When It’s Not a Game For You

Pokémon GO has exploded all over my life. My friends are playing it at work, others are boasting finds in my Facebook feed– this morning I watched a young family catch something outside my gate on their way to the farmer’s market. But I can’t stop thinking about this essay I read: Pokémon GO is a Death Sentence if you are a Black Man..

I have never been as aware of my white-based public safety as the time we were playing an Amazing Race-style game that required us to stop strangers in downtown Los Angeles and ask them if they had something for us. At one point we were even running toward Union Station, one of us yelling, “We have to do it now, we’re running out of time!”

My brain kept whispering, “Nobody is even batting an eye, while you’re running past people who would be detained, if not flat-out shot for doing what you’re doing.”

My friend was sure she’d found one of the “informants” who had our next clue. She called me over and told me she’d asked him if he had something, and he said that depended on if she could tell him what train you take to Hollywood. “This is how we get our next clue! Tell him, tell him!” The only problem was he was now being questioned by two bike cops who assumed he was harassing us.

This is where I mention he was black.

“I’m just going to give him directions,” I said.

“Ma’am, you don’t have to do that,” the officers said as they talked in code over the receivers near their shoulders.

“I want to,” I said. I was pretty sure he was the informant, but my friend was getting nervous, and it was getting tense around us. What am I supposed to say to the officers— “We’re okay here?” I didn’t summon them, they were already bothering him when I walked up, and I was frustrated that they thought they were interrupting either a drug deal or a panhandler — both of which were entirely race-based assumptions.

As officers again told us we should just walk away, I instead told the informant how to get to Hollywood. He opened up a folder from his messenger bag, and handed me my next clue.

He then turned to the bike cops. “It’s a GAME,” he said. After the officers left, I was feeling so shitty.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “All of that sucked.”

“You guys are the only ones with the clue, by the way,” he said. “None of these other people have even once come up to me.”

I would never play Pokémon GO — especially at night — because it sounds like the perfect way to get hit by a car, followed, or mugged. The things I have to think about when I walk alone out there are for who/what I am and what has happened to me. But it’s an entirely different thing to realize you can’t play a kid game because it makes you behave in a way that gets racists and profilers feeling antsy. Or maybe it isn’t different at all. Whatever it is, it’s definitely not a game.

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  1. A grown up

    This post makes almost zero sense. It’s ok to tell a story about racism without superimposing it onto another unrelated story. If you have to tell your story by sticking it on top of a currently hot topic… Then maybe it’s a crappy story… Or just a crappy writer.

    What in the hell are you trying to say? That it’s not safe for blacks people to play Pokemon go??? And why exactly? Because they’re not supposed to go walking in the same public places? How about instead of fear mongering you celebrate how great it is to meet other people who like the same thing?? How about you wave and say hi? Or promote friendly behavior? How about you don’t act like it’s weird if black people want to play Pokemon go? How about if you see someone giving black players shit you contribute to stopping the situation and hold the harrassers accountable?

    Grow up

    1. LeighTX

      Sharing stories like this is important–white people often don’t think about how people of color experience the world. Some white people (or most, judging from my own Facebook feed) don’t seek out writers of color so when a white writer shares an experience like this, it’s more likely to reach people who need to hear it.

      Thanks for sharing it, Pamie.

    2. Dani

      If you aren’t already aware of the incredibly high level of scrutiny Black men face, even just standing around or talking to people, and how often that leads to the police assuming they must be criminals and taking them in or just assaulting them, then click through and read the article she linked to, the one this entire piece is talking about.

      The problem isn’t that she’s assuming it’s weird if Black people play. The problem is that the police are literally, deliberately trained to assume criminal behavior from people of color, especially Black people, and respond accordingly. Profiling is a significant part of police training.

      And way too many cops take it even farther, reacting like they’re on a battlefield and physically attacking or even killing Black people who they’ve pulled over for a broken taillight, or are talking to because some white person thought they were “suspicious”.

      The problem isn’t that white people might give someone shit and you should confront them. The problem is they might call the cops and that person might fucking die.

      If this piece doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because you’re missing crucial information that you should really know. Not because Pamie isn’t making sense.

  2. Bub

    It’s not a “kid game.” It’s a game for people. It has a nice warning when you login to remain aware of your surroundings at all times, you know, for people who don’t understand and think somehow now the same places you would walk to normally are now scary places full of strangers. What weird story. Don’t be so paranoid

  3. Kat

    Well said as always, and totally insane that everyone can’t be treated the same. It’s so awful that if you were just being kind and giving directions, the cops felt you “didn’t have to do that”. Bah. Police in America seem terrifying.

  4. JaneAnne

    I think this is a great post and well-put. It’s a clear and concise example of how people of color have to think twice and three times about engaging in activities in ways that white people simply don’t. It’s terrible that anyone is forced to make a calculation of “I could do this thing that many people do and would be fun for me, and risk a negative and potentially fatal police encounter based on the assumptions people will make about me based on my race, or I could just not and try to remain reasonably safe. These are games – whether geared at kids or adults, it’s irrelevant – and comparatively inconsequential, yet that’s how deeply this double standard pervades our society. No activity is really risk-free for anyone, but some activities carry more or different risks for people solely because of how they look, and that shouldn’t be the case.

  5. Maxell

    In the immortal words of the pokemon theme song: “you teach me and i teach you, pokemon!”

  6. Suzanne

    I am confused about the first comment on this post. Did we both read the same thing?

    Otherwise, a chilling story. I weep for this country and the state of race relations, the scourge of a racist presidential candidate, and the way the police treat people of color and especially black men and boys. I don’t even know were to begin. We need to be better than this.