White Privilege & Art

The title says it all, really. I had a rude and culturally-insensitive name for a board game prototype, I was called out on it by a cultural literate, and I finally backed down after realizing my own hubris and sense of entitlement. It was good to be beaten down in such a way. At the very least, I can breathe a lot easier now that my head’s not up my own ass.

My original intent was primarily a game design challenge for myself: make a game and all prototype art assets in 36 hours. Additionally – and this is where things become complicated – I wanted to make a game that pointed out the problems inherent in imperialism. I had developed a maritime-themed game in which sailors would protect their cargo while enemies come pouring onto the boat from either side. I themed it after Spanish conquistadors, and the enemies were native Incan tribe warriors.

My design goals were noble – in my view – but perhaps a bit lofty. The original title of the game was “Stinkin’ Incans,” as I wanted players to initially side with the conquistadors. I had wanted cognitive dissonance to set in sooner rather than later, however, as the player would eventually reflect on the fact that the only reason the Incans were attacking was because the Spanish had stolen the gold in the first place. My reasoning kinda went like this:

Players are the bad guys, but they don’t realize it…
Players realize they were responsible for the violence…
Players reflect on US imperialism…
WORLD PEACE.

…Like I said, my goals were lofty.

Here’s the comment where I apologized for being a bigoted jerk:

My own ignorance astounds me sometimes. And yes, your feedback is extremely welcome. There’s no way to spin this game concept in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a cultural ignoramus. So I likely am. Good intentions don’t fix that, only good actions do.

…My apologies. I’ll save my high-and-mighty dreams of combating Imperialism for another game.

It was a significant learning experience for me. And I’m a 37-year-old grown-ass man.

A word to all white male artists and creative types: your words, your actions, your creative product, your performances…These can all highlight your personal sense of privilege and ignorance. If someone calls you out on it, don’t be a dick like Louis C.K. and give some rationalization about how you’re sick and tired of being called out on it all the time. Actually grow some balls, admit you’re wrong, and change your behaviour. It’s the right thing to do.

For the record, I also think it’s important to admit any sense or evidence of privilege you have benefited from and/or used as a crutch before you start lambasting others for abusing their privilege. In other words: I can’t call out casual, ignorant racists for their behaviour until I myself admit and take responsibility for my casual, ignorant racist past behaviour.

So yeah, I was racist. I did my best to face up to it and definitely changed my attitudes and behaviour. That doesn’t give me a get-out-of-jail-free card or anything in my future, but at least it means I can take responsibility for it, and definitely can change.

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