I woke up on Monday morning, and per my usual routine, checked social media and Reddit for news around the world and within the gaming industry while having my morning coffee. Usually, Monday mornings in New Zealand are a dead-zone for gaming news, since the epicentre of the gaming industry – the United States – is a day behind, and usually no news posts on a Sunday there.
Not this week, because I saw what eventually became a hotbed of racism talks, and he-said, she-said arguments regarding one Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg’s comments on a livestream. I felt compelled to share my thoughts on him, the gaming community, and racism in today’s society.
For those who missed the news, on Sunday PewDiePie live streamed a match of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. At one point, while frustrated with another player he said:
"What a f***ing n*****! Geez! Oh my god! What the f***? Sorry, but what the f***? What a f***ing a**hole. (laughing) I don’t mean that in a bad way.”
There are many issues with what he said, and it doesn’t solely refer to the N- word itself. The main issue is the the context and manner he used it in. However, many have come out either defending him, or remain indifferent to what he said. The following are comments from people online that I’ve read:
By calling someone that in a heated moment – to choose that word as the main vehicle to hurl an insult – it became a racist phrase in the worst possible way. The underlying emotion of hatred attached to the sentence makes it a racist remark. Furthermore, by following up with “a**hole” after realising his mistake, he equates it with a curse word. He knew exactly what direction he was going for when he said it, and the hateful undertone it sends.
Nope. Nope nope nope. You don’t throw in the word “sorry” after a racial slur, and then immediately follow it up with “what a f***ing a**hole.” The apology rings hollow. Ever since it occurred I have been pushing for him to issue a proper apology (which he eventually did), because the “sorry” he muttered wasn’t one. This is like someone tackling you to the ground, repeatedly punching you, and in the middle of a frenzy of punches muttering “my bad.”
Yes, a lot of people swear in frustration. Hell I do regularly, thanks to Competitive mode in Overwatch. I get angry, frustrated and downright pissed off, but I don’t drop racial slurs, and neither should anyone else. It shouldn’t been in your vernacular. Comparing the N- word to f**k or s**t isn’t a fair comparison, because these words do not demonize a group of people.
If you want to make a one-to-one comparison, compare the use of that word to ch*nk, in reference to Asians, or the R- word meant to insult the mentally disabled, or f****t to the LGBT community, or s**t or w***e towards women. These are the words that it should be compared to, since each of them are attacks on race, gender, sexuality, and people with impairments. None of them are okay to spew in a moment of anger, or otherwise.
As a minority, I had Asian slurs hurled at me since I was 8-years-old. They hurt the first time, the second time, and the hundredth time. Maybe by the time I hear it a hundred times, I don’t react, but that doesn’t mean I am indifferent to those words. Maybe you using those slurs to abuse someone doesn’t make you lose sleep at night, but think about how the recipient of the remarks will cope with that.
And regardless of who you are, whether you’re the internet’s biggest celebrity, or just playing videogames with others, your actions and words still speaks volumes about your virtues, or lack thereof. PewDiePie is one of YouTube’s biggest stars, and if we can hold him accountable for his words, maybe this can initiate change. And maybe it will trickle down to everyone, so they can understand what should and shouldn’t be said.
Don’t use geography to defend him. It’s not a proper rationale to defend the word, nor is there any rationale to defend racism. I was born in Asia and grew up here in New Zealand, and I know how offensive this word is, simply because I understand the context of it in US history. It’s 2017. it’s not hard for people to be acutely aware of history, as Google is a simple mouse click away.
Accident or not, he is a public figure with 57 million followers. Saying that on a stream “by accident” as one of the biggest internet figures is akin to walking into a town square and saying the exact same thing into a microphone. You can try and justify that it was an accident, but people will regard this as racist behaviour and a certain number of that group in the town square will take offence.
Not caring is just as bad as defending him. While we don’t have slavery, segregation, or apartheid, racism is still alive and well. When we don’t call people out on these egregious actions, it gives those who are inherently racist the ammo to continue to spew hate and vitriol. He needed to be called out, and he needed to take responsibility for it.
While this is a fair point, I took that comment, marinated on it, and decided to do something about it. Not just writing this feature, but I also tracked down the contact details of the influencer company that manages PewDiePie. I decided to write an email, asking them to forward it to Felix; not just to express my disappointment, but so he could see the ramifications of what he said. I will post an update if I ever get a reply, but in the end, I did something about it.
I love videogames and the industry. I’ve been playing games longer than PewDiePie has been alive. The vitriol that gets spread around like a bad cold online has gotten progressively worse as the years go on, and this incident was my boiling point. Yes, it is awful that he is perceived as the head of the serpent, but we need to show that no one is bigger than racism, so maybe this controversy can help begin the process of repairing the damage that internet and gaming anonymity has caused. Because I don’t want to see the art form I love devolve into an online forum to spew hate and vitriol of any kind, without repercussions.
It’s disappointing that people unabashedly back him up, with no rhyme or reason, even to the point of admitting racism is okay, or that we should all be indifferent about it.
Do I think Felix is racist? No. Do I want – like others suggest – to see him drawn and quartered in public to set an example? God, no. Do I think he has a disdain for minority groups? Based on the words he blurted out, it’s possible. But that doesn’t mean we put him on trial at the Hague. Instead, we should use this as a teachable moment, not just for him, but for those online to know better.
This morning (Wednesday) I watched PewDiePie’s apology video, and after consideration, I do believe he means it. Unlike his previous “apology” regarding the Nazi/Fiverr controversy, he never once deflected it, or passed the blame on, or offered a half-baked excuse to justify why he said it. He took the backlash on the chin, accepted that he messed up, and vows to be better moving forward.
I find the apology satisfactory, but it’s still early days. He needs to be able to walk the talk, so it’ll be interesting to see how his content and his behaviour changes in the future. All I know is, as far as this incident goes, he has done the right thing. He can be the poster child of online indifference, or he can be the lightning rod that precipitates change.
I hope it’s the latter.