self-limiting, and that identifying others as "black" is as fundamentally racist as calling them a nigger.  I hope those of you who opt to read it find it worth your time.

Black
by Godheval

(Originally posted at http://www.godheval.net/black/)

It should be understood from the start that I am writing as an American and I am talking exclusively about the experience of the African Diaspora in the United States. How the terms mentioned apply globally to various other groups of people is beyond the scope of this essay, and beyond my knowledge.

Blackness does not exist in a vacuum. It exists only as a reflection of whiteness. It represents both how peoples of the African Diaspora have been regarded and treated by white people – racism, discrimination, subjugation, and annihilation, both physical and cultural. It also represents how the Diaspora has responded to these conditions – submission, acceptance, and resistance.

Blackness also further validates whiteness, existing as a point of reference. White people can claim “We are not that” – that being the exotic or inhuman “other”.

At some point, American society determined that the word “nigger” was inappropriate in the public sphere. That which was a commonly accepted term to describe so-called “black people” – here defined as enslaved Africans and their descendants – became unacceptable only because of its direct association with slavery, or the slave-holding south. That it became taboo has nothing to do with any sudden revelation on the part of white people that slavery, subjugation, or inequality was wrong, and thereby the terms that imply those processes should be abolished.

It became taboo as white society scrambled to erase the stains of the past from its consciousness – a feat that has been mostly achieved in contemporary society. The word “nigger” is one of those beacons that penetrate the veil of delusion, that remind “black people” as well as “white people” that the legacy is not dead, that it has merely transformed. Those who use the word in a racist context are considerably more genuine than their apologetic brethren, as they do not suffer under any pretenses of equality. They acknowledge and celebrate it – abhorrent for certain – but that at least makes them conscious of it.

The etymology of the word “nigger” has to do with a mispronunciation or warping of “negro” or similar words which in the European languages of the slave-holding Europeans meant “black”. It is not that the word “nigger” itself, as some unique linguistic phenomenon, confers lesser inhuman status upon darker people. It is that in meaning “black”, an exaggeration of darker skin tones, it also came to mean “inferior” due to its association with those darker skinned people. In other words, the less-than-human status was conferred first, and then all things associated with them as such, came to refer to inferiority. In this way, “black” – is just as fundamentally racist as “nigger”. This becomes even clearer when you hear people use the term “blacks” instead of “black people” – again a removal of the human element. Of course those same people also probably say “whites”, but there is no dehumanizing dimension to whiteness, and therefore it does not carry the same connotation.

Categorization is an everyday practice in every human society. We facilitate our understanding of a multitude of phenomena by trying to group them by their common traits. This is true of everything – objects, animals, ideas, and people. “Black” is used to categorize people who are perceived to have common traits. However, these traits are numerous. They are not exclusively biological, as there are as many differences within that group as there are similarities, just as there are between “black” people and any other perceived group. The biological differences between human beings are fluid in how they pervade the entire species, and do not create such distinct separations. The traits are not merely visual, as the spectrum of so-called “black people” incorporates incomparable diversity.

This is not to say that there are not identifiable biological differences between human groups, or that all systems of group classification are invalid. However, those differences do not at all correspond to how those groups are identified in America – our conception of race. Furthermore, genetic differences are really only relevant within the context of medicine, and even doctors are careful not to attribute the prevalence of disorders within perceived groups to biology alone. They realize that those disorders may have as much to do with bad practices transmitted through culture, such as diet.

Within the medical context, to whatever extent racial classifications are helpful in identifying high risk conditions, and in fostering a culture of illness prevention, then they should be examined further. But there is little need for these classifications to be transmitted into American culture, as they have proven only to be divisive.

The differences between people aren’t merely social either, as “black people” also exist at nearly all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum, albeit with a clearly uneven distribution. They are not intellectual or emotional, because no one can claim to know the minds of an entire group of people, what they think or how they feel.

Then on what grounds do we even classify certain people as “black”? So-called black people themselves, here in America, may see the term as synonymous with “African-American”, and claim that a certain group of people share in the experience and history of subjugation, discrimination, hatred, and oppression. Indeed there is a group of people with this shared experience, but even the degree to which they experience it exists along a spectrum, with some able to blissfully ignore it, while others feel that they suffer under its influences on a daily basis.

If black, then, is defined as a group of people with this shared experience, then it reaffirms my earlier claim that it exists only in response to whiteness. The aforementioned experience was created and is maintained by so-called white people, who continue to need some justification for the sense that they exist in opposition to, or at least distinct from, a darker skinned “other”. Many so-called black people themselves cling to this identity for the same reason, accepting their place as a minority “other”, although now in some way resisting the experience rather than succumbing to it. But they still only exist as a response, rather than due to anything inherent to their being or character. Of course, for all my pedantics here, I realize that most people use “black” to describe themselves simply out of tradition. “It’s not that deep”, someone might say. Until it is. And, really, it has been since the beginning, but it’s been so co-opted into “black identity” that it’s been taken for granted.

The cultural phenomenon known as “black pride” is a paradox. On the one hand proponents acknowledge their perceived differences from others – while somehow ignoring the reasons for those perceptions and their basis in demonization – while espousing a pride within that identity. What? How can one be proud to be considered inferior? Now of course no so-called black person would consider themselves inferior, but in accepting the white term “black”, they are validating that exact perception of their being.

The so-called “black experience” is a fact of many people’s lives. Its effects cannot be underestimated or ignored, and certainly should never be forgotten. However, this does not mean that it must be used as a basis for people’s identity. Our lives are certainly affected by many natural and cultural phenomena, such as thunderstorms and earthquakes, the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one. We do not then become Thunderstormians or Unemployedians. There is clearly a sense of identity that exists before and supersedes those events. In the same way, so-called black people possess a fundamental character and identity that exists apart from, albeit influenced by, the “black experience”.

This identity is dichotomous, because on the one hand each person has a uniqueness that prevents them from being totally submerged within any system of classification. Yet on the other hand they have so much in common with every other one of their fellow human beings as to under certain circumstances ignore their differences altogether. As a hypothetical scenario, were a hostile alien race to suddenly set upon the earth, they would become the exotic and reviled “other” and the whole of humanity most likely would unite against them.

A distinction must be made here, between the “black experience” and identity as “African-American” – a term I begrudgingly tolerate. It is not merely a matter of word choice. If the word black is understood as fundamentally racist, then the “black experience” is only the shared experience of being subjugated and defeated by racism. On the other hand, there are many things – cultural phenomena – which have been transmitted through generations of people from Africa. Art, religion, music, food, kinship systems – in fact, practically all aspects of African-American culture have been influenced in shades by an African heritage.

The problem is that Africa is a giant continent, not some small country, and a continent with such immense diversity that even the demarcation of nations there does not represent the distribution of biological and cultural variation. This is to say that there is no homogeneous “African” culture, and therefore no single culture to which American members of the Diaspora can trace their identity or customs. There is also the fact that many so-called African-Americans do not even know from which region in Africa their ancestors came. Therefore, more than any of the cultural practices that stem from the African continent, the central current of African-American identity is also the “black experience”, that is, the shared legacy of slavery.

The United States is one of the only places in the world with such strong cultural distinctions between its members. A place like Indonesia may have 2,000 ethnic groups and 500 languages (those numbers are arbitrary – the point is to say that there are a lot) but the differences between them probably exist along a spectrum rather than in a large number of discrete and seemingly irreconcilable groups as exist here. This being the case, even the “American” identity is subject to question. If there is anything distinctly American, it is that the American cannot be defined as any one thing.

At least that is the reality of the situation, but in practice, those things which have been deemed “American” are those ideologies and practices of “white people”. Everything and everyone else is so distinctly un-American that they require an additional prefix. There are Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, and of course African-Americans, but those who subscribe to the white identity are simply “American”. These include Spanish, Italians, Dutch, Irish – even Jewish people – except where these groups retain their cultural differences and identify as whatever particular kind of American. And this is what has to change. We who consider ourselves American need to stake our claim upon that identity and see it become more adequately representative of our diversity.

After all, if American-ness is something that can only be fully claimed by “white people” and African-ness is diluted, unidentifiable, then where does that leave so-called African-Americans in identifying themselves? With the “black experience”. Again we have a situation where a group of people are almost forced to identify themselves through the atrocities and grievous injustices once committed (and still being committed) against them. Again their identification is based on the actions and perceptions of another group of people – a group of people who have chosen to regard them as less than human.

If your rosy picture of reality leads you to think that this is not still the case, that there is no legacy to slavery, that “black people need to get over it”, or that we live in anything sort of “color-blind” society, then you are delusional. It was only eleven years ago that American “scholarship” produced a book that presented “scientific evidence” that so-called black people – something they even had trouble defining – were on the whole less intelligent than so-called white people. The ease with which the views of that book and similar “scholarship” were accepted into the mainstream, and continue to color people’s perceptions of group differences only reminds us of the strength of slavery’s legacy.

The perception of certain people as inferior on the basis of their “blackness” – buried as it may be beneath pretenses of tolerance and misguided “diversification” initiatives – is still an undercurrent to American society. Why should anyone be complicit in this demonization by routinely accepting the label of inferiority? Blackness has nothing to do with African-ness, except by chance. Had the colonialist Europeans decided to take most of their slaves from China, then the Chinese would be “black” – in terms of status, as obviously a different term would’ve emerged. Instead, blackness has everything to do with whiteness. If whiteness itself is a fallacy, and black identity only exists as a reflection of it, then it is equally inauthentic, and equally representative of the most ill-conceived stratification of humanity to ever exist in all of history.

Blackness, as I’ve said, is not a characteristic of anyone. It is something that was and continues to be inflicted upon a perceived group of people. In other words, no one is born black, but rather they are “blackened” by society. Just as different peoples of European descent “bleached” themselves in taking on a white identity in order to benefit from the corollary status advantages.

Now the word “inflicted” carries a negative connotation, and indeed blackness is a negative attribution. For proof of this, all anyone needs to do is consider in what context they use the term. “Black people”…what? Invariably what follows is something negative, either a racist generalization on one end or a claim to victimization on the other. Either way, blackness refers not to the people in question but to the status conferred upon them.

Identity is a fluid concept. It is constantly changing and must be highly adaptable to changes in the surrounding environment. For this reason, and because of its foundation, and because of its self-renewing and detrimental effects, the so-called “black” identity needs to be eliminated. This does not mean forgetting the legacy of slavery, subjugation, and oppression. That can never happen. This does not mean being oblivious to the ways in which people classify others, and how those perceptions shape our culture. That would be blissful ignorance. The acknowledgement of the institution of race is as much a necessity as dressing properly for bad weather. This does not mean that we have to let it define us as human beings, or define the relationships we share with other human beings.

To be a “black person” is to play right into the hands of those who seek to retain you as so necessarily different and so unacceptably “other”. So-called “black people” need to get on with the business of being human again – humans with a unique history and plight for certain – but still humans who need not be defined by it.

So for all of this, what am I really saying here? That self-identifying “black people” need to start identifying themselves in a way that is truly representative of the great diversity and uniqueness that makes up the rich spectrum of humanity within that perceived group, rather than falling into this self-limiting stigma of “blackness”. I would say one ideal would be – as I mentioned earlier – to fully claim American-ness, to wrest it from white exclusivity. This means claiming it through our language, through our self-estimation, through our actions, such as being more active in the socio-political process. This is especially important when we consider the nation’s diminishing reputation throughout the world, and how this reflects upon us as people. So-called “Black people” and “African-Americans”, their history notwithstanding, need to play a more significant role in defining what it means to just be American.

This is also a call to all progressive-minded people to make a change in their language to remove the persisting blight of racism. If you find yourself struggling with how to categorize someone, ask yourself if they even need be categorized within the context of your dialogue. Is he a “black doctor” or just a doctor? In these situations, also have the courage to recognize what your language says about your perceptions of others.

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