I have something to confess.
I am a bigot. Have been a bigot. Will continue to be a bigot.
I am not a bigot on purpose, but I am still at fault. I am a product of my environment, my culture, and my upbringing, but none of those are even close to adequate excuses for the way I think and act sometimes.
A wise man once told me that 90% of solving a problem is recognizing there is one. I guess the part he left out is that the other 10% might be one of the hardest things you ever do in your life.
When you live your life in an echo chamber, it’s nearly impossible to see the way out or hear anything outside of that vessel. When I started down the path of games writing a few years back, I immersed myself in the industry and tried to surround myself with the voices of writers I grew up with, looked up to, and wanted to be like. And, like much of the culture surrounding videogames, it was dominated by people who look and think like me.
This didn’t happen on purpose as a result of some campaign to only follow white dudes on Twitter. Like so many other things in life, it just kind of… happened.
After a while, I started noticing strong voices that were in the stark minority to what I was used to. People like Carolyn Petit, Leigh Alexander, Mattie Brice, Evan Narcisse, Danielle Riendeau, and others. I was often shocked at how much more thoughtful the writing of these folks tended to be than what I was used to. How much depth it had. How much it truly spoke to me. And I was proud of myself.
Several months ago I was working for a small but growing publication and having a great time of it. Shortly after I settled into a really good groove there that I felt could last for a long time, I was faced with an intensely difficult situation. The guys who ran the site were looking for new writers and faces, and out of our many applications, one was from a young woman. She was a solid writer and had on-air talent experience. Discussions began about whether we should hire her. “She’d be great,” said one person in an email chain, “We could really use some eye candy around here.” “I just hope she’s not bitchy,” said another.
I was immediately unsettled by these comments, and after a long while of thinking and soul-searching, I decided that I could not in good conscience continue to work for people who would say those sorts of things about any woman, let alone one they’d have to work with on a daily basis. I decided that even if it was going to hurt my freelance career, I had to quit. And I did. And it wasn’t the end of the world. And I was proud of myself.
I like to think that I was becoming more open to hearing alternative voices and going out of my way to read and absorb the works of people who had differing (and completely valid) viewpoints. And I was becoming more sensitive to thoughts and feelings I would never fully understand. And I was also trying to expand and hear more from people who looked like me but attempted to be allies to the minorities, the oppressed, and the subjugated. I really felt like I was making progress, learning and growing… finally feeling empathy for and becoming a decent human being to people who were unlike me. And I was proud of myself.
A few weeks ago, the fine folks at Good Games Writing published their annual Good Games Writer of the Year nominees. Included on the list were seven folks whose names I knew well and who I considered to be the best of the best. And not one time did I question that list. That is, until…
It’s bizarre to see the disjuncture between a new, more pluralistic set of voices and @GoodWritingVG just highlighting the old guard again.— Samantha Allen (@CousinDangereux)February 21, 2014
And then the bigot in me came out and reared its ugly head.
"I can’t believe this," I thought. "Those people are all great writers! Sure, it’s mostly white guys, but they earned it, right? It’s based on merit. They were the best! If a person of color had been better, they’d be on the list. If more women had been better, they’d be on the list too! Why is Samantha saying these things?"
If reading those words just now made you hot with anger, join the club. I really believed them, and looking back on that makes me really angry at myself.
I almost tweeted those things at Samantha and others who were responding to the nominees list with similar words. By some stroke of fate, I happened to be in a situation where typing on my phone wouldn’t have been convenient, and so instead I just had to read. And what I read astounded me and flipped this part of my worldview on its head.
I read tweet after tweet from people who were hurt and offended by the well-intentioned nominations made by people I considered friends. And I was confused and angry at first. But the more I read, the more I understood.
Yes, in an ideal world, nominations for awards like this might be based solely on merit. But we are in a world that is far from ideal. We are in a world that has totally subjugated women and people of color for most of its history, and a great deal of that subjugation continues to this day. Sure, things are getting better, but not fast enough. Not nearly fast enough.
I will say it as bluntly as I know how: white guys, a massive group of which I am a part, have had our chance. We’ve seen our day in the sun. And now it’s time to put aside the false notion of meritocracy and realize that it’s time to give others a chance. It’s time for us to realize that we need more Mattie Brices, and more Leigh Alexanders, and more Evan Narcisses. We need more people of more voices to represent a larger version of reality than this tiny little pinhole we look through on a daily basis. And even if we’re not actively oppressing anyone, we are guilty by inaction.
So yes, I am a bigot. I am trying not to be. This revelation does not make me a saint or a hero and I’m not going to be the guy that solves all these problems. This is not a way for me to pat myself on the back for how far I’ve come. Because I’ve barely moved. I’ve made a baby step, if that. But I want to continue to march forward, and I hope that sharing things like this will help others uncover their own subtle bigotries and hypocrisies and inch forward with me.
Ultimately, these are the rambling thoughts of a broken man trying to make some progress. Those thoughts are probably still not quite where they need to be. But I can’t keep them inside anymore.
(Addendum: It’s worth noting that the wonderful folks at GGW responded to Samatha’s criticism and other messages like it with poise and humility. It’s clear they really care about growth, learning, and making a change. I high suggest you check them out. I feel great things are on the horizon for that team.)
“We, as humans, used to be scared a lot more than we are now, especially in the United States [and] in our modern world. It’s the same reason we like fire so much, I think. We’re attracted to fire because so much of our past evolution was based on the fireplace. There was so much danger back then, whether it was diseases or bad food or a frickin’ tiger coming out of the woods and killing you. Horror movies fill in that feeling that we miss. All of us have it inside us.”
“Criticism is not a suggestion that art should change, only that art prompted a reaction and that feeling was shared.”