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Blerd Chick Stories: Why All My Characters Look Like Me

December 13, 2012

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.

Why?

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.

beulah

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.

witchbladeqk8

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.

For those of you who can’t read it the caption reads: “Honey, I’se Waitin’ Fo’ You Down South.”

 

 

 

 

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.

black-woman-attitude_4523
In order to make her less threatening she is depicted as lazy, ignorant, asexual or hyper-sexual but reaching “far above herself” and most of all stupid.

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.

Fair Warning:

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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2012 9:52 PM

    I don’t have the same perspective, nor can I view the world the same way, so, in some ways, it’s very difficult for me to relate. I suppose I’m a bit disconnected, but I do know culture-shock. When someone tells you they don’t think of you as “black,” in my head, if I were to utter those unfortunate words, I would mean that I can relate to you on a cultural level to an unexpected degree. Of course, that would flat-out state that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to, which would be the fault of my own ignorance.

    There’s a constant tug between fidelity and rules, the whole and the few, in a LARP setting, especially on a political level when someone has a lot of pull. I agree, though. They handled that pretty horribly in relation to you. I’m a fan of high-fidelity, but there are limits, even if they’re hard to define. I suppose the thing would hinge on whether or not it added anything to the world you were all creating. Then, it would be decided on whether or not that was worth what it was doing to you, and to others. I don’t think it was worth it. I’m glad you pulled through and kicked some ass. Awesome!

    Very nice post. Well put-together, insightful, and thought-provoking.

    • December 13, 2012 10:43 PM

      The best part about killing his was the epic flounce the player did after he realized he couldn’t rules-lawyer or argue his way out of his character’s death. Seriously, it was like a Quad Salchow flounce with a double twisting dismount. Yes I did mix my sports references.

      When someone tells you they don’t think of you as “black,” in my head, if I were to utter those unfortunate words, I would mean that I can relate to you on a cultural level to an unexpected degree. Of course, that would flat-out state that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to, which would be the fault of my own ignorance.

      Right, what you mean to be saying is that you respect me as a person and recognize me as an individual who is your equal. I get that. Especially when it comes to conversations about race, what people are trying to say to their friends is “Your race is not the thing I consider most important about it. The thing is, the way to actually express that is to express that.

      Because otherwise, what PoC hear is “In order to be comfortable with you as a person I have to force you into a definition of my own creation and devalue a huge part of your identity,” which is, as you can imagine, problematic. Also, not nearly as friendly as the speaker might have intended.

      I suppose the thing would hinge on whether or not it added anything to the world you were all creating. Then, it would be decided on whether or not that was worth what it was doing to you, and to others.

      The thing that made it so blatant that they just didn’t care was that there was another character who was also militantly racist in character and for similar reason; both men were playing former Confederate Soldiers. Other Guy didn’t like my character, hated dealing with her and blocked her elevation a couple of times. However, he was also never threatening to me. He was rude and dismissive of my character, but never of me as a person and I never felt unsafe with him. That probably came as a result of the fact that he never threatened to rape me in or out of character and he didn’t have such obvious cover from the GMs. Problem Guy was very close friends with the GMs, used to break character all the time and would make slurs and comments in such a way that it was difficult to tell who was speaking, him or his character.

      To the credit of the rest of the group, when he and his GM friends tried to accuse me of various personal and out of character motivations, I never had to defend myself. The rest of the group basically shouted them down by pointing out all the times that they allowed their friend to get away with saying things that none of hte rest of them would ever have gotten away with.

  2. December 13, 2012 10:46 PM

    This is exactly why I am not interested in playing online RPGs – I just stick with my consoles. I worked at a video game magazine for a year and I had enough of that immaturity from my co-workers to last a lifetime. Sad to know things haven’t changed much. They just don’t seem to understand that type of behavior is unacceptable anywhere.

    Be true to yourself and go get ’em!

    • December 13, 2012 10:56 PM

      Yeah, I love gaming but I can’t really deal with it anymore. And the gaming world? Sigh. Just, sigh. It’s the same thing with comics. You can see it with this “Fake Geek Girl” drama that’s been happening in the past few weeks. The sad thing, I mean other than the rampant misogyny, is the surprise with which so many males in fandom have reacted. The thing is, even when they step up and say something about the misogyny, they act like it is a rare thing that is coming from just a few people. Um, no. Really not so much.

      • December 14, 2012 10:00 AM

        I don’t game, but I know a lot of people, male and female, who do. While most of them are fairly intelligent people, many of the males are clueless about this sort of thing in a way that the women just are not. I imagine that the difference comes from white male privilege, but it just amazes me that people who are that intelligent can also be so freaking stupid when it comes to issues of racism and misogyny.

        missattitude

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