Welcome to the American Journal of Play’s special publication on Blackness and play, another in our series of themed issues. This double issue, guest edited by TreaAndrea M. Russworm, challenges the field of play studies by offering new and important perspectives on play as a site for disruption, resistance, and joy in Black communities.
We begin with five interviews and a conversation. Scholars David Crittendon, Rob Goldberg, and Yolanda Hester discuss the history and legacy of the Black-owned play company Shindana Toys. Ethnomusicologist Kyra D. Gaunt revisits her seminal work on Black girls’ play. Scholar and playwright Amina S. McIntyre considers the card game Spades. Olmec Toys founder Yla Eason and Cultural Toys and MAP Esports founder Jacob Milles III each recount their trailblazing work in the toy and game industries. Guest editor TreaAndrea Russworm and Spawn on Me podcast cofounder Cicero Holmes discuss the relationships between video games, adult play, and Black culture. In an article that draws on critical race theory, Black critical theory, Black male studies, and white racial frame research, Harrison P. Pinckney, Nathaniel Bryan, and Corliss Outley propose Black Playcrit as a tool to help us better understand Blackness and anti-Black violence in play. Shakeel Harris analyzes the play practices of formerly enslaved children in nineteenth-century America. Raven Maragh-Lloyd examines the social media hashtags #PermitPatty and #Karen to explore how Black online publics use humor as a form of resistance. Zhané Lloyd, touting the value of what she calls the “petty,” considers how Black Twitter—the part of Twitter dominated by members of the African diaspora—offers Black players of UNO a space to become unofficial game designers when they resist and defy official game rules. Abdah St. Fleur and Jennifer deWinter use interview data from six Black content creators for The Sims 4 to examine the politics of representation and self-expression in computer games, while calling on the game industry to include Black designers and creators from the beginning of the creative process. Cathy Thomas uses an ethnographic approach as participant, observer, and interviewer to offer a deep reading of Black women’s cosplay (or comic book and pop culture costume play) and masquerade. Kisha McPherson closes the issue with an exploration of the impact of anti-Black racism on Black play.