Category Archives: community

Gaming Masculinity: Video games as a reflection on masculinity in Computer Science and African American culture [Conference Notes]

by Latoya Peterson

These are the notes for “Gaming Masculinity: Video games as a reflection on masculinity in Computer Science and African American Culture.” The notes are from a paper by Betsy James DiSalvo, presented at the Texas A & M University Race and Ethnic Studies Institute’s Symposium exploring Race, Ethnicity and (New) Media.

The abstract to the paper reads:

There are a number of efforts to broaden participation in computing to include underrepresented groups. However, few of these efforts have identified African American males as a population with cultural and gendered values that may inhibit them from entering Computer Science (CS). In this paper we will explore masculine identities within computer culture and African American culture by using video games as an object of inquiry. We hypotheses that the technological agency exhibited with video games is based upon cultural and gender practices; and by exploring video game play practices we can better understand how to increase the technological agency of African American males and broadening their participation in CS.

The paper/project was funded to help increase participation in the computer sciences, with a particular focus on underrepresented groups.

The research (hosted at the Georgia Institute for Technology) began by examining video game use by African American males, sparked by an exchange with a student. The student lamented:

Me and some of my black friends were talking about the other guys in CS. Some of them have been programming since they were eight. We can’t compete with that. Now, the only thing that I have been doing since I was eight is playing basketball. I would own them on the court. I mean it wouldn’t be fair, they would just stand there and I would dominate. It is sort of like that in CS.
– Undergraduate CS Major

This led to the researchers (Betsy James DiSalvo, Sybrina Y. Atwaters, Jill Dimond, and Dr. Amy Bruckman) to re-examine the assumptions around what makes for a successful computer science graduate. They decided to take a closer look at play practices. Play practices of being outside are the norm in many communities, but are not conducive to computers/gaming which require long amounts of indoors/solo time to become proficient. Continue reading

A Broken System Part III: Fighting Words

By Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils

I’ve talked about the obvious need for a big change (Part I) and given a (slightly) smaller-scale suggestion for changing the USA’s relationship to race (Part II).  Now, in Part III, I’ll cover what I believe to be the education system’s single biggest contribution to the injustice of our society: the creation of a culture of combative communication (i.e. turning everything into a “fight”).

So, among my many annoying habits, I have one which a certain ex of mine absolutely hated.  It goes like this: I like to talk like I know what I’m talking about.

A prime example?  This blog.  I write with conviction and little hesitation.  I seldom use words that convey doubt in the veracity of my own experiences and opinions.  I sit down at my keypad and “tell it like it is.”  I state my argument, then break it all down, piece by piece, to bolster the strength of my claims and words.  That’s how I do it.

And that’s how I wrote the last paragraph.  That’s precisely how most politically-angled blog-posts are written.  It’s how articles and essays are written.  How speeches are given and delivered.

In the U.S., it’s called “good writing.”

We’re taught to do this.  To be like this.  The U.S. educations system takes pride in emphasizing “critical thought.”  And, on the surface, that’s something that is truly laudable. (*1)

However, the problem is in the delivery – and the message that is hidden within that delivery.  When we are taught to write and speak publicly, we are taught to compete.  We are taught effective techniques to “win” our “argument.”  We are taught that hedging and displaying doubt is not an “effective” means of convincing somebody of our right-ness.  If we do acknowledge a weakness, it is only to downplay it or offer up how that can be “easily rectified.”

On the flip – when we “listen” to the other side express their own “arguments” and opinions, we are taught to look for holes.  Find their weaknesses and expose them.  Find their stronger arguments and figure out how to break them down and “defend” against them.  All effective tools when trying to “win” an argument or get a good grade on a paper.

But – outside of the classroom – we think the same rules apply.  To successfully solve a problem, we think one must “win” the “argument” to get people to go along with them.  Our government is structured around constant “debates” where differing sides try to “win” people over to their side, so they can get the majority necessary to put their plans into action.

But solving problems is not a fight. When we employ competitive, fighting tactics towards “solving problems,” we end up defeating ourselves and no true solution can be reached. We just get half-assed measures that barely touch on a symptom or two, ignoring underlying causes.
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NOCs (Nerds of Color)[Essay]

By Guest Contributor Bao Phi, originally posted at the Star Tribune Your Voices Blog

I’ve told this story a million times: when I was young, my father kept me off the streets and saved much needed money buying me the toys I wanted by getting me a library card and teaching me to walk to the Franklin Avenue library, and there began my love of books and stories.

What I’ve written less about is the books I gravitated towards: books about mythological monsters, Greek gods and heroes, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Lord of the Rings, my older sister’s Elfquest collection and X-men comic books.  And the secret of many a nerd of color from the ‘hood: my lifelong devotion with role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, and Vampire: the Masquerade (making vampire fixations embarrassing long before Stephanie Meyer).

Although I had friends in and out of the neighborhood who were also nerds, it definitely wasn’t typical.  I remember one of my fellow nerds of color inviting me to a Rifts game in a tough tone of voice as if he was initiating me into a gang, all the while looking around nervously as if his street cred would be in serious jeopardy if anyone overheard him talking about how much SDC a Glitterboy had.

Nowadays of course, being a nerd can mean big money.  Everything from Tolkien to comic books to video games is finding its way into mainstream America’s fast food blood stream.  Along with it seems to be the rebellious streak that goes along with being the kid who gets picked on for knowing how to write in Tolkien’s Dwarven – a certain righteousness about being the odd person out, the strange smug martyrdom that comes from knowing that painting miniatures and possessing a dice bag marked you as being a freak and an outsider.

But then how do nerds of color like me fit in, and how do we deal with fellow nerds who don’t want to talk about things like race and class in comic books, video games, role playing games, and movies?   I’ll be the first to admit, I got into all of that stuff for the escapism it allowed.  It was invaluable to me, as a refugee from a war growing up in an economically poor urban area, to fantasize that I was someone else, somewhere else.  I’d rather be a paladin with a war horse riding to battle a chimera than be the Vietnamese ghetto refugee nerd running from the dudes on my block who tried to jump me on my way to and from CUHCC clinic to get my teeth cleaned.

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Road Warrior [Essay]

by Guest Contributor Scott Bear Don’t Walk, originally published at The Rhodes Project

“Weren’t you the Indian Rhodes Scholar?” she said, as I shivered in her doorway holding my pizza delivery bag, wearing my “Red Pies Over Montana” polyester shirt and ball cap. She handed me 20 dollars for driving a Sausage Lover’s Special through the snow-drifted streets of the reservation border town of Missoula—for a one-dollar tip.

A month before, I had been sitting next to a well-known British novelist at a Rhodes House dinner in Oxford, which involved multiple courses and sparkling conversation over after-dinner sherry. I had been wearing a jacket and tie, not a tux, but near. The writer asked, “Aren’t you the red-Indian Rhodes Scholar?”

They say the Rhodes is one of the few things a person can do at 20 years of age that will be mentioned at 40, that and joining the Marines—but I didn’t go to Parris Island. I went to Oxford, England.

During my fifth year at the University of Montana, a familiar-looking woman, whose face I couldn’t quite place, passed as I walked across campus. Coming closer, I recognized her as a former classmate who had trounced me in every subject in grade school, the smartest person in class, my main competition. Becky—Rebecca (some names have been changed for this story), I called out, asking her what she was doing in Missoula. She said that she had come back from Harvard for the local Rhodes Scholarship interview. I had no idea what the words “Rhodes Scholar” meant. A year later, I would be chosen.

I am from an American Indian tribe—the Crow—located in Montana. I say it this way, “located in Montana” because we predate the founding of the state. We predate the founding of the United States, though this is where we find ourselves. My parents went to college at the local university. They came of age in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement and the Great Society. Coming from two separate Indian reservations, my parents were the first in their families to go to college, and, until I went 25 years later, the last. They went from poor to professional. They went from reservation schools and Catholic boarding schools, which sought to kill the Indian to save the student, to become active in the American Indian Civil Rights movement. My parents’ generation (though not my parents) founded the “Red Power” movement, occupied Alcatraz Island and Wounded Knee. My father was one of the earliest lawyers in the Crow Tribe, and he still works for his people. My mother was active in American Indian women’s rights, and still works in Indian health care. They made the big leap for me. I went to college only because they did.

Is there such a thing as a traditional Rhodes Scholar? Until the 1970s, a Rhodes Scholar was male. Was he also white? In December of 1992, when I called my mother from a high-rise in Seattle to tell her that I had had been chosen by the Rhodes committee, her first words were, “How many women were picked?” She identifies as a second-wave feminist. I grew up in a house where Ms. magazine and Our Bodies Ourselves sat on the coffee table—we learned that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” We learned that a woman could do anything—Mother told my sister that she could be a senator—but I wondered what an Indian could boy be? In my Rhodes Scholar class of 1993 there were few minorities, but about an even split gender-wise. I told my mother about half were women. “Good,” she said. My peers seemed to come from two or three certain universities on the East Coast, men and women. Though not Harvard or Yale, my state university had secretly been sending Rhodes, too. The University of Montana was then rated 4th in the country for public schools for sending Rhodes Scholars, a surprise to me, being so close to the poverty and limited opportunity of Indian Country.
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Broken System, Part II: “Diversity Training”

by Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils


In the first part of my “Broken System” series, I addressed the need for a landmark Supreme Court decision to be able to adequately affect the inequalities inherent in our public school system. In response, the inevitable debate began: what would actually fix these problems? A lot of great ideas have been suggested. However, at this point, many of the big changes proposed would be hard to push through, even with government backing, due to the mind-set of our general society. This post offers a possible solution to significantly alter our culture’s relationship to race, which could lead to positive change within our education system.

As a teacher and youth worker, I’ve been through my fair share of “diversity trainings.” And let’s just skip to the point and say that most of them are a big waste of time. They’re either too simple and obvious for people with any sort of awareness (or personal experience), or they’re too superficial to get anybody who really needs it to take it to heart. A couple hours of “diversity training” is never going to help a youth worker relate to kids of other races or backgrounds and/or get over their own sub-conscious (or conscious) biases.

The main problem, of course, is that these “trainings” come too late. Way too late. We wait until these folks are grown adults, with decades of experiences and ways of thinking behind them, and then we pretend that we can change their minds with some magical training. It doesn’t work like that. And we know that.

So how are we supposed to change race relations in our schools (and country)? How are we supposed to address volatile situations like the one in South Philadelphia High?

Well – what if we actually got over ourselves enough to talk to youth about it all? What if we directly addressed these issues? What if we taught our kids that talking about race isn’t a bad thing, that it can actually be helpful and positive? What then? Continue reading

How Do We Solve a Problem Like South Philadelphia High?

by Latoya Peterson

When you see a headline like “30 Asian Students Attacked,” one would think there would be massive rage.  An outcry about violence in schools.  A discussion of why our kids aren’t safe.  But in the wake of the attacks and continuing coverage by outlets like the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Asian-American blogosphere, the silence surrounding this issue confirms exactly who is considered media worthy in our society and who is not.  The kids being attacked at South Philly High School are part of our community – but where is the concern?  Where is the outcry from mainstream media? Where is the national conversation on…well, I’d take anything at this point.  Race, violence in schools, unsympathetic administrators, class, inter-community tensions, the right to an education in a safe environment – there are thousands of issues to be explored here, and we haven’t heard a peep from most mainstream media outlets.

I’ve been following the news with quite a bit of interest.  This kind of violence doesn’t pop up out of no where – it has to be nurtured.

Chaofei Zheng hiked up his shirt to reveal an angry bruise about four inches long on his right side. He pointed to a matching yellow and purple mark above his left eyebrow.

“I’m scared to go to school,” Zheng, 19, a freshman at South Philadelphia High, said through a translator today.

Zheng is one of several – community organizers say 30 or more – students who were attacked at the school on Thursday, targeted, they say, because they’re Asian.

Racial violence at the school is not new, but students and activists say this week’s attacks are emblematic of a problem that’s not going away.

“There’s a corrosive culture that’s hurting all the kids at the school,” said Helen Gym, a board member of Asian Americans United, who said the district must apologize and “admit that there’s a serious problem at South Philly High School.”

District officials acknowledge the school has problems and racial tensions but say that before the incident, violence was down by 55 percent this school year. Inroads have been made, they say.

Looking at some of the source articles, a clear narrative starts to emerge.  And while it is difficult to opine on a situation that is still unfolding, there are some dominant ideas emerging that need to be scrutinized before any progress can occur. Continue reading

What Sarah Palin Taught Me About Beyonce

by Guest Contributor M. Dot, originally published at Model Minority

I am working on a paper titled, “How Beyonce and Capitalism Undermined R&B’s Ability to Normalize Black Love.”

The title may change to Beyonce Incorporated, as that is more focused and more appropriate for academia.

My professor wants me to l shift my focus to the media’s investment in what I have called the Beyonce Beauty Aesthetic – light skinned, size 4/6, curvy, blond hair.

But I am not interested in just talking about the media, I am interested in how Beyonce is a tool for maintaining US hegemony and the ways in which she normalizes really fucked up, patriarchal, Black heterosexual relationships.

I am fascinated by a light skinned, middle class Black woman from the Houston suburbs who sings about needing a soldier, who she could upgrade, so that he can put a ring on it, and if he likes her he can put her in his video phone.

Conversely, why is a woman worth tens of millions of dollars singing about needing a baller? Continue reading

The F word: On feminism, being an ally & social justice

by Guest Contributor Dumi Lewis, originally published at Uptown Notes


I am an African-American man. I am a heterosexual man. I am a middle-class man. These three statements are the basis for my social justice work and advocacy, but each carries its own hazard for working on social justice. While many will assume my position as a Black man in America makes me sensitive to “minority statuses”, in reality, over the past 10 years I’ve learned nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in many ways, my status as Black man in America has the potential to undercut my work of engaging the pursuit of equality of opportunity, equality of outcome and the right to self-determination for all people. I am both privileged and disadvantaged. I have identities that I celebrate, identities I conceal, and all these decisions matter for my view on the world and what I choose to fight for and against.

I didn’t really begin to grapple with my privilege as a Black man until I was a student in Beverly Guy-Sheftall’s class on Black Feminism at Spelman College. I can remember rebutting each point she made about the Million Man March (MMM) as an extension of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and an attempt to further embed misogyny. Besides being a slew of words I didn’t fully understand, I could not understand why she fixated on all the “negatives” of the March. In the class, she essentially argued the MMM because of the patriarchy, etc. she could not support it and thus thought it held little value. By the time I landed in her class I was a senior at Morehouse and certainly had come to believe the MMM was one of the most transformative events I’d ever personally experienced and I refused to have the event mischaracterized.

I paraphrase, but I told her, “Yes, it does ask men to come back into the family, but it doesn’t always mean that have to be at the head. I know some talked about being at the head of the household, but not everyone believed that. We didn’t invite sisters because it was our time as Black men to redefine our commitment to the Black family and Black community.” I wanted to her to see the value of the event beyond her points. She let me finish and sagely replied, “It must be a nice privilege to tell someone to overlook the oppressive elements of a program, because it was helpful to you.” My face fell, my mouth shut, and I  sat sheepishly quiet. My head spun between realization, frustration, and confusion. For the next few classes, I sat quietly and tried to figure out how I had not “seen it coming.” I realized that the lesson I had learned on the athletic field so many times applied to social justice work, “sometimes you got to get the wind knocked out of you to bring you back to earth.”Guy-Sheftall had pointed out what I’d seen done some many times but by those who came from outside of a community to do social justice work in my community. Someone(s) coming from the outside, declaring themselves an ally and expert and overlooking the view of those who were subject to the oppression in favor of their own perspective. Continue reading