As everyone surely knows by now, last week Star City Games, my home away from Hipsters of the Coast, posted something completely inappropriate. It was a vaguely meninist take on women in Magic, posted in response to Meghan Wolff drawing attention to the issue earlier that week. Here’s a link to the cached document, but fair warning, it is triggering.


You see, it’s a sad day that misogyny from gamers no longer surprises me. Had that article just been the uninformed screed from a dude born on third base, I would have just been angry. Instead, it casually contained something far worse: an image, above the fold, of white stick figures lynching a black stick figure.


That would be an inappropriate image on a Magic site in any context, but it was particularly brutal to stumble upon, unprepared, mere days after a racist terror attack, on a holiday dedicated to the abolition of slavery in the United States. (Juneteenth, check it out.)


In short, it was quite literally the worst time to post such an image, particularly when it had little or nothing to do with the rest of the piece. And I went apoplectic.


Here’s why.


White Millennials like myself have been ill served by our parents’ generation. Your average white American Millennial grew up being taught three core things about race: 1) racism means saying the n-word; 2) racism was over because the Boomer generation solved it; and 3) our country was now a color-blind meritocracy.


All of these things are lies.


The truth is that it is not enough for us white folk to just refrain from racist speech; we must be anti-racist, because we are the ones with the sickness in our communities. The sickness is not our fault, but it is our responsibility to confront it now, because no one else will. This sickness is white supremacy, and it’s far more insidious than how you treat a single black individual. It has become the platform of a political party too cowardly to call it by its true name, and it has dug back in like a tick in my lifetime.


At this point in the article you might be thinking, “Hey Jessica, you’re whiter than a ghost made of lily sheets. Are you really the best person to write about this?” The answer, of course, is no. But this goes back to the bullshit meritocracy propaganda that’s been stuffed down our generation’s throats. Yes, it would be better to hear this from a black person, but we should still all be talking about it. You don’t need to hear it from the best source possible, you just need to hear it, and listen.


As is, people shy away from any frank discussion of race that isn’t predicated on the belief that black people are terrible, and that’s bullshit. It’s not on black people to educate white people about race, and if we’ve learned one thing from eight years of a black presidency, it’s that most white people can’t stand to listen to a person of color talk about race. There’s that 47% mentality that when people of color talk about race they’re doing it out of self-interest. As if that makes what they have to say any less true.


I was raised to believe that white supremacy meant hardcore racism. It was the purview of white people who not only used the n-word with reckless abandon, but also went to meetings and got racist tattoos. I thought of it as racism on steroids, and as such I responded with tremendous defensiveness the first time I was called out on my complicity in the white supremacy, because I had put together an all-white leadership team.


I was in charge of a radical queer camping organization, and shockingly we didn’t have any people of color in our leadership structure. So, when faced with this I responded with all the typical defenses: I’m a good person; it wasn’t our fault that no black people wanted to join our leadership team; if we brought in a black person it would be some sort of tokenization; diversity for the wrong reasons was almost as bad as no diversity at all.


I was wrong.


What I wasn’t seeing were the ways in which my whiteness had resulted in a legacy of privilege which gave me access to camping supplies, gas money, and the freedom to spend a week protesting a thousand-dollar-a-couple music event. I didn’t know that the average white family’s net worth in 2007 was fully ten times that of the average black family. As I’ve learned over the years, our country’s racist foundations have left chasms of inequality that will take much longer than a half-century to heal. That’s the true face of white supremacy: institutionalized oppression, on every level of the system. And as we cut away the social safety net, we are actively making the lives of people of color worse.


That’s an ugly truth to face. Despite having done nothing personally to make the lives of black people worse, I have benefitted from a system that is rigged in my favor. In that sense, I understand why Justice Clarence Thomas rejected his Yale diploma; there is something galling about knowing that your successes are not yours alone, when we’ve been marinated in the language of meritocracy. But he had it backwards. It’s not the beneficiaries of affirmative action whose accomplishments are devalued by these systems, it’s the white folk like me. He got a leg up at one point in his life and translated that into something better; I get a leg up every step I take without being hassled by police, or going hungry, or having my schools drained of funding in the name of fiscal responsibility or some other compelling lie.


One of the reasons this truth has remained obfuscated over the years is because of the Southern Strategy. Now, the Southern Strategy is a known thing, an outreach by Nixon’s Republican Party* to southern white racists. It’s part of history. And yet, despite having one of its architects spell it out, many people don’t realize how the war on the poor was designed as a seemingly-race-neutral way to further ensconce white supremacy, at the expense of poor whites.


You start out in 1954 by saying, “N—–, n—–, n—–.” By 1968 you can’t say “n—–”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N—-, n—–.””


That was Lee Atwater, a key figure in Reagan’s White House, talking about the intent of the Republican Party to cloud the waters by changing the language of white supremacy. But even as they changed their language, their symbols stay the same. In 1962, as a fuck you to the Federal government that was promoting integration, South Carolina passed a law mandating that the Battle Flag of the Confederacy be flown at all times. And in 2015, a young man waving that flag murdered nine people, because our system of white supremacy was too passive for his hate. His explicit motivation was to start a race war, and yet some people couldn’t face that, arguing against all evidence that this was some sort of attack on Christianity, or anything else than the fruits of their overheated rhetoric.


The lynching drawing that accompanied Jim Davis’s article was from a South Park episode specifically about the Confederate Flag. That symbol, the flag of traitors and seditionists who fought a war against their brothers for the purpose of securing a state’s right to prop up their economy through the ownership of other human beings, is a cancer on this country. In the wake of not just the terrorist’s adoption of the Confederate flag, but also the flags of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia**, the national conversation about the importance of these symbols has been more charged than ever.


It was into this context that Davis stumbled. Whether it was ignorance or intent, he took this heated image, found the most juvenile take on the issue possible in pop culture, and then used it as prologue for a piece that didn’t discuss race at all.


White privilege is a fascinating thing.


So what’s the solution here? I mean, I’m talking about economic justice in a column for a pastime that costs thousands of dollars to play at the top levels. And that’s the thing that the Jim Davises of our community fail to see: that the privileged nature that underlies this game makes it harder for women, paid on average $0.78 for every dollar a man makes, and for people of color, who have significantly less accumulated wealth, to play at the top levels. If we want to fix that, part of it is supporting those men and women who bring diversity to the table. That means the type of concerted effort that Meghan Wolff talked about, in which diverse individuals are given paying jobs producing content for the big leagues.


There’s a Junot Diaz quote I always come back to, and I’m going to post it again:

“You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”


We play a game in which the average set has more vampires in it than people of color. Yes, that is going to take effort to change. Yes, that process is going to be uncomfortable. Yes, we might have to accept slightly less to give others much more. But it’s the right thing to do. And none of Jim Davis’s condescending points change that.


If you’re looking for a point by point breakdown of all the ways that Jim Davis was wrong, there have been a couple of good ones floating around out there. Anastacia Tomson talked more specifically about how the current status quo works against women in ways Jim Davis dismissed. AJ Sacher did the rest of us the service of going through that thing point by point and breaking each one down into a pile of cardboard and straw. Our own Rich Stein showed some of the ways that the meritocracy argument holds no water. And finally, Maro himself came down on the side of reason, talking about how these things can be invisible if you’re not facing them yourself. These are all great takes, and they’re worth reading if you have time to get into the weeds here.


But me? I contemplated quitting, because I’ve done that before when faced with a situation like this. I love my gig, but if my presence is going to lend legitimacy to racism and sexism, I’ll take that hit. But Cedric’s apology cleared up a lot of the issues I had, and furthermore I didn’t want the end result of Jim Davis’ column to be any less diversity at SCG… because then he wins and the rest of us lose.


And if there’s something I don’t like to do in Magic, it’s lose.


Jess Stirba is the warrior child of a blooded soldier.


*Okay, technically Goldwater, but he didn’t succeed at it. Nixon did.

**I like history, and I didn’t even know that Rhodesia existed… that kid did his racism homework, for real.

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