By Paul “Tru1P” Holston | @Tru1P | 5:30 PM EST, Thurs. March 28, 2019
This is a friendly reminder to both you as a reader and to all gaming companies across the world:
Black people should not be your go-to diversity-marketing ploy. Please include diversity and inclusion in your original branding, objectives and mission values.
“Tokenism,” according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, is defined as: “The practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly.” I’m bringing this word to you for a reason.
Xbox, a video gaming brand created and owned by Microsoft in November 2001, recently highlighted on Twitter that their “Blacks at Xbox” community awarded their 2019 Jerry Lawson Grants for Career Development during this past week’s Game Developers Conference, the world’s largest professional game industry event. According to Xbox’s official website, in 2018 they announced the “Jerry Lawson Grant for Career Development,” which aims to help people identifying as Black and/or of African descent. The grant is named after Gerald A. “Jerry” Lawson, one of the first African-American engineers in the video game industry and the inventor of the Channel-F gaming console.
— Xbox (@Xbox) March 22, 2019
Now, before immediately pointing fingers at the stark wording describing this community, I took the time to do some research before passing full judgment. In analyzing the information given from their website, Xbox’s “Community Spotlight: Blacks at Xbox” webpage displays Xbox’s ongoing efforts to involve inclusion throughout both their company and their projects. The “Blacks at Xbox” employee community was created in 2015 as “a way of meeting one another across the many buildings Team Xbox inhabits.” The description further reads, “Our shared blackness does not make us all the same, of course – we come from a variety of cities (and countries), socioeconomic backgrounds, and professional experiences – but we have a common mission: to connect with and uplift the black community within the gaming industry.”
From the webpage, they also give recognition to Lawson and his contributions as a pioneer to the gaming industry, a testimonial from actor Terry Crews on the topic of diversity and inclusion, as well as a “Game Changers Spotlight,” highlighting members of “Blacks at Xbox” who have played crucial roles in getting Xbox where it is today. The feature includes employee members Cierra McDonald, James Lewis, Paul May, Jean-Emile Elien, and Aaron-Michael Blackman, all who are African-American.
The page further features other partnered organizations related to Gaming diversity and inclusion, such as I Need Diverse Games, a tax-exempt non-profit 501 (c)(3) foundation, the Spawn on Me podcast, a video game podcast featuring and spotlighting gamers of color, as well as a link that features a list of Black Game developers. Xbox’s Black Community Home page even gives more highlights and efforts of inclusion, which is not in anyway, a negative tone of their intentions.
This community allows these marginalized voices to be heard at the table at Microsoft, in which I share the same passion in having people that look like me be at these tables of discussions and progressions in the gaming industry.
However, the way that this was publicized recently just didn’t sit well with a lot of other people, including myself, when we first saw the tweet. While not 100 percent sure that the name “Blacks at Xbox” was decided on the affinity group within the space or from Xbox itself, myself and many others who identify themselves as Black were somewhat confused on the intention on the naming of this community.
Whether it was an internal branding idea for Black employers at Xbox to identify themselves within the company or is implied as identity recognition externally, I strongly believe this was not a good naming decision longevity wise. While I do acknowledge that this community has been around since 2015, if four years has gone by and no one within the space had the courage to address this as a marketing concern, I’m here to explain why this is deemed conflicting.
Tokenism is a noun, not an adjective. And in this case, the implication of “Blacks at Xbox” implies that while Xbox has made efforts of inclusion, the name expresses a “saving face” type of complex. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century where Black people in America were identified as three-fifths clause in the United States constitution. While in some areas “Blacks” may be the secondary name in identifying African-Americans and Africans in the Diaspora, having a company such as Xbox name this community “Blacks At Xbox” is not okay.
Am I getting a little deep? Maybe, but only because in today’s digital marketing and social media, the way that companies market their initiatives and/or projects, the fact is that perception is everything in the public eye.
Let’s be clear: According to a recent article from ESPN’s The Undefeated, a 2017 ESPN survey reported that African-Americans are 19 percent of those who identify as eSports fans. In a 2016 Newsweek article, a 2015 survey by Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of Black adults play video games, 11 percent of which are self-described “gamers.” This number is expected to be higher in 2019 and continue to rise in 2020 and beyond, as games are including more characters that expound on race, sexual orientation, and disabilities.
Although Black gamers are the lowest demographic percentage involved within the industry, the audience is still much heavily involved in progressing the culture of gaming, as a variety of games (not all) are inspired by Black culture. At the end of the day, this was a poor, executive decision in the name of this community…and I call on Xbox to go back to the drawing board and rename this community to reflect equality and not implications of tokenism.
I say all of this to also express a clear message to Xbox and all other companies involved in gaming: Do not wait until you receive initial backlash to create offices of diversity and inclusion as a “saving face.” Include not only African-Americans, but also other ethnicities in your marketing, objectives, mission values, and overall vision. Stop being tone deaf to this reality.
We are more than our skin color. We are also your consumers, we are a target audience, we are your colleagues, and we are also here to stay.
Paul “Tru1P” Holston is a multimedia journalist, photographer, and content creator residing in Washington, D.C. He is an administrator for The Cookout and a down-to-Earth Gamer with a passion on the intersections of Video Games, Race, and Culture.