Founder's Forum: Blacklisting Vocal Marginalized People
I wanted to pass on a personal message to the gaming community as a whole. After writing ‘Gaming’s White Progressive Problem and the Diana Jones Award’, I girded my loins in preparation for a lot of White Tears and White Fragility - two subjects I read up on extensively while writing the piece.
I got some of that, sure… mostly straight white men overestimating the power of their own opinions and everyone else’s desire to hear said opinions, a lot of white people making a straw man out of the award itself, and one person who questioned why a person of color didn’t write the piece and why it took me so long to write (never let anyone tell you how and at what speed to process events).
Other than that, I haven’t gotten much pushback. At least directly. When I write these things, very few people have the courage to address me to my face. I honestly don’t know why. This has been an ongoing trend since the beginning of ConTessa. Progressive people who don’t like my approach have been shutting me out of discussions since the beginning.
And let’s be clear about what my approach is, so you can understand what they don’t like. I don’t believe marginalized people need ‘mentors’ and hand holding to get into the tabletop industry. I don’t believe they need someone whitesplaining or dudesplaining to them what sorts of things they need to say or not say in order to please that company’s audience and/or owners. I don’t believe they need to be treated like little children who need to be told what to do every step of the way.
In fact, I believe companies who administer their diversity effort through these methods actively contribute to a system of colonial oppression they claim the desire to dismantle, but instead use to their benefit. A long way of saying they continue to use the privilege granted to them as white people (often white males) while still looking super diversity-friendly and progressive on the outside.
There’s good money in that progressive look, too. Nike, for example, would never have put Colin Kaepernick front and center if they didn’t think it’d sell product. Praise them however you like, but Nike is still a corporation, and corporations always take calculated risks. Being a blatantly progressive company in the gaming industry is like being Nike. It’s a calculated risk. A risk so predictable and trustworthy REgressive companies often hide their regressive tendencies via a smokescreen of tokenism and ‘not bringing politics into gaming’ so as not to LOSE money.
What I believe and what ConTessa is all about, is that marginalized people aren’t babes in the woods who need the guidance of white dudes to get anywhere. If they’ve clawed their way through the bigotry of gaming’s lower tiers to the point where they want to be a designer, they’re not poor little newbies who need everything explained to them. They don’t need their hands held as they’re guided by a ‘mentor’. What they need is for you to get the fuck out of the way, answer questions and help when asked, and start examining why you feel they’re so incompetent in the first place.
What’s more, they need you to LISTEN to them, and not to throw them to the wolves the moment they say something that disturbs all your other white buddy friends out there following your bad example. Marginalized people should not feel afraid to talk, but they do. I’ve been hushed into silence, myself, via blacklisting. It’s not fun, and the only way ConTessa made it out of those days is through a network of friends who kept telling me those people literally didn’t matter. Turns out they were right. They didn’t.
Marginalized people of all identities in all genres of gaming have been telling me for the last several months they are afraid to speak up about the bigotry they’ve experienced in this industry because they’re afraid of being blacklisted. This isn’t a hollow fear, many of them can tell me exactly who and what company has them blacklisted and for what reason. Women, people of color, trans people, people with disabilities… all different kinds of people who want to work in this industry and feel they can’t work in the industry and criticize it without losing what little livelihood they can scrape together.
The Diana Jones Award? It’s just a symptom of a greater problem. Saying things like, ‘I only think the nomination list is important, not the award’, or, ‘The Diana Jones Award is always chosen poorly, just being nominated is a platform for raising awareness of the product’ is turning your back and refusing to look at the whole, messy, ugly problem of white progressivism in this industry. One that you’re probably contributing to whether you know it or not.
There are a massive amount of blacklisting and fear of blacklisting stories. Massive. I heard them over and over at Gen Con, then again at Queen City Conquest, and I’m sure I’ll hear even more at U-Con in just a couple of weeks. These aren’t stories about some overzealous, socially-inept dude at a gaming table doing all the wrong things. These are stories from young developers and designers looking to get into the field who constantly face bigotry while having to keep a smile on their faces because they’re afraid they won’t be able to get work if they speak their minds.
It’s heartbreaking to hear both the excitement in someone’s voice at the prospect of doing their dream work coupled with their fear of speaking out about anything because they are freelancers, and they can’t afford to piss off the wrong people. The wrong people being ‘anyone who pays’.
So, I’m doing something about it.
If you are a marginalized person who feels you can not speak out about how you’ve been mistreated in the tabletop gaming industry, particularly in the way of blacklisting, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, send me a message on Facebook or Twitter, or join our Discord server. I’d be happy to talk to you about what’s happened, and put whatever resources I have at my disposal to help you find work somewhere that will appreciate your value as a unique human being and allow you to live - and create - your truth.
I’d also be happy to write about your experiences in a way that keeps you anonymous, but also puts pressure on the blacklisters. I will never post anything about you or your story without your approval, first, and I’ll draw up a contract to say as such so you have a legal backup since I don’t expect people to trust someone they may have never spent any time around.
I would also like to start building an independent group of attorneys willing to take on pro-bono work to protect marginalized people in the gaming community willing to come out about the discrimination, harassment, and abuse they’ve faced. Please contact me if that’s something you’d be willing to help out with.
ConTessa is a nonprofit organization with the goal of defending the civil rights of all human beings, particularly within the realm of tabletop gaming. We are beholden to no corporate brand or bottom line. All our resources go to growing the diversity of the tabletop gaming industry, and to defending the rights of those marginalized people already in the industry.
Intersectionality wins everything. EVERYthing. If all the marginalized people of just this country came together, we would be the majority, the biggest voting block ever. But white people gotta get the fuck out of the way, first.
Truth, Love, and Resistance,
Founder & CEO of The ConTessa Foundation