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US Gaming Vet April Bowler Weighs in on Racism in the Anime Community

13:21  29 september  2022
13:21  29 september  2022 Source:   theroot.com

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The gaming/anime world has been adopted by Black nerds for decades now, with a few pioneers leading them including streaming gaming veteran April Bowler. She’s the moderator for The Official Hip-Hop/Anime/Gaming Community, growing the Facebook group by over 20,000 members. Yet, navigating the anime/gaming world was accompanied by the harsh realization that white supremacists pollute that space.

April Bowler © Photo: Courtesy of H.A.G. Entertainment April Bowler

In a 2021 study by the Extremism and Gaming Research Network, it was found that games like Call of Duty and and others with open lobbies are often spaces where extremist groups find recruits and terrorize non-white gamers. In another report from the Anti-Defamation League, 53 percent of online gamers said they experienced harassment based on their race or gender. Even on streaming platforms like Twitch, users of color formed a petition to ban “hate raids” of racist trolls in response to being terrorized.

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Bowler experienced the harassment first-hand, being exposed to both the racism and sexism of the online space. Though, she took measures to keep her identity hidden in the game lobbies.

“On Call of Duty, for instance - racism galore. Sexism too. You don’t know if they really have these views or [if] they’re just trying to troll the lobby. Either way, it’s unacceptable. That sort of behavior and verbal abuse shouldn’t be allowed on the games,” Bowler said. “I’ve never heard a woman in a COD lobby say these things. We’re more quiet and try not to get our voice out there so we don’t get attacked for being a woman.”

Though they can’t tell her race off of her voice alone, Bowler said she’s witnessed Black men be harassed by racist players who assume they’re Black by the way they speak. All gamers and streamers can really do is delete the comments, report the users and try to avoid them.

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Of course, Black people don’t want to be in spaces where they aren’t accepted. But instead of cowering away from our passions and interests, we’ve decided to carve out space for ourselves. Bowler sought to do just that, battling with venue managers to reserve event spaces. Often their biases of what Black conventions look like turn them away from doing business, she said. Though, in partnership with Otaku Box, she hosts “Blerd Bashes” so Black nerds of every major city can gather and indulge cosplay and gaming competitions.

“We can be ourselves in this space. We will understand the jokes and references, we’ll understand the music, we’ll know the dances. We’ll feel safe. We won’t feel like we’re going to be attacked [or] get comments about our cosplay,” Bowler said. “That’s one of the biggest areas that you’ll see racism. You’ll have a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, that character isn’t Black.’ Well ... usually the character isn’t white either. They’re Japanese or, or Korean or Chinese.”

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Photo: Courtesy of H.A.G. Entertainment © Photo: Courtesy of H.A.G. Entertainment Photo: Courtesy of H.A.G. Entertainment

Bowler’s Facebook group is only one of many examples where Black people privatized an online space to feel safe and seen. Though the gaming world is still a little hasty, Bowler says she’s seen it change for the better throughout the years and she’s contributed to that change. Bowler dedicates her work not only to expanding the realm of the Black gaming community socially but professionally. Through the business she’s co-founded with her partner, H.A.G. Entertainment, she offers professional services to prospective gamers and content creators.

Community leaders aren’t isolated to civil rights activists and local politicians. Sometimes, they’re wearing a chunky pair of headphones and holding an Xbox controller.

The next Blerd Bash is October 29 in Cleveland, Ohio. Keep up with the Blerd gang by joining The Official Hip-Hop/Anime/Gaming Community on Facebook.

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