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The Trope Trope

“A strong woman who recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away.” ― Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles.png

When I was little and watching the Star Wars prequels (yes, I grew up with the prequels) I didn’t question Senator Amidala and her power. I didn’t question the waffling between her being a queen or a senator or even really when she just became arm candy to Anakin. What I saw was a woman with a blaster who, when the movie let her, was a badass. And when I later saw her daughter, Leia, in the movies; I found an equally powerful and strong woman on screen. But her transition from Princess Leia to General Organa was one that was met with cynicism by me.

Today, we’re going to discuss why I still sometimes bristle at the “strong female character”.

I’ll pause here for the immediate cries of misogyny.

I’ve been humble enough to mention that many female narratives haven’t captured me. Often times, it’s because the writing just isn’t strong, a lot of it is personal bias. But I also grew up in an era of some of the weakest written female characters. That’s one of the biggest reasons I turned to anime, even though many of the female characters were still insufferable, they were insufferable in a different way. But Western media stayed rather stagnant with how it portrayed female characters. That was, of course, until the 90s. The 1990s were a strange time for media: female characters suddenly had to be very self-actualized.  I suppose hundreds of years of patriarchal writing has a systemic effect on women and how they see themselves based on the media they consume. In fact, you can watch an entire panel of me working through the angst of not having strong female role models in media in a panel and you get a bonus dramatic retelling of the story of Lilith.

The examples I had as a kid were Batgirl, Wonder Woman, and the token sassy female in every Disney cartoon. And for a while, that was great. It was just enough to still feel genuine. It was great having comic book characters that could hold their own while also having other females on television that didn’t have to sacrifice being girly to be strong: a lot of the late 90s and early 2000s Cartoon Network shows come to mind like Ed, Edd and Eddy and Codename: Kids Next Door.

But by that time, I had happily sold my soul to anime and I dipped out of Western media for easily 10 years and in those 10 years, a lot has seemed to change. Every show has an intensely self-actualized female character but there’s something missing in many of the newer examples of this seem a little hollow. I saw the pilot to the new Duck Tales and I was so annoyed by Webby being the smarmy know-it-all that writers assume that a hyper-competent girl must be. She wasn’t much better in the old version of the cartoon, but irksome is irksome and helplessness to me as just as damaging as dumbing down the rest of the cast to make the girl shine.

Speaking of Disney, I take particular umbridge with their sudden influx of “strong” and “independent” princesses that realistically began with Belle and culminates with a princess that I cannot stand, Tiana. Tiana is arguably the worst part of her own movie and she is so strict and self-actualized that Naveen’s immaturity seems very valid and okay. By the end of the movie, sure, she does loosen up a little but it wasn’t enough to make her easy to empathize with for the bulk of her own damn film. It’s their fault we have this damn trope to begin with, you can’t decide in the mid-2000s to suddenly have female characters that aren’t just sexy lamps. And the influx of Disney princesses who are “independent” and “strong” is not new. We started getting it in the 90s with Pocahontas who was a tan sexy lamp and Esmeralda who was an outcast tan sexy lamp and we didn’t get a genuinely independent strong female lead in a Disney movie until Lilo and Stitch and even more, Disney has yet to have a “strong” female character be in a relationship. Because remember, self-actualized means sexless.  

Very few examples come to mind of this trope working positively: one of them is Adventure Time. Princess Bubblegum is a complex character, more so than a little animated show about a boy and his dog can give credit for. Bonnibel Bubblegum is a scientist, monarch, warrior and more but she is far from flawless. Even though she is smarter than most of those in the Land of Ooo, her intelligence is often a hindrance, she lacks empathy at times and her overanalyzing leads to more complicated situations. Steven Universe is full of women (or female-appearing space rocks) that are almost too flawed for plot to even happen and while it’s easy to empathize and feel with them, it’s also somewhat damaging. Pearl’s lesbianism is damn near predatory, a trope that many lesbian women struggle with to this day.

And this brings us back to General Leia. I’m not here to rant about how I feel about the state of Star Wars, that could be its own blog post but I was one of the few folks who was not elated to have Princess Leia become a General. Is it because I hate women? No. It’s because I love strong storytelling and for me, Leia Organa was the canary in the coal mine. How many more characters would be leveled up like this just to keep up with the times? Now, Leia has earned it and we see this whole thing backfire with Admiral Holdo (who for the record, I do not hate). We don’t see Holdo do much of anything, at least with Leia, we grew up with her; her promotion makes sense. And because of that lack of feeling that Holdo “earned” her rank (a problem real women have) she is considered to be the worst part of an arguably bad movie.  

And while yes, women “earning it” is a sick and twisted aspect of the patriarchy (see the remake of Ghostbusters as an example), it’s an important part of making a character relatable. And that’s why so many struggle with “strong” female characters. To me a “strong” female character almost always is a Mary Sue. Let’s use Rey as an example because Star Wars. She is good at everything. She doesn’t have any questions about using lightsabers or the force or anything. She doesn’t get a training montage (until The Last Jedi and it would appear that she barely needed it) and she’s just supernaturally talented. Again, thanks to the patriarchy, when I female character has a linear arc, it’s bad while when Luke did the same thing in his trilogy, he was just “gifted” but I have to agree with some of the criticism of Rey being a Mary Sue. I think I would have connected with her much more if I saw her struggle even a little.

Now, dear reader, what have we learned? I’ll sum it up for you here. If we continue to dose out titles like this to female characters, it only stands to weaken the case as to why we need these characters to begin with. I got to look up to Storm as the leader of the X-Men and that was not a title she took laying down. I got to see Padme grab a blaster and do her best to hold her own against a sea of droids, clones and more. I got to see Leia take up arms and defend herself. It’s so much more powerful to see a female character be active in her narrative than passive. Simply blowing power into a female character does not make her strong: she has to do something with it.

The Mystery of Sin and Forgiveness: Critical Examination

When I scoured the expansive list of topics for one that seemed the most interesting I came across, in bolded letters “Sin”. I chose that and raided the library for books on the same subject matter and came across The Mystery of Sin and Forgiveness edited by Michael J. Taylor, a large compilation book with pieces written by priests and other theologians. The book seemed simple enough, a thorough examination of sin and how to properly atone when we sin.

I chose sin as a topic for discussion and further inquiry because no one wants to think about that; sin is that dirty word that we use about others and not about ourselves. Sin is a word thrown around a lot but isn’t understood fully by most.

In a section of the book contributed by Kevin F. O’Shea, sin means “saying no to God” (90) and he goes on to say that “Sin is in the heart of man and disrupts the personal communion he must live with God in every action.” (91).This is a definition that most of us grew up with; sin was in a way a defiant act. A more theological definition comes on page 92 saying “Sin is a refusal of love in and through a detailed human action.” And that sin is a “violation of this covenant” The covenant being that which was made between God and the Israelites during the Old Testament times.

In mentioning sin we must consider that there are different types of sin, original sin and the seven deadly sins. Original sin is the sin that Adam and Eve first committed in the Garden of Eden. To us now original sin can be most aptly considered to be distant curse, placed on mankind thousands of years ago and we have no choice but to accept this reality. The best definition of original sin can be said on page 255 “They are born with original sin that is to say in a state contrary to God’s intention.” God loves us and as stated in the definition above is that “sin is a refusal of love”. I find this to be fairly accurate and that chapter to be true. Original sin has been a burden placed on us and that we have to live with. Modern philosophers have debated on whether original sin exists or if it is simply a modified mass version of determinism and indifferentism.

In the book there was also mention of determinism which states “that all of our actions, despite our illusions of freedom, are in fact dictated by the drives, urges and complexes that lie buried in the dark pit of the Unconscious of each of us.” (7) this doctrine much like predestination removes completely freewill and forces us into a “collective guilt” (7) this collective guilt is fueled by a sense of helpless due to the overbearing influence of original sin and a strong deterministic secular cultures. I have a problem with determinism, I was raised Catholic, so in being raised that way I was taught that God gives us freewill. Granted, I have no scientific proof to either effect, that life is determined or that I have choice in my life and my choices, be that to sin or not to sin. Determinism at its very worst removes personal responsibility and therefore removes the need for sin. If one has no say, then there is no sin because sin is a conscious choice to reject God’s covenant.

The book also mentions indifferentism (6) in which the attitudes towards anything is merely indifferent. The book also then says that under indifferentism “the act of sexual intercourse is indifferent as drinking a cup of coffee.” (6) .Under indifferentism it does not matter if we sin or not, we face a similar fate and either point of doing good or evil is irrelevant. The issue I have with indifferentism is that is removes love and passion from life and any other emotion that one can name. Indifferentism removes guilt from sin and from life itself and asks to have the same emotion for any event. Most would agree that the birth of a baby is considerably more significant than a cup of coffee. Indifferentism is a common way to cope with a feeling of insignificance and sadness in the world.

Sin also has varying levels of severity such as “venial” sins and “light” sins (105), these include but are not limited to little white lies and sin that only affects ourselves in a very small way. There are also “serious” and “mortal” sins (107) Mortal sins involve death most commonly. This class system is fairly typical of what most of us in the Catholic faith grew up with. The book emphasizes that each level of sin is still sin, saying that just because one is less severe does not make it acceptable though it can be agreed that murder is a more significant sin than a tiny white lie. There are ways to commonly skew the lines and rationalize those lesser sins. We brush off those occasional white lies and vow to say a few extra Hail Mary’s that night. Shrugging off the small sins is just as dangerous, such a disregard for any violation of the Covenant is precarious that can lead one on a slippery slope of rationalization and denial.

Another notion in the book that struck me was the opening line “The modern word has lost its sense of sin.” (3). I disagree with this idea completely. Especially as a modern Catholic, I feel as though we live in a world riddled with guilt and preconceived notions of sin and what sin is. We go to confession during every major liturgical season, we pray each time for the forgiveness of our sins. The secular culture is just as guilt-ridden but not in the same sense as Christians. The secular culture has some of the perspectives listed above, indifferentism and determinism. The secular culture uses those above perspectives to cope with the overbearing nature of sin without the Christian concepts of faith, grace or repentance. Without the concepts of faith and repentance one can either turn to despair or nihilism to cope with the overwhelming sense of remorse brought on by the unyielding burden of sin.

The second half of the book dealt with forgiveness. The only antidote for sin is forgiveness. In the book’s title forgiveness is under the title of mystery. I pondered on this choice in words for a while. For most, I believe that people generally do not think of much of forgiveness until they have to forgive. I believe that forgiveness is one of those words, like sin, is thrown around without much meaning. We casually toss around “I forgive you.” But we often do not understand the true meaning of forgiveness.

As Catholics we see formal forgiveness as Penance and this quote in the best described it best “When one of the faithful confesses, he comes to the Church to win by its mediation full reconciliation with God.” (158) this is a comforting notion to Catholics. I know I go to Confession when I can and I admit to a bit of a disconnection when I do miss the occasional service.

The book also noted that “The Church mediates grace through the priest, through the power he has received from Christ, with the bishop, and in dependence with him.” (207) this of course, chimes directly in with the Catholic notion of apostolic succession which gives power to the pope directly from Christ through the apostles and through the teachings of the Church. The other section in which the Church is mentioned the novel mentions that the Church body itself does not have the power to forgive but they do through God. I find this to be accurate. The Church body by itself cannot give Penance aside from on a personal level but on a sacramental level, the priest can authenticate the Penance.

Considering the mystery of forgiveness though is odd. I thought about it for a while and did my best to understand why they would consider forgiveness to be a mystery. As a Catholic, forgiveness is synonymous with Penance, so it seemed easy. I go into the confessional, I confess and the priest says a prayer and tells me what to do for my personal Penance. The book even had an explanation that more was more in-depth than that and makes my views of confession seem rather shallow “In confession the sinner addresses himself to the Church. He confesses to the priest because he sincerely believes he encounters Christ through the Church…By his repentance he expresses his desire to take his place in the community again, to live more faithfully as a Christian, and to participate more deeply in the life and mission of the Church.” (161) the book also stated that “Confession is the frank and candid disclosure of what is most intimately our own: our aspirations, our thoughts, our secret desires, our hidden actins insofar as they fall short of the ideal before us. Confession is the ultimate in human communication and self-disclosure.” (188-89) I am sure that this is one of the most accurate assessments of Confession provided by the entire book. The book also states that Confession is an act of self-improvement and I could not agree more.

But to say it was a mystery was a bit confusing. It had always seemed so simple. But then I considered personal forgiveness. How easy would it be of me to forgive someone who caused my family or my person physical or emotional pain? Therein lays the mystery. What allows us to forgive? Some evolutions believe that human forgiveness is almost like a fluke. No other mammals seem to have a concept of forgiveness as open as humans do. Theologians believe that forgiveness is passed down through the Church and through Jesus Christ. “The divine plan can be carried out only through Christ, the head of the new humanity.” (157) The answer to the mystery lies within this quote “By his Incarnation and the mysteries of his life, the Son of God becomes Lord in the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit. The essential relation between Christ and the sacramental actions of the Church should be realized in its full import.” (159).

In closing, the book The Mystery of Sin and Forgiveness fully explained and the definition of sin and forgiveness while also providing a deeper understanding behind the Theology, psychology and sociology of sin and forgiveness from both the Catholic perspectives and the secular perspectives. After reading this novel I found a deeper perception of the topic at hand. Each part of the book I comprehended and found to be useful in coming to understand this complex topic and assisted in answering questions I did not even know I wanted to inquire further into the subject and did not want to explore further until now.


Works Cited

Taylor, Michael J. The Mystery of Sin and Forgiveness. Staten Island, N.Y.: Alba House, 1971. Print.

The Woman, Framed

“I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.png

I still remember the first boy’s love series I picked up as a young one. It was Gravitation when I was a youngling and almost immediately I loved how radically different the series from from the shonen action fodder that dominated my anime landscape.

Ever since then, I’ve been a huge fan of shonen ai. For one reason or another, I found the aesthetic and tone much more rewarding and interesting than the typical  romance anime and their shojo counterparts. But because shonen ai by default focuses on male characters, the women in them tend to be…well, they’re something. And sure, we’ll pause here for the folks saying:

Well, why are you up in arms about the women in a boy’s love comic?

Because biologically, I’m female and boy’s love is, hilariously, mostly read by women; particularly, young women and the internalized misogyny attached to the genre can be very damaging.

Today we’re going to go over the three main ways women are framed in boy’s love narratives.

For some vocabulary, framing is how we look at a person or a person’s actions. We’ve talked a lot about framing this year but I think it’s an important part of fictive language. Even though we may know a character is in the wrong or in the right, the framing around that act or character can flip those two things very easily. Again like with Killmonger in Black Panther or Thanos in Infinity War the movie frames them oftentimes in the right even though we know they are both genocidal and very very wrong. Framing is an issue because as a viewer, it isn’t always easy to point out the negative in that character. If everything else in the film or work is telling you that this thing, character or act is okay it’s difficult to buck against that even though you may know logically or in your heart that it may not be true.

And now without any further interruption: here are a few ways that women are framed in boy’s love.


The Woman, Obstacle

This is probably the most common and most hurtful. The woman in so many narratives from Gravitation to Yellow feature subplots or plots where the woman stands in the way of the love between the two male leads. Now, this isn’t entirely unheard of. Sometimes men do discover they do not care for their female partner and try either out of curiosity or genuine desire to be themselves be with a male partner. And sure, not every woman is gracious during such a time but the idea that the woman is a consistent barrier to love is frustrating and exhausting. You also see this a lot in fanfiction where authors who wish to ship two male characters will demonize the female aspect the more canonical heterosexual pairing. This is troubling for more than one reason, the first is again the often flat out demonization of the female for standing in the way. Gravitation is the example I’ll use because it is still one of my favorite animes of all time and does absolutely face is issue. Right as Yuki and Shuichi are ready to finally say they are together, a young woman appears claiming to be Yuki’s fiance. This throws a wrench into the entire plot of these two men finally accepting that they may have feelings for each other and the plot (which is peak Murakami hating women and she will continue to do this in almost all of her works for the series) is a series of sight gags trying to get this woman (whose name I refuse to Google or recall) out of the way. Her refusal to “give up” Yuki, a man she is promised because Yuki’s father is a terrible garbage fire of a person along with the rest of the Uesugi family is seen as not courageous or valid but as irksome and immature. Eventually, the plot of the anime and manga give her the sloppy seconds that are Hiro and she is forgotten as Shuichi and Yuki find better things to argue about like whether Yuki is bisexual or gay.

Another example of this is Lizzie in Black Butler. Lizzie is…well, she is a precious little thing (says this Sebastian through gritted teeth). Lizzie is Ciel’s fiance and she is entirely oblivious to the obvious relationship between Sebastian and Ciel while also managing to be the one thing that keeps Ciel from completely diving off into the abyss of the black space where Sebastian’s heart would be. Lizzie’s helplessness and stupidity (which is somewhat corrected in later parts of the manga and the movies but as far as I am concerned, the damage is already done) make her an item that often requires saving: she is in fact that only character that requires as much saving as The Little Master does. Her needing rescuing and just well, existing on screen takes moments away that are more vital to the narrative and Black Butler has a lot going on; story-wise, we simply don’t have time to humor Lizzie and thus she’s consistently one of the least popular characters in the series.


The Woman, Duplicitous

Ah yes, the woman who plays the field for the sake of ruining the main couple. If there is a more common trope in boy’s love, it’d likely only be rivaled with bad hand proportions and hair that covers over one of the protagonist’s eyes. I’ll pull one more Gravitation example because this is my blog and I can do what I want. Yuki’s sister, Mika (who confirms the concept of the Uesugi family being full of garbage people) spends most of the manga and a vast majority of the anime gaslighting Shuichi for the simple sake that she doesn’t like the pink-haired brat with her precious little Eiri. There’s just one problem: this is awful and manipulative and tiresome. And while, yes, Gravitation is an adventure in keeping Yuki Eiri miserable, it’s particularly harmful because Mika is one of the few female characters that: 1) is important 2) has a great deal of lines and 3) isn’t a moron. Mika’s fall from grace is tragic because of what she could be which is a supportive sister who does rightfully have some reservations about her brother’s new boyfriend. We’ll pull a recent example as well, Hitorijime My Hero is the anime that made my heart sing after the Summer of Incessant Ice Skating. Hitorijime My Hero is pretty standard as far as boy’s love plots go centering around Setagawa ( a high school student ) and his mentor and crush Kousuke. During one of the later episodes of the series, Kousuke’s somewhat overly protective friends including one of his stylish female associates decide it’s a great idea to plant seeds of doubt in Setagawa’s mind. Keep in mind, Setagawa comes from what may be one of the more tragic of backgrounds for a mainstream boy’s love character that includes him being a former member of a gang, a neglectful mother and him struggling with the fact that he is in love with a man that’s easily 10 years his senior. It’s actually such a turn from the heart of the series that it took me a while to get back to it: I felt Setagawa’s betrayal and resented the show for using such a cheap trick for the sake of plot advancement.


The Woman, Pious Saint

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the woman as victim and saint. This one is strange at first because it makes you wonder why it’s such a bad thing. Isn’t it good after all of these examples of women who are bad that a woman can be good and pure? Well, here’s why it’s a problem: it removes a woman’s agency and choice. A noted example is Lies are a Gentleman’s Manners where Dr. Haskins’ wife is absolutely oblivious and in the dark about just how much of a tool her husband is. Dr. Haskins is as garbage of a garbage person as you can get, he’s been cheating on his wife since before they were even married and in one of the best parts of the manga, Dr. Haskins is entwined with his polo partner: Danny, who mind you is also engaged to a lovely woman; all the while, Dr. Haskins refuses to acknowledge the commitments either men made to their respective future wives and during their time entangled, Danny’s fiance is looking for him, calling for him and she almost catches them in the act and while Danny struggled to stop the encounter, he didn’t want to be caught.  During the whole thing Dr. Haskins continues not only egging Danny on but actively stopping any of his partner’s protests towards the act. It’s selfish and terrifying. This sets up one, Dr. Haskins as a tool (we’ll pause here for people saying he’s gay and just trying to live his life but cheating is cheating) and that his wife can do no wrong as she is during him cheating with Danny which is alluded to be one of many times, is conveniently out of the country . What’s even more tragic is that Dr. Haskins is a loving family man on the surface despite his affair with the series protagonist, Johnathan. One of the most interesting scenes in Lies are a Gentleman’s Manners involves Johnathan meeting Dr. Haskins’ wife and daughter and she is nothing but gracious and loving and treats the starving college student to a lavish ice cream sundae. She seems totally unaware that her husband is a serial cheater and she praises how loving her darling is despite her constant traveling for work.

This is tragic. We see a woman who is so in love with her husband that she cannot see what is in places a very obvious lie. There are chapters in the manga where it doesn’t even seem like Dr. Haskins cares much about hiding his torrid affairs from his doting wife and robbing women of agency is a huge issue in any narrative. At least if she knew about the affairs, it would still be tragic but it would either be her choice to stay or her choice to leave: both automatically give her more power in a narrative that is strongly run by one man. And yes, it isn’t her story Dr. Haskins being married is a huge part of the story. And his wife isn’t even given the chance to be an obstacle like Lizzie from Black Butler is; she’s just sort of there and she does her best to be supportive and kind. She does eventually become a bit of an obstacle, Johnathan does feel immense guilt after meeting his lover’s wife but not enough to stop sleeping with Dr. Haskins as a means to achieve his goals.


I’m going to take a moment here to address that pin I’m sure all of you have of:

Well, it’s boy’s love. What do you expect?

Here’s the thing. I know plenty of boy’s love stories that feature almost zero women entirely, especially if all they are going to do is be blocks of wood or literal obstacles to plot. Fumi Yoshinaga is an excellent boy’s love mangaka and many of her works either feature no women at all or they are relegated to supporting roles which means they cannot ruin the plot. Even Yoshinaga-senpai’s most noted female character in Antique Bakery appears for an episode and vanishes after dropping a bomb on the plot that is neatly wrapped up within the same episode she appears. Kyo Kara Maoh features several female characters that either push the main pairing together or are there to support the other main characters and not a single one is an obstacle to plot: some are antagonistic but none ever grind plot to a stop.

And here’s why we’re doing this: readers hold onto that misogyny and perpetuate it. I’ve been reading shonen ai for longer than I feel comfortable admitting as well as just shonen anime in general and years of women being irksome plot obstacles sticks with you. Even now, if you’ve been blessed or cursed to read any of my fiction, you can practically see me struggle with writing female characters that aren’t either aggressive Mary Sues or utterly useless pieces of furniture. It would be one thing if that internalized hatred simply stayed on the page but it leaches into other aspects of life. It forms and informs casual sexism and keeps old stereotypes afloat through confirmation bias. It fosters a complacency that means we don’t challenge the norms of female characters and thus create a feedback loop that perpetuates all the things we hate about them and quells any desire to change them for the better.

What’s even more fascinating is that many boy’s love novels are written by women who seem to hate or are irked by women; it’s typically the male shonen ai creators that either don’t worry about female characters at all or show them in a more complex light either as mostly supportive or actively antagonistic. And it is almost entirely women who read (indulge) in shonen ai so this harmful message is really hit home.

Challenging female characters regardless of genre is one of the only ways we can continue to hold creators and characters to a higher standard. Having the same message hammered into your head over and over again that just by being a woman you are lesser in a narrative is immensely hurtful and readers deserve better. They deserved to be loved, respected and appreciated. If we can do it for the boys, even in a trashy shonen ai manga, we can do it for the girls.

 

 

 

On Juneteenth

I opened up my shop with a particular design. It’s this one.

Legally a Full Person SinceJune 19th, 1865.png

 

I put it up as mostly a humorous joke but also as an acknowledgement of a holiday that is very important to many Southerners of color. Juneteenth is a holiday that I am not shocked that many know of. It’s mostly of value to Texans. The legend goes that Texas was the final hold out for freeing their slaves post the Emancipation Proclamation but eventually, on June 19th, the Texas slaves were freed.

The holiday is usually celebrated with barbeques and potlucks and community events.  I know I celebrated the holiday with my dad’s side of the family a few times; the holiday is a day after my parent’s wedding anniversary and we often spent the time with his family out in Crockett. There were t-shirts and food and family: all the hallmarks of a black family’s summer gathering. My mom’s side of the family did celebrate it, her extended family did. My aunts would find a reason to party at anytime but I can’t recall any celebration that was explicitly for Juneteenth.

And every once in a while, I’ll see someone say they’re hosting an event for Juneteenth and it makes me happy: but I don’t always know if those people know what they are celebrating.

As a black person, I have not been legally a full person for 200 years yet. That day won’t come until I am in my 70’s. That’s when we as a race can say we have been free for 200 years. This is not a far removed history: this is, on a historical scale, incredibly recent. As far as wars go, the Civil War was not that long ago but because of how history has been written, it feels like an eternity. White guilt quickly filled in the cracks and perpetuated a narrative that slavery wasn’t so bad and that the Civil War was basically just two neighbors bickering over something trivial: it was not.

And I think sometimes we forget that after the 5th hot link and Big Red of the day. I think we forget that after cornbread and slow jams. I think we forget that after gossip and storytelling.

But we shouldn’t.

The last time I wrote like this, it was about being LGBT in a post-Trump America.

As a black person, I feel the same way. I feel like now there is even more pressure to be black but to be a very certain kind of black.

I, like many African-Americans, am severely culturally abandoned. Look at how many times we’ve covered the topic on this blog. But the racism that this great nation likes to hide is very much alive and well now since the well, person running the country, took charge. Even more so now, we have to be vocal. We have to talk about our history and our experience because we will forget that power. It is being silenced. The whole debate around Confederate statues shows us that there are folks who have been actively trying to change the history of the United States for hundreds of years.  

And I know I say this from a remarkable place of privilege. I have a mostly supportive but very loving family. I have resources that are enviable to many. And even my skin tone is a part of the privilege that I was born into. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t stand and fight with you. Even writing this is me showing that I’m willing to support the cause of a more tolerant America: across all spectrums of what that means. For my brothers and sisters who are more tied to the Motherland. For those of us who are culturally abandoned. For the rest of us who are somewhere in between. We are all valid and while this world may not be kind and may even be hateful, know that you are valid and you are excellent as you are.

This year, if you do celebrate Juneteenth: remember why we celebrate this holiday. If you do not, research the day and join in the festivities.

Happy Juneteenth, everyone.

Stay strong.

 

Worth Having and Working For

I picked up Persona 5 not too long ago. For those who know me, this is a small surprise. I love the light novel aspects of the game but the dungeon crawling parts make me nauseous. But there’s lots of things about the game that I do enjoy. The mood and tone are straight up things I love and the jazz reminds me of Lupin III and Cowboy Bebop which is keeping me going right now. But Persona 5 is a very traditional JRPG and that means managing relationships. MC-kun has a lot of work to do keeping everyone happy and keeping his friends happy means that he can achieve his main goal. It’s a key feature of most RPGs and similar games to keep relationships solid to achieve certain tasks.

We’ve talked about how shonen anime kept me motivated about working towards friendship but today we’re going to talk about how video games remind me to continue to maintain those bonds.

2017 was rocky for me when it comes to personal relationships. I lost some connections that I thought would last a lifetime. The early part of 2018 continued that theme of me losing people that I assumed would be with me for the long run. But it means that I went on into the year with a core of people that I now feel like I can trust with my life. But it isn’t enough to add friends to the party or just keep old ones on the back burner, you have to maintain each friendship. I’m lucky enough that I get to talk to my friends regularly. There are very few I’ve lost touch with over time and if I have, there’s always been more than one factor. But there are people I’ve lost contact with and I miss them dearly. But I’m huge on the “phones work both ways” model, if I lost contact with someone while it’s easy to wait for them, I can also easily reach out: if it fails, that’s on them and it can be reassessed at a later date.

It’s easy to take long-time friends for granted. There’s this low-key assumption that they will always be there but your friends aren’t meant to replace a therapist but often times they do. I rely so much on my friends during the good and the bad times and I agonize over whether I do enough for them in return.

That brings us back to Persona 5 and another game I’m playing right now Harry Potter: A Hogwarts Mystery in both games there’s a huge importance on not just making new friends but also keeping the ones that matter to you content and satisfied with your friendship. These are the people that are going to bat for you and in both examples are often risking their lives for you (your character) and they deserve to be treated well considering. A Hogwarts Mystery focuses a lot on you comforting your friends after hardship: hell, I’m just about done with Year 2 and I’ve spent more time consoling friends than I have flying on brooms and being yelled at by Snape. Persona 5 is similar, you spend a great deal of time providing answers that you think people want to hear. They’re all somewhat aligned with what the main character would say or think but you can choose to be a jerk or be accommodating and being accommodating has its benefits: it raises the stats of the people and personas they use to better suit your will.

Now, that’s still a very cynical way to look at friendship. That you’re boosting stats and being friendly just because friends are tools but I don’t think of it that way despite being the proudest Slytherin around. I think of it more as a good reminder to check in on my friends. I rely on them so much that it only makes sense to support them as well. I find myself almost incessantly checking in on my friends and how they are doing and also because many of my friends have much more interesting days than I do. I’m known as being a great gift-giver and I often leave houses cleaner than when I arrived. Little things are great ways to maintain and keep friendships going. And they don’t have to be expensive, I love just a good phone call or playing a game together (as long as I’m good at the game).

Truth be told, the managing of relationships was always one of my least favorite parts of most RPGs and Dating Games. I had one route I wanted to pursue and like an Ayn Rand fever dream, I forged ahead. Just look at the games I play, they focus on one character that you can sort of self-insert to and relationships with NPCs be damned (except for N in Pokemon Black/White and the date you get to go on with him [regardless of the player’s gender choice] on the Ferris Wheel, that was magical and it will not be taken from me). And I rarely play cooperatively as an adult. As a teen I did play some co-op arcade games but it was mostly me being very bad at The House of the Dead II. I’m an only child. I play single player games or I play against others so fostering relationships with characters always seemed a little silly to me in some games.

But in my personal life, I just didn’t have the luxury of neglecting my friends. In college, I ended up moving away and I lost many of the people that meant the world to me as a youth. Growing up, that happens. There’s an entire social phenomena of people losing their friends in their 20s and 30s. However, the friends that do survive this battle royale are ones that are likely to be with you for the rest of your life. Not all the time, but very likely.

When my mother died, it was my friends that surrounded me with support. When I was struggling running my anime club, it was my friends that kept me motivated. When I was stressed out about work, it was my friends that had fried food and drinks to keep me sane.

And in return, I had to put in work. I gave money, gave time, gave energy and resources. I shared sofas and answered long phone calls and comforted people during loss. I’ve sent pies and flowers and been the a surrogate child and another sibling.

I gave my heart because I was already in the hearts and minds of those that matter most to me.