Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Symbols of the racist past still prevalent in the United States

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Syed Ahmed Uzair

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Symbols of the racist past still prevalent in the United States


Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 12, 2020


A person wearing Blackface | Source:  foundin_a_attic via Flickr | Source: Wikimedia

George Floyd’s recent death while in Police custody has sparked protests across the entire United States. While it did expose the way Black Americans are policed, it also initiated a much deeper conversation about the prevalent racism faced by Black Americans in almost all aspects of modern life.

Many symbols of the racist past still exist across the US, more so in the Southern states. The recent trigger of protests and the BLM movement has initiated a discussion about these symbols once again. While some argue that it is important to preserve these symbols owing to the American culture, the majority of the people seem to be agreeing that these are symbols of oppression and injustice.

Thomas D. Rice is pictured while performing his blackface role — Jim Crow | Source: Edward Williams Clay via Wikimedia

In the mid to late 19th century, white actors quite commonly employed the use of black grease paint to depict slaves and free blacks on stage. The technique commonly known as blackface was more than just facial makeup. Rather, it was used as a symbol for mocking the African-Americans as inferiors in every aspect of life.

Blackface seemed to have disappeared in the 1960s thanks to the Civil Rights Movement. It however reappeared in the 1980s on college campuses in the wake of steps taken to bring more African Americans to campus. An old yearbook picture from Langley School resurfaced recently revealing the then-principal and vice-principal dressed as whiteface and blackface for Halloween. The current leadership of the school have issued apologies stating that the incident should not have happened.

Despite a racist history surrounding blackface, a recent survey by Pew Research Centre revealed that nearly one-third of Americans surveyed did not find anything offensive in blackface being used at Halloween.

Newspaper ad for Aunt Jemima Buckwheat pancake mix, 1923 | Source: Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress

Aunt Jemima, a 130-year-old syrup and pancake mix brand owned by Quaker Oats depicts a black woman named Aunt Jemima who was originally dressed as a minstrel character. The company has earlier made tweaks to the picture of the black woman in response to the criticism it received for propagating a racial stereotype. In June 2020, Quaker Oats announced that the brand would be rejuvenated to feature a new name and image.

Image of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States | Source: Wikimedia

Andrew Jackson, the seventh US president and his family employed hundreds of enslaved people in building their wealth. However, to date, Jackson still haunts Black Americans with his presence on the twenty-dollar bills in the wallets of these Americans. The Trump administration’s decision to not replace the bill featuring Jackson with one that would feature abolitionist Harriet Tubman as proposed earlier does not help the nation’s troubled history with Racism.

Similar symbols of the US racist past exist across the entire country, starting from streets named after Confederate officers to congested highways specifically designed to ensure isolation of Black neighborhoods. Football and baseball games in the country still feature the national anthem penned by Francis Scott Key, a person who used his power as district attorney to prosecute Black men.

George Floyd’s death was the perfect trigger for all the anger and frustration against the systematic injustice that has been meted out to Black people. However, it also served well to initiate debates over the omnipresence of these racial symbols across the country that serve as memorials to slavery and white supremacy.

As many as 800 Confederate statues and monuments have been removed ever since the BLM protests erupted in the country. A few of these racial symbols in the US suffered the brunt of BLM protesters who defaced homages and toppled statues of founding fathers who had profited from slavery.

Those against the removal of these symbols argue that these men merely failed in morality due to the socio-political environment they inhabited. Alvita Akiboh, an assistant professor of history at the University of Michigan, however, disagrees with the notion. “Just because slavery was accepted among white elites or even the broader white population at the time does not mean it was accepted by everybody, because everybody includes Black people who were enslaved, indigenous people who were pushed off their lands in order to expand plantation slavery,” said Akiboh.

Others, including US President Donald Trump, have employed the notion of removing these symbols as the equivalent of “ripping American history and culture apart”. To this Akiboh voices her opinion saying that the majority of these symbols were erected decades after the civil-war conflict ended. She argues that they are merely “a reminder for Black and brown people to remember their place”.

As the BLM protests gain momentum and support globally the scrutiny of the racist symbols in the US shall increase manifold. With the government not willing to push for major reforms and removal of these racist symbols and an adamant public demanding an end to the systematic discrimination based on race, the road ahead for the recial relation in the US is a difficult and complicated one.

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January 18, 2021 2:21 PM

The Toxicity in Video Games and Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077, the most awaited video game was released on consoles and PC on 10th of December, 2020. The game went under 10 years of build-up and had kept gamers waiting for over 8 years. Cyberpunk 2077 is inspired by a cult-favourite tabletop roleplaying game. The video game was designed by well-known Polish studio, CD Projekt Red. Cyberpunk was the studio’s first big console game since The Witcher 3: Wild hunt which was an extraordinarily triumphant game that won numerous awards after its launch in 2015.

The popular video game, when released, faced backlash from the gaming community and non-gamers for several reasons. To many observers and gamers, Cyberpunk 2077 even proved to be an absolute failure. Several gamers called out the game developers for the promotion of sexiest ideologies and transphobia. However, the reviews weren’t well received by the fans. Cyberpunk 2077 fans responded with unacceptable abuses, harrasing and hateful messages and even rape and death threats.

Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 released ample previews, trailers, motion pictures and marketing material. Aside from this, the appearence of popular Canadian actor, Keanu Reeves as a character in the game carved the expectations of gamers and promised a sexy and kinky world of futuristic and revolutionary action. CD Projekt Red, one of Europe’s most successful video game company announced Cyberpunk 2077 project in 2012 and released the first trailer in 2013

The game is set in an alternate timeline in the city of California. The streets in the game are owned by tyrannical corporations. Everyone in the game modifies their body with illegal technology. Much of the state in the video game setting is said to be suffering from the impacts of a major nuclear attack which happened years ago. Every player gets to be a cyber-enhanced human who has to fight against physical and psychological threats to their survival. The game character of Keanu Reeves comes in as your sidekick.

In 2018, the developers insisted and had assured the gamers that Cyberpunk 2077 would not include in game purchases. CD Projekt Red did not want to lock any content behind a paywall. The studio was also insistent that the game would come out only when it was completely “ready”. They announced that the release would take place in April 2020 but it was delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other quality problems that the game was facing. When it was finally released in December 2020, gamers expected their experience of the game to be “worth the wait”. However, the video game wasn’t well revived by all. In spite of several months of work that went into making and developing the game, the game was launched with several technical issues. Players on both PC and consoles were having terrible experiences. As a result of multiple glitches and technical problems, the characters’ faces were obscured and the game would reset randomly. Some of the environments or areas of the game map was unappealing. The game even caused consoles to crash repeatedly and sometimes sacrificed players’ progress. One glitch led to characters’ breasts and penises being exposed. The characters’ genitals would poke out of their clothes. CD Projeckt Red offered refunds to players who were disappointed with the product. In fact, they updated a self-review discouraging gamers from playing the game on console until the game was fixed and improved.

Cyberpunk 2077 was roundly criticized by reviewers, game designers, industry insiders and other gamers across the gaming community. The wait and hype for the game had already created a fanbase which turned toxic by harassing reviewers who criticised the game.

There is another reason why the game wasn’t well received. Cyberpunk 2077 transphobia was apparent in the game contradicting the fact that the developers had claimed that the game was ahead of its time. The game has an incredibly detailed character creation menu. The players can control several aspects of their character’s appearance including the shapes and size of the genitals. The game even allows players to decline the option of including genitals to their characters. However, this isn’t the problem and is in fact appreciable. The idea of not determining gender by the character’s genitals in fact made many trans players happy. But this soon turned into disbelief and disappointment. The gamers realised that the game actually assigned the gender to the characters not based on their genitals but rather by the voice. Characters with higher-pitched voices were identified as females and characters with deep-voiced characters were assigned male pronouns. This purports the toxic idea that people’s gender can be determined by certain traits. A non-sexist video game would determine the gender of a player’s character based on an independent choice made by players themselves. This is uninfluenced by other physical traits or qualities.

Several reviewers called out Cyberpunk 2077 for promoting sexist ideologies. Unfortunately, toxic fans harassed the reviewers. “You just KNOW when you're going to get harassed. If the game with all the hype has anything wrong with it, and you're honest about that, or even just want to provide any context outside of ‘it's fun’, you're going to get harassed. It's a given.” These were precisely what Susan Arendt, a podcast host quoted. She even second guessed herself whether sharing her true opinions was worth the hateful, threatening and harassing messages that she received.

Controversial Tweet by Cyberpunk 2077 Twitter Handle

In the early days of arcade, gaming was a family activity. The popular male dominance and stereotype that only boys or men are good at video games were perpetuated in the past three decades. We observe this change due to sexualisation of video games. Today, most video games aren’t family friendly as they include explicit and sexual content. This, in fact, is a marketing tactic used by developers to target the male population. In 2018, a Cyberpunk 2077 fan who was awaiting the game at that point of time tweeted that the user wanted to see more from the “guys” at CDPR. In response to this tweet, CD Projekt Red tweeted, “Did you just assume their gender?!”. On the look of it, the tweet seems innocent but it is a joke at the expense of the trans community. After receiving backlash to the tweet, CDPR took it down and issued an apology staying sorry to “all those offended”. The apology seems like another targeted mockery and CDPR did no right by not taking responsibility for its actions.

Not only is Cyberpunk2077 transphobic and sexist, it is non user friendly as well. The game has several epilepsy triggers without any warnings about it. There are several instances and situations in the game where the effects and the graphics are brighter, louder and flashing. This is a general trigger for seizures. Liana Rupert, a player of Cyberpunk 2077 suffered a major seizure and at several moments felt that she was close to another one. After bringing this to the notice of CD Projekt Red, the company agreed to add trigger warnings wherever necessary.  

The gaming industry has definitely taken a few steps forward in terms of inclusivity of all genders but has also taken a few steps backward. While all genders are welcome, they still face harassment and judgement for simply existing in the community and need a lot more improvement.

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