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ROCHESTER, NY—The Black American play experience has been creative, resistive, empowering, and joyful in the face of systemic oppression, structural discrimination, and exclusion. In a new special double issue on Blackness and play, the American Journal of Play the field of play studies by offering new insights and important perspectives on play. The issue features six interviews, including ones about the trailblazing Black-owned businesses Shindana Toys and Olmec Toys, and seven articles on a range of topics from the disruption of play for Black male youth to Black online humor as play and resistance.
In introducing the issue, guest editor TreaAndrea M. Russworm, associate professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, writes that the multidisciplinary field of play studies often “assumes a privileged and protected subjective whiteness as the default agent of play.” She notes that there’s been a lack of play research centering on Black identity and on Blackness, which is “more fluid than a single racial, national, or cultural categorization.”
Russworm writes that Black communities have historically been excluded from play and access to play facilities, and she notes the challenges of Blackness and play today, citing examples of Black children killed at play, the dynamics of detention versus recess in schools, and Black adults being excluded from conventions and other places of play.
Despite the historical and ongoing barriers, though, Russworm celebrates the stories of Black people playing creatively and disruptively despite systemic oppression. She writes, “The contributors (to this issue) importantly and urgently reframe Blackness and play in light of all the surprisingly hopefully, ingenious, and joyful accounts that also define the intersection of Black identity and play. From linguistic play, jumping double Dutch, playing the dozens and hosting dance parties to Spades tournaments, memes on Twitter, and modding video games, the forms, methods, and tools that comprise Black play are infinite.”
The full issue of the American Journal of Play can be read freely online. Articles include:
“Black PlayCrit: Examining the Disruption of Play for Black Male Youth,” by Harrison P. Pinckney, Nathaniel Bryan, and Corliss Outley. The authors draw on critical race theory, Black critical theory, Black male studies, and white racial frame research to propose Black PlayCrit as a tool to help us better understand Blackness and anti-Black violence in play.
“From Permit Patty to Karen: Black Online Humor as Play and Resistance,” by Raven Maragh-Lloyd. The author explores how Black communities use humor to talk back to those in power and challenge them. She looks at two case studies—the #PermitPatty and #Karen figures—to examine the response of Black people to white femininity. She concludes that Black online users call attention to a “reliance of white womanhood on the police state” through their humor and use of memes.
“Unfiltered and True to Itself: How Content Creators Represent the Black Community in the Sims 4,” by Abdah St Fleur and Jennifer deWinter. Based on interviews with six Black content creators for Sims 4, the authors examine how Black players interject Black culture and Black experiences into a game created by a predominantly white design group.
“Are We Free to Go? Anti-Black Racism and Its impact on Black Play,” by Kisha McPheson.The author delves into the effect of racism on Black play, citing examples of how white supremacy denies Black people the basic freedom of play.
About the American Journal of Play
The American Journal of Play is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary publication that serves as a forum for discussing the history, science, and culture of play. Published three times each year by The Strong museum in Rochester, New York, the Journal includes articles, interviews, and book reviews written for a broad readership that includes educators, psychologists, play therapists, sociologists, anthropologists, folklorists, historians, museum professionals, toy and game designers, policy makers, and others who consider play for a variety of reasons and from various perspectives.