My Wonderful Friend Sadie/Sarah Hawkins

I don’t even know how to begin this blog post because writing feels like I accept that one of the best people and friends I have ever known is gone. The how is also the roughest part because she was murdered near her home by someone she knew. So in essence it is a Black woman harmed by a white man/person. While that devastation leaves me with tons of anger, it’s the other emotions that overtake it. There are strange moments of sadness and confusion but my mind also tries to go back and remember my last joyous video conversation with her.

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The reason for that is that it was nearly three hours of conversation spanning our entire lives where we had gone and our plans for NYC these holidays.

The conversation went from our small origins in Atlanta nearly 12/13 years ago when I visited her while I was in college after a midterm or final. We had a lot of discussion before the visit but then we enjoyed each other’s auras and had a great time immensely. She put me onto to the wonder that is Atlanta - I lived there after a year there due to her introduction, Janelle Monae, hood joints with the best food and more.

We then would see other at different kink events called DomCons in both in LA or Atlanta. Sometimes we would have our fun, other times we would simply chill. Honestly, most of the time we would just chill, discuss Blackness and how it mattered in kink and in life. We learned a lot about each other on a personal level with our supports of education, women, Blackness, diversity, queer support, travel and hip-hop.

Later, she would visit me in NYC and we were excited to have her visit again as we discussed what was happening in NYC from our mutual friend with the amazing Black widow spider tattoo to Kwanzaa in Harlem.

I knew Sadie/Sarah for about thirteen years. I saw her budding moments in Atlanta, her lows when she struggled in California, her visits to the East Coast, her foundations in Phoenix and her highs of all the lives she touched in between. My friend was a force a Black feminism but also joy that was infectious to be around. I miss her so much because she was one of my closest friends that I truly would be hurt over. It’s sad that I don’t have a solid picture with her but I know she knows I love her and she is watching me with support & gratitude for our time spent together.


Life is a precious thing and loss can hurt deeper than a pain I’ve ever known, but she would’ve wanted me to keep on doing what I love and continue to honor her by supporting Black women and the wonderful lives they lead whether they’re sex workers, educators, mothers, sisters, daughters, leaders, support systems and everything else. I love you Sadie, Sankofa my beautiful friend, Sankofa.

Diversity in Video Games

Diversity has changed drastically in the past ten years in nearly every medium except video games. Most of these changes in media occurred through the wave of Obama, modern feminists, and the advent of social media.  As such, we have seen movies like Moonlight – prominent Black LGBT, TV shows like Orange is the New Black, and rapid rise in women authors’ success (though literature was centuries ahead with diversity in the first place). Still, video games remain stagnant with few exceptions.  Much of this is due to most of the gamer base being white straight men who tend to have a lot of biases and claim victimhood whenever a game tries to go away from their norm and be progressive.

 

With diversity in video games progress has been slow in gender, sexuality and race. As such, the video game examples of diversity are few and far in between.

 

In regards to gender, Metroid was revolutionary in a secret ending in which the hardened space marine, Samus Aran, was a woman all along.  Samus would remain the figurehead for a strong woman video game protagonist for years. Women would vary in representation from a secondary protagonist like Claire Redfield in Resident Evil 2 to damsels in distress in many JRPGs. It was often difficult for women to be leads outside of create-a-character options. These options for the create-a-character to be woman only really became prominent in the 2000s. Overall, video games with women on the cover tend to be a hard sell until very recently. 

The best example of this is Horizon Zero Dawn, a game with a badass woman on the cover, a 3rd person open world game, and most importantly a brand new IP (intellectual property).   However, not only did Horizon Zero Dawn get great scores but it also sold well from a brand new game concept featuring a woman prominently. What else is fascinating with Horizon Zero Dawn, is how the main protagonist, Aloy, never gets into romance with any men, meets several other strong women of several ethnic backgrounds and remains a highly skilled warrior throughout.  While one may think the lack of romance means that Aloy can’t be a strong woman and married, I find that it progresses in a different direction in that she needs no man for her prowess.

 

Sexuality coming to prominence is probably the slowest aspect of video games to be modernized. Many times homosexuality is often still seen as a joke from two random NPCs in Persona 5 to the village people NPCs in GTA Vice City who are flat one note jokes. More recently some queer characters have come to prominence but there are almost no instances of queer characters in older games.  One of the only prominent ones, who happened to be transgender, was Poison and it wasn’t known until years later and she’s someone you beat up – essentially gay bashing.  Other instances early on are lesbian or gay question marks that are implicit but not explicit or the characters a bisexual shoe-ins (usually women).   The only other large example of queer characters is many of Bioware’s RPGs that have create-a-characters. In Bioware’s RPGs many characters can be gay, lesbian, bisexual and pansexual (transcending other fantasy or sci-fi races). Arguably the most progressive in the Mass Effect series as you could potentially date several men, women and different races in the trilogy.

In recent times, the most prominent queer character would be The Last of Us’ Ellie who will be as of Last of Us 2 featured heavily on the cover of the game (she’s also on the first, but it’s not known before playing how her sexuality and importance is). She’s an active lesbian and features heavily/being playable in both games. As such, she is the most successful queer character to be playable and to feature on a game cover. However, sexuality and queer character representation is the least represented in video games and outside of Ellie and the progress of Bioware (recently even having a transgender character for romance) there aren’t many that aren’t bigoted jokes.

 

Race is one of the most discussed aspects of video game culture because of how heated the debates can be. In the past sports games were some of the only appearances of non-white or Japanese characters. Furthermore, recent times feature a toxic online atmosphere of gaming where young white kids yell and have names like niggerlife and you’reanigger for the laughs. While there is nothing funny about that; there are far more people who play online around the world than ever before.

As such, this becomes in essence an oxymoron in that yes a guy from India can challenge a woman from Brasil; however, so too can I guy from Arkansas throw racial epithets at them both.

While online still has a lot of work to be done in its bigotry, the changing landscape of protagonists through the years is an important one.  There are several non-white protagonists in games as of late. There’s Native American protagonist, Delsin Rowe, the growing amount of Black protagonists (CJ, Lincoln Clay, Marcus from Watch Dogs 2), mixed race people (Alyx Vance, Jade of Beyond Good and Evil), East Asian – Noriko, Arab (Bayek) and even Indian (Chloe of Uncharted).  There are still missing perspectives overall though, as there are few Latinx protagonists, the smallest amount represented overall in gaming.  Furthermore, the experience of the dark-skinned Black woman is only appearing now with Sharla in Beyond Good and Evil 2.  Much is this is due to a growing community of gamers of color both men and women around the world who are proclaiming their perspectives need to be met. Worlds of white are often seen as limited, diverse casts like the randomized races of Horizon Zero Dawn’s characters or the in depth discussions of ethnic groups in Red Dead Redemption 2, make for progress in a world with a main white character. Even a game with particular European setting featuring white characters – in alignment with its location – gets called out. As such, the world is playing and the world would like to see themselves.

 

            Still, all of this is progress for more diversity in games. As character customization gets larger more options for how well you want someone to match your perspective grows. Furthermore, more and more games feature diverse protagonists in terms of sexuality, gender or race. And if the protagonist isn’t diverse than their world must be, giving way to same sex unions, multidimensional racial characters and women who need no man’s input.   Video Games maybe the medium that is the most behind, but there is progress occurring. When I can shoot an ex-slaver, KKK, and retired confederate soldiers and gain positive honor for it that is a game progress for 2018. Through and through, I could write ad infinitum about this topic, but at the moment this overview seeks to be the beginning of a world of information.

Travelblog East Africa Part 2 - Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania

I would round out the rest of my summer vacation with going to the three of the other four countries around Lake Victoria. Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania. Thus completing my tour of Wakanda. Each one of these countries I only spent about two days in, but each one was distinct for a variety of reasons. As such, each one won’t get their own post but they will get their own spotlight.

Rwanda

I had a wonderful tour here even though my fever sickness starts here, I had very kind hosts (with no internet) and had a wonderful tour that explored how modernized Kigali is becoming as it has some of the best urban development I’ve ever seen. People are moved from their old homes for a little then come back with brand new modern homes. Also on the tour I had an assortment of food and fruit, a fresh milk bar - which tasted far better than American milk, Muslim schools and the highlight the Genocide Museum. The museum was huge on getting rid of what most people know Rwanda for as it moved based the Tutsi/Hutu issues and into everyone being called Rwandans. This is rare in that they were the only East Africans who weren’t prideful about their tribe over their nation.

On another note, a lot of people could tell I was mixed and they found it fascinating. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so many stares in my life. My tour guide told me that mixed people were seen as gorgeous so don’t be surprised if women flirt. Granted we all know me and my tour guide, who’s skin was midnight, was far more beautiful to me than my skin tone. Lastly, my tour guide driver had a personality and spoke to me in english and French to show me one of the presidential homes that had an airplane crash into it. Kigali, Rwanda was beautiful and one of my favorites of East Africa

Uganda

I would argue that my best hosts were in Uganda. While my sickness got to the point where I decided to cut my time in Tanzania short - unfortunately no Zanzibar, someday - I had great hosts who I was able to watch the Croatia versus Russia game with for the World Cup, drink Ugandan beer and enjoy a homecooked meal. My tour guide in Kampala, land of seven hills, drove me on a motorbike tour with amazing skills. I don’t think I can emphasize enough how bad the traffic in Kampala is and the skills of motorbike drivers is unmatched. He was a kind guy and I got to learn a lot on the tour. Instead of going out anywhere I simply stayed in and hung with my Serbian and Uganda hosts who talked to me about have mixed children which was a long and enlightening conversation about how they’ll navigate biracial life in Uganda.

One odd vision I saw was China’s influence on contracting their own people for their highways while cutting out the Ugandan contractors and performing neo-colonization while putting the country in debt again.

Tanzania

I truly wish I had more time in this country. It was beautiful and similar to Kenya in that it had Black people of all levels handling everything. One aspect that was interesting was how bad the traffic in and out of the airport was. Outside of that main road the traffic wasn’t like Uganda. However, there were a lot of cool experiences to be had in Dar es Salaam and I was so close to Zanzibar, but being sick had me go home soon, so maybe some other day in my future. The first evening I tried to figure out the spotty internet but wonderful AC and had myself some fish and rice where they once again thought I was Tanzanian and knew Swahili. This was hilarious because the lady serving me didn’t know english - I live for these moments! Anyways, afterwards I headed to a local bar and watched two African football teams duke it out. It was great to just be around an atmosphere of happy African men and women.

The main highlight though was roaming around with my main man Meck on a tour that started at Dar es Salaam harbor and Barack Obama Rd(2nd East African country that’s honoring him). We went to the fish market, several government homes, huge supermarkets, a variety of churches, mosques, spice markets, and some different foods (jackfruit, sugarcane water, fries in an omelette). Meck was a great tour guide and Tanzania was gorgeous but soon my East Africa journey was ending.

I hope I can return someday, especially for Zanzibar, but West Africa is next on the horizon.

Travelblog - East Africa Part 1 Kenya

Asante for reading as this is the first part of my journey into East Africa and the wonders that I discovered there.

I have to say that there were so many moments that I had while visiting in Kenya that I felt like I was in real life Wakanda. From the fact that everybody walking around in any social class was Black to the lack of racial differentiation because we all knew we were African. I had a great time exploring the wild Nairobi nightlife (yes I enjoyed myself but East African women are not as tall as West African women so there’s that) and a variety of excursions. Yes I did the typical safari in the Serengheti as Nairobi National Park is a reserve right outside of the main city and I got to see almost four of the big five (no leopards but came close to seeing a rhino and saw an elephant, buffalo, and lion among other animals). I also got to see some traditional villages and dances at a place called Bomas. I also enjoyed plenty of Tusker beer and grilled meat straight from the bone which was all reasonably priced unlike the souvenirs and clothes.

Interacting with people in Nairobi was a great experience because on my first day I had a set of tour guides also known as the Nairobeez who rap in english, Swahili and sheng, the slang of Kenya. It was a really great feeling to roll with a set of Black dudes and just kick it and explore. It’s an experience I rarely have in the US because so many of our men are awful and I don’t vibe with them. I also flirted with several different women as I learned Swahili from them and was happy that any women I met there would be African of a whole variety of shades. Sadly they were all short including my awesome airbnb host - how to stay in Africa - who hooked it up with drivers too. As this was my fourth time in Africa, I definitely learned that you need to have drivers to help you since there isn’t much public transportation that is legitimate there outside of the wild busing system in many countries.


When I went to Mombasa, it was similar but I got to see the beach and the Arab trading town on the coast of the Indian Ocean. This worked out since I couldn’t make it to Zanzibar due to getting sick but such is life. I got a driver, Bilal, there too who hooked it up with a wood carving spot - amazing to see authentic wood carving and eat some cassava crisps while bumping classic hip-hop.

On some interesting cultural notes, all of the African men loved hip-hop they were curious about producing it, what to listen to and learning about the history of it. At the same time The World Cup was happening so it was interesting to see how people cheered against England the original colonizers of their lands and cheered for France due to all the Africans on the team.

It was a deep feeling of gratitude that I had in Kenya due to how amazing it was. I hate that I got sick during my time there, but basically seeing Wakanda live without white people anywhere was absolutely fantastic and something I sorely missed when coming back to the US.

Travelblog - Central European Excursion = Budapest, Wien (Vienna) and Warsaw

During this past Spring Break in April,

I went on a trip around Central Europe to the countries of Hungary, Austria and Poland (cities Budapest, Vienna and Warsaw respectively). I initially thought about giving them each separate entries like I usually do. However, these cities blended together at points and I was in depression during this time so what I did in the cities didn't differ or see cultural aspects out of the norm either. Still I will breakdown my experience in each:


Hungary-Budapest

My time in Budapest was fun in its own weird way with significantly cheaper currency (no euros), Magyar language that I barely even understood and it was ok because everyone knew I wasn't Hungarian. It was a pretty easy city to traverse with buses, trains, and trolleys everywhere and an awesome airbnb host. The food was surprisingly wonderful from paprikas (chicken with paprika), goulash (soup), hurka (sausage), delicious Kürtőskalács (funnel cake), and the wine. I highly recommend all of it and getting lost in the old Jewish Quarter for the quirky ruin bars. These bars are made from the ruins of older buildings from the destruction of World War 2 in the past and yes that did hit hard. 

The other fun aspect of Hungary was the bathhouses based on Roman baths and everybody was out there - all ages but definitely not all ethnicities at the Széchenyi Thermal Bath.  I also had a nice and enjoyable free walking tour which was my main process in Central Europe. I definitely recommend this cheap and fairly entertaining beautiful city (open alcohol carry!) to visit as a change of pace from Western Europe.


Austria - Vienna (Wien)

I only went to Vienna for a day, but I tried to indulge in as much as I could for the six or seven hours I was there. The absolute best part was the central loop and all the Strasses (streets) and Platzs (squares) that a variety of perspectives. There were swanky and fashionable clothing pieces, phenomenal churches, an impressive library, and the wonderful Sacher Torte cake and cafe. This cafe is exceptionally gaudy and it works with the classiness of Vienna. I had a free walking tour to explore which was a blast to use and even had some fun figuring out Vienna's different red light system (they're outside of doors as you walk). In the end, the main highlight was meeting an Ethiopian lady who worked at a restaurant I was in who thought I too was Ethiopian. A surprise and welcoming face in a sea of whiteness - which is towed oddly in Austria since it is part Western Europe with euros v. Central European historical struggles.

Still, the city and country is a blast and an alternative to Germany. I really want to explore more of it someday as I felt there was still much more indulge in this city filled with Mozart, coin-operated bathrooms, and cafe on cafe on cafe. 


Poland-Warsaw

While I was only here for a stopover, I figured it would be imperative to explore the city center of Warsaw with a free tour. The tour had many of the usual European highlights of churches, some cafe where famous people visited and World War 2 statues and remnants. At the same time, Warsaw and Poland for that matter offered a little more than the usual due to the fortitude of the Polish and the more humble approach of non-colonizing white people. I didn't face racism there I was pretty much ignored and without much fanfare since that country had a hell of a history and my tour expressed how much Hitler razed to the ground when they tried to resist. Poland is also not known for having slaves or colonizing people so the people had an air of working class about them especially when I went to the milk bar*.

*Polish milk bars are a must. Since the head lady doesn't speak english you tell her what Polish delights you want (I highly recommend the perogi and borscht!), she writes down the number and you pay, then someone calls your food and you get it. It's cheap and simple and was a stable means of quick and common eats during the communist days. 

Beyond that, this is the home of the composer Chopin and his music and vodka can make good uses for all that extra zloty you'll have.