Owning up and moving forward
As some of you have noticed, out of all of our characters for Earth Rising, the activist has changed the most since our original design.
This blog post is to explain the changes we’ve made, and address the mistakes we made when first designing her.
This was her original design. An impassioned woman amongst a crowd, making her voice heard and fighting for change. Her character represents the roots of change, digging firmly in the ground and refusing the budge. Most of the rights we have today were built from people campaigning and protesting for them, just as she is!
Her ability in the game is to place Protest Tokens on Unsustainable practices, allowing them to be flipped rather than removed from the board. The idea behind this is that she is a catalyst for change, placing the scaffolding for transformation so that when the time comes, it’s a much swifter transition than otherwise. Changing our world is never easy, but the more people demand it, the quicker that change will happen. Take this article for example: “Nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts – and those engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change.”
Despite building this character as we did, there was a mistake. An important detail that we had overlooked…
We overlooked the problematic nature of giving a white woman dreadlocks.
Earth Rising is supposed to be diverse and inclusive, and we worked hard to ensure we hit that balance. But we were naïve, it didn’t even occur to us that giving her dreads was cultural appropriation until we had already shared the design. Thankfully, a few people from the board gaming community pointed it out to us.
For those reading this who may not see the problem, here are some links to resources that explain exactly why cultural appropriation is wrong:
“Appropriating another culture entails taking from a marginalized group without permission, and usually with little respect for or knowledge about the culture.” – springinstitute.org
Cultural appropriation: What is it and what does it mean? “there is a line between appropriating a culture and appreciating a culture.”
7 Reasons Why White People Should Not Wear Black Hairstyles “In a truly equal world, you wouldn’t have to think about if you have power and privilege over the people you’re borrowing culture from. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. In our world, systems of oppression create power dynamics between different groups of people.“
Although the harm was unintentional, there was no denying this choice was harmful. With this in mind, we updated the Activists design to look like this:
We apologised and moved on, thinking we had fixed our mistake. Finally, her design was perfect for what she stands for!
Or so we thought.
A few months later, a different content creator on Instagram reached out to us about the scarf our Activist is wearing, pointing out that it looked like a Palestinian Kuffiyeh (A traditional Middle Eastern headdress fashioned from a square meter scarf, usually made of cotton. It symbolises solidarity and represents solidarity with Palestinian pain and oppression.)
They rightly pointed out that although our design was entirely coincidentally similar to a Kuffiyeh, it wasn’t right to take the style in the way we had. Although it was yet another unintentional mistake, we had essentially taken the style and removed the meaning, which is incredibly harmful. We owned up to our mistakes, did some research of our own, and decided our Activist was in need of another alteration. There’s no denying, this is an easy mistake to make. The fashion industry is one of the biggest perpetrators of cultural appropriation, and it is shocking how often they take cultural influence and strip the meaning from it. This is so normalised in our society, it’s not surprising that we had no idea her scarf was a Kuffiyeh!
Whilst it’s easy to cling on to the fact that it was unintentional, and feel justified in your mistake, the best thing you can do is apologise, discuss, research, and redesign. Which is exactly what we did.
We checked in with the person who pointed out our mistake, and with their approval, we would like to introduce the new and much improved Activist:
We hope that the changes we have made are proof that we are willing to learn and change. The fact that the harm caused was accidental does not negate the negative impact of our actions, we accept this and will continue to do our best with future projects to ensure our games are diverse and steer away from appropriation.
As a closing comment, I think the message they left on our post is worth sharing: