The Black women of the fighting game community are pushing for true inclusivity

The Black women of the fighting game community are pushing for true inclusivity

While the fighting game community, or FGC, may seemingly be one of the only gaming communities able to fill a room with all different types and colors of people, there is a lot more that goes into diversity. The FGC’s history with women and queer people hasn’t been as welcoming as it could have been, and looking at the ongoing battle against racism in the scene shows that the people that have to fight the hardest for visibility and respect for their contributions are Black and trans women.

“When I first began competing, you could say that there was a ‘wall’ placed before me because of my gender and the color of my skin,” says Ashley “AmethystLady” Wallace, a fighting game fan who began competing in games like Tekken and Guilty Gear at age 16. “Growing up, I didn’t see much representation from female players, especially Black female players. For a long time, there was a palpable discomfort in the air when I walked into a new gaming establishment. My expected role was to hear the murmurs and whispers that portrayed me negatively before they even knew me and leave.”

Wallace is a part of Ladies Night, a fighting game group started by Taneisha “Professor High Kick” Jane in 2017 that also rolls out a newsletter highlighting members of the community. For Jane, the group is a necessary support network that helps people navigate the tensions inherent to the scene.

In the FGC, women have long been looked at as spectators or merely as accessories to male players, not able to keep up with the many men who compete to push buttons better than one another. Among those who have expressed these views are well-known players such as Chris “NYChrisG” Gonzalez, a celebrated player who for many years went unpunished for a tirade against Black women specifically that he posted to Facebook. Gonzalez only recently got cut from his esports team.

“Women are fighting for their place in a space where people claim they want more women, but won’t give us the respect because of our gender,” Jane said. “Black women have to push twice as hard because [of] both our race and our gender and the negative stereotype(s) which can paint us in a bad light and forcefully stop us from growing in this community.”

Taneisha “Professor High Kick” Jane (left) and Helst Gagnon (right) commentate the Tekken 7 Top 16 bracket at Defend The North 2019.
Image: Lunar Phase/YouTube

According to Jane, the Ladies Night group functions as a safe space that lets people air out their frustrations.

“We go by the motto, ‘We [women] will be seen, heard and respected,’ which I firmly stand by, because of the lack of visibility and amount of disrespect we get in the scene,” Jane said.

Jeannail “Cuddle Core” Carter
Image: EQNX

According to the Black women in the scene, anti-Black misogynist viewpoints are common. Jeannail “Cuddle Core” Carter, who is not only a community influencer but a big-time Tekken competitor, told me she knows many Black women who have left the scene, despite their strengths as players, due to poor treatment from other players both on and offline. Carter theorized that this could be due to how often the media shows Black women as “undesirable.” By comparison, said Carter, white and Asian women get “praised way more compared to Black women.”

Despite that, Carter told me that she doesn’t use the discrimination placed on her as motivation, because she has nothing to prove. “I fight for myself,” she said. “Everything I do has proven people wrong. I am my own drive.”

Several other Black women in the scene have shared this narrative throughout the history of the community, which might explain why many have opted to carve out their own spaces, such as professional team EQNX Gaming owned by Emily “NyxRose” Tran, among others.

Photo: Junae Benne

Junae Benne, an esports journalist for EQNX, told me about the importance of support systems for anyone who is a minority in the scene, and Black women in particular.

“If you are a Black woman in any space and you don’t wake up thinking, ‘I gotta support my sis today,’ go back to bed,” Benne said. “It’s important to have a support system. It’s important to have a space where you can be your authentic self and get real feedback. It’s important to have a network that will help you advance.“

Black trans women of the scene have also struggled for the recognition and respect they deserve. Amanda Stevens is an FGC content creator who presents the community with some of the best content around. She is also an unapologetically Black and queer trans woman who has stated on the UltraChen show that there are members of the scene who won’t work with her because she’s trans. Her experience is one footnote among many in the book of what trans and especially Black trans members of the scene have to deal with.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=pSVhbk6QwsE%3Frel%3D0

As Stevens said on the UltraChen show, “Nerds aren’t great to trans and queer folks. That will eventually get better as more of us stop putting up with it and start actually being more vocal and visible.” And that’s exactly what Stevens and others who have been marginalized intend to do. She recently led the community to raise $10,000 for Trans Lifeline through an online Street Fighter 5 tournament, Transitional Combat.

Back in the day, when there weren’t as many women or queer people given a spotlight in the scene, these problems weren’t looked at as seriously as they are now. Currently there are a lot more women in esports who are pushing to have their voices and the voices of others heard, as well to make sure that these issues are addressed. This is not just a matter of making sure that white women or black men can feel safe competing in the FGC or going to events. It is about ensuring that everyone, and especially the most marginalized members of the scene such as Black women and trans players, can truly feel like they are a part of this community.

In the past few weeks, the fighting game community has experienced an outpouring of players describing their experiences with sexual assault, misconduct, bigotry, and other injustices within the scene. The brighter light shone on these issues has led to many well-known members receiving bans for insensitive comments and being accused of sexual misconduct. Among those accused of sexual abuse was Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar, co-founder of the massive fighting game world tournament, Evo. Since the accusations against Cuellar emerged, Evo has been canceled.

I asked Taneisha Jane about these past few weeks in the community, the consequences for those accused of assault, harassment, and discrimination, and whether she feels that this will result in actual change for those most susceptible to such abuse. She responded by telling me, “It will, but only if the exposures continue. If we continue to weed out the toxicity, our scene will either grow into a booming business that other sports are, or will flatline due to the politics that are involved instead of the focus being on the game.”

With regard to the recent push for more accountability, Jane said, “This will actually help the entire scene. We’ll be able to grow and have bigger and better opportunities present. Like I said before, we’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go, but if accountability is going to be taken, then there will be more visibility due to a safer environment. With that, the visibility will follow due to breeding a more inviting and positive scene.”

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