Tag Archives: activism

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Triple Threats and Double Troubles for Muslim Women

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

You’ve probably heard about the recent ruling given to a Saudi gang-rape victim: 110 lashes added onto the original sentence of 90 lashes because she protested her sentence to the media. It’s a horrible and vindictive sentence, and the callous treatment this woman has received as a victim is insulting to her, Saudi Arabia, and Islam.

Why Islam? What does her ruling have to do with Islam? Well, nothing really. Technically, the judge who sentenced her went by Shari’a law, but he added those extra lashes from his own judgment because she spoke out about her case. So he punished her.

But every reactionary blog poster, conservative news network, and Western women’s rights group has condemned this action as an Islamic one. So Muslim women around the world have a choice: do we defend ourselves against Islamophobia, against racism, or against misogyny?

This “triple threat” is one we often face as Muslim women (especially if we are also women of color). We always seem to be battling against one (or more) of these three issues: racism (for Muslim women who are also non-white), Islamophobia, or misogyny (not just from our own Muslim communities, but also from non-Muslim communities who think they know what’s best for us).

Being on the defensive all the time creates reactionary behavior. We always feel like we have to keep our guards up to defend our faith and our choices, and it gets tiring. Most Muslims don’t necessarily mind explaining stuff (that is, if you’re genuinely interested in understanding instead of starting an argument), but we can’t all be Encyclopedia Islamicas all the time.

Some of this “damage control” keeps us from having dialogues within our communities. Muslim women face a lot of problems within our communities as well as outside, but we’re afraid to talk about it because it can potentially be used against us. People in our own communities this power: for example, feminists in Iran are accused of being too “Westernized” by compatriots who have no interest in changing the status quo for women. Many women who seek their fair share are given this load of crap in order to guilt them into shutting up, because Westernization is equated with undesirable qualities in the Muslim world. Or, if we try to speak out to a non-Muslim audience, we are accused of “betraying” Islam or our communities by airing out our “dirty laundry.” Continue reading

Beyond superficial debate: How can we change the way the media frames racial issues?

by guest contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

Why was Don Imus vilified and fired for calling a group of young, black athletes “nappy headed hoes,” but able to return to the airwaves months later provoking barely a stir? Why is Michael Richards’ racist tirade in a Los Angeles nightclub all but forgotten? Why have these incidents, and others like the Duke University case, failed to generate any long-lasting, helpful dialogue on race in America? The Washington Post attempts to answer these questions in a thoughtful, though conservative-leaning, article entitled “Reduced to the Small Screen: Incident, Reaction, Forget, Repeat–Formulaic Entertainment Replaces Serious Discussion on Race.”

And with each episode in the long-running Saga of Race in America, a string of characters lines up to react to the latest eruption. The media records them as they take up positions in the Great Race Debate. The media stokes the discussion as self-proclaimed black leaders scream outrage while opponents — often white, sometimes black — scream counter-outrage. The “colorblind” wonder why we all just can’t get along. And the rest of us watch from ringside, rooting for one camp or another, sometimes in silence.

Then inevitably, the media turns away. The outrage fades. The talking heads go silent. The curtain falls, and the debate recedes to wherever it goes until the next eruption.

Which raises the question: Has the debate over race become a melodrama? A bad television soap opera? A theatrical stage play with complex issues boiled down to a script? Entertaining words thrown around simply to satisfy the 24-hour news cycle, the blogosphere?

Are we doomed to debate racism over and over — stuck in purgatory, a cycle of skirmishes, of shock and awe, with nothing gained, nothing learned?

Or is there a way to change the ritual, to go deeper into our national consciousness and get off this merry-go-round?

I have asked myself that question often and I believe the answer is complex. The Washington Post article does a good job of tackling many of the reasons the race debate has become so superficial. Two factors that I believe play a key role in defining talk of race are 1) the way most Americans consume media and 2) the limited number of voices invited to participate in the mainstream racial discussion.

I’m a media junkie. I consume a variety of media, both mainstream (local and national TV news; local and national newspapers; political, news and cultural magazines) and alternative (blogs; progressive radio, and even though it makes my blood pressure rise, right wing radio). It helps that, as a public relations professional, I am paid to pay attention to the media.

Most people I encounter on a daily basis don’t have the time or inclination to do what I do. Most people I encounter get their information from limited sources, including a mainstream media owned by a narrow group of people–a mainstream media that is no longer The Fourth Estate, but a series of corporations operating with profit as their main mission. It is a media that courts controversy and, more than ever, believes “if it bleeds, it leads.” It is a media that traffics in stereotypes and narrows race to black and white. It is a media that doesn’t have time for nuanced and in-depth discussion about anything–not war, not healthcare, not poverty and not race. So, it is no wonder that the authors of the Washington Post article write: Continue reading

Moving Gaming Forward: Having Meaningful Conversations About Social Issues

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson, originally published at Cerise Magazine

Watching some of the carnage unfold in the blogosphere conflicts surrounding the released trailer of Resident Evil 5, one thought kept echoing in my mind:

This conversation is going nowhere.

A few members of the gaming community, while pondering a very valid point about the issue of racism in gaming, inadvertently raised the hackles of developers and designers alike when taking on one of gaming’s best loved franchises.

Jason over at Microscopiq ended up with 365 comments on his dissection of the released RE5 trailer, where he asserts:

After all, in RE4, you spend the game shooting equally out-of-their-mind Spaniards. But, then, the Spanish haven’t been so egregiously misrepresented as blacks through the ages, have they? Not even close.

From Birth of a Nation to Black Hawk Down, black folk are apparently responsible for some of the most mindless and evil activities you got. Rape, murder, satanic voodoo. With bulging eyes, simian super strength, and a room temperature IQ, we’ve been portrayed as savages beyond redemption. So, when we see images like these, it doesn’t just resonate with the long lived zombie genre, it also triggers memories of so many awful stereotypes — and what those stereotypes have been used to justify past and present. Put down the crazed negroes before they take the white women! And so on…

But perhaps the most troubling part is that these scenes seem to be set in Africa; the “dark continent.” With all the positive steps being taken of late to raise awareness of the good things happening in Africa as well as the urgent need in some parts of the continent, we really can’t afford this kind of step back. We need to find ways to humanize Africans, not dehumanize them.

Valid points, but they still raised the ire of some gamers, who wrote things like:

Resident Evil 1 – white people are zombies
Resident Evil 2 – white people are zombies
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – white people are zombies
Resident Evil Code: Veronica – white people are zombies
Resident Evil Survivor – white people are zombies
Resident Evil Gaiden – white people are zombies
Resident Evil: Survivor 2 Code: Veronica – white people are zombies
Resident Evil Zero – white people are zombies
Resident Evil: Dead Aim – white people are zombies
Resident Evil Outbreak – white people are zombies
Resident Evil Outbreak File #2 – white people are zombies
Resident Evil 4 – white people are zombies
Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles – white people are zombies Continue reading

Video games and the usual amount of racism

by guest contributor Andrea Rubenstein, originally published on OfficialShrub.com

For day three of International Blog Against Racism Week, I want to look specifically why games, such as many of the prior Resident Evil ones, haven’t received as much criticism as, say, Resident Evil 5 has.

So, why aren’t critiques of the prior Resident Evil games easy to find? Well, there are a few reasons. As discussed in my previous post, gaming as a field of study is still in its infancy. Gaming blogs discussing issues like race are still few and far between. Despite the re-release for Gamecube, the previous games are (in internet terms) rather old.

And, finally, the last reason I can easily think of, which is what I will be discussing here: The previous games didn’t gather much discussion because they had only the usual amount of racism in them. What do I mean by that? Well, keep reading to find out.

I. The “usual amount of racism”? WTF?

When someone first mentioned this, i was disgusted that humankind could possibly feel there were racist overtones to the game.
[From Resident Evil 5 is a tool for racism!! by Big Stu]

Given the general state of the gaming blogsphere — which can be rightly called, if I’m being charitable, ignorant on matters of race — most people stumbling onto this blog will probably have a defensive reaction. “Games aren’t racist!”, “How dare she attack my beloved Resident Evil with her bleeding heart liberal lies!”… and probably worse, if I go on some of the actual responses to the issue (the one quoted above is one of the nicer ones, really).

The trailer of Resident Evil 5 (which can be seen here) is what sparked calls of racism. The main reason for the strong reaction is that the game is set in Africa but the protagonist is a white American. The trailer shows him killing hordes of black zombies. Further discussion on race in Resident Evil 5, which includes links to relevant posts, can be found here.

So, if Resident Evil 5 gathered controversy because it exceeds “the usual amount of racism”, then what defines “the usual amount”?

It starts with a primarily white universe*. If you really look at the worlds that the majority of games, even today, are set in, you’ll most likely notice a pattern: protagonists, antagonists, and random NPCs will tend to be white more often than not. You can read more about this trend, which is not confined to video games, in the post Why is the Universe full of White people? over at Angry Black Woman Blog.

The usual amount of racism doesn’t stop with the relative invisiblity of non-white characters, though. It extends to the concept that every non-white character that exists does so in a marked (versus the unmarked white) state. The marking of a character can be through comments drawing attention to the character’s race and/or through the use of clear racial stereotypes. See On Indigo Prophecy, Part 2: So Bad, It’s Racist for an example of this.

Ultimately, the “usual amount of racism” is things that, when viewed as separate entities, don’t seem that bad. Because of this criticism can be easily countered, and typical arguments include “there’s a good reason that the protagonist is white”, or “but the use of [racial stereotype] is done in a way that makes the character look cool, so it’s actually a good thing!“, or even, “why can’t you just be happy that the character was included at all?”

II. So why isn’t there any discussion?

With all the recent FPS’s set in the middle east, no one is saying anything about islam haters in games.
[From Resident Evil 5 Trailer, comment by Kuaz Omega]

This question comes in many forms, the most typical of which are “why aren’t you discussing white-on-white violence?” or “why aren’t you discussing [x minority] on white violence”.

The answer to the assertion of “white-on-white violence” not being discussed is that, of course it is. What do you think all the media attention gamers hate is all about? White-on-white violence in video games is talked about all the time. Sensationalist media, studies (good and bad), bloggers talking about the issue… it’s right in the faces of people who use the arguments, but they don’t see it as “white-on-white violence” because white is an unmarked state. The media only mentions the race of the characters in question when it’s a non-white person involved — such as with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas — and therefore people only see “violence” when really it’s a discussion of “white-on-white violence.”

As for “[x minority] on white violence”, who can name a recent game that was widely distributed and played in the West which featured a non-white character killing primarily white people? Even counting the aforementioned GTA game, in which there were plenty of non-white people to kill in addition to the white ones, the number likely does not come close to reaching double digits. Beyond just recently distributed, how many games like that that have been made for a Western audience in total can you think of? Now compare that to the number of games featuring other kinds of violence and you have your answer as to why the “[x minority] on white violence” hasn’t received much attention.

III. So… usual racism, no discussion, what’s up with that?

Off the top of your head, name 5 black video game characters. Now, exclude any characters that were not main characters. Now exclude any that appear in a sports game or hip-hop based game. Finally, exclude any characters that embody stereotypical representations of African Americans. (Yes, that means excluding CJ from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.) How many are left in your list?
[From Denial and Delusion - Why Public Conversations About Race Fail Before They Begin by Latoya Peterson]

As for the answer on why games that display the usual amount of racism don’t get much attention, the simple answer is that even the people who are actively anti-racist are resigned to accepting that level of racism in games. Games that go above and beyond the call of duty tend to get praised — just as games that exceed the “tolerable racism quotient” tend to get slammed — but those that are bad, but not as bad as they could be, get a sigh, a head shake, and everyone but the most dedicated anti-racist game blogger move on to other subjects.

Indeed, when these subjects are taken on it tends to be not from a game-specific angle, which (especially considering the rabid fans that come out of the woodworks, as we’ve witnessed with Resident Evil 5) is generally considered to be fighting a losing battle, but rather from a general one that talks about trends and their effects. While there’s nothing wrong with the white American Jill Valentine being the protagonist (along with her white male partner, Chris Redfield) of Resident Evil 1, it becomes a bit more suspect when all of the protagonists in the series are white. Then take that in the context of not just the Resident Evil series, but Silent Hill, Max Payne… the default avatars in FPS games being white, protagonist races in strategy games tending towards the light end of the skintone spectrum, RPG protagonists having white markers and/or the absence of non-white markers (primarily in skintone and hair choices). What all that begins to add up to is a trend.

One game does not make a trend. One game that displays the usual amount of racism can be easily dismissed — even more easily than a game with blatant race issues, such as Resident Evil 5. Because of this, unless one is citing it in reference to a trend, or building evidence to support a known trend, most bloggers are not going to go into the minutia only to deal with cries of “you’re making a mountain out of a molehill!”

IV. Conclusion

So, in conclusion, one of the reasons that the other Resident Evil games haven’t yet gathered any criticism from bloggers is that they contain only the usual amount of racism. The lack of criticism doesn’t indicate a lack of a problem, nor is it in any way a valid way of deflecting criticism off of the problems in Resident Evil 5.

For a more in-depth look at racial inclusiveness in games, please see Latoya Peterson’s Racial Inclusiveness in Gaming article in Cerise. I also highly recommend reading through the links provided at the end of that article in order to get an idea of the current state of anti-racist theory in video game critical theory.