Blerd Chick Stories: Why All My Characters Look Like Me
Over the years I’ve grown into a gamer of many flavors but I started out in LARP. For many years and on two continents I LARPed the old White Wolf, World of Darkness. I’ve played at least ten characters in that system and a further hundred or so in various tabletops systems and with modifications for make up and dress, every single one of them looked like me. All of them. Always.
Part of it is ease of roleplay. No matter how good you are, if you can see you rely on visual cues. As such, basing my characters on me makes it easier for people to interact naturally. Part of it is a sociological experiment. My very first LARP character was created and played in Atlanta. Because I was the only Person of Color in the game and because one of the established players who had power both in and out of the game was, frankly, a massive douche, who played an ex-Confederate I spent the first night hearing subtle and overt racial and sexual slurs which were explained and excused as “just role play.” Oh, come on Witch, the person in question is just speaking in character when he says he intends to take you out back to the slave quarters and break you in right.” Because that made it acceptable.
Through it all I endured not only the acceptance of the threats on my character but on myself through that character. I didn’t feel safe, because, having been groped and cornered in the past at various fandom events, I never knew how much of his role play was role play and how much was real hostility venting through an acceptable format.
Let me pause here and make it clear that the format shouldn’t have been acceptable. The things he was saying were not OK by any stretch of the imagination and the GMs were wrong for allowing it continue. There’s a way to express a horrible, racist, misogynist character without being horribly racist and misogynist. Most people call that role playing.The function of a GM is to facilitate and in certain cases, force role play. The GMs of that particular game in Atlanta failed, utterly at their jobs. Trust.
I eventually arranged to have that character die very publicly, which was fun for me. But I spent the whole time that character was around being afraid in the environment. That feeling is common for me. As a Woman of Color in nerd culture I spend a lot of time feeling unsafe. I am either treated as The Mammy, The Jezebel or The Sapphire.
The Mammy is the mask forced on me when people want me to be invisible. Mammy was comfortable, comforting, easy, quiet and asexual in her large roundness, dark skin and servant role. She is always smiling, always happy to be where you want her to be and what you want her to be. She is utterly non-threatening and always there to be used for emotional gratification.
You are not like the others. You’re different. You’re like a white person with a tan. I don’t think of you as black.
I get this from males and females and the really sad thing is that they think they are being complementary and kind. Guess what people? You’re really not. What you’re being is racist and ignorant and the hate face you get as a result of these comments is your own fault. Whitewashing or ignoring PoC is the wrong answer.
The Jezebel is the opposite of the Mammy.
Even at her grandest she is half-naked, hyper sexual and often depicted as light skinned and thus more acceptably attractive. Note the light eyes of both the characters above. Look how sexy she is! And dangerous! She’s so overtly sexual that 400 years of abuse is totally her fault because she was asking for it, even if she is a child. She is unable to be what Mammy is and this must be reduced to a sex object, always.
Yep,, that happened. It happened a lot.
The Sapphire is a bitch. because she is unwilling to be ignored and yet will not allow her sexuality to be taken from her she becomes the most off-putting and reviled trope. As such she is most often the butt of jokes as well.
So what does all of this have to do with my characters?
I burn these stereotypes to the ground. I’m not insidious. I’m not subtle. I’m smarter than many of my peers. I’m not passive, motherly, asexual, hyper-sexual or sassy. I am not a caricature of myself. I am a character. I question, I challenge, I adapt and overcome. And I survive where others fall.
Take your racist, sexist, ableis, anything else -ist hate out on us at your peril larger Nerdom. For you this may be a game, a fun opportunity where you can work out your repressed ignorance under cover of playing a part. For us, this is just a part of life. We have a regrettably lifelong amount of experience at taking crap while continuing to function and as history shows, winning the day. You know, eventually.
All of those skills? We fold them into our characters? All of your blows? We know how to let them roll of our back at best and roll with them at worst. While you’re sharpening our claws, we are setting our pieces and whether it comes in the form of a frag grenade, a rail gun, magic, minions or powers, we’re going end your ass.