We are not allowed to express our political needs or tell our political histories because when we do it makes other people feel uncomfortable....silence about America's racial legacy is the price of admission to the social contract.
- Melissa Harris-Lacewell
(Speaking from heart, speaking to healing. You know and I know the hate is out there. I don't link to it in these things because why should we let their hate use us like a computer virus, forcing us to forward hate on to each other? Wave after wave comes, so let's speak power and strength and do the opposite of what they do.)
A few years back, I went to GenCon, the largest tabletop roleplaying convention in the US. I arrived excited and eager to play, and a little sad my friends whom I had attended ComiCon weren't with me. I had just gotten out of the registration line and saw a person dressed up in blackface as a drow/dark elf. I flashed back just about 4 days before when a friend of mine had to leave ComiCon, completely shaking with hurt because someone thought it would be cool to get in blackface to dress up as Storm from the X-men.
The day before I flew back, I saw a newspaper headline, "Blacks are leaving Indianapolis, feel unwelcome". I wonder why?
I began to start looking hard at my hobby. Everything from artwork to social circles and the behaviors around it. I tried to start up conversations. Conversations with people who were intelligent, who I knew personally, who had no problem analyzing social behavior and how it affected play (after all, a roleplaying game is nothing but a group socially deciding imaginary stuff...).
But those conversations failed.
At first I thought I wasn't approaching it correctly, I tried different tacks, from talking about the raw representation of the artwork, to the historical issues of blackface, to, well... everything.
But see, my mistake wasn't that I was talking to intelligent, well read people - it was that I was continuing to mistake ignorance
on the part of intelligent, well read people as unintentional. I was giving benefit of the doubt to the people who had the least excuse to be ignorant of both history and media. It wasn't not knowing, it was choosing
not to know.
Instead of turning their minds to a legitimate question, "Hey, how did I NOT notice that all the bad guys are dark, or that the language used around orcs = the language used on native populations, or that even POC heroes are dehumanized with glowing eyes etc.?", instead the response was "You're crazy/reading too much into it/it's just a game/why do you care/you should find another hobby!"
That's right. "If you don't like it here, you can leave." And then they turn around and ask why there's so few POC in their hobby or their numbers are shrinking. (I went to GenCon SoCal that year, and all I saw were asian and hispanic kids playing Yu-Gi-Oh. I guess people of color aren't into geek stuff, right?)
But my story is not unique. We've been silenced, we've been pushed out. What is changing at this point, is that we're giving up the hope of working with broken social contracts. We're giving up on trying to engage in negotiations and reconciliation with people and groups that place their primacy and our marginalization as a price to admission. We're making our own.
And this is where we face white rage. It's not enough to push us out of the circles and silence us there, it's the fact that we're having conversations of our own, building our own circles, and our price of admission is equal participation and they are outraged to hear the word "NO" applied to their demands to be let in, to silence us in our own spaces, to make themselves the center here as well, all guised under the rationalizations of making "civilized discourse", "letting all sides be heard", or quite simply, getting to be the authority.
I'm watching a lot of folks go through the same journey I did- where you realize hate will follow you into your escapisms, where you realize we're not all one because we love the same thing, where you start to find out whether people respect you as a person, or just for what you can do for them.
Maybe the question you need to ask, isn't "How can I say this so they understand?" but instead, "Why
does this person with this level of intelligence not understand already
Or maybe you need to ask if you still want to be paying the price of admission to play in those circles, or if you need to be charging your own admission and opening up your own.
(ETA: I'm amused at the number of white folks showing up to comment, imagining that this is a plea for reconciliation, or better behavior, or sympathy cookies. It's not. I'm talking to other people of color going through the growing pains of realizing their circles aren't as "colorblind" as they thought they were. As hard as it might be to imagine, people exist outside of you, and the world is not all in relation to you.)