Black Geek Writes About How His Experience of Pokémon GO Is Affected By Race

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Since its recent debut, Pokémon GO has given geeks all over a much-needed form of escapism. As the world has gotten more and more violent (or, rather, as technology has allowed us to capture more and more of the violence on video — the violence has always been there), people have taken to the streets trying to catch as many Pokémon as possible, if only to take their minds off the world’s ills for a little while. However, black geeks are forced to feel mixed feelings even about their chosen forms of escapism.

In a thought-provoking piece at Medium, writer Omari Akil breaks down how his experience of Pokémon GO is shaped by his experiences as a black man in a country under “a system that disproportionately targets Black Men.” It’s something that had never occurred to me (and honestly, I’ve never been into Pokémon, so this app has been the tiniest blip on my radar), but the second I saw the title of his piece, “Warning: Pokémon GO is a Death Sentence if you are a Black Man,” I sadly thought, of course it is.

After having already enjoyed the game once, Akil writes about the second time he decided to go outside to play with the app:

I spent less than 20 minutes outside. Five of those minutes were spent enjoying the game. One of those minutes I spent trying to look as pleasant and nonthreatening as possible as I walked past a somewhat visibly disturbed white woman on her way to the bus stop. I spent the other 14 minutes being distracted from the game by thoughts of the countless Black Men who have had the police called on them because they looked “suspicious” or wondering what a second amendment exercising individual might do if I walked past their window a 3rd or 4th time in search of a Jigglypuff.

When my brain started combining the complexity of being Black in America with the real world proposal of wandering and exploration that is designed into the gameplay of Pokémon GO, there was only one conclusion. I might die if I keep playing.

He then spends the rest of the post talking about the many ways in which black men face statistically disproportionate consequences simply for daring to walk outside while black. While I will never understand what it’s like to be black in America, it isn’t difficult for me to imagine what he’s talking about. Because it’s become impossible to ignore the ways in which race dictates how people are treated by government at all levels, and by a dominant majority clutching onto unearned privilege while clutching their pearls.

Because yes, in a world where a panicked white citizen calls 911 to report a black man walking around a Wal-Mart with an air rifle which you can buy there (in a store chain that sells real guns to white people all the time), or a panicked white citizen calls 911 to report solicitation when a black woman makes out with her white boyfriend in a car, or a panicked white citizen…you get the idea.

There are too many white people that are very easily panicked by the mere existence of black people going about their lives, and in that world it’s not hard to imagine a black fan holding up his or her phone to capture a Snorlax only to be unnecessarily questioned, detained, arrested, or worse.

Stay safe, my fellow geeks.

(via Kotaku, image via SpeedKingz/Shutterstock)

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Image of Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.