Friday, July 26, 2013

The White Fantasy of Talking African Apes in the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game (con't): The Long Dangerous History and Present of Associating Black People With Primates

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We started this week by discussing the role-playing game Pathfinder and how the white racial frame, the white gaze, and how the fantasies of Whiteness intersect in its gaming universe. I want to return to the topic for a moment.

Pathfinder features talking apes in its version of "Africa". This is very problematic given the deep history of colonialism and white supremacy's political and social project of associating African-Americans, and black folks more generally, with apes and chimpanzees. In reading some of the responses to the original post, and the comments about it elsewhere, I was reminded that what we may take as a given, i.e. that depicting black people as primates is inherently racist, because of training, personal interest, or necessary survival skill, may not be self-evident to others.

Some of the denial is motivated by racism--colorblind and otherwise. A good amount may just be ignorance--willful or genuine.

Ultimately, the racist association between blacks and primates is so pernicious precisely because of how taken for granted it is.

The website Sociological Images has some great examples of the pseudo-scientific and popular propaganda in this genre of racist popular culture.

The following two examples are especially powerful.

The first links "Africans" to "primates" in the "Great Chain of Being" as the lowest form of human life:

Here we have an image of a "perfect" human being, who is of course white and European on the top, with the lower type, the African, and the chimpanzee below him.

When an idea becomes part of a culture, and the collective subconscious, it is especially dangerous because it motivates an individual's reasoning and decision-making processes in ways that they are not aware of.

The centuries old association between apes and black people was born of the need to dehumanize Africans in order to legitimate their murder and exploitation by American and European slave regimes. Those stereotypes, and its related psychological conditioning, continues to exist in the post civil rights era and the Age of Obama. Cultural tropes do not die an easy death. Racism and white supremacy are ghosts and demons that have long lives and which continue to survive centuries after the death of their inventors.

As research in psychology has revealed, white jurors who are shown subliminal images of apes and monkeys are much more likely to vote for the death penalty for black defendants in murder cases.

Beyond the crudeness of how conservatives and the White Right have indulged their love of using racial stereotypes of Obama and his family as "monkeys" or "gorillas" since his election, the idea that those images could motivate someone to kill another person is no laughing matter. In fact, legal scholars have argued that the use of ape and primate imagery by Obama's enemies on the Right is actually priming them for violence against the country's first black president.

The White fantasy of talking "African apes" in the Pathfinder RPG game is one that is very hostile to black folks and comes with very pernicious psycho-historical baggage. It is not fun. Nor, is this fantasy innocent or benign. White Privilege does a good amount of harm by hiding behind deflections such as "I was just kidding" or "you are over-reacting, and I didn't mean it that way". Play is not value neutral. It reinforces (and can subvert) the values and norms of a given culture and society. Pathfinder and other role-playing games are not separate or apart from that dynamic.


thetruthteller said...

Negroids aren't humans. They are in the ape family. it was determined using DNA. Sorry I'm not into the PC BS.

Jane Laplain said...

Sorry, not into centuries-outdated white supremacist BS.

It was determined by DNA that all Caucasoids, as you would term them, have 1-4% Neanderthal genes, and that sub-saharan africans, aka, Negroids, have 0% Neanderthal genes, save to the extent they are intermixed with caucasoids. If anybody is a hybrid ape on the planet, it would be the Caucasians.

Feel free to twist that around however you want to make it so that the White Race is still somehow genetically superior, but you are NOT entitled to your own facts about the science surrounding the human genome and human primate lineage.

chauncey devega said...

Got to love the white supremacist who proves the very point of the post. Perfect.

AGreenBird said...

I was

ohthatguy said...

I think Pathfinder deserves credit for including Black characters loosely inspired by African cultures. There are also Middle Eastern, Indian and East Asian humans who are presented as viable options, not just exotic creatures. The focus is still on White humans in a vaguely European setting, but there's been a bit of progress compared to games written 20 or 30 years ago.
I don't think there was a racist intent here. There are humanoid frogs, cats, wolves, and birds, and I think this was intended to be something similar. That said, I haven't read everything they've put out (there is a lot of stuff) so there may be appalling stuff I never saw.

If you want to say that the fantasy and gaming communities tend to do a poor job of portraying people of color, I'm not going to argue. Just not sure this a great example

Ashley Taylor said...

The representation of the black guy has gotta be a joke. I can go to Africa and seek the darkest, blackest, person I can find and they'll still look better than that drawing. Not all Africans look like that drawing. Just like, not all Europeans look like that white favored drawing (done by a white person). Pathetic. Nobody thinks this crap anymore. Its 2014!