Rashid Continues the Long 'Street Fighter' Tradition of Cartoony Racism
His reception has been mixed. But this franchise has long trafficked in stereotypes.
This morning at Games Expo ‘15, Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono introduced a new character into the popular video game franchise for the upcoming Street Fighter V. Meet Rashid, a Middle Eastern scrapper with wind-based attacks. He’s from Dubai, he’s jacked, and of course he looks like a collection of the oldest Western grab-bag of Arab stereotypes.
So, two things.
On one hand, it’s really cool to see ethnically diverse fictional characters. One expects a game like Street Fighter, built on the premise of the United Nations of pit-fighting. This new installment continues that tradition, and to see it expand into new parts of the world, no matter how buffoonishly, feels like a positive.
On the other, Street Fighter is a cartoon. Cartoons exaggerate. They’re slapstick. This is fine, until it isn’t, and even cartoons have recognized this. The line between “stylish” and “retro-casual racism” gets blurry in a hurry.
Street Fighter has never been a beacon of progressive representation. The Russian wrestler Zangief is a rock-solid, pissed-off bear in Soviet red tights. The fire-breathing yoga warrior Dhalsim from India is about as accurate to India as The Temple of Doom. Even Guile, a swaggering embodiment of the U.S. armed forces, is an exaggeration that would raise eyebrows if Caucasian males were a historically oppressed class of people (a very bizarre world that would be indeed).
Rashid is a cool character in concept. He fits with the style and tradition of the Street Fighter games, his attacks look sweet, and his inclusion at least connects gamers to a part of the world that was being overlooked. But as Capcom’s creative team put on his finishing touches — a desert-friendly headdress, an arsenal of wind attacks, is that an eyepatch, for chrissakes? — they could’ve chosen to ditch some of the cultural baggage they’re perpetuating here.
Here’s a video recorded by a fan from Games Expo ‘15. Watch for the guy mouthing what? at the end. This is the best we can do, maybe: In the future, everyone will have an equal chance to be put off by hoary caricatures, and rightly so.