Raised in Philadelphia in a house full of women (grandmother, 4 aunts, and mother) Kiesha Richardson learned early on the importance of solidarity and support among women. She is the founder of Ge’NeL Magazine, a woman-operated geek and pop culture website devoted to creating high quality from a woman’s perspective to combat sexism and racism in the gaming world. She is also the owner of Ge’NeL Media, LLC, a small startup that edits and creates content for businesses and brands. When she’s not working, she’s leading her World of Warcraft guild, traveling the world and playing faux-tographer, or relaxing at home, watching Netflix or reading comics with her pups. We spoke to Kiesha about Ge’NeL and being a creator.
Black Girls Create: What do you create?
We create geek culture and gaming content from the perspective of women because most of the outlets are dominated by white men. When I go to different websites, their communities are pretty toxic and they don’t try to fix or address it. It’s just “sexual harassment is ok and it’s normalized” so I figured it was time we do something different. Through my research, I didn’t realize that there were more places for women, especially women of color, to express their geeky side in a safe space. So one of the things I wanted to do is instead of creating a safe space I want to change the narrative. Make sexual harassment, racism, and homophobia no longer normalized.
BGC: What inspired you to create this site?
I personally got tired of trying to play different games and being called the N-word or told to go back to the kitchen, or that I shouldn’t be playing games when someone would hear my voice. It just got really tiring. The last straw came when I was streaming and a couple of friends and I were just having fun, minding our own business, and this dude came into my stream channel and said “show me your n***r tits or get the f*** out.” When I talked to other women about it they would say “oh it’s happened before,” and I thought it shouldn’t be normal. So I tried talking to other organizations I was writing for and the response was “we don’t want to get political.” I thought “thanks for being an ally,” and decided to do my own thing.
BGC: Why do you create?
I create because first of all, I just love writing. It was the natural outlet for me. But I also create so I can just stop this nonsense. We don’t have to deal with this stuff anymore and we should at least get larger platforms to take notice and do something. Some of the gaming companies and developers are trying, but it’s not enough. It’s so pervasive and if you go to different forums or gaming groups and try to have this conversation, there is a lot of pushback. But when you ignore it, you’re not addressing the problem and you’re letting it spread, so we have to do something.
BGC: How did you get interested in gaming?
I’ve been gaming since I was 8 years old, in the second grade. My childhood best friend had an Atari and I got hooked on it at her house. We would exchange different cultural things; she wasn’t allowed to watch music videos so she would come over to watch videos and I’d go over to her house and play games. So we would switch off that way and I’ve been playing ever since.
BGC: When did you realize that gaming was a part of your identity more than just a hobby?
When I lived in Germany with my parents, I took a semester off of college to move. My brother, cousin, and I would have sleepovers in each others’ room and play games all night on the weekend. We would take turns playing different games like Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, and others to see who could beat the map. It became something that was a part of us. When I ended up working in Iraq running a recreation center, I was the only one who knew how to set up Xboxes and Playstations and set up tournaments. So it was what I did and how I knew gaming was just me.
BGC: What was it like to take something like gaming to a different country and culture? Is it easier to connect or is it just another cultural exchange that needs to happen?
It’s definitely easier to connect with people through gaming. I operated the recreational center for the US and UN forces. You can’t make people forget that they’re in a war zone, because we were definitely in the thick of it, but what I could do is give people a place where they could at least relax for some time, and that was through video games. It was how we connected and how we communicated and found commonalities where there weren’t many to be found. I made so many friends that I’m still friends with today. When they would have a bad day or be stressed out, they would come and just talk about games. Video games were a way of bridging a gap in communication.
BGC: Who or what inspired you to do what you do?
I’ve loved writing from a very young age. My grandma, Nancy, always inspired me to write, even when I would get in trouble for my writing. I actually think getting in trouble for my writing made me want to write more. When I was in the fifth grade I was supposed to write a Halloween story and she said she wanted it to be scary, to “let our imagination fly.” Well, my imagination flew too far because she called a parent/teacher conference to ask if I was being abused or if anything was going on at home because the details in my story were too vivid. When my mom assured her there was nothing going on, she asked if I plagiarized and I was shocked because I did what she had asked me to do.
BGC: Something that I’ve noticed is that the things that either got me in trouble growing up or made me feel ostracized are the things that I’m not most successful with. Have you noticed that as well?
Yes, I do notice that. I’ve always been a bit rebellious and it got me into a lot of trouble. My mom used to tell me “sometimes you have to know when to close your mouth. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, just know when to shut up,” and now I’ve found that it’s helped me out a lot. Sometimes you have to say what you have to say and ask for forgiveness later.
BGC: Why is it important for Black women to create?
We need to be the authors of our own stories. For too long other people have been telling our stories and that’s something that we need to change. We need to change that narrative. I love Black men, I do, but our story isn’t always intertwined with theirs and we’ve had different struggles throughout history. Angela Davis talked about how the Civil Rights Movement left Black women out just like the women’s suffrage movement left Black women out. We need to be the authors of our own story now and it’s time, it’s important for us to do that.
BGC: How do you balance creating with the rest of your life?
Is there such a thing as balance? I’m not exactly sure yet. I want this to be my career, to be honest. When I was going through my divorce, writing was the only thing I could do. I couldn’t get out of bed. I’d always lived with depression but going through that divorce, it was crippling. The only thing I could do was write, I’d be in bed with my laptop and I could write. It was a way for me to transport myself out of my circumstance and when I think about that and how writing saved me in addition to gaming, I think the balance is just living and not letting one overtake the other. They both saved my life, creating and writing helped me and video games helped me, but I have to make sure to go outside every once and awhile I guess.
BGC: How does writing help your mental health? Do you ever find that writing hurts your mental health?
I think helps because a lot of times it’s not easy to talk about what you’re going through with other people. When I write, it’s a way for me to communicate how I’m feeling and what’s going on with me. I noticed when I first started blogging and I started writing about depression, there were other people who were feeling the way I was feeling and that was important to me. So when I do write about mental health I try to keep in mind that I’m not alone. People may not have the exact feelings but they’re feeling a similar way. When I write, I try to take into account self-care when it comes to mental health issues. So when I write, I try to make sure that other women know that they’re not alone and know that taking care of themselves is a part of taking care of their mental health. One of my coworkers once said “muting you is my self care for the day.” Sometimes you have to mute the negativity. It’s definitely easier said than done but don’t be afraid to hit that mute button. Take care of yourself and do it in a way that makes you feel good. People think self-care is one size fits all and it’s not. You have to figure out what makes you happy, no one else is going to make you happy. Things won’t necessarily make you happy, but something might. People say “material things won’t make you happy,” but shoes do for me. Figure out what makes you happy and try something new. I think that goes a long way towards helping your mental health.
BGC: What’s important to you when you’re building a community and working with other writers, especially when you’re trying to serve underrepresented groups? What do you try to focus on when working with other people?
Passion, empathy, and understanding that there is a problem that we want to address and that we are going to be the voices to do it. There is no such thing as a perfect person and there are no perfect writers. I have people on my team who have no writing experience, no writing background, but their stories are beautiful. I can work with someone who is not really a writer. What I can’t work with is negativity, internalized sexism, and putting down other women. With me being a streamer, I come across so many people, especially guys, who have a problem with women who show cleavage when they stream, but they’re marketing and are full of life with energetic personalities and these guys only reduce them to what they're wearing. Then you have some women who will piggyback on that and say they’re making streaming worse for the rest of us. How? They’re working, it was nothing to do with the boobs, I mean guys (and some women) will look, no doubt, but that’s not going to keep them watching. It’s about positivity and being understanding of all women and their struggles. You don’t have to like all women, that’s not realistic, but you don’t have to put them down. I’m not going to be negative and when I look for people to work with I look for that positivity. Are you uplifting other people or are you trying to tear people down because you don’t have your own stuff going on? Positivity. Empathy. Sisterhood. Solidarity. That’s what I want the community to be regardless of racial, ethnic, religious, or cultural backgrounds. I want women to be able to be themselves. I want to uplift us all without having to step on someone else. Having male allies, that’s fantastic. Guys who come to the site think Ge’NeL magazine is anti-male and it’s not, we just don’t want to be shit on. We’re tired of the racism and sexism and xenophobia. I didn’t know there was an entire community of Muslim women gamers but they don’t say anything because of how they’re treated on social media, so we have to uplift each other. But I’m also not going to try to let someone take over the narrative of Black women. Our story is our story and it’s okay for us all to have different stories, to just be different chapters in the same book.
BGC: Do you have any advice for new creators who are just starting out on their journey?
It was hard for me to get to the point where I was getting paid writing gigs and I can’t remember where I heard the quote but someone said if there are no opportunities create your own. So that’s what I did, I didn’t give up. I started putting everything single thing I did on my resume when it came to writing. Don’t be afraid to go to content mills to get the experience that you want or need. Research, read, you can’t be a writer without reading. If you don’t understand the content you’re trying to create or how other people view different types of content, then you’re not going be successful.
BGC: Do you have any future projects that you’re thinking about working on?
Not exactly with Ge’NeL but there is a non-profit in Augusta called Girl Warriors that takes at-risk girls and introduces them to tech and other avenues outside of the environment that they’re currently in. I’m also going to be editing a book as well.
As for Ge’NeL, I’m still trying to find more writers. Unfortunately, we don’t have a budget to pay, we’re all volunteers at this point. But I’m looking for writers, editors, and I am putting together a pitch deck to get some funding for Ge’NeL and to maybe start a stream team.