Skin Deep

This is the (slightly edited version of an) email I sent to Lucy Morris as a response to her open call for people of colour to share their experiences. This is for her upcoming game project, Skin Deep. (Original design document) As a fellow game designer, I also peppered this email with little design advice and suggestions!

Note: I sent this email two months ago. In retrospect, there are some dumb and ignorant parts of my email, especially when I start speculating on "self-hating Jews" and "acting white". But that's exactly why a game like Lucy's needs to exist - so even POCs like me can see what it's like to be a person of a different ethnicity.


Hey Lucy!

This email will be a bit of a ramble.

. . .

On POC's being oblivious to racism, both others' and their own

Thank you for letting me be a part of this empathy-expanding game project! Not just for whites to see things from a POC POV, (ha) but also the other way around. Why? I think the creator of Dominique Pampelmousse explains it best:

(This might be a problem when you ask POC's what discrimination they've faced -- without knowing what it's like to be another race, they wouldn't even know some things are racially-based discrimination)

And also, for POC's to know what it's like to be other kinds of ethnicities. Now, I'm Asian. But I have no idea what it's like to be black or Hispanic in America. That's why a game like yours, if executed really well, can do some great social good.

Suggestion for your game?

Throw out any parts of this suggestion as you wish, but I don't think you should have a separation of Easy mode and Hard mode for whites & POC's.

That reinforces the idea of POC's being an "other", even though currently we sort of are. I think the game should just have all of them as equally playable options, and the game isn't actually over until you've played as all ethnicities, in any order you like. That way not only can whites empathize more with POC's, but POC's with other POC's and whites. Just because we're not white, doesn't mean we're not racist. (cue Everyone's A Little Bit Racist Song)

. . .

On being racist towards one's own ethnicity

To be honest, when I first volunteered, I wasn't sure I would be any help.

I haven't felt any racial discrimination against me, or at least, I didn't think I have. So, I Googled "asian microagressions" and phrases along those lines to find out... uh, what I'm supposed to have had first-hand experience with. I read lists of stereotypes. I thought they were kind of funny. And I thought, heh, thank god I'm not that Asian.

And then I realized. I'm the racist. Against my own race.

Hell, even saying "my own race" seems weird to me, because I consistently try to distance myself from other Asians.

"I'm practically white anyway." "I'm a banana! Yellow on the outside, white on the inside." "Naw, I'm not really a POC. Asian! All of the privilege, none of the guilt."

These are all things I have said and fully believed. I kind of still do. I've noticed this kind of self-hate in other minority groups before, like the self-hating Jew, or the black person who "acts white", or several of my Women In Tech friends who say things like "I'm not like most women" or "I'm one of the guys".

NOTE: Again, my conceptions at the time
about "self-hating Jews" and "acting white"
are far more complex than I mention here.
And I was being an idiot.

I mean, I don't regret picking up "white/Western culture". Western ideals like creativity, individualism, and progressiveness are things I embrace. But maybe I should stop calling other Asians -- in contrast -- an uncreative, communist, socially-backwards bunch.

I just never noticed this self-hate in myself, until I did research for Skin Deep.

Lucy. Your game doesn't even have a prototype yet, and it's already changed my life.

Suggestion for your game?

For each micro-aggressive prompt, have a dialogue option where you can agree. Distance yourself from your own ethnicity, and the aggressor will like you better.

Example:

Said to a black person - "Wow, you're a lot more eloquent than I expected!"
Self-racism response - "Why of course, I do not associate myself with those thugs and gangsters."

. . .

On Being a "Model Minority"

Yellow Fever. Goddamn do I hate Yellow Fever.

A large proportion of my male friends -- most of whom are white, of course, because I've successfully assimilated myself into Western culture -- have Asian girlfriends. At first, I thought this was great! The boundaries of race can't stop love! Until... I realized why they specifically sought out Asian girlfriends. Quiet. Obedient. Subservient. And a dash of fetishism.

(P.S: I'd recommend reading up on the recent #NotYourAsianSidekick trend for more about this)

And then, of course, there's the "positive stereotypes" about being Asian. Hardworking. Intelligent. Good at math. Which I personally found annoying because I am good at math, intelligent, and hardworking. I don't want to be a stereotype. I have those traits because I worked for it, not because of some "natural genetic gift".

"I am fed up with being stereotyped as either a subhuman or superhuman creature. [...] We are only human--no more and no less."
~ A random quote I got from Wikipedia

Suggestion for your game?

Not all of the micro-aggressions in your game have to be "negative".

A lot of dumb things are said with the best of intentions. I assume the kind of people who would play Skin Deep would already have good intentions regarding race-equality, but a lot of them might not even know their words are micro-aggressive. (I know. In hindsight, I've done this before.)

Examples:

To a Hispanic/Latino -- "Have you met my friend Jose? She's Latino too, I think you'll like her!"
To a Native American -- "How! As your ancestors would say."
To pretty much anyone -- "I really love your people!"

So-called compliments... which unwittingly reinforce the idea that their race is what matters most. That we are an "other". I want to clarify -- in most cases, it's not the speaker's fault. They genuinely have the best of intentions.

Best case scenario, well-intentioned people who play your game and say this kind of stuff will realize their error! And your game will help improve their lives and the conversations they have with their fellow humans.

. . .

Okay, "a bit of a ramble" might have been an understatement.

Cheers,
~ Nicky