Author’s Note, Updated 6/4/2020:
I wrote this open letter about a year and a half ago. Today, I circle back to this letter, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, continuing a tradition infused in the DNA of American culture that started over 400 years ago when people who looked like George Floyd, who looked like me, were conscripted to be the enslaved backs upon which the United States were built.
It’s exasperating that our country’s namesake utilizes the word “united,” a derivative of “unity,” a word we Americans proudly use but often struggle to live up to. We preach the virtues of being one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, yet “all” is not applicable to everyone. The consistency at which I’m mournfully provided with evidence to that fact is found in the names of people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and far, far too many more. Their Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Yet this truth is not acknowledged by all despite having always compromised America’s claim to indivisibility and more so its claim to liberty and justice for all.
Despite the sobering cocktail of emotions that I feel right now, the point below still stands with perhaps the added notion that our future depends on unifying to recognize and take decisive and consistent action against the categorically oppressive treatment of black people in the United States. As over 400 hundred years of physical, spiritual, emotional, political, psychological, and economic lynching has undeniably shown, for me and for my beautiful, unapologetically black kin, it is a matter of life or death.
I encourage you to read the post below from a far more optimistic and less battle-weary me, because despite the tears I hold back writing this letter, I still believe that we can reshape the path for the future. However, the black community cannot do that alone. It’s time for those who have been silent to speak the truth of the overt and subliminal discrimination our community lives through every day and to listen to the message your fellow black citizens are communicating. Amplify our message. You may think that your silence is golden, but uncountless people have and someone else will pay the price for that gold with their lives. And it might just be me next.
Greg Haynes, A Black Gamer
Lead Games User Researcher
Original Piece from 2/20/2019 below:
Just over a month after I began working with AbleGamers, I was asked by someone what it meant for me to be a black individual in the gaming industry and I admit, the question caught me off-guard. Not because I hadn’t thought of inclusion in the gaming space (both in video game companies and the video games themselves), but more so because I was surprised that someone even asked.
That surprise was perhaps the best summation of my personal experience as a person of color: I always expected to mind my own business knowing internally that being black in America might mean some things happen to me and not for me. That as a member of a group actively referred to as a “minority” in a sociocultural environment infused with democratic romanticism, I was phenotypically anointed to hold an “L” in situations where I never expected to win or lose, but in the words of Talib Kweli, only “to get by… just to get by.”
All of this reflecting that I had unfairly internalized a mission to covertly change the perception of people of color, especially in the video game space that I love, entirely on my own. In the wake of this realization, I searched for a way to process the rush of emotion that came with the initial inquiry.
In doing so, I asked myself: “How does your experience as a person of color relate to what you’re doing right now, at this very moment in your life?” I won’t pontificate on my internal dialogue, but I will express the outcome of my introspection as it stands today and I’ll be forthright with the deceptively simple realization that I came to. When I considered the core of civil rights and inclusion, for me, it boils down to love.
Now I know that may sound unoriginal and cliché, but the cultural proclivity to equate love with sexual desire detracts from the notion of love as intentionally inclusive of other intrinsic elements including joy, adoration, devotion, appreciation, or enthusiasm. Among many other concepts, love can encompass compassion. In every instance of dialogue about civil rights, I can point to compassion or the lack thereof as an underlying force behind the divisive principle on the table. With a lack of compassion comes ignorance to the experience of others whether it be willful or cognizant.
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most recognizable figures associated with the term “civil rights,” spoke of his dream that content of character be the currency of societal consideration, the driving force was that we could have compassion to see the unfair treatment that was and still is the status quo.
When I think of the lyrics “WE shall overcome… WE’LL walk hand in hand,” I recognize that in the midst of unity through conscious and concerted efforts to understand each other, we can rise up to achieve great things. While video games might not seem significant by comparison, video games are a medium through which we as players feel enabled, form lasting relationships with others, experience new worlds, and create our own experiences in those worlds. All of the aforementioned things we can all relate to in some form. If we as a community use video games to set an example to the rest of the world, then I’m game. Together, we all stand to benefit. For me, this begins with changing the world for one disabled player at a time.
Where does it begin for you?
Lead Games User Researcher