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I want to get something off my chest. I was recently in a an argument about a single phrase; Games Workshop’s racism. An argument which left me so upset that I have decided to leave Beasts of War for a while, maybe not for ever, but I need a break. I’m posting this because I am utterly convinced that the people I was arguing with did not even do me the curtesy of listening to anything I was saying.
You see, we can all agree, I hope, that racism is a bad thing. What many people don’t give much consideration to is how people react to racism can be just as upsetting as racism itself.
Now, I’ll say at this point I sincerely hope that nobody reading this will ever have their lives effected by racism. It’s genuinely horrible. My life has, from time to time been impacted by racism and I would not wish it on anybody, but when racism is part of your life, you learn the best way to deal with it. The best response to racism is almost never to point at it and declare, “That’s racist!”
I would go further, if your response to racism is to start calling people racist, you have just, unwittingly, become part of the problem.
You see, nobody, well hardly anybody, thinks their racist. The effect of throwing around accusations of racism is to create division and yo make people go on the defensive. You don’t make people think about their attitudes by calling them racist, you actually entrench those attitudes. Racism is such an awful accusation to throw at somebody that the natural reaction is to try to justify what you’ve said or done.
The best way to tackle racism is to engage in a discussion. 99.9% of people are probably a tiny little bit racist at done point, totally innocently and not really meaning any harm. It’s usually a lack of thought and awareness which lies behind racism , not deliberate ill intent.
Let me give you an example. I’ll warn you first, I’m about to use a slightly naughty word. Suppose I hear somebody referring to a black person as a “coloured person”. Now, I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but here in the UK, calling black people “coloured” is not considered a polite thing to do these days by the majority of Black British people. It’s a word that used to be in common use when I was a kid and I most commonly hear it being used by older people, often well meaning people who are searching for the correct word to use and getting it wrong. So how do I react?
If I round on that person and say, “you can’t say that, that’s racist!” I’ve immediately lost the argument. All that person hears is that I’m calling them a racist. They’re almost certainly not, but I’ve just now accused them of a terrible crime.
No, a much better response would be to talk to that person. I would say, “that’s not a word that’s considered polite anymore. It’s ok to call black people “black”. Yeah, I know it’s confusing because “people of colour” is ok, but “coloured people” isn’t, i don’t blame you for getting it wrong”.
Effect? Instead of going on the defensive and getting the response “how dare you! I’m not racist!” The response it more likely to be, “oh, sorry, I didn’t know” and the person makes a mental note not to do it again.
… because most racism is unintentional. Most. Most, not all. That’s an important distinction and the reason the argument I had earlier upset me so much.
The problem is this. By labelling everything as “racism” you draw an equivalency between it all. If the person who accidentally uses the wrong word is racist, and the person who makes a deliberate and vicious racially motivated attack on an innocent victim is racist, then they are the same thing aren’t they? I’ve even heard it said that all racism is equally bad … there is no such thing as mild racism, it’s all terrible.
No. Really, no. The effect of that is to trivialise racism. You start throwing around the word racism at anything and everything that’s a bit suspect and the word looses it’s power. My wife has a favourite phrase, “you only get to play the race card a few times”, by which she means, the more you use the word “racism” the less people hear it.
My family has the the victim of some quite vicious racism and to trivialise racism by over using it is something I find genuinely upsetting.
If you’re still reading at thus point, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with GW and wargaming in general.
Well, I’m somebody who, because of my personal circumstances, is acutely aware of racism. In the 18 months or so, since I returned to wargaming, there have been perhaps no more than 2 or 3 occasions when I’ve looked at something and thought, “that’s a bit racist”. Each has been a miniature which, in my opinion, depicted a negative racial stereotype. When I say this, what really mean is there have been only 2 or 3 times when I would have actually said, out loud, to the creators, “I think your miniature is depicting a negative racial stereotype and I don’t think you should be selling it”, NOT that I would point at the sculptor and say, “you’re a racist!”
So what about GW? Is GW racist? Is GW institutionally racist?
Racism is not a word I would ever use in connection with GW. Partly because what I was saying about how counterproductive such an accusation would be and partly because, again in my opinion, calling GW racist trivialises racism.
What GW is certainly guilty of is failing to represent racial diversity in their miniatures. They do it in their books, but never in their miniatures. Clearly this is wrong. I would love it to change. I would love those beautiful shots of massed armies to stop giving the impression that in the grim darkness of the far future, there are only white people.
If, like me, you’d like that to change, what can you actually do about it?
My contention is this; sitting on a website like BoW furiously typing “GW are so racist” will achieve precisely nothing. Contacting GW are calling them racist will achieve precisely nothing. You do not stop people doing racist things by calling them racists.
If you’re actually wanting GW to change in this regard, I’d urge people to talk to them, engage with them, calmly, politely and reasonably. They’re easy to contact. You could contact customer services, you could write to them, you could email White Dwarf, their email addresses are published in every issue.
“Dear White Dwarf team. I’m just contacting you to express my concern about the lack of racial diversity which seems to be in your miniatures. When I read White Dwarf it appears that all of the miniatures are painted as white people. It would be nice if you painted them with a range of skin tones. You could even do a paint splatter article about how to paint different flesh tones and what colours to use. Regards …. Etc.”
Something like that, if enough people do it, might actually archive something.
” Dear White Dwarf, you’re a set of evil racist scum bags” will achieve nothing, other than probably getting them yo block your email address.
So, in summary for the TLDR crowd.
Please, please don’t throw around the word racism at anything and everything which looks a bit suspect. It trivialises racism and can genuinely upset people who have suffered the worst effects of racism to see it trivialised in this way.
When you do encounter racism in wargaming, talk about it, discuss it because education and persuasion can tackle racism, but calling somebody a racist will never get you anywhere.
Everything I’ve said here is, of course, my own opinion, formed over many years of actually having to deal with the effects of racism first hand. I’m not, however, claiming to have definitive answers or to speak with any authority other than; this is my experience. You are, of course, welcome disagree, but please, please remember this is a sensitive subject. Be wise, be gentle, be kind.
Can you give me an example as to the models you are referring to?
Erastus you have a valid point about the lack of gw ethnic variety. In the 90s they did do an article on the old metal catachan range. They had a couple black models thrown in, they attempted to show how to paint black flesh. But back then it was just along the lines of “substitute your dwarf flesh as a starting point for snakebite leather”. They do salamanders as an onyx skinned red eyed alienesque humans (who in my opinion always look abit crap and flat in tone.” If you do want variety try infinity or bolt action. They really do have every skin tone out there. Especially as a fair few of their armies in infinity are brazillian stock to start with. I would also love some tutorials on painting different hues of flesh. I can do black flesh (although one of my moderators looks like Dennis Rodman minus the dress). But i would love to know how to get far eastern flesh tones for my yu jing and if i every start a gurka and Japanese army in bolt action. Don’t be put off by others negative words. Everyone has to shit down to have poo. (Unless they have a stoma. Then they can do it on the move) :-p
I really don’t want to give the impression that the people I was arguing with before were anything other than anti-racist themselves.
@breacher18 I wouldn’t want to give what I thought was a racist miniature the publicity of linking to it, but the last one I remember was a depiction of a well known fictional Jewish character which looked like something out of a Nazi propaganda poster in the way it depicted his Jewishness.
Ah ok. To be honest I’ve never thought of painting a minature too different to how it’s depicted on the box. Thinking about it though could be quite a cool technical challenge, something fresh and new. Not condoning stereotypes in anyway, but GW are set in their ways. I have a similar issue with their female models (I’m a woman by the way).
“I’ve even heard it said that all racism is equally bad … there is no such thing as mild racism, it’s all terrible.
No. Really, no. The effect of that is to trivialise racism. You start throwing around the word racism at anything and everything that’s a bit suspect and the word looses it’s power.”
There is no hierarchy of racism. To treat to the topic as such is an incredibly dangerous approach. It is easy to challenge overt racism. We can all be vigilant against it, we can all fight it, we all agree it is bad and needs to be challenged. Other forms of racism, whether they be casual, institutional, unintentional and unwitting, or any other way they are labelled, are an insidious evil. They do real harm in a more subtle way, but real harm they do nonetheless. To be physically attacked for your ethnicity is a terrible thing, but it is no less terrible to be born into a society which denies you the same opportunities as others because of your ethnicity, which makes negative assumptions about you because of your ethnicity, which doesn’t allow you the same representation because of your ethnicity, and which worst of all, doesn’t even realise there is a problem.
These are the forms of racism where vigilance is not easy, which is why vigilance needs to be a paramount concern. The creation of a hierarchy of racism undermines any effort to tackle the problem. The term “mild racism” undermines any effort to tackle the problem. It is not a case of all racism being equally bad, just to introduce the concept of equality creates the assumption of a hierarchy. Our approach to the issue is where the equality lies. We should be equally vigilant to all forms of racism, we should be equally willing to challenge all forms of racism, we should be equally vigilant to challenge each other on the topic of racism, but we should never weigh racism against itself.
Where we do agree is on the application of the label “racist”. It is a very serious accusation to make without strong evidence, which is why I refused to discuss GW as being racist. A lack of diversity does not necessarily make a company racist. It might reflect it, but without more evidence of the inner workings of the company we can’t make the accusation.
@rosspot83 said: I would also love some tutorials on painting different hues of flesh. I can do black flesh (although one of my moderators looks like Dennis Rodman minus the dress). But i would love to know how to get far eastern flesh tones for my yu jing and if i every start a gurka and Japanese army in bolt action.
Check out Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy’s youtube channel, it’s solely about painting minis and there are some fantastic tutorials on it, including painting skin tones on oriental and african minis.
Wargamers are like smokers, get them hooked young and they’re yours for life!
Wargames Foundry also do a wide range of paints for painting flesh colours in a variety of ethnicities.
Obviously a subject you feel strongly about Erastus, and a well written post.
I think to accuse a wargaming company of being racist (and we all know which company this is) is to imply some form of deliberate belligerence in their attitude towards other ethnicities.
Is that the case with said company? I don’t think so. I think ultimately we’re talking about a company that doesn’t have customer feedback forums or discussion boards, sends C&D letters to fan sites etc. I think more than anything that indicates a lack of willingness to ‘engage’ with the customer base, and a lack of ethnic variation in their representation of humans is part of that.
If you look at some other companies, which are perhaps in a similar situation to GW in that they create things which are representations of human beings in model form, you see a different picture; Lego have black-skinned miniatures, there are black or other ethnic group Barbie’s etc. In that sense I think you could probably say there is something of a lack of awareness and engagement on GW’s part, that while the game is written by upper-middle class white boys, intended for upper-middle class white boys as the target market, hey perhaps not ALL of their customers fall into this category. Especially considering the world-wide distribution of their products you would have thought it might be something they considered.
Unfortunately ‘white washing’ (as it’s been known) isn’t restricted to this kind of area. We’re gradually seeing a change to this in some forms of media, movies and video games etc. where someone other than a white burly guy with a crew cut can be the hero. But, I think where you have a company that is relatively backward thinking in relation to how it embraces new technology and communicates with its fans, it’s no surprise that GW hasn’t acknowledged this and started to introduce a greater variation in both race (and gender for that matter) of its product ranges.
What’s the saying? Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence? I think that’s probably the case here.
@redben The Wargames Foundry range of skin tones is fantastic yes.
I think we can agree to disagree about the “hierarchy of racism” – good phrase btw Yes, racism is an insidious evil and I am not advocating ignoring any of it. We can have a zero tolerance attitude to racism, without actually having the same response to each incident of it. To me, overreacting can be just as dangerous as not reacting at all.
@Rosspot – I think if there is anything that can be considered ‘amiss’ here, it is that Salamanders once represented officially as African (black skinned), and they then got turned into their current form with the coal-black/fantasy style skin. I think this represents ‘sticking your head in the sand’
@pacific said: What’s the saying? Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence? I think that’s probably the case here.
I couldn’t have said it better. I very much doubt there is any malice in GW.
The history of western racism forms a small part of my research. The great evils are perpetrated not by great evil, but by an accumulation of small evils.
@erastus said: @redben The Wargames Foundry range of skin tones is fantastic yes.I think we can agree to disagree about the “hierarchy of racism” – good phrase btw Yes, racism is an insidious evil and I am not advocating ignoring any of it. We can have a zero tolerance attitude to racism, without actually having the same response to each incident of it. To me, overreacting can be just as dangerous as not reacting at all.
@erastus said: @redben The Wargames Foundry range of skin tones is fantastic yes.
I hate the term western racism. Sorry but for example the slave trade. But it wasn’t just a western thing. The slaves were sold to europeans by africans and arabians. But i think we’re getting off topic now. I don’t think gw are being racist. I just think that their art direction has stagnated on trying to show off OSL and NMM instead of pushing the boundaries of different painting techniques, such as realism. That’s why their sculpts are getting cartoonier and more skulls than you can shake a roman catacomb at.
I second the Salamanders aesthetic. I always thought of them as of African descent, but their Primarch is a Caucasian with ivory skinm which came across to me as a cop out.
I’m a little surprised these days that GW doesn’t have a stronger diversity in their flesh paint schemes. I can understand it for Warhammer, but not for 40K. Pop culture has been including people of many backgrounds for a while now, why not the mini industry?
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