Let me preface this article by saying this. I am a Cis Pansexual White Woman who is by no means an expert in racism. I have a LOT of privilege based on the way I look, how I present to society, my social standing and family makeup….I do not claim to know anything more about racism that anyone else with these privileges. All I know is the fear of bringing a same sex partner to parts of my extended family because being anything other than straight with them isn’t acceptable and the fear of being a woman in a world dominated by male privilege and rape culture.
The thoughts below are not meant to be a substitute for going out and listening to people in the movements right now. Educate yourself. Look at the Black Lives Matter tags and see what is going on in the world around you no matter how uncomfortable it makes you because people are being murdered for the color of their skin and nothing more. People are being gassed and fired upon at completely peaceful protests. It is real.
That being said I chose this topic for today because of the temperature of the world right now. Racial tension has hit its peak once again and is finding its momentum throughout the WORLD as we in America are spiraling closer and closer to what the reality is in Ready Player One and many other dystopian novels that have been published.
Over 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, millions are unemployed and many are not receiving benefits, and now we are in the midst of a very needed week of protests and riots. I support what is happening because we no longer get to live in the luxury that many people have of being so far removed from what happens to others in this world.
But in the world of Ready Player One racism is still rampant. I was actually shocked when I got to the end of the book where we finally meet Aech in person.
I wasn’t shocked by the fact that she was a beautiful black woman because, hell yeah, she was badass enough to keep up with the boys as did Art3mis.
What shocked me is I NEVER questioned that Aech WASN’T the Cis White Male that she played in the OASIS. I never once thought that there wasn’t a way that Wade’s best friend wasn’t another teen guy, and that they definitely weren’t white. What in my life has blinded me to think that a kid from the Midwest wouldn’t have a White best friend?
And that was the point.
Even 25 years from now the default is Cis White Male. That hasn’t changed. And that to me is terrifying.
In a world that runs directly on Avatars where you can be ANYTHING you want to be from a Vulcan to a Dwarf to a dark elf , a cartoon character to Batman himself and everything in between this beautiful black woman not only feels the need to be a Cis White Male but is encouraged to be by her mother.
Cline states in the book that Aech’s mother said of the OASIS: “[it] was the best thing that had ever happened to both women and people of color” (page 320).
Aech’s mother, Marie, used a Caucasian Male avatar right of the bat because it changed the interactions that she had online and what opportunities she was granted. So Aech followed in her footsteps when she logged in as well.
This shows us that even in the future we have not been able to change that White is the default and gets treated as such. That MALE is default and gets better opportunities. That Cis is default and anything different should be treated poorly. And this has to stop!
This is not the same as in the film version which actually pulls quite a bit of the surprise away from Wade when he first meets Aech in person as her avatar in the film is a Black Male avatar with some cyborg type enhancements (and is a really cool design that I will talk about later). But it is one instance in which I feel the movie doesn’t do justice to the strife that this small interaction creates in the book.
Aech felt the need to hide the color of her skin. She KNEW she would be better respected, more easily received, given more opportunities by creating an Avatar that was the “default”. Cis. White. Male.
This should never need to happen.
I never feel the need when creating an Avatar online to change how I look. I may change silly things like the color of my hair or the style of my glasses. But I’m never worried or scared that being portrayed as white will cause an issue to me online.
I’ve never thought that it was how people should think… but I understand to some extent. I do worry about being a woman online streaming on Twitch. I know that by simply being a girl I will get attacked, harassed and taunted. But I can turn off the computer when that happens… I have resources that I can use that will IMMEDIATELY put a stop to those issues through chat blocks, reports…etc.
But you can’t change the color of your skin. There is no BLOCK or UNFRIEND button in the real world. You can’t stop being you. Aech couldn’t, though she tried in the OASIS. And I think the whole scene is so poignant to the book and a commentary on our society.
If we can’t figure this whole thing out and treat each other with respect and dignity as humans, we will continue to perpetuate the subtle (and not so subtle) racism that has seeped into the world.
We hear about it every day. How someone’s resume was tossed into the trash because the name on it was too “ethnic” looking. How someone was pulled over or detained by police because they “fit the description” of a suspect. How someone moves or dances is too “urban”. How someone was killed running, or in custody, or sleeping. How someone (read white) moved to the other side of the street because they were “scared” of someone (read black) on the side they were walking on. How someone was told to portray MORE of a stereotype in film or performance. How all the someones above (unless otherwise stated) are black.
We are hearing it now.
And in ways that many people don’t “agree” with.
But that is the thing. In order to get out of the cycle where next year, or in 10 years, or 100 years this all still happens…we have parents that are scared for their children and teach them how to not get killed in public…who have to quell the fears that they will go back to being slaves…. we have to fight the system now. 1968 wasn’t that long ago, lest we forget our past.
Our country was founded on protest…on riots and damage of property. The Boston Tea Party was not, as many picture, a few people tossing some tea bags into the harbor. It was over a year’s supply of BRICKS of tea for the entirety of the colonies tossed into Boston Harbor. In current terms….that’s more than $2.7M in today’s currency. Our entire revolution was started by one of the largest riots that ended with destruction of property in history.
We have tried peaceful protests and they get tear gassed by the police. Violence is ignited by people not with the protests or by strategically placed rocks and bricks (I have witnessed this first hand at other protests that thankfully did not turn violent). But we aren’t being heard even while being peaceful. I believe that you cannot tell people how to protest. It took 6 days of riots to introduce and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1968 after MLK Jr. was assassinated. Today, the rioting and protests changed a little bit of the world each day. The other police officers who were present at George Floyd’s murder have been charged and raised the killer’s sentencing to 2nd degree murder. The funding of police departments are being reassessed. Shows like Cops are being cancelled. A reassessment of social and public services are being rethought. It is working.
If we want the world to change we have to change it.
So our real life black boys and girls…our black men and women…our black brothers and sisters… stop getting discriminated against.
Stop getting murdered in their sleep. In their houses. In custody of the people who are supposed to serve and protect. While on a daily jog. While doing ANYTHING that being any other color of skin would protect them while doing.
And it is our job as allies to educate ourselves. To research and read. Watch and listen to those around us.
So maybe in 2045…if we are really living in the OASIS….amazing people like Aech and others like her won’t have to hide who they are because Cis White Male is no longer the default. The default is HUMAN.