Why #blackouttuesday opened my eyes, and how our games company of mostly white people is responding to it.
I hope it’s not an exaggeration to say that for me, for my friends, for my family, for the company I work for, and hopefully for many others, this week has been life-changing.
The tragic and unnecessary death (read: racially-motivated murder) of George Floyd, an unarmed black man accused of nothing more than using counterfeit money to purchase a packet of cigarettes, has rightly sent shockwaves all over the world.
It’s easy to know this is an abhorrent act of a deep-rooted systemic and systematic racism that must be utterly condemned, and banished from our society for good.
But as a white person, living in a predominantly white country, with predominantly white friends and a team of mostly white colleagues, it’s hard to know how to react, and even harder to understand where to focus my efforts to help.
And then #blackouttuesday started sweeping our social media feeds.
Rightly so, this brought worldwide attention to a topic of grave importance, and made white people who perhaps hadn’t have been as aware as they should have of the issues facing black people not only in America, but all around the world, sit up and take notice. (I count myself in that bracket.)
It was illuminating to scroll through my Instagram feed and see it filled with black squares to show solidarity with black people who have suffered such brutal racial oppression in years gone by. Friends; family; colleagues — everyone was contributing, speaking out in support and letting black people know that if they needed them, they were there for them.
(Whether or not that was the original intention, that was how #blackouttuesday evolved, though it can also be said the movement caused more harm than good due to mixed messaging and drowning out more important voices.)
But then brands got involved, and, well, it just felt a bit hollow.
The culture consultancy agency Have Her Back released this mock social media post that demonstrates why that was the case better than I ever could:
The topic of if and how Futureplay should get involved became a company-wide discussion (albeit via Slack due to remote work constraints right now). In many ways, it was enlightening — we’d never had a conversation like this before and it was inspiring to hear and learn about our fellow colleague’s viewpoints on the matter, and think about what we could do as a company to help.
But in other ways, it was confusing. We’re a small mobile gaming startup in Helsinki, Finland — should we really be getting involved in this? What can we really do that will change anything? In many ways, it felt like we were so far removed from the issue that taking a position on it would be redundant.
Indeed, the fact that most of us are white and we don’t have a single black person on the team led me to feel like it would be almost hypocritical to take a stance.
It is only with the gift of hindsight that I can now see the ignorance in that school of thought.
The more I read, watched, and listened, the more I understood. I familiarised myself with the basics of white privilege and white supremacy. I realised that the opportunities that have been presented to me throughout my life and put me where I am today may not have come my way if my skin was a different colour. I acknowledged that my white daughter of only 18 months will likely grow up benefiting from unjust advantages in society merely because she is white. I understood that I will never really understand what it feels like to be black.
And as I became aware of this, I knew that silence from our company would be complicity — especially from our position of relative power. (That is: even though we may be perceived to be far removed from the issue, we should use our white privilege to stand up and fight for a world that’s more just and equal. Our company is more influential within a much larger community than any of us are individually, and is almost obligated to use this to drive change.)
At the same time, there’s a fine line between lip service and meaningful action; between speaking out for clicks, like and engagement, and speaking out to make an actual, tangible difference.
Now don’t get me wrong — I don’t proclaim to have all the answers. I don’t really proclaim to have any. In some ways it feels like anything we can do is futile, and certainly anything we do can be criticised. We can always do more.
But what I do realise is that change is possible. And that first, change comes from within. Maybe we can start by acknowledging the issue, educating ourselves on the topic, and seeing where we can be best placed to help.
A related example: the gaming industry has been and to a great extent still is dominated by white males, and women have historically been (and in many ways still are) vastly underrepresented.
Thankfully, in the past few years, women are starting to become more represented and organisations like Women in Games (more on them at the footer of this piece) are doing an incredible job in driving force for good in that regard — though there is still work to be done.
Nowhere is this more visible than at Futureplay, where just three of the first 20 people to join the company were women (7%) between late 2015 and the start of 2018.
In the two years since, seven of the 14 people who joined the company were women (50%).
Now not by any stretch of the imagination am I saying that we’ve fixed gender inequality in the gaming industry, nor am I saying that these two issues are the same. Gender equality and representation in the workplace is a wholly different topic to racial oppression, and a world away from police brutality and racially-motivated murder.
But if there’s one thing to take from this it’s perhaps that by acknowledging an issue, educating ourselves on the reasons behind why it occurs and putting ourselves in the best possible place to help, change is possible.
And first, change has to come from within.
One of our values at Futureplay is (verbatim): At Futureplay, we acknowledge the heterogeneity of the gaming industry and promote diversity in all of our actions (e.g. communications, recruitment). And we’ll be the first to admit we’re some way off achieving this, particularly when it comes to representing and being represented by black people.
But #blackouttuesday has propelled the conversation, and is inspiring us into taking action. In some senses ashamedly so, because it’s embarrassing that it’s taken us so long to want to tackle such a pertinent issue.
But maybe, if the above example shows anything, it’s that it’s never too late to take a stand.
So what can we do to help? We’re a relatively early-stage startup running on small margins — we can’t donate $5m to charitable causes in the same way that Disney has, or pause all advertising in the US the same way that Supercell has. Two very concrete, very commendable actions.
But we can do something that’s maybe just as important — acknowledge, educate, motivate, inspire — and be more mindful of what we can do in our day-to-day actions to drive change and help black people and people of colour.
Just how this will take shape is currently undecided, but perhaps the main thing for now is that we’re talking about it. We already know we’ll be donating to charity, but we don’t want our actions to stop there.
Rather than any one thing in particular, it’s more about shifting our practices, approaches and attitudes for the long-term. And that’s a responsibility that doesn’t only lie in HR and recruitment, but for each and every one of us in whatever role we’re doing. That’s how real change happens, and it’s high time we all embraced that.
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I realise that in this blog post I haven’t been able to acknowledge black history or black culture. I am no authoritative voice on the topic, but have started trying to understand it through education. To that extent, here are some of the following resources that I have found useful. Note this is by no means an exhaustive list and there are many, many more valuable resources out there.
Anti-Racism for Beginners
1619: A New York Times podcast on how slavery transformed America
A Decade of Watching Black People Die
Meaningful Stands by Laura Smith
How not to be a racist by Laura Smith
George Floyd’s killing matters too much for corporate sport’s on-brand sincerity by Jonathan Liew
nnoorxo on Instagram
angelapasagui on Instagram
mspackyetti on Instagram
Where to donate your money and time to help protestors by Eli Yurman
Why I’m no longer to talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Uncomfortable conversations with a black man by Emmanuel Acho
More on Women in Games:
The Women in Games organisations are independently-run organisations that collectively adopt the globally-known brand Women in Games, but exist separately to one another and can have differing goals and missions from one another.
WiG Finland‘s mission is to bring more diverse, marginalised talent to the gaming industry — not only women, but other unrepresented minorities too. To that end, it has recently been renamed We in Games, rather than Women in Games.