Gaming While Black: Convention Planning
The 2016 con season is upon us and I plan to go to at least one new con this year. While this means writing at least two brand new scenarios that will be run multiple times at each con, it also means dealing with The Concern. The Concern is not about running a game (I issued a challenge; none of my players have accepted the it.), writing the scenarios, or figuring out the travel. The Concern is for my safety. I weigh various factors in my mind before every con that I am going to attend.
"What concern?" is likely the first thought most readers may have, but being a black man in America can be dangerous and has, in many instances, turned deadly. The color of my skin is not a boon in a society that continually devalues black lives and considers blacks to be inherently criminal. All of this prejudice and bias escalates to situations where white supremacists think they are protecting "their country," corrupt law enforcement plants drugs or covers up shootings of black people, and a "good" citizen calls into a hotline about that "thug" person walking down the street (who just happens to be African American). Don't even get me started on the ramifications of racist politicians feeding into that hate.
A couple of years ago, I was going out for drinks with a friend; it had been ages since we hung out. I rushed from work to the bar, a swanky new place in Northwest DC, and didn't realize my phone was nearly out of juice. The initial plan for my buddy and me was to catch up for an hour or two, but for people that know me well, once I get talking and telling stories . . . 4-ish hours later, I walked home and opened the door to find my (then pregnant) wife visibly upset and giving me a huge panicked hug (and a little side eye) when I stepped inside. She had been crying and told me that after she did not hear from me, she was afraid I had been killed. (She was absolutely right to be concerned; punctuality might as well be my middle name because I am always early.) Her first reaction said everything to me, and it reflects my own fears and concerns about walking down the streets of America on any given night. (And henceforth, my phone shall always be juiced.)
So, going to a con means going through my mental Rolodex of preparation for the con. Where is it located? Are friends going to meet me? Have there been any racially motivated attacks recently? Will I need to rent a car? Or get a taxi? If I have to get a taxi, is it some place like an airport where they will stop? If not, I need to rent a car. Does the area have any recent unjust stopping of motorists or recorded increased stopping of African Americans? These are the kind of questions I weigh in my mind and decide if it is worth the risk; in the past, the answer has been yes. But that is just a glimpse of the careful consideration that black gamers go through before going to a con.
Some people ask me why I talk about this, telling them about my experience. It's simple: I don't have the privilege to not think about it, and if talking about it makes others aware of it and maybe changes their understanding, then maybe they'll try to change the world with me. It's important that we are honest about our experience. We cannot stand by and watch the world whitewash history, teaching our children lies that slavery, KKK and Jim Crow did not / do not exist. Changing the story, distorting the reality of the African American experience, will only delay (and possibly destroy) a healthy future for our collective society. By telling my story, I hope one day I can reduce The Concern and help a PoC go to a convention with no worry other than, "I hope my dice don't fail me!"