Are you racist?
It's the question nobody asks and nobody answers, because the implications of the question are so antithetical to somebody's self-image as a compassionate crusader for equality and peace.
But are you?
We are all a little racist. Human society is built upon the notion of tribes conquering other tribes; nations are just a large-scale version of this. Empires were and are built on the backs of oppressed minorities, and these empires are built around the focal concept of "my tribe dominates your tribe, and we can do whatever we please."
Thus, in a post-imperial world, "Are you racist?" becomes one of the most dominant and introspective questions you can ask. It's important to separate out what racism means to us. Of course, if you're in the majority, chances are you don't know what implicit racism (as opposed to the more cross-burning, people-lynching explicit kind) looks like.
Listen to the Victim
The simplest way to come to terms with internalized and societal racism is by listening. The phrase "Listen and believe," as Orwellian as it sounds, doesn't mean you should take all evidence uncritically. It means believing somebody who lives with the pain of living in a racist society every day of their life.
One of our greatest attributes as human beings is the capacity for empathy outside of our immediate social circle. Listening to a person of color when they tell you that the power structures of society are directly built to keep them down is both an exercise in empathy and an eye-opening experience.
It's all about privilege. Privilege is defined as having existing power structures cater to your interests, and fighting it means that you should dismantle those power structures. This means being compassionate to the struggles of others.
Favoring Existing Power
When a person of color's narrative directly benefits existing power structures, though, it's generally a good idea to examine it critically.
Favoring existing power structures is, on a whole, supporting a racist system. If a black person tells you that police are fine, that may be true for them, but the vast majority of evidence supports that the police disproportionately target black people for arrests, especially drug busts.
In other words, trust the victim. If it comes down to deciding between a victim and a naysayer, it is always in your best interest to support the victim, as that is the fundamental principle of empathy. Being compassionate means affording those in worse positions the benefit of the doubt and trusting them when they say there are systemic problems.
Punching Up vs Punching Down
This all ties to the principle that you should "punch up" and not "punch down." In other words, you always swing at the establishment, not at the downtrodden.
This is important when you get into muddy waters. When two people are affirming that the other side is an existing power structure that aims to oppress, critically evaluate those statements. Figure out which structure supports the status quo, and believe the person who opposes that structure. They are almost always right.
When faced with two conflicting accounts, always trust the one that punches up.
Here's where we come to games. Specifically, the hashtag #NotYourShield, which was borne from the swirling miasma of misinformation that is #GamerGate.
The #NotYourShield hashtag is in direct support of #GamerGate, which favors an existing status quo; namely, the exploitation of developers and the silencing of cultural criticism in game writing. Therefore, it is in support of an existing power structure. It is a shield by which #GamerGate deflects criticism that it unfairly targets minorities, especially women. The ultimate irony of #NotYourShield is that it addressed something that wasn't occurring (game writers using minorities as "shields" from criticism) and, by doing so, ended up supporting the very structure it supposedly opposed. "I'm #NotYourShield; I'm #GamerGate's shield"
Cultural criticism in games writing is not the status quo, and neither is the supposed corruption bandied about by #GamerGaters. Rather, the status quo is the culture that #GamerGate is fighting to protect; a culture of uncritical evaluations of games and the lack of genuine artistic dissection. In this particular instance, I choose to believe the minorities who tell me that our industry is fucked and needs some genuine artistic credibility, and not the minorities telling me that everything is fine and we should purge those upstart feminists and cultural critics before they become too loud.
In this particular instance, #NotYourShield is about silencing the voices of other minorities by contradicting them and using minority rhetoric to push back against changing the status quo. It's insidious and extremely easy to fall prey to, which makes it all the more effective. If you're an open-minded anti-racist, you are supposed to trust minorities when they tell you that they live and interact in an oppressive structure. But what if those minorities offer contradictory statements: one in support and one against. Which do you choose? It's a paralyzing choice.
Always Question Yourself
The most important principle to take from all this is to always be questioning. If you're a white guy (like myself) you must always be listening and ready to afford somebody the benefit of the doubt. This doesn't mean you should believe everything, but rather, as outlined above, that you should believe the people challenging the norm.
I can't comment on the black experience, or the woman experience, or the trans experience. I'm no savior, and I don't want to be. The only thing I can comment on is who I choose to believe when somebody tells me about those experiences. In these cases, I err on the side of anti-establishment. #NotYourShield directly supports the establishment, and as such is not a tag worth believing or participating in.
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