The Rickety Old Shack

Wizards Of The Coast Issues Statement On Racism In Magic

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In light of the Black Lives Matter movement's surge in public support, the current moment has provided a spotlight to shine on race issues that permeate other aspects of daily life, beyond interactions with law enforcement.

Sporting organisations have announced changes to codes of conduct, banned confederate flags, and made a variety of statements on the death of George Floyd and the continuing fight against systemic racism. The television show COPS, which has aired since 1989, has been cancelled, as has A&E's Live PD.

No aspect of daily life seems unexamined, and the gaming world is certainly no exception.

Recently, a pair of articles have highlighted issues within the Magic: The Gathering community. The first was an open letter by Lawrence Harmon (link | PDF), detailing his experience with the game from the player perspective. The second was an open letter / editorial from Zaim Beg (link | PDF), former editor and writer for Channel Fireball and contributor, further detailing racial issues within the Magic: The Gathering community and Wizards Of The Coast.

Yesterday, Wizards Of The Coast made a general announcement regarding their position on depictions of racism in the game of Magic: The Gathering. The announcement can be found here, and I have copied the text below:

Today, we will be changing the multiverse ID and removing the Gatherer card image for the card Invoke Prejudice, originally printed in 1994. The card is racist and made even worse by the multiverse ID it was unfortunately codified with years ago. There's no place for racism in our game, nor anywhere else.
But to that point, it should never have been published nor placed in the Gatherer. And for that we are sorry. The events of the past weeks and the ongoing conversation about how we can better support people of color have caused us to examine ourselves, our actions, and our inactions. We appreciate everyone helping us to recognize when we fall short. We should have been better, we can be better, and we will be better.  
To that end, we will be removing a number of images from our database that are racist or culturally offensive, including:
- Invoke Prejudice
- Cleanse
- Stone-Throwing Devils
- Pradesh Gypsies
- Jihad
- Imprison
- Crusade
Replacing those card images will be the following statement:
"We have removed this card image from our database due to its racist depiction, text, or combination thereof. Racism in any form is unacceptable and has no place in our games, nor anywhere else."
Additionally, these cards will be banned in all sanctioned tournament play.
There's much more work to be done as we continue to make our games, communities, and company more inclusive. Know that we work every day to be better and that we hear you. We look forward to sharing more of our plans with you as our games and organization evolve.

I feel like this announcement and these decisions pose almost as many questions as it answers...

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Before I go further, I will state that I don't have any problem complying with these bans. I don't own most of these cards, nor are any of them playable in the formats I enjoy (Commander, Standard and Limited). One player in my group owned a copy of Invoke Prejudice, although we no longer play with them for other reasons; the card is as unenjoyable to play with as it is obviously racist, which is to say: extremely.

As a stereotypical Magic player, i.e. a middle-class white guy, I don't have much useful insight on this subject. My friends and I — exclusively people who fit into the same description I just gave of myself — certainly never gave it much thought. We knew Invoke Predjudice was literally Racism, The Card, but I never considered it an endorsement of the KKK — who, to be clear, are a malign band of racist, murderous, losers — but a clumsy represenation of the concept of racism. In hindsight, that doesn't feel like a very defensible position. The follow-up question is, of course, why are you literally using racism?

I don't know what it would be like, as a black person, to see this card. I'm not going to speculate, beyond the obvious assumption that it wouldn't be welcoming — or even something easily dismissed. The fact it was printed in 1994 and is only being addressed now, 26 years later, is inexcusable. Wizards Of The Coast have made several attempts to stake a claim to being a progressive company, with sincere interests in promoting diversity and widening the player base. The cynical read on those overtures — that this was largely posturing for the purpose of marketing — would appear to be correct.

I'm not going to nitpick this list, because it's irrelevant. While I find Jihad and Imprison to be peculiar choices, I have no interest in splitting hairs or diving into nuances here. Banning these cards is a trivial gesture, both in effort and effect. Whether or not Wizards Of The Coast responds to critiques of the game and and its community's racial disparities, none of that will be determined by banning cards older than the average player. It's worth examining why this decision waited so long, but the action itself is very minor.

These are times of great uncertainty, I'm going to hold out hope that Wizards Of The Coast are able to make good on their statement and make genuine, progressive changes. No one wants focus-grouped pandering, but genuine representation — in the product and its creation. Making the community more welcoming is something we all have to work on, Wizards can only control and encourage so much.

As important as any statement like this is, I will be curious to see what tangible changes are actually made. The sentiments expressed in the posts from Harmon and Beg are pretty damning and underscore how entrenched the problem is. Only time will tell.

—by Derek

Published: June 11th, 2020.