Thursday, March 4, 2010
Race is always a difficult subject to deal with, especially here in the states where we can't seem to let it go. The problem is most people take the issue way too far in one direction or another. Case in point, I was once in a class where a student claimed that the US treasury was racist because Lincoln is on the penny (the lowliest of coins) and his face is pointing the opposite direction of the face on every other coin. Well that's a stretch and a half if you ask me.
Fortunately, the issue rarely creeps in the gaming community, unless you count those Nazi space marines floating around the Internetz. Digging back into the vault, I was super surprised, however, to find a blog post from Australia that goes in exactly the opposite direction over on Crimitism. A friend of mine came across this a while back while searching for some info on Salamanders and shared it with me.
Have you read the article yet? Good. Now on the surface, this doesn't look to be some crackpot conspiracy theory kind of bullshit, but I think that this aggravates me more. What bothers me is that this is just too much of a stretch.
There are two main issues that Richie brings up in his post - 1) GW must be racist because most of their miniatures are white and their fluff adheres to stereotypes 2) The retconned Salamanders are racist because their "blackness" is defined as a mutation and makes them monstrous.
To the first point, it has been theorized in many circles that most of the arts stem from our surroundings. In music, for example, the earliest forms stemmed from the imitation of local animals. For the Australians out there, think about the Didgeridoo. This instrument is primarily employed in mimicking animal noises when not being used to make droning noises. In more recent history, we have a lot of groups in the industrialized world that make use of machinery, sampled conversations/city noise, etc in making music. Our creative property is, then, a product of our surroundings.
What's my point? Well, the UK is around 85% white and only about 2% black. So, with that context, most of the people responsible for GW are writing/painting/designing/drawing what they know. Do you think that if GW had been started in China there would be any white people in their games? If you don't want an all white army don't paint them that way. I've seen a pretty cool IG army based on Jamaican iconography that's kind of fun, and my own Guard are a mixed fighting force in more ways than one.
In regards to the racist fluff and stereotyping I have little to say. Richie says that units like the thousand suns stereotype Egyptian culture and the white scars are stereotypically Mongolian. I would argue, rather, that they are invoking iconographic images from the past to help players find a reference point within the universe that has been created.
Lastly, Richie argues that mutating into a dark skin color and subsequent demonification of the Salamanders is racist. So here's a fun fact, skin color (in all shades) IS A MUTATION. If you don't want to get into the hard science side of this, basically the more sunlight your part of the world gets, the darker your skin will be. Darker* skin reflects more light than light skin and helps to regulate production of Vitamin D, which is created in a process linked to sunlight and is toxic in large quantities. So Salamanders mutating due to an environmental anomaly makes perfect sense.
As far as the demonization of the Salamanders is concerned, look at their partners in the universe. The space wolves are savage, violent, and untamed, not to mention blatantly based on Norse legend. Blood angels are insane and scary and white. Dark Angels are white and almost evil and so on. My point is, it is silly to even bring race into this argument, as the 40k universe blurs the distinctions between good and evil for all it's races/armies. Even though some chapters embrace the beast within, space marines as a whole are about as close to good guys as you'll find in 40k. This isn't some kind of Joseph Conrad "Heart of Darkness" situation here. The Salamanders aren't scary because they're evil and black, but because they are gigantic genetically modified people who are sort of on our side.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember before reading too deep into issue of race in the world of Games Workshop is that you're playing a game that involves moving toy soldiers around. Don't take it too seriously. And if that's not good enough for you, your minis are a blank canvas that you can express anything you want on.
*The eskimoes are an exception to this. They live in an area with little sunlight, but historically ate a nearly 100% meat based diet, making sunlight induced vitamin D unnecessary.