Pay Up – You are What You’re Worth

I’ve come to enjoy the scene of fog rolling down the hills. Where I’m from, fog is ephemeral; it rises from the dewy grass in the morning and floats off by noon. Walking to the market here feels like I’m on a movie set and zombies will shamble out at any moment. There’s a bounce in my step because shopping for food is one of my favorite things to do. I got swept up in the food-conscious mania that glorified organic products and watched The Food Network instead of X-Tube. So predictably, I made a face when passing by the McDonalds, watching the students and families cramming fries into their faces. But then it hit me as I noticed the change in races populating the fast food restaurant to Trader Joe’s: I was being racist again.

For the better part of two years, I’ve been actively battling internalized racism. I thought I was fine because it wasn’t like I was Uncle Ruckus from The Boondocks or anything. But what I started to realize was that he ranted in the back of my mind about things I thought were legitimately true, and it revealed to me I had biases for monied culture. Wealth and class are highly organized by racism, as anything resembling white culture has to do with a disposable income. I came to understand many of my actions tried to avoid seeming hispanic or black, because I didn’t want to be associated with the poor.

My best friend inadvertently pointed it out to me when we lived together. I had recently grew zealous in the ‘advocate with your money’ ideology and picked up the Human Rights Campaign’s buying guide, which shows you how bigger companies stack up against each other with their stances on equal rights issues. For groceries, I remember Whole Foods being at the top, which was fine for me. Looking at the guide, my friend asked, “Mattie, you work at Starbucks and go to school. How can you afford all of this?” The truth was I couldn’t. It seemed more important to me to embody my ideologies, and through that, it meant I was represented by the amount of money I spent. It wasn’t long until I had to stop shopping at the places on the top of HRC’s buying guide, and I felt like a bad person. I turned around and left Trader Joe’s today because I only had double digits in my bank account until student loans came in. The cost of a meal at one place was the same price as the cheapest pound of meat at the other. I went back to McDonalds, ordered a cheeseburger, and cried.

This is analogous to my experience with my work in video games. The worth of my writing and advocacy is constantly augmented by my relationship to money. In order to keep up with critical conversation, I must constantly buy games. And not the cheaper ones, but the sixty dollar hits that many of my peers get for free. I feel compelled to constantly add to the sprawling Steam library and Kickstarter backing lists. Despite the growing debt, I have to get a new TV for my consoles, buy a gaming rig, and consider obtaining one of the latest handhelds. And for what? Gaming criticism, the one bastion for minority writers in games media, isn’t seen as valuable enough writing to pay. The only time publications want to talk about discrimination with any regularity are the ample gaffes developers give them. The paying stuff has little to do with the experiences and skills you yourself don’t invest in monetarily. Your self-worth is constantly measured by how much you make, or, if editors feel like you’re worth paying. Covering events is something you back yourself and hope you see return on, reviews mainly interrogate ‘should you buy this?’ The amount of white people in the higher paying brackets of the media isn’t coincidental.

Money also frames my activities with social justice activism here. Don’t click on Kotaku. Fund GaymerCon. Don’t go to PAX. While I believe in a plurality of methods to challenge oppressive systems, valuing activism by money makes someone of my socio-economic background powerless. Giving weight to financial power over other methods is problematic, because it often excises the contributions of people who care by their wallet. Making this the battle of the dollars gives disproportional agency to white people against other white people. If I only have twenty bucks on me, how can I significantly factor into that fight? This doesn’t invalidate the very real influence of money, but it challenges us to change the battlefield to where more can participate. We are constantly looking for more diversity in activism, but continue to use resources linked to finances as our main plan of attack. Choosing where your money goes seems like an effective tool because it’s easy; you continue living your life, but instead of going to Dunkin’ Doughnuts you go to Starbucks. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford coffee, especially the ones making your drinks.

The structure of games media and activism only leaves me the path of martyrdom, of sacrificing things I shouldn’t really give up. Why is it that we require a section of people to give up their well-being to be a significant force in things they care about? We wonder why writing and social justice is so white-washed; it’s because many can’t afford to pay the dues of these clubs.

My body is rejecting the McDonalds I ate, used to years of organic and specialty foods I shouldn’t have bought. The only method of eating three meals a day that factors in walking everywhere I go, arranging plans to network, and readying myself for school makes me want to throw up. I feel terrible, unable to write the pieces I won’t be paid for anyway. The fog outside hangs from the power lines like drapes of cotton, and I can’t tell where the sun is. None of my iPad games are entertaining me and I wish for the tech to play my PC games again. I want to do anything that makes me feel like I’m contributing to society, though I can’t help but make a face seeing its price tag.

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