"Well, sheeeyit! If it ain't the Cap'n, hisself! Mister Sarif done fixed you up good, ain't he? Give you a new set of glasses an' everything, daaaamn!"
Next time you find yourself in Detroit, 2027, make sure you say 'hi' to Letitia, one of Deus Ex': Human Revolution
's most memorable and unique characters. You'll most likely find her digging through the trash scavenging anything that might help push her through another night living the Detroit streets. Tell her 'Blitzy says hello!' for me, will'ya?
For a handful of credits, she'll spill everything you need to know about the secret paths of the city, the access codes to Detroit P.D's sewer entrance and inform you of a few sneaky places around the back where you can get your grubby hands on some 'unlicensed firepower'. Everything a Jensen would need for a little trespassing and trouble-making around the city.
If we're talking character types, Letitia's the street-wise, street-living informant to the protagonist. You can see characters playing a similar role in Fallout: New Vegas
(Giving you the laydown of Freeside and the important people and places in it), or Assassin's Creed
(Many members of the 'Thieves' Guild' who'll give you information and assistance against the city guards).
She's a helpful lil' lady, that's fer sure.
That's not all though. While her information's solid, Letitia's real 'stand-out something' has to be her manner of speech. For me, I found her accent rather musical and intriguing to listen to. I enjoyed picking up on the particular phonetics and mannerisms in her dialogue; I wanted to hear more of the 'pecifics.
"Didn't think I'd see YOU walking this boulevard anytime soon, that's fer sure. Not afta what happened six months ago. People's said you's dowwwwwwwwwwwn for the count!"
Oh, I loved it. I guess it really brought out the linguistics fanatic in me. I'd spent my college years closely analysing different accents and manners of speech across many of the British regions and I'd been fascinated by what makes our characters and language so different yet so individualistic.
I guess her dialect could best be catagorised as 'Southern Black Caricature', although my only knowledge of that particular dialect stems from the media I've consumed as a British boy. Either way, I enjoyed the character and made sure to tell all my friends currently playing through Deus Ex: Human Revolution
to make a point of talking to her just so I could get their reaction to her character.
Not once did my friends ever tell me that they believed Letitia's character was 'racist'.
Sorry, Rotface. Internet says you ain't allowed to be in my game. You're different.
Unbeknown to me at the time, 'racist' was exactly what lay on critics' minds after speaking with the lady.
"Letitia's a really bad part of a really good game. When lead character Adam Jensen encounters her in Detroit, she's picking through the trash. It becomes clear that she's an informant from Jensen's police days and, as their conversation continues, she gives Jensen a few hints and a general sense of the mood of the city. Letitia's horrible character design doesn't stop you from exploring the cyberpunk world of 2027. Instead, she makes you wonder about how she even came into existence.
" - Evan Narcisse, Techland
"You really do have to see the video in action to get a sense of why it's so offensive; indeed, if I were to sit someone down (particularly a black friend) and watch them play this segment, I'd squirm at every line. Letitia certainly sounds nothing like the other hobos that dot the Detroit map, and her initial greeting ("Well, Sheeeeeit. If it ain't the Cap'n hisself!") is utterly cringe inducing.
" - Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku
Alright, before I get going - I clearly understand and accept that links can be made between Letitia's persona and a reason for why her character design could be considered racist. I understand that her broken English could be a demerit to her intelligence; her use of slang could be likened back to the 'blackface minstrelsy of the last century'.
However, there's a particular side to this debate that I cannot seem to comprehend. There's one side of this argument I could really use your help, comments, criticisms and general feedback on.
I just don't understand why we need to publicly declare this connection.
There are three aspects of this issue in particular that I'm unsure about:
Why is she deemed racially offensive?
Now I acknowledge the one possibility that Letitia could be considered racially offensive because of her skin colour and perhaps there would no longer be a problem if the character was Caucasian. She would simply be another member of lower-class in that scenario and that would be acceptable. But would it
Think about it. Are we no longer allowed to feature lower-class people in our media if they're black? Is there not a single homeless black person in Detroit who speaks in a Southern Black caricuture? Surely that's just a little too large a blanket of exaggeration?
Unfortunately, the boundaries of my bafflement do not cease there. My confusion just catapults further when I discovered that several of my black friends also failed to find offense from it. Yet according to some critics. aren't these the people this content is supposed to be offending?
I understand that one do not necessarily need to belong to a particular ethnic group to find material racially offensive, but I'm worried we might possibly be taking this too far. It's as if a rather brash handful of white people these days feel obligated to be racially offended on behalf of all black people whenever they see the slightest connection between being of black skin colour and having a particular characterful flaw or two. But why must we feel the need to do this?
If you placed Letitia alongside the racial denotations of blackface minstrels, or those that featured in 20th century media ala 'Amos and Andy', you would not have to stretch far to find similarities between the two. I don't disagree that they're certainly influences on the character; I just don't see the reason why they must therefore be taken as complete identicals in their design, purpose and reason for inclusion in their respective media.
The point is - I highly doubt that Letitia (one sole characer) was featured in Deus Ex to negatively portray all people of black ethnic origin. I personally think she was featured because she'd make a cheap link to a rather huggable character 'bear'ing a similar relationship to the protagonist that may or may not have featured in a certain 70's cop show.
This certainly isn't the first time such a topic has found such publicity regarding race in our video games. Do you remember the uproar about black zombies in Resident Evil 5
, regarding the idea that black people portrayed as zombies would denote their entire ethnic origin as mindless, shambling monsters? Ergo, it is therefore wrong to set a zombie game in Africa?
Why must we make this link? Would anyone feel the same if they were white? Would anyone claim white zombies reflected so badly on all Caucasians in the world? Why is it acceptable for people of one ethnicity to be represented as zombies (despite any connotations that carries) and not another?
I just don't get it. I struggle to understand why we must disapprove of characters purely based on their skin colour. I struggle to accept why Internet has a problem when people belonging to this ethnic group are featured in a spotlight that only members of that ethnic group would be acceptable in. It's just all so...ironic.
If I'm not serving this topic the justice it deserves, I would highly encourage you to refer to the words of the inspiring A-list actor, Morgan Freeman. When asked 'how do we stop racism?', he answered:
"Stop talking about it. I`m going to stop calling you a white man. And I`m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man
'. - when asked how to get rid of racism in an interview with Mike Wallace on "60 Minutes" (1968)
Morgan Freeman on Racism
In this instance, Mr. Freeman was opposing the concept of a 'Black History Month' in America, branding it ridiculous and arguing that Black History was American History. My point is relatively similar. Can we not just take Letitia for what she is - a character in a video game - without immediately drawing connections to all the negativity that might possibly hold a similarity to her?
Why should/shouldn't she exist in this game?
I've been spectating the arguments around this issue in YouTube comments and across the Internet's numerous gaming websites and there's one solid fact that's made clear throughout: there are many people in real life, be they in Detroit, Brooklyn or anywhere else in the world, that do
speak like Letitia's character. It's a stereotype for a reason, right? It's typical of how a collective group of people act and speak?
Yet if this is the case; if there are genuinely people in the world that genuinely speak (and choose to speak) like this in real life, then should we deny them the right to be represented in our media purely because there's a potential link between them and something that once portrayed that group of people negatively? From this writer's perspective, I worry that if we did ban such characters in our media, we might then be guilty of failing
to represent an existing real-life group of people in our media. The question is, which issue is worse?
You could argue (and I'd certainly agree with you) that basing a character solely around a stereotype is cheap, easy and certainly not quite the innovation we'd prefer to see in this medium. In that respect, yeah, I'd see your point and I'd understand your criticism on her character.
However, my issue is when critics outrightly deny that people like Letitia exist in the world, brandish her racist and refuse to accept people like her in the medium.
It is their argument that people who can potentially
be grouped into these stereotypes should not be featured in our games which confuses me, because it's clear that these people do exist in the real world. We sit alongside them on our daily commutes. We celebrate together on New Year's. To try and judge which groups of people should and should not feature in our media based on the potential links between them and respective stereotypes that they may not like only persuades me to believe that the actual racists would be those attempting to do the judging.
So what's the deal here? Are we saying these people aren't allowed to be in our media because some people out there believe these people do not signify the black people we believe SHOULD feature in our media? I might be missing the point entirely, but surely that in itself is racism? Is there something I'm missing here?
I'm not saying I'm oblivious to the issue, I just can't see why we feel the need to make it one. I'd understand why this would be a valid criticism of the game if Letitia's character was the sole personification of black people in the game but the problematic snag is she's not!
In this light, why is Letitia herself such a massive problem?
"Some people reading this might counter with, "Ok, fine, Letitia's just a poorly drawn character. What's the harm in that? Weak character construction isn't racist." But it's what this particular weak character construction draws on that makes it so appalling. Making her a black, jive-talking street person echoes decades of racist imagery about poor African-Americans. That imagery's said that blacks are too inherently dumb, lazy or foreign to America to share in the American Dream. It's "those people, they're not like us" talk.
" - Evan Narcisse, Techland
This brings me back to my primary focus:
Why must we publicly isolate and identify this connection?
I'm particularly curious; where does the racial offense stem from? Is it that Letitia herself is racially offensive, or is it that a connection can be made between her and some other form of racially derogatory material?
I perfectly understand that a black, jive-talking street person might echo decades of racist imagery about poor African-Americans if one chooses to compare the two, but must we throw up the racist card based on the possibility
of such a connection? Now, it's cool to not approve of the voice actress and have your own opinion about that; I personally think she sounds maybe a bit too old for her visual image but to profoundly claim that her manner of speech is racist? That's not exactly an opinion anymore; that appears to stand as a statement.
Just because one person finds one character racially offensive doesn't necessarily mean I have to find it racially offense, right? Or the millions of people, whatever their skin colour, who live in our world alongside us?
It's not necessarily the concept of 'finding a character racially offensive' that I have concern with. If someone chooses
to make the connection between the material and a derogatory stereotype and that is the root of the offense, I can accept and respect that. That person came to such an opinion based on their own experiences and beliefs and wasn't instructed by anyone else to feel that way.
I think my problem is with the concept of 'branding a character racist' especially in headlining articles. Outrightly stating that a single character portrays their entire ethnic group in a negative light in such a factual manner bewilders me because it leaves no room for opinion or reflection - nor does this take into account the weaknesses involved when attempting to compare a single, solitary character to an ethnicity's entire populous. It appears to claim that the character's design and purpose is specifically for racial derogation, rather than point out that a connection can be made between the character and another more appropriately proportioned example of racially derogatory material. The audience is being told that the character is racially offensive rather than they being advised on the potential stereotypical links that would allow the audience to make their own mind up about the matter.
The root of my concern is therefore when one person's opinion is stated in a factual manner, and is done so to be interpreted as such.
In summary, I completely accept criticism of Letitia based on her character and persona. Go nuts on that one. I just don't understand why certain members of the Internet seem to assault characters purely by stretching links between their race/gender/age and anything remotely similar that potentially portrays that group in a negative light. More so when the problem is with a single, solitary character - taken from a game with dozens of other characters from the same ethnic origin that do not
match that stereotype.
Sure, Letitia's not the most original, well-acted or well-designed character in the gaming world. Even I can clearly see why she'd grate on your ears perhaps, or why she's 'just another cheap and easy character design'. You might find her out-of-place in comparison to the other characters; you might find the pairing of pidgin English with her dashings of intellectual lexis downright peculiar but c'mon...
To outrightly label one character and her designers racist because it's simply possible
to find them racially offensive if one chose to connect those dots?
Help me out, dear readers, because I must be missing the point.
[Sidenote: Square Enix has issued the following statement on the matter: "Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a fictional story which reflects the diversity of the world's future population by featuring characters of various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. While these characters are meant to portray people living in the year 2027, it has never been our intention to represent any particular ethnic group in a negative light."]
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