The Blackface Game In The App Store You Probably Didn't Know Existed
The racism is blatant.
August 01, 2019 at 5:59 pm
This op-ed was submitted from a member of our enthusiastic community of readers. If you’re interested in sharing your opinion on any cultural, political or personal topic, create an account here and check out our how-to post to learn more.
There is a racist game in the App Store. It is called Karma. Incarnation 1.
It is not subtly racist. It does not dog whistle, or beautify colonial war, or traffic in racist stereotypes. It is racist. It is a racist act in itself. The characters are Black, idiotic and slovenly creatures with protruding jaws and bulbous eyes resembling nothing more on earth than characters in minstrel shows. It is as if the illustrations of Tar Baby Toilet Soap, Jungle Jitters cartoons or Tintin goes to the Congo were adapted for the touchscreen. But whereas these earlier, 19th century fantasies of black monstrosity at least approximated the human form, Karma is less generous. You play a nappy-haired, black blob of a thing with bright red lips that slinks around on the ground like a lazy Slimer from the 80s Ghostbusters movies. This thing licks mushrooms to get high, speaks to plaited-hair magical Black women, all the while carrying a more consistently piteous and worried look on its face than Gone With The Wind’s Prissy.
The extremist turn in the representation of Black degradation opted for in Karma can, paradoxically, be turned to if the developers were to claim that there was no harm intended. The creatures are so ghastly and inhuman white supremacists and the game’s other defenders could counter that there was no intention to represent human beings at all. Critics were too sensitive and political correctness has gone too far would be the expected rebuttal. Karma, we would be told, is simply about aliens in an alien world. But alienness is no alibi. In fact, the image-makers, artists, and inventors of Black inferiority have always required the production of radical alienness. Racist dehumanization requires both a distancing from what is human and a close association to an othered humanity and its stereotypes. Think Jar Jar Binks; the black crows in Dumbo; Curious George etc., etc. Or, simply consider the fact that racist caricature only achieves its aim in so far as it can tie something cartoonishly inhuman to a targeted people.
Karma, however, seems to have sacrificed plausible deniability and thus the defense of naïveté for the opportunity to produce a more full-throated, racist iconography. The gameplay screenshots on it’s App Store page feature a large black creature with heavy gold chains and a gaping, gapped-tooth mouth. Another figure is in what seems to be a grass skirt and skull mask with large djembe-like drums emblazoned onto the background. Another is playing the bongo drums like a dullard with his mouth stupidly open. In the game, these creatures grunt, scrape and make bestial noises accompanied by a soundtrack reminiscent of the early 20th century cartoons depicting Africans as humorous cannibals. At one point the main character arrives at an outdoor party with long-limbed, arm-flailing dancing. There are palm trees, xylophone music and a deep-voiced man making unintelligible, rhythmic noises. All this while another eats directly from the ground with an ant-eater like snout and repeatedly relieves itself in clouds of gas. The hairstyles range from golliwog to pickaninny, dreadlocks to Bantu knot, and all characters, it cannot be stressed enough, are complete sheets of black. Dumbo’s crows, at least, were clothed and could sing.
None of these racist depictions gave any reviewer pause. In fact, the game is multi-award winning and praised as having great art and sound design. It is as if there is a shadowy underworld community in the app store where minstrel shows are gamified and performed to rave reviews. Where it is understood that the incarnation of karma would look like vengeance for some injury done to white supremacist order. Perhaps the developers saw a Black man whistling down a street in Moscow.
Should a complaint be sent to Apple registering shock and disgust? Perhaps a demand to remove the game from the app store should be published on social media. These responses have outlived their usefulness. We’ve exited that 40-year-long breath of fresh air where simply pointing out anti-blackness publicly was enough to get a company to tone it down. We are now back beneath the waves. Today, Nuremberg rallies are held weekly in every small American city. Mobs shout for the forcible deportation of Black American citizens. Our tragedy, today’s tragedy, is that we have realized too late that the universe does not, in fact, have a moral arc that bends towards justice. Racism stands still. It does not atrophy due to time and natural circumstances; on the contrary, it petrifies. It is digitized, downloaded and kept in pockets, and displayed in high-definition. It cannot be waited out. It needs to be blown up by outside forces.
It will serve nothing if Karma Incarnation 1 is pulled off the market. The world would remain exactly the same. Instead, it is white narrative-making that needs to be put out in the dustbin of history. White power does not need to be reprimanded or corrected, it needs to be supplanted. Confederate statues need not be torn down, statues commemorating plantation house arsonists need to be erected. This game should not be condemned. Instead, an army of developers that would invent new imaginary landscapes should be raised. Designers should craft game-worlds where white supremacists were unheard of or were no more as they could not survive the post-apocalyptic nightmare of radical black freedom. Dandara and Journey might be sought for conceptual templates but bolder, more dangerous game-worlds could be thought up. And the fight should be prepared for. If even the prospect of a Black woman 007 — a fictional, murdering agent of British imperialism — will be resisted with slurs and petitions, a game about a neo-Haitian Revolution or titles like, say, Attica Amistad would be banned. But they are necessary. Equality cannot look like constantly cowering in the corner and shielding one’s face from the lashes of the whip while shouting stop. At some point, it involves standing up. New, imaginary worlds should be built and rushed into reality without waiting for the ruins of this one.
Karma’s a b**ch.
Editor's Note: Karma. Incarnation. 1 could not be reached for comment.