In this post I would like to discuss a special type of racism that exists in certain corners of Tumblr. Tumblr is, for the most part, a vocally anti-racist site… compared to say something like Yahoo comments. However, within the context of the discussion of social justice, some users have developed a new approach to continuing racism with an anti-racist veneer.
I should make clear that I’m not talking about “reverse racism” or any other specious argument that seeks to undercut the legitimacy of the anti-racist movement. Instead, what I would like to focus on is a continuation of “the old racism” but with a slightly different spin – in which white saviors/teachers silence the voices of people of color so that white people can advocate their own preferences but with the borrowed authority of the groups they claim to represent.
Let me go straight to the example that caused me to think about this…
Today some World of Warcraft players were talking about the desirability of having access to “darker skintones” for Blood Elves. One poster, lobstmourne, argued that it was a question of representation for people of color.
but even if that’s true ALL your reasons against dark skinned elves ever happening are fucking trash.
BRAEKIN TEH CANON!!1! NO WHERE does it say blood elves MUST be light skinned or CANNOT be dark skinned, find me the Official Blizzard source that says otherwise I dare you.
Even if there was a magical law somewhere? Guess what, you can break imaginary rules in an imaginary fantasy universe. Blizzard retcons characters and changes lore ALL THE FUCKING TIME and you’re telling me dark skinned options on elves would be “too different” like seriously shut the fuck up.
Also WOWEE we have a couple darker skin options for 1 race??? GUESS ALL THOSE UNGRATEFUL POC SHOULD JUST SHUT UP, LOOK HOW NICE WE’RE BEING GIVING THEM 1-2 OPTIONS AMID LIKE 14 LIGHT OPTIONS WHY ARENT THEY SATISFIED??
People like you are part of the problem.
Next time you try to shit on an attempt to improve representation and inclusion, eat it. Just eat it. Eat your own shit.
At this point another WoW player, regalswag, offered a firm but civil rebuttal saying that he, as a black man, did not feel that including darker skin tones would offer meaningful representation for him as his racial identity and experience cannot be essentialized as skin color options. (I won’t excerpt it because it is worth reading in full).
This posed a problem for lobstmourne and his friends because, up until that point, they were able to dismiss dissenting opinions as racist. Now, lobstmourne and others claiming to advocate for PoC could have listened to the concerns of one of the members of the community that they were discussing to understand that no community is monolithic and that sometimes the things that outsiders see as priorities are not the things that members of the group see as priorities.
Instead, we slide into the world of Tumblr racism – used by white folks to marginalize other folks but in the name of anti-racism and inclusion.
Lobstmourne’s first move was to imply that regalswag was blinded by “internalized racism”:
It’s incredibly important that the real people who are affected by everyday racism have the loudest voice when speaking against it.
As someone who does not experience racism, I do not want to take center stage away from someone who does have those experiences and can speak from them.
At the same time, internalized racism is absolutely a thing and it’s both a cause and a symptom of the way media (among other things) influences our opinions and aesthetics. All races can internalize racism against other races and even against themselves without realizing it.
Internalized racism is incredibly pervasive but also subtle, subtle as thinking a billion dollar game company shouldn’t have to include more skincolor options because “only a few people will roll that option, why does it matter??”
So, when a black person (regalswag) disagrees with a white person whose only experience of racism has been the perpetration of it (lobstmourne) on the subject of how best to represent black people in video games, then it is the black person who must be wrong.
Next, lobstmourne blocked regalswag from his Tumblr – which is his right – but also had the side-effect of making all of regalswag’s replies to the discussion invisible – literally erasing the counter position offered by a person of color and the only black person (up to that point) to have replied to the thread.
When this was pointed out, lobstmourne defended himself by saying:
I actually blocked you because of all the shitty snarky comments you kept making on otherwise positive posts from people being excited about darker possibilities for blood elves and about including more skin options in general, and I did so long before you made that big response.
I understand your animosity towards me and I don’t blame you, I do not have the experience with everyday racism that you do. I do not want to invalidate your experiences because they do matter. Your opinion does matter.
In addition to the obvious tone-policing, this excuse exposes a double standard as lobstmourne himself and his friends were not held to the same strictures. As previously quoted, lobstmourne had no trouble telling people to “eat shit” and immediately after regalswag’s rebuttal he had posted:
"Also, to clarify, I think you are a great artist as are many of the people that have taken up this [cause], but I guess I don’t see why you’re wasting your time doing this when you could be effective more substantive changes on more important things. If this really means something to you, please don’t let it become a meme.”
I’m not going to directly link the racist pissbaby who sent this, but let me say this:
There are few things more important to me than representation and inclusion of POC in popular media. Media influences literally every aspect of our lives and the lack of representation perpetuates the popular, internalized, grossly unchallenged notion that white is the default and all other colors and cultures are abnormal, that darker skin isn’t “pretty,” that other races aren’t intelligent or interesting enough to be the hero.
I am one person, I cannot change the world alone, but I will do what I can to make something I enjoy (WoW) more diverse and inclusive. True there is no africa, no america, no india, no china, no pacific islands, etc. in Azeroth, but that does not mean darker skinned characters cannot or should not exist.
Why are people so content with a mostly-white Azeroth? Because mostly-white is what they’re comfortable with, because that’s all they see in media. Exclusion should not be comfortable and should not be tolerated.
Darker skinned people need to be more visible in our media including our imaginary fantasy worlds.
If you don’t think that isn’t hugely important, keep your pure white dreams to yourself please.
Keep your pure white dreams to yourself, or at least off lobstmourne’s pure white Tumblr. The lesson here is that disagreeing with a privileged white male about how to better achieve equal representation means that you are a “racist pissbaby”… albeit an internalized racist pissbaby.
Lobstmourne’s friends were also quick to attack the character of regalswag and – for the sake of thoroughness – his girlfriend.
see I thought I remembered correctly about regalswag being shit
Regalswag and perfectperfidy are some of the shittiest members of tumblr. They attacked Dogslug for making a dark skinned blood elf about a year ago, or close to.
For reference here is dogslug’s art that regalswag had suggested looked like a case of fetishizing “blackness,” a concern echoed in the recent discussion.
Art by dogslug.tumblr.com. Tagged #you just jelly.
So, regalswag’s concerns are already part of an existing multi-fandom dialogue about the appropriateness of rendering multifaceted identities down to fetishes or turning sexual identity into a “kink” and allowing members of the privileged class to transgress by co-opting the “subversive other.”
Art of this “Blood Elf as ‘sassy black woman’” type reinforces the potential danger for a virtual “black face” should white consumers who see blackness as an aesthetic and not an identity be encouraged to make black avatars.
What we see is a recycling of racist tropes presented as inclusion or representation, but, in actuality, it is just a doubling-down on the existing racial narrative.
In the words of lobstmourne:
Being POC doesn’t magically absolve you from internalizing racism or perpetuating default white standards. Happens with the way media influences people.
If they are POC irl then I will not question their struggles, but a lot of the commentary I’ve seen from them on the topic of darker skinned characters and options being included in WoW has been gross and negative.
White people see characters that look like themselves all the time, white humans and elves and dwarves for miles in all directions. With how few darker options there are (for some races 0), I have a hard time understanding the resistance to seeing skin options that more closely reflect other people.
White people see characters that look like themselves all the time, and now they also wish to get a chance to act for the “exotic” other – to recreate PoC as they believe them to be based on racial stereotypes and coded prejudices.
When I opened up this discussion in the thread, I received a response that, for me, encapsulates this dynamic (from waterbendingotter):
Except Regalswag and any of his friends are not GOOD members of their supposed community and NOT people to go to to ask for what good representation is. For gods sake, he tried to say that a race in WoW was racist for simply existing and speaking a certain way that, in reality, has zero ties to any of it.
If we peel away the immediate “no true Scotsman” and the misrepresentation of regalswag’s position, beneath it we see the old racist trope of the “good minority member” and “the bad minority member” – the “bad” being she or he who disagrees vocally or strongly. The good minority would listen when their white teachers tell them how to solve the lack of representation of people of color. And I suppose we white folks have a special edge in that regard, having ourselves created this system of lopsided mis/representation.
At the beginning of this long post, I said that this was really the same old racism dressed up as anti-racism or social justice. I make that claim because what we are seeing still privileges the white voice over those of the PoC that are said to be the subject of this advocacy. Also, the prime benefit here is not so much representation as it is giving white players access to, what for them, is an aesthetic option while reducing racial and cultural identities to a single superficial feature – which would only produce, in this context, dark-skinned avatars with stereotypically white features.
What I find most troubling is the way, exhibited here, that certain corners of Tumblr have found a way to co-opt the energy of anti-racism and to use it to reinforce the existing structures of racism by continuing to divide those locked out of the system into “good” and “bad” minorities using “internalized racism” as a rationalization for why white folks still know better. Representation cannot happen until people of color are allowed to represent themselves instead of having their message channeled through “advocates” who only represent their own interests.