On the state of the discourse: An essay mainly directed at cishet white folks.

It’s Friday, and usually that means that I post a chapter of my playthrough of Thousand Year Old Vampire. However, if you’ve been following board game content creators on twitter and elsewhere over the last few weeks, you’ll know that there have been several controversies.

That’s not entirely true; the controversies were always there, but now, they’re out in the open.

I’m not going to get into these specific issues, and I’m not going to name names. This post isn’t really about them specifically. These are just some thoughts that, going forward, we could all stand to think about.

A brief note before I continue: I am a cis-gender, heterosexual, middle-class white guy, and that is the intended audience for this essay. If you do belong to a marginalized group, however, feel free to correct me/share your insights if you like.

  1. If a person of color or member of a marginalized group calls us out as racist/for saying something that is problematic, listen to them.
    Just because we cannot see the problem with what we say or do, it does not mean that it is not problematic. There are a lot of deeply problematic ideas and idioms that have been so ingrained in the culture (American culture, geek culture, Western culture) that we can be blind to them. If we are not on the receiving end of this type of discrimination, it is sometimes hard to see that it is there. If an affected tells us it’s there, it’s there, and it doesn’t matter how many black friends we have or how many emojis we put in your twitter handles.
  2. If a publisher/forum decides not to publish our words, our freedom of speech has not been violated.
    If a privately-owned game publisher (as they all are) or a privately-owned forum decides to censor our words, our rights have not been violated. We have the right to say whatever you want, but we do not have the right to a forum.
  3. Cancel Culture is actually just Consequence Culture.
    For far too long, people–and this is for the most part, though not entirely, cishet white men–have had not only the freedom to say or do what we want, but a freedom from the consequences. With the internet giving marginalized groups a louder voice than ever before, the perpetrators of these behaviors are finally being held accountable. This is a good thing. Can people sometimes “jump to conclusions” and condemn people too quickly? I suppose, but in every case I’ve seen where someone was actually “cancelled,” the person being dragged by the internet had a history of the behavior they were being called out on, and they failed to learn because there were no consequences.
  4. All people should be welcome to the proverbial gaming table. Not all ideas should.
    If a person spews hatred, defends racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia, attempts to engage you in bad-faith/whatabout-ism arguments, etc., we are under no obligation to provide them a seat. They are the ones who should feel bad, not us. We don’t have to play games with them, we don’t have to argue with them…we could even block them on social media. At the same time, if we see someone verbally attacking a person of color/person in a marginalized group, we should at the very least check in with the person being attacked, and, if needed, come to their defense.
  5. We need to recognize that we are not perfect.
    I try my best to be anti-racist. I work at being an ally to the LGBT+ community. However, there are times where I may be blind to my own racism, there are times when I KNOW I’ve said something that, in hindsight, was homophobic, and there are times where I may assume I have the answer to what is “being an ally,’ that may end up being less than constructive. And when I look back and realize things I have said or done that were wrong, I’ve either apologized or I’ve corrected my mistake. And I’m sure somewhere there’s someone who I’ve offended that I was oblivious to. But every day, we need to try harder. Remember our mistakes and work to fix ourselves. Correct others when we see them fail, but recognize that we were probably in their place

I think that through keeping these things in mind, and by reflecting on our own behaviors, on the way are words may be taken, and on whose voices we amplify, we can make the boardgaming community a safer, stronger, more welcoming place.

If you’d like to discuss, you can find us all over the internet. You can also tweet me directly at @jrobertnovak.

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